This "Concerning Christian Liberty; with Letter of Martin Luther to Pope Leo X." was written by Martin Luther in English language.

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Concerning Christian
Liberty; with Letter of
Martin Luther to Pope
Leo X.
Martin Luther

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Title: Concerning Christian Liberty
With Letter Of Martin Luther To Pope Leo X.
Author: Martin Luther
Release Date: February 25, 2006 [EBook #1911]
Last Updated: February 4, 2013
Language: English
Character set encoding: ASCII
Produced by Elizabeth T. Knuth and David Widger
by Martin Luther

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Among those monstrous evils of this age with which I have now for three
years been
waging war, I am sometimes compelled to look to you and to call
you to mind, most
blessed father Leo. In truth, since you alone are
everywhere considered as being the
cause of my engaging in war, I cannot
at any time fail to remember you; and although I
have been compelled by
the causeless raging of your impious flatterers against me to
appeal from
your seat to a future council—fearless of the futile decrees of your
predecessors Pius and Julius, who in their foolish tyranny prohibited such
an action—
yet I have never been so alienated in feeling from your
Blessedness as not to have
sought with all my might, in diligent prayer
and crying to God, all the best gifts for you
and for your see. But those
who have hitherto endeavoured to terrify me with the
majesty of your name
and authority, I have begun quite to despise and triumph over.
One thing I
see remaining which I cannot despise, and this has been the reason of my
writing anew to your Blessedness: namely, that I find that blame is cast
on me, and
that it is imputed to me as a great offence, that in my
rashness I am judged to have
spared not even your person.
Now, to confess the truth openly, I am conscious that, whenever I have had
mention your person, I have said nothing of you but what was honourable
and good. If
I had done otherwise, I could by no means have approved my
own conduct, but should
have supported with all my power the judgment of
those men concerning me, nor
would anything have pleased me better, than
to recant such rashness and impiety. I
have called you Daniel in Babylon;
and every reader thoroughly knows with what
distinguished zeal I defended
your conspicuous innocence against Silvester, who tried
to stain it.
Indeed, the published opinion of so many great men and the repute of your
blameless life are too widely famed and too much reverenced throughout the
world to
be assailable by any man, of however great name, or by any arts.
I am not so foolish
as to attack one whom everybody praises; nay, it has
been and always will be my
desire not to attack even those whom public
repute disgraces. I am not delighted at the
faults of any man, since I am
very conscious myself of the great beam in my own eye,
nor can I be the
first to cast a stone at the adulteress.
I have indeed inveighed sharply against impious doctrines, and I have not
slack to censure my adversaries on account, not of their bad morals,
but of their
impiety. And for this I am so far from being sorry that I
have brought my mind to
despise the judgments of men and to persevere in
this vehement zeal, according to
the example of Christ, who, in His zeal,
calls His adversaries a generation of vipers,
blind, hypocrites, and
children of the devil. Paul, too, charges the sorcerer with being a
of the devil, full of all subtlety and all malice; and defames certain
persons as evil

