Index of Doctrinal Points
Catechisms were written for the purpose of instructing new Believers and children of Believers
the essentials of Christianity. Their question and answer format made it easy to understand and memorize. In the
spring of 1529, Martin Luther wrote the Small and Large Catechisms. The function of the catechisms was to
help Pastors and parents give instruction in the chief parts of Christian doctrine. This unique presentation
combines the two catechisms together so that one could study the details and context of the Small Catechism.
Pertinent details from the Large Catechism is seen with the pink sidebar.
Luther's Preface to the Small Catechism
Martin Luther to All Faithful and Godly Pastors and Preachers:
Grace, Mercy, and Peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The deplorable, miserable condition which I discovered lately when I, too, was a visitor, has forced
and urged me to prepare [publish] this Catechism, or Christian doctrine, in this small, plain, simple
form. Mercy! Good God! what manifold misery I beheld! The common people, especially in the villages,
have no knowledge whatever of Christian doctrine, and, alas! many pastors are altogether incapable
and incompetent to teach [so much so, that one is ashamed to speak of it]. Nevertheless, all maintain
that they are Christians, have been baptized and receive the [common] holy Sacraments. Yet they [do
not understand and] cannot [even] recite either the Lord's Prayer, or the Creed, or the Ten Commandments;
they live like dumb brutes and irrational hogs; and yet, now that the Gospel has come, they have nicely
learned to abuse all liberty like experts.
O ye bishops! [to whom this charge has been committed by God,] what will ye ever answer to Christ
for having so shamefully neglected the people and never for a moment discharged your office? [You are
the persons to whom alone this ruin of the Christian religion is due. You have permitted men to err
so shamefully; yours is the guilt; for you have ever done anything rather than what your office required
you to do.] May all misfortune flee you! [I do not wish at this place to invoke evil on your heads.]
You command the Sacrament in one form [but is not this the highest ungodliness coupled with the greatest
impudence that you are insisting on the administration of the Sacrament in one form only, and on your
traditions] and insist on your human laws, and yet at the same time you do not care in the least [while
you are utterly without scruple and concern] whether the people know the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the
Ten Commandments, or any part of the Word of God. Woe, woe, unto you forever!
Therefore I entreat [and adjure] you all for God's sake, my dear sirs and brethren, who are pastors
or preachers, to devote yourselves heartily to your office, to have pity on the people who are entrusted
to you, and to help us inculcate the Catechism upon the people, and especially upon the young. And let
those of you who cannot do better [If any of you are so unskilled that you have absolutely no knowledge
of these matters, let them not be ashamed to] take these tables and forms and impress them, word for
word, on the people, as follows:--
In the first place, let the preacher above all be careful to avoid many kinds of or various texts
and forms of the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Sacraments, etc., but choose one
form to which he adheres, and which he inculcates all the time, year after year. For [I give this advice,
however, because I know that] young and simple people must be taught by uniform, settled texts and forms,
otherwise they easily become confused when the teacher to-day teaches them thus, and in a year some
other way, as if he wished to make improvements, and thus all effort and labor [which has been expended
in teaching] is lost.
Also our blessed fathers understood this well; for they all used the same form of the Lord's Prayer,
the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Therefore we, too, should [imitate their diligence and be at pains
to] teach the young and simple people these parts in such a way as not to change a syllable, or set
them forth and repeat them one year differently than in another [no matter how often we teach the
Hence, choose whatever form you please, and adhere to it forever. But when you preach in the presence
of learned and intelligent men, you may exhibit your skill, and may present these parts in as varied
and intricate ways and give them as masterly turns as you are able. But with the young people stick
to one fixed, permanent form and manner, and teach them, first of all, these parts, namely, the Ten
Commandments, the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, etc., according to the text, word for word, so that they,
too, can repeat it in the same manner after you and commit it to memory.
