A look at justification by faith and good works in Luther's theology (J.S)

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This is an opinion article from a user of WikiChristian.

By James Swan, Octoboer 2005, [email protected]

"Did Luther say, “Be a sinner and sin boldly”?

A Look at Justification By Faith Alone and Good Works in Luther’s Theology

-Table of Contents-

I. Introduction

Did Luther exhort Christians to “Sin Boldly”? A brief look at Catholic criticism against Luther and the doctrine of sola fide

II. Luther And Good Works

Luther’s understanding of faith, good works, and salvation

III. The Context of the “Sin Boldly” Statement

Where does Luther’s Statement “Sin Boldly” come from?

IV. Sin Boldly: A Detailed Analysis

A look at the context of Luther’s “Sin Boldly” statement

V. The Roman Catholic Interpretation of Luther’s “Sin Boldly”

Catholic scholars, websites, and laymen interpret Luther

VI. Quotations From Luther on Faith and Works

Extensive practical quotations from Luther on faith and works

a. Living Faith, Dead Faith, Works, and the Law

b. Good Works: Serving Our Neighbor

c. False Works and Unbelief

Endnotes: Bibliographic material.

  • Throughout this paper, Luther’s words will be in blue.

I. Introduction: Sin Boldly?

“Be a sinner and sin boldly!” “Let your sins be strong!” “Sin bravely!” These striking words from Martin Luther are perhaps the most frequently quoted against him, particularly by Roman Catholics. For instance, Father Patrick O’Hare stated, “If the author of such an infamous suggestion as is involved in the words ‘sin boldly’ was not a child of Satan, none ever labored so strenuously in advancing his soul-destroying principles.”[1] More than a few Catholic authors have accused Luther of teaching a wanton lawlessness of sinning boldly. It is a common charge against him. Some argue, if justification is by faith alone, aren’t Christians free to sin as much they want? People need not concern themselves with how they live their lives; God has forgiven all their sins. It is probably the case that Luther simply invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone in order to justify his immoral life. Some authors have used this approach to understand Luther. The influential Catholic scholar Heinrich Denifle based his entire Luther research on this precept:

“…Denifle denied [Luther] veracity, depicted a lecherous young man ridden by unconquerable concupiscence of the flesh, and later exhibited a bloated besotted beast given to vile ragings and obscene vituperation. Luther had been wicked very wicked indeed—why, his own words about culpa, culpa, mea maxima culpa!" and his inability to find peace even behind monastery walls convict him! Unable to find any goodness even with God's grace Luther in final desperation simply "invented" forgiveness for nothing, i.e., justification through faith—and then advised "pecca fortiter," sin boldly! Thus he unleashed all the wicked passions of the Evangelical Reformation.”[2]

Rev. Peter Guilday from the Catholic University of America stated, “…Every Catholic should acquaint himself with the life story of the man whose followers can never explain away the anarchy of that immoral dogma: ‘Be a sinner, and sin boldly; but believe more boldly still’.”[3] Father O’Hare proclaims, “The defenders of Luther do not deny the recommendation he addressed to Melanchthon. To hide its grossness, however, they, in the blasphemy of despair, have edited and interpreted the recommendation so as to give it a turn and a meaning altogether unwarranted and untenable.”[4] The truth is, Luther quite seriously penned the exhortation to “sin boldly”. Contrary to Reverend Guilday, it doesn’t take that much reading of Luther’s writings to acquaint oneself with Luther’s basic theological understanding of faith and works. Nor is it necessary to “spin” the words “sin boldly” to get Luther off the hook as Father O’Hare suggests.

The purpose of this paper is to answer these charges. As a quick background overview, the first part of this paper will examine Luther’s concept of justification by faith alone and its relation to good works. It will be established that Luther held good works to be the result of living faith. Good works were to be carried out by those grateful to God for His mercy, for the benefit of others rather than personal gain (be it temporal or spiritual). This will serve as the theological context by which the comment “sin boldly” will be analyzed.

The second part of this paper will look specifically at Luther’s comment to “sin boldly.” Rather than proving that Luther lived an immoral life and advocated perpetual sin for Protestants, or that he invented justification by faith alone in order to enjoy sin, the words “sin boldly” in context of both the letter they occur in, and Luther’s basic theology prove the exact opposite.

The third section of this paper takes a look at a few Roman Catholic interpretations of Luther’s “sin boldly” comment. Have they understood what Luther meant? Have they fairly treated Luther’s theology and life?

The last section contains extensive quotes from Luther establishing his basic understanding of the relationship between faith and works. Quotes from Luther on what constitutes “bad works” are provided for contrast. The quotes are provided to show that those who quote Luther’s “sin boldly” statement do so at the expense of his entire written corpus. Luther’s Godly attitude towards faith, works, salvation and his exhortations against sin are blatantly and explicitly throughout his writings, in some case the subject of entire treatises. To ignore the obvious while scrutinizing the obscure proves sadly that truth in research is not the goal of many who approach Luther from a non-Protestant perspective.

II.Luther And Good Works

Does justification by faith alone provide a license for sin? Luther was acutely aware of this allegation. In a sermon, he summarized the charge leveled against him: “Where the Gospel begins to loose the conscience of its own works, it seems to forbid good works and the keeping of the law. It is the common speech of all the teachers of the law, and of the scribes and doctors, to say: If all our works amount to nothing and if the works done under the law are evil, we will never do good. You forbid good works and throw away God's law; you heretic, you…wish to make bad people free.”[5]

Luther understood that even our best efforts were tainted with sin. If God demands perfection in order for one to be justified before Him, no one would ever be justified. For Luther, justification was actually totally of works, but those works were perfect and performed by the perfect savior, Jesus Christ. These works are acquired by faith, imputed to the sinner. Luther says, “[I]f you desire to believe rightly and to possess Christ truly, then you must reject all works that you intend to place before and in the way of God. They are only stumbling blocks, leading you away from Christ and from God. Before God no works are acceptable but Christ's own works. Let these plead for you before God, and do no other work before him than to believe that Christ is doing his works for you and is placing them before God in your behalf.”[6]

For Luther grace, faith, and the work of Christ are essential ingredients that justify, and that justification is a gift as well as the very faith involved. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.” But isn’t the Roman Catholic charge against Luther valid? If God judges a man by Christ’s perfect works, why should any Christian ever care about leading a righteous life? If grace, faith, and justification are God’s gifts, what is left for us to do? Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

Paul answers for Luther in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” Faith performs good works, not to keep one justified, but out of heartfelt gratitude to God graciousness. Salvation is unto good works. Note what this means: good works are not unto eventual salvation. We are saved in order to perform good works, not by performing them.

“Faith,” wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith.”[7] Luther scholar Paul Althaus notes: “[Luther] also agrees with James that if no works follow it is certain that true faith in Christ does not live in the heart but a dead, imagined, and self-fabricated faith."[8] The book of James describes a real true faith in Christ: a real saving faith is a living faith. If no works are found in a person, that faith is a dead faith (c.f. James 2:17). James then describes a dead faith: the faith of a demon. A demon has faith that God exists, that Christ rose from the dead- I would dare say a demon knows theology better than you or I. But is the faith of this demon a saving faith? Absolutely not.[9] Luther says, “Accordingly, if good works do not follow, it is certain that this faith in Christ does not dwell in our heart, but dead faith…”[10]

But what are good works then? Luther abhorred the pseudo-works perpetuated by “devout” Roman Catholics. Pilgrimages, idolatry, monkery, self-denials, etc., which were considered “good works” one does for oneself on the road to eventual salvation. These works take one down a completely opposite road. Luther said of these alleged works:

“How they mislead people with their good works! They call good works what God has not commanded, as pilgrimages, fasting, building and decorating their churches in honor of the saints, saying mass, paying for vigils, praying with rosaries, much prattling and bawling in churches, turning nun, monk, priest, using special food, raiment or dwelling,-who can enumerate all the horrible abominations and deceptions? This is the pope's government and holiness.”[11]

Luther defines good works as those “works that flow from faith and from the joy of heart that has come to us because we have forgiveness of sins through Christ.”[12] Only what God commands is a good work: “Everybody should consider precious and glorious whatever God commands, even though it were no more than picking a wisp of straw from the ground.”[13] Works aren’t done because we want salvation and fear damnation. Luther says, “…[W]e are not to do them merely because we fear death or hell, or because we love heaven, but because our spirit goes out freely in love of, and delight in, righteousness.”[14] Luther plainly teaches that saving faith is a living faith.

Luther taught a life under the cross, which is a life of discipleship of following after Christ. Our crosses though, do not save. They serve the neighbor. We are called to be neighbor to those around us. Luther says,

“We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith, but also as an example of love toward our neighbor, whom we are to serve as Christ serves us. Faith brings and gives Christ to you with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions. These two things constitute a true and complete Christian life; then follow suffering and persecution for such faith and love, and out of these grows hope and patience.”[15]

It is with this theological background in mind that we come to Luther’s “sin boldly” statement. Based on this background, the words do indeed appear to be out of place. Why would Luther tell someone to “sin boldly” if he believed in a living faith showing its vitality by its works? How could Luther say something so diametrically opposed to his very theological paradigms?

III. The Context of the “Sin Boldly” Statement

It’s important now to establish the literary context that contains Luther’s statement to “sin boldly.” After the Diet of Worms in April 1521, Luther found himself in great danger. The papacy and the Emperor were united against him. To be deemed a heretic almost certainly meant death. In 1521, Luther had been placed in hiding after the Diet of Worms. He stayed in an empty Castle, the Wartburg, near his boyhood school town Eisenach.

Luther wrote many letters from the Wartburg. On August 1, 1521 Luther wrote to Phillip Melanchthon. The letter is now but a fragment. It has no address, salutation, or signature, but scholars are certain whom it came from and whom it went to. The majority of the letter has nothing to do with “sinning boldly.” Luther discusses a variety of topics: “Commenting on Karlstadt’s theses of June 21 and July 19, Luther develops his ideas on clerical and monastic celibacy, on communion “in both kinds,” on the private mass, and on the dynamics of faith.”[16]

The letter itself begins mid-thought, as if the first page were missing. Luther is in the middle of discussing marriage and celibacy: “Paul speaks very openly concerning the priests. He says demons have forbidden them to marry. Since the voice of Paul is the voice of the Divine Majesty, I do not doubt that it must be trusted in this matter. Therefore even if they have consented to the devil’s prohibition at the time of their initiation, then now, knowing the true state of the case and with whom they made their pact, the contract should be boldly broken.”[17] Luther then moves on to communion “in both kinds.” During the middle ages, people were denied the element of wine during communion. Since the wine was the actual blood of Christ, people could not be trusted with it- what if it was spilled? Luther discusses whether or not those who receive only one of the communion elements partake in sin. If the Lord’s Supper was both bread and wine, is not failing to partake in both elements a sin? Luther says no (Luther came down critically on Karlstadt, who fought to gain leadership in Wittenberg during Luther’s absence. Karlstadt was teaching that receiving only one element was a sin [18]). Luther though does point to a sinful action in the matter. He points out that only those in charge that deprive the church of both elements are guilty: “Who will deny, however, that they who do consent to [giving only one of the elements] and approve of it—I mean the papists—are not Christians and are guilty of sin?”[19] Luther comes down harshly on the papacy as acting sinfully by withholding the wine from the laity.

Luther tells Melanchthon that he is pleased the people of Wittenberg are receiving both the bread and wine during communion, and that some of the tyranny imposed on the Lord’s Supper by the Papacy has been overcome by this. Luther exhorts Melanchthon, “Let us pray to the Lord, I beseech you, that he hasten to give us a larger portion of his Spirit, for I suspect that the Lord will soon visit Germany, as its unbelief, impiety, and hatred of the gospel deserve.”[20] Indeed, the leaders of the Reformation needed to be strengthened by God’s Spirit: Luther knew restoring correct doctrine and practice to the church would be met with great opposition. Whatever anarchy that arose in Wittenberg would be charged to the account of the Reformers. Luther says, “But of course this plague will then be charged to us on the grounds that we heretics have provoked God, and we will be scorned by men and despised by the people.”[21] While the Reformers are charged with anarchy, the “papists” who really are at fault (since they had corrupted the Lord’s Supper) will come up with reasons why they are not to be blamed: “ [The papists], however, will find excuses for their sins, and will justify themselves; [God will thus prove] that the wicked cannot be made good, either by kindness or by wrath, and that many will be tempted to do evil. The Lord’s will be done.”[22]

IV. Sin Boldly: A Detailed Analysis

The Letter to Melanchthon ends with the famous “sin boldly” statement:

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”[23]

It’s important to work slowly through this striking exhortation to Melanchthon, remembering that Wittenberg was not a calm spiritual community. It was a place under turmoil. Melanchthon was to face trials both from within his own small group of leaders and outside from the political juggernauts of the papacy and the empire. The situations involving marriage, celibacy, and the Lord’s Supper discussed above may seem like debatable academic subjects to the modern reader, but during these early years of the Reformation they were important societal topics that provoked deep emotion. Changes in these practices were changes in the very fabric of society. Luther encourages his co-worker to stand strong in the faith. The very community that Luther was responsible for was in the hands of Melanchthon.[24] Luther’s final exhortation in this letter is for Melanchthon to hold fast to the firm gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever trouble may come, Melanchthon was to be true to the Gospel.

What follows is a line-by-line analysis of the paragraph containing the exhortation to “sin boldly.”

“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace…”

Luther exhorts Melanchthon to stand firm and preach the pure gospel. The pure gospel proclaims God’s true grace. It is a grace that actually forgives all a man’s sins, without any works of penance geared toward eventual justification. The papal system Luther was part of taught that God’s grace could be attained by faith combined good works, and that the sacrament of penance must be carried out to completely forgive a man for sin. This would be a fictitious grace. As Ewald Plass points out, “The concept of grace was, of course, not unknown to Luther the Catholic. But this term, as so many others, had become a ‘weasel word’ in the Church of Rome, a word emptied of its Scriptural meaning. Thus grace was turned ‘from the divine source of pardon and forgiveness into an infused ability (gratia infusa) of man to perform good works for his own salvation.’ ”[25]

“…if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners.”

