A REPLY TO THE TWELVE ARTICLES OF THE PEASANTS IN SWABIA
The peasants who have now banded together in Swabia have put their intolerable grievances against the rulers into twelve articles, and undertaken to support them with certain passages of Scripture, and have published them in printed form. The thing about them that pleases me best is that, in the twelfth article, they offer to accept instruction gladly and willingly, if there is need or necessity for it, and are willing to be corrected, in so far as that can be done by clear, plain, undeniable passages of Scripture, since it is right and proper that no one’s conscience should be instructed or corrected, except by divine Scripture.
Now, if that is their serious and sincere meaning — and it would not be right for me to interpret it otherwise, because in these articles they come out boldly into the open, and show no desire to shun the light — then there is good reason to hope that things will be well. As one who am counted among those who now deal with the divine Scriptures here on earth, and especially as one whom they mention and call upon by name in the second document, it gives me the greater courage and confidence in openly publishing my instruction, which I do in a friendly and Christian spirit, as a duty of brotherlylove, in order that, if any misfortune or disaster shall come out of this matter, it may not be attributed to me, or blamed on me, because of my silence. But if this offer of theirs is only pretense and show (and without doubt there are some of that kind of people among them; for it is not possible that so great a crowd should all be true Christians and have good intentions, but a large part of them must be using the good intentions of the rest for their own selfish purposes and seeking their own advantage), then without doubt, it will accomplish very little, or contribute, in fact, to their great injury and eternalruin.
Because this matter, then, is great and perilous, concerning, as it does, both the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world (for if this rebellion were to proceed and get the upper hand, both kingdoms would be destroyed and there would be neither worldlygovernment nor Word of God, but it would result in the permanent destruction of all Germany), therefore it is necessary to speak boldly and to give advice without regard to anyone. It is also necessary that we be willing listeners and allow things to be said to us, so that our hearts may not be hardened and our ears stopped, as has happened before now, and we may not get the full vigor of God’s wrath. For the many terriblesigns that are seen both in heaven and earth, point to a great disaster and a mighty change in Germany. Although, sad to say, we care little about this. Nevertheless, God goes on His way, and sometime He will make our hard heads soft.
TO THE PRINCES AND LORDS
We have no one on earth to thank for this mischievous rebellion, except you princes and lords; and especially you blindbishops and madpriests and monks, whose hearts are hardened, even to the present day, and who do not cease to rage and rave against the holy Gospel, although you know that it is true, and that you cannot refute it. Besides, in your temporal government, you do nothing but flay and rob your subjects, in order that you may lead a life of splendor and pride, until the poor common people can bear it no longer. The sword is at your throats, but you think yourselves so firm in the saddle that no one can unhorse you. This false security and stubborn perversity will break your necks, as you will discover. I have often told you before to beware of the saying, in <19A740> Psalm 107:40, Effundit contemptum super principes, “He poureth contempt upon princes.” You are striving after it, and want to be smitten over the head, and no warning or exhorting will help you to avoid it.
Well, then, since you are the cause of this wrath of God, it will undoubtedly come upon you, if you do not mend your ways in time. The signs in heaven and the wonders on earth are meant for you, dear lords; they bode no good for you, and no good will come to you. A great part of God’s wrath has already come, and God is sending so many false teachers and prophets among us, so that through error and blasphemy we may richly deserve hell and everlastingdamnation. The rest of it is now here, for the peasants are mustering, and this must result in the ruin, destruction, and desolation of Germany by cruel murder and bloodshed, unless God shall be moved by our repentance to prevent it.
For you ought to know, dear lords, that God is doing this because this raging of yours cannot and will not and ought not be endured for long.
You must become different men and yield to God’s Word. If you do not do this amicably and willingly, then you will be compelled to it by force and destruction. If these peasants do not do it for you, others will. Even though you were to beat them all, they would still be unbeaten, for God will raise up others. It is His will to beat you, and you will be beaten. It is not the peasants, dear lords, who are resisting you; it is God Himself who is resisting you in order to visit your raging upon you. There are some of you who have said that they will stake land and people on the extirpation of Lutheran teaching. What would you think, if you were to turn out to be your own prophets, and your land and people were already staked? Do not jest with God, dear lords! The Jews, too, said, “We have no king,” and it became so serious that they had to be without a king forever.
To make your sin still greater, and ensure your merciless destruction, some of you are beginning to blame this affair on the Gospel and say it is the fruit of my teaching. Well, well! Slander away, dear lords. You did not want to know what I taught, and what the Gospel is; now there is one at the door who will soon teach you, unless you amend your ways. You, and everyone else, must bear me witness that I have taught with all quietness, have striven earnestly against rebellion, and have diligently held and exhorted subjects to obedience and reverence toward even your tyrannous and ravenous rule. This rebellion cannot be coming from me. But the murderprophets, who hate me as much as they hate you, have come among these people and have gone about among them for more than three years, and no one has resisted them save me alone. If, therefore, God is minded to punish you, and allows the devil, through his false prophets, to stir up the people against you, and if it is, perhaps, His will that I shall not be able to prevent it any longer; what can I or my Gospel do? Not only has it suffered your persecution and murdering and raging; it has also prayed for you and helped protect and maintain your rule over the common people. If I had any desire to be revenged on you, I could laugh in my sleeve, and become a mere onlooker at the doings of the peasants, or even join in with them and help make matters worse; but from this may my Godpreserve me, as He has done hitherto.