But those who are unwilling to learn it should be told that they deny Christ and are no Christians,
neither should they be admitted to the Sacrament, accepted as sponsors at baptism, nor exercise any
part of Christian liberty, but should simply be turned back to the Pope and his officials, yea, to the
devil himself. Moreover, their parents and employers should refuse them food and drink, and [they would
also do well if they were to] notify them that the prince will drive such rude people from the country,
For although we cannot and should not force any one to believe, yet we should insist and urge the
people that they know what is right and wrong with those among whom they dwell and wish to make their
living. For whoever desires to reside in a town must know and observe the town laws, the protection
of which he wishes to enjoy, no matter whether he is a believer or at heart and in private a rogue
In the second place, after they have well learned the text, then teach them the sense also, so
that they know what it means, and again choose the form of these tables, or some other brief uniform
method, whichever you like, and adhere to it, and do not change a single syllable, as was just said
regarding the text; and take your time to it. For it is not necessary that you take up all the parts
at once, but one after the other. After they understand the First Commandment well, then take up the
Second, and so on, otherwise they will be overwhelmed, so as not to be able to retain any well.
In the third place, after you have thus taught them this Short Catechism, then take up the Large
Catechism, and give them also a richer and fuller knowledge. Here explain at large every commandment,
[article,] petition, and part with its various works, uses, benefits, dangers, and injuries, as you
find these abundantly stated in many books written about these matters. And particularly, urge that
commandment or part most which suffers the greatest neglect among your people. For instance, the Seventh
Commandment, concerning stealing, must be strenuously urged among mechanics and merchants, and even
farmers and servants, for among these people many kinds of dishonesty and thieving prevail. So, too,
you must urge well the Fourth Commandment among the children and the common people, that they may be
quiet and faithful, obedient and peaceable, and you must always adduce many examples from the Scriptures
to show how God has punished or blessed such persons.
Especially should you here urge magistrates and parents to rule well and to send their children
to school, showing them why it is their duty to do this, and what a damnable sin they are committing
if they do not do it. For by such neglect they overthrow and destroy both the kingdom of God and that
of the world, acting as the worst enemies both of God and of men. And make it very plain to them what
an awful harm they are doing if they will not help to train children to be pastors, preachers, clerks
[also for other offices, with which we cannot dispense in this life], etc., and that God will punish
them terribly for it. For such preaching is needed. [Verily, I do not know of any other topic that
deserves to be treated as much as this.] Parents and magistrates are now sinning unspeakably in this
respect. The devil, too, aims at something cruel because of these things [that he may hurl Germany
into the greatest distress].
Lastly, since the tyranny of the Pope has been abolished, people are no longer willing to go to
the Sacrament and despise it [as something useless and unnecessary]. Here again urging is necessary,
however, with this understanding: We are to force no one to believe, or to receive the Sacrament, nor
fix any law, nor time, nor place for it, but are to preach in such a manner that of their own accord,
without our law, they will urge themselves and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament.
This is done by telling them: Whoever does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least some four times
a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is no Christian, just as he is no Christian
who does not believe or hear the Gospel; for Christ did not say, This omit, or, This despise, but,
This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, etc. Verily, He wants it done, and not entirely neglected and
despised. This do ye, He says.
Now, whoever does not highly value the Sacrament thereby shows that he has no sin, no flesh, no
devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell; that is, he does not believe any such things, although
he is in them over head and ears and is doubly the devil's own. On the other hand, he needs no grace,
life, Paradise, heaven, Christ, God, nor anything good. For if he believed that he had so much that
is evil, and needed so much that is good, he would not thus neglect the Sacrament, by which such evil
is remedied and so much good is bestowed. Neither will it be necessary to force him to the Sacrament
by any law, but he will come running and racing of his own accord, will force himself and urge you
that you must give him the Sacrament.
Hence, you must not make any law in this matter, as the Pope does. Only set forth clearly the benefit
and harm, the need and use, the danger and the blessing, connected with this Sacrament, and the people
will come of themselves without your compulsion. But if they do not come, let them go and tell them
that such belong to the devil as do not regard nor feel their great need and the gracious help of God.
But if you do not urge this, or make a law or a bane of it, it is your fault if they despise the Sacrament.
How could they be otherwise than slothful if you sleep and are silent? Therefore look to it, ye pastors
and preachers. Our office is now become a different thing from what it was under the Pope; it is now
become serious and salutary. Accordingly, it now involves much more trouble and labor, danger and
trials, and, in addition thereto, little reward and gratitude in the world. But Christ Himself will
be our reward if we labor faithfully. To this end may the Father of all grace help us, to whom be
praise and thanks forever through Christ, our Lord! Amen.
