Once upon a time popes, bishops, priests, and monks had such authority that, with their little letters of excommunication, they could force and drive kings and princes wherever they wished, without resistance or defense.
Nay, kings and princes could not ruffle a hair of any monk or priest, no matter how insignificant the maggot was. They had to put up with it when a rude jackass in the pulpit would vilify a king and a prince and make fun of them as his wanton will suggested. That was called preaching, and no one dared utter a peep against it. The worldlyrulers were completely subject to these clerical giants and tyrants and these dissolute, rude fellows walked all over them. So mighty was the rule of the single canon, si quis suadente! Besides, it was not understood or taught what temporal rulership was, or how great the distinction was between it and spiritualgovernment. For this reason none of the worldly lords knew how to revenge himself upon the clergy, except by being too hostile to them, speaking evil of them, and, when he could, playing secret tricks on them, or winking at what others did.
This tickles them so that they do not know how to abuse this grace and liberty wantonly enough; and meanwhile they are persecuting the Gospel, by means of which they have become gods and lords over the clergy, under the pretense of protecting and defending the spiritualestate. But alas for the protection that the clergy get at such a price that it hurts body and life; though, to be sure, it serves them right!
Moreover, in order to show still more thanks to the Gospel, they will not allow it to rebuke their wickedness and self-will. They have now discovered a new device, and declare that whoever rebukes them is seditious and rebels against the rulership ordained of God, and defames their honor. Thus, since they are rid of the tyranny of the clergy, and cannot be rebuked by them, they now want to be rid of the Gospel and be beyond its rebuke, although it has set them free. Their ultimate desire is to be able to do whatever they wish, without hindrance or rebuke, without shame or fear, and with honor and glory, so that they may become that noble, praiseworthy folk, of whom St. Peter says in 2 Peter 3:3, “There shall come at the last time scoffers, who live acording to their own selfwill, and do what they please.”
There were such junkerlets among the Jewish people, too, as this Eightysecond Psalm shows. They had before them, the saying of Moses, in Exodus 22:8, where he calls the overlords and judges “gods,” and says, “If a case cannot be decided, both parties are to be brought before the gods, that is, the judges, etc.” They made of this passage a cloak for their shame, and a defense of their iniquity against the preachers and prophets; they would not be rebuked by them, puffed themselves up against their rebukes and their preaching, and smote them on the head with this saying: “Will you rebuke us and teach us? Do you not know that Moses calls us gods? You are a rebel; you are speaking against God’s ordinance and preaching insults against our honor. You must listen to us, learn from us, and let yourself be rebuked by us. Hold your tongue, or you must burn!”
That is just what these same junkers say, in Psalm 12:4, “It is for us to speak; who will be our lord?” And again in Psalm 10:3, “What shall the righteous do to us?” And again in Psalm 4:6, “Who is there that will show us anything better?” There are many more such passages. It is as if they were saying, “We endure no master nor rebuker; we are the gods; they must hear us.”
Against these junkers this Psalm is made. It says: God standeth in the congregation of God And is judge among the gods.
He confesses, and does not deny that they are gods. He will not be seditious or lessen their honor or power, as the disobedient rebels do, and the madsaints, the heretics and fanatics. Nevertheless he makes a true distinction between God’s power and theirs. He will let them be gods over men, but not over God Himself, as if he were to say, “It is true that ye are gods over all of us, but not over the God of all of us. For God, who appointed you as gods, surely wills that He Himself shall be an exception and that His Godhead shall not be subjected to your godhead. He does not allow you to be gods, in order that He may not remain God; but He wills to remain SupremeGod, a judge over all gods.”
But Moses calls them gods because all the offices of rulership, from the least to the highest, are God’s ordinance, as St. Paulteaches in Romans 13:1; and King Jehoshaphat, in 2 Chronicles 19:6, says to his officials, “Consider, and judge rightly, for the judgment is God’s.” Now because this is not a matter of human will or devising, but God Himself appoints and preserves all rulership, and if He no longer held it up, it would all fall down, even though all the world held it fast, therefore, it is rightly called a divine thing, a divineordinance and such persons are rightly called divine, godlike, or gods, especially when, beside the institution itself, we have a word or command of God for it, as among the people of Israel, where the priests, princes, and kings were appointed by the oral command and word of God.
From this we see how high and how glorious God will have rulers held, and that men ought to obey them, as His officers, and be subject to them with all fear and reverence, as to God Himself. He who would resist them or be disobedient to them or despise them, whom God names with His own name and calls gods, and to whom He attaches His own honor; he, I say, who despises, disobeys, or resists them, is thereby despising, disobeying and resisting the true SupremeGod, who is in them, and speaks and judges through them and calls their judgment His judgment. What they win by it St. Paul shows, in Romans 13:1, and this is abundantly shown by experience.
All this is written because it is God’s will to establish and maintain peace among the children of Adam for their own good; as St. Paul says, in Romans 13:4, “It is God’s minister to you for good.” For where there is no rulership, or where rulers are not held in honor, there can be no peace.
He will be judge and master over them. He will find them out, better than anyone else can, as indeed, He has done since the beginning of the world.
This is what this first verse says: “God standeth in the congregation of God, and is judge among the gods.” As if to say: Let no one undertake to judge the gods, to punish them, or master them, but be quiet, keep the peace, be obedient, and suffer. But neither are the gods to be proud and self-willed, for they are not gods among the people and overlords of the congregation in such a way that they have this position all to themselves and can do as they like. Nay, not so! God Himself is there also, and He will judge, punish, and master them, and if they do not obey, they shall not escape. “He standeth in His congregation,” for the congregation is also His; and “He judgeth the gods,” for the rulers, too, are His; and because both are His, it is right for Him to take the part of both; and He wills to be respected and feared by both, so that the congregation may be obedient to the rulers for God’s sake, and the rulers may administerjustice and peace, also for God’s sake; thus the things of this life will go along finely, in the fear of God and obedience to Him. But if one party or the other will not do its duty, if the congregation be disobedient and the rulers self-willed, then both are guilty of death in God’s sight, and both are punished — the congregation by the rulers, the rulers by God, who can put down the mighty from their seats and tear them up by the roots, destroying their name and their memory, as the illustrations show.