Therefore, my dear lords, enemies or friends, I beg submissively that you will not despise my faithfulness, though I am a poor man. I beg that you will not make light of this rebellion. Not that I believe or fear that they will be too strong for you, or that I would have you be afraid of them on that account. But fearGod and have respect for His wrath! If it be His will to punish you as you have deserved (and I am afraid that it is), then He would punish you, even though the peasants were a hundred times fewer than they are. He can make peasants out of stones and slay a hundred of you by one peasant, so that all your armor and your strength will be too little.
If it is still possible to give you advice, my lords, give a little place to the will and wrath of God. A cart-load of hay must give way to a drunken man; how much more ought you to leave your raging and your obstinate tyranny and deal reasonably with the peasants, as though they were drunk or out of their mind. Do not begin a struggle with them, for you do not know what the end of it will be. Try kindness first, for you do not know what God wills to do, and do not strike a spark that will kindle all Germany and that no one can quench. Our sins are before God; therefore we have to fear His wrath when even a leaf rustles, let alone when such multitude sets itself in motion. You lose nothing by kindness; and even though you were to lose something, it can afterwards come back to you ten times over in peace, while in conflict you may, perhaps, lose both life and goods. Why run into danger, when you can get more by another, and a good way?
The peasants have put forth twelve articles, some of which are so fair and just as to take away your reputation in the eyes of God and the world and fulfill the Psalm about pouring contempt upon princes. Nevertheless, almost all of them are framed in their own interest and for their own good, though not for their best good. I should, indeed, have put forth other articles against you that would have dealt with all Germany and its government.
I did this in my book To the German Nobility, when there was more at stake; but you made light of that, and now you must listen to and put up with these selfish articles. It serves you right, as people to whom nothing can be told.
The first article, in which they ask the right to hear the Gospel and choose their pastors, you cannot reject with any show of right, though, to be sure, it contains some selfishness, since they allege that these pastors are to be supported by the tithes, and these do not belong to them. Nevertheless, the sense of the article is that permission should be given for the preaching of the Gospel, and this no ruler can or ought oppose. Indeed no ruler ought to prevent anyone from teaching or believing what he pleases, whether Gospel or lies. It is enough if he prevents the teaching of sedition and rebellion.
The other articles recite physical grievances, such as Leibfall, imposts and the like; and they, too, are fair and just. For rulers are not instituted in order that they may seek their own profit and self-will, but in order to provide for the best interests of their subjects. Flaying and extortion are, in the long run, intolerable. What good would it do if a peasant’s field bore as many gulden as stalks or grains of wheat, if that only meant that the rulers would take all the more, and make their splendor all the greater, and squander the property on clothing, eating, drinking, building, and the like, as though it were chaff? The splendor would have to be checked and the expenditure stopped, so that a poor man too could keep something. You have gathered further information from their broadsides, in which they present their grievances sufficiently.
TO THE PEASANTS
So far, dear friends, you have learned only that I admit it to be (sad to say!) all too true and certain that the princes and lords, who forbid the preaching of the Gospel and oppress the people so unbearably, are worthy, and have well deserved, that God put them down from their seats, as men who have sinned deeply against God and man. And they have no excuse.
Nevertheless, you, too, must have a care that you take up your cause with a good conscience and with justice. If you have a good conscience, you have the comforting advantage that God will be with you, and will help you through. Even though you were worsted for awhile, and though you suffereddeath, you would win in the end, and would preserve your soul eternally with all the saints. But if you have not justice and a good conscience, you will be worsted; and even though you were to win for awhile, and were to slay all the princes, yet in the end you would be lost eternally, body and soul. This is, therefore, no joking matter for you; it concerns your body and soul eternally. The thing that is most necessary to consider and that must be most seriously regarded, is not how strong you are and how completely wrong they are, but whether you have justice and a good conscience on your side.
Therefore, dear brethren, I beg you, in a kindly and brotherly way, to look diligently to what you do, and not to believe all kinds of spirits and preachers, now that Satan has raised up many evil spirits of disorder and of murder, and filled the world with them. Only listen and give ear, as you offer many times to do. I will not spare you the earnest warning that I owe you, even though some of you, poisoned by the murderous spirits, will hate me for it, and call me a hypocrite. That does not worry me; it is enough for me if I save some of the good-hearted and upright men among you from the danger of God’s wrath. The rest I fear as little, as they despise me much; and they shall not harm me. I know One Who is greater and mightier than they are, and He teaches me in Psalm 3, “I am not afraid, though many thousands of people set themselves against me.” My confidence shall outlast their confidence; that I know for sure.