What does Luther mean “fictitious sin”? Perhaps he has in mind what he had just discussed: people thinking they were sinning by only receiving the bread and not the wine in the Lord’s Supper. This would indeed be a fictitious sin. Elsewhere though, Luther describes the “fictitious sins” concocted by the papacy:

“There are commandments and teachings of the pope which say nothing at all about faith in Christ, as the Gospel does, but merely about obedience to him in bodily, trivial, trifling matters, such as the eating of meat, observing festivals, fasting, dressing, etc. Yet the pope has emphasized and extolled these far more than God's Word, and they are feared and followed far more, have more thoroughly terrified and captivated consciences, and have made hell far hotter than did both God's Law and His Gospel. For they have given little regard to unbelief, blasphemy, adultery, murder, theft, and whatever else is opposed to Christ and His command; for these sins penance was quickly done and forgiveness given. But when someone touched one of the pope's commandments, the bulls had to come with lightning and thunder. This was called damned disobedience and brought a man under the ban of the pope. Now heaven and earth had to tremble in terror. But when sins against God were concerned, sins in which they themselves are drowned, not a leaf stirred. On the contrary, they mocked and laughed at the matter in great security, as they do to this day. Besides this, they persecute and murder in a cruel manner all who esteem God’s commandment above the commandment of their abomination. The pope wants God and His Word under him; he wants himself enthroned above them. This is his regime and nature. Without these he could not be the Antichrist.”[26]

Luther says that God does not save people who are only “fictitious sinners.” No, God saves actual sinners. “Luther often called actual sin, as does Scripture…spiritual adultery.”[27] Luther says all men have a “lust for divinity”: “No sin troubles us as severely as the lust after divinity. Of course, the lust of the flesh is also a furiously strong urge, yet it is only a form (of sin) and nothing in comparison with spiritual lust or fornication.”[28] All actual sins are attempts to deify ourselves. As Ewald Plass points out, “At the heart of every sin which our corrupt nature moves us to commit is the burning desire to recognize no one as superior to ourselves…Luther points to this as the common denominator of all actual sins.”[29] In our zeal to be our own gods, we psychological say, “I do not believe God’s ways are the right way for me.” Thus, at our spiritual roots, our actions are the result of unbelief in the heart- a blatant disbelief that God’s way is the best way. We are all indeed, actual sinners.

“Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.”

Luther was prone to strong hyperbole. It's his style, and this statement is a perfect example. Luther doesn't write analytical theology. He writes profound verbose sentiment driving one to think deeply.

The first thing to recognize is that the sentence is a statement of comparison. Luther's point is not to go out and commit multiple amounts of gleeful sin everyday, but rather to believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly despite the sin in our lives. Christians have a real savior. No amount of sin is too much to be atoned for by a perfect savior whose righteousness is imputed to the sinner who reaches out in faith. But what then is the practical application of sinning “boldly”? What is at the heart of this comparison? Luther explains elsewhere how to take on the attitude of sinning “boldly”:

“Therefore let us arm our hearts with these and similar statements of Scripture so that, when the devil accuses us by saying: You are a sinner; therefore you are damned, we can reply: The very fact that you say I am a sinner makes me want to be just and saved. Nay, you will be damned, says the devil. Indeed not, I reply, for I take refuge in Christ, who gave Himself for my sins. Therefore you will accomplish nothing, Satan, by trying to frighten me by setting the greatness of my sins before me and thus seducing me to sadness, doubt, despair, hatred, contempt, and blasphemy of God. Indeed, by calling me a sinner you are supplying me with weapons against yourself so that I can slay and destroy you with your own sword; for Christ died for sinners. Furthermore, you yourself proclaim the glory of God to me; you remind me of God's paternal love for me, a miserable and lost sinner; for He so loved the world that He gave His Son (John 3:16). Again, whenever you throw up to me that I am a sinner, you revive in my memory the blessing of Christ, my Redeemer, on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins; for "the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" and "for the transgression of His people was He stricken" (Is. 53:6-8). Therefore when you throw up to me that I am a sinner, you are not terrifying me; you are comforting me beyond measure.”[30]

The strong hyperbolic comparison Luther makes between “sinning boldly” and believing and rejoicing in Christ “even more boldly” comes clear. When assaulted by the fear and doubt of Christ’s love because of previous sins or the remnants of sin in one’s life, one is thrust back into the arms of Christ “on whose shoulders, and not on mine, lie all my sins…”. Rather than promoting a license to sin by saying “sin boldly,” Luther’s point is to simply compare the sinner to the perfect savior. Left in our sins we will face nothing but death and damnation. By Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the world, we stand clothed in His righteousness, the recipients of His grace, no matter what we have done.

It also should be pointed out, Luther was not simply telling Melanchthon to try really hard to be “bold”. Elsewhere Luther points out that the Holy Spirit is that which makes one bold. Preaching on John 15: ‘And ye also bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning,’ Luther tells his hearers that Christ is saying:

“Yes; then, first, when you become certain of your faith through the Holy Spirit, who is your witness, you must also bear witness of me, for to that end I chose you to be apostles. You have heard my words and teachings and have seen my works and life and all things that you are to preach. But the Holy Spirit must first be present; otherwise you can do nothing, for the conscience is too weak. Yes, there is no sin so small that the conscience could vanquish it, even if it were so trifling a one as laughing in church, Again, in the presence of death the conscience is far too weak to offer resistance. Therefore another must come and give to the timid, despairing conscience, courage to go through everything, although all sins be upon it. And it must, at the same time, be an almighty courage, like he alone can give who ministers strength in such a way that the courage, which before a rustling leaf could cause to fear, is now not afraid of all the devils, and the conscience that before could not restrain laughing, now restrains all sins.”[31]

“As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.”

This is simply the same message Paul proclaims in Romans 7. Even though a man has been justified by Christ and had His righteousness imputed to him, the remnants of sin still remain. Paul says,

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”

For Luther, the remnants of sin were not a license to “sin boldly”. Commenting on Romans 7:17, the sins that remain in a believer’s life are there to be fought:

“Sin remains in the spiritual man for the exercise of grace, the humbling of pride, and the repression of presumption. For he who is not busily at work driving out sin without a doubt has sin by the very fact of this neglect, even though he has committed no further sin for which he may be damned. For we are not called to idleness; we are called to labor against our passions. These would not be without guilt—for they are truly sins, indeed damnable ones — if the mercy of God did not forego imputing them to us. But He does not impute them to those only who manfully undertake the struggle with their failings and, calling upon the grace of God, fight it through. Therefore he who goes to confession should not fancy that he is laying down burdens in order to live a life of ease. On the contrary, he should know that by laying down the burden he is undertaking to serve as a soldier of God and is taking a different burden upon himself, the burden of battling for God against the devil and his own failings. The man who does not know this will suffer a quick relapse. Therefore he who does not intend henceforth to fight—why does he ask to be absolved and to be enrolled in the army of Christ?”[32]

“No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.”

Luther’s critics often quote this statement. The Catholic scholar Jared Wicks has correctly pointed out, “One needs to be on the lookout for Luther's rhetorical flights, and to be judicious in discriminating between the substance of his message and the linguistic extremes with which he sometimes made his points.”[33] The above statement is a perfect example. The point Luther is making is not to go out and murder or fornicate as much as possible, but rather to point out the infinite sacrifice of Christ’s atonement. There is no sin that Christ cannot cover. His atonement was of an infinite value. That this statement was not to be considered literally is apparent by Luther’s use of argumentum ad absurdum: do people really commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day? No. Not even the most heinous God-hating sinner is able to carry out such a daily lifestyle.

Secondly, one must recall the recipient of this letter: Phillip Melanchthon. No historical information exists that indicts Melanchthon of ever murdering or fornicating, even once. The Lutheran writer W.H.T. Dau presents the absurdity of the arguments put forth by Roman Catholic authors along these lines:

“ ‘Be a sinner, and sin bravely, but believe more bravely still’- this is the chef d’oeuvre of the muck-rackers in Luther’s life…What caused Luther to write these words? Did Melanchthon contemplate some crime which he was too timid to perpetrate? According to the horrified expressions of Catholics that must have been the situation. Luther, in their view, says to Melanchthon: Philip, you are a simpleton. Why scruple about a sin? You are confined in the trammels of very narrow-minded moral views. You must get rid of them. Have the courage to be wicked. Make a hero of yourself by executing some bold piece of iniquity. Be an ‘Uebermensch.’ Sin with brazen unconcern; be a fornicator, a murderer, a liar, a thief, defy every moral statute,- only do not forget to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. His grace is intended, not for hesitating, craven sinners, but for audacious, spirited, high minded criminals…Can the reader induce himself to believe that Luther advised Melanchthon to do what he himself knew was a moral impossibility to himself because of his relation to God?…What brave sin did Melanchthon actually commit upon being thus advised by Luther?”[34]

On the other hand, Luther ends by saying, “you too are a mighty sinner” so “pray boldly.” Here, Luther points out the seriousness of sin. While Christ’s sacrifice and work are infinite enough to cover the most heinous of sins, any sin in a person’s life makes them a “mighty sinner” in need of a savior. A little sinner winds up in Hell just as the mighty sinners do, thus we are all really mighty enough sinners to deserve damnation.

That Luther’s words should not be taken literally is clear from statements he made elsewhere about heinous sin:

“Works only reveal faith, just as fruits only show the tree, whether it is a good tree. I say, therefore, that works justify, that is, they show that we have been justified, just as his fruits show that a man is a Christian and believes in Christ, since he does not have a feigned faith and life before men. For the works indicate whether I have faith. I conclude, therefore, that he is righteous, when I see that he does good works. In God’s eyes that distinction is not necessary, for he is not deceived by hypocrisy. But it is necessary among men, so that they may correctly understand where faith is and where it is not. As Paul says, we ought not to trust a faith which is false, as when someone believes he is a part of the church although he meanwhile still whores [I Cor. 5:11]. In this I see that he is not a good tree and when he glories saying, “I am a part,” I can argue against him, “You are not part of the church, because your works are evil.” Therefore, those works are also evidence to himself and to others about him whether he has the true faith. For those who glory that they are Christians and do not show this faith by such works, as this sinful woman does, but persist up to the present and live in open sins, in whoring and adultery, are not Christians at all. For the Christian shows his life and that he has been made a Christian by love and good works and flees all vices. We should not be a part of the church in number only, as the hypocrites, but also by our works, so that our heavenly Father may be glorified. Love merits forgiveness of sins, that is, love reveals that his sins have been forgiven.”[35]

For Luther, outward sins like murder and adultery were obviously bad. But these were only a symptom of unbelief, which is the root of all outward sin. In a sermon on Luke 18, Luther discusses the faith of the Publican as compared to the works of the Pharisee:

“Now let us better see and hear what the Lord says to this. There stands the publican and humbles himself, says nothing of fasting, nothing of his good works, nor of anything. Yet the Lord says that his sins are not so great as the sins of the hypocrite; even in spite of anyone now exalting himself above the lowest sinner. If I exalt myself a finger's breadth above my neighbor, or the vilest sinner, then am I cast down. For the publican during his whole life did not do as many and as great sins as this Pharisee does here when he says: I thank thee God that, I am not as other men are; and lies enough to burst all heaven. From him you hear no word like: "God, be thou merciful to me a sinner!" God's mercy, sympathy, patience and love are all forgotten by him, while God is nothing but pure mercy, and he who does not know this, thinks there is no God, as in Psalm 14:1: "The fool hath Said in his heart, There is no God." So it is with an unbeliever who does not know himself. Therefore I say one thing more, if he had committed the vilest sin and deflowered virgins, it would not have been as bad as when he says: "I thank thee God, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." Yes, yes, do I hear you have no need of God and despise his goodness, mercy, love and everything that God is? Behold, these are thy sins. Hence the public gross sins that break out are insignificant; but unbelief which is in the heart and we cannot see, this is the real sin in which monks and priests strut forth; these lost and corrupt ones are sunk head and ears in this sin, and pretend to be entirely free from it.”[36]

In the above statement, one can see Luther’s brilliance with language and theological insight. How many of us think of unbelief as an extreme heinous sin? Compared to blatant fornication or murder, unbelief seems to us as not so bad. Luther though realizes that unbelief is a sin against a holy God, and thus more heinous than any amount of murder or adultery. A sin against a perfect infinite being deserves a perfect infinite punishment. All of us are indeed, mighty sinners.

V. The Roman Catholic Interpretation of Luther’s “Sin Boldly”

One of the enjoyable aspects of studying Luther’s theology is the ease it takes to read his writings. His sermons are lucid and simple. Most of his treatises are devoid of difficult theological and philosophical jargon. Humor and wit, as well as profound theological insight can be found frequently. It’s no wonder the great Catholic historian Joseph Lortz commented, “Luther was a genius with language. Spontaneously his thoughts found concrete expression in the most sensitive of linguistic phrasing. It would perhaps be more exact to say that his thoughts take form in words!”[37] “One is tempted simply to quote him--his wonderful outpouring of self, his tireless thrust to discover and express, his massive power, the immeasurable height, breadth, and depth of the message, the astounding vitality and fullness present in this man so captivated by the spirit of Scripture.”[38]

But on the other hand, Luther can be easy to misinterpret. Literary paradigms and context must be carefully evaluated. There are also certain theological paradigms that must be understood in order to come to a full understanding of his writings. Part of the reason “sin boldly” is so frequently misinterpreted is for this very reason. Robert Preus speculates, “Melanchthon, to whom these words [sin boldly] were addressed, probably did not understand them fully, and neither have many other people.”[39] I would not be so ‘bold’ to make such a statement about Melanchthon, but Preus is simply stating the obvious: Luther’s “sin boldly” statement is easily misconstrued.