Observe that he calls all communities or organized assemblies “the congregation of God,” because they are God’s own, and He accepts them as His own work, just as, in Jonah 3:3, He calls Nineveh “a city of God.” For He has made, and makes, all communities; He still brings them together, feeds them, increases them, blesses and preserves them, gives them fields and meadows, cattle, water, air, sun and moon, and everything that they have, nay, body and life, as it is written in Genesis 1:29. For what have we, and what has all the world, that is not got unceasingly from Him? But even though experience ought to teach us this, He has to say it in plain words, and openly confess and boast that the communities are His; for mad Reason, in its shrewdness, and all the worldly-wise know not at all that a community is God’s creature and His ordinance, but have no other thought about it than that it has come into being by accident, by people holding together and living side by side in the same way that murderers and robbers and other wickedbands come together to disturb the peace and the ordinance of God; and these are the devil’s congregations. It is only believers that know the articles about creation from Genesis 1:29, though even their faith in it is weak, and many of them never think of it or speak of it. But David knows it very well, when he says in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s and they that dwell therein; for He hath founded it upon the seas and built it upon the waters”; and his son Solomon says, in <19C601>Psalm 126:1, “Except God keep house and city, the builder and the watchman build and watch in vain.” What should the worldly-wise know of heavenly things, when they do not know these things, amongst which they live and move?
Since such communities are God’s work, which He dailycreates, supports and increases, so that they can sit at home and produce children and educate them: therefore this word is, in the first place, a great and pleasant comfort to all those who find themselves situated in such a community. It assures them that God accepts them as His work and His creation, cares for them and protects and supports them, as we can, in fact, see with our own eyes. For who could have or keep a cow or a heller, if God did not give it and help and guard it? Therefore, everyone ought to admonish himself to be thankful for everything that is offered him by his rulers, and be glad that, in such a community, he is worthy to eat his bread and live.
For this word “congregation of God” is a precious word, and anyone who is in it ought to be ten times more glad than if he were enrolled as a Romancitizen, which was once a great honor on earth. But Reason does not consider this.
In the second place, it is a terrible and threatening word against the wicked, self-willed gods, or rulers, for it tells them that they are set over, not wood and stone, not swine and dogs (about which God has made no commandments) but over the “congregation of God”; and they ought to fear lest the wrong that they do be done against God Himself. For the congregations are not their own, as are the swine and dogs, which God has given them as their own property; but He is, and wills to be, in them, and they are to be called His congregation. On both sides, then, everything will go well, in the fear of God and in humility. Subjects will have regard to God and gladly be obedient for His sake, and rulers will also have regard to God and do right and keep peace for His sake.
But especially ought this fear and humility to be in that congregation which was not only first founded and created by that word in Genesis 1, but which was established and ordered by a special word of God. Thus the communities of the people of Israel were confirmed in many ways through Moses, and chosen before all others, and separated from them. It is especially of these communities that this Psalm speaks, and it calls them, above all others, “God’s congregations,” just as they are called in all the prophets His heritage, His possession, His kingdom, His priesthood; though it was in these very “congregations of God” that the worst and most ravenous gods were found, and the most self-willed and proudest rebels that could be upon the earth, as this Psalm indicates and history testifies.
The same thing is true of our rulers, under the New Testament. Beside their creation by the word of Genesis 1, they have been established anew, through Christ, by a special word. For He says, in Matthew 22:21, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s”; and in 1 Peter 3:13, “Be subject to every ordinance of man”; and in Romans 13:1, “Let every man be subject to his rulers”; and there are many more passages. This Psalm, therefore, applies to our rulers, as well as to the Jews, just as every other Scripture of the Old Testament is given to us, as well as to the Jews. For this reason, in our communities, too, this fear and humility, both of gods and subjects, ought to be all the more in evidence. Nevertheless, our condition will continue to be that of which this Psalm sings; and it says nothing good about the gods and their virtues.
Now in order that these proud gods may be deprived of their defiant boastfulness, when they think that no one is to judge them or rebuke them without being called a rebel, a little peg is driven into them and a club is laid by the dog, so that they may be properly rebuked, boldly spoken to, and hard and sharply threatened, as this Psalm does. For it says here, “God standeth in His congregation and judgeth the gods”; that is, He rebukes them. For He keeps the upper hand over them and the right to judge them, and does not make them gods in such wise as to abolish His own Godhead and let them do as they please, as if they alone were gods over God. On the contrary, it is His will that they be subject to His Word and either listen to it or suffer all misfortune. It is enough that they have rule over all else; but over God’s Word they are not to have it. For God’s Word appoints them, and makes them gods, and subjects everything to them.
Therefore, they are not to despise it, for it is their institutor and appointer; but they are to be subject to it, and allow themselves to be judged, rebuked, made, and mastered by it.
Observe, however, that a preacher, by whom Godrebukes the gods, is to “stand in the congregation.” He is to “stand,” that is, he is to be firm and confident, and deal uprightly and honestly with it; and “in the congregation,” that is, openly and boldly before God and men. By this two sins are prevented. The first is unfaithfulness. There are many bishops and preachers in the preaching-office, but they do not “stand,” and serve God faithfully; on the contrary, they lie down, or otherwise play with their office. These are the lazy and worthless preachers, who do not tell the princes and lords their sins. In some cases they do not notice the sins; they lie down and snore in their office, and do nothing that pertains to it, except, like swine, take up the room where good preachers should stand; they form the great majority. Others, however, play the hypocrite and flatter the wicked gods, and strengthen them in their self-will; just now they are raging and raving against the Gospel, and are stirring up their princes and lords to slander and murder. Still others fear for their skins and are afraid that they must lose life and goods. All of these do not “stand,” and are not faithful to Christ.