In the first place, dear brethren, you bear the name of God and call yourselves a “Christian band” or union, and allege that you want to live and act “according to the divineLaw.” Now you know that the name, Word, and titles of God are not to be assumed idly or in vain, as He says in the second Commandment, “Thou shalt not bear the name of the Lord Thy God in vain,” and adds “For God will not let him be guiltless who bears His name in vain.” Here is a clear, plain text, which applies to you, as to all men. Without regard to your great numbers, your rights, and your terror, it threatens you, as well as us and all others, with God’s wrath. He is, as you also know, mighty enough and strong enough to punish you as He here threatens, if His name is borne in vain; and so you have to expect no good fortune, but only misfortune, if you bear His name falsely. Learn from this how to judge yourselves; and accept this kindly warning. For Him Who once drowned the whole world in the Flood and sank Sodom with fire, it is a simple thing to slay or to defeat so many thousand peasants. He is an almighty and terribleGod.
In the second place, it is easy to prove that you are bearing God’s name in vain and putting it to shame; nor is it to be doubted that you will, in the end, encounter all misfortune, unless God is untrue. For here stands God’s Word, and says through the mouth of Christ, “He who takes the sword shall perish by the sword.” That means nothing else than that no one, by his own violence, shall arrogate authority to himself; but as Paul says, “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers with fear and reverence.”
How can you get over these sayings and laws of God, when you boast that you are acting according to divinelaw, and yet take the sword in your own hands, and revolt against the “higher powers” that are ordained of God?
If your undertaking is to prosper, when you have against you the divine and Christianlaw of the Old and New Testaments, and also the naturallaw, you must produce a new and special command of God, confirmed by signs and wonders, which bids you do these things. Otherwise God will not allow His Word and ordinance to be broken by your violence. On the contrary, because you boast of the divinelaw and yet act against it, He will let you fall and be punished terribly, as men who dishonor His name; and then He will condemn you eternally, as was said above. For the word of Christ in Matthew 7:3, applies to you; you see the mote in the eye of the rulers, and see not the beam in your own eye. Also the saying of Paul in Romans 3:8, “Let us do evil that good may come; whose damnation is just and right.” It is true that the rulers do wrong when they suppress the Gospel and oppress you in temporal things; but you do much more wrong when you not only suppress God’s Word, but tread it under foot, and invade His authority and His law, and put yourselves above God. Besides, you take from the rulers their authority and right; nay, all that they have.
For what have they left, when they have lost their authority?
I make you the judges, and leave it to you to decide who is the worse robber, the man who takes a large part of another’s goods, but leaves him something, or the man who takes everything that he has, and his living besides. The rulers unjustly take your property; that is the one side. On the other hand, you take from them the authority, in which their whole property and life and being consist. Therefore, you are far greater robbers than they, and intend to do worse things than they have done. “Nay,” you say, “we are going to leave them enough to live on.” If anyone wants to believe that, let him! I do not believe it. One who dares go so far as to take away, by force, the authority, which is the main thing, will not leave it at that, but will take the other, and the smaller thing, that depends upon it.
The wolf that eats a whole sheep will also eat its ear. And even though you were so good as to leave them enough to live on, nevertheless, you would take the best thing they have, namely, their authority, and make yourselves lords over them; and that would be too great a robbery and wrong. God will hold you the greatest robbers.
Can you not imagine it, or figure it out, dear friends? If your enterprise were right, then any man might become judge over another, and there would remain in the world neither authority, nor government, nor order, nor land, but there would be only murder and bloodshed; for as soon as anyone saw that someone was wronging him, he would turn to and judge him and punish him. Now if that is unjust and intolerable when done by an individual, neither can it be endured when done by a band or a crowd. But if it can be endured from a band or a crowd, it cannot be prevented with right and justice when individuals attempt it; for in both cases the cause is the same, namely, a wrong. And what would you do yourselves, if disorder broke out in your band, and one man set himself against another and took his own vengeance on him? Would you put up with that? Would you not say that he must let others, whom you appointed, do the judging and avenging? How, then, do you expect to stand with God and the world, when you do your own judging and avenging upon those who have injured you; nay, upon your rulers, whom God has ordained?
Now, all this has been said concerning the common, divine and naturallaw which even heathen, Turks, and Jews have to keep, if there is to be any peace or order in the world. Even though you were to keep this whole law, you would do no better and no more than heathen and Turks. For not to be one’s own judge and avenger, but to leave this to the authorities and the rulers, makes no man a Christian; it is a thing that must eventually be done whether willingly or not. But because you are acting against this law, you see plainly that you are worse than heathen or Turks, to say nothing of the fact that you are not Christians. But what do you think that Christ will say to this? You bear His name, and call yourselves a “Christian assembly,” and yet you are so far from Christian, and your actions and lives are so horribly contrary to His law, that you are not worthy to be called even heathen or Turks, but are much worse than these, because you rage and struggle against the divine and naturallaw, which all the heathen keep.