Luther's Introduction to the Large Catechism
A Christian, Profitable, and Necessary Preface and Faithful, Earnest Exhortation of Dr. Martin
Luther to All Christians, but Especially to All Pastors and Preachers, that They Should Daily Exercise
Themselves in the Catechism, which is a Short Summary and Epitome of the Entire Holy Scriptures, and
that They May Always Teach the Same.
We have no slight reasons for treating the Catechism so constantly [in sermons] and for both desiring
and beseeching others to teach it, since we see to our sorrow that many pastors and preachers are very
negligent in this, and slight both their office and this teaching; some from great and high art [giving
their mind, as they imagine, to much higher matters], but others from sheer laziness and care for their
paunches, assuming no other relation to this business than if they were pastors and preachers for their
bellies' sake, and had nothing to do but to [spend and] consume their emoluments as long as they live,
as they have been accustomed to do under the Papacy.
And although they have now everything that they are to preach and teach placed before them so abundantly,
clearly, and easily, in so many [excellent and] helpful books, and the true Sermones per se loquentes,
Dormi secure, Paratos et Thesauros, as they were called in former times; yet they are not so godly and
honest as to buy these books, or even when they have them, to look at them or read them. Alas! they are
altogether shameful gluttons and servants of their own bellies who ought to be more properly swineherds
and dog-tenders than care-takers of souls and pastors.
And now that they are delivered from the unprofitable and burdensome babbling of the Seven Canonical
Hours, oh, that, instead thereof, they would only, morning, noon, and evening, read a page or two in
the Catechism, the Prayer-book, the New Testament, or elsewhere in the Bible, and pray the Lord's Prayer
for themselves and their parishioners, so that they might render, in return, honor and thanks to the
Gospel, by which they have been delivered from burdens and troubles so manifold, and might feel a
little shame because like pigs and dogs they retain no more of the Gospel than such a lazy, pernicious,
shameful, carnal liberty! For, alas! as it is, the common people regard the Gospel altogether too
lightly, and we accomplish nothing extraordinary even though we use all diligence. What, then, will
be achieved if we shall be negligent and lazy as we were under the Papacy?
To this there is added the shameful vice and secret infection of security and satiety, that is,
that many regard the Catechism as a poor, mean teaching, which they can read through at one time,
and then immediately know it, throw the book into a corner, and be ashamed, as it were, to read in
Yea, even among the nobility there may be found some louts and scrimps, who declare that there is
no longer any need either of pastors or preachers; that we have everything in books, and every one
can easily learn it by himself; and so they are content to let the parishes decay and become desolate,
and pastors and preachers to suffer distress and hunger a plenty, just as it becomes crazy Germans
to do. For we Germans have such disgraceful people, and must endure them.
But for myself I say this: I am also a doctor and preacher, yea, as learned and experienced as
all those may be who have such presumption and security; yet I do as a child who is being taught the
Catechism, and every morning, and whenever I have time, I read and say, word for word, the Ten Commandments,
the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, the Psalms, etc. And I must still read and study daily, and yet I cannot
master it as I wish, but must remain a child and pupil of the Catechism, and am glad so to remain.
And yet these delicate, fastidious fellows would with one reading promptly be doctors above all doctors,
know everything and be in need of nothing. Well, this, too, is indeed a sure sign that they despise
both their office and the souls of the people, yea, even God and His Word. They do not have to fall,
they are already fallen all too horribly, they would need to become children, and begin to learn their
alphabet, which they imagine that they have long since outgrown.
Therefore I beg such lazy paunches or presumptuous saints to be persuaded and believe for God's
sake that they are verily, verily! not so learned or such great doctors as they imagine; and never
to presume that they have finished learning this [the parts of the Catechism], or know it well enough
in all points, even though they think that they know it ever so well. For though they should know and
understand it perfectly (which, however, is impossible in this life), yet there are manifold benefits
and fruits still to be obtained, if it be daily read and practised in thought and speech; namely, that
the Holy Ghost is present in such reading and repetition and meditation, and bestows ever new and more
light and devoutness, so that it is daily relished and appreciated better, as Christ promises, Matt.
