Pious, useful, and necessary; and a serious and faithful exhortation of Dr. Martin Luther, addressed to all the devout, especially to Pastors and Preachers, urging them to exercise themselves and others assiduously every day in the Catechism, as a synopsis and comprehending epitome of the whole sacred Scripture, faithfully and continually proclaiming it to the church.
We have abundant reasons not only earnestly to urge the use of the Cateschism in our discourses, but to entreat and implore others to do the same; especially when we see many preachers and curates exceedingly negligent, scorning both their own duty and the very doctrine itself. This chiefly arises from the fact, that some of them conceive themselves too learned and wise for such a duty, and some, regarding nothing in the world preferable to the enjoyment of ease and carnal indulgence of the appetite, experience no other feelings in relation to this matter, than if they were appointed curates and preachers solely for the gratification of their appetite. It is not convenient for them to discharge any other engagements, than to waste and devour every thing while they are living, as they were once accustomed to do under the Papacy. And although they are at this time abundantly provided with all things necessary to be taught and preached, by the publication of so many excellent books, in which all these subjects are plainly elucidated, and though they now really possess what they were formerly accustomed to call, "Sermons made for ready use, – sleep on preacher," yet some are so indolent or so perverse as not to think these volumes worth purchasing, and if they possess them, they are unwilling to look into them and to read. Merciful God! what a pernicious and detestable class of men is this, abandoned to voracity and excess, whom you would more wisely set over brutes, than the souls of the faithful!
Indeed it were to be wished, that, desisting from the useless and wearisome mutterings of canonic prayers, as they are called, they would, instead of these, turn over in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, some pages at least either in the Catechism or in the Prayers, or in the New Testament, or at all events would draw something else from the Sacred Books, amd would repeat over the Lord's Prayer to God the Father, for their own sake and that of their flock. Let them at least show some gratitude to the Gospel, by which they have been relieved from so many evils and burdens, and let them blush with shame, not to learn any thing else from the Gospel, but the indolent, pernicious, and detestable indulgence of the flesh, which is the characteristic of the brutes. For as people in general are too coldly disposed towards the Gospel, and even with our utmost exertions, we are able to produce little or no effect, how much less success must we expect, if we now begin to be indolent and careless, as we were under the Papacy?
To these evils must be added that dangerous and destructive idea of security and contentment, which has for a long time been silently stealing upon the minds of many, and which has so infected them, that they declare with a solemn oath, that nothing in the world is easier than learning the Catechism, – so easy indeed, that with a single reading, they can accurately repeat the whole. Then immediately, as if arrived at the highest proficiency and thoroughly instructed, they throw away the book into some corner, and they are ashamed to take it in their hands again. Yea, what is still more to be deplored, some even among the nobility, are found at this day to have a spirit so depraved as to affirm that neither the curates nor preachers are any longer necessary, but that the books of themselves are sufficient, from which any one may learn these doctrines, without the aid of an authorized teacher. Hence they suffer the parishes themselves to fall to ruin and lie entirely waste, and permit their clergy almost to perish with hunger. This is conduct becoming our vulgar Germans, for such people do we Germans possess, and such are we compelled to tolerate.
But I, if indeed I may speak of myself, am also a doctor and a preacher, endowed, as I believe, with no less learning as well as experience than those who presume so much on their abilities, and who have attained so high a state of confidence; yet by no means am I ashamed to imitate the young, but just as those whom we teach the Catechism, so do I, – early in the morning, or whenever I get a moment of leisure, – privately recite word by word, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Articles of Faith, the Psalms, or something of the kind. And though I have leisure every day for these lessons and studies, yet not even in this way am I able to reach the point which I am seeking, or to attain the proficiency which I desire.
So it happens, that I necessarily have to profess myself a boy and a student of the Catechism at this day, – and I profess it willingly. But these delicate, fastidious folks attain so much at a single lesson, that they leave all doctors every where behind them; they know all things; they have no further need of doctrine or of precept. Yes indeed, by this very conduct, they furnish the most conclusive evidence, that they have no concern whatever either for their own duty, or the salvation of their people, but that they equally despise both God and his Word. And though they have now caused the most terrible distress, they are not in dread of some ultimate catastrophe, but rather of the necessity which they are under of becoming students again, and of having to learn the first elements of knowledge, which they imagine have been trodden, as the saying is, under their shoes.
I entreat, therefore, these indolent epicures and presumptuous saints, for God's sake, to suffer themselves to be convinced, that they have by no means attained the proficiency which they arrogate to themselves. And besides let them never imagine that they have learned all portions of the Catechism thoroughly, and have a distinct view of them all, although these portions may seem to them to have been most diligently marked and studied. For let us make the most generous supposition; – let us grant that they do remember and understand every principle to the utmost perfection, – a thing which it is impossible to attain in this life, – yet we must never forget the endless applications and benefits resulting from a daily perusal of these same principles, and from daily exercise in meditating and discoursing upon them. No doubt the Holy Spirit may attend this perusal, this discourse, and meditation, excite new emotions and supply new light, cause us to feel more and more every day the influence of this doctrine, and bless our labors with more valuable results, – as Christ himself has promised in Matthew 18, 20, when he says, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Besides there is nothing more effectual against Satan, against the flesh, and all unholy thoughts, than to study the Word of God with diligence, to form our discourses and meditations upon it; for the first Psalm declares those to be happy who meditate day and night upon the law of God. Nor can you entertain a hope of finding any charm more potent, any fragrance more resistless, against evil spirits, than to study with deep application the Word and the Commandments of God, to mingle them in your familiar conversations, to sing them and to meditate upon them. For these commandments are indeed that consecrated water, that true sign by which Satan is put to flight, – which he most cautiously shuns.
