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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
On the Liberty of the Christian
By Martin Luther (1483–1546)
 
(See full text.)

THAT we may thoroughly comprehend what a Christian is, and how it stands with the liberty which Christ has acquired for and given to him, whereof St. Paul writes much, I set down here these two conclusions:—  1
  A Christian is a free master of all things and subject to no one.  2
  A Christian is a bond-servant of all things and subject to everybody.  3
  These two conclusions are clear. St. Paul (1 Cor. ix. 19): “For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more;” further (Rom. xiii. 8): “Owe no man anything, save to love one another.” But love is a servant, and is subject to whom it loves. Thus of Christ (Gal. iv. 4): “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law.”  4
  To understand these two opposite expressions, freedom and bondage, we must remember that every Christian is of two natures, spiritual and physical. As to his soul, he is called a carnal, old, and outward man. And because of this difference he is spoken of in the Scriptures in directly opposite terms, as I have just mentioned with respect to freedom and bondage.  5
  Let us contemplate the inward, spiritual man, with the view of finding out what qualities are essential for him that he may really be and be known as a pious, free Christian. It is clear that no outward thing may make him either free or pious, no matter by what name you call that externality. For his piety and liberty, or his wickedness and bondage, are neither physical nor outward. Of what help is it to the soul that the body is unfettered, vigorous, and healthy? That it eats, drinks, lives, as it will? Again, of what hurt is it to the soul, that the body is fettered, sick, and faint? that it hungers, thirsts, and suffers in a way that it does not like? Of all these things not one reaches the soul, to free or enslave it, to make it pious or evil.  6
  Therefore it in no wise helps the soul, whether the body be clothed in sacred garments or not; whether it be in churches and holy places or not; whether it be occupied with holy things or not. Nor can bodily prayers, fasts, pilgrimages, or the doing of all good works, although they might be wrought in and by the body to eternity, be of any avail for the soul. It must be something entirely different that brings and gives piety and liberty to the soul. For all the above-mentioned parts, works, and ways may in themselves be contained in and exercised by an evil man, a dissembler, and a hypocrite. Further, by such methods nothing else than vain double-dealings could be produced. Again, it does not hurt the soul to have the body wearing secular garments; to eat, drink, make pilgrimages in secular places; to neglect prayers, and leave undone all the works which the above-mentioned hypocrites do.  7
  The soul has nothing else in heaven nor on earth whereby it can live, become pious, free, and Christian, than the gospel,—God’s word preached by Christ, as he himself says (John xi. 25): “I am the resurrection and the life;” and again (John xiv. 6): “I am the way, and the truth, and the life;” also (Matthew iv. 4): “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Therefore we must be assured that the soul can do without everything else save the Word of God; and that without the Word of God nothing can help it. If however it has the Word, it needs naught else, but it has sufficient in the Word’s food: joy, peace, light, art, righteousness, truth, wisdom, liberty, and all good, in overflowing measure.  8
  In this sense we read in the Psalter, especially in Psalm xix., that the prophet cares only for God’s word; and in the Scriptures, it is held to be the worst plague and anger of God should he take his Word away from mankind; and again, no greater mercy than to send his Word, as is written (Ps. cvii.): “He sendeth his Word, and healeth them, and delivereth them from their destructions.” And Christ came for no other purpose than to preach God’s Word. Also all apostles, bishops, priests, and the whole ministerial order are called and installed only for the sake of the Word, although it is otherwise at present. But do you ask, What is the Word, which bestows such great mercy, and how shall I use it? I answer: It is nothing else than the teaching of Christ, as contained in the gospel, which is meant to be and is constituted of such a nature that you hear your God speaking to you; that all your life and works count for nothing before God, but that you will have to perish eternally with all that is in you.  9
  Believing which, as is your duty, you must despair of yourself and confess that the saying of Hosea is true: “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.”  10
  But in order that you may escape out and from yourself and from your doom, he places before you his dear Son Jesus Christ; and has said to you through his living, comforting Word, that you should with firm faith give yourself up entirely to him, and unhesitatingly confide in him. Thus, for that very belief’s sake will all your sins be forgiven, all corruption will be overcome, and you will be righteous, truthful, peaceful, pious, and all commandments fulfilled; yes, free from all things, as St. Paul says (Rom. i.): “A righteous Christian lives only by his faith;” and (Rom. x.): “Christ is the end and fullness of all commandments to those who believe on him.”  11
 
 
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