See, dear friends, what kind of preachers you have and what they think of your souls. I fear that some prophets of murder have come among you, who would like, by your means, to become lords in the world, and do not care that they are endangering your life, property, honor, and soul, temporally and eternally. If, now, it is really your will to keep the divinelaw, as you boast, then do it. There it stands! God says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay”; and again, “Be subject not only to good lords, but also to the wicked.” If you do this, well and good; if not, you may, indeed, cause a calamity, but it will finally come upon yourselves. Let no one be in doubt about this! God is just, and will not endure it. Be careful, therefore, with your liberty, that you do not run from the rain and fall in the water, and thinking to gainfreedom of body, lose body and goods and soul eternally. God’s wrath is there; fear it, I advise you! The devil has sent false prophets among you; beware of them!
And now we would go on, and speak of the law of Christ, and of the Gospel, which is not binding on the heathen, as the other law is. For if you boast that you are Christians and are glad when you are called Christians, and want to be known as Christians, then you must also allow your law to be held up before you rightly. Listen, then, dear Christians, to your Christianlaw! Your SupremeLordChrist, whose name you bear, says, in Matthew 5:39, “Ye shall not resistevil, but if any one compels you to go one mile, go with him two miles, and if anyone takes your cloak, let him have your coat, too; and if anyone smites you on one cheek, offer him the other also.” Do you hear, “Christian assembly”? How does your undertaking agree with this law? You will not endure it when anyone does you ill or wrong, but will be free, and suffer nothing but good and right; and Christ says that we are not to resist any evil or wrong, but always yield, suffer it, and let things be taken from us. If you will not bear this law, then put off the name of Christian, and boast of another name that accords with your actions, or Christ Himself will tear His name from off you, and that will be too hard for you.
Nay our Leader, JesusChrist, says, in Matthew 5:44, that we are to wish good to those who wrong us, and pray for our persecutors, and do good to those who do evil to us. These are our Christianlaws, dear friends! Now see how far the false prophets have led you away from them, and yet they call you Christians, though they have made you worse than heathen. For from these sayings, a child easily grasps that it is Christianlaw not to strive against wrongs, not to grasp after the sword, not to protect oneself, not to avenge oneself, but to give up life and property, and let who takes it take it; we have enough in our Lord, who will not leave us, as He has promised. Suffering, suffering; cross, cross! This and nothing else, is the Christianlaw! But now you battle for temporal goods, and will not let the coat go after the cloak, but want to recover the cloak. How, then, will you die, and give up your life, or love your enemies, or do good to them?
Tell me, had not Peter great right on his side? Was it not an intolerable wrong that they were going to take from Christ, not only His property, but also His life? Nay, they not only took from Him life and property, but in so doing they entirely suppressed the Gospel by which they were to be saved, and thus robbedheaven. Such a wrong you have not yet suffered, dear friends. But see what Christ does and teaches in this case. However great the wrong was, nevertheless He stopped St. Peter, bade him put up his sword, and would not allow him to avenge or prevent this wrong. In addition He passed a judgment of death upon him, as though upon a murderer, and said, “He that takes the sword shall perish with the sword.”
From this we must understand that it is not enough that anyone has done us wrong, and that we have a good case, and have right on our side, but we must also have the right and powercommitted to us by God to use the sword and punish wrong. Moreover, a Christian must also endure it if anyone desires to keep the Gospel away from him; if, indeed, it is possible to keep the Gospel from anyone, as we shall hear.
A second example is Christ himself. What did He do when they took His life on the cross and thereby took away from Him the work of preaching for which He had been sent by God Himself for the blessing of the souls of men? He did just what St. Peter says. He committeed the whole matter to Him who judgeth righteously, and He endured this intolerable wrong.
More than that, He prayed for His persecutors and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Now, if you are true Christians, you must certainly act in this same way and follow this example. If you do otherwise, then let go the name of Christian and the boast of Christianlaw; for then you are certainly not Christians but are resisting Christ and His law, His doctrine and His example. But if you do it, you will quickly see God’s miracles and He will help you as He helped Christ whom He avenged after the completion of His passion, in such a way that His Gospel and His kingdom won through with power and gained the upper hand, in spite of all His enemies. In this same way He will help you, too, and His Gospel will rise with power among you, if you first suffer to the end, and leave the case to Him, and await His vengeance. But now you yourselves are interfering, and wish to conquer and maintain yourselves, not with suffering, but with the fist. Thus you hinder His vengeance, and will yourselves become the reason why you will keep neither Gospel nor fist.
