Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that workiniquity.
CHRIST’S WARNING OF FALSE PROPHETS.
I. THE FOUNDATION AND REASON OF THIS WARNING.
The true and false doctrines always run contrary to one another. 2.
2. How this warning will completely overthrow the claims of the Papacy and Councils. 4-5f.
A Christian should be assured of his faith and not build on human authority. 6-12. The councils and decisions of the Papists. a. They can give no foundation or consolation in time of death. b. How the Papists seek to confirm their councils and decisions, and the answer to give them. c. How and why we should not believe these councils and decisions. 11-12. d. It is nonsense, if the Councils wish to determine how we are to believe. e. In how far the decisions of the Councils are to be received. 14.
2. Therefore one should not apply this here in the Gospel to coarse publicsins, whose fruits we see today clearly, when God opens our eyes; but the Lord is speaking of those who come in sheep’s clothing, and say: Lord, Lord, have we not cast out devils in thy name? Have we not in thy name done many wonderful works? These are the ones of whom Christwarns us, to whom he will say in the last day in terriblejudgment: I never knew you: depart from me, ye that workiniquity. Why? Because they sought such works and through them they thought they were pleasing to God. and trusted in them to be saved.
2. We must boldly consider the two kinds of doctrine, the true and good, and the false and erroneous, and that they will always accompany each other, for thus it has been from the beginning, and thus it will continue to the end of the world. Hence it will not do for us to creep along in silence, and resort to a safe and secure manner of life. The evil teachings of men and the doctrines of devils, and all our enemies oppose us without ceasing, and hence we dare not think that the issue is settled. We are not yet across the river. Therefore the Lord diligently warns us and says: “Beware of false, prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
3. We should well consider this passage, for Christ our Lord here commands and gives all Christians the power to be judges of all doctrine, and he gives them power to judge what is right and what is not right. It is now well on a thousand years that this passage has been perverted by false Christians, so that we have had no power to judge, but had to accept what the Pope and the councils determined, without any judgment of our own.
Christ says we have the right to judge all doctrines, and whatever is proposed for us to keep or to reject. Here the Lord does not speak to the Pope, but to all Christians. And as the doctrine is proclaimed to all: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do even so to them;” so likewise the words exclude no one: “Beware of false prophets.” From which it clearly follows that I may indeed judge of the doctrine.
5. Hence I can say: Pope, you together with the councils have resolved, and now I have to decide whether I may accept it or not. Why? Because you will not stand and answer for me when I die, but I must see to it myself how I stand before God, so that I may be certain of my fate.
6. For you must be so certain in regard to the matter, that it is God’s Word, as certain and more certain than you are that you are living, for on this alone your conscience must rest. Even though all men should come, yea, even the angels and all the world, and pass a resolution, if you cannot grasp it and decide for yourself, you are lost; for you dare not base your decision on the Pope or anyone else; you must yourself be prepared so that you can say: this God says, and that he does not say; this is right, and that is wrong, otherwise it is not possible for you to stand.
7. For when you are about to die, and you rely on the Pope and the councils and say: The Pope said this, the councils have resolved that, the holy fathers Augustine and Ambrose have thus determined, then the devil can easily lint a hole in your drum and insinuate: What if this were false?
What if they had erred? And when such a temptation enters your mind, you are already overcome For this reason you must act conscientiously, so that you can boldly and defiantly say: This is God’s Word, on this I will risk body and life, and a thousand necks, if I had so many.
8. Then they began to say: Yes, but how can we know what is God’s Word, and what is right or wrong? This we must learn from the Pope and the councils. Very well then, let them conclude and say what they please, yet I will reply, you cannot put your confidence in that nor thus satisfy your conscience, for you must determine this matter yourself, for your very life depends upon it. Therefore God must speak to your heart: This is God’s Word; otherwise you are undecided.
9. But our bishops, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod insist upon it and rage so terribly, that a person must think them insane. They bring forth St.
Augustine’s declaration: I would not believe the Gospel, if the honor of the church did not move me; and think they have already won. Then you answer: What does it concern us whether St. Augustine or Jerome, St.
