O Almighty and Merciful God; everyone lives in iniquity, blindness and error and the whole world exists in wickedness (1 John 5[:19]). I pray that you will deliver all good-hearted people out of this blindness and error and draw and bring them to your marvellous light. Jesus Christ alone is this light, your eternal Word and your only Son. 0 Lord, enlighten with this light all darkened hearts who earnestly and truthfully desire to live and walk in it. For it only is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14[:6]). Beside this light there is no other way, truth and life, but only error, falsehood, and death, no matter how brightly it shines in the world and before all people.
O Heavenly Father, grant us to know this light so that we may abandon what is wrong and take the true way against which the great number of people have striven since the beginning of the world. From among these many a little flock has accepted this way and remained steadfast in it. For it is a very narrow way and few walk on it (Matt. 7[:14]). 0 Lord, who would not be afraid and tremble (Joel 2[:1]) because of the amazing judgements and deeds (Isa. 58[?]) you have manifested in these last and perilous times (Zeph. 1), anxious to help the world. But alas, the world will not acknowledge it. Therefore, Eternal God, grant us your Holy Spirit who will teach the truth in our hearts that we may worship you in Spirit and in truth (John 4[:23]). Christ our Saviour himself taught us to say: Our Father in heaven. Christ taught us what all pretended Christians also mouth and confess with their hypocritical, external, and invented works but deny with their hearts and the absence of true deeds. Every true-hearted Christian, knowing this prayer, can easily see this. For if God is called Father by the world, how can he have children who love him and live a heavenly life? How can the name of God be hallowed in them, the kingdom of God come to them, and his will be done? Are they hungry for daily bread, that is the Word of God? How do they forgive each other? How are they kept from temptation to sin, and how can they desire to be delivered from evil? (Gloss: The Our Father falsely taught).
From all of this it is easy to conclude who are the true believers and proper Christians and who not. Since not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does the will of the heavenly Father, I am certain when I say: if I had all the pretend Christians in the whole world all together, and I asked them to tell me truly if they were Christians, each one would say either I don't know, or I hope so, or I want to become one and the like. And even if someone said yes he would still not be certain of it in his heart since he felt not the least trace of Christian deeds in heart or life. To be brief, that these pretend Christians are worse than Turks or heathen they must themselves acknowledge to each other. For under the sun there is no people who so blasphemes God's name, his suffering, agony and death as these pretend Christians. They are full of terrible public vices such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, pride, envy, quarrelling and gossip, not to mention the secret sins. Therefore you are not Christians, regardless of how you try to prove it. You are Christians only if you live according, to the teaching and commandments of Christ, which are none other than the commandments of God, his Father, and if you continue in his life and follow in his footsteps. Otherwise you are worse than any other unbelieving nation on earth. May God enlighten you. Amen
Whoever desires to be a true Christian must have in himself the witness of the truth and remember that his former life and being was sinful and under condemnation in the light of the commandments of God and the teaching, life, and example of Christ and his disciples. He must remember that he harboured hostility in his heart against Jesus and opposed him in word and deed and still does. He must know that in his own strength it is impossible to act and live as a true believer or Christian should. Moses in the Law and Christ in the Gospel said that every word or truth is valid when supported by two or three witnesses. We also have three witnesses to instruct in and witness to a true Christian and God-blessed life. These are created things, Scripture and Christ.
The First Witness is Created Things
First, therefore, all things that God has created for human necessity and use witness to and teach human beings what a godly and Christian life is. For no creature has been created to live and die for itself alone, but rather to die according to the will and bidding of humans. That is why Christ commands his apostles to preach the "Gospel of all creatures." Christ himself, in his time, taught mainly by means of created things and parables, among them trees, vineyards, fields, seed, dough, bread, fish, weights, oil, lamps, clothing and many others. He did not teach at all without parables.