18:20: Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.
Besides, it is an exceedingly effectual help against the devil, the world, and the flesh and all
evil thoughts to be occupied with the Word of God, and to speak of it, and meditate upon it, so that
the First Psalm declares those blessed who meditate upon the law of God day and night. Undoubtedly,
you will not start a stronger incense or other fumigation against the devil than by being engaged
upon God's commandments and words, and speaking, singing, or thinking of them. For this is indeed
the true holy water and holy sign from which he flees, and by which he may be driven away.
Now, for this reason alone you ought gladly to read, speak, think and treat of these things if
you had no other profit and fruit from them than that by doing so you can drive away the devil and
evil thoughts. For he cannot hear or endure God's Word; and God's Word is not like some other silly
prattle, as that about Dietrich of Berne, etc., but as St. Paul says, Rom. 1:16, the power of God.
Yea, indeed, the power of God which gives the devil burning pain, and strengthens, comforts, and helps
us beyond measure.
And what need is there of many words ? If I were to recount all the profit and fruit which God's
Word produces, whence would I get enough paper and time? The devil is called the master of a thousand
arts. But what shall we call God's Word, which drives away and brings to naught this master of a thousand
arts with all his arts and power? It must indeed be the master of more than a hundred thousand arts.
And shall we frivolously despise such power, profit, strength, and fruit -- we, especially, who claim
to be pastors and preachers? If so, we should not only have nothing given us to eat, but be driven
out, being baited with dogs, and pelted with dung, because we not only need all this every day as we
need our daily bread but must also daily use it against the daily and unabated attacks and lurking
of the devil, the master of a thousand arts.
And if this were not sufficient to admonish us to read the Catechism daily, yet we should feel
sufficiently constrained by the command of God alone, who solemnly enjoins in Deut. 6:6 ff. that we
should always meditate upon His precepts, sitting, walking, standing, Lying down, and rising, and
have them before our eyes and in our hands as a constant mark and sign. Doubtless He did not so solemnly
require and enjoin this without a purpose; but because He knows our danger and need, as well as the
constant and furious assaults and temptations of devils, He wishes to warn, equip, and preserve us
against them, as with a good armor against their fiery darts and with good medicine against their
evil infection and suggestion.
Oh, what mad, senseless fools are we that, while we must ever live and dwell among such mighty
enemies as the devils are, we nevertheless despise our weapons and defense, and are too lazy to look
at or think of them!
And what else are such supercilious, presumptuous saints, who are unwilling to read and study the
Catechism daily, doing than esteeming themselves much more learned than God Himself with all His
saints, angels [patriarchs], prophets, apostles, and all Christians For inasmuch as God Himself is
not ashamed to teach these things daily, as knowing nothing better to teach, and always keeps teaching
the same thing, and does not take up anything new or different, and all the saints know nothing better
or different to learn, and cannot finish learning this, are we not the finest of all fellows to imagine,
if we have once read or heard it, that we know it all, and have no further need to read and learn,
but can finish learning in one hour what God Himself cannot finish teaching, although He is engaged
in teaching it from the beginning to the end of the world, and all prophets, together with all saints,
have been occupied with learning it and have ever remained pupils, and must continue to be such?
For it needs must be that whoever knows the Ten Commandments perfectly must know all the Scriptures,
so that, in all affairs and cases, he can advise, help, comfort, judge, and decide both spiritual and
temporal matters and is qualified to sit in judgment upon all doctrines, estates, spirits, laws, and
whatever else is in the world. And what, indeed, is the entire Psalter but thoughts and exercises
upon the First Commandment? Now I know of a truth that such lazy paunches and presumptuous spirits
do not understand a single psalm, much less the entire Holy Scriptures; and yet they pretend to know
and despise the Catechism, which is a compend and brief summary of all the Holy Scriptures.
Therefore I again implore all Christians, especially pastors and preachers, not to be doctors too
soon, and imagine that they know everything (for imagination and cloth unshrunk [and false weights]
fall far short of the measure), but that they daily exercise themselves well in these studies and
constantly treat them; moreover, that they guard with all care and diligence against the poisonous
infection of such security and vain imagination, but steadily keep on reading, teaching, learning,
pondering, and meditating, and do not cease until they have made a test and are sure that they have
taught the devil to death and have become more learned than God Himself and all His saints.
