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MARTIN LUTHER, TO HIS MOST KIND SIRE, THE ILLUSTRIOUS PRINCE AND LORD Frederic Duke of SAXONY, ARCHMARSHAL AND ELECTOR OF THE SACRED ROMAN EMPIRE, LANDGRAVE OF THIRRINGS, AND MARSHAL OF MISNIÆ.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, has left us a command which speaks alike to all Christians, that we should perform offices of humanity, or, (as the scripture terms them,)" labours of love," unto all that are afflicted and in distress, that we should endeavour to liberate those who are in captivity, and to serve our neighbour in all those things whereby his present troubles may in some measure be relieved. And our Lord Jesus Christ shewed forth in himself a most signal example of this his command, when, from his infinite love to the human race, he descended from the bosom of the Father to our miseries and prison, that is, to our flesh, and to this our miserable life, and took the punishment of our sins upon himself, that we might be saved.
If this signal example does not move a man, added to the authority of the divine command, if these things, I say, do not move a man to perform these works of love; such an one will deservedly hear, in the last day, this sentence of the angry judge, Depart, thou accursed, into everlasting fire. For I was sick and thou visitedst me not. But, with the deepest ingratitude, for all those infinite benefits which I have conferred upon thee and the whole world, thou hast not assisted thy brethren, yea rather, me Christ thy God and Saviour in thy brethren, by performing the least office of kindness.' Since therefore, most illustrious Prince, I see your Highness sinking under a severe disease, and so, Christ sick in you, I thought it my duty to visit your Highness
with some production of my pen. For, to say the truth, I hear the voice of Christ calling to me in the body and flesh of your Highness, and saying, Behold here one that is sick! For it is not we Christians alone that suffer these evils, such as diseases and others, but our Lord and Saviour Christ himself, in whom we live; as Christ plainly testifies in the Gospel. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," Matt. xxv. 40. And, although we owe this duty to all in general who are labouring under sickness of body,—that we visit and comfort them, yet, we owe it more especially to the "household of faith." For Paul clearly distinguishes between the "household and strangers, Gal. vi. 10, as the former are joined to us by a particular bond.
But, I have also other reasons for the performance of this my duty. For I feel that I, as one of the subjects of your Highness, ought to be affected with this your Highness's sickness, together with all the rest of your subjects, and as it were to be in pain with you as a member with the head; in whom, all our fortunes and all our safety and happiness are placed. For we acknowledge that your Highness is as another Naaman; and that God at this day accomplishes by you the safety of Germany, as he did in old time that of Syria by Naaman. Wherefore, the whole Roman Empire turns its eyes to your Highness, and venerates and receives you as a protecting father, and as the honour of the whole Empire, and, more especially, as the safeguard and ornament of Germany.
Nor is it our duty to comfort your Highness only as much as lies in our power, and to sympathize with you as brethren, in this your present calamity; but, much more particularly, to pray unto God for your health and safety; which I hope is done continually and earnestly by the subjects of your Highness. And I acknowledge, for my part, that these petitions are put up by me, (that I may declare my gratitude by the performance of
so important a duty), as being one whom your signal favours and merits have made, above all others, a debtor.