Without doubt, Jesus' disciples taught the Gospel in the same way as Paul, who had become a servant of the Gospel, said. It has to be done in the same way today. An example: a chicken or a fish or another animal which you plan to eat cannot of its own will be what it must be according to your bidding and will. It cannot kill, remove its feathers and prepare itself for cooking or frying. You have to do it; it must suffer your will. You must turn it into what it must be;" the creature can do nothing towards it. It has to surrender and suffer your will and action. It is in its best state for you when it is most contemptible, that is, when you chew it and swallow it. The same thing can be observed and learned from other created things everywhere. Consider what wine and bread have to suffer before you can use or eat them. If we use the created things only to fill our bellies and the nurture this fetid bag of sin, we should be no better than Turks or heathen. Indeed, we would be like the unreasonable animals, as David says. Another parable is a field. If it is covered with grass, thistles, and thorns, it can't be sowed on, as the prophet says (Jer. ?). Notice what work the field must suffer before it is ready for the seed. Again, an ungrafted wild tree will yield only wild fruit. If we expect good fruit from it, it must be slashed, all its branches cut off down to a stump, and a new branch grafted on. Further, no one tills someone else's field, and no one will graft a tree in another's garden without permission, as the prophet says.
Before we come to understanding and are able to distinguish between good and evil we are all by nature and manner a bad tree and can never make ourselves good even as a field cannot till itself nor a tree graft itself; a farmer or a gardener has to do it. Likewise God alone can make us devout, just and useful to his praise, and we have to endure his work and discipline patiently and keep still as the field for the farmer and the tree for the gardener (Prov. 1[:23], 3[:11], 5[:12]). God himself says: Return to me that I may give you my spirit. Learn my words for that is the good seed on the field and the good branch on the tree (Isa. 65[?]; Jer. 7[?]; Hos. 6[?]. Since, however, we are the field of a stranger and growing in someone else's garden, God does not want to sow his seed in us nor graft his branches in us. He will do that only for the one who surrenders all possessions (Matt. 16[:24-26], 19[:21]). Otherwise one cannot be a disciple of Christ (Luke 9[:23-25], 14[:33]). This is what it means to teach and preach the gospel of all creatures as the Lord commands (Matt. 28[:19-20]). (This is the power and the will of God and his divine work, to save us by grace and mercy through faith in Christ). The created things (Mark 16[:15]) are God's book and living text which everyone can read and understand so that on the day of judgement there can be no excuse before the Lord.
That is why Job says: "Speak to the earth and she will answer you. Ask the animals and they will answer you, the birds of the air and the fish in the sea will show you" (Job 17[12:7-8]). Paul says that "God's invisible nature, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been understood and seen through the things he has made from the creation of the world." He goes on to say: "So they are without excuse, for though they knew that God is, they did not honour or praise him, nor give him thanks as God, but they became futile in their thinking and their ignorant hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools" (Rom. 1[:20-22]). Elsewhere Paul says that "the invisible things are known by what is visible" (Heb. 11[:3]).
Here we can clearly see how we should understand the creation and all the creatures of God. From those that are visible we see what is invisible, namely God's power and wisdom and work which he, and not we ourselves, performs in us. He justifies, sanctifies and makes us fit for his honour and the glory of his kingdom through his Son Jesus Christ.
Accordingly, all things such as eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, getting dressed and undressed, all that is done and left undone, personally and with others, are clean for the Christian. For in all things the Christian seeks not his own will but God's only, so that at all times there is a willing readiness to be subject to God's will and patiently to submit to it. In the same way all the things that are necessary to life must patiently suffer the Christian's will, although unwillingly because the creation is subject to futility. That is why the creation is afraid and yearns and waits for the liberation of the children of God in hope, as Paul says (Rom. 8[:20-21]). Human flesh is resistant to the Spirit. However, there is no condemnation in those who belong to Christ. For they live not after the flesh but according to the Spirit. That means that the flesh does not govern them but rather the Spirit. The Spirit [in the believer] employs all created things, sees in them the work of God, and is always ready and willing to submit to the Lord. Such a person understands the gospel of all creatures and is called to preach it. There is no need here for intellectual brilliance nor vaulting wisdom; only a simple, obedient, unselfish and humble heart (Ps. 51[:17]). Such a heart God accepts, as the Scriptures witness in many places (Luke 1[:48]).
Much more could be written about the created things. However, I hope that every person of goodwill who desires Christian truth and a godly life will consider the matter diligently and more deeply than I have done here.
The Second Witness is Scripture
Let us now listen to the second witness, the Scriptures. The whole of Scripture everywhere testifies to the suffering of the elect from Abel down to the apostles (Matt. 23[:35]). That is what is meant when it says that the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13[:8]).
