Thursday, November 23, 2006

MARTIN LUTHER . TO A STRANGER Consolation to one doubting his election to eternal life.

July 20, 1528.

Dear sir and friend — I wish you above all the grace and mercy of God through his Son Jesus, our sole Savior. Some days ago, my brother, Caspar Cruciger, doctor of the Holy Scriptures, informed me that you were afflicted with strange thoughts as to God’s omniscience, and had become quite perplexed, so that it was feared you might take your own life (which may God Almighty prevent).

You find difficulty in believing that the Almighty knew from all eternity who should be saved, whether they were already dead, alive, or as yet unborn. Now, all must admit this, for He knows all things, and nothing is hidden from Him who counts the stars in the heavens, the leaves of the trees, nay, even the hairs of men’s heads, from all which you seem to fancy you may do what you will, good or evil, for if God has ordained whether you shall be saved or not (which is true)your thoughts are more taken up with damnation than salvation, and you sink into despair and become a prey to despondency. So I, as my Lord Christ’s servant, send this letter of consolation to let you know God’s thoughts towards you, whether you be destined to blessedness or perdition.

Although the Almighty knows everything, and no one can go against the decrees of His will, still it is His earnest desire, nay command, decreed from all eternity, that all men should be partakers of everlasting joy, as is clearly seen from Ezekiel 28:23 — “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?”

Seeing He desires the salvation of sinners, who swarm beneath heaven’s lofty vault, why will you with your foolish thoughts prompted by Satan separate yourself from them, thereby cutting yourself off from the grace of God? “For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him,” and cry for help. For He is rich toward all who call upon Him. But it is only strong filth which can drive away such despairing thoughts as in Romans 3:22, “Even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all and upon all them that believe.” Mark these words: unto all , and upon all . If not among that number, at least you can reckon yourself among the sinners, which is a greater reason that you should pray and be certain of the answer should God delay coming speedily to your help; for He will never forsake those who call upon Him, nor fail to drive away your despairing doubts which are the fiery darts of the devil and his emissaries. Why wander in false ways when so good and straight a path is before you, and the Father cries, “This is my beloved Son!” Listen to His counsel! And even although in your despair you were so hardened as not to hear God’s voice, you cannot overlook that of the Son, who stands across the path which all must tread, crying in trumpet-like tones, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He not only uses the word “come,” but “all.” No one is excluded, no matter how wicked he be. So, seeing all may come, do you run with them, leap and spring, and do not remain among those lost crowds.

Further, He says “to me !” who knows every foot of the way, and will not let thy foot slide. Why wander aimlessly about? But who are to come? The weary and heavy laden! And what kind of company would that be? I do not know Messrs. Weary and Heavy Laden. They ought to have high-sounding names, such as burgher-master, and such like — these master minds, who love to grovel in God’s Word with their human reason, like the sow in a turnip field ! Not at all. It is he who is weary and heavy laden, borne down with sad thoughts direct from the Evil One, who is called, — the man who does not know to what hand to turn, and is ready to sink into despair. So that is why He says “heavy laden,” as if He had known our burdens, and wished to help us to bear them, nay, even relieve us of them entirely.

And consider that God Almighty created and elected us, not to damnation, but to everlasting life, even as the angels in the first sermon proclaimed to the shepherds on the field: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” And it was inner, not bodily peace they meant. It was not from those who injured them, but from the world, the flesh, and the devil, they were to be delivered. Hence one can see from the Scriptures how great is God’s mercy, and these and such like thoughts can enable him to form an opinion as to God’s foreseeing, and then there is no occasion for a man to torture himself, nor would it avail even were he to worry his flesh from his bones.

What business is it of yours that God causes the dear sun to shine over good and bad, over arid and green? God has ordained that the sun should endue the moisture of the ground with its vital powers, thus causing the roots and branches of the trees to fructify and yield fruit. And if a dried-up tree should nevertheless remain impervious to the rays of the sun, still the tree is not so much at fault as the soil which is marshy. For “good ground, good corn,” as the proverb says. Thus, where the preaching is good and full of consolation, there are sure to be tender consciences and joyful hearts. Therefore as you cannot hinder the natural sun, which is a tiny spark compared to the starry firmament, — the smallest star being larger than the whole world, — from spreading her rays abroad, still less can you limit God’s grace, being fathomless, having neither beginning nor end.

Dear one, do not reckon so close with God. Fancy if the Son of God had asked the high priests and Levites at the crucifixion if He should receive the malefactor into Heaven, what would they have said? Doubtless the answer would have been: “If thieves and murderers desire to enter Heaven we do not object,” and might have added, “If he belong to Paradise we should not have hung him upon a gallows, and it is as likely he will enter Heaven as that you are God.”

Thus speaks a scornful world and man’s reason.

How well Christ answered His disciples who asked, as John lay asleep on His bosom, “What shall this man do ?” “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” as if to warn him not to fall. “Let every one sweep before his own door, and then we shall be saved!” This would prevent much heart-burning as to what God in the eternal counsel of His will has decreed concerning those who should be saved or lost. He who will not accept a certainty for an uncertainty will at length come away emptyhanded, besides being the object of ridicule. He who will not be counselled in time and despises God’s Word will fall a prey to a raging devil as sure as God is God. If things went with us according to our thoughts, prompted by the flesh and the devil, we should all be given over to death, therefore we have the word of promise: “Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days. But go thou thy way till the end be; for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”

If we persevere to the end we may console ourselves that devilish thoughts shall be expelled, and we may raise our hearts in faith to God, and be certain that we have received forgiveness of sins, and shall be, nay, are justified, according to Christ’s promise, by faith of Jesus Christ, as St. Paul testifies in Galatians 3:22.

That is when we are cast down, and every path seems shut up to us, we shall once more stand erect in faith, resting on God’s promises of Christ, or in Christ. Amen.

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