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The Author's Preface To The First Book.

Christian Reader! That the holy Gospel is subjected, in our age, to a great and shameful abuse, is fully proved by the ungodly and impenitent life of those who loudly boast of Christ and of his word, while their unchristian life resembles that of persons who dwell in a land of heathens and not of Christians. Such an ungodly course of conduct furnished me with an occasion for writing this Treatise; it was my object to show to plain readers wherein true Christianity consists, namely, in the exhibition of a true, living, and active faith, which manifests itself in genuine godliness and the fruits of righteousness. I desired to show that we bear the name of Christians, not only because we ought to believe in Christ, but also because the name implies that we live in Christ, and that He lives in us. I further desired to show that true repentance proceeds from the inmost centre of the heart; that the heart, mind, and affections must be changed; that we must be conformed to Christ and His holy Gospel; and that we must be renewed by the word of God, and become new creatures. For even as every seed produces fruit of a like nature, so the word of God must daily produce in us new spiritual fruits. If we become new creatures by faith, we must live in accordance with our new birth. In a word, Adam must die, and Christ must live, in us. It is not sufficient to acquire a knowledge of the word of God; it is also our duty to obey it practically, with life and power.

2. There are many who suppose that Theology is merely a science, or an art of words, whereas it is a living experience and practical exercise.—Every one now aims at acquiring eminence and distinction in the world; but no one is willing to learn how to be devout. Every one now seeks out men of great learning, who can teach arts, languages, and wisdom; but no one is willing to learn from our only Teacher, Jesus Christ, how to become meek and sincerely humble; and yet His holy and living example is the true rule for our life and conduct, and, indeed, constitutes the highest wisdom and knowledge; so that we can with truth declare, “The pure life of Christ opens all knowledge to us.”

3. Every one is very willing to be a servant of Christ; but no one will consent to be His follower. And yet He says: “If any man serve me, let him follow me.” John 12:26. Hence, he who truly serves and loves Christ, will also follow him; and he who loves Christ, will also love the example of His holy life, His humility, meekness, patience, as well as the cross, shame, and contempt which He endured, although the flesh may thereby suffer pain. And although we cannot, in our present weakness, perfectly imitate the holy and exalted life of Christ (which, indeed, is not intended in my xl Book), nevertheless, we ought to love it, and long to imitate it more fully; for thus we live in Christ, and Christ lives in us, according to the words of St. John: “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” 1 John 2:6. It is now the disposition of the world to acquire a knowledge of all things; but that which is better than all other knowledge, namely, “to know the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:19), no one desires to acquire. But no man can love Christ, who does not imitate his holy life. There are many—a majority, indeed, of men in this world—who are ashamed of the holy example of Christ, namely, of his humility and lowly condition; that is, they are ashamed of the Lord Jesus Christ; of them he says: “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed,” etc. Mark 8:38. Christians now desire a Christ of imposing appearance, who is magnificent, rich, and conformed to the world; but no one desires to receive, to confess, and to follow the poor, meek, despised, and lowly Christ. He will, therefore, hereafter say: “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:23); ye were not willing to know me in my humility, and therefore I do not know you in your pride.

4. Not only, however, is ungodliness, in all its forms, at variance with Christ and true Christianity, but it is also the cause of the daily accumulation of the displeasure of God, and of the penalties which he inflicts; insomuch that he fits all creatures to be avengers, and that heaven and earth, fire and water, are made to contend against us; so that all nature is thereby sorely distressed, and well-nigh overwhelmed. Hence, a season of affliction must be expected; war, famine, and pestilence; yea, the last plagues are coming in with such violence, that we are exposed to the assaults of nearly every creature. For even as the terrible plagues of the Egyptians overtook them before the redemption and departure of the children of Israel from Egypt, so, too, before the redemption of the children of God occurs, dreadful and unheard-of plagues will overtake the ungodly and impenitent. It is therefore high time to repent, to begin another course of life, to turn from the world to Christ, to believe truly in him, and to lead a Christian life in him, so that we may securely “dwell in the secret place of the Most High, and abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Ps. 91:1. Such is also the exhortation of the Lord: “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things.” Luke 21:36. The same is also testified in Ps. 112:7.

5. Now, to this end, my Christian reader, this book may, to a certain extent, serve thee as a guide, showing thee not only how thou mayest, through faith in Christ, obtain the remission of thy sins, but also how thou mayest avail thyself of the grace of God, in order to lead a holy life; and how thou mayest demonstrate and adorn thy faith by a Christian walk and conversation. For true Christianity consists, not in words, nor in any external show, but in a living faith, from which proceed fruits meet for repentance, and all manner of Christian virtues, as from Christ himself. For as faith is hidden from human view, and is invisible, it must be manifested by its fruits; inasmuch as faith derives from Christ all that is good, righteous, and blessed.