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workers, dogs, and deceivers. In the opinion of those
delicate-eared persons, nothing
could be more bitter or intemperate than
Paul's language. What can be more bitter
than the words of the prophets?
The ears of our generation have been made so
delicate by the senseless
multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive that
anything of ours
is not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and
when we can repel the truth by no other pretence, we escape by attributing
impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries. What would be
the use of salt if it were
not pungent, or of the edge of the sword if it
did not slay? Accursed is the man who
does the work of the Lord
Wherefore, most excellent Leo, I beseech you to accept my vindication,
made in this
letter, and to persuade yourself that I have never thought
any evil concerning your
person; further, that I am one who desires that
eternal blessing may fall to your lot, and
that I have no dispute with any
man concerning morals, but only concerning the word
of truth. In all other
things I will yield to any one, but I neither can nor will forsake and
deny the word. He who thinks otherwise of me, or has taken in my words in
sense, does not think rightly, and has not taken in the truth.
Your see, however, which is called the Court of Rome, and which neither
you nor
any man can deny to be more corrupt than any Babylon or Sodom, and
quite, as I
believe, of a lost, desperate, and hopeless impiety, this I
have verily abominated, and
have felt indignant that the people of Christ
should be cheated under your name and
the pretext of the Church of Rome;
and so I have resisted, and will resist, as long as
the spirit of faith
shall live in me. Not that I am striving after impossibilities, or hoping
that by my labours alone, against the furious opposition of so many
flatterers, any good
can be done in that most disordered Babylon; but that
I feel myself a debtor to my
brethren, and am bound to take thought for
them, that fewer of them may be ruined, or
that their ruin may be less
complete, by the plagues of Rome. For many years now,
nothing else has
overflowed from Rome into the world—as you are not ignorant—than
the laying waste of goods, of bodies, and of souls, and the worst examples
of all the
worst things. These things are clearer than the light to all
men; and the Church of
Rome, formerly the most holy of all Churches, has
become the most lawless den of
thieves, the most shameless of all
brothels, the very kingdom of sin, death, and hell; so
that not even
antichrist, if he were to come, could devise any addition to its
Meanwhile you, Leo, are sitting like a lamb in the midst of wolves, like
Daniel in the
midst of lions, and, with Ezekiel, you dwell among
scorpions. What opposition can you
alone make to these monstrous evils?
Take to yourself three or four of the most
learned and best of the
cardinals. What are these among so many? You would all
perish by poison
before you could undertake to decide on a remedy. It is all over with
Court of Rome; the wrath of God has come upon her to the uttermost. She
councils; she dreads to be reformed; she cannot restrain the madness
of her impiety;
she fills up the sentence passed on her mother, of whom it
is said, "We would have
healed Babylon, but she is not healed; let us
forsake her." It had been your duty and
that of your cardinals to apply a
remedy to these evils, but this gout laughs at the
physician's hand, and
the chariot does not obey the reins. Under the influence of these
feelings, I have always grieved that you, most excellent Leo, who were
worthy of a
better age, have been made pontiff in this. For the Roman
Court is not worthy of you
and those like you, but of Satan himself, who
in truth is more the ruler in that Babylon
than you are.

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Oh, would that, having laid aside that glory which your most abandoned
declare to be yours, you were living rather in the office of a
private priest or on your
paternal inheritance! In that glory none are
worthy to glory, except the race of Iscariot,
the children of perdition.
For what happens in your court, Leo, except that, the more
wicked and
execrable any man is, the more prosperously he can use your name and
authority for the ruin of the property and souls of men, for the
multiplication of crimes,
for the oppression of faith and truth and of the
whole Church of God? Oh, Leo! in
reality most unfortunate, and sitting on
a most perilous throne, I tell you the truth,
because I wish you well; for
if Bernard felt compassion for his Anastasius at a time
when the Roman
see, though even then most corrupt, was as yet ruling with better
than now, why should not we lament, to whom so much further corruption and
ruin has been added in three hundred years?
Is it not true that there is nothing under the vast heavens more corrupt,
pestilential, more hateful, than the Court of Rome? She incomparably
surpasses the
impiety of the Turks, so that in very truth she, who was
formerly the gate of heaven, is
now a sort of open mouth of hell, and such
a mouth as, under the urgent wrath of God,
cannot be blocked up; one
course alone being left to us wretched men: to call back
and save some
few, if we can, from that Roman gulf.
Behold, Leo, my father, with what purpose and on what principle it is that
I have
stormed against that seat of pestilence. I am so far from having
felt any rage against
your person that I even hoped to gain favour with
you and to aid you in your welfare by
striking actively and vigorously at
that your prison, nay, your hell. For whatever the
efforts of all minds
can contrive against the confusion of that impious Court will be
advantageous to you and to your welfare, and to many others with you.
Those who do
harm to her are doing your office; those who in every way
abhor her are glorifying
Christ; in short, those are Christians who are
not Romans.
But, to say yet more, even this never entered my heart: to inveigh against
the Court
of Rome or to dispute at all about her. For, seeing all remedies
for her health to be
desperate, I looked on her with contempt, and, giving
her a bill of divorcement, said to
her, "He that is unjust, let him be
unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still,"
myself up to the peaceful and quiet study of sacred literature, that by
this I might
be of use to the brethren living about me.
While I was making some advance in these studies, Satan opened his eyes
goaded on his servant John Eccius, that notorious adversary of Christ,
by the
unchecked lust for fame, to drag me unexpectedly into the arena,
trying to catch me in
one little word concerning the primacy of the Church
of Rome, which had fallen from
me in passing. That boastful Thraso,
foaming and gnashing his teeth, proclaimed that
he would dare all things
for the glory of God and for the honour of the holy apostolic
seat; and,
being puffed up respecting your power, which he was about to misuse, he
looked forward with all certainty to victory; seeking to promote, not so
much the
primacy of Peter, as his own pre-eminence among the theologians
of this age; for he
thought it would contribute in no slight degree to
this, if he were to lead Luther in
triumph. The result having proved
unfortunate for the sophist, an incredible rage
torments him; for he feels
that whatever discredit to Rome has arisen through me has
been caused by
the fault of himself alone.
Suffer me, I pray you, most excellent Leo, both to plead my own cause, and
accuse your true enemies. I believe it is known to you in what way
Cardinal Cajetan,