The other sin is called back-biting. The whole world is full in every corner of both preachers and laymen who bandy evil words about their princes and lords, and curse them and call them names, though not boldly, in the open, but in corners, and in their own companies. But that accomplishes nothing except to make the evil worse. It serves only to set a secretfire, by which people are moved to disobedience, rebellion, breach of the peace, and contempt for their rulers. If you are in the office, and are not willing to rebuke your gods openly and publicly, as your office demands, at least leave off your private back-biting, calling of names, criticizing, and complaining, or be hanged to you! But if you are not in office, then leave off all rebuking and criticizing, both public and private, or the devil is already your abbot and does not need to become so; for, in Matthew 7, God has forbidden secret judging, or judging where there is no office. On the other hand, it is His will that those who are in office and are called to do it, shall rebuke and judge their gods boldly and openly.
Therefore, this first verse goes on to say, “He is judge among the gods.”
Judge He is, and He rebukes the gods, but He does it as a judge, to whom that office has been committed, not plotting like a hypocrite in corners among secret groups, but “among the gods” themselves. He dares to speak boldly in their presence. It does not say, “He is a slanderer or back-biter,” but “He is a judge among the gods.” Mark this well! The lords sit in high places, and everyone sees their sins and faults most of all. And because men see them most of all, there is no commoner sin than speaking evil of lords. Everyone loves to do it, for in so doing he forgets his own unrighteousness. Even though their lord had every virtue, and they could discover in him only one vice and small as a mote, while they themselves were full of vices as large as beams, yet they would see the mote in high places before they would see the virtues, and would not see the beams in the depths of all vices. So, then, this first verse teaches that to rebukerulers is not seditious, provided it is done in the way here described; namely, by the office to which God has committed that duty, and through God’s Word, spoken publicly, boldly, and honestly. To rebukerulers in this way is, on the contrary, a praiseworthy, noble, and rare virtue, and a particularly great service of God, as the Psalm here proves. It would be far more seditious, if a preacher were not to rebuke the sins of the rulers, for then he makes people angry and sullen, and strengthens the wickedness of the tyrants and becomes a partaker in it, and bears responsibility for it. Thus God might be angered and might allow rebellion to come as a penalty. The other way, — when the lords are rebuked as well as the people, and the people as well as the lords (as the prophets did), — neither can blame anything on the other, and they have to bear with one another, and be satisfied, and be at peace with each other.
They are poisonous and dangerouspreachers who take the side of one party alone and call the lords names in order to tickle the people, and court the peasants like Muenzer, Carlstadt, and other fanatics; or call the peasants names in order to flatter and please the lords, as our opponents do. The thing to do is to chop both parties in one bowl and make one dish out of the two of them. For a preacher is neither a courtier nor a slave of peasants. He is God’s servant and slave, and his commission is over lords and slaves; as the Psalm here says, “He judges and rebukes the gods.” That is the meaning of the word Judicet, “judge,” viz. judicio et jure. He is to do that which is right and proper, not with a view to favor or disfavor, but according to law, that is, according to God’s Word, which knows no distinction or respect of persons. How long will ye judge unjustly And prefer the persons of the godless?
He can help many thousandsouls, both in eternallife and in this life, for by his word he can bring them to God, and make of them able and apt people, serving and honoring God and wholesome and profitable for the world. A church or temple cannot thus benefit a man; nay, it cannot do any helping at all, but only stands there and lets itself be helped and adorned.
The second virtue of a prince is to help the poor, the orphans, and the widows to justice, and to further their cause. But, again, who can tell all the virtues that follow from this one? For this virtue includes all the works of righteousness; as when a prince or lord or city has good laws and customs, when everything is regulated in an orderly way, and the order is kept by people in all ranks, occupations, trades, businesses, services, and works, so that it is not said populus sine lege, “The people are without laws.” For where there are no laws, the poor, the widows, and the orphans are oppressed. Then there is no peasant so low that he cannot practice extortion; and that holds equally true with buying, selling, inheriting, lending, paying, borrowing, and the like. It is only a question who can get the better of another, rob him, steal from him, and cheat him; and that happens most of all to the poor, the widows, and the orphans. Now who can count the alms that such a lord is giving without ceasing? He supports not only the pastor, spoken of above, but all the subjects that he has, and he may well be called the father of them all, as in ancient times the heathen called such good princes “Fathers” and “saviors of their country.” See, now, what a hospital such a prince can build! He needs neither stone, nor wood, nor builders; and he need give it neither endowment nor income. To endow hospitals and help poor people is, indeed, a precious good work in itself. But when such a hospital becomes so great that a whole land, and especially the really poor people of that land, enjoy it, then it is a general, true, princely, nay, a heavenly and divine hospital. For the first kind of hospital only a few enjoy, and sometimes they are false knaves masquerading as beggars; but the second kind of hospital comes to the aid only of the really poor, widows, orphans, travelers, and other forlorn folk; and besides, it preserves for everyone rich or poor, his living and his goods, so that he does not have to become a beggar or a poor man; for if the law were not kept, no one could keep anything from another, and all would have to become beggars together, and be ruined and destroyed. However, many there are who are not beggars and do not become beggars, that is the number that their overlord is providing for in this hospital. For so to help a man that he does not need to become a beggar is just as much of a good work and a virtue, and an alms, as to give to a man, and help a man, who has already become a beggar.