Even though below I document examples of “sin boldly” being misinterpreted, simply because one is Roman Catholic in one’s theology does not necessarily mean Luther cannot be understood. Not all Catholics misunderstand Luther’s theology or misinterpret Luther’s “sin boldly” statement. For instance, an article at Catholic Answers from This Rock Magazine articulated an accurate interpretation:

“Luther had failed to find peace of soul in ascetic self-discipline and efforts at "good works." He never declared a good life unnecessary. His "pecca fortiter sed crede fortius" (sin boldly but believe still more firmly) was not meant to be an encouragement to yield to sin without scruple. He intended simply that however great a sinner one may be, granted repentance, he can be justified solely by faith. But to be zealous for good works, thinking them to be a means to salvation, was to manifest a lack of faith in God's power to save.”[40]

Despite my strong disagreement with the majority of the article, the article did at least correctly note that Luther was not against living an upright life, nor was he against good works. Luther didn’t encourage sinning. The article correctly points out Luther held sinners can only be justified by faith alone. Works will not contribute anything to salvation.

Unfortunately, many Roman Catholics do misunderstand Luther’s words. The fault in most cases should lie on the difficult nature of Luther’s words, rather than on an intended vilification. Without knowledge of Luther’s underlying theological paradigms, the historical context of Luther’s life, and the immediate context the words occur in, misunderstanding is almost guaranteed. There are though, some professional Roman Catholic writers that should know better due to their knowledge of Luther and familiarity with his writings. To these we now turn.

-Catholic Scholars That Misinterpret Luther’s “Sin Boldly”-

Father Patrick O’Hare: The Facts About Luther Father Patrick O’Hare published his book, The Facts About Luther on the 400th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses in 1917. The book eventually sank below the surface and went out of print. It would have remained obscure, but the Catholic publisher Tan books resurrected it in 1987, and its probably more popular now than it was when first published. The Facts About Luther claims “The Luther of fiction is being more and more obscured by the Luther of fact.” The book promises that “The whole gamut of the apostate’s life is here described in a calm, impartial manner which permits no gainsaying…The reader may take up this work with assurance that here there is no unfair attack upon the founder of Protestantism. It is not with a spirit of bitterness or bigotry that Monsignor O’Hare describes the real Luther.”[41] O’Hare did have access to a large corpus of Luther’s writings, as well as having access to a great number of Protestant historical sources. O’Hare should have been able to understand Luther’s “sin boldly” statement. Unfortunately, he states,

“ ‘Be a sinner,’ [Luther] says, ‘sin boldly and fearlessly.’ The command embodied in the unsuspicious words set at naught all the laws of morality and gives wide scope to human freedom and to disorder. The thought of the degrading recommendation makes the blood run cold in the veins of decent, law-abiding people.”[42]

“Luther's pronouncement, ‘Be a sinner and sin boldly,’ has only one meaning, namely, a command to transgress the Divine Law, insult God and open up the way to the commission of crime and iniquity.”[43]

O’Hare’s misinterpretation of Luther’s “sin boldly” is due to the gross literalism he applies to the text. By setting up a strawman interpretation, he then proceeds to hurl invective at Luther relentlessly for about two pages. Protestants who correctly avoid such gross literalism O’Hare says, “have edited and interpreted the recommendation so as to give it a turn and a meaning altogether unwarranted and untenable.”[44] O’Hare says,

“Luther said: ‘Be a sinner and sin boldly.’ His supporters, to hoodwink and deceive their followers, claim that the imperative mood used by Luther is not here to be read imperatively, and according to them, ‘Be a sinner and sin boldly’ means, ‘even supposing thou art a sinner and dost sin boldly.’ This interpretation is ingenious, but like all their methods of defense to escape from the infamy of Luther's teaching, as Anderdon remarks, "the deploying of imperatives into subjunctives, suppositions, exaggerations, reductions ad absurdum, will never make the imperative mood read otherwise than as a clear, distinct injunction. Until some more formidable line of defense be invented, we must take Luther's words to mean, as they manifestly indicate, a recommendation, an exhortation and an injunction to mutiny, rebellion and disobedience to the Supreme Lawgiver, who directed all to observe and not disrespect His Commandments.”[45]

Contrary to O’Hare’s conclusion, this passage can be read otherwise, that is, in context. Simply because the imperative mood is used does not mean the command is literal in context. One wonders if Father O’Hare would apply the same literalness to the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 5:12: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” Did Paul really wish people would emasculate themselves, or was he using sarcasm to establish a point?

Father O’Hare misrepresents Luther repeatedly. He holds Luther was not only mad, but also morally depraved and corrupt. He asserts that Luther in the Wartburg was in close touch with Satan. Luther lived an indecent life, disparaged celibacy and virginity, sanctioned adultery, dishonored marriage, authorized prostitution and polygamy, and was a drunkard found in the tavern. Luther was a blasphemer, a libertine, a revolutionary, a hater of religious vows, a disgrace to the religious calling, and the propagator of immorality and open licentiousness. O’Hare’s understanding of “sin boldly” serves as a good example why The Facts About Luther is one of the worst ever written. It shows that simply because someone has the “facts” doesn’t necessarily mean they’re presenting the truth.

Hartmann Grisar The Jesuit scholar Hartmann Grisar delved deeply into Luther studies. His work on Luther spanned multiple volumes and thousands of pages. His books were considered the standard Catholic understanding of Luther for decades. Grisar admits to the difficulty of the “sin boldly” comment. He calls the statement “the most extravagant paradox.”[46] On the one hand, Grisar admits the words were rhetorical and not to be taken literally, but then on the other hand goes on to interpret Luther literally:

“We might, it is true, admit that, in these words, Luther gave the rein to his well-known inclination to put things in the strongest light, a tendency to be noticed in some of his other statements… On the other hand, however, the close connection between the compromising words and his whole system of sin and grace, can scarcely be denied; we have here something more than a figure of rhetoric.”[47]

“However much stress we may be disposed to lay on Luther's warnings against sin, and whatever allowance we may make for his rhetoric, still the " Pecca fortiter " stands out as the result of his revolt against the traditional view of sin and grace, with which his own doctrine of Justification refused to be reconciled. These inauspicious words are the culmination of Luther's practical ideas on religion, borne witness to by so many of his statements, which, at the cost of morality, give the reins to human freedom and to disorder.”[48]

“Hence the writer of the letter seeks to convince [Melanchthon] that the strength of the fiducial faith preached by himself, Luther, was so great, that no sense of sin need trouble a man.”[49]

Grisar takes Luther literally because he believes Melanchthon was in need of exhortation: “Luther's endeavor was to reassure, once and for all, Melanchthon who was so prone to anxiety. The latter shrank from many of the consequences of Luther's doctrines, and at that time was possibly also a prey to apprehension concerning the forgiveness of his own sins.”[50] Grisar then chastises Luther for his literal advise to “sin boldly” and offers what he should have said to Melanchthon:

“Luther, here and throughout the letter, does not say what he ought necessarily to have said to one weighed down by the consciousness of sin; of remorse and compunction we hear nothing whatever, nor does he give due weight and importance to the consciousness of guilt; he misrepresents grace, making it appear as a mere outward, magical charm, by which—according to an expression which cannot but offend every religious mind— a man is justified even though he be a murderer and a libertine a thousand times over. Luther's own words here are perhaps the best refutation of the Lutheran doctrine of Justification, for he speaks of sin, even of the worst, in a way that well lays bare the weaknesses of the system of fiducial faith.”[51]

Given Grisar’s knowledge of Luther, one would have expected him to be able to interpret Luther in light of Luther’s many statements on the relationship of faith and works and the growing of godliness in the Christian life, as well as Luther’s strong stance on sin and morality. Rather, Grisar takes two pages to discuss one obscure paragraph from a letter fragment. Grisar goes a step further by saying these words are “perhaps the best refutation of the Lutheran doctrine of Justification.” Why? Elsewhere Grisar explains, “In lieu of interior contrition, self humiliation and the penitential spirit, justification is made dependent upon the presumptuous apprehension of the merits of Christ, and sin loses its terrifying character for the believer.”[52] Here Grisar shows he misses Luther’s understanding of sin, salvation, and sanctification completely. For Luther, the preaching of law drove one to humbly to Christ, Christ’s work is received with the most exuberant joy, and one’s life is lived as a servant to God.

Grisar ultimately sees the “sin boldly” statement as “an evident mental derangement.”[53] In the overall scope of Grisar’s work, his use of the “sin boldly” statement is but one example of the generally accepted flawed tenor of his work. He interprets Luther as a monk obsessed with the lust of the flesh, suffering from a pathological manic-depressive personality: Luther’s view of justification by faith alone came from his own decadence. ‘Faith alone’ was but a ploy to justify Luther’s immorality and an excuse to relieve him of the monastic ideals he began with. Grisar argued “Luther leaves no actual Grace which makes for righteousness and which dwells within man himself, for he sees in God a will to grace, not to view us as sinners and to lend us his active support in fighting sins.” [54]

The Catholic Encyclopedia American Catholics in the first half of the twentieth century were guided in their understanding of Luther by an article in the Catholic Encyclopedia by George Ganss. Ganss presented a Luther who was wild tempered, depressed, mentally ill, and a victim of lust seeking unbridled sexual license through his teaching. Here is his understanding of Luther’s teaching on justification by faith alone:

“[Luther] convinced himself that man, as a consequence of original sin, was totally depraved, destitute of free will, that all works, even though directed towards the good, were nothing more than an outgrowth of his corrupted will, and in the judgments of God in reality mortal sins. Man can be saved by faith alone. Our faith in Christ makes His merits our possession, envelops us in the garb of righteousness, which our guilt and sinfulness hide, and supplies in abundance every defect of human righteousness. ‘Be a sinner and sin on bravely, but have stronger faith and rejoice in Christ, who is the victor of sin, death, and the world. Do not for a moment imagine that this life is the abiding place of justice: sin must be committed. To you it ought to be sufficient that you acknowledge the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the sin cannot tear you away from him, even though you commit adultery a hundred times a day and commit as many murders’ ”[55]

In Ganns’ description of justification, “sin boldly” serves to substantiate Luther’s view. Ganns leaves out Luther’s understanding of a living faith that shows itself by works. One is left with a gross caricature. As Patrick Carey his so correctly noted of Ganns’ article: “…Ganss failed to examine in any detail the substance of Luther's teachings…”[56] Similarly, in their entry on Justification, the Catholic Encyclopedia likewise uses Luther’s “sin boldly” comment to explain the Protestant view of justification, promoting the same caricature as their Luther entry:

“Since neither charity nor good works contribute anything towards justification -- inasmuch as faith alone justifies -- their absence subsequently cannot deprive the just man of anything whatever. There is only one thing that might possibly divest him of justification, namely, the loss of fiduciary faith or of faith in general. From this point of view we get a psychological explanation of numerous objectionable passages in Luther's writings, against which even Protestant with deep moral sense, such as Hugo Grotius and George Bull, earnestly protested. Thus we find in one of Luther's letters, written to Melancthon in 1521, the following sentence: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more strongly, who triumphed over sin, death, and the world; as long as we live here, we must sin." Could anyone do more to degrade St. Paul's concept of justification than Luther did in the following blasphemy: "If adultery could be committed in faith, it would not be a sin"?[57]

The Justification entry continues by positing Luther’s sola fide is a doctrine (along with sola scriptura) founded on self-deception: “Since, however, neither maxim can be found in the Bible, every Catholic is forced to conclude that Protestantism from its very beginning and foundation is based on self-deception.”[58] While the Catholic Encyclopedia declares justification by faith alone based on a “self-deception”, the actual deception is their caricature of Luther’s teaching. Luther taught good works as the result of justification, and believed that a battle against sin was to be fought throughout life. Protestants distinguish justification from sanctification. They never so viciously separate them as Catholics suggest.

Henry O’Connor: Luther’s Own Statements- His Teaching and Results

Henry O’Connor wrote Luther’s Own Statements Concerning His Teaching and its Results. The book is an old small anthology of Luther quotes, peppered with vilifying commentary from O’Connor. The author claims to have compiled the quotes from the original sources “Nearly two-thirds of the matter contained in this pamphlet is taken from the original editions of Luther’s own Works, as published in Wittenberg, under the very eye of the Reformer of Germany himself.”[59] He says “I have taken special care not to quote anything, that would have a different meaning, if read with the full context.”[60]

O’Connor delves immediately into Luther’s “sin boldly” comment (third edition preface, page ii). He says,

“I am of the opinion that, if we merely consider the words just quoted, it would be an exaggeration to say that Luther ordered his disciple to sin, or that he even positively advised him to do so. To my mind the words mean: ‘As far as the certainty of our own salvation is concerned, it does not matter one bit whether we sin or not, as long as we put our trust in Christ.’ Thus whereas Christ preaches hatred of every sin, Luther proclaims indifference toward every kind of sin, with the only exception of unbelief.”[61]

O’Connor begins well enough: Luther did not order Melanchthon to sin. But beyond that, his interpretation derails immediately. The rest of his statement shows an obvious confusion of Luther’s understanding of faith and works. It indeed does matter “whether we sin or not” because (as Luther repeatedly taught) true faith shows itself by its good works. Both Christ and Luther preached a hatred of sin. Luther never proclaimed an “indifference toward every kind of sin.” O’Connor concludes, “Therefore, Luther, the self-constituted Lawgiver of the sixteenth century, allows and recommends what God the supreme Lawgiver of all ages, past, present, and future, forbids.”[62] O’Connor sees Luther as fundamentally teaching lawlessness.

O’Connor, who claimed to read Luther “in context” ignored Luther’s basic theology, or either grossly misunderstood it. O’Connor says of Luther’s teaching on justification: “Luther received the full and unqualified approval of the Devil for these new doctrines. It was the Devil who spoke in favor of the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and against Mass, Mary, and the Saints.”[63] By the end of the book, O’Connor is convinced Luther “pretends to be a Reformer” and was sent by Satan.[64]

-Catholic Websites And Laymen That Misinterpret Luther’s “Sin Boldly”-

There are many Catholic apologetic websites utilizing the “sin boldly” quote. For these, their misunderstandings are most likely the result of not reading any (or very little) of Luther’s writings. They have simply captured a phrase and run with it. In a desire to appeal emotionally via apologetic argument, most of the misinterpretations are simply the result of over-literalizing Luther. Like some of the authors reviewed above, the Protestant distinction between justification and sanctification is misunderstood, wrongly said to be “separated” in such way to allow for a life of heinous sin. On an emotional level, Rome is said to be the great defender of morality, while the “founder of Protestantism” was a great antinomian. To convert to Roman Catholicism is to join “Christian morality.” To remain a Protestant is to think, “You can do whatever you want and still be saved.”