Peter or St. Paul, or even the archangelGabriel from heaven, who is still greater, said it; yet it will profit me nothing, for I must have God’s Word, I will only hear what God says.
10. And God commands this Word to be told you through men, and especially has he permitted it to be proclaimed and written for you by the Apostles; for St. Peter and St. Paul do not preach their own word, but God’s Word, as Paul himself testifies in 1 Thessalonians 2:13: “When ye receive the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” Surely, a person can preach the Word to me, but no one is able to put it into my heart except God alone, who must speak to the heart, or all is vain; for when he is silent, the Word is not spoken. Hence no one shall draw me from the Word which Godteaches me.
Of this I must be as certain as two and three make five, for this is so certain, that if all the councils would say otherwise, I know they lie. Again, that a yard is longer than a half a yard is certain, even though all the world denied it, I still know that it cannot be otherwise. Who shall determine this for me? No one but the truth alone, which is so entirely and wholly certain, that no one can deny it.
11. Therefore you must come so far as to say: This is true, no man shall persuade me differently. When you hear: Thou shalt not kill; and again:
Thou shalt do to others as you would have them do to you; then you must know in the face of all councils, that this is the teaching of Christ, although all men said otherwise. So also this doctrine: You cannot help yourself, but Christ is your Savior, who has obtained for you the forgiveness of your sins; this you must know and confess in your heart that it is true; and if you are not conscious of it, then you have no faith, and the Word only hangs about your ears and swims on your tongue like foam on water, as Hosea the prophet says, Hosea 10:7: “As for Samaria, her king is cut off as the foam upon the waters.” All this you must now believe, not as a word that Peter preached, but that God has commanded you to believe. All this I say therefore, in order that we may return to the Gospel and observe where the foundation has its source, that ye must be judges, and have the power to judge over all things that are offered you; hence I can and dare not build on any man, for I must answer for myself when death comes.
13. Hence it is very foolish for the councils to wish to determine and establish what a man must believe, when there is often not a single man present who ever tasted the least of the divine Spirit. So it was in the Council of Nice, when they undertook to enact laws for the spiritual orders that they should not marry, which was all false because it has no foundation in the Word of God. Then a single man arose, by the name of Paphnutius, and overthrew the whole affair and said: Not so, that is not Christian. Then the entire council, in which undoubtedly were many distinguished and learned individuals, were compelled to drop the resolution, and give. way to this simple and honest man. For God is a great enemy to high titles and human wisdom, hence he allows them at times to be handled roughly, and puts them to shame in their speculations, that the truth of the proverb may appear: The learned are the most perverted.
14. Thus we are to remain free judges, to have the power to decide and judge, to accept or reject everything that the Pope establishes and the councils determine. But when we accept anything, we should so accept it, that it harmonizes with our faith and the Scriptures; and not just because the Papists say it. This St. Paulteaches in Romans 12:7’ “Whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith.” For all prophecy based on works, that does not lead to Christ alone as our only comfort, precious as it may be, is not according to the proportion of faith; as for instance to rely upon the revelations of hobgoblins, the mass, pilgrimages, fastings and the merits of saints.
Even here so many holy fathers have erred like Gregory, Augustine and others, in that they take from us this right of judgment, for this torment and misery began far back in history, that we must believe the Pope and the councils. Hence you must be able to say: God said this, and that God has not said. As soon as you say: A man has said this, or the councils have determined that, then you are building on sand.
16. But if one should come who knew the sense of the Word better than I, then I should close my mouth and keep still, and receive knowledge from him. This is what St. Paul desires in speaking to the Corinthians, Corinthians 14:29-30: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the others judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace.” That is to say, if the hearer knows and understands more than the preacher, then the preacher should allow him the privilege to speak, and he should hold his peace. In the worldlygovernment of course the rule holds, that the older is wiser than the younger, a learned man than a layman; but in spiritual things a child era servant, a common woman or man can have the grace of God. as well as an old person or a lord, a priest or the Pope. To sum up, let no learned person take from you the right to judge, for you have this right as well as he.