Lo, who is there that sees or regards this virtue in this estate of the gods? Would Reason seek it there? It does not make a glittering show, and therefore it counts for nothing. But if a prince or princess were to go to a hospital sometime, and there wait on the poor, and wash their feet — as we read that St. Elizabeth did, and as some great folk in foreignlands still do, that would be a great thing! That glitters! It opens peoples’ eyes and makes them a greater reputation than all the virtues could! And it is true! We have to praise it, and ought to praise it, as a great and beautiful, though human, act of virtue. But what is it, compared with the divine act of virtue that a prince performs when he continually does this greater service to all who are poor, or must otherwise become poor? No one praises this, for no one knows it or considers it. Therefore even the heathen say that righteousness is so fair a virtue that neither sun nor moon nor morning star can be so fair.
The third virtue is that they protect and guard against violence and force, and this is called peacemaking. Thus the emperors themselves have divided their duties into two parts, when they say that an emperor or prince should be equipped with laws and arms. For this reason they are depicted on their seals with a book in one hand and a sword in the other, as a sign that they administerlaw and peace. Law is wisdom, and should be the first of the two; for government without wisdom does not last. They wear golden crowns, too, so that it may be known that they are appointed by God to be gods, and have not come into office of their own accord, but are to be His assistants.
Now who can recount all the benefits that come from this third virtue? One would first have to tell what the benefits of peace are, and what the harm that absence of peace does. But who on earth is so eloquent and so wise that he would undertake to recount the whole of both these things? For all the good that peace can do, God does for us through these gods, and all the harm that lack of peace can do God keeps from us by means of these gods. Now it is from peace that we have our bodies and lives, wives and children, houses and homes, nay, all our members — hands, feet, eyes — and all our health and liberty, and within these walls of peace we sit secure. “Where peace is, there is half a heaven.” On the other hand, though you had all the money and wealth of the Turk, and were not at peace, all your wealth would do you so little good, that you could not have a happybite of bread or a quiet drink of water. If things went well, there would be care, fear, danger all around; if things were worse, there would be only blood and fire and robbery and all calamity. Thus lack of peace may be counted half a hell, or hell’s prelude and beginning.
But peace can help you, so that a bit of dry breadtastes like sugar and a drink of water like Malvoisie. But what kind of fool am I to try to tell the benefits of peace and the injuries of lack of peace. More easily could I count the sand on the seashore or the leaves and grass-blades in the woods.
I must remember here my monks and priests, who have the reputation and the name of carrying heaven on their shoulders in their acts of worship, though in reality they are the great whale, Cuntz Hildebrand, which carries the world on its tail, as the peasants say. What are all of these, compared with one man who lives in this divineoffice? They are tame dogs that lie on pillows and whistle with their hind-ends. But, not to insult them, I think that they are about as useful in the world as the rust on the iron, for they are just as much good to the world, or to this divineoffice, as the rust on his tools is to a carpenter. Nay, I shall name the very best of them, who have been hermits, like Hilarion and Jerome, and the rest, and who have their great reputation because of the holy hermit life they led. If wishing could do it, I would rather be a pious secretary or tax collector for one of these “gods” than twice an Hilarion or a Jerome among the angels. Even though my little pen or miserablepenny would make less show in the world’s eyes than their gray beards and wrinkled skin, I should not worry about that, if only I were a partaker of all those divinevirtues of rulership, of which I have spoken.
See, now, what an imperial, nay, what a heavenly stronghold such a prince can build for the protection of his subjects! It is indeed a splendid and a needful thing to build strong cities and castles against one’s enemies; but that is nothing when compared with the work of a prince who builds a stronghold of peace, that is, who lovespeace and administers it. Even the Romans, the greatest warriors on earth, had a saying that to make war without necessity was to go fishing with a golden net; if it was lost, the fishing could not pay for it; if it caught anything, the cost was too much greater than the profit. One must not begin a war, or work for it; it comes unbidden, all too soon. One must keep peace as long as ever one can, even though one must buy it with all the money that would be spent on the war, or won by the war. Victory never makes up for what is lost by war.
These, then, are the three chiefvirtues of the gods, touched on in these three verses. Any one of them can fill the world with blessing. The first verse demands the first virtue, viz., that the gods, that is, the princes and lords, shall honor God’s Word above all things and shall further the teaching of it. It says, “How long will ye judge unjustly and prefer the persons of the godless?” The godless and the false teachers always have great reputation in the eyes of Reason and of the world. They know, too, how to make a fine appearance, before both lords and people, and thus strengthen and spread their poisonous errors. For as St. Paul says, in Galatians 6:16, “Their confidence and boast is not in God; therefore they must seek men to be their confidence and boast.” This is called, here in this verse, “preferring persons,” or “regarding persons,” when men choose their doctrine, not from love of truth, but from the pleasure that they take in persons, and this sin St. Jude 1:16, in his Epistle, blames in the godless.
In the preceding verse, it speaks of “justice,” in this verse of “the hand” to show that there it was speaking of wrong, and here of violence. For these two, wrong and force, go together in the world. We say, “He does me violence and wrong.” Wrong is done by the mind, or with the mouth; violence with the fist and with crime. A prince and lord should suppress both.
These three verses, then, include all the princely virtues that can be called virtutes heroicas, or “knightly virtues,” such as are ascribed to and praised in Hercules, Hector, Achilles, and other great heroes and lords, who fought great battles, slew many enemies, and honorably proved their manhood and prowess in combat. We have nothing against that! But open my eyes and show me one of these gods who has dared to suppress wrong and violence, (I will say nothing about the first virtue, which concerns God’s Word!), to resist knaves and rascals, to protect and preserve the good and the poor, and to maintain order and peace in the land. Such a man smites, not Hector or Achilles, but greater and more monstrous giants, namely all the devils, with all their wickedness. Dear friend, that takes a heart with the strength of nine hearts, and fidelity that goes beyond all fidelity.