If they manifest such diligence, then I will promise them, and they shall also perceive, what fruit
they will obtain, and what excellent men God will make of them, so that in due time they themselves
will acknowledge that the longer and the more they study the Catechism, the less they know of it,
and the more they find yet to learn; and then only, as hungry and thirsty ones, will they truly relish
that which now they cannot endure because of great abundance and satiety. To this end may God grant
His grace! Amen.
The Ten Commandments
as the head of the family should teach them in
a simple way to his household.
The First Commandment.
Thou shalt have no other gods.
What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
The First Commandment. (Details from the Large Catechism)
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
That is: Thou shalt have [and worship] Me alone as thy God. What is the force of this, and how is
it to be understood? What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from
which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have
a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that
the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right,
then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have
not the true God; for these two belong together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your
heart and put your trust is properly your god.
Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith and trust of the heart which
settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. That is as much as to say: "See to it that you
let Me alone be your God, and never seek another," i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it
of Me, and look to Me for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me.
I, yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your heart cleave to or
rest in any other.
This I must unfold somewhat more plainly, that it may be understood and perceived by ordinary
examples of the contrary. Many a one thinks that he has God and everything in abundance when he has
money and possessions; he trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to
care for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, i.e., money and possessions, on which
he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common idol on earth. He who has money and possessions
feels secure, and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the
other hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few are
to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn nor complain if they have not Mammon. This
[care and desire for money] sticks and clings to our nature, even to the grave.
So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence, power, favor friendship,
and honor has also a god, but not this true and only God. This appears again when you notice how
presumptuous, secure, and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent when they
no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore I repeat that the chief explanation of this point is that
to have a god is to have something in which the heart entirely trusts.
Besides, consider what in our blindness, we have hitherto been practising and doing under the
Papacy. If any one had toothache, he fasted and honored St. Apollonia [lacerated his flesh by voluntary
fasting to the honor of St. Apollonia]; if he was afraid of fire, he chose St. Lawrence as his helper
in need; if he dreaded pestilence, he made a vow to St. Sebastian or Rochio, and a countless number
of such abominations, where every one selected his own saint, worshiped him, and called for help to
him in distress. Here belong those also, as, e.g., sorcerers and magicians, whose idolatry is most
gross, and who make a covenant with the devil, in order that he may give them plenty of money or help
them in love-affairs, preserve their cattle, restore to them lost possessions, etc. For all these
place their heart and trust elsewhere than in the true God, look for nothing good to Him nor seek
it from Him.
Thus you can easily understand what and how much this commandment requires, namely, that man's
entire heart and all his confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. For to have God, you
can easily perceive, is not to lay hold of Him with our hands or to put Him in a bag [as money],
or to lock Him in a chest [as silver vessels]. But to apprehend Him means when the heart lays hold
of Him and clings to Him. But to cling to Him with the heart is nothing else than to trust in Him
entirely. For this reason He wishes to turn us away from everything else that exists outside of Him,
and to draw us to Himself, namely, because He is the only eternal good. As though He would say:
Whatever you have heretofore sought of the saints, or for whatever [things] you have trusted in
Mammon or anything else, expect it all of Me, and regard Me as the one who will help you and pour
out upon you richly all good things.
Lo, here you have the meaning of the true honor and worship of God, which pleases God, and which
He commands under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart know no other comfort or confidence
than in Him, and do not suffer itself to be torn from Him, but, for Him, risk and disregard everything
upon earth. On the other hand, you can easily see and judge how the world practises only false worship
and idolatry. For no people has ever been so reprobate as not to institute and observe some divine
worship; every one has set up as his special god whatever he looked to for blessings, help, and comfort.