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your imprudent and unfortunate, nay unfaithful, legate,
acted towards me. When, on
account of my reverence for your name, I had
placed myself and all that was mine in
his hands, he did not so act as to
establish peace, which he could easily have
established by one little
word, since I at that time promised to be silent and to make an
end of my
case, if he would command my adversaries to do the same. But that man of
pride, not content with this agreement, began to justify my adversaries,
to give them
free licence, and to order me to recant, a thing which was
certainly not in his
commission. Thus indeed, when the case was in the
best position, it came through his
vexatious tyranny into a much worse
one. Therefore whatever has followed upon this is
the fault not of Luther,
but entirely of Cajetan, since he did not suffer me to be silent
remain quiet, which at that time I was entreating for with all my might.
What more
was it my duty to do?
Next came Charles Miltitz, also a nuncio from your Blessedness. He, though
he went
up and down with much and varied exertion, and omitted nothing
which could tend to
restore the position of the cause thrown into
confusion by the rashness and pride of
Cajetan, had difficulty, even with
the help of that very illustrious prince the Elector
Frederick, in at last
bringing about more than one familiar conference with me. In these
I again
yielded to your great name, and was prepared to keep silence, and to
accept as
my judge either the Archbishop of Treves, or the Bishop of
Naumburg; and thus it was
done and concluded. While this was being done
with good hope of success, lo! that
other and greater enemy of yours,
Eccius, rushed in with his Leipsic disputation, which
he had undertaken
against Carlstadt, and, having taken up a new question concerning
primacy of the Pope, turned his arms unexpectedly against me, and
overthrew the plan for peace. Meanwhile Charles Miltitz was
waiting, disputations were
held, judges were being chosen, but no decision
was arrived at. And no wonder! for by
the falsehoods, pretences, and arts
of Eccius the whole business was brought into
such thorough disorder,
confusion, and festering soreness, that, whichever way the
sentence might
lean, a greater conflagration was sure to arise; for he was seeking, not
after truth, but after his own credit. In this case too I omitted nothing
which it was right
that I should do.
I confess that on this occasion no small part of the corruptions of Rome
came to
light; but, if there was any offence in this, it was the fault of
Eccius, who, in taking on
him a burden beyond his strength, and in
furiously aiming at credit for himself, unveiled
to the whole world the
disgrace of Rome.
Here is that enemy of yours, Leo, or rather of your Court; by his example
alone we
may learn that an enemy is not more baneful than a flatterer. For
what did he bring
about by his flattery, except evils which no king could
have brought about? At this day
the name of the Court of Rome stinks in
the nostrils of the world, the papal authority is
growing weak, and its
notorious ignorance is evil spoken of. We should hear none of
things, if Eccius had not disturbed the plans of Miltitz and myself for
peace. He
feels this clearly enough himself in the indignation he shows,
too late and in vain,
against the publication of my books. He ought to
have reflected on this at the time
when he was all mad for renown, and was
seeking in your cause nothing but his own
objects, and that with the
greatest peril to you. The foolish man hoped that, from fear
of your name,
I should yield and keep silence; for I do not think he presumed on his
talents and learning. Now, when he sees that I am very confident and speak
aloud, he
repents too late of his rashness, and sees—if indeed he
does see it—that there is One
in heaven who resists the proud, and
humbles the presumptuous.

