You're here: » Articles Home » Martin Luther » Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter from Luther to Melancthon

Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter from Luther to Melancthon

By Martin Luther


            Of course, you can only know and absolve those sins which have been
            confessed to you; sins which have not been confessed to you, you   
            neither need to know nor can you absolve them. That is reaching too
            high, dear gentlemen."
            You cannot convince me that the same is true for the vows made by
            priests and monks.   For I am very concerned about the fact that the
            order of priesthood was instituted by God as a free one. Not so that
            of the monks who chose their position voluntarily, even though I have
            almost come to the conclusion that those who have entered into that
            state at an age prior to their manhood, or are currently at that
            stage, may secede with a clear conscience. I am hesitant, however,
            with a judgment about those who have been in this state for a long
            time and have grown old in it.
            2. By the way, St. Paul very freely speaks about the priests (1.Tim:
            4, ff), that devils have forbidden them to marry; and St. Paul's
            voice is the voice of the divine majesty. Therefore, I do not doubt
            that they must depend on him to such a degree that even though they
            agreed to this interdiction of the devil at the time, now--having
            realized with whom they made their contract--they can cheerfully
            break this contract.
            3. This interdiction by the devil, which is clearly shown by God's
            Word, urges and compels me to sanction the actions of the Bishop of
            Kemberg. For God does not lie nor deceive when He says that this is
            an interdiction from the devil.   If a contract has been made with the
            devil it must not endure since it was made in godless error against
            God and was damned and repudiated by God.   For He says very clearly
            (1. Tim. 4:1 Vulg.) that those spirits are in error who are the
            originators of the interdictions.   
            4. Why do you hesitate to join this divine judgment against the gates
            of hell? That is not how it was with the oath of the children of
            Israel which they gave to the Gibeons.   They had it in their laws
            that they must offer peace or accept peace offered to them, and
            accept into their midst proselytes and those who adhered to their
            customs.   All this took place. Nothing happened there against the
            Lord or by the advice of spirits. For even though in the beginning
            they murmured, later on they approved.
            5. In addition, consider that the state of being unmarried is only a
            human statute and can be readily lifted. Therefore any Christian can
            do this.   I would make this statement even if the interdiction had
            not come from a devil, but from a devout person.   However, because
            there is no such statement by God concerning the monks, I am
            therefore not certain that I should make the same pronouncement
            concerning them. For I would not dare to presume, neither advice
            another to do so.   Would God that we could do this, though, in order
            to prevent someone from becoming a monk, or leaving his order during
            the years of his virility.   For we are to avoid vexations if there is
            no relevant scriptural passage available to us, even when dealing
            with things which are permitted.
            6. Good old Carlstadt is also citing St. Paul (1 Tim.5:9-11), to let
            go of the younger widows and select 60-year-olds, wish to God this
            could be demonstrated. Quite easily someone might say that the
            Apostle referred to the future, while in reference to the past (V.12)
            they are condemned because they have broken their first troth.
            Therefore this expression has come to naught and cannot be a
            dependable basis for the conscience. For that is what we are
            searching for.   Moreover, this reasoning that it is better to be
            married than to burn with vain desire (1 Cor.7:9), or to prevent the
            sins of immorality (1 Cor.7:2), by entering into marriage while
            committing the sin of the broken troth, that is nothing but common-
            sense.   We want the scripture and the witness of God's will.   Who
            knows if the one who is very enthusiastic today will still be so
            7. I would not have allowed marriage for priests for the sole reason
            of "burning" had not St. Paul called this interdiction devilish and
            hypocritical, condemned by God. Even without the burning he urged
            that this unmarried status be cast aside simply for the fear of God.   
            However, it is necessary to discuss these things more thoroughly. For
            I too would love to come to the aid of the monks and nuns. I very
            much pity these wretched human beings, these young men and girls who
            suffer defilement and burning.
            8. Concerning the two elements of the Holy Supper I will not give an
            example, but give testimony with Christ's words. Carlstadt does not
            show that those who have received only one element have sinned, or
            not sinned. I am concerned that Christ did not command either one of
            the two, just as He does not command baptism if the tyrant or the
            world withhold the water.   So also the violence of persecution
            separates men and women, which God forbids to separate, neither do
            they agree to be separated. Therefore, neither do godfearing hearts
            agree that they should be robbed of one of the elements. However,
            those who do agree and approve: who can deny that these are not
            Christians but Papists who are sinning.
            9. There HE does not demand it, and here the tyrant oppresses, I
            therefore cannot agree that those who receive only one element are
            sinning.   For who can exert power to take something when the tyrant
            is not willing?   Therefore it is only common-sense which observes
            here that Christ's institution is not adhered to.   Scripture makes no
            definition by which we could declare this act a sin.   It is Christ's
            institution, given in freedom, which cannot be incarcerated as a
            whole or in part.
            10. It happened to Donatus, the martyr, where several people could
            not participate because the cup broke or the wine was spilled. What
            if this happens and there is no other wine available? There are other
            similar situations. In short, because Scripture does not speak of sin
            here, I therefore say there is no sin involved.   
            11. I am quite pleased, though, that you are re-establishing Christ's
            method. For it was just that which I planned to take up with you
            first of all upon my return to you.   For now we recognize this
            tyranny and can oppose it, in order not to be forced to receive only
            one of the elements.            
            12. From here on I will no longer conduct private mass. Rather we
            should pray God to give us more of His Spirit.   For I am expecting
            that the Lord will soon ravish Germany--which she deserves because of
            her unbelief, godlessness and hate of the Gospel.   However, we shall
            be blamed for this chastisement, as we are made out to be heretics
            who have provoked God to this action. We shall be scorned by the
            people and disdained by the nation.   Those, however, will make
            excuses for their sins, through which He will manifest that the hard-
            hearted do not become godly neither by mercy nor wrath. Let it
            happen, let the will of the Lord be done. Amen!
            13. If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but
            the true mercy.   If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the
            true, not an imaginary sin.   God does not save those who are only
            imaginary sinners.   Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let
            your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the
            victor over sin, death, and the world.   We will commit sins while we
            are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.   We,
            however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new
            heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.   It suffices that
            through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the
            sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to
            kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.   Do you think
            such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager
            sacrifice for our sins?   Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.      
            On the day of the Feast of St. Peter the Apostle, 1521

Back to Martin Luther index.


Like This Page?

© 1999-2019, All rights reserved.