Let us consider, therefore, how our fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and others attained salvation (Judg. 8[:18-23]). They struggled to attain faith through much tribulation. We read of the great persecution endured by Elijah, Jeremiah and others from their own fellow believers (that is the Jews), and were even killed by them as Jesus told his listeners in the Gospel (Matt. 23[:29-35]). Especially important here is the 11th chapter of Hebrews where the apostle surveys practically the whole Scripture and describes what the saints suffered and how they overcame through faith.
Paul says that everything that is written is written for our instruction so that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope. Suffering brings patience since all Scripture speaks only about suffering. Patience without suffering is not patience even as fire is not fire without heat and light. Comfort consists in the promise of God to help and rescue his saints from suffering for which there is much Scripture (Ps. 91[:14]). I will be with them, says the Lord, to rescue them from all tribulation and to honour them.
Likewise, God is near to all afflicted hearts, and those of a humble spirit he will save.
Christ says: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5[:4]), and "Woe to you who laugh now, for you will howl and weep." Similarly he says, In the world you will have fear, but in me peace. The world will rejoice and you will mourn, but your sorrow will turn into peace, and no one will take that peace from you (John 16[:20-22]). Through much anxiety and sadness we will enter the kingdom of heaven (Acts 14[:23]), for very child which the Father loves he disciplines (Prov. 3[:12]). Whoever is without discipline is a bastard and inherits nothing (Heb. 12[:8]). Search all the epistles of Paul, Peter, and James, and you will read about the sufferings of Christians, and in the book of Revelation of John, which alone speaks of the last times we read: here is the patience of the believers and the saints. Here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith in Jesus.
By the mercy of God I admonish every sincere Christian (a proper Christian knows it already) to look to Scripture where the Lord himself distinguishes the true from the false Christians (Matt 24 13[:27]; Luke 21[:27]).
Being a true Christian has nothing to do with fur coats, long gowns and hats, good eating and drinking and idleness, honoured sir, highly learned father, beautiful salons, tall houses, warm rooms, gentle brother on your pillow or feather mattress. Poor blind crew! That is not the way it is. I say it without envy as God is my witness; within a very short time you will know it with much greater sorrow and suffering than the pleasure and happiness you have had. I would like to know which way you will look then and where you will find your comfort. Now you are haughty and blind, and pretend to be leaders of the blind. But should not one of your own kind, who knows all about you, who to his own loss himself learned and experienced it, leave you alone and unscathed? Yes indeed, you have already lost part of the game; you understand me well enough, right? The pay-off is on the other, the left side, but not everywhere. Enough, there are already too many words. I repeat, Scripture can never be abolished. It will be fulfilled in whole and in every part, in the members as well as the head, who is Christ.
The Third Witness is Christ,
who has himself said that his life is an example for us according to which we are to live and walk, everyone according to his measure, as Peter said: "Christ has suffered for us and left us a likeness or an example that we should follow in his steps" (1 Pet. 2[:21]). He continues: since Christ has suffered in the flesh for us, arm yourselves with the same mind, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. For it is quite enough that we lived in a heathen way in our past life in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness. revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join with them in the excesses of disorderly living and so they curse you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
It should be easy, for God's sake, to tell from these words of Peter who is a Christian and who not. For whoever has been burdened down with the vices of lewdness, gluttony, drunkenness, blasphemers, and idolatry (Paul recalls avarice a service of idolatry, Eph. 5[:5]) in the world for a long time and still is, such a one is not a Christian, says Peter. It is a common saying that the devil has knocked out their bottoms. Paul says likewise that no one should be able to charge you with fornication, uncleanness and greed. That should be obvious for the saints, that is, all Christians. Shameful words, foolish behaviour, and levity that produces no good but rather vexation, and which cannot be reconciled with Christian living, must be avoided. Instead give thanks. For you must know that no fornicator or unclean or greedy person will inherit the kingdom of God.
Those however, are Christians, who have the mind of Christ as Paul writes (Phil. 2[:5]). They prepare themselves to suffer, have nothing to do with the disorder of the world, have no fellowship with the works of darkness but rather with the works of light (Rom. 13[:12]), are not ashamed of their master Christ and of his words (John 13[Mark 8:38]), and [are prepared] to follow him, each in the measure of grace given for it. Therefore also he will not be ashamed of them before God his heavenly Father and all his angels as he himself says (Matt. 16[Luke 9:26]), and then goes on: "Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates and loses his life in this world for my sake, will save it for eternal life" (Mark 8[:35]; Luke 9[:24], 14[:11]. Whoever desires to serve me must follow me, and wherever I am, there shall my servant also be. Whoever serves me will be honoured by my Father (John 12[:26]). If anyone wants to be my follower, says the Lord, let him take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9[:23]).
