Dear Friends:

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.

Editor’s notes 

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.”