Table Talk

Author: Martin Luther

Show Summary


Saint Augustine writes, that free will, without God’s grace and the Holy Ghost, can do nothing but sin; which sentence sorely troubles the school divines. They say, Augustine spoke hyperbolic, and too much; for they understand that part of Scripture to be spoken only of those people who lived before the deluge, which says: ’And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually’, etc.; whereas he speaks in a general way, which these poor school divines do not see any more than what the Holy Ghost says, soon after the deluge, in almost the same words: ’And the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.’

Hence, we conclude in general, That man, without the Holy Ghost and God’s grace, can do nothing but sin; he proceeds therein without permission, and from one sin falls into another. Now, if man will not suffer wholesome doctrine, but contemns the all-saving Word, and resists the Holy Ghost, then through the effects and strength of his free will he becomes God’s enemy; he blasphemes the Holy Ghost, and follows the lusts and desires of his own heart, as examples in all times clearly show.

But we must diligently weight the words which the Holy Ghost speaks through Moses: ’Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil continually’: so that what a man is able to conceive with his thoughts, with his understanding and free will, by highest diligence, is evil, and not once or twice, but evil continually; without the Holy Ghost, man’s reason, will, and understanding, are without the knowledge of God; and to be without the knowledge of God, is nothing else than to be ungodly, to walk in darkness, and to hold that for best which is direct worst.

I speak only of that which is good in divine things, and according to the Holy Scripture; for we must make a difference between that which is temporal, and that which is spiritual, between politics and divinity; for God also allows of the government of the ungodly, and rewards their virtues, yet only so far as belongs to this temporal life; for man’s will and understanding conceive that to be good which is external and temporal — nay, take it to be, not only good, but the chief good.

But when we divines speak of free will, we ask what man’s free will is able to accomplish in divine and spiritual matters, not in outward and temporal affairs: and we conclude that man, without the Holy Ghost, is altogether wicked before God, although he were decked up and trimmed with all the virtues of the heathen, and had all their works.

For, indeed, there are fair and glorious examples in heathendom, of many virtues, where men were temperate, chaste, bountiful, loved their country, parents, wives, and children; were men of courage, and behaved themselves magnanimously and generously.

But the ideas of mankind concerning God, the true worship of God, and God’s will, are altogether stark blindness and darkness. For the light of human wisdom, reason, and understanding, which alone is given to man, comprehends only what is good and profitable outwardly. And although we see that the heathen philosophers now and then discoursed touching God and his wisdom very pertinently, so that some have made prophet of Socrates, of Xenophon, of Plato, etc., yet, because they knew not that God sent his son Christ to save sinners, such fair, glorious, and wise-seeming speeches and disputations are nothing but mere blindness and ignorance.


Download Options

Title: Table Talk

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Table Talk

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Martin Luther, "261," Table Talk, trans. William Hazlitt in The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther (London: D. Bogue, 1848), Original Sources, accessed February 26, 2024,

MLA: Luther, Martin. "261." Table Talk, translted by William Hazlitt, in The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, London, D. Bogue, 1848, Original Sources. 26 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: Luther, M, '261' in Table Talk, trans. . cited in 1848, The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, D. Bogue, London. Original Sources, retrieved 26 February 2024, from