And were no other advantage to be gained by this practice, than a liberation from Satan and wicked thoughts, certainly this consideration alone ought to be a sufficient inducement for you to read, to meditate, to study, and to learn willingly this portion of the doctrine. For Satan is not able to endure or to hear the Word of God. That word, indeed, is not like the fabulous tales of the nursery, or the songs of lyric poets, but it is, as Paul says, Rom. 1, 16, "The power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." And that very power of God which distresses and subdues Satan most effectually, reanimates and inspires us beyond measure. But what need is there of many words! Were I to enumerate all the advantages and beneficial results which flow from the Word of God, both my paper and my time would fail me.
People generally call Satan the author of a thousand arts, – so great and complicated is his power. But by what name shall we honor that prayer of the Lord, which not only possesses various and complicated power, but even subdues and reduces to nought that very author of a thousand arts with all his power and ingenuity? Doubtless, you will say, we should call it the author not of a thousand arts, but of many myriads. If then indeed, we esteem so lowly this power so invincible, this utility so extensive, these influences so vast, this application so unlimited, – we, who desire to be considered curates and preachers, – we especially should not only be denied the food of life, but we should be chased by the very dogs; especially since we need all these no less than our daily bread, and indeed must have them against the daily and unremitted designs and temptations of that author of a thousand arts.
Should these considerations not be sufficient to excite our minds to a diligent study of the Catechism, still the command of God alone ought to compel us. For we find in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, that we must never cease meditating upon these commandments, while sitting, or standing, or walking, or lying down, or rising up. We should hold them before our eyes as a sign, and carry them in our hands. Without a doubt, God imposed this severe injunction with a wise design. He well foresaw what dangers and necessities would attend us; with what determination and obstinate pertinacity evil spirits would stand every moment in array for our everlasting destruction: and in opposition to this, our benevolent Father in heaven wished to furnish us with strong and invincible armor, by which we might be able to repel the fiery darts, the secret and dangerous attempts of these enemies. But O foolish and insensible men that we are! – though we must have intercourse among these enemies, these demons, – though we must live among them, we scorn our own defences; – heavy with stupor and drowsiness, we cannot endure to look to these defences or to remember them.
And while these plethoric and presumptuous saints really scorn the Catechism, and esteem it far too contemptible to be read and studied every day, what else, I ask, do they do but consider themselves far more learned than God himself, than all the angels, the Patriarchs, the Apostles, and all Christians? For since God is not ashamed to teach these doctrines daily, – the very best that he has to teach, – and since he frequently repeats and inculcates them over again, – never adding any thing new or inconsistent with them; – I say further, since all the saints knew nothing either better or more useful to learn and were never able to study them too profoundly, are we not most eminent and accomplished men indeed, who, having read or heard this doctrine once, are fully persuaded that we know it all; nor is there any further necessity for us to read, as we are able to learn in one hour, what God himself has not been able to exhaust in teaching, though he has been teaching it from the creation of the world to the present time? which all the Prophets and all holy men have been ever engaged in studying, and yet of which they remain students perpetually, and necessarily must ever so remain.
For it is certainly true and indisputable, that whoever has thoroughly examined and studied the Ten Commandments, understands the whole Scripture, and is able, on trying occasions and emergencies, to excel in wisdom, counsel, and consolation, to investigate and decide civil as well as ecclesiastical disputes. He is the proper judge of all tenets, sects, and spirits, of justice and equity, and whatever can be in the world. And what else, I demand, does the whole book of Psalms contain, than mere reflections and exercises upon the first commandment! Indeed I am persuaded that those voracious and haughty spirits, ignorant of this truth, do not understand a single Psalm, much less indeed the whole Scripture. Yet these same men despise the Catechism, which is, as it were, a compendium of the whole Scripture.
Accordingly, now again I entreat and implore all Christians, especially curates and preachers, not to fancy themselves Doctors too soon, and cherish the fallacy that they know every thing. For as with false weights and measures, so it happens with vain opinions, when they are brought under strict examination. But let them rather cultivate these studies daily, and impart these principles with diligence. Let them, besides, with due care and circumspection, defend themselves against the delusive idea of false security and presumption; let them strive most earnestly to devote their whole time to reading, learning, reflecting, meditating, and teaching, and let them not cease until they have really discovered and have become thoroughly convinced, that they have slain Satan by superior knowledge, and have become more learned than God and all his angels. If they will employ this industry and application, I solemnly promise them, and they themselves will experience, the most gratifying results. God will cause them to become most excellent men; and they will even confess that the more they review and repeat the doctrine of the Catechism, the less they understand it; but that they find it necessary to study it continually. Then it will begin to please and delight them, like men perishing with hunger and thirst, though now, from too much satiety and pride, they cannot even bear the odor. To this end, may God grant abundant grace. Amen.