A Treatise on Good Works HTML version

The Treatise, Part I
I. We ought first to know that there are no good works except those which God
has commanded, even as there is no sin except that which God has forbidden.
Therefore whoever wishes to know and to do good works needs nothing else
than to know God's commandments. Thus Christ says, Matthew xix, "If thou wilt
enter into life, keep the commandments." And when the young man asks Him,
Matthew xix, what he shall do that he may inherit eternal life, Christ sets before
him naught else but the Ten Commandments. Accordingly, we must learn how to
distinguish among good works from the Commandments of God, and not from
the appearance, the magnitude, or the number of the works themselves, nor from
the judgment of men or of human law or custom, as we see has been done and
still is done, because we are blind and despise the divine Commandments.
II. The first and highest, the most precious of all good works is faith in Christ, as
He says, John vi. When the Jews asked Him: "What shall we do that we may
work the works of God?" He answered: "This is the work of God, that ye believe
on Him Whom He hath sent." When we hear or preach this word, we hasten over
it and deem it a very little thing and easy to do, whereas we ought here to pause
a long time and to ponder it well. For in this work all good works must be done
and receive from it the inflow of their goodness, like a loan. This we must put
bluntly, that men may understand it.
We find many who pray, fast, establish endowments, do this or that, lead a good
life before men, and yet if you should ask them whether they are sure that what
they do pleases God, they say, "No"; they do not know, or they doubt. And there
are some very learned men, who mislead them, and say that it is not necessary
to be sure of this; and yet, on the other hand, these same men do nothing else
but teach good works. Now all these works are done outside of faith, therefore
they are nothing and altogether dead. For as their conscience stands toward God
and as it believes, so also are the works which grow out of it. Now they have no
faith, no good conscience toward God, therefore the works lack their head, and
all their life and goodness is nothing. Hence it comes that when I exalt faith and
reject such works done without faith, they accuse me of forbidding good works,
when in truth I am trying hard to teach real good works of faith.
III. If you ask further, whether they count it also a good work when they work at
their trade, walk, stand, eat, drink, sleep, and do all kinds of works for the
nourishment of the body or for the common welfare, and whether they believe
that God takes pleasure in them because of such works, you will find that they
say, "No"; and they define good works so narrowly that they are made to consist
only of praying in church, fasting, and almsgiving. Other works they consider to
be in vain, and think that God cares nothing for them. So through their damnable
unbelief they curtail and lessen the service of God, Who is served by all things
whatsoever that are done, spoken or thought in faith.