To finish with these three verses: Such a man should bear with honor the three divine offices and names; therefore he should be called a savior, father, deliverer. For by the first virtue, the furtherance of the Word of God, he helps many to blessedness, so that they may be redeemed from sin and death, and attain salvation. By the second virtue, the administration of just laws, he supports all his subjects, as a father supports his children; for, as has been said, if it were not for law, no one could keep anything from another. By the third virtue, the suppression of violence and the punishment of the wicked, he protects the poor, and preservespeace; thus he is a true rescuer, or knight, and justly wears the golden spurs. For I believe that Ritter comes from retten and that the word Retter has become Ritter, a true and splendid name for the princes and lords.
For we find that our old Germans gave their princes and lords unusually fine names. Thus in Saxon Ludewig means praesidium, arx populi. “Wig” is a stronghold, or fort, in which one can take refuge and to which one can retreat, in case of need. Therefore a prince should be a Ludewig, that is, a defense and refuge for the people. Heger, again, indicates that a prince should cherish, satisfy, protect, and defend his land and his people.
Herman, which the Latins have corrupted into Ariminius, means “a man of the army,” dux belli, one who is strong in war and battle, who can rescue and lead his own people, and risk his life in doing it. In the same way, they called their overlords Retter or Ritter, from retten, because they “rescued” their people from distress. Thus by the name they reminded them of their office, their rank, and the virtues that go with them. Beyond doubt, they were moved to give the rulers these and like names, because of the works and the virtues that they saw and observed in their princes.
These are the virtues that they ought to have and to practice. But how do things actually go? The very opposite! Among the gods three devilish vices are working against these divinevirtues. The world is perverse and perverts all of God’s gifts and blessings. That is what it does with these divine offices too. For it is the princes and lords, who ought to be advancing God’s Word, who do the most to suppress, forbid, and persecute it. Instead, they advance false and injurious teachers, as we read that the kings of Israel and Judah did. King Ahab and Jezebel, his queen, supported about eight hundredpriests of Baal, and drove out all God’s prophets, so that only Elijah was left, and he could not stay in the land. The same thing has happened before, and is happening now. The world, full of monks and priests, can be advanced, and princes and lords can be exalted, but a John Huss or a Leonard Keiser cannot be tolerated. Thus this verse is mightily fulfilled. They “judge unjustly,” that is, they misuse and pervert their office; and “prefer the persons of the godless,” that is, they advance the godless and hinder the godly.
Who can tell all the cruel harm and injury that such a prince or lord does?
He drives so many souls into hell, and robs so many of eternalblessedness, that he might well be called, not “a god,” but a devil; for he does not help God build a heaven or a paradise, but helps Beelzebub build hell, and fill it up. How small are the sins of an ordinary man or woman, compared with the sins of such a lord! What evil can a thief or murderer or adulterer do, compared with that which such a lord does? In this case the saying is certainly true, “The big thieves hang the little ones, and the big murderers have the little murderers killed.” They say, “A wise man commits no little acts of folly.” So a great man is guilty of no little vices; just as, on the other hand, he can perform no little acts of wisdom or virtue, since he is placed in a position where all the things he does must be great, whether they be good or bad Therefore, as there is no greater jewel in the world than a God-fearing lord, so there is no more hurtful plague in the world than a godless lord.
So it is, also, with the second virtue, the administration of law, and the helping of the poor and the orphaned, as is shown by daily experience and common complaint. Especially in Germany things go in such a way that one princehinders another, one noble another, one city another. Each of them hinders the rest, so that even though part of them wanted to be upright, they cannot, because of the others, and have to allow wrong to be done. Thus it comes that the spirit of defiance and self-will rules among the sons of men, as though Germany were populus sine lege, “a people without law,” and there is almost no distinction among the ranks and offices. A prince is emperor; he is likewise merchant and trader. Similarly count is prince, noble is count, burgher is noble, peasant is burgher, servant is lord, maid is mistress, pupil is master. Everyone is what he wants to be, does as he likes, and conducts himself as he pleases. How much good and right this brings to the common people is easy to discover. Who can recount, or adequately describe, all of these evils?
It is exactly so with the third virtue also, the succoring of the poor. There is neither punishment nor discipline, neither fear nor timidity. Self-will of every kind has reached a point, among both nobles and peasants, that when one speaks against it, they become so much the worse and do all the more, just for spite; for they see and know how things go, and that they go unpunished. Certainly now is the time of which the prophet Amos says, “It is an evil time, when even a wise man must keep silent.” For if anyone speaks against it, they act as though he were merely showing them a way to make things worse. But how could it be worse, when neither silence nor speech helps? If we are silent, they become worse day by day; if we speak, they become still worse. Then the poor and wretched must suffer, and be unsuccored. This is all the fault of the princes and lords, who have let these things go so far that they cannot prevent them, even though they might wish to do so. But one will come who will put a stop to the tickling of our self-will, and scratch its itch right well. It has gone too far; we are doing too much; the bag must tear, and the string must break. God help His own!
A question arises, in connection with these three verses. Since the gods, or rulers, beside their other virtues, are to advance God’s Word and its preachers, are they also to put down opposing doctrines, or heresies, since no one can be forced to believe? The answer to this question is as follows:
Second. If some were to teachdoctrines contradicting an article of faith, clearly grounded in Scripture and believed throughout the world by the whole Church, such as the articles that we teachchildren in the Creed, — as, for example, if anyone would teach that Christ is not God, but a mere man, and like other prophets, as the Turks and the Anabaptists hold, — such teachers should not be tolerated, but punished as blasphemers. For they are not mere heretics, but open blasphemers, and rulers are in duty bound to punish blasphemers, as they do those who curse, swear, revile, abuse, defame and slander. Such teachers, with their blasphemy, are defaming the name of God, and robbing their neighbor of his honor in the eyes of the world. In like manner, the rulers should also punish, — or certainly not tolerate, — those who teach that Christ did not die for our sins, but that everyone shall make his own satisfaction for them; for that, too, is blasphemy against the Gospel and against the article that we all pray in the Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins,” and “In JesusChrist dead, risen, etc.” They should be treated in the same way who teach that the resurrection of the dead and the lifeeverlasting are nothing, and that there is no hell, and the like things; as did the Sadducees and the Epicureans, of whom there are now coming to be many among the great wiseacres.
