TO HERZOG JOHN OF SAXONY
Encouraged by the Elector’s gracious acceptance of his little book, Luther dedicated his large German treatise, Sermon on Good Works, to his brother Prince John.
March 29, 1520.
Most Serene High-born Prince, Gracious Sir. My humble service and poor prayers are ever at your Grace’s disposal. For long I have wished to show my devotion to your Grace by offering you some of my spiritual wares; but always thought them too insignificant for your Highness’s acceptance. But seeing my gracious lord, Frederick, Herzog of Saxony, and Marshal of the Holy Roman Empire, etc., your Grace’s brother, received my little book so graciously, I presume once more on the royal blood, trusting you will not disdain my humble offering, which I consider the most important of all my small books — such a commotion having arisen on the great question of good works, through which more deception is being practised and more simple people are being led astray than by any other means. And our Lord Jesus has commanded us to “beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
Although I know that many despise my poverty, and say I only make little books and sermons for the unlearned laity, I am not upset by this. Would to God that I had devoted my whole life to the improvement of one layman — I would have thanked God, and let my books perish. I leave others to judge if writing many large books is a science, and tends to the improvement of Christendom. If I desired to write large books, perhaps with the Divine help I could do so, with better results than they could imitate me in writing a little treatise. If we cannot all be poets, we would all like to be judges. Gladly do I leave the honor of accomplishing great things to others, and am not ashamed of writing and preaching German for the unlearned, although not very qualified to do so. And it seems to me
that if we had done this hitherto Christendom would have derived no little advantage therefrom, much more than it has reaped from the large books and learned discussions in the universities. Besides, I have neither asked nor compelled any one to read my works. I have served the people freely with
what God has given me, and whoever does not care for this can read something else, which would not distress me greatly. For it is more than enough if some of the laity, including those of high rank, demean themselves to read my sermons. And if for no other reason, this is sufficient, that your Grace appreciates such little books, being anxious to know more about good works and faith, and it behoves me to be as useful as possible to you in this matter. Therefore, I humbly beg your Highness will graciously accept my good intentions, till, if God give me the time, I shall publish an exposition of
faith in German. On this occasion I have tried to show how faith must be exercised in all good works, and how it is the best work of all. Again, if God will, I shall discuss the question of faith, and how we should daily pray and practice the same. I herewith commend myself to your Grace. Your Grace’s obedient chaplain,
MARTIN LUTHER, Augustinian. Wittenberg.