The Catholic Culture website takes Luther quite literally. Commenting on the “sin boldly” statement they say: “So if a man after a sex orgy would go out and kill a thousand people with an automatic rifle, and then kill himself, he would go instantly to the eternal embrace of God.”[65]

An article at the Catholic Apologetics Network states that Luther didn’t think a moral life mattered: “Luther is actually saying that our actions -- even the most sinful actions imaginable -- don't matter! He is saying we can commit any sin we want -- willfully, presumptuously, purposefully -- and we will not separate ourselves from God! After all, we require nothing more than "faith" to be saved. What we do is incidental.”[66]

Catholic Answers hosts an article that Takes Luther literally by appealing to a “logical conclusion”: “Logically, if one follows out Luther's fancy, a man who goes out and kills several others and then turns the gun on himself should go at once to be joined to the infinite purity of God! Luther wrote, ‘Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly....No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day.’ ”[67]

In another article at Catholic Answers, an author states, “In our own day, the antinomian temptation tugs at us from every side, not only in the sophistical subjectivizing of the faith in many mainline Protestant institutions, but also in the pedestrian libertinism of fraternity boys heading off for weekends of naughtiness with bravado cries, echoing Luther’s behest to ‘sin boldly.’ ”[68] Contrary to this statement, Luther would abhor such behavior done by “boys heading off for weekends of naughtiness.”

EWTN hosts many articles commenting on the “sin boldly” statement:

“Romans 1.5 what we have just said: ‘the obedience that faith is.’ In contrast, Luther said if we have faith, we need not obey… What a monstrous error! Faith includes obedience, as Paul said in Romans 1.5, 1 Cor 6.9-10, and Gal 5.16-25. and as the <Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible>. Yet Luther said if you have faith, you need not obey at all.”[69]

“Luther thought if we have faith, we can disobey God. But faith includes obedience, and so cannot justify disobedience.”[70]

“… [P]oor Luther did not see that faith includes obedience to God, and so he wrote: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.”[71]

“[Luther] urged us to be corrupt…What a foul person.”[72]

“Luther hoped to solve this problem for himself by his "discovery" of justification by faith, which for him meant that it made no difference if he did sin mortally all the time… As a certain bumper sticker puts it: ‘Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.’ In other words, Christians can sin as much as they want -- they will get away with it. Others, for the same sins, go to hell.”[73]

“Luther really was antinomian, Paul was not…”[74]

The Coming Home Network presents an example of misrepresenting justification by faith alone via the “sin boldly” quote. The argument, put forth in the form of a testimony of conversion to Catholicism, functions on a purely emotional level:

“I knew that we are saved by the free gift of God’s grace; there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation (cf. Eph. 2:8-9). But the simple formula of “faith alone” did not do justice to the totality of Scripture. How could we reconcile Martin Luther’s doctrine of forensic justification and imputed righteousness with the clear teaching of the Bible?“ Do not let anyone lead you astray,” said the Apostle John. “He who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 John 3:7). Luther said, “No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day” (Let Your Sins Be Strong, 1521). But the Apostle Paul warned, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9). Was the doctrine of Sola Fide misleading countless people into a false sense of security? I remembered the Lord’s stinging warning in Matthew 7:21. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven.” I wondered. Had Martin Luther really “rediscovered” the gospel? Or had he invented something new.”[75]

The Catholic Analysis blog describes problems with antinomianism among Roman Catholics, and links the problem to a caricature of Luther’s teaching: “Like Luther, they emphasize faith alone to the detriment of personal virtue and avoiding personal sin. They de-emphasize the need to observe the commandments as too legalistic, and so the sacrament of penance is demoted and virtually abandoned, especially in the form requiring individual confession. The result is antinomianism-- a fancy word for those who believe that Christians are free from the moral law. In some of his more extreme outbursts, Luther himself urged Christians to "sin boldly" because all depended on faith alone.”[76]

Mariology.com sees Luther’s “sin boldly” comment as an opportunity to really be free to sin: “Once we realize that our choices have consequences in the spiritual world and for our ultimate destiny, we will focus on doing God's will. If we are lulled into an illusory belief that we are free to sin without fear of consequence once we "accept Christ" (as Luther said, "Be a sinner, and sin boldly"), then we have set ourselves on a dangerous path. We must realize that our spiritual and moral choices affect the state of our souls. And we are free to do right and wrong.”[77] Here, Luther would respond that no one following the theological paradigm of Mariology.com is really “free to do right and wrong” in a God pleasing way. Rather, if one is doing works because they worried about the eternal state of their soul, they are doing works, not to the glory of God, but to the eventual glory of themselves. Luther’s doctrine of faith and works actually provided real freedom: people do works out of thankfulness to God for salvation.

Dave Armstrong claimed Luther completely separated faith and works in one of his early evaluations of Luther:

“This view of total human depravity was the premise of Luther's view of justification, in which man is merely declared righteous, while still being in essence and behavior a sinner. Luther thought that works were not meritorious in the least, relative to man's standing before God. He attempted to completely separate works and grace as no one ever had before. This false dichotomy brings forth many absurd utterances…Luther's famous letter to his cohort Philip Melanchthon, although no doubt at least in part typically humorous and sarcastic, cannot but shock nonetheless: "Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe more boldly still . . We must sin as long as we are what we are . . . Sin shall not drag us away from Him even should we commit fornication or murder, thousands and thousands of times a day."…Belief was therefore completely separated from action in a very real sense. The inherent dangers in such a radical view are self-evident.”[78]

Contrary to Armstrong, in Luther’s theology belief and action are not separated. As Paul Althaus notes for Luther, “This new obedience [brought about from justification] depends on faith. That, however, does not exhaust their relationship. This new obedience is for this very reason significant for faith, as the hallmark of the fact that it really is faith. If faith is the actual basis of the work, then the work becomes the basis for knowing we have faith.”[79]

VI. Quotations From Luther on Faith And Works

The following are quotes from Martin Luther concerning the relationship between faith and works. While Luther’s “sin boldly” comment gets center stage, the quote in actuality is non-representative of his views on faith and works. The quote “sin boldly” is an obscure saying of Luther’s from a fragment of a letter. Luther’s actual consistent understanding of faith, works, sin and sanctification abound throughout his writings.

Below are only samplings of a large corpus of statements from Luther all testifying to the same idea: justification is by faith alone unto good works done for the good of one’s neighbor. As a form of contrast, Luther often talked about what types of works were not pleasing to God. Luther distinguished between true and false works. Quotes addressing this distinction have also been provided.

Many of the quotes below come from Luther’s sermons. The reason: “[Luther’s] leading thoughts were always faith and charity, justification and sanctification, giving to each its proper place and its due importance. He did not preach sanctification at the expense of justification, a sin which many sectarian preachers are guilty; but he did not fail to emphasize the necessity of the Christian life. His sermons were immensely practical, as all preaching, in order to serve its purpose should be.”[80]

Primary Sources:

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works Volumes 1-55 (editors J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) [Philadelphia: Fortress Press 1999, c1967] (Hereafter referred to as “LW”)

Martin Luther, The Sermons of Martin Luther Volumes 1-7 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000)

Secondary Sources:

Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963)

Ewald Plass, What Luther Says Volumes 1-3 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing house, 1959)

a. Living Faith, Dead Faith, Works, and the Law

“I have often said that there are two kinds of faith. First, a faith in which you indeed believe that Christ is such a man as he is described and proclaimed here and in all the Gospels, but do not believe that he is such a man for you, and are in doubt whether you have any part in him and think: Yes, he is such a man to others, to Peter, Paul, and the blessed saints; but who knows that he is such to me and that I may expect the same from him and may confide in it, as these saints did? Behold, this faith is nothing, it does not receive Christ nor enjoy him, neither can it feel any love and affection for him or from him. It is a faith about Christ and not in or of Christ, a faith which the devils also have as well as evil men…That alone can be called Christian faith, which believes without wavering that Christ is the Saviour not only to Peter and to the saints but also to you. Your salvation does not depend on the fact that you believe Christ to be the Saviour of the godly, but that he is a Saviour to you and has become your own. Such a faith will work in you love for Christ and joy in him, and good works will naturally follow. If they do not, faith is surely not present: for where faith is, there the Holy Ghost is and must work love and good works.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:21-22]

“For it is impossible for him who believes in Christ, as a just Savior, not to love and to do good. If, however, he does not do good nor love, it is sure that faith is not present. Therefore man knows by the fruits what kind of a tree it is, and it is proved by love and deed whether Christ is in him and he believes in Christ. As St. Peter says in 2 Pet. 1, 10: "Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble," that is, if you bravely practice good works you will be sure and cannot doubt that God has called and chosen you.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:40]

“But here we must take to heart the good example of Christ in that he appeals to his works, even as the tree is known by its fruits, thus rebuking all false teachers, the pope, bishops, priests and monks to appear in the future and shield themselves by his name, saying, "We are Christians;" just as the pope is boasting that he is the vicar of Christ. Here we have it stated that where the works are absent, there is also no Christ. Christ is a living, active and fruit- bearing character who does not rest, but works unceasingly wherever he is. Therefore, those bishops and teachers that are not doing the works of Christ, we should avoid and consider as wolves.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:93]

“But you say I would indeed await [Christ’s] coming with joy, if I were holy and without sin. I should answer, what relief do you find in fear and flight? It would not redeem you from sin if you were to be filled with terror for a thousand years. The damned are eternally filled with fear of that day, but this does not take away their sin; yea, this fear rather increases sin and renders man unfit to appear without sin on that day when it comes. Fear must pass out of the soul and there must enter in a desire for righteousness and for that day. But if you really desire to be free from sin and to be holy, then give thanks to God and continue to desire to be more free from sin. Would to God that such desire were so sincere and powerful in you as to bring you to your death.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:76-77]

“What Augustine says is indeed true: He who has created you without yourself will not save you without yourself. Works are necessary for salvation, but they do not cause salvation; for faith alone gives life. For the sake of hypocrites it should be said that good works are necessary for salvation. Works must be done, but it does not follow from this that works save… Works save externally, that is, they testify that we are just and that in a man there is that faith which saves him internally, as Paul says: ‘With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation’.” [What Luther Says 3: 1509]

“Though we see, hear, understand and must confess that Christian life is faith in God and love to our needy neighbor, yet there is no progress. This one clings to his religious ceremonies and his own works, that one is scraping all to himself and helps no one. Even those who gladly hear and understand the doctrine of pure faith do not proceed to serve their neighbor, as though they expected to be saved by faith without works: they see not that their faith is not faith, but a shadow of faith, just as the picture in the mirror is not the face itself, but only a reflection of the same, as St. James so beautifully writes, saying, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth away, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was," James 1, 22-25. So also there within themselves many behold a reflection of true faith when they hear and speak of the Word, but as soon as the hearing and speaking are done, they are concerned about other affairs and are not doing according to it, and thus they always forget about the fruit of faith, namely, Christian love, of which Paul also says, "For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power," I Cor. 4, 20.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:112-113]

“But, as has often been said, faith changes the person and makes out of an enemy a child, so mysteriously that the external works, walk and conversation remain the same as before, when they are not by nature wicked deeds. Therefore faith brings with it the entire inheritance and highest good of righteousness and salvation, so that these need not be sought in works, as the false teachers of good works would have us believe. For he who is a child of God has already God's inheritance through his sonship. If then faith gives this sonship, it is manifest that good works should be done freely, to the honour of God, since they already possess salvation and the inheritance from God through faith.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:210]

“But this birth properly shows its power in times of temptation and death. There it becomes evident who is born again, and who is not. Then the old light, reason, struggles and wrestles and is loath to leave its fancies and desires, is unwilling to consider and resort to the Gospel, and let go its own light. But those who are born again, or are then being born again, spend their lives in peace and obedience to the Gospel, confide in and cling to the witness of John, and let go, their light, life, property, honour, and all they have. Therefore they come to the eternal inheritance, as real children.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:213]

“We must therefore most certainly maintain that where there is no faith there also can be no good works; and conversely, that there is no faith where there are no good works. Therefore faith and good works should be so closely joined together that the essence of the entire Christian life consists in both.” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 246, footnote 99]

“Works are a certain sign, like a seal on a letter, which make me certain that my faith is genuine. As a result if I examine my heart and find that my works are done in love, then I am certain that my faith is genuine. If I forgive, then my forgiving makes me certain that my faith is genuine and assures me and demonstrates my faith to me.” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 247, footnote 106]

“Works assure us and bear witness before men and the brethren and even before our own selves that we truly believe and that we are sons of God in hope and heirs of eternal life.” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 247, footnote 106]

“Love is evidence of faith and gives us firm and certain confidence in the mercy of God; thus we are commanded to make our calling certain by good works (II Peter 1:10). When works follow it becomes apparent that we have faith…” [Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 247, footnote 106

“True faith is not idle. We can, therefore, ascertain and recognize those who have true faith from the effect or from what follows.” [LW 34:183

“See, as now no one is without some commission and calling, so no one is without some kind of work, if he desires to do what is right. Every one therefore is to take heed to continue in his calling, look to himself, faithfully do what is commanded him, and serve God and keep his commandments; then he will have so much to do that all time will be too short, all places too cramped, all resources of help too weak.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1: 243]

“Therefore we must close our eyes, not look at our works, whether they be great, small, honorable, comtemptible, spiritual, temporal or what kind of an appearance and name they may have upon earth; but look to the command and to the obedience in the works. Do they govern you, then the work also is truly right and precious, and completely godly, although it springs forth as insignificant as a straw. However, if obedience and God’s commandments do not dominate you, then the work is not right, but damnable, surely the devil’s own doings, although it were even so great a work as to raise the dead. For it is decreed that God’s eyes look not to the works, but to the obedience in the works. Therefore it is his will, that we look to his command and our calling, of which St. Paul says in Corinthians 7:17: “As God hath called each, so let him walk.” And St. Peter says, Ye are to be as faithful, good shepherds or administrators of the manifold grace of God; so that each one may serve the other, and be helpful to him by means of what he has received, 1 Peter 4:10. See, here Peter says the grace and gifts of God are not one but manifold, and each is to tend to his own, develop the same and through them be of service to others.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:244]