By this procedure no one is compelled to believe, for he can still believe what he will; but he is forbidden to teach and blaspheme. For, by so doing, he would take from God and the Christians their doctrine and word, and he would do them this injury under their own protection and by means of the things that all have in common. Let him go to some place where there are no Christians; for as I have often said, he who makes a living from the burghers ought to keep the law of the burgh, and not defame and revile it, or else he ought to get out. We are told that the holy fathers in the Council of Nicaea, when they heard the doctrine of the Arians read, all hissed unanimously, and would not listen or permit any argument or defense, but condemned them out of hand, without any disputation, as blasphemers. Moses, in his Law, commands that such blasphemers and, indeed, all false teachers, are to be stoned. So, in this case, there ought not to be much disputing, but such open blasphemers should be condemned without a hearing and without defense, as Paul commands in Titus 3:10, “A heretic is to be avoided and let go, after he has been admonished once or twice”; and he forbids Timothy to wrangle and dispute, since this has no effect, except to pervert those who hear. For these common articles of the whole Church have had hearings enough; they have been proved and decreed by the Scriptures and by the confession of the whole Church, confirmed by many miracles, sealed by the blood of many holy martyrs, and are testified to and defended in the books of all the doctors. They need no more discussion and clever interpreting.
Third. If it happen that in a parish, a city, or a principality, the papists and the Lutherans (as they are called) are crying out upon one another because of certain matters of belief, and preaching against one another, and both parties will have it that the Scriptures are on their side, I would not willingly tolerate such a division. My Lutherans ought to be willing to abdicate and be silent, if they observed that they were not gladly heard, as Christteaches, in Matthew 10:14. They ought to have themselves compelled to preach, as I do. For I leave off readily, if people do not want to hear me, and all my preaching and writing has been done under force and compulsion. But if neither party is willing to yield or be silent, or if neither can do so because of official position, then let the rulers take a hand. Let them hear the case, and command that party to keep silence which does not agree with the Scriptures. Thus the great emperor Constantine did, when he caused Athanasius and Arius to be heard and their case judged by his procurator, Probus. It is not a good thing that contradictory preaching should go out among the people of the same parish. For from this arise divisions, disorders, hatreds and envyings which extend to temporal affairs also.
Fourth. If it happen that some are crying out upon one another because of matters concerning which both sides confess that the Scriptures are not at issue, but only ancient custom and man-made law, — (I mean such questions as tonsures, holy water, the blessing of herbs, and the like unnecessary things, which are confirmed neither with miracles nor with the blood of martyrs), — then these wranglings are by no means to be tolerated in the pulpit, but both parties are to be ordered to keep peace.
For what the Scriptures do not contain, the preachers ought not wrangle about in the presence of the people. Rather ought they deal always with the Scriptures, for love and peace are far more important than all ceremonies.
Thus St. Paul says that peace is to be preferred to all else, and it is unchristian to let peace and unity yield to ceremonies. If that command does not help, then he who, without Scripture, insists on ceremonies as necessary to salvation, and who would bind men’s consciences, should be ordered to keep silence.
What I say about publicpreaching, I say even more emphatically about private preaching and secret ceremonies. These are not to be tolerated at all. For the rest, anyone may read what he likes and believe what he likes. If he will not hear God, let him hear the devil. But the things that are sure articles of Scripture are to be both publicly preached and read and taught to the common people at home. All of this compels no one to believe, but it gives the community peace from the hot-heads, and puts a stop to the knavery of the fellows who preach in corners, who sneak, uncalled and unsent, into peoples’ houses, and emit their poison there, before pastors or rulers find them out. These are the thieves and murderers, of whom Christ speaks in John 10:8. They enter another’s parish and seize another’s office, which is not committed to them, but forbidden them.
It is the duty of a citizen, if such a sneak comes to him, before he listens to him or lets him speak, to report the matter to the ruler or to the pastor whose parishioner he is. If he does not do this, he should know that he is breaking his oath and disobeying his ruler, and that he is despising his pastor (whom he ought to honor), and thus acting against God, and that he is himself guilty and just as much of a thief and rascal as the sneak himself.
If Muenzer and Carlstadt and their comrades had not been allowed to sneak and creep into other men’s houses and parishes, whither they had neither call nor command to go, that whole great calamity would not have happened. To be sure, the apostles did, at first, go into other men’s houses and preach there; but they had a command, and were ordained and called and sent to preach the Gospel in all places; as Christ said, “Go into all the world and preach to all creatures.” Since then, however, no one has had this general apostolic command, but every bishop or pastor has had his definite diocese or parish, and for this reason St. Peter, in 1 Peter 5, calls them Cleros, that is, “parts,” indicating that to each of them a part of the people has been committed (as Paul writes to Titus also), and that no one else, and no stranger, shall undertake to instruct his parishioners, either publicly or privately, without his knowledge and consent. On peril of body and soul, no one is to listen to such a man, but report him to his pastor or his ruler.
This call and command make pastors and preachers. A burgher or layman may be a learned man, but this does not make him a Doctor, and entitle him to teach publicly in the schools, or to assume the teaching-office, unless he is called to it.