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Since then we were bringing about by this disputation nothing but the
confusion of the cause of Rome, Charles Miltitz for the third time
addressed the
Fathers of the Order, assembled in chapter, and sought their
advice for the settlement
of the case, as being now in a most troubled and
perilous state. Since, by the favour of
God, there was no hope of
proceeding against me by force, some of the more noted of
their number
were sent to me, and begged me at least to show respect to your person
to vindicate in a humble letter both your innocence and my own. They said
that the
affair was not as yet in a position of extreme hopelessness, if
Leo X., in his inborn
kindliness, would put his hand to it. On this I, who
have always offered and wished for
peace, in order that I might devote
myself to calmer and more useful pursuits, and who
for this very purpose
have acted with so much spirit and vehemence, in order to put
down by the
strength and impetuosity of my words, as well as of my feelings, men
I saw to be very far from equal to myself—I, I say, not only gladly
yielded, but
even accepted it with joy and gratitude, as the greatest
kindness and benefit, if you
should think it right to satisfy my hopes.
Thus I come, most blessed Father, and in all abasement beseech you to put
to your
hand, if it is possible, and impose a curb to those flatterers who
are enemies of peace,
while they pretend peace. But there is no reason,
most blessed Father, why any one
should assume that I am to utter a
recantation, unless he prefers to involve the case in
still greater
confusion. Moreover, I cannot bear with laws for the interpretation of the
word of God, since the word of God, which teaches liberty in all other
things, ought not
to be bound. Saving these two things, there is nothing
which I am not able, and most
heartily willing, to do or to suffer. I hate
contention; I will challenge no one; in return I
wish not to be
challenged; but, being challenged, I will not be dumb in the cause of
Christ my Master. For your Blessedness will be able by one short and easy
word to call
these controversies before you and suppress them, and to
impose silence and peace
on both sides—a word which I have ever
longed to hear.
Therefore, Leo, my Father, beware of listening to those sirens who make
you out to
be not simply a man, but partly a god, so that you can command
and require whatever
you will. It will not happen so, nor will you
prevail. You are the servant of servants, and
more than any other man, in
a most pitiable and perilous position. Let not those men
deceive you who
pretend that you are lord of the world; who will not allow any one to
be a
Christian without your authority; who babble of your having power over
hell, and purgatory. These men are your enemies and are seeking
your soul to destroy
it, as Isaiah says, "My people, they that call thee
blessed are themselves deceiving
thee." They are in error who raise you
above councils and the universal Church; they
are in error who attribute
to you alone the right of interpreting Scripture. All these men
seeking to set up their own impieties in the Church under your name, and
Satan has gained much through them in the time of your predecessors.
In brief, trust not in any who exalt you, but in those who humiliate you.
For this is the
judgment of God: "He hath cast down the mighty from their
seat, and hath exalted the
humble." See how unlike Christ was to His
successors, though all will have it that they
are His vicars. I fear that
in truth very many of them have been in too serious a sense
His vicars,
for a vicar represents a prince who is absent. Now if a pontiff rules
Christ is absent and does not dwell in his heart, what else is he
but a vicar of Christ?
And then what is that Church but a multitude
without Christ? What indeed is such a
vicar but antichrist and an idol?
How much more rightly did the Apostles speak, who
call themselves servants
of a present Christ, not the vicars of an absent one!