“Now let us turn to the second part, the outer man. Here we shall answer all those who, offended by the word “faith” and by all that has been said, now ask, “If faith does all things and is alone sufficient unto righteousness, why then are good works commanded? We will take our ease and do no works and be content with faith.” I answer: not so, you wicked men, not so.” [LW 31:357]

“Although, as I have said, a man is abundantly and sufficiently justified by faith inwardly, in his spirit, and so has all that he needs, except insofar as this faith and these riches must grow from day to day even to the future life; yet he remains in this mortal life on earth. In this life he must control his own body and have dealings with men. Here the works begin; here a man cannot enjoy leisure; here he must indeed take care to discipline his body by fastings, watchings, labors, and other reasonable discipline and to subject it to the Spirit so that it will obey and conform to the inner man and faith and not revolt against faith and hinder the inner man, as it is the nature of the body to do if it is not held in check. The inner man, who by faith is created in the image of God, is both joyful and happy because of Christ in whom so many benefits are conferred upon him; and therefore it is his one occupation to serve God joyfully and without thought of gain, in love that is not constrained.” [LW 31:358]

“Since by faith the soul is cleansed and made to love God, it desires that all things, and especially its own body, shall be purified so that all things may join with it in loving and praising God. Hence a man cannot be idle, for the need of his body drives him and he is compelled to do many good works to reduce it to subjection. Nevertheless the works themselves do not justify him before God, but he does the works out of spontaneous love in obedience to God and considers nothing except the approval of God, whom he would most scrupulously obey in all things.” [LW 31:358]

“Good works do not make a good man, but a good man does good works; evil works do not make a wicked man, but a wicked man does evil works.” [LW 31:360]

“But as faith makes a man a believer and righteous, so faith does good works. Since, then, works justify no one, and a man must be righteous before he does a good work, it is very evident that it is faith alone which, because of the pure mercy of God through Christ and in his Word, worthily and sufficiently justifies and saves the person.” [LW 31:361]

“Hence the beginning of goodness or godliness is not in us, but in the Word of God. God must first let his Word sound in our hearts by which we learn to know and to believe him, and afterwards do good works.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:339]

“Why then does Christ say here: "He went down to his house justified?" This is what I have often said, if faith be true, it will break forth and bear fruit. If the tree is green and good, it will not cease to blossom forth in leaves and fruit. It does this by nature. I need not first command it and say: Look here, tree, bear apples. For if the tree is there and is good, the fruit will follow unbidden. If faith is present works must follow.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:340-341]

“Thus faith casts itself on God, and breaks forth and becomes certain through its works. When this takes place a person becomes known to me and to other people. For when I thus break forth I spare neither man nor devil, I cast myself down, and will have nothing to do with lofty affairs, and will regard myself as the poorest sinner on earth. This assures me of my, faith. For this is what it says: "This man went down to his house justified." Thus we attribute salvation as the principal thing to faith, and works as the witnesses of faith. They make one so certain that he concludes from the outward life that the faith is genuine.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:341]

“This is why St. Luke and St. James have so much to say about works, so that one says: Yes, I will now believe, and then he goes and fabricates for himself a fictitious delusion, which hovers only on the lips as the foam on the water. No, no; faith is a living and an essential thing, which makes a new creature of man, changes his spirit and wholly and completely converts him. It goes to the foundation and there accomplishes a renewal of the entire man; so, if I have previously seen a sinner, I now see in his changed conduct, manner and life, that he believes. So high and great a thing is faith.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:341]

“For this reason the Holy Spirit urges works, that they may be witnesses of faith. In those therefore in whom we cannot realize good works, we can immediately say and conclude: they heard of faith, but it did not sink into good soil. For if you continue in pride and lewdness, in greed and anger, and yet talk much of faith, St. Paul will come and say, 1 Cor. 4:20, look here my dear Sir, "the kingdom of God is not in word but in power." It requires life and action, and is not brought about by mere talk.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:341-342]

“Thus we err on both sides in saying, a person must only believe, then he will neglect to do good works and bring forth good fruits. Again, if you preach works, the people immediately comfort themselves and trust in works. Therefore we must walk upon the common path. Faith alone must make us good and save us. But to know whether faith is right and true, you must show it by your works. God cannot endure your dissembling, for this reason he has appointed you a sermon which praises works, which are only witnesses that you believe, and must be performed not thereby to merit anything, but they should be done freely and gratuitously toward our neighbor.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:342]

“For thus God has also introduced works, as though he would say: if you believe, then you have the kingdom of heaven; and yet, in order that you may not deceive yourselves, do the works.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:342]

“As though [God] would say: Ye are my friends, but this the people will not know by your faith, but when you show the fruits of faith, and break forth in love, then they will know you. The fruits will not save you nor make you any friends, but they must show and prove that you are saved and are my friends. Therefore mark this well, that faith alone makes us good; but as faith lies concealed within me, and is a great life, a great treasure, therefore the works must come forth and bear witness of the faith, to praise God's grace and condemn the works of men. You must cast your eyes to the earth and humiliate yourself before everyone, that you may also win your neighbor by your services; for this reason God lets you live, otherwise nothing would be better for you than to die and go to heaven.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:342-343]

“For where faith is, there is no anxiety for fine clothing and sumptuous feasting, yea, there is no longing for riches, honor, pleasure, influence, and all that is not God himself; but there is a seeking and a striving for and a cleaving to nothing except to God, the highest good alone; it is the same to him whether his food be dainty or plain, whether his clothing be fine or homespun. For although they even do wear costly clothes, possess great influence and honor, yet they esteem none of these things; but are forced to them, or come to them by accident, or they are compelled to use them in the service of others.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:19]

“…[W]e must not judge poor Lazarus in his sores, poverty and anxiety, according to his outward appearance. For many persons suffer from affliction and want, and yet they gain nothing by it; for example King Herod suffered a great affliction, as is related in Acts 12:23; but afterwards he did not have it better before God on account of it. Poverty and suffering make no one acceptable to God; but, whoever is first acceptable to God, his poverty and suffering are precious in the eyes of God, as Ps. 116:15 says: "Precious in the sight of Jehovah is the death of his saints." Thus we must look into the heart of Lazarus also, and seek the treasure which made his sores so precious. That was surely his faith and love; for without faith it is impossible to please God, as the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, 11:6. Therefore his heart also must have confessed that he even in the midst of such poverty and misery expected all good from God, and comfortably relied upon him; with whose blessings and grace he was so richly satisfied, and had such pleasure in them, that he would have heartily and willingly suffered even more misery, if the will of his gracious God had so determined. See, that is a true, living faith, which softened his heart by the knowledge of the divine goodness; so that nothing was too heavy or too much to suffer and to do. So clever and skilful does faith make the heart, when it experiences the grace of God.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:22-23]

“All believers are like poor Lazarus; and every believer is a true Lazarus, for he is of the same faith, mind and will, as Lazarus. And whoever will not be a Lazarus, will surely have his portion with the rich glutton in the flames of hell. For we all must like Lazarus trust in God, surrender ourselves to him to work in us according to his own good pleasure, and be ready to serve all men. And although we all do not suffer from such sores and poverty, yet the same mind and will must be in us, that were in Lazarus, cheerfully to bear such things, wherever God wills it.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:25]

“…[O]nly those things are good works which God has commanded, just as only that is a sin which god has forbidden. Therefore, he who wants to know and do good works need only know God’s Commandments… These Commandments of God must teach us how to distinguish among good works.” [What Luther Says 3:1499]

Luther composed a hymn on the Ten Commandments in which he states, “To us come these commands, that so- Thou son of man, thy sins mayst know- And make thee also well perceive- How before God man should live.”[LW 53:279.] Elsewhere Luther said of the Ten Commandments, “They are the true fountain from which all good works must flow.”[Martin Luther, as cited by Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 272, footnote 124]

“…[N]o man can progress so far in sanctification as to keep even one of the Ten Commandments as it should be kept, but that the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer must come to our assistance, as we shall hear, through which we must continually seek, pray for, and obtain the power and strength to keep the Commandments.”[What Luther Says 3:1501]

“God has given me his law like a mirror, in which I see what is good and evil. It says: Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself," Deut. 6:5, Mat. 22:37. Now the works of the publican praise God and benefit the whole world, because they teach us to know, and show us the way of God our Saviour. Therefore they are good because they praise God and benefit our neighbor. On the other hand, the hypocrite struts forth and blasphemes God, and with his corrupt life misleads the whole world.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:346-347]

“While we still sojourn here on earth, we have other teachings and ways to follow, such as the Ten Commandments, which inform us how to keep our bodies under discipline and in obedience, how to deal and live honorably and honestly with our neighbor while we are together. These things are pleasing to God.”[LW 24:50]

“The benefit and fruit of the Holy Spirit is, that sin will be changed to the highest and best use. Thus Paul boasts to Timothy, when he was converted, that whereas he had lived such a wicked life before, he now held his sin to be so contemptible that he composed a hymn and sang about it thus, in 1 Tim 1, 12-17: "I thank him that enabled me, even Christ Jesus our Lord, for that he counted me faithful, appointing me to his service; though I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: howbeit I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his longsuffering, for an example of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”[ Sermons of Martin Luther 2:250-251]

“It is this first kind of knowledge that some people have of God. They know very well how to say of him: I believe in God the Father, and in his only begotten Son. But it is only upon the tongue, like the foam on the water; it does not enter the heart. Figuratively a big tumor still remains there in the heart; that is, they cling somewhat to their own deeds and think they must do works in order to be saved--that Christ's person and merit are not sufficient. Thy work is nothing, thy wisdom is foolishness, thy counsel is nothing, thy truth also amounts to nothing, neither does the mass avail anything before God. Then they reply: Aye, the devil has prompted you to speak thus. They say, Christ has truly died for us, but in a way that we, also, must accomplish something by our deeds. Notice how deeply wickedness and unbelief are rooted in the heart. The puffed-up pride of the heart is the reason why man can know neither Christ nor the Father.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2:252-253]

“Thus, faith must be exercised, worked and polished; be purified by fire, like gold. Faith, the great gift and treasure from God, must express itself and triumph in the certainty that it is right before God and man, and before angels, devils and the whole world. Just as a jewel is not to be concealed, but to be worn in sight, so also, will and must faith be worn and exhibited, as it is written in 1 Peter 1, 7: "That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold that perisheth though it is proved by fire," etc.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2:245-246]

“Again you say: What about the doctrine of good works? Shall this amount to nothing, or is it not a beautiful, praiseworthy thing, when a man endeavors to keep the commandments, and is obedient, chaste, honorable and truthful? Answer: Yes, surely; all this is to be done; it is also a good doctrine and life, provided it is left in the place where it belongs, and the two doctrines are kept distinct, how a man becomes pious and righteous before God, and how and to what end he is to do good works. For although it is necessary to teach the doctrine of good works, at the same time, nay, even before this also must be carefully taught (so that the doctrine of the Gospel and of faith be kept pure and unadulterated), that all our works, however good and holy they may be, are not the treasure and merit, by which we become acceptable to God and attain everlasting life. But it is this alone, that Christ goes to the Father and by his departure merits this for us, and gives and communicates to us his righteousness, innocence and merits; and so begins in us a kingdom that we, who believe in him, are redeemed by his power and Spirit from sin and death, and shall live with him forever. It must not be a righteousness that continues only here upon earth and then ceases; but a new righteousness, which endures forever in the life beyond with God, just as Christ lives and reigns above forever.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2:147]

“For where the Gospel is truly in the heart, it creates a new man who does not wait until the law comes, but, being so full of joy in Christ, and of desire and love for that which is good, he gladly helps and does good to every one wherever he can, from a free heart, before he ever once thinks of the law. He wholly risks his body and life, without asking what he must suffer on account of it, and thus abounds in good works which flow forth of themselves. Just like Christ will not be compelled to pick up a straw, but without compulsion he permits himself to be nailed to the cross for me and the whole world, and dies for the lost sheep. This may indeed be called work above work.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2.76].

b. Good Works: Serving Our Neighbor

“We now come to consider good works. We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith, but also as an example of love toward our neighbor, whom we are to serve as Christ serves us. Faith brings and gives Christ to you with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions. These two things constitute a true and complete Christian life; then follow suffering and persecution for such faith and love, and out of these grows hope in patience. You ask, perhaps, what are the good works you are to do to your neighbor? Answer: They have no name. As the good works Christ does to you have no name, so your good works are to have no name. Whereby do you know them? Answer: They have no name, so that there may be no distinction made and they be not divided, that you might do some and leave others undone. You shall give yourself up to him altogether, with all you have, the same as Christ did not simply pray or fast for you. Prayer and fasting are not the works he did for you, but he gave himself up wholly to you, with praying, fasting, all works and suffering, so that there is nothing in him that is not yours and was not done for you. Thus it is not your good work that you give alms or that you pray, but that you offer yourself to your neighbor and serve him, wherever he needs you and every way you can, be it with alms, prayer, work, fasting, counsel, comfort, instruction, admonition, punishment, apologizing, clothing, food, and lastly with suffering and dying for him. Pray, where are now such works to be found in Christendom?” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:34]

“If you have ears to hear and a mind to observe, pray, listen and learn for God's sake what good works are and mean. A good work is good for the reason that it is useful and benefits and helps the one for whom it is done; why else should it be called good! For there is a difference between good works and great, long, numerous, beautiful works. When you throw a big stone a great distance it is a great work, but whom does it benefit? If you can jump, run, fence well, it is a fine work, but whom does it benefit? Whom does it help, if you wear a costly coat or build a fine house?”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:35]

“Keep in mind, that you need not do any work for God nor for the departed saints, but you ask and receive good from him in faith. Christ has done and accomplished everything for you, atoned for your sins, secured grace and life and salvation. Be content with this, only think how he can become more and more your own and strengthen your faith. Hence direct all the good you can do and your whole life to the end that it be good; but it is good only when it is useful to other people and not to yourself. You need it not, since Christ has done and given for you all that you might seek and desire for yourself, here and hereafter, be it forgiveness of sins, merit of salvation or whatever it may be called. If you find a work in you by which you benefit God or his saints or yourself and not your neighbor, know that such a work is not good.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:36]

“A man is to live, speak, act, hear, suffer and die for the good of his wife and child, the wife for the husband, the children for the parents, the servants for their masters, the masters for their servants, the government for its subjects, the subjects for the government, each one for his fellow man, even for his enemies, so that one is the other's hand, mouth, eye, foot, even heart and mind. This is a truly Christian and good work, which can and shall be done at all times, in all places, toward all people. You notice the Papists' works in organs, pilgrimages, fasting, etc., are really beautiful, great, numerous, long, wide and heavy works, but there is no good, useful and helpful work among them and the proverb may be applied to them: It is already bad.”[ Sermons of Martin Luther 1:37]

“As we have said touching the other Gospels, that we should learn from them the two doctrines of faith and love, or accepting and bestowing good works, so we should do here, extol faith and exercise love. Faith receives the good works of Christ, love bestows good works on our neighbor.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1:109]

“Whoever does not receive salvation through pure grace, before performing any good works, will most assuredly never secure it; and whoever turns his good works to his own advantage and endeavors to help himself by them and not his neighbor does no good works to begin with.” [What Luther Says 3:1504.]