Thus, for example, the heathen who put their trust in power and dominion elevated Jupiter as the
supreme god; the others, who were bent upon riches, happiness, or pleasure, and a life of ease, Hercules,
Mercury, Venus or others; women with child, Diana or Lucina, and so on; thus every one made that his
god to which his heart was inclined, so that even in the mind of the heathen to have a god means to
trust and believe. But their error is this that their trust is false and wrong for it is not placed
in the only God, besides whom there is truly no God in heaven or upon earth. Therefore the heathen
really make their self-invented notions and dreams of God an idol, and put their trust in that which
is altogether nothing. Thus it is with all idolatry; for it consists not merely in erecting an image
and worshiping it, but rather in the heart, which stands gaping at something else, and seeks help
and consolation from creatures saints, or devils, and neither cares for God, nor looks to Him for
so much good as to believe that He is willing to help, neither believes that whatever good it experiences
comes from God.
Besides, there is also a false worship and extreme idolatry, which we have hitherto practised,
and is still prevalent in the world, upon which also all ecclesiastical orders are founded, and which
concerns the conscience alone that seeks in its own works help, consolation, and salvation, presumes
to wrest heaven from God, and reckons how many bequests it has made, how often it has fasted, celebrated
Mass, etc. Upon such things it depends, and of them boasts, as though unwilling to receive anything
from God as a gift, but desires itself to earn or merit it superabundantly, just as though He must
serve us and were our debtor, and we His liege lords. What is this but reducing God to an idol, yea,
[a fig image or] an apple-god, and elevating and regarding ourselves as God ? But this is slightly
too subtle, and is not for young pupils.
But let this be said to the simple, that they may well note and remember the meaning of this
commandment, namely, that we are to trust in God alone, and look to Him and expect from Him naught
but good, as from one who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace,
and all necessaries of both temporal and eternal things. He also preserves us from misfortune, and
if any evil befall us, delivers and rescues us, so that it is God alone (as has been sufficiently
said) from whom we receive all good, and by whom we are delivered from all evil. Hence also, I think,
we Germans from ancient times call God (more elegantly and appropriately than any other language) by
that name from the word good as being an eternal fountain which gushes forth abundantly nothing but
what is good, and from which flows forth all that is and is called good.
For even though otherwise we experience much good from men, still whatever we receive by His command
or arrangement is all received from God. For our parents, and all rulers, and every one besides with
respect to his neighbor, have received from God the command that they should do us all manner of good,
so that we receive these blessings not from them, but, through them, from God. For creatures are only
the hands, channels, and means whereby God gives all things, as He gives to the mother breasts and
milk to offer to her child, and corn and all manner of produce from the earth for nourishment, none
of which blessings could be produced by any creature of itself. Therefore no man should presume to
take or give anything except as God has commanded, in order that it may be acknowledged as God's gift,
and thanks may be rendered Him for it, as this commandment requires. On this account also these means
of receiving good gifts through creatures are not to be rejected, neither should we in presumption
seek other ways and means than God has commanded. For that would not be receiving from God, hut seeking
Let every one, then, see to it that he esteem this commandment great and high above all things,
and do not regard it as a joke. Ask and examine your heart diligently, and you will find whether it
cleaves to God alone or not. If you have a heart that can expect of Him nothing but what is good,
especially in want and distress, and that, moreover renounces and forsakes everything that is not
God, then you have the only true God. If on the contrary, it cleaves to anything else, of which it
expects more good and help than of God, and does not take refuge in Him, but in adversity flees from
Him, then you have an idol, another god.
In order that it may be seen that God will not have this commandment thrown to the winds, but will
most strictly enforce it, He has attached to it first a terrible threat, and then a beautiful,
comforting promise which is also to be urged and impressed upon young people, that they may take
it to heart and retain it:
[Exposition of the Appendix to the First Commandment.]
For I am the Lord, thy God, strong and jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the
children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands
of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
Although these words relate to all the commandments (as we shall hereafter learn), yet they are
joined to this chief commandment because it is of first importance that men have a right head; for
where the head is right, the whole life must be right, and vice versa. Learn, therefore, from these
words how angry God is with those who trust in anything but Him, and again, how good and gracious
He is to those who trust and believe in Him alone with the whole heart; so that His anger does not
cease until the fourth generation, while, on the other hand, His blessing and goodness extend to
many thousands lest you live in such security and commit yourself to chance, as men of brutal heart,
who think that it makes no great difference [how they live]. He is a God who will not leave it unavenged
if men turn from Him, and will not cease to be angry until the fourth generation, even until they
are utterly exterminated. Therefore He is to be feared, and not to be desisted.
