13 June 2007

For Kindred Spirits, from Dr. Luther

I was struck by the following comments from Dr. Luther's Lectures on Galatians, 1535 (Luther's Works, Vol. 26, CPH 1963). They exemplify the same theology of the Cross, stemming from Dr. Luther's own experience, as I described in the case of Paul Gerhardt earlier this week. It seems to me that these words of comfort and encouragment provide a necessary balance to important warnings against mechanistic repentance. Struggle and strive against temptation and sin, we must, but it is Christ who is our great Champion, and His Spirit our defense Attorney, against all the assaults and accusations of the devil, the world and our sinful flesh. We contend with all our enemies by availing ourselves of the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. But He who has laid hold of us, and bound Himself to us in our Baptism, does not leave us to wander away and get lost. We are weak, but He is strong, and His power is made perfect in weakness. Here's Luther:

"God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying: 'Abba! Father!'" (Galatians 4:6)

"Paul could have said: 'God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, praying: "Abba! Father!"' But he purposely says 'crying' to indicate the trial of the Christian who is still weak and who believes weakly. Elsewhere he calls this crying 'sighs too deep for words' (Rom. 8:26). 'Likewise,' he says, 'the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.'

"It is a very great comfort when Paul says here that the Spirit of Christ, sent by God into our hearts, cries: 'Abba! Father!' and when he says that He helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. Anyone who truly believed this would not fall away in any affliction, no matter how great. But many things hinder this faith. In the first place, our heart was born in sin. In the second place, we have the innate evil in us that we are in doubt about the favor of God toward us and cannot believe for a certainty that we are pleasing to God. Besides, 'our adversary, the devil, prowls around, issuing terrible roars' (1 Peter 5:8); and he says: 'You are a sinner. Therefore God is wrathful with you and will destroy you forever.' We have nothing to strengthen and sustain us against these great and unbearable cries except the bare Word, which sets Christ forth as the Victor over sin, death, and every evil. But it is effort and labor to cling firmly to this in the midst of trial and conflict, when Christ does not become visible to any of our senses. We do not see Him, and in the trial our heart does not feel His presence and help. In fact, Christ appears to be wrathful with us and to be deserting us at such a time. Besides, in this trial a man feels the power of sin, the weakness of the flesh, and his doubt; he feels the fiery darts of the devil (Eph. 6:16), the terrors of death, and the wrath and judgment of God. All these things issue powerful and horrible cries against us, so that there appears to be nothing left for us except despair and eternal death.

"But in the midst of these terrors of the Law, thunderclaps of sin, tremors of death, and roarings of the devil, Paul says, the Holy Spirit begins to cry in our heart: 'Abba! Father!' And His cry vastly exceeds, and breaks through, the powerful and horrible cries of the Law, sin, death, and the devil. It penetrates the clouds and heaven, and it reaches all the way to the ears of God.

"With these words, then, Paul wants to indicate the weakness there still is in the pious, as in Romans (8:26): 'The Spirit helps us in our weakness.' For because the awareness of the opposite is so strong in us, that is, because we are more aware of the wrath of God than of His favor toward us, therefore the Holy Spirit is sent into our hearts. He does not whisper and does not pray but cries very loudly: 'Abba! Father!' and intercedes for us, in accordance with the will of God, with sighs too deep for words. How?

"In deep terrors and conflicts of conscience we do indeed take hold of Christ and believe that He is our Savior. But then the Law terrifies us most, and sin disturbs us. In addition, the devil attacks us with all his stratagems and his fiery darts, trying with all his might to snatch Christ away from us and to rob us of all comfort. Then there is nothing to keep us from succumbing and despairing, for then we are the bruised reed and the dimly burning wick (Is. 42:3). Meanwhile, however, the Holy Spirit is helping us in our weakness and interceding for us with sighs too deep for words, and He is bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16). Thus the mind is strengthened amid these terrors; it sighs to its Savior and High Priest, Jesus Christ; it overcomes the weakness of the flesh, regains its comfort, and says: 'Abba! Father!' This sighing, of which we are hardly aware, Paul calls a cry and a sigh too deep for words — a sigh that fills heaven and earth. He also calls it a cry and a sigh of the Spirit, because when we are weak and tempted, then the Spirit sets up this cry in our heart.

"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."

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