6. Now, when faith waits for the blessings which are promised to it, the offspring of this faith is hope. For what else is hope but a constant and persevering expectation, in faith, of the blessings which are promised? But when faith communicates to a neighbor the blessings which it has itself received, love is the offspring of such a faith, imparting to the neighbor that which it has itself received from God; and when faith endures the trial of the cross, and submits to the will of God, it brings forth patience. But when it sighs under the burden of the cross, or offers thanks to God for mercies which it has received, it gives birth to prayer. When it compares the power of God, on the one hand, with the misery of man, on the other, and submits unresistingly to the will of God, humility is the fruit. And when this faith diligently labors that it may not lose the grace of God, or, as St. Paul says: “worketh out salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), then the fear of God is the result.

7. Thus thou seest that all the Christian virtues are the offspring of faith, proceed from faith, and cannot be separated from faith, their common source, if they are indeed genuine, living, and Christian virtues, proceeding ultimately from God, from Christ, and from the Holy Spirit. Hence no work can be acceptable to God without faith in Christ. For how can true hope, sincere love, persevering patience, earnest prayer, Christian humility, and a childlike fear of God, exist without faith? All must be drawn from Christ, the well of salvation (Isa. 12:3), through faith, as well righteousness, as all the fruits of righteousness. But take great care, my reader, that thou do not connect thy works, the virtues which thou hast commenced to practise, or the gifts of the new life, with thy justification before God. For in this matter, man's works, merit, gifts, and virtue, however lovely these may appear to be, have no efficacy; our justification depends solely on the exalted and perfect merit of Jesus Christ, apprehended by faith, even as it is set forth in chap. V, XIX, XXXIV, and XLI, of this book, and in the first three chapters of Book II. Take great care, therefore, not to confound the righteousness of faith, on the one hand, and the righteousness of a Christian life, on the other; but rather to make a clear distinction between them; for here the whole foundation of our Christian religion is involved. Still, thy repentance must be the great concern of thy life, for otherwise thou hast no true faith, such as daily purifies, changes, and amends the heart. Thou must, moreover, know that the consolations of the Gospel cannot be effectually applied, unless they have been preceded by a genuine godly sorrow, the result of which is a bruised and contrite heart; for we read that “to the poor the gospel is preached.” Luke 7:22. How, indeed, can faith give life to the heart, unless that heart has been previously put to death by sincere sorrow and a thorough knowledge of sin? Do not, therefore, imagine that repentance is a slight and easy work. Remember the solemn and severe language of the Apostle Paul, when he commands us to mortify and crucify the flesh, with the affections and lusts, to offer the body as a sacrifice, to die unto sin, to be crucified unto the world. Col. 3:5; Rom. 6:6; 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:24; Gal. 5:24; 6:14. Truly, none of these things can result, when we gratify the flesh. xlii Nor do the holy prophets employ cheerful terms when they call for a contrite and broken heart, and say: “Rend your heart—weep and lament.” Joel 2:13, 17; Jer. 4:8. But where is such repentance now exhibited? The Lord Jesus Christ, when alluding to it, demands that we should deny ourselves, and renounce all that we have, if we desire to be his disciples. Luke 9:23; Matt. 16:24. Verily, all this can never proceed from a gay, trifling, and light mind; of this the evidence may be found in the seven Penitential Psalms of David. The Scriptures abound in illustrations of the jealousy of God, who demands both repentance and its fruits, without which eternal salvation cannot be obtained. But afterwards the consolations of the Gospel manifest their power. And both such repentance, and such consolation, are solely the work of the Spirit of God, through the Word.

8. Now this Book which I have written, specially treats of such sincere and earnest repentance of the heart, of the exhibition of faith in the life and conduct, and of the spirit of love which should animate all the acts of the Christian; for that which proceeds from Christian love, is, at the same time, the fruit of faith. It is true that I have referred to some earlier writers, such as Tauler, Thomas á Kempis, and others, who may seem to ascribe more than is due to human ability and works; but my whole Book is designed to counteract such an error. I would, therefore, kindly request the Christian reader to remember the great object for which I wrote this Book. He will find that its main purpose is this: To teach the reader how to perceive the hidden and connate abomination of Original Sin; to set forth distinctly our misery and helplessness; to teach us to put no trust in ourselves or our ability; to take away everything from ourselves, and to ascribe all to Christ, so that He alone may dwell in us, work all things in us, alone live in us, and create all things in us, because he is the beginning, middle, and end, of our conversion and salvation. All this has been plainly and abundantly explained in many passages of this Book; and, at the same time, the doctrines of the Papists, Synergists, and Majorists, have been expressly refuted and rejected. The doctrine, moreover, of justification by faith, has been set forth in this Book, and especially in Book II., in the most pointed and explicit manner. In order, however, to obviate all misapprehensions, I have subjected the present edition to a very careful revision, and I beg the reader to receive the editions which have appeared in Frankfort and other places, in the sense in which the present Magdeburg edition is to be received. I also affirm, that this Book, as well in all other articles and points, as also in the articles of Free Will, and of the Justification of a poor sinner before God, is not to be understood in any other manner than in accordance with the Symbolical Books of the churches of the Augsburg Confession, namely, the first Unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology, the Smalcald Articles, the Two Catechisms of Luther, and the Formula of Concord.

May God enlighten us all by his Holy Spirit, so that we may be sincere and without offence, both in our faith and in our life, till the day of Christ (which is near at hand), being filled with the fruits of righteousness, unto the glory and praise of God! Amen.

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