I must also give you an illustration from this present time. Pope and emperor have set themselves against me and have raged. Now how have I brought it about that the more pope and emperor have raged the more my Gospel spread? I have never drawn sword nor desired revenge. I have begun no division and no rebellion, but, so far as I was able, I have helped the worldlyrulers, even those who persecuted the Gospel and me, to maintain their power and honor. But I have stopped with committing the matter to God and relying confidently at all times upon His hand.
Therefore, He has not only preserved my life in spite of the pope and all the tyrants (and this many really consider a great miracle; as I myself must also confess that it is), but He has caused my Gospel always to increase and spread. Now you interfere with me. You want to help the Gospel and do not see that by what you are doing you are hindering it and holding it down in the highest degree.
For no matter how right you are, it is not for a Christian to appeal to law, or to fight, but rather to suffer wrong and endureevil; and there is no other way ( 1 Corinthians 6:5). You yourselves confess in your Preface, that all who believe in Christ become kindly, peaceful, patient, and united; but in your deeds you are displaying nothing but impatience, turbulence, strife and violence; thus you contradict your own words. You want to be known as patient people, who will endure neither wrong nor evil, but will endure what is right and good. That is fine patience! Any knave can practice it! It does not take a Christian to do that! Therefore I say again, however good and right your cause may be, nevertheless, because you would defend yourselves, and suffer neither violence nor wrong, you may do anything that God does not prevent, but leave the name of Christian out of it; leave out, I say, the name of Christian, and do not make it a cloak for your impatient, disorderly, unchristian undertaking. I shall not let you have that name, but so long as there is a heart-beat in my body, I shall do all I can to take that name from you. You will not succeed, or will succeed only in ruining your bodies and souls.
In saying this, it is not my intention to justify or defend the rulers in the intolerable wrongs which you suffer from them. They are wrong, and do you cruel wrongs; that I admit. But what I hope is that, if neither party will allow itself to be instructed, and the one party attacks and comes to blows with the other (which God forbid!), neither shall be called Christians, but that, as is usual when one people fights with another, God will punish one knave with another, as the saying goes. If it comes to a conflict (which may God graciously avert!), I hope that you will be counted as people of such a kind and such a name that the rulers may know that they are fighting not against Christians but against heathen; and that you, too, may know that you are fighting the rulers not as Christians but as heathen. For Christiansfight for themselves not with sword and gun, but with the Cross and with suffering, just as Christ, our Leader, does not bear a sword, but hangs on the Cross. Your victory, therefore, does not consist in conquering and reigning, or in the use of force, but in defeat and in weakness, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1, “The weapons of our knighthood are not carnal, but mighty in God”; and again, “Strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Your name and title must be those of people who fight because they will not, and ought not, endure wrong or evil, according to the teaching of nature. You should have that name, and let the name of Christ alone, for that is the kind of works that you are doing. If, however, you will not take that name, but keep the name of Christian, then I must understand that this cause is my cause, and count and hold you as enemies who would quench or hinder my Gospel more than pope and emperor have so far done, since under the name of the Gospel you are acting against the Gospel. Nor would I conceal from you what I expect to do. I shall commit the cause to God, stake my own neck, by God’s grace, and rely confidently on Him, as I have hitherto done against pope and emperor, and pray for you, that He may enlighten you, and resist your undertaking, and not let it succeed. For I see well that the devil, who has not been able to destroy me by means of the pope, now seeks to abolish me and swallow me up by means of the bloodthirsty prophets of murder and spirits of turbulence that are among you. Well, let him swallow me! I will leave little enough room in his belly; that I know! And even if you win, you will have small enjoyment of it! I beg you, humbly and kindly, to come to your senses and not make it necessary for me to trust and pray to God against you.
For although I am a poor, sinful man, I know and am certain that in this case I have a right cause, if I fight in behalf of the name “Christian” and pray that it be not put to shame. I am sure, too, that my prayer is acceptable to God and will be heard, for He Himself has taught us to pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Hallowed be thy name,” and in the Second Commandment He has forbidden that it be put to shame. Therefore I beg that you will not think lightly of my prayer and the prayer of those who pray along with me, for it will be too mighty for you and will arouse God against you, as St. James says, “The prayer of the righteous availeth much, if it persist, as the prayer of Elijah did.” We have also many comfortable promises of God that He will hear us, such as John 14:14, “What ye ask in my name, I will do”; and 1 John 5:14, “If we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us.” Such confidence and assurance in prayer you cannot have because your own conscience and the Scriptures testify that your enterprise is heathenish, and not Christian, and under the name of the Gospel, works against the Gospel and brings contempt upon the name of Christian. I know that none of you has ever once prayed to God or called upon Him in behalf of this cause. You could not do it! For you dare not lift your eyes to Him in this case; but only shake defiance with the fist which you have clenched in impatience and with an intolerant will. This will not turn out well for you.
