A Treatise on Good Works HTML version

1. The Occasion of the Work. -- Luther did not impose himself as reformer upon
the Church. In the course of a conscientious performance of the duties of his
office, to which he had been regularly and divinely called, and without any urging
on his part, he attained to this position by inward necessity. In 1515 he received
his appointment as the standing substitute for the sickly city pastor, Simon
Heinse, from the city council of Wittenberg. Before this time he was obliged to
preach only occasionally in the convent, apart from his activity as teacher in the
University and convent. Through this appointment he was in duty bound, by
divine and human right, to lead and direct the congregation at Wittenberg on the
true way to life, and it would have been a denial of the knowledge of salvation
which God had led him to acquire, by way of ardent inner struggles, if he had led
the congregation on any other way than the one God had revealed to him in His
Word. He could not deny before the congregation which had been intrusted to his
care, what up to this time he had taught with ever increasing clearness in his
lectures at the University -- for in the lectures on the Psalms, which he began to
deliver in 1513, he declares his conviction that faith alone justifies, as can be
seen from the complete manuscript, published since 1885, and with still greater
clearness from his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (1515-1516),
which is accessible since 1908; nor what he had urged as spiritual adviser of his
convent brethren when in deep distress -- compare the charming letter to Georg
Spenlein, dated April 8, 1516.
Luther's first literary works to appear in print were also occasioned by the work of
his calling and of his office in the Wittenberg congregation. He had no other
object in view than to edify his congregation and to lead it to Christ when, in
1517, he published his first independent work, the Explanation of the Seven
Penitential Psalms. On Oct 31 of the same year he published his 95 Theses
against Indulgences. These were indeed intended as controversial theses for
theologians, but at the same time it is well known that Luther was moved by his
duty toward his congregation to declare his position in this matter and to put in
issue the whole question as to the right and wrong of indulgences by means of
his theses. His sermon Of Indulgences and Grace, occasioned by Tetzel's attack
and delivered in the latter part of March, 1518, as well as his sermon Of
Penitence, delivered about the same time, were also intended for his
congregation. Before his congregation (Sept., 1516-Feb., 1517) he delivered the
Sermons on the Ten Commandments, which were published in 1518 and the
Sermons on the Lord's Prayer, which were also published in 1518 by Agricola.
Though Luther in the same year published a series of controversial writings,
which were occasioned by attacks from outside sources, viz., the Resolutiones
disputationis de Virtute indulgentiarum, the Asterisci adversus obeliscos Joh.
Eccii, and the Ad dialogum Silv. Prieriatis responsio, still he never was diverted
by this necessary rebuttal from his paramount duty, the edification of the
congregation. The autumn of the year 1518, when he was confronted with