Luther on articles of faith…

I will here briefly recount these articles of the Christian faith to which everyone is above all things to pay attention and hold fast.

The first is the law of God, which is to be preached so that one thereby reveals and teaches how to recognize sin (Rom. 3[:20] and 7[:7]), as we have often shown in our writings. However, these prophets do not understand this correctly, for this means a truly spiritual preaching of the law, as Paul says in Rom. 7[:14], and a right use of the law, as he says in 1 Tim. 1[:8].

Secondly, when now sin is recognized and the law is so preached that the conscience is alarmed and humbled before God’s wrath, we are then to preach the comforting word of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins, so that the conscience again may be comforted and established in the grace of God, etc. Christ himself teaches these two articles in such an order (Luke 24[:47]). One must preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. “And the Spirit (he says in John [16:8]) will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.” You do not find either of these two articles in this one or any other of the false prophets. They also do not understand them, and yet these are the most important and necessary articles.

Now the third is judgment, the work of putting to death the old man, as in Romans 5; 6, and 7. Here works are concerned, and also suffering and affliction, as we through our own discipline and fasting, watching, labor, etc., or through other persecution and disgrace put to death our flesh. This putting to death is also not handled correctly by these false prophets. For they do not accept what God gives them, but what they themselves choose. They wear gray garb, would be as peasants, and carry on with similar foolish nonsense.

In the fourth place, such works of love toward the neighbor should flow forth in meekness, patience, kindness, teaching, aid, and counsel, spiritually and bodily, free and for nothing, as Christ has dealt with us.

In the fifth and last place, we ought to proclaim the law and its works, not for the Christians, but for the crude and unbelieving. For among Christians we must use the law spiritually, as is said above, to reveal sin. But among the crude masses, on Mr. Everyman, we must use it bodily and roughly, so that they know what works of the law they are to do and what works ought to be left undone. Thus they are compelled by sword and law to be outwardly pious, much in the manner in which we control wild animals with chains and pens, so that external peace will exist among the people. To this end temporal authority is ordained, which God would have us honor and fear (Rom. 13[:1]; 1 Pet. 3) [1 Pet. 2:13, 17].

However, we must see to it that we retain Christian freedom and do not force such laws and works on the Christian conscience, as if one through them were upright or a sinner. Here question are in order concerning the place which images, foods, clothing, places, persons, and all such external things, etc., ought to have. Whoever does not teach according to this order certainly does not teach correctly. From which you now see that Dr. Karlstadt and his spirits replace the highest with the lowest, the best with the least, the first with the last. Yet he would be considered the greatest spirit of all, he who has devoured the Holy Spirit feathers and all.

Therefore I beg every Christian who observes how we bicker in this matter to remember that we are not dealing with important things, but with the most trivial ones. Bear in mind that the devil is eager to spruce up such minor matters, thereby drawing the attention of the people so that the truly important matters are neglected, as long as they gape in his direction. From this each one should recognize how false and evil the spirit of Dr. Karlstadt is, who, not content to ignore and be silent concerning the great and significant articles, so inflates the least significant ones as if the salvation of the world depended more on them than on Christ himself. Also, he compels us to turn from the great important articles to minor ones, so that we with him lose time and are in danger of forgetting the main articles. Let this be the first fruit by which one is able to know this tree [Matt. 7:16–20].

Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 40 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 82–84.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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