If you were Christians, you would stop defying and threatening, and stay inside the Lord’s Prayer, and advance your cause with God by praying, and say, “Thy will be done,” and “Deliver us from evil. Amen.” You see in the Psalter that the true saints take their necessities to God, and lament them, and seek aid from Him, and do not defend themselves or resistevil. Such prayer would have done more to help you, in all your needs, than if the world were full of you, especially if, beside that, you had a good conscience, and a comforting assurance that your prayers were heard, as His promises declare; such as 1 Timothy 4:10, “He is the helper of all men, especially of the believers,” and Psalm 50:15, “Call upon me in trouble, and I will help thee”; and Psalm 91:15, “He called upon me in trouble, therefore will I deliver him.” See! That is the Christian way to get rid of misfortune and evil, namely, endure it and call upon God. But because you do neither — neither call nor endure — -but aid yourselves with your own might, and make yourselves your own God and Savior, therefore God cannot and must not be your God or Savior. By God’s permission (which, we pray, may not be given!), you might accomplish something as heathen and blasphemers, though only for your eternal and temporal ruin; but as Christians, or Evangelicals, you will win nothing; I would wager a thousand necks in it!
On the basis of what has been said, all your articles are easily answered; for even though all of them were right and proper according to the law of Nature, nevertheless you have forgotten the Christianlaw, since you have not put them through by means of patience and prayer to God, as Christian people ought, but have undertaken, with impatience and violence, to wrest them from the rulers, and extort them by force; and this is against the law of the land and against naturaljustice. The man who framed your articles is no pious and honest man, for he has indicated on the margin many chapters of Scripture, on which the articles are supposed to rest, but keeps the porridge in his mouth, and leaves out the passages by which he would show his own wickedness and that of your enterprise. He has done this to deceive you and urge you on and bring you into danger. For the chapters he adduces, when they are read through, say very little in favor of your undertaking, but rather the opposite; viz, that men shall live and act as Christians. He is some prophet of turbulence, who seeks, through you, to work his will upon the Gospel. May God prevent, and guard you against him!
In the Preface you are conciliatory and allege that you would not be seditious, and make the excuse that you desire to teach and live according to the Gospel. There your own mouth and your own works rebuke you, for you confess that you are making disturbances and rising in revolt, and you want to adorn such conduct by means of the Gospel. You have heard above that the Gospelteaches that Christians ought to endure and suffer wrong, and pray to God in all their necessities, yet you are not willing to suffer, but like heathen, force the rulers to conform to your impatient will.
You adduce the children of Israel as an example, saying that God heard their crying and delivered them. Why then do you not follow the example that you bring forward? Call upon God and wait until He sends you a Moses, who will prove by signs and wonders that he is sent from God. The children of Israel did not riot against Pharaoh, or help themselves as you propose to do. This illustration, therefore, is dead against you, and condemns you. You boast of it, and yet you do the opposite.
Again, it is not true when you declare that you teach and live according to the Gospel. There is not one of the articles which teaches a single point of the Gospel, but everything is directed to one purpose; namely, that your bodies and your properties may be free. In a word, they all deal with worldly and temporal matters. You would have power and wealth, so as not to suffer wrong; and yet the Gospel does not take worldly matters into account, and makes the external life consist only in suffering, wrong, cross, patience, and contempt for temporal wealth and life. How, then, does the Gospel agree with you; except that you are seeking to give your unevangelical and unchristian enterprise an evangelical appearance, and do not see that you are thereby bringing shame on the holy Gospel of Christ, and making it a cloak for wickedness? Therefore you must take a different attitude, and either drop this matter entirely and decide to suffer these wrongs, if you would be Christians and have the name of Christian; or else, if you are going on with it, make use of another name and not be called and considered Christians. There is no third course, and no other way.
True enough, you are right in desiring the Gospel, if you are really in earnest about it. Indeed, I am willing to make this article even sharper than you do, and say it is intolerable that anyone should be shut out of heaven and driven by force into hell. No one should suffer that; he ought rather lose his neck a hundred times. But he who keeps the Gospel from me, shuts heaven against me and drives me by force into hell; for the Gospel is the only way and means for the soul’s salvation, and on peril of losing my soul, I should not suffer this. Tell me, is that not stated sharply enough?
And yet it does not follow that I must set myself with my fist against the rulers who do me this wrong. “But,” you say, “how am I at once to suffer it and not suffer it?” The answer is easy. It is impossible that anyone shall have the Gospel kept from him. There is no power in heaven or earth that can do this, for it is a public teaching that moves freely about under the heavens and is bound to no one place. In this it is like the star, running through the air, which showed Christ’s birth to the wise men from the East.
