You heard yesterday the characteristics of a Christian man, how his whole life is faith and love. Faith is directed toward God, love toward man and one’s neighbor, and consists in such love and service for him as we have received from God without our work and merit.
Thus there are two things: the one, which is the most needful, and which must be done in one way and no other; the other, which is a matter of choice and not of necessity, which may be kept or not, without endangering faith or incurring hell. In both, love must deal with our neighbor in the same manner as God has dealt with us; it must walk the straight road, straying neither to the left nor to the right. In the things which are “musts” and are matters of necessity, such as believing in Christ, love nevertheless never uses force or undue constraint.
Thus the mass is an evil thing, and God is displeased with it, because it is performed as a sacrifice and work of merit. Therefore it must be abolished. Here there is no room for question, just as little as if you should ask whether you should pray to God. Here we are entirely agreed: the private mass must be abolished, as I have said in my writings. And I heartily wish it would be abolished everywhere and only the evangelical mass for all the people be retained.
Yet Christian love should not employ harshness here nor force the matter. It should be preached and taught with tongue and pen, that to hold mass in such a manner is a sin, but no one should be dragged away from it by force. The matter should be left to God; His word should do the work alone, without our work. Why? Because it is not in my power to fashion the hearts of men as the potter molds the clay, and to do with them as I please. I can get no farther than to men’s ears; their hearts I cannot reach. And since I cannot pour faith into their hearts, I cannot, nor should I, force any one to have faith. That is God’s work alone, who causes faith to live in the heart. Therefore, we should give free course to the Word, and not add our works to it. We have the jus verbi, but not the executio; we should preach the Word, but the consequences must be left to God’s own good pleasure.1
Now if I should rush in and abolish the mass by force, there are many who would be compelled to consent to it and yet not know their own minds, but say: “I do not know if it is right or wrong, I do not know where I stand, I was compelled by force to submit to the majority.” And this forcing and commanding results in a mere mockery, an external show, a fool’s play, man-made ordinances, sham-saints, and hypocrites. For where the heart is not good, I care nothing at all for the work. We must first win the hearts of the people. And that is done when I teach only the Word of God, preach the Gospel and say: “Dear lords or pastors, desist from holding the mass, it is not right, you are sinning when you do it; I cannot refrain from telling you this.”
But I would not make it an ordinance for them, nor urge a general law; he who would follow me could do so, and he who refused would remain without. In the latter case the Word would sink into the heart and perform its work. Thus he would become convinced and acknowledge his error, and fall away from the mass; tomorrow another would do the same, and thus God would accomplish more with His Word than if you and I would forge into one all power and authority. For if you have won the heart, you have won the whole man—and the mass must finally fall of its own weight and come to an end. And if the hearts and minds of all men are united in the purpose—abolish the mass; but if all are not heart and soul for its abolishment—leave it in God’s hands, I beseech you, otherwise the result will not be good. Not, indeed, that I would again set up the mass; I let it lie in God’s name.
Faith must not be chained and imprisoned, nor bound by an ordinance to any work. This is the principle by which you must be governed. For I am sure you will not be able to carry out your plans, and if you should carry them out with such general laws, then I will recant all the things that I have written and preached, and I will not support you, and therefore I ask you plainly: What harm can the mass do to you? You have your faith, pure and strong, toward God, and the mass cannot hurt you.
Love, therefore, demands that you have compassion on the weak, as all the apostles had. Once, when Paul came to Athens, a mighty city, he found in the temple many altars, and he went from one to the other and looked at them all, but did not touch any one of them even with his foot. But he stood in the midst of the market-place and said they were all idolatrous works, and begged the people to forsake them; yet he did not destroy one of them by force. When the word took hold of their hearts, they forsook their idols of their own accord, and in consequence idolatry fell of itself.
Now, if I had seen that they held mass, I would have preached and admonished them concerning it. Had they heeded my admonition, they would have been won; if not, I would nevertheless not have torn them from it by the hair or employed any force, but simply allowed the Word to act, while I prayed for them. For the Word created heaven and earth and all things; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.
In conclusion: I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I have opposed the indulgences and all the papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And then while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip [Melanchton] and with [Nikolaus von] Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy, that never a prince or emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing; the Word did it all.
Had I desired to foment trouble, I could have brought great bloodshed upon Germany. Yea, I could have started such a little game at Worms that even the emperor would not have been safe. But what would it have been? A fool’s play. I did nothing; I left it to the Word. What do you suppose is Satan’s thought, when an effort is made to do things by violence? He sits back in hell and thinks: How fine a game these fools will make for me! But it brings him distress when we only spread the Word, and let it alone do the work. For it is almighty and takes captive the hearts, and if the hearts are captured the evil work will fall of itself.
Let me cite an instance. Aforetime there were sects, too, Jewish and Gentile Christians, differing on the law of Moses in respect to circumcision. The former would keep it, the latter not. Then came Paul and preached that it might be kept or not, it mattered not one way or the other; they should make no “must” of it, but leave it to the choice of the individual; to keep it or not, was immaterial. Later came Jerome, who would have made a “must” out of it, and wanted laws and ordinances to prohibit it. Then came St. Augustine, who held to the opinion of St. Paul: it might be kept or not, as one wished; St. Jerome had missed the meaning of St. Paul by a hundred miles. The two doctors bumped heads rather hard over the proposition. But when St. Augustine died, St. Jerome accomplished his purpose. After that came the popes; they would add something of their own, and they, too, made laws. Thus out of the making of one law grew a thousand laws, until they have completely buried us under laws. And so it will be here; one law will soon make two, two will increase to three, and so forth.
Let this be enough at this time concerning the things that are necessary, and let us beware lest we lead astray those of weak conscience.
Welcome to the annual Reformation issue of the Standard Bearer! As has often been done in the past, we have highlighted the anniversary of a significant event of the great sixteenth century Reformation. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther stood before the rulers of Germany, before the elite of the Church of Rome, and before the new Emperor Charles V, and boldly confessed that he would not recant, would not give up all his writings, would not cast away the reformation that God was working. His concluding words ring through the ages as a powerful encouragement to the church to stand fast for God’s truth in the face of all opposition. “I am bound by the Scriptures…. Here I stand. So help me God.” We trust you will enjoy the periscope into that moment in Luther’s life, that defining moment for the Reformation. And be encouraged also to stand on the Word—solely on God’s Word.
1 A paraphrase of Luther’s expression would be: “We have the right to address this matter with the Word, but we do not have the power to carry it out.”