Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
This month we continue our review of the "Catechism" with the first of the Ten Commandments. For this review, I will be
using excerpts from Luther's Large Catechism, The Book of Concord, translated and edited by Theodore G. Tappert,
Fortress Press, 1959. I plan no comments or additions; Luther's explanation is plain and clear.
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
"You shall have no other gods. "
I That is, you shall regard me alone as your God. What does this mean, and how is it to be understood?
What is to have a god? What is God?
2 Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To
have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and
faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.
3 If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and
wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart
clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.
4 The purpose of this commandment, therefore, is to require true faith and confidence of the heart, and these
fly straight to the one true God and cling to him alone. The meaning is: "See to it that you let me alone be your
God, and never seek another." In other words: "Whatever good thing you lack, look to me for it and seek it from
me, and whenever you suffer misfortune and distress, come and cling to me. I am the one who will satisfy you
and help you out of every need. Only let your heart cling to no one else."
5 This I must explain a little more plainly, so that it may be understood and remembered, by citing some
common examples of failure to observe this commandment. Many a person thinks he has God and everything
he needs when he has money and property; in them he trusts and of them he boasts so stubbornly and securely
that he cares for no one.
6 Surely such a man also has a god-mammon by name, that is, money and possessions-on which he fixes
his whole heart. It is the most common idol on earth.
7 He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise.
8 On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God.
9 Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This
desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.
10 So, too, if anyone boasts of great learning, wisdom, power, prestige, family, and honor, and trusts in them,
he also has a god, but not the one, true God. Notice, again, how presumptuous, secure, and proud people
become because of such possessions, and how despondent when they lack them or are deprived of them.
Therefore, I repeat, to have a God properly means to have something in which the heart trusts completely.
12 In this class belong those who go so far as to make a pact with the devil in order that he may give them
plenty of money, help them in love affairs, protect their cattle, recover lost possessions, etc., as magicians and
sorcerers do. All these fix their heart and trust elsewhere than in the true God. They neither expect nor seek
anything from him.
l3 Thus you can easily understand the nature and scope of this commandment. It requires that man's whole
heart and confidence be placed in God alone, and in no one else. To have God, you see, does not mean to lay
hands upon him, or put him into a purse, or shut him up in a chest.
14 We lay hold of him when our heart embraces him and clings to him.
15 To cling to him with all our heart is nothing else than to entrust ourselves to him completely. He wishes to
turn us away from everything else, and draw us to himself, because he is the one eternal good. It is as if he said:
"What you formerly sought from the saints, or what you hoped to receive from mammon or anything else, turn
to me for all this; look upon me as the one who wishes to help you and to lavish all good upon you richly."
16 Behold, here you have the true honor and the true worship which please God and which he commands
under penalty of eternal wrath, namely, that the heart should know no other consolation or confidence than that
in him, nor let itself be tom from him, but for him should risk and disregard everything else on earth.
17 On the other hand, you can easily judge how the world practices nothing but false worship and idolatry.
There has never been a people so wicked that it did not establish and maintain some sort of worship. Everyone
has set up a god of his own, to which he looked for blessings, help, and comfort.
19 The trouble is that their trust is false and wrong, for it is not founded upon the one God, apart from whom
there is truly no god in heaven or on earth. .
20 Accordingly the heathen actually fashion their fancies and dreams about God into an idol and entrust
themselves to an empty nothing.. .
21 So it is with all idolatry. Idolatry does not consist merely of erecting an image and praying to it. It is
primarily in the heart, which pursues other things and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or
devils. It neither cares for God nor expects good things from him sufficiently to trust that he wants to help, nor
does it believe that whatever good it receives comes from God.
24 This much, however, should be said to ordinary people so that they may mark well and remember the
meaning of this commandment: We are to trust in God alone and turn to him, expecting from him only good
things; for it is he who gives us body, life, food, drink, nourishment, health, protection, peace, and all temporal
and eternal blessings. It is he who protects us from evil, he who saves and delivers us when any evil befalls. It is
God alone, I have often enough repeated, from whom we receive all that is good and by whom we are delivered
from all evil.
26 Although much that is good comes to us from men, we receive it all from God through his command and
ordinance. Our parents and all authorities-in short, all people placed in the position of neighbors-have
received the command to do' us all kinds of good. So we receive our blessings not from them but from God
through them. Creatures are only the hands, \channels, and means through which God bestows all blessings. For
example, he gives to the mother breasts and milk for her infant, and he gives grain and all kinds of fruits from
the earth for man's nourishment-things which no creature could produce by himself.
27 No one, therefore, should presume to take or give anything except as God has commanded it. We must
acknowledge everything as God's gifts and thank him for them, as this commandment requires; Therefore, this
way of receiving good through God's creatures is not to be-disdained, nor are we arrogantly to seek other ways
and means than God has commanded, for that would be not receiving our blessings from God but seeking them
28 Let everyone, then, take care to magnify and exalt this commandment above all things and not make light
of it. Search and examine your own heart thoroughly and you will find whether or not it clings to God alone. Do
you have the kind of heart that expects from him nothing but good, especially in distress and want, and
renounces and forsakes all that is not God? Then you have the one true God. On the contrary, does your heart
cling to something else, from which it hopes to receive more good and help than from God, and does it flee not
to him but from him when things go wrong? Then you have an idol, another god.
29 Consequently, in order to show that God will not have this commandment taken lightly but will strictly
watch over it, he has attached to it, first, a terrible threat and, then, a beautiful, comforting promise. These
should be thoroughly stressed and impressed upon young people so that they may take them to heart and
48 Let this suffice for the First Commandment. We had to explain it at length since it is the most important.
For, as I said before, where the heart is right with God and this commandment is kept, fulfillment of all the
others will follow of its own accord.
I omitted paragraphs to condense the review to two pages; however, I believe that the essence of Luther's explanation is
presented in the above.
In Christ's service,