To sum up, a follower of Christ is a Christian. Nothing can change that, even though the whole world should shatter and end, which will certainly happen, and, I venture to say, very soon (2 Pet. 3[:10]). For a thousand years are before God as one day, says Peter. For this reason Christians lift up their heads and await their liberation with joy. This will happen when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead (Ezek. 12[:23, :28]).
A goodhearted person is one whom the Father draws. He wants everyone to be saved for he teaches and witnesses to them all. If such a person has been witnessed to in truth by all creatures, the Scriptures of Christ and his teaching, life and example, finds in his heart and is certain that this and no other is the way to salvation, to such a one the gospel of all the creatures has been preached. He is taught and made into a disciple. In the name of Christ repentance and forgives of sins has been proclaimed to him (Luke 24[:47]) provided that he surrenders himself with his whole heart and believes Christ. The Lord says: "Whoever believes" (Mark 16[:15]). This faith is also a work of God in a person. Through this faith God makes a covenant with a person and that person with God. God himself says: Henceforth I will be your God and you my son or daughter, my servant, man or woman together with all my elect sons and daughters who keep my commandments, live and walk according to my will, all of which is written in Moses and the prophets. This is not the old covenant which he made with the Jews who were his people then (Deut. 26). The old covenant, confirmed with the blood of a ram, is only a figure of the new which is a true covenant as Jeremiah says Jer. 24[:7], 31[:31-34]). Christ himself calls it the new testament in his blood which is shed for the forgiveness of sins (Heb. 8[:8-13]). It is impossible to say too much in words about this new testament. For it only is the work of the Spirit in the human heart and is at the same time the baptism of Spirit and fire with which Christ baptises. What a holy and blessed covenant it is! It is eternal which no mortal man is able to grant or prevent. Only God through his only Son Christ has that power and orders it through his servants who are not chosen by men but by him. David says: "Gather to me my faithful ones, who look to my covenant rather than to sacrifice" (Ps. 49[:50]). Christ himself confirms it all for his disciples irrespective of the permission of the worldly powers such as emperors, kings, or princes, in the passages mentioned above. This covenant is not against them but rather for them, but their power concerns not the souls but the body and property only. Christ is the only lord in his kingdom and will remain so for ever. Here there is no respect of persons.
For the same reason Christ did not seek permission from the emperor in Rome or his governors in Syria nor the apostles from the kings and lords of the lands in which they preached. If they had tried to gain it, it would not have been given them. They would simply have participated in the same thing with their Lord. The proven and biblical Scriptures do not tell us much about that, since it is as impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven as it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matt. 19[:24]). But what is humanly impossible is possible with God. O that God would grant all rulers [to know] how all true Christians honoured them; they would certainly heartily desire that, if it were possible, all their subjects would be Christians. But I am afraid they do not believe it. Nevertheless, the day of the Lord will reveal all things, for nothing is so hidden or secret that it will not be made known. I could go on here to a discussion of the covenant between God and the believer, but it would be too much. Briefly, 1 understand this covenant to be nothing other than the baptism of Christ in the Spirit and with fire as described above.
Spirit is the assurance in the conscience of the grace and mercy of God for the forgiveness of all committed sins no matter how great or how many, for Christ has taken them all away and annulled them. The Spirit of God witnesses to our spirits that we are the children of God. By this Spirit we can address God as Abba, dear Father. Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ is no Christian (Rom. 8[:15-16, 9]).
The fire is the ardour of the love of God and the neighbour in the heart. It enables him to suffer whatever befalls him because of the witness to God's truth, including death. Nothing can turn such a believer from the witness of the truth in the heart. This fiery love of God overflows towards the neighbour, that is, the brothers and sisters, not only with words but with deed and truth. Such goodwill is given also to enemies and evildoers (Matt. 5[:44]), for Christ himself teaches us and says: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13[:35]). Paul writes that love does no evil, does not commit adultery or unchastity, does not scold nor give false witness, nor commit any other kind of wrong (Rom. 13[:8-10]). The worldly Christians do such things. Enough has been said about faith, covenant and the inner baptism of Christ.