“…Christ teaches us rightly to apply the works and shows us what good works are. All other work, except faith, we should apply to our neighbor. For God demands of us no other work that we should do for him than to exercise faith in Christ. With that he is satisfied, and with that we give honor to him, as to one who is merciful, long-suffering, wise, kind, truthful and the like. After this think of nothing else than to do to your neighbor as Christ has done to you, and let all your works together with all your life be applied to your neighbor. Look for the poor, sick and all kinds of needy, help them and let your life's energy here appear, so that they may enjoy your kindness, helping whoever needs you, as much as you possibly can with your life, property and honor. Whoever points you to other good works than these, avoid him as a wolf and as Satan, because he wants to put a stumbling block in your way, as David says, "In the way wherein I walk have they hidden a snare for me," Ps. 142, 3. But this is done by the perverted, misguided people of the Papists, who with their religious ceremonies set aside such Christian works, and teach the people to serve God only and not also mankind. They establish convents, masses, vigils, become religious, do this and that. And these poor, blind people call that serving God, which they have chosen themselves. But know that to serve God is nothing else than to serve your neighbor and do good to him in love, be it a child, wife, servant, enemy, friend; without making any difference, whoever needs your help in body or soul, and wherever you can help in temporal or spiritual matters. This is serving God and doing good works. 0, Lord God, how do we fools live in this world, neglecting to do such works, though in all parts of the world we find the needy, on whom we could bestow our good works; but no one looks after them nor cares for them. But look to your own life. If you do not find yourself among the needy and the poor, where the Gospel shows us Christ, then you may know that your faith is not right, and that you have not yet tasted of Christ's benevolence and work for you.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 1: 111]

“If Christ has now thus become your own, and you have by such faith been cleansed through him and have received your inheritance without any personal merit, but alone through the love of God who gives to you as your own the treasure and work of his Son; it follows that you will do good works by doing to your neighbor as Christ has done to you. Here good works are their own teacher. What are the good works of Christ? Is it not true that they are good because they have been done for your benefit, for God's sake, who commanded him to do the works in your behalf? In this then Christ was obedient to the Father, in that he loved and served us.”[Sermons of Luther 1:145]

“Therefore since you have received enough and become rich, you have no other commandment to serve Christ and render obedience to him, than so to direct your works that they may be of benefit to your neighbor, just as the works of Christ are of benefit and use to you. For the reason Jesus said at the Last Supper: "This is my commandment that ye love one another; even as I have loved you." John, 13: 34. Here it is seen that he loved us and did every thing for our benefit, in order that we may do the same, not to him, for he needs it not, but to our neighbor; this is his commandment, and this is our obedience. Therefore it is through faith that Christ becomes our own, and his love is the cause that we are his. He loves, we believe, thus both are united into one. Again, our neighbor believes and expects our love, we are therefore to love him also in return and not let him long for it in vain. One is the same as the other; as Christ helps us so we in return help our neighbor, and all have enough.”[Sermons of Luther 1:145]

“These are the two things in which a Christian is to exercise himself, the one that he draws Christ into himself, and that by faith he makes him his own, appropriates to himself the treasures of Christ and confidently builds upon them; the other that he condescends to his neighbor and lets him share in that which he has received, even as he shares in the treasures of Christ. He who does not exercise himself in these two things will receive no benefit even if he should fast unto death, suffer torture or even give his body to be burned, and were able to do all miracles, as St. Paul teaches, I Cor. 13ff.” [Sermons of Luther 1:146]

“Christ is the priest, all men are spiritual lepers because of unbelief; but when we come to faith in him he touches us With his hand, gives and lays upon us his merit and we become clean and whole without any merit on our part whatever. We are therefore to show our gratitude to him and acknowledge that we have not become pious by our own works, but through his grace, then our course will be right before God. In addition we are to offer our gifts, that is, give of our own to help our fellow man, to do good to him as Christ has done to us. Thus Christ is served and an offering is brought to the rightful priest, for it is done for his sake, in order to love and praise him.”[Sermons of Luther 1:152]

“[Christ] had the special purpose of making mutual love a Christian obligation, and the continual forgiveness of the neighbor the primary and foremost duty of Christians, second only to faith and the reception of forgiveness. As we live in faith toward Him, therefore, so also we should live in love toward our neighbor. We should not bring annoyance or injury upon one another, but keep in mind always to forgive one another even though we have been injured, as is inevitable in this life; we should know that otherwise we shall not be forgiven either. Where anger and ill will are an obstacle, this spoils the whole prayer and prevents one from being able to pray or to wish any of the preceding petitions either. You see, this means we must establish a firm and strong bond that will hold us together. When we plan to come before God in prayer for what we are to obtain, we must not be disunited or divided into schisms, factions, and sects, but we must be tolerant toward one another in love and remain of one mind. When this is the case, the Christian man is perfect; he believes correctly, and he loves correctly. Whatever other faults he may have, these are to be consumed in his prayer, and it is all forgiven and remitted.”[ LW 21:149]

“But the external signs [of the Holy Spirit]… are these: to enjoy hearing about Christ; to teach, give thanks, praise, and confess Him, even at the cost of property and life; to do one’s duty according to one’s calling in a manly way, in faith and joy; not to take delight in sin; not to invade someone else’s calling but to serve one’s own; to help a needy brother, comfort the sorrowful, etc. By these signs we are assured and confirmed a posteriori that we are in a state of grace” [LW 26:378]

“A man does not live for himself alone in tiffs mortal body to work for it alone, but he lives also for all men on earth; rather, he lives only for others and not for himself. To this end he brings his body into subjection that he may the more sincerely and freely serve others, as Paul says in Rom. 14[:7–8], “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.” He cannot ever in this life be idle and without works toward his neighbors, for he will necessarily speak, deal with, and exchange views with men, as Christ also, being made in the likeness of men [Phil. 2:7], was found in form as a man and conversed with men…”[LW 31:364]

“…[A] Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor. Otherwise he is not a Christian. He lives in Christ through faith, in his neighbor through love. By faith he is caught up beyond himself into God. By love he descends beneath himself into his neighbor. Yet he always remains in God and in his love, as Christ says in John 1[:51], “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”[LW 31:370]

“For whoever feels the goodness of God, feels also for the misfortune of his neighbor; but whoever is not conscious of the goodness of God, sympathizes not in the misfortune of his neighbor. Therefore as he has no pleasure in God, he has no heart for his neighbor.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:20]

“For the nature of faith is that it expects all good from God, and relies only on God. For from this faith man knows God, how he is good and gracious, that by reason of such knowledge his heart becomes so tender and merciful, that he wishes cheerfully to do to every one, as he experiences God has done to him. Therefore he breaks forth with love and serves his neighbor out of his whole heart, with his body and life, with his means and honor, with his soul and spirit, and makes him partaker of all he has, just like God did to him. Therefore he does not look after the healthy, the high, the strong, the rich, the noble, the holy persons, who do not need his care; but he looks after the sick, the weak, the poor, the despised, the sinful people, to whom he can be of benefit, and among whom he can exercise his tender heart, and do to them as God has done to him.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:20-21]

“From [the faith of Lazarus] follows now another virtue, namely, love to one's neighbor, so that he is willing and ready to serve everybody; but since Lazarus is poor and in misery himself, he had nothing with which he could serve others; therefore his good will is taken for the deed. But this lack of service in temporal things he abundantly makes good by his services in things spiritual. For even now, long after his death, he serves the whole world with his sores, hunger and misery. His bodily hunger feeds our spiritual hunger; his bodily nakedness clothes (or feeds, as some editions read) our spiritual nakedness; his bodily sores heal our spiritual sores; in this way he teaches and comforts us by his example, how God is pleased with us, when we are not prosperous here upon the earth, if we believe; and warns us how God is angry with us, even if we are prosperous in our unbelief; just as God had pleasure in Lazarus in his misery, and was displeased with the rich man.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:23]

“What is the proof by which one may know that this heavenly bread is his and that he is invited to such a spiritual supper? He needs only to look at his own heart. If he finds it so disposed that it is softened and cheered by God's promises and is firm in the conviction that it may appropriate this bread of life, then he may be assured that he is one of the invited; for as one believes, even so is it done unto him. From that moment on, he loves his neighbor and helps him as his brother; he rescues him, gives to him, lo ans to him and does nothing for him but that which he would desire his neighbor to do for himself. All this is attributable to the fact that Christ's kindness to him has leavened his heart with sweetness and love, so that he has pleasure and joy in serving his neighbor; yea, he is even in misery if he has no one to whom to show kindness. Besides all this, he is gently and humbly disposed toward everybody; he does not highly esteem the transient pomps of the world; he accepts everyone as he is, speaks evil of no one, interprets all things for the best where he sees things are not going right. When his neighbors are lacking in faith, in love, in life, then he prays for them, and he is heartily sorry when anyone gives offense to God or to his neighbor. To sum up all, with him the root and sap are good, for he is grafted into a rich and fruitful vine, in Christ; therefore, such fruits must come forth. But if one has not faith and is not taught of God--if he never eats of this bread from heaven--he surely never brings forth these fruits. For where such fruits are not produced, there is certainly no true faith. St. Peter teaches us in 2 Peter 1, 10 that we should make our calling unto salvation sure by good works; there he is really speaking of the works of love, of serving one's neighbor and treating him as one's own flesh and blood. This is sufficient on this Gospel. Let us pray for God's grace.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2:403-404]

“For if your heart is in the state of faith that you know your God has revealed himself to you to be so good and merciful, without thy merit, and purely gratuitously, while you were still his enemy and a child of eternal wrath; if you believe this, you cannot refrain from showing yourself so to your neighbor; and do all out of love to God and for the welfare of your neighbor. Therefore, see to it that you make no distinction between friend and foe, the worthy and the unworthy; for you see that all who were here mentioned, have merited from us something different than that we should love and do them good. And the Lord also teaches this, when in Luke 6:35 he says: "But love your enemies, and do good unto them, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil." Thus we have considered the first part of this Gospel.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:101]

c. False Works and Unbelief

“…[I]f anyone does anything which God’s Word has not prescribed, his work has no standing before God and is lost labor….The Psalter, too, and all the prophets complain that the people are doing ‘good works’ which they themselves have chosen and God has not commanded. For God can and will not allow those who are His to undertake to do anything that He has not commanded, even though it be ever so good. For the obedience which clings to God’s Word is of all works the noblest and the best.”[What Luther Says 3:1500]

“And to come to our Papists' work, what does it avail if they put silver or gold on the walls, wood and stone in the churches? Who would be made better, if each village had ten bells, as big as those at Erfurt? Whom would it help if all the houses were convents and monasteries as splendid as the temple of Solomon? Who is benefited if you fast for St. Catherine, St. Martin or any other saint? Whom does it benefit, if you are shaved half or wholly, if you wear a gray or a black cap? Of what use were it if all people field mass every hour? What benefit is it if in one church, as at Meissen, they sing day and night Without interruption? Who is better for it, if every church had more silver, pictures and jewelry than the churches of Halle and Wittenberg? It is folly and deception, men's lies invented these things and called them good works; they all pretend they serve God thus and pray for the people and their sins, just as if they helped God with their property or as if his saints were in need of our work. Sticks and stones are not as rude and mad as we are. A tree bears fruit, not for itself, but for the good of man and beast, and these fruits are its good works.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:35]

“Hear then how Christ explains good works, Math. 7, 12: "Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye unto them; for this is the law and the prophets." Do you hear now what are the contents of the whole law and of all the prophets? You are not to do good to God and to his dead saints, they are not in need of it; still less to wood and stone, to which it is of no use, nor is it needed, but to men, to men, to men. Do you not hear? To men you should do everything that you would they should do to you. I would not have you build me a church or tower or cast bells for me. I would not have you construct for me an organ with fourteen stops and ten rows of flute work. Of this I can neither eat nor drink, support neither wife nor child, keep neither house nor land. You may feast my eyes on these and tickle my ears, but what shall I give to my children? Where are the necessaries of life? 0 madness, madness! The bishops and lords, who should check it, are the first in such folly, and one blind leader leads the other. Such people remind me of young girls playing with dolls and of boys riding on sticks. Indeed, they are nothing but children and players with dolls, and riders of hobbyhorses.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1: 36]

“You notice the Papists' works in organs, pilgrimages, fasting, etc., are really beautiful, great, numerous, long, wide and heavy works, but there is no good, useful and helpful work among them and the proverb may be applied to them: It is already bad. But beware of their acute subtleties, when they say: If these works are not good to our neighbor in his body, they do spiritual good to his soul, since they serve God and propitiate him and secure his grace. Here it is time to say: You lie as wide as your mouth. God is to be worshiped not with works, but by faith, faith must do everything that is to be done between God and us. There may be more faith in a millerboy than in all the Papists, and it may gain more than all priests and monks do with their organs and jugglery, even if they had more organs than these now have pipes. He who has faith can pray for his fellow man, he who has no faith can pray for nothing. It is a satanic lie to call such outward pomp spiritually good and useful works. A miller's maid, if she believes, does more good, accomplishes more, and I would trust her more, if she takes the sack from the horse, than all the priests and monks, if they kill themselves singing day and night and torment themselves to the quick. You great, coarse fools, would you expect to help the people with your faithless life and distribute spiritual goods, when there is on earth no more miserable, needy, godless people than you are? You should be called, not spiritual, but spiritless.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:37]