It is true, indeed, that the rulers may suppress the Gospel in cities or places where the Gospel is, or where there are preachers; but you can leave these cities or places and follow the Gospel to some other place. It is not necessary that, for the Gospel’s sake, you should capture or hold the city or place; but let the lord have his city, and do you follow the Gospel. Thus you suffer men to do you wrong and drive you away; and yet, at the same time you do not suffer men to take the Gospel from you or keep it from you. Thus the two things, suffering and not suffering, come to one. If you will hold the city for the sake of the Gospel, you rob the lord of the city of what is his, and pretend that you are doing it for the Gospel’s sake. Dear friend, the Gospel does not teach robbing or the taking of things, even though the lord of the property abuses it by using it against God, wrongfully, and to your injury. The Gospel needs no bodily place or city to dwell in; it will and must dwell in hearts. This is what Christ taught in Matthew 10:23, “If they drive you out of one city, flee to another.” He does not say, “If they drive you out of one city, stay there, and capture the city, to the praise of the Gospel, and make a riot against the lord of the city,” though that is what men now want to do, and what they are teaching.
But He says, “Flee, flee straightway into another, until the Son of Man shall come.” Thus He says, too, in Matthew 23, that the godless shall drive His evangelists from one city to another; and Paul also says, in Corinthians 4:11, “We are in no certain place.” If it so happen that a Christian must be moving constantly from one place to another, and leaving the place where he is and everything that he has, or if he sit in uncertainty, expecting this to happen any hour, then it is well with him; it is as it should be with a Christian. For because he will not suffer the Gospel to be taken from him or kept from him, he has to suffer city, place, property, and everything that he is and has, to be taken and kept from him.
Now how does this agree with your undertaking? You capture and hold cities and places that are not yours, and will not suffer them to be taken or kept from you; though you take and keep them from their natural lords.
What kind of Christians are these, who, for the Gospel’s sake, become robbers, thieves, and scoundrels, and then say they are evangelicals?
ON THE FIRST ARTICLE “An entire community shall have the power to choose and depose a pastor.” This article is right if only it were understood in a Christian sense, though the chapters indicated on the margin do not help it. If the goods of the parish come from the rulers, and not from the community, then the community cannot apply these goods to the use of him whom they choose, for that would be robbery and theft. If they desire a pastor, let them first humbly ask one from the rulers. If the rulers are unwilling, then let them choose their own pastor, and support him with their own property, and let the rulers have their property, or else secure it from them in a lawful way. But if the rulers will not tolerate the pastor whom they chose and support, then let him flee to another city, and let any flee with him who will, as Christteaches. That is a Christian and evangelical way to choose and have one’s own pastor. Whoever does otherwise, acts in an unchristian manner, as a robber and brawler.
ON THE SECOND ARTICLE “The tithes shall be divided out to the pastor and the poor, and the balance kept for needs of the land, etc.” This article is nothing but theft and highway robbery. They would appropriate for themselves the tithes, which are not theirs but the rulers’, and would do with them what they please.
Not so, dear friends! That is the same thing as deposing the rulers altogether, when your preface expressly says that no one is to be deprived of what is his. If you would make gifts and do good, do it out of your own property, as the Wise Man says, for God says by Isaiah, “I hate the sacrifice that is got by robbery.” You speak in this article as though you were already lords in the land and had taken all the property of the rulers for your own and would be no one’s subjects, and would give nothing.
From this one grasps what you have in mind. Stop it, dear sirs, stop it! It will not be you who end it! The chapters of Scripture that your lyingpreacher and false prophet has smeared on the margin, do not help you at all; they are against you.
The other articles, about freedom of game, birds, fish, wood, forests; about services, tithe, imposts, excises, Todfall, etc., — these I leave to the lawyers, for it is not fitting that I, an evangelist, should judge or decide them. It is for me to instruct and teach men’s consciences in things that concern divine and Christian matters; there are books enough about the other things in the imperial laws. I have said above that these things do not concern a Christian, and that he cares nothing about them. He lets anyone else rob, take, skin, scrape, devour, and rage, for he is a martyr on earth.
Therefore the peasants ought rightly let the name of Christian alone, and act in some other name, as men who want human and natural rights, not as those who seekChristian rights. This means that on all these points they should keep still, suffer, and make their complaints to God alone.
See, dear friends, this is the instruction that you asked of me in the second document. I beg that you will remember that you offer willingly to be instructed by the Scriptures. Now when this reaches you, do not cry out at me, “Luther flatters the princes and speaks contrary to the Gospel.” First read and see my arguments from Scripture; for this is your affair; I am excused in the sight of God and the world. I know well the false prophets that are among you. Do not listen to them. They are surely deceiving you.
They do not think of your consciences, but would make Galatians of you, so that by means of you they might come to wealth and honor, and must afterwards, with you, be damned eternally in hell.
ADMONITION TO BOTH RULERS & PEASANTS
Therefore, dear sirs, since there is nothing Christian on either side and nothing Christian is at issue between you, but both lords and peasants are dealing with heathenish, or worldly, right and wrong, and with temporal goods; since, moreover, both parties are acting against God and are under His wrath, as you have heard; — therefore, for God’s sake, let yourselves be advised, and attack these matters as such matters are to be attacked, that is, with justice and not with force or with strife, and do not start an endless bloodshed in Germany. For because both of you are wrong, and both of you would avenge and defend yourselves, both of you will destroy yourselves and God will use one knave to flog another.