I have had to say these things about the sneaks and false preachers, — of whom there are now all too many, — in order to warn both pastors and rulers that they shall exhort and command their people to be on their guard against these vagabonds and knaves, and to avoid them as sure emissaries of the devil, unless they bring good evidence that they are called and commanded by God to do this work in that special place. Otherwise no one should let them in or listen to them, even though they were to preach the pure Gospel, nay, even though they were angels from heaven, and all Gabriels, at that. For it is God’s will that nothing be done as a result of one’s own choice or decision, but everything as a consequence of a command or a call. That is especially true of preaching, as St. Peter says, in 2 Peter 1:20, “Ye should know this first, No prophecy was brought out by the will of man, but the holy men of God spoke, driven by the Holy Ghost.” Therefore Christ, too, would not let the devils speak, when they cried out that He was the Son of God and told the truth, for He did not want to permit such an example of preaching without a call. Let everyone, then, remember this: If he will preach or teach, let him prove the call or command which drives and compels him to it, or else be silent; if he will not do this, then let the rulershand the knave over to the right master, Master Hans. That will be what he deserves, for he certainly intends to start a rebellion, or worse, among the people.
But perhaps you will say to me, “Why do you, by your books, teach throughout the world, when you are only preacher in Wittenberg?” I answer: I have never wanted to do it, and do not want to do it now. I was forced and driven into this position in the first place, when I had to become a Doctor of Holy Scripture against my will. Then, as a Doctor in a general free university, I began, at the command of pope and emperor, to do what such a doctor is sworn to do, expounding the Scriptures for all the world, and teaching everybody. Once in this position, I have had to stay in it, and cannot give it up or leave it, even yet, with a good conscience, even though both pope and emperor were to put me under the ban for not doing so. For what I began as a Doctor, made and called at their command, I must truly confess to the end of my life, and I cannot keep silent or cease to teach, though I would like to do so, and am weary and unhappy at the great and unendurable ingratitude of the people. And even if I were not a Doctor, I am, nevertheless, a regularly called preacher, and may teach my own people with writings. If others have desired these writings of mine and have asked for them, it is my duty to accede to their request. For I have never pushed myself in, or desired or asked that anyone should read these writings, but have acted just like other pious pastors and preachers, who write books, and neither prevent nor drive people to the reading of them, and thus teach throughout the world. They do not run and sneak like these worthless, uncalled knaves, into the offices of others without the knowledge and consent of the pastors, but they have a definite office and position, by which they are driven and compelled.
Someone, however, may enter the further objection, “We ought not to punish these blasphemers or prevent them, because we tolerate the Jews, who blaspheme the LordChrist and His mother, with all the saints and all Christans, both in their teaching and their speaking.” Answer: They have their punishment for this, in that they are outside the Church and cannot hold any publicoffice; and even as it is, they are not allowed to utter this blasphemy publicly. Much less are they permitted to attempt this in the public position of preachers or by preaching in corners, as do these poisonous sneaks, who are not willing to cast the poison of their blasphemy upon any except those who are baptized and are called Christians. Moreover they are not willing to be considered useless by the world, like the Jews, but want to be celebrated and honored as the greatest people of all. But if they were to go, or to stay, where there are no Christians, and where, like the Jews, they would be heard by no one, then we let them blaspheme to the stones and trees in some forest, or possibly in the depths of the sea, or in a hotoven.
Perhaps someone may make me another clever answer and say that, with this kind of teaching, I am strengthening the case of the tyrants who persecute the Gospel, and opening door and window for them. Since they consider our Gospelheresy and blasphemy, they will now preen themselves sure enough, and pretend that conscience and duty compel them to punish us as blasphemers. Answer: What do I care? If we were to hold back necessary instruction because of the tyrants, we would long since have had to give up the Gospel altogether. If they do right, they will find it out, and I leave them to worry about it. When they knowingly use their power over worldly things, in the most self-willed manner, for the injury of others, what wonder that they do us wrong? Like blind men, they cannot see our doctrine, and like madmen, they cannot hear it. It was thus that the kings of Israelkilled the true prophets. Nevertheless, we must not abolish or hide the commandment to stone false prophets; but pious rulers will punish no man without first seeing, hearing, learning, and becoming certain that he is a blasphemer. But enough of this! Let us return to the Psalm: But they know nothing and consider nothing, they go in darkness; All the foundations of the land shall fall.
This verse is a lamentation. It says that the gods have left their duties and their virtues, and are practicing the opposite vices, as has been said. But they will not have done this with impunity. He will cast them down and they will have a real fall, though they think themselves secure and do not believe it until they experience it. Nay, they scoff at it, when it is said of them, “The foundations shall fall.” They feel that they sit fast, and have power, and, as the text says, they are called “foundations of the land,” that is, rocks and stones, on which the land and the government stand and rest.
With this saying, then, He strikes a blow at their confidence, and says, with a great threat, “Even though you are so firmly planted, and are actually rocks and foundations in the land, I will cast you and dash you down, so that you shall fall and go to pieces. If you compare this saying with the histories, you discover how frequently God overthrows kings and lords, throws them, hurls them, wipes them out, and treats them relentlessly, in the fulfillment of this verse, which they will not believe. Read the books of Kings and see how He wipes out Kings Jeroboam, Ahab, Jehoram, Ahaziah; and among the heathen, the Emperors Julius, Nero, Domitian, etc. Our own times, too, give us illustrations in plenty, if we consider or regard them. But they forget all this, and pay no attention to it, and this verse must seem to them a lie, until they find out by experience how certainly true it is.
They earn this overthrow, it says, because they do not take heed, do not consider, and walk in darkness. These are the three vices that have been mentioned. The first is that they do not accept the duty of advancing the Word of God. So long as they have what they want, they do not care what becomes of God and His Word. If He wants to be a God, and advance His own Word, let Him do it Himself; they have many other things to do beside performing this duty. Moreover, they take so little heed to themselves that they are loth to hear and learn the Word of God, in order to know what He is. And, what is still worse, they persecute the Word of God, condemn it unheard, and take the corrupting of souls and the killing and murdering of true preachers, as lightly as though it were a game or a joke to destroy people so pitiably in body and soul. And then they will have it that they have done God service!