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Perhaps I am shamelessly bold in seeming to teach so great a head, by whom
men ought to be taught, and from whom, as those plagues of yours
boast, the thrones
of judges receive their sentence; but I imitate St.
Bernard in his book concerning
Considerations addressed to Eugenius, a
book which ought to be known by heart by
every pontiff. I do this, not
from any desire to teach, but as a duty, from that simple and
solicitude which teaches us to be anxious for all that is safe for our
and does not allow considerations of worthiness or
unworthiness to be entertained,
being intent only on the dangers or
advantage of others. For since I know that your
Blessedness is driven and
tossed by the waves at Rome, so that the depths of the sea
press on you
with infinite perils, and that you are labouring under such a condition of
misery that you need even the least help from any the least brother, I do
not seem to
myself to be acting unsuitably if I forget your majesty till I
shall have fulfilled the office
of charity. I will not flatter in so
serious and perilous a matter; and if in this you do not
see that I am
your friend and most thoroughly your subject, there is One to see and
In fine, that I may not approach you empty-handed, blessed Father, I bring
with me
this little treatise, published under your name, as a good omen of
the establishment of
peace and of good hope. By this you may perceive in
what pursuits I should prefer and
be able to occupy myself to more profit,
if I were allowed, or had been hitherto allowed,
by your impious
flatterers. It is a small matter, if you look to its exterior, but, unless
mistake, it is a summary of the Christian life put together in small
compass, if you
apprehend its meaning. I, in my poverty, have no other
present to make you, nor do
you need anything else than to be enriched by
a spiritual gift. I commend myself to
your Paternity and Blessedness, whom
may the Lord Jesus preserve for ever. Amen.
Wittenberg, 6th September, 1520.
Christian faith has appeared to many an easy thing; nay, not a few even
reckon it
among the social virtues, as it were; and this they do because
they have not made
proof of it experimentally, and have never tasted of
what efficacy it is. For it is not
possible for any man to write well
about it, or to understand well what is rightly written,
who has not at
some time tasted of its spirit, under the pressure of tribulation; while
who has tasted of it, even to a very small extent, can never write,
speak, think, or hear
about it sufficiently. For it is a living fountain,
springing up into eternal life, as Christ
calls it in John iv.
Now, though I cannot boast of my abundance, and though I know how poorly I
furnished, yet I hope that, after having been vexed by various
temptations, I have
attained some little drop of faith, and that I can
speak of this matter, if not with more
elegance, certainly with more
solidity, than those literal and too subtle disputants who
have hitherto
discoursed upon it without understanding their own words. That I may
then an easier way for the ignorant—for these alone I am trying to
serve—I first
lay down these two propositions, concerning spiritual
liberty and servitude:—
A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a
Christian man is

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the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every
Although these statements appear contradictory, yet, when they are found
to agree
together, they will make excellently for my purpose. They are
both the statements of
Paul himself, who says, "Though I be free from all
men, yet have I made myself
servant unto all" (1 Cor. ix. 19), and "Owe no
man anything, but to love one another"
(Rom. xiii. 8). Now love is by its
own nature dutiful and obedient to the beloved object.
Thus even Christ,
though Lord of all things, was yet made of a woman; made under the
law; at
once free and a servant; at once in the form of God and in the form of a
Let us examine the subject on a deeper and less simple principle. Man is
of a twofold nature, a spiritual and a bodily. As regards the
spiritual nature, which they
name the soul, he is called the spiritual,
inward, new man; as regards the bodily
nature, which they name the flesh,
he is called the fleshly, outward, old man. The
Apostle speaks of this:
"Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is
renewed day by day"
(2 Cor. iv. 16). The result of this diversity is that in the Scriptures
opposing statements are made concerning the same man, the fact being that
in the
same man these two men are opposed to one another; the flesh
lusting against the
spirit, and the spirit against the flesh (Gal. v. 17).
We first approach the subject of the inward man, that we may see by what
means a
man becomes justified, free, and a true Christian; that is, a
spiritual, new, and inward
man. It is certain that absolutely none among
outward things, under whatever name
they may be reckoned, has any
influence in producing Christian righteousness or
liberty, nor, on the
other hand, unrighteousness or slavery. This can be shown by an
What can it profit the soul that the body should be in good condition,
free, and full of
life; that it should eat, drink, and act according to
its pleasure; when even the most
impious slaves of every kind of vice are
prosperous in these matters? Again, what
harm can ill-health, bondage,
hunger, thirst, or any other outward evil, do to the soul,
when even the
most pious of men and the freest in the purity of their conscience, are
harassed by these things? Neither of these states of things has to do with
the liberty or
the slavery of the soul.
And so it will profit nothing that the body should be adorned with sacred
or dwell in holy places, or be occupied in sacred offices, or
pray, fast, and abstain from
certain meats, or do whatever works can be
done through the body and in the body.
Something widely different will be
necessary for the justification and liberty of the soul,
since the things
I have spoken of can be done by any impious person, and only
are produced by devotion to these things. On the other hand, it will not
at all
injure the soul that the body should be clothed in profane raiment,
should dwell in
profane places, should eat and drink in the ordinary
fashion, should not pray aloud,
and should leave undone all the things
above mentioned, which may be done by
And, to cast everything aside, even speculation, meditations, and whatever
can be performed by the exertions of the soul itself, are of no
profit. One thing, and one
alone, is necessary for life, justification,
and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy
word of God, the Gospel
of Christ, as He says, "I am the resurrection and the life; he
believeth in Me shall not die eternally" (John xi. 25), and also, "If the
Son shall
make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John viii. 36), and,
"Man shall not live by bread
alone, but by every word that proceedeth out
of the mouth of God" (Matt. iv. 4).