“But the Papists and their disciples, who would get rid of death, sin and hell by their own works and satisfaction, must remain in them eternally for they undertake to do for themselves what Christ alone did and could do, of whom they should expect it by faith. Therefore they are foolish, deluded people who do works for Christ and his saints, which they should do for their neighbor. Again, what they should expect of Christ by faith they would find in themselves and have gone so far as to spend on stone and wood, on bells and incense what they should spend on their neighbors. They go on and do good to God and his saints, fast for them and dedicate to them prayers, and at the same time leave their neighbor as he is, thinking only, let us first help ourselves! Then comes the pope and sells them his letter of indulgence and leads them into heaven, not into God's heaven, but into the pope's heaven, which is the abyss of hell. Behold, this is the fruit of unbelief and ignorance of Christ, this is our reward for having left the Gospel in obscurity and setting up human doctrine in its place. I repeat it, I wish all pulpits in the world lay in ashes, and the monasteries, convents, churches, hermitages and chapels, and everything were ashes and powder, because of this shameful misleading of souls.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:39]

“Thus you perceive how skillfully the rude Papists made this passage [Matt. 23:2-3] the foundation of their doctrine, lies and tyranny, though no other passage is more strongly against them and more severely condemns their teachings than this one. Christ's words stand firm and are clear; do not follow their works. But their doctrine is their own work, and not God's. They are a people exalted only to lie and to pervert the Scriptures. Moreover, if one's life is bad, it would be strange indeed if he should preach right; he would always have to preach against himself, which he will hardly do without additions and foreign doctrines. In short, he who does not preach the Gospel, identifies himself as one who is sitting neither on Moses' nor on Christ's seat. For this reason you should do neither according to his words nor according to his works, but flee from him as Christ's sheep do, John 10, 4-5: "And the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but flee from him." But if you wish to know what their seat is called, then listen to David: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the wicked, nor standeth in the way of the sinner, nor sitteth in the seat of scoffers, Ps. 1,1. Again: "Shall the throne of wickedness have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by statute?" Ps. 94, 20.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:95]

“Paul says (Col.3:24): ‘Ye serve the Lord Christ.’ Ah, if priests, monks, and nuns were in such a state, how would they thank God and rejoice! For not one of them can say: God has commanded me to celebrate Mass, to sing matins, to observe the seven daily hours of prayer, and the like; for Scripture does not contain one word on the subject. Therefore if they are asked whether they are confident and assured that their state pleases God, they say no. But if you ask an insignificant maid-servant why she scours a dish or milks the cow, she can say: I know that the thing I do pleases God, for I have God’s Word and commandment…God does not look at the insignificance of the acts but at the heart that serves Him in such little things.”[What Luther Says 3:1501]

“Christ predicted that men would come who would do signs and wonders in order to lead even the elect into error, if that were possible. Therefore we must not rely on any works or miracles unless they are produced by faith and further faith.”[ What Luther Says 3:1502]

“Observe now from this how far those have gone out of the way who have united good works with stone, wood, clothing, eating and drinking. Of what benefit is it to your neighbor if you build a church entirely out of gold!? Of what benefit to him is the frequent ringing of great church bells? Of what benefit to him is the glitter and the ceremonies in the churches, the priests' gowns, the sanctuary, the silver pictures and vessels? Of what benefit to him are the many candles and much incense? Of what benefit to him is the much chanting and mumbling, the singing of vigils and masses? Do you think that God will permit himself to be paid with the sound of bells, the smoke of candles, the glitter of gold and such fancies? He has commanded none of these, but if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning, or suffering in body or soul, you are to leave every thing else and at once help him in every way in your power and if you can do no more, help him with words of comfort and prayer. Thus has Christ done to you and given you an example for you to follow.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:147]

“Now let every one examine himself in the light of the Gospel and see how far he is from Christ, what is the character of his faith and love. There are many who are enkindled with dreamy devotion, when they hear of such poverty of Christ, are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem, denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service, and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow men need their help, and which they let go on in their misery unaided. Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones, or sinful people around him? Why does he not exercise his love to those? Why does he not do to them as Christ has done to him?”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:155]

“It is altogether false to think that you have done much for Christ, if you do nothing for those needy ones. Had you been at Bethlehem you would have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since is is now made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him. Should he come now and lay himself in a manger, and would send you word that it was he, of whom you now know so much, you might do something for him, but you would not have done it before. Had it been positively made known to the rich man in the Gospel, to what high position Lazarus would be exalted, and he would have been convinced of the fact, he would not have left him lie and perish as he did. Therefore, if your neighbor were now what he shall be in the future, and lay before you, you would surely give him attention. But now, since it is not so, you beat the air and do not recognize the Lord in your neighbor, you do not do to him as he has done to you. Therefore God permits you to be blinded, and deceived by the pope and false preachers, so that you squander on wood, stone, paper, and wax that with which you might help your fellow man.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:155]

“…[N]o blood, nor relationship, nor command, nor doctrine, nor reason, nor free will, nor good works, nor exemplary living, nor Carthusian orders, nor any religious orders, though they were angelic, are of any use or help to this sonship of God; but they are only a hindrance. For where reason is not first renewed and in agreement with the new birth, it takes offence, becomes hardened and blinded, so that it will scarcely, if ever, be able to be righted; but thinks its doings and ways are right and proper, storming and raving against all who disregard and reject its doings. Therefore the old man remains the enemy of God and of grace, of Christ and of his light, beheads John and destroys his testimony, the Gospel, and sets up his own human doctrines. Thus the game goes on even now, in full splendour and power, in the doings of the pope and his clergy, who together know nothing of this divine birth. They prattle and speak nonsense in their doctrines and commandments of certain good works, with which they hope to attain grace, though still clad in the old Adam. But what is here said remains unchangeable: Not of blood, not of the will of the flesh nor of man, but of God, is this new birth. We must despair of our own will, works, and life, which have been poisoned by the false, stubborn, selfish light of reason; in all things listen to the voice and testimony of the Baptist; believe and obey it. Then the true Light, Christ will enlighten us, renew us, and give us power to become the sons of God. For this reason he came and was made man…”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:214-215]

“…[T]he Papists themselves have devised good works and divine worship with their outward deeds and laws, all of which, however, are faithless things, founded only upon works and without God’s command, mere human prattle. So we say, they do not serve God, but themselves and Satan, as is the case with all idolatry; and they only mislead the people from their Christian faith and common brother love; but they will not suffer us to say that, and thus begins the misery that reigns now. Both agree that they are to serve God and do good works; but as to the definition, what is the service of God and good works, they will never agree. For these say, faith is nothing, nature with her works is good and right. Moreover, they also agreed that the open coarse sins, as murder, adultery, and robbery are not right; but in the principal works that pertain to divine worship, there they separate as far from one another as winter is from summer. The first hold to God and his mercy, and fear him; the others run to wood and stones, food and clothing, days and seasons and wish to win the favor of God by building, by bequests, by fastings, by their blaring voices and by their shaven heads. They fear nothing, are impudent and full of every kind of presumption. Oh! what a holy, wise, learned people, for whom God himself is neither sufficiently holy, wise nor learned, with all his prophets, wise men and scribes.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 1:227-228]

“Any work that is not done solely for the purpose of keeping the body under control or of serving one’s neighbor, as long as he asks nothing contrary to God, is not good or Christian. For this reason I greatly fear that few or no colleges, monasteries, altars, and offices of the church are really Christian in our day—nor the special fasts and prayers on certain saints’ days. I fear, I say, that in all these we seek only our profit, thinking that through them our sins are purged away and that we find salvation in them. In this way Christian liberty perishes altogether. This is a consequence of our ignorance of Christian faith and liberty.”[LW 31:370]

“Let us now consider the fool, the Pharisee. Here are most beautiful works. In the first place he thanks God, fasts twice in the week, and all this to honor God, not St. Nicholas or St. Barnabas, he gives the tenth of all his goods, nor has he at any time committed adultery, has never done any one violence or robbed him of his goods. Thus he has conducted himself in an exemplary manner. This is a beautiful honest life, and excites our wonder and surprise. Truly, after the fashion of the world no one could find fault with him, yea, one must praise him. Yes, to be sure he does this himself. But God is the first to come and say, that all the work of the Pharisee is blasphemy. God help us, what an awful sentence this is! Priests and nuns may well be terrified by it, and all their bones quake, as you scarcely ever find one of them as pious as this Pharisee. Would to God we could have many such hypocrites and Pharisees; for then they could be taught better things. Well, what is the matter with the good man? Only this, he does not know his own heart. Here you see that we are our own greatest enemies, who close our eyes and hearts, and think we are as we feel.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:343-344]

“Now [the Pharisee] comes and praises himself that he is just. He has a poisonous, wicked heart, who praises himself most gloriously on account of his pretended good works, how he fasted and gave the tenth of all he had. Hence he is so full of hatred to his neighbor, if God allowed him to judge, he would plunge the poor publican down into the deepest hell. Behold, is not this a wicked heart and terrible to hear, that I would all men should go to ruin, if only I be praised? Yet all this is so finely decorated and adorned by external conduct, that no one can censure it. Here we see how we are to know the tree from its fruits. For when I view his heart with spiritual eyes, I recognize it is full of blasphemy and hatred to his neighbor. From these fruits I know that the tree is evil. For works would not be evil in themselves, but the evil root in the heart makes them evil. This is set before us that we may beware and guard ourselves against it.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:346]

“But the nature of unbelief is that it does not expect any good from God. By which unbelief the heart is blinded so that it neither feels nor knows how good and gracious God is; but as Psalm 14:2 says: he cares not for God, seeks not after him. Out of this blindness follows further that his heart becomes so hard, obdurate and unmerciful that he has no desire to do a kindness to his fellow man; yea, he would rather harm and offend everybody. For as he is insensible to the goodness of God, so he takes no pleasure in doing good to his neighbor. Consequently it follows that he does not look after the sick, poor and despised people, to whom he could and should be helpful and profitable; but he casts his eyes upward and sees only the high, rich and influential, from whom be himself may receive advantage, gain, pleasure and honor.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:21]

“So we see now in the example of the rich man [Luke 16:19-31] that it is impossible to love, where no faith exists, and impossible to believe, where there is no love; for both will and must be together, so that a believer loves everybody and serves everybody; but an unbeliever at heart is an enemy of everybody and wishes to be served by every person and yet he covers all such horrible, perverted sins with the little show of his hypocritical works as with a sheep's skin; just as that large bird, the ostrich, which is so s tupid that when it sticks its head into a bush, it thinks its entire body is concealed. Yea, here you see that there is nothing blinder and more unmerciful than unbelief. For here the dogs, the most irascible animals, are more merciful to poor Lazarus than this rich man, and they recognize the need of the poor man and lick his sores; while the obdurate, blinded hypocrite is so hard hearted that he does not wish him to have the crumbs that fell from his table. Now all unbelieving people are like this rich hypocrite. Unbelief cannot do nor be different than this rich man is pictured and set forth by his life. And especially is this the character of the clergy, as we see before our eyes, who never do a truly good work, but only seek a good time, never serving nor profiting any one; but reversing the order they want everybody to serve them. Like harpies they only claw everything into their own pockets; and like the old adage runs they "rob the poor of his purse." They are not moved in the least by the poverty of others. And although some have not expensive food and raiment, yet they do not lack will power and the spirit of action; for they imitate the rich, the princes and the lords, and do many hypocritically good works by founding institutions and building churches, with which they conceal the great rogue, the wolf of unbelief; so that they become obdurate and hardened and are of no use to anybody. These are the rich man.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:21-22]

“There are continually before our eyes poor and needy persons, whom God lays before us as the greatest treasures; but we close our eyes to them, and see not what God does there; later, when God has done his work, and we have neglected the treasure, then we hasten and wish to serve, but we waited too long. Then we begin and make sacred relics of their garments, shoes and furniture, and make pilgrimages to and erect churches over their graves, are occupied with many like foolish deeds and thus ridicule ourselves in that we permit the living saints to be trodden under our feet and to perish, and we worship their garments, which is neither necessary nor of any use; so that indeed our Lord will let the judgment fall as he did in Mat. 23:29-33, and say: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and garnish the tombs of the righteous, and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we should not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye witness to yourselves, that ye are sons of them that slew the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye offspring of vipers, how shall ye escape the judgment of hell?’ ”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:24-25]

“But that we should institute masses, vigils and prayers to be repeated forever for the dead every year, as if God had not heard us the year before, is the work of Satan and is death itself, where God is mocked by unbelief, and such prayers are nothing but blasphemy of God. Therefore take warning and turn from these practices. God is not moved by these anniversary ceremonies, but by the prayer of the heart, of devotion and of faith; that will help the departed souls if anything will. Vigils, masses, indeed help the bellies of the priests, monks and nuns, but departed souls are not helped by them and God is thus mocked.”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:30.]

