I believe the words of the Apostlesí Creed to be the work of the Holy Ghost; the Holy Spirit alone could have enunciated things so grand, in terms so precise, so expressive, so powerful. No human creature could have done it, nor all the human creatures of ten thousand worlds. This creed, then, should be the constant object of our most serious attention.
For myself, I cannot too highly admire or venerate it. The catechism must govern the Church, and remain lord and ruler; that is, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lordís Prayer, the sacraments, etc. And although there be many that set themselves against it, yet it will stand fast, and keep the pre-eminences, through him of whom it is written, ĎThou art a priest for everí: for he will be a priest, and will also have priests, despite the devil and all instruments on earth. Sermons very little edify children, who learn little thereby; it is more needful they be taught and well instructed in schools, and at home that they be heard and examined what they have learned; this way profits much; Ďtis very wearisome, but very necessary. The papists avoid such pains, so that their children are neglected and forsaken. In the catechism, we have a very exact, direct, and short way to the whole Christianreligion. For God himself gave the Ten Commandments, Christ himself penned and taught the Lordís Prayer, the Holy Ghost brought together the articles of faith. These three pieces are set down so excellently, that never could anything have been better; but they are slighted and contemned by us as things of small value, because the little childrendaily say them. The catechism is the most complete and bestdoctrine, and therefore should be continually be preached; all public sermons should be grounded and built thereupon. I could wish we preached it daily, and distinctly read it out of the book. But our preachers and hearers have it at their fingerís ends; they have already swallowed it all up; they are ashamed of the slight and simple doctrine, as they hold it, and will be thought of higher learning. The parishioners say: Our preachers fiddle always one tune; they preach nothing but the catechism, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lordís Prayer, baptism, and the Lordís Supper; all which we know well enough already, but the catechism, I insist, is the right Bible of the laity, wherein is contained the whole sum of Christiandoctrine necessary to be known by every Christian for salvation.
Thirdly, there is the Lordís Prayer, Oratio Orationum , the prayer above all prayers, a prayer which the most high Master taught us, wherein are comprehended all spiritual and temporal blessings, and the strongest comforts in all trials, temptations, and troubles, even in the hour of death.
Fourthly, there are the blessed sacraments, Cerimonia Cerimoniarum, the highest ceremonies, which God himself has instituted and ordained, and therein assured us of his grace. We should esteem and love the catechism, for therein is the ancient, pure, divinedoctrine of the ChristianChurch.
And whatsoever is contrary thereunto is new and false doctrine, though it have ever so glorious a show and luster, and we must take good heed how we meddle therewith. In all my youth I never heard any preaching, either of the Ten Commandments, or of the Lordís Prayer.
So much could not be collected out of all the books of the fathers, as, by Godís grace is now taught out of the little catechism. I only read in the Bible at Erfurt, in the monastery; and God then wonderfully wrought, contrary to all human expectation, so that I was constrained to depart from Erfurt, and was called to Wittenberg, where, under God, I gave the devil, the pope of Rome, such a blow, as no emperor, king, or potentate could have given him; yet it was not I, but God by me, his poor, weak, and unworthy instrument. The Decalogue ó that is, the Ten Commandments of God, are a looking glass and brief sum of all virtues and doctrines, both how we ought to behave towards God and also towards our neighbor; that is, towards all mankind.
Further, the Lord says: ĎAnd will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generationsí, etc. This is a terrible word of threatening, which justly affrights our hearts, and stirs up fear in us. It is quite contrary to our reason, for we conceive it to be very unjust proceeding, that the children and posterity should be punished for their fathers and forefathersí offences. But forasmuch as God has so decreed, and is pleased so to proceed, therefore our duty is to know and acknowledge that he is a just God, and he wrongs none. Seeing that these fearful threatenings are contrary to our understanding, therefore flesh and blood regard them not, but cast them in the wind, as though they signified no more than the hissing of a goose. But we that are true Christians believe the same to be certain, when the Holy Ghost touches our hearts, and that this proceeding is just and right, and thereby we stand in the fear of God.
Here again we may see what manís free will can do, in that it understands and fears nothing. If we did but feel and know how earnest a threatening this is, we should for fear instantly fall down dead; and we have examples, as where God said: that for the sins of Manasseh he will cast the people into miserablecaptivity.
But some may argue: Then I see well that the posterity have no hope of grace when their parentssin. I answer: Those that repent, from them is the law taken away and abolished, so that their parentsí sins do not hurt them: as the prophet Ezekiel says: ĎThe son shall not bear the iniquity of the fatherí; yet God permits the external and corporal punishment to go on, yea, sometimes over the penitent children also for examples, to the end that others may fly from sin and lead a godly life. ĎBut he will do good, and be merciful unto thousandsí, etc. This is a great, a glorious, and comfortable promise, far surpassing all human reason and understanding, that, for the sake of one godly person, so many should be partakers of undeserved blessings and mercies. For we find many examples, that a multitude of people have enjoyed mercies and benefits for the sake of one godly man; as for Abrahamís sake, many people were preserved and blessed, as also for Isaacís sake; and for the sake of Naaman the whole kingdom of Assyria was blessed of God.
We ought well to mark with what great diligence and ability Moses handles the first commandment, and explains it. He was doubtless, an excellent doctor. David afterwards was a gate or a door out of Moses. For he had well studied in Moses, and so he became a fine poet and orator; the Psalms are altogether syllogisms , or concluding sentences out of the first commandment. Major , the first, is Godís Word itself; Minor , the second, faith. The conclusion is the act, work, and execution, so that it is done, as we believe. As, Major: Misericors Deus, respiecit miseros; Minor: Ego sum miser; Conclusio; Ergo Deus me quoque respicit.
When we believe the first comandment, and so please God, then all our actions are pleasing unto him. If thou hearest his Word, if thou prayest, mortifiest thyself, then says God unto thee: I am well pleased with what thou doest. Moreover, when we observe the first commandment, then that placet goes through all the other commandments and works. Art thou a Christian? wilt thou marry a wife? wilt thou buy and sell? wilt thou labor in the works of thy vocation? wilt thou punish and condemnwicked and ungodly wretches? wilt thou eat, drink, sleep? etc. God says continually: Placet.
But if thou keepest not the first commandment, then says God to all thy works and actions, Non placent, they please me not. Christ takes the first commandment upon himself, where he says: ĎHe that honoreth me, honoreth the Father: he that honoreth not the Son, honoreth not the Father.í