You lords have both Scripture and history against you, for both tell how tyrants are punished. Even the heathenpoets say that tyrants seldom die a dry death, but usually have been slain, and have perished in blood.
Look at all the kingdoms that have come to their end by the sword, — Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome. They have all been destroyed at last in the same way that they destroyed others. Thus God shows that He is judge upon earth and leaves no wrong unpunished. Therefore nothing is more certain than that this same judgment is close to you, whether it come now or later, unless you reform.
You peasants also have Scripture and experience against you. They teach that turbulence has never had a good end, and God has always held strictly to the word, “He that takes the sword shall perish by the sword.” Because, then, you are doing wrong by judging yourselves and avenging yourselves, and are bearing the name of Christianunworthily besides, you are certainly under the wrath of God; and even though you win and destroy all the lords, in the end you would have to tear the flesh from one another’s bones, like wildbeasts. For because not spirit, but flesh and blood, rules among you, God will shortly send an evil spirit among you, as He did to the men of Shechem and to Abimelech. See the end that finally comes to turbulence in the story of Korah, in Numbers 16:31, and of Absalom, Sheba, Samri and their like. Briefly, Godhates both tyrants and rebels; therefore He sets them on each other, so that both parties perish shamefully, and His wrath and judgment upon the godless are fulfilled.
To me the saddest and the really pitiful thing, and that which I would willingly buy off with my own life and death, is that on both sides two inevitable injuries must follow. For because neither party strives with a good conscience, but both fight for the upholding of wrong, it must follow, in the first place, that those who are slain are lost eternally, body and soul, as men who die in their sins, without penitence and without grace, in the wrath of God. There is nothing to be done for them. The lords would be fighting for the strengthening and maintaining of their tyranny, their persecution of the Gospel, and their unjust oppression of the poor, or else for the aiding of that kind of rulers. That is a terrible wrong and is against God. He who commits such a sin must be lost eternally. The peasants, on the other hand, would fight to defend their turbulence and their abuse of the name of Christian. Both these things are greatly against God, and he who dies in them or for them must also be lost eternally, and there is no help for it.
The second injury is that Germany will be laid waste, and if this bloodshed once starts, it will scarcely cease until everything is destroyed. It is easy to start a fight, but to stop it when we will is not in our power. What have they ever done to you — all these innocentchildren, women, and old people, whom you fools are drawing with you into such danger — that you should fill the land with blood and robbery widows and orphans? Oh, the devil’s mind is wicked enough! And God is angry, and threatens to let him loose upon us and cool his rage in our blood and souls. Beware, dear sirs, and be wise! It concerns both of you! What good will it do you to condemn yourselves eternally and willfully and leave behind you, for your descendants, a desolate and devastated and bloody land besides, when you could arrange things better, while there is still time, by penitence toward God and friendly agreement, or by suffering in the sight of men? With defiance and strife you will do nothing.
It would, therefore, be my faithfulcounsel to choose from among the nobles certain counts and lords, and from the cities certain councilmen, and have these matters dealt with in a friendly way, and settled; that you lords let down your stubbornness — as you must do in the end, whether you will or will not — and give up a little of your tyranny and oppression, so that poor people get air and room to live; that the peasants for their part, let themselves be instructed, and give over and let go some of the articles that grasp too far and too high, so that the case may be settled by human law and agreement, even though it cannot be dealt with in a Christian way.
If you shall not follow this advice (and God forbid that you do not follow it!), I must let you come to grips, but I am guiltless as regards your souls, your blood, and your property; you will bear the guilt yourselves. I have told you that you are both wrong and that your fighting is wrong. You lords are not fighting against Christians, — for Christians do nothing against you, but prefer to suffer all things — but against open robbers and defamers of the Christian name. Those of them who die are already condemned eternally. On the other hand, you peasants are not fighting against Christians, but against tyrants, and persecutors of God and man, and murderers of the holy Christ. Those of them who die are also condemned eternally. There you have God’s sure verdict upon both parties; that I know. Do what you please to keep your bodies and souls, if you will not follow this verdict.
I, however, will pray to my God that He will either bring both your parties to agreement and unite you, or else prevent things from turning out as you intend. To be sure, the terriblesigns and wonders that have come to pass in these times give me a heavy heart and make me fear that God’s wrath has become too strong; as He says in Jeremiah — “Though Noah, Job, and Daniel stood before me, I would have no pleasure in the people.” Would to God that you might fear His wrath and amend your ways, that the plague of it might be put off and postponed a while! At all events, I have given all of you, faithfully enough, Christian and brotherlyadvice. God grant that it may help! Amen.