He has also demonstrated this in all history, as the Scriptures abundantly show and daily experience
still teaches. For from the beginning He has utterly extirpated all idolatry, and, on account of it,
both heathen and Jews; even as at the present day He overthrows all false worship, so that all who
remain therein must finally perish. Therefore, although proud, powerful, and rich worldlings [Sardanapaluses
and Phalarides, who surpass even the Persians in wealth] are now to be found, who boast defiantly of
their Mammon, with utter disregard whether God is angry at or smiles on them, and dare to withstand
His wrath, yet they shall not succeed, but before they are aware, they shall be wrecked, with all
in which they trusted; as all others have perished who have thought themselves more secure or powerful.
And just because of such hardened heads who imagine because God connives and allows them to rest
in security, that He either is entirely ignorant or cares nothing about such matters, He must deal
a smashing blow and punish them, so that He cannot forget it unto children's children; so that every
one may take note and see that this is no joke to Him. For they are those whom He means when He says:
Who hate Me, i.e., those who persist in their defiance and pride; whatever is preached or said to
them, they will not listen; when they are reproved, in order that they may learn to know themselves
and amend before the punishment begins, they become mad and foolish so as to fairly merit wrath, as
now we see daily in bishops and princes.
But terrible as are these threatenings, so much the more powerful is the consolation in the promise,
that those who cling to God alone should be sure that He will show them mercy that is, show them pure
goodness and blessing not only for themselves, but also to their children and children's children,
even to the thousandth generation and beyond that. This ought certainly to move and impel us to risk
our hearts in all confidence with God, if we wish all temporal and eternal good, since the Supreme
Majesty makes such sublime offers and presents such cordial inducements and such rich promises.
Therefore let everyone seriously take this to heart, lest it be regarded as though a man had spoken
it. For to you it is a question either of eternal blessing, happiness, and salvation, or of eternal
wrath, misery, and woe. What more would you have or desire than that He so kindly promises to be yours
with every blessing, and to protect and help you in all need?
But, alas! here is the failure, that the world believes nothing of this, nor regards it as God's
Word, because it sees that those who trust in God and not in Mammon suffer care and want, and the devil
opposes and resists them, that they have neither money, favor, nor honor, and, besides, can scarcely
support life; while, on the other hand, those who serve Mammon have power, favor, honor, possessions,
and every comfort in the eyes of the world. For this reason, these words must be grasped as being
directed against such appearances; and we must consider that they do not lie or deceive, but must
Reflect for yourself or make inquiry and tell me: Those who have employed all their care and
diligence to accumulate great possessions and wealth, what have they finally attained? You will find
that they have wasted their toil and labor, or even though they have amassed great treasures, they
have been dispersed and scattered, so that the themselves have never found happiness in their wealth,
and afterwards never reached the third generation.
Instances of this you will find a plenty in all histories, also in the memory of aged and experienced
people. Only observe and ponder them.
Saul was a great king, chosen of God and a godly man; but when he was established on his throne,
and let his heart decline from God, and put his trust in his crown and power, he had to perish with
all that he had, so that none even of his children remained.
David, on the other hand, was a poor, despised man, hunted down and chased, so that he nowhere felt
secure of his life; yet he had to remain in spite of Saul, and become king. For these words had to
abide and come true, since God cannot lie or deceive. Only let not the devil and the world deceive
you with their show, which indeed remains for a time, but finally is nothing.
Let us, then, learn well the First Commandment, that we may see how God will tolerate no presumption
nor any trust in any other object, and how He requires nothing higher of us than confidence from the
heart for everything good, so that we may proceed right and straightforward and use all the blessings
which God gives no farther than as a shoemaker uses his needle, awl, and thread for work, and then
lays them aside, or as a traveler uses an inn, and food, and his bed only for temporal necessity,
each one in his station, according to God's order, and without allowing any of these things to be
our food or idol. Let this suffice with respect to the First Commandment, which we have had to explain
at length, since it is of chief importance, because, as before said, where the heart is rightly disposed
toward God and this commandment is observed, all the others follow.