The Large Catechism
The Ten Commandments Of God
I.1. The First Commandment
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
That is: Thou shalt have [and worship] Me alone as thy God. What is the force of
this, and how is it to be understood? What does it mean to have a god? or, what
is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to
which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else
than to trust and believe Him from the [whole] heart; as I have often said that the
confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith
and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust
be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong
together faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put
your trust is properly your god.
Therefore it is the intent of this commandment to require true faith and trust of the
heart which settles upon the only true God and clings to Him alone. That is as
much as to say: "See to it that you let Me alone be your God, and never seek
another," i.e.: Whatever you lack of good things, expect it of Me, and look to Me
for it, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, creep and cling to Me. I,
yes, I, will give you enough and help you out of every need; only let not your
heart cleave to or rest in any other.
This I must unfold somewhat more plainly, that it may be understood and
perceived by ordinary examples of the contrary. Many a one thinks that he has
God and everything in abundance when he has money and possessions; he
trusts in them and boasts of them with such firmness and assurance as to care
for no one. Lo, such a man also has a god, Mammon by name, i.e., money and
possessions, on which he sets all his heart, and which is also the most common
idol on earth. He who has money and possessions feels secure, and is joyful and
undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other
hand, he who has none doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no
God. For very few are to be found who are of good cheer, and who neither mourn
nor complain if they have not Mammon. This [care and desire for money] sticks
and clings to our nature, even to the grave.
So, too, whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill, prudence,
power, favor friendship, and honor has also a god, but not this true and only God.
This appears again when you notice how presumptuous, secure, and proud