The second vice is that they do not take heed to their worldlygovernment and do not provide the poor and wretched with law and protection. In this they are not only heedless and negligent, but they vex their subjects with force and wrong, or wink at it, when others do it. And yet no one must say that this is wrong! Thus they become ripe for punishment, and complete their wickedness, and fill up the register of their sins.
The third vice is that “they walk in darkness,” and in this godless state, live only for themselves, as though they had got the rulership in order to seek and pursue only their own profit and honor, their own pleasure and selfish desires, their own pride and pomp, and owed no one either service or help.
That is an altogether worldly and darklife, for they know not what they do, or ought to do, but go about like blind men, who guide themselves by feeling and tapping. They do what they feel like and want to do, and do not see, beyond these things, those which their office requires. Therefore they must fall and perish, as they deserve.
The human heart should be terrified when it hears the judgment and decree passed in heaven upon these tyrants. For this verse clearly shows that before God and the angels they have the honor to be considered despisers and persecutors of God’s Word, violent and vicious rulers, and blind men, who walk in darkness and are to be cast down. Heaven is already ringing with this verdict, and, thanks to this verse, the earth also shall be full of it.
But they have armed themselves against it with a strong, thick unbelief that gives them a heart of stone and a head of iron, so that they pay no attention to this utterance, and await their condemnation defiantly and proudly. Ah, well! Let them go on to the devil, since they will not have it otherwise! I have said, Ye are gods And all of you children of the highest.
There it stands! They are, and are called, gods. They are proud of it, and pride themselves confidently on their power. He confesses that they are gods and have power; and that is true. But it is shameful that they do not recognize from whom they have it, and use it as though they had it from themselves, and could do with it what they will, serving with it neither God nor man, and wanting to be free gods, without any god and over every god. Here He has a word to say in this wickedness, and says, “Ye know well that ye are gods and have power; that ye have learned and grasped very quickly. But when will ye learn from whom ye have it? What becomes of Me? What becomes of My commandments, which I have given you? It is not your command, but I, I, I have said that ye are gods. It is My command and My word that makes and ordains you gods, and keeps you gods, and it is not your word or wisdom or might. Ye are gods made by My word, as all creatures are made, and ye are not self-made gods or born gods, as I am. If I had not commanded it, no one of you would have been a god. Mine are all power, rulership, property, honor, lands and peoples, and all that belongs to them. I have given them to you; ye have not acquired them or won them. But what fine thanks do ye give Me for them? Ye reject Me and My Word, and hold Me for no God at all.” “What!” say they, “Do we not recognize that we have this from Thee, and hold Thee for our God! That be far from us! If Thou knowest it not otherwise, look only at our titles in which we publicly boast and confess it, — ‘We, N, by God’s grace King of N’; ‘We, N, by God’s grace Duke of N’; ‘We, N, by God’s grace, Prince of N’; etc. There Thou hearest that we confess our rulership to be received from God’s grace. What wilt Thou more than this?”
What good does it do that with your words you boast and confess that you are lords by God’s grace, when your heart and your whole life show that you would like to have no God, and be a free lord, with all might to act against God’s commandments, according to your own self-will? For he who does not heed and keep God’s Word, sets God Himself at naught, since he who would honorGod and have God, must have Him in and through His Word, otherwise it is impossible to get Him, have Him, or know Him. Since, then, the gods neither heed nor have God’s Word and commandment, they have no God; and if they have no God, they must have become gods by themselves, and this verse must be a lie and a falsehood, when it says, “I have said, Ye are gods.” See, then, how many are the princes and lords who bear the title, “By God’s grace,” with a true heart and truthful lips! The majority bear it as a testimony against themselves, as a false and shameful lie about God, by which they blaspheme and dishonor His holy name, wearing it as a cloak for their tyranny and wickedness. Of this much could be said.
One might wonder why He calls such wicked people, whom he rebukes so harshly, “children of God,” or “of the Highest,” since it is the holy and believing people who are called children of God in Scripture. Answer: It is just as great a wonder that He calls these wicked people by His own name, gods; indeed, calling them gods is even more than calling them children.
But it is all in the word, “I have said.” As we have often said, the Word of God hallows and deifies everything to which it is applied. Therefore those estates that are appointed in God’s Word are all holy, divineestates, even though the persons in them are not holy. Thus father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, servant, maid, preacher, pastor, etc., all these are holy and divine positions in life, even though the persons in those positions may be knaves and rascals. So, because He here founds and orders the office of rulership, the rulers are rightly called “gods” and “children of God,” for the sake of the divineoffice and divine Word; and yet they are wicked knaves, as He here calls them. Therefore ye shall die like men, And fall like one of the princes.
Because they are not willing to honorGod with their godhead, as He commands, but act as though they had nothing from God, and everything from themselves, He here threatens that He will punish them, and punish them in such a way that they will lose their godhead. He will depose them and take away their godhead, so that they die and go to destruction, not as “gods” or “children of God,” but as men, so that, both in life and death, they may be like men who are without God’s Word, and are lost. For God’s Word makes a distinction among the children of Adam. Those who have God’s Word are not merely men, but holy men, God’s children, Christians, etc.; but those who are without God’s Word are merely men, that is, in sin, eternally imprisoned in death, under the power of the devil, and are altogether without God. Therefore, when the Scriptures call anyone “man,” they are giving him a bad name; and when they say that the wicked gods shall “die like men,” it is a terrible, horrible threat, for it means that they shall be lost eternally.
So it is, also, with the phrase, “They shall fall like one of the princes.” Here He does not call them “gods,” or “children of God,” but changes the name, and calls them simply “princes.” As if to say: A prince who is without God and His Word, is also assuredly lost, and when he falls and passes away, he loses his godhead, that is God’s appointment, and passes away as tyrants are wont to pass. They do not believe this terriblethreat and condemnation, however, but must be made to experience it. All history is full of illustrations of this. Arise, O God, and judge the land; For thou dost inherit among the heathen.