“…[T]hose who parade their own works, do not know Christ. Neither do they know what the Father has done through Christ. Nor do they know that God is not interested in their good works, but in his Son alone. Thus, they do not know the Father, neither do they know what they have received from the Father, through Christ. Therefore, they must fall and perish, and behold God in his severest aspect--as a judge. They try to silence the judgment with their good works, but they find no good work that is sufficient to do this, and then they must finally despair. When people see that they, themselves, are nothing, and establish the foundation of their hearts upon Christ, esteem him as the highest good, and know God as a Father in death and life--this is to ‘know God.’ ”[ Sermons of Martin Luther 2: 253-254]

“…[I]f anybody comes and tries to make a fool of you, makes much ado and tells you wonders about great exceptional holiness, and directs you to live after the example of this or that great saint, in order thereby to please God and become a Christian, you can say to him: Dear sir, I grant all that is good and I also would like to be pious, do according to God's commandments, and keep myself from sin; but you shall never persuade me, that in this way I become a Christian or attain to greater and higher things. They also, who fasted, labored and suffered so much, did not become Christians by that. For this were to encroach upon my dear Lord Christ, so that he would have gone away in vain and human work would be placed on equality with his. But I wish to be called a Christian, as he taught me and all saints have had to do, if they wished to stand before God, because I cling to this Saviour and, as St. Paul says in Phil 3, 9: "Be found in him, not having a righteousness of mine own, even that which is of the law," but his, which he gained for me by this departure, by which he overcame my sin and death, and which he announces and grants to me through the preaching of the Gospel. When you once have this, then go and do as many good works as you can; however, do it according to the commandment of God, for without this and before him you will be able to do nothing good, because you are still in unbelief, and have and know not Christ, and therefore are under sin with all that you do…”[Sermons of Martin Luther 2:150-151]

“For, although a man has exercised himself in [works] during his whole life much and long, and has done everything that he was able to do; nevertheless he cannot thereby attain to certainty that God is pleased with it and is truly gracious to him. Hence in every such life the heart always remains uncertain and in doubt. All experienced consciences give evidence of this, and even the monks bear testimony to it in their books, in which they teach openly, that one must doubt, for no man can know whether he is in a state of grace, and it would be presumptuous in a high degree to make this boast with reference to one's self.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2:148-149]

“…[I]t is manifest what a shameful, cursed doctrine the monks and the whole papacy have hitherto taught, whereby they have misled the world. They not only taught no word of Christ and faith, but they even claimed with impudence, that their monkery is a much higher, nobler and more perfect life than that of ordinary Christians, which ought to be an abomination to all Christians to hear. For one may exalt and extol the life and piety of all men, the chastity of virgins, the discipline and asceticism of hermits, the laudable deeds and virtues of great, excellent and pious lords and rulers, and whatever may be described to pious people, as high as one pleases; it never can equal a Christian, that is, one who has this Lord, sitting at the right hand of God, and his righteousness. We will gladly let that also stand for what it is worth and praise it as a precious gift; but a Christian is to be extolled as a lord far and high above all that, as one that has this eternal possession and inheritance in the kingdom of heaven at the right hand of God with Christ, his brother.” [Sermons of Martin Luther 2:149-150]

End Notes

These endnotes provide the necessary bibliographic information utilized. Please note: “LW” refers to Luther’s Works, English edition (55 volumes). Secondly, the endnotes serve as an area to further substantiate a point. When possible, web links are included for the authors or topics discussed. If any of the links do not work, I suggest copying the “http” address to this Internet archive site: http://www.archive.org/.

[1] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 120.

[2] Peter Brunner and Bernard J. Holm, Luther in the 20th Century, (Iowa: Luther College Press, 1961), 86. Denifle was corrected for his mistaken vilifying polemic against Luther by the Roman Catholic Scholar F.X. Kiefl. Kiefl is credited as the first Catholic scholar to put forth a new, kinder approach to Luther. Kiefl was a German theologian at the University of Wurzburg. His groundbreaking article on Luther was “Martin Luther’s Religious Psyche as the Root of a New Philosophical World View” which first appeared in the monthly journal, Monatschrift fur alle Gebiete des Wissens. Kiefl rejected Denifle’s popular notion that Luther simply invented his doctrine of justification by faith alone to excuse sinful behavior. Denifle had spent considerable time painting Luther as a gross sinner. Kiefl rejects this. He sees past Denifle’s rhetoric and distorted facts and sees that Luther never denied good works or holy living. Rather good works are the way in which faith expresses itself. Richard Stauffer explains Kiefl:“…Denifle was at fault in seeing in Luther’s protest a libertine revolt against the Church and in regarding his theology as an excuse to condone his behavior” [Richard Stauffer, Luther As Seen By Catholics, (Virginia: John Knox Press, 1967), 37]. James Atkinson comments, “Kiefl contradicted Denifle, maintaining that Luther’s doctrine of justification implied works as a fruit of justification, and that Luther was no libertine seeking excuses for low morality. He made the important point that Luther never sought to replace dogma by religious feeling” [Martin Luther: Prophet to the Church Catholic (Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1983), 21].

[3] Peter Guilday, As cited in Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), xiv, 374.

[4] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 120-121.

[5] Sermons of Martin Luther (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000) 1:50.

[6] Sermons of Martin Luther 1:110.

[7] Roland Bainton, Here I Stand (New York: Mentor Books), 259.

[8] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 246.

[9] In The Disputation Concerning Justification, Luther answered this spurious proposition: “Faith without works justifies, Faith without works is dead [Jas. 2:17, 26]. Therefore, dead faith justifies.” Luther responded: “The argument is sophistical and the refutation is resolved grammatically. In the major premise, “faith” ought to be placed with the word “justifies” and the portion of the sentence “without works justifies” is placed in a predicate periphrase and must refer to the word “justifies,” not to “faith.” In the minor premise, “without works” is truly in the subject periphrase and refers to faith. We say that justification is effective without works, not that faith is without works. For that faith which lacks fruit is not an efficacious but a feigned faith. “Without works” is ambiguous, then. For that reason this argument settles nothing. It is one thing that faith justifies without works; it is another thing that faith exists without works” [LW 34:175-176].

[10] LW 34:111.

[11] Sermons of Martin Luther 1:35.

[12] What Luther Says, 3:1499.

[13] What Luther Says, 3:1500.

[14] What Luther Says, 3:1499.

[15] Sermons of Martin Luther 1:34. Says Paul Althaus of Luther’s position, “…[R]ighteousness and certainty of salvation, once experienced, lead, with inner necessity, to ‘woks,’ to new obedience, and to joyfully serving God by serving the neighbor” [Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963], 246.

[16] Editors comment, LW 48:277.

[17] LW 48: 277.

[18] “Luther had required that at the Lord’s Supper the cup, in accordance with the original institution of Christ, should be given to the laity. Carlstadt and Zwilling, however, wished to make it a sin for a person to partake of the Communion without the cup being given to the communicants” [Julius Kostlin, Life of Luther (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), 256].

[19] LW 48:279. “”The project of restoring at Wittenberg the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as originally instituted, with the cup, met with Luther’s full approval; for the tyranny which the Christian congregations had hitherto endured in this respect had been acknowledged there, and there was a general wish to resist it” [Julius Kostlin, Life of Luther (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), 257].

[20] LW 48:280.

[21] LW 48:281.

[22] LW 48:281.

[23] LW 48:281. An alternate translation is offered by Project Wittenberg: “If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.”

W.H.T. Dau also presents another English translation, “If you are a preacher of grace, do not preach a fictitious, but the true grace. If grace is of the true sort, you will also have to bear true, not fictitious sins. God does not save those who only acknowledge themselves sinners in a feigned manner. Be a sinner, then, and sin bravely, but believe more bravely still and rejoice in Christ, who is Victor over sin, death, and the world. We must sin as long as we are in this world; the present life is not an abode of righteousness; however, we look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, says Peter…We are satisfied, by the richness of God’s glory, to have come to the knowledge of the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world. No sin shall wrest us from Him, were we even in one day to commit fornication and manslaughter a thousand times. Do you think the price paltry and the payment small that has been made for us by this great Lamb?” [W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 125-126].

[24] Some authors present what I call the “Melanchthon defense.” It is argued that Melanchthon has been overly concerned about minor sins in his life: he is blowing them way out of proportion, to the annoyance of Luther. David Scaer uses such an explanation; “[Luther] was annoyed with Melanchthon’s obsession with minor sins and urged him to do something really sinful: “sin boldly” [David Scaer, “The Law and the Gospel in Lutheran Theology,” Grace Theological Journal Vol. 12:2 Fall 91, 178]. Scaer infers that such a suggestion from Luther was part of his “crude peasant speech, which today would be looked upon by some as signs of an unsanctified life” [ibid.]. Such a trivial explanation is at odds with the overwhelming exhortations to sanctification Luther gave repeatedly, especially during his preaching. W.H.T. Dau presents a toned down version: “[Luther] fears his young colleague is becoming a prey to morbid self-incrimination. It is again a case of ‘Puppensuenden’ being expanded till they seem ethical monstrosities” [W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 127]. Dau’s suggestion is more plausible than Scaer’s, but there is nothing in the immediate context to suggest this psychological/spiritual state of Melanchthon motivated Luther to pen the words “sin boldly.” Dau goes on to interpret Luther’s words primarily as an exhortation to Melanchthon to be bold in his preaching of the gospel: “Melanchthon was a public preacher and expounder of the doctrine of evangelical grace. He must not preach that doctrine mincingly, haltingly….There are some sinners in this world that will not understand your faint evangelical whispers; they need to have the truth that Christ forgives their sins,- all their sins,- their worst sins, blown into them with all he trumpets that made the walls of Jericho fall. If Melanchthon did not require a strong faith in the forgiving grace of God for himself, he needed it as a teacher of that grace to others; he must, therefore, familiarize himself with the immensity and power of that grace”[ibid.].

[25] What Luther says, 2:603.

[26] What Luther Says, 3:1304.

[27] What Luther Says 3:1303.

[28] What Luther Says 3:1303.

[29] What Luther Says, 3:1303.

[30] What Luther Says 3:1315.

[31] Sermons of Martin Luther 2:250.

[32] What Luther Says, 3:1319.

[33] Jared Wicks, Luther and His Spiritual Legacy, (Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983), 29.

[34] W.H.T. Dau, Luther Examined and Reexamined: A Review of Catholic Criticism and a Plea for Reevaluation (St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 126.

[35] LW 34:161.

[36] Sermons of Martin Luther 2.2:344-345.

[37] Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther (Jared Wicks, S.J, Editor. 1970, Loyola University Press), 12.

[38] Catholic Scholars Dialogue with Luther (Jared Wicks, S.J, Editor. 1970, Loyola University Press), 5-6.

[39] Robert Preus, “The Theology of the Cross Part One: Luther and Lutheranism” (Reformation and Revival, Vol. 7:1 Winter, 1998), 7.4.72].

[40] Catholic Answers: Leslie Rumble, The Disaster of "By Faith Alone" (This Rock vol. 14, no. 2, Feb. 2003).

[41] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther, xii-xiii, introductory comments by Rev. Peter Guilday PH.D, Catholic University of America.

[42] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 120.

[43] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 121.

[44] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 120-121.

[45] Patrick O’Hare, The Facts About Luther (Illinois: Tan Books, 1987), 121.

[46] Hartmann Grisar, Luther vol. III (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 196.

[47]Hartmann Grisar, Luther vol. III (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 196. Elsewhere Grisar confirms the statement should not be taken literally: “This paradoxical aphorism was not, as has frequently been assumed, a command to commit sin, against which Luther always wrote and preached, but a very offensive hyperbolical expression of the certitude, inculcated by him, that faith in a merciful God suffices to obtain pardon for all sins, provided that faith in God is ‘boldly’ asserted” [Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1950), 206]. That Grisar finds the statement “offensive” is a matter of his own opinion.

[48] Hartmann Grisar, Luther vol. III (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 197-198.

[49] Hartmann Grisar, Luther vol. III (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 196-197.

[50] Hartmann Grisar, Luther vol. III (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 196. Grisar says elsewhere, “It seems Melanchthon, who was spiritually weaker than Luther, was afflicted by the fear of sin” [Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1950), 206]. Grisar doesn’t confirm how he knew this about Melanchthon. The context of the letter itself from August 1, 1521 in no way suggests this. That the letter is only a fragment should give Grisar and others reason for caution.

[51] Hartmann Grisar, Luther vol. III (St Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1919), 197. Grisar says elsewhere, “In the context the phrase ‘sin boldly’ conveys a sinister impression, involving as it does, fundamentally, a strong self-condemnation of the Lutheran theory of fiduciary faith and justification” [Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1950), 206].

[52] Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1950), 206.

[53] Hartmann Grisar, Martin Luther: His Life and Work (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1950), 206. Grisar here approvingly quotes Mohler,

[54] Lewis Spitz, “Images of Luther,” (Concordia Journal 11, March 1985), 46.

[55] Catholic Encyclopedia, Luther entry.

[56] Patrick W. Carey, “Luther in an American Catholic Context,” found in: Timothy Maschke, Franz Posset, and Joan Skocir (eds.), Ad Fontes Lutheri: Toward the Recovery of the Real Luther: Essays in Honor of Kenneth Hagen’s Sixty-Fifth Birthday, (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001), 45.

[57] Catholic Encyclopedia, Justification entry

[58] Catholic Encyclopedia, Justification entry

[59] Henry O’Connor, S.J., Luther’s Own Statements concerning His Teaching and its Results (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1884), 3.

[60] Henry O’Connor, S.J., Luther’s Own Statements concerning His Teaching and its Results (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1884), 5.

[61] Henry O’Connor, S.J., Luther’s Own Statements concerning His Teaching and its Results (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1884), iii.

[62] Henry O’Connor, S.J., Luther’s Own Statements concerning His Teaching and its Results (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1884), iv.

[63] Henry O’Connor, S.J., Luther’s Own Statements concerning His Teaching and its Results (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1884), 18.

[64] Henry O’Connor, S.J., Luther’s Own Statements concerning His Teaching and its Results (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1884), 61-62.

[65] Catholic Culture, The Most Theological Collection: The Augsburg Confession

[66] Greg Oatis, The Myth of Martin Luther, and Why So Few Read His Works.

[67] Catholic Answers, Purgatory by Rev. William G. Most (This Rock Vol. 3, No. 4, April 1992).

[68] Catholic Answers, Walking the Ecumenical Tightrope by Phillip Blosser (This Rock Vol. 9, No. 10, Oct. 1998).

[69] EWTN, Galatians. Obey, by Fr. William Most.

[70] EWTN, "SAVED" IN SCRIPTURE, by Fr. William Most.





[75] Coming Home Network, The Visible Church Was There All Along by Cindy Beck.

[76] Catholic Analysis, A Passing Generation

[77] http://www.mariology.com/sections/NewTest.html

[78] Dave Armstrong, Martin Luther: Beyond Mythology to Historical Fact. In fairness to Armstrong, this quote is from one of his older papers. It is quite possible he no longer holds to this faulty statement and interpretation.

[79] Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 246

[80] Rev. John H.C. Fritz, “Luther as a Preacher,” found in W.H.T. Dau (editor), Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Martin Luther and its Blessed Results [St Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 204.

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