17. Now let me tell you who the false prophets of our times are. For no one can judge or know this unless he has the Spirit. But the brief summary is, though much may be said on the subject, it: is the Pope with his entire government; for they all have taught what is opposed to God. A lengthy proof of this is not necessary, for you can observe this nearly everywhere you turn. Yet we will give a few examples. God commands in Exodus 20:12: The child shall honorfather and mother and be subject unto them.
But the Pope has approved the view that a monk or a nun is no longer under their father, and says: The child is now under spiritualdominion and in the service of God; God is more than father and mother; hence it is no longer bound to serve father and mother, and the father is bound to call it a nobleman by grace.
18. Well, when I ask, what is the service of God? they reply: Dear Sir: It is the ringing of bells; lighting of candles; putting on beautifulrobes for the celebration of mass, and more such similar monkey tricks. Yes, indeed, you have surely hit the mark! But I say to honorfather and mother and to keep God’s commandments, that is to serve God. Therefore you must say here that Antichrist has taught such things, and boldly say and declare he lies.
Do you not see here how God’s commandment is opposed to the obedience of priors and abbots? God gave you father and mother that you should honor them, serve them and be subject unto them. The Pope gives you another, whom you must honor more than the fatherGod has given you. If this is keeping God’s commandment, I do not know what it is.
21. Then again when those in spiritual orders marry, they are to dissolve their marriage, according to the demands of their order. Again, if any one falls into the sin of incest and marries either her friend or any of his friends, the Pope commands that they must stay together, yet both must livechaste together. Here he lets the two sexes lienaked in bed together, and neither shall have the right to require of the other the duties of marriedlife. This is nothing else than putting straw and fire together, and then forbidding them to burn.
23. Again, look at the first commandment, which says that we should trust in God alone, and call upon him alone. But their entire doctrine is nothing else than to lead us to trust in human works, and to command us to call upon the saints. Do you not see that such people are the real false prophets, of whom we must beware? For they abolish the commandment which God has given. Now follows the other part of this Gospel where Christ speaks thus: “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gathergrapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth. forth good fruit; but a corrupttree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupttree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cost into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
24. As I said before, no one knows others by their fruits, except he who is spiritually born again. Therefore, he who has not the Spirit, cannot have this knowledge. Let no one think that he can know this from the fruits unless he be spiritual. The fruit by which we are to know them is unbelief.
25. Hence, the true fruit by which they are known is an inner fruit, here I must have the Holy Spirit and judge according to his guidance. The fleshly eye and reason are not sufficient. You may see two persons go to the Lord’s Supper, the one is a believer, the other not, and yet their external work is the same. What then makes the difference? Faith in the heart and unbelief, because the one regards it. as a good work, the other not. In short, from external works you can decide nothing. Tauler also acknowledged that believers and unbelievers were often so similar in external appearance, that no one could distinguish them, nor is reason able to judge unless we have the Spirit of God. Yea, the unbelievers often appear far more excellent in their works than believers, as it is written in Job 39:13: “Givest thou the goodlywings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?” Yet the peacock can fly and the ostrich cannot. So also the believer and unbeliever are indeed similar to each other in their external appearance, but in their hearts they are quite different.
One knows another indeed by his fruits, but only in the Spirit. The fruits and good works do not make any one good or pious; but he must first be good and pious at heart. As the apples do not make the tree, for the tree must first be there before the fruit.
27. If I understand this, then I notice there is no work so bad that it will necessarily condemn a man, nor none so good that it will save him. But faith alone saves us and unbelief alone condemns us. For one to commitadultery, the deed does not condemn him, for the adultery only shows that he has fallen from the faith, this condemns him, otherwise it could not be possible. Nor does anything make one good but faith, and nothing makes one wicked but unbelief. Therefore our Lord also says, that the tree shall be cut down. He does not say that the fruit shall be cut down. Thus the works of love do not make me good, but faith alone, in which I do these works and bear this fruit.
28. Thus we must begin with faith. But the Pope begins with works, and commands persons to do good works that they may become good. Just as if I should say to the tree: If you want to be a good tree, then begin and bear apples. Just as though I could bear apples before I was an apple tree.
But I must say: If you want to bear apples, then begin and be an apple tree.
Hence the tree must be there before it can produce fruit.