21 June 2007

Continuing Comfort from Dr. Luther, for those under the Cross

Dr. Luther continues his comments on Galatians 4:6, as follows. I've very much appreciated his lectures on the earlier chapters of Galatians in the past, but have found this section to be of particular comfort in recent days. Perhaps others will likewise be encouraged and strengthened in their faith.

"No matter how great and terrible the cries are that the Law, sin, and the devil let loose against us, even though they seem to fill heaven and earth and to overcome the sighs of our hearts completely, still they cannot do us any harm. For the more these enemies press in upon us, accusing and vexing us with their cries, the more do we, sighing, take hold of Christ; with heart and lips we call upon Him, cling to Him, and believe that He was born under the Law for us, in order that He might redeem us from the curse of the Law and destroy sin and death. When we have taken hold of Christ by faith this way, we cry through Him: 'Abba! Father!' And this cry of ours far exceeds the cry of the devil.

"But we are far from supposing that this sigh which we emit amid the terrors and in our weakness is a cry — so far indeed that we hardly understand that it is even a sigh. For so far as our own awareness is concerned, this faith of ours, which sighs to Christ in temptation, is very weak. That is why we do not hear this cry. We have only the Word. If we take hold of this in the struggle, we breathe a little and sigh. To some extent we are aware of this sigh, but we do not hear the cry. But 'He who searches the hearts of men,' Paul says, 'knows what is the mind of the Spirit' (Rom. 8:27). To Him who searches the hearts this sigh, which seems so meager to the flesh, is a loud cry and a sigh too deep for words, in comparison with which the great and horrible roars of the Law, sin, death, the devil, and hell are nothing at all and are inaudible. It is not without purpose, then, that Paul calls this sigh of the pious and afflicted heart the crying and indescribable sighing of the Spirit; for it fills all of heaven and earth and cries so loudly that the angels suppose that they cannot hear anything except this cry.

"Within ourselves, however, there is the very opposite feeling. This faint sigh of ours does not seem to penetrate the clouds in such a way that it is the only thing to be heard by God and the angels in heaven. In fact, we suppose, especially as long as the trial continues, that the devil is roaring at us terribly, that heaven is bellowing, that the earth is quaking, that everything is about to collapse, that all the creatures are threatening us with evil, and that hell is opening up in order to swallow us. This feeling is in our hearts; we do not hear these terrible voices or see this frightening face. And this is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians (12:9): that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness. For then Christ is truly almighty, and then He truly reigns and triumphs in us when we are, so to speak, so ‘all-weak’ that we can scarcely emit a groan. But Paul says that in the ears of God this sigh is a mighty cry that fills all of heaven and earth.

"Likewise in the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8), Christ calls this sigh of the pious heart a cry, and a cry that cries to God incessantly day and night. He says: 'Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate His elect, who cry to Him day and night? Will He delay long over them? I tell you, He will vindicate them speedily.' Today, amid all the persecution and opposition from the pope, the tyrants, and the fanatical spirits, who attack us from the right and from the left, we cannot do anything but emit such sighs. But these have been our cannon and our instruments of war; with them we have frustrated the plans of our opponents all these years, and we have begun to demolish the kingdom of Antichrist. But they will provoke Christ to hasten the day of His glorious coming, when He will abolish all principalities, powers, and might, and will put all His enemies under His feet. Amen.

"Thus in Exodus (14:15) the Lord says to Moses at the Red Sea: 'Why do you cry to Me?' That was the last thing Moses was doing. He was in extreme anguish; therefore he was trembling and at the point of despair. Not faith but unbelief appeared to be ruling in him. For Israel was so hemmed in by the mountains, by the army of the Egyptians, and by the sea that it could not escape anywhere. Moses did not even dare mumble here. How, then, did he cry? Therefore we must not judge according to the feeling of our heart; we must judge according to the Word of God, which teaches that the Holy Spirit is granted to the afflicted, the terrified, and the despairing in such a way that He encourages and comforts them, so that they do not succumb in their trials and other evils but conquer them, though not without very great fear and effort." (Dr. Luther's Lectures on Galatians, Luther's Works, Vol. 26, CPH 1963)


Susan said...

>>Perhaps others will likewise be encouraged and strengthened<<

Shur 'nuf. When I started reading what Luther wrote on Galatians, I fell in love with it. I wish I had time to continue reading, but I haven't been able to read for the last few years (well, read anything other than pre-publication Fabrizius).

All I can say in response to your post is "What harm can sin and death then do? The true God now abides with you. Let hell and Satan rage and chafe; Christ is your Brother; you are safe" and "Free me from every guilt and fear; no sin can harm if Thou art near." (Really, now, Rick, what else would you expect from me???)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

This is exactly the marvelous sort of response that I would expect, and do appreciate, from you, Susan.

You need to cite your sources, however. I'm not nearly as good as you are at keeping track of internal stanzas of hymns. You are truly amazing in that regard.

One of these days, I'm going to have to think out loud about hymns and their place in the Christian faith and life. But I best be on my toes for that one!

Susan said...

The first one is Luther's Christmas hymn (TLH 103:4). The second is one of the stanzas of "Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me" which got left out of LSB. It's TLH 349:5, and I gave you a big long speech once about why I wanted you to include that stanza last summer in Colorado. ;-)

The "what else would you expect" ;-) is because you've been stuck listening to me rant over these things on more than one occasion, you poor guy who continues to be a faithful and patient friend. Once was at a Thursday night session at CCA symposium three years ago. But it wasn't the last time I got on my soapbox about the two main theological themes that are missing from LSB.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

For what it's worth, Susan, I did try to include that missing stanza of Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me, at The Feast last summer. It ended up being left out, basically because of the formatting and layout. The missing stanza would not easily be inserted into the right spot within the hymn. I was bummed about that, too, actually.

And I don't mind at all that you've expressed disappointment (or ranted and raved, as you say) concerning missing stanzas (and hymns). I think you know that I share this frustration with you, although I don't suppose that I feel it quite as painfully as you do. I guess that is one advantage to not knowing these hymns as well as you do, to begin with.

Truth be told, I'm always very glad to hear your theological assessment of such things. It's almost always the case that I gain some new insight from what you have to say. And even when there's nothing new, I still like to hear what you have to say, anyway ;-)

Susan said...

Oh, I know you tried to give me what I wanted for the services last summer. But, hey, ya can't have everything, right?