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Let us therefore hold it for certain and firmly established that the soul
can do without
everything except the word of God, without which none at
all of its wants are provided
for. But, having the word, it is rich and
wants for nothing, since that is the word of life,
of truth, of light, of
peace, of justification, of salvation, of joy, of liberty, of wisdom, of
virtue, of grace, of glory, and of every good thing. It is on this account
that the prophet
in a whole Psalm (Psalm cxix.), and in many other places,
sighs for and calls upon the
word of God with so many groanings and words.
Again, there is no more cruel stroke of the wrath of God than when He
sends a
famine of hearing His words (Amos viii. 11), just as there is no
greater favour from Him
than the sending forth of His word, as it is said,
"He sent His word and healed them,
and delivered them from their
destructions" (Psalm cvii. 20). Christ was sent for no
other office than
that of the word; and the order of Apostles, that of bishops, and that of
the whole body of the clergy, have been called and instituted for no
object but the
ministry of the word.
But you will ask, What is this word, and by what means is it to be used,
since there
are so many words of God? I answer, The Apostle Paul (Rom. i.)
explains what it is,
namely the Gospel of God, concerning His Son,
incarnate, suffering, risen, and
glorified, through the Spirit, the
Sanctifier. To preach Christ is to feed the soul, to justify
it, to set it
free, and to save it, if it believes the preaching. For faith alone and
efficacious use of the word of God, bring salvation. "If thou shalt
confess with thy
mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart
that God hath raised Him from
the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Rom. x. 9);
and again, "Christ is the end of the law for
righteousness to every one
that believeth" (Rom. x. 4), and "The just shall live by faith"
(Rom. i.
17). For the word of God cannot be received and honoured by any works, but
by faith alone. Hence it is clear that as the soul needs the word alone
for life and
justification, so it is justified by faith alone, and not by
any works. For if it could be
justified by any other means, it would have
no need of the word, nor consequently of
But this faith cannot consist at all with works; that is, if you imagine
that you can be
justified by those works, whatever they are, along with
it. For this would be to halt
between two opinions, to worship Baal, and
to kiss the hand to him, which is a very
great iniquity, as Job says.
Therefore, when you begin to believe, you learn at the
same time that all
that is in you is utterly guilty, sinful, and damnable, according to that
saying, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. iii.
23), and also:
"There is none righteous, no, not one; they are all gone
out of the way; they are
together become unprofitable: there is none that
doeth good, no, not one" (Rom. iii. 10-
12). When you have learnt this, you
will know that Christ is necessary for you, since He
has suffered and
risen again for you, that, believing on Him, you might by this faith
become another man, all your sins being remitted, and you being justified
by the merits
of another, namely of Christ alone.
Since then this faith can reign only in the inward man, as it is said,
"With the heart
man believeth unto righteousness" (Rom. x. 10); and since
it alone justifies, it is
evident that by no outward work or labour can
the inward man be at all justified, made
free, and saved; and that no
works whatever have any relation to him. And so, on the
other hand, it is
solely by impiety and incredulity of heart that he becomes guilty and a
slave of sin, deserving condemnation, not by any outward sin or work.
Therefore the
first care of every Christian ought to be to lay aside all
reliance on works, and

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