We go on now to speak about what the Lord says about how to baptise those who believe or have already believed in the past. In Matthew he says baptise them, understand well, those whom you have taught, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Mark 16[:16]; Matt. 28[:18-20]). This is said about water baptism or the external sign. This is for all of us the least important part of baptism but [the part] about which the world is most resentful.
Take note, please, why this water baptism is important for us. In the first place we observe it because Christ instituted and commanded this order, that is, first to preach and teach, secondly to believe, and thirdly to baptise.
Observe first, how strictly God has forbidden not to add or take anything away from his Word and not to pervert it (Deut. 4[:2], 12[:32]). So important are to us the words of Christ, for he is himself the eternal Word of God, and his Word is the very Word of the Father. Heaven and earth will pass away but not his Word (Matt. 24[351). That is why we will not alter it or pervert it but accept the commandment and remain in his order. In his grace he has restored our understanding to us regardless of what popes, Fathers, and Councils have ordered and agreed upon. For it is safer and more certain to build on Christ and his teaching than to depend on Fathers and Councils. After all, Christ the Lord (Matt. 25[:31]; 1 Cor. 15[:25]) and not popes, Fathers and Councils will be the judge on the Last Day. Nor is old custom of any avail since Christ and his Word are still older, that is, he is God's Son from eternity and will be in eternity.
Second, we believe that water baptism should be given after the knowledge of and faith in Christ because Christ himself received baptism from John the Baptist for the first time in the thirtieth year of his life (Matt. 3[:13-15]; Mark 1[:9]). After that he was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be assaulted by the devil whom he also overcame (Luke 3[:21-23]). All this is a great mystery. A Christian life is not child's play. It must be marked by much resolution, truth, courage, and holiness. No external gentility or pleasant pastime as the whole world thinks will count for anything.
Thirdly, water baptism is a sign by which Christians make themselves known to each other by public confession. By this each of them will be prepared to give Christian, brotherly love to each other following the command of Christ. This involves teaching, admonishing, disciplining, excluding, binding, loosing and the like. This is not the least that Christians should do but the most necessary if the church, congregation or gathering of Christ is to remain the virgin and bride of her bridegroom without spot or wrinkle (Matt. 25[:1-13]), and also a holy mother and whatever other names she is called in Scripture. Or else, how has Christ cleansed and sanctified her with his blood if she does not live a spotless and holy life before God with each other and publicly before the world?
Not in any way do we bind salvation to external baptism, for Christ says: Whoever does not believe is condemned. He totally omits baptism. Everyone can read in the book of Acts that Peter, when he preached to the gentiles, witnessing to Christ and proving it with Scripture, all who heard the word and believed it, received the Holy Spirit; only later were they baptised (Acts 10[:44-48]). In this book there is instruction enough concerning external water baptism for anyone who desires it (Acts 8, 10, 19). However, I am afraid that those who are obligated to learn these things have already received their sentence as the Lord and also Isaiah say.
The third baptism, which is the result of water baptism, is the baptism of blood. The Lord speaks about this: “I have a baptism with which to be baptised, and how afraid I am until it is completed” (Luke 12[:50]). He means the baptism of suffering and shedding of his blood. And now he asks his disciples if they desire to be baptised with that same baptism?(Matt. 20[:22]). Here he offers them his suffering. For there are three that give witness on earth by which a person is known," namely Spirit, water, and blood (1 John 5[:8]). These three are one, since there is only one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all and of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 4[:5-6]).
To sum up: Since in this last and dangerous time God has raised up again a visible, holy, Christian assembly through his Son Christ, he also expects that this church should become manifest before the world through the external sign of baptism. True to form, the world rages and raves and itself does not know why. It is because God will begin his judgement with his own house. All the writings of the prophets, Christ, and the apostles will be fulfilled and completed first in his own house, and then in the whole world which will not acknowledge the fatherly and faithful visitation of its creator. Therefore she will suffer another judgement and penalty eternally. From which may God protect all those who humble themselves under his mighty hand and suffer patiently the fatherly discipline through Jesus Christ his Son, our Lord. Amen.
May everyone repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Written in my bondage in Schwaz the 19th day of December, 1527.