#57 Why Suffering? 4. Christ’s Suffering Makes A Christian’s Suffering Holy.

Lastly, Christian suffering is nobler and precious above all other human suffering because, since Christ himself suffered, he also hallowed the suffering of all his Christians. Are we not then poor, foolish people? We have run to Rome, Trier, and other places to visit the shrines; why do we not also cherish cross and suffering, which was much nearer to Christ and touched him more closely than any garment did his body. This touched not only his body but his heart. Through the suffering of Christ, the suffering of all his saints has become utterly holy, for it has been touched with Christ’s suffering. Therefore we should accept all suffering as a holy thing, for it is truly holiness. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.207-208).

Picture: Throne Room from  Das Newe Testament Deuotzsch.

The image is from Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) September Testament. The image is based on Revelation chapter 4. John’s vision of the heavenly throne room. Woodcut designed by Lucas Cranach, the Elder (1472-1553), a close friend of Martin Luther.  http://pitts.emory.edu/

#56 Why Suffering? 3. Lest We Become Sleepy and Secure Apart From the Word

Thirdly, it is also highly necessary that we suffer not only that God may prove his honor, power, and strength against the devil, but also in order that when we are not in trouble and suffering this excellent treasure which we have may not merely make us sleepy and secure. We see so many people, unfortunately it is all too common, so misusing the gospel that it is a sin and a shame, as if now of course they have been so liberated by the gospel that there is no further need to do anything, give anything, or suffer anything.

This kind of wickedness our God cannot check except through suffering. Hence he must keep disciplining and driving us, that our faith may increase and grow stronger and thus bring the Savior more deeply into our hearts. For just as we cannot get along without eating and drinking so we cannot get along without affliction and suffering. Therefore we must necessarily be afflicted of the devil by persecution or else by a secret thorn which thrusts into the heart, as also St. Paul laments [cf. II Cor. 12:7]. Therefore, since it is better to have a cross than to be without one, nobody should dread or be afraid of it. After all, you have a good strong promise with which to comfort yourself. Besides, the gospel cannot come to the fore except through and in suffering and cross. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.207)

Picture: Fall of Babylon from Das Newe Testament Deuotzsch.

The image is from Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) September Testament. The image is based on Revelation chapter 18. Two angels drop a giant millstone as Babylon (Rome) burns in the background. Woodcut designed by Lucas Cranach, the Elder (1472-1553), a close friend of Martin Luther.  http://pitts.emory.edu/

#55 So Two Heroes Meet… The Devil and Our Lord God

So the two heroes meet, each doing as much as possible. The devil brews one calamity after another; for he is a mighty, malicious, and turbulent spirit. So it is time that our dear God be concerned about his honor; for the Word which we wield is a weak and miserable Word, and we who have and wield it are also weak and miserable men, bearing the treasure as Paul says [II Cor. 4:7], in earthen vessels, which can easily be shattered and broken. Therefore the evil spirit spares no effort and confidently lashes out to see if he can smash the little vessel; for there it is under his nose and he cannot stand it. So the battle really begins in earnest, with water and fire to dampen and quench the little spark. Then our Lord God looks on for a while and puts us in a tight place, so that we may learn from our own experience that the small, weak, miserable Word is stronger than the devil and the gates of hell. They are to storm the castle, the devil and his cohorts. But let them storm; they will find something there that will make them sweat, and still they will not gain it; for it is a rock, as Christ calls it, which cannot be conquered. So let us suffer what comes upon us and thus we shall learn that God will stand by us to guard and shield us against this enemy and all his adherents. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.206-207)

Picture:  Satan Bound from Das Newe Testament Deuotzsch.

The image is from Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) September Testament. The image is based on Revelation chapter 20. An angel, holding a key, binds the beast in the abyss for the thousand years of peace. Woodcut designed by Lucas Cranach, the Elder (1472-1553), a close friend of Martin Luther.  http://pitts.emory.edu/

#54 Why Suffering? 2. To Prove God’s Strength Against the Devil

The second reason is this, that even though God does not want to assault and torment us, the devil does, and he cannot abide the Word. He is by nature so malicious and venomous that he cannot endure anything which is good. It irks him that an apple should be growing on a tree; it pains and vexes him that you have a sound finger, and if he were able he would tear everything apart and put it out of joint.

But there is nothing to which he is so hostile as the beloved Word. And the reason is that he can conceal himself beneath every created thing; only the Word exposes him, so that he cannot hide himself, and shows everybody how black he is. Then he fights back and resists and draws together the princes and the bishops, thinking thus to conceal himself again. But it is of no avail; the Word nevertheless drags him out into the light. Therefore he too does not rest, and because the gospel cannot suffer him, so he cannot suffer the gospel, and that makes it equal. And if our dear God were not guarding us through his angels and we were able to see the devil’s cunning, conspiring, and lying, we should die of the sight of it alone, so many are the cannon and guns he has ranged against us. But God prevents them from striking us. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.206)

Picture: Whore of Babylon from  Das Newe Testament Deuotzsch.

The image is the “Whore of Babylon” from Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) September Testament. The image is based on Revelation chapter 17. A harlot sits on a beast with seven heads and ten horns (v 17:3), decked with precious stones and pearls, with a golden cup in her hand full of abominations (v 17:4). She is drunk (v 17:6) and a king (v 17:10) worships her along with others kneeling before her. The triple tiara crown identifies the harlot as the pope. The image is by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), a close friend of Martin Luther (1483-1546). This symbolism was considered too offensive and the triple tiara became a single tiara in the second edition of Luther’s New Testament which appeared in December 1522.  http://pitts.emory.edu/

#53 Why does Our Lord Send Us Such Suffering? 1. To Conform Us To Christ

In the third place we want also to consider why it is that our Lord God sends us such suffering. And the reason is that in this way he wants to make us conformed to the image of his dear Son, Christ, so that we may become like him here in suffering and there in that life to come in honor and glory [cf. Rom. 8:29; 8:17; II Tim. 2:11–12], as he says, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer and enter into glory?” [cf. Luke 24:26]. But God cannot accomplish this in us except through suffering and affliction, which he sends to us through the devil or other wicked people. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.206)

#52 Don’t Let Go of the Comforting Passages

Therefore in affliction every Christian should so arm himself that he may defend and guard himself with the fine, comfortable assurances which Christ, our dear Lord, has left us when we suffer for his Word’s sake. But if we do not do this, if we let the comforting sayings go, then when the cross comes the same thing that happened to Eve in paradise will happen to us. She had God’s commandment and with it she should have beaten down the devil’s suggestions and instigations. But what did she do? She let the Word go and kept thinking what a fine apple it was and that after all such a little thing was of no great importance. So she went her way. And when one lets the Word go, there can be no other result. But when we stay with the Word and hold on to it, we shall certainly have the experience of conquering and coming out of it fine.

You see that we teach these two things [1. that God has appointed that we should suffer and that it cannot be otherwise. 2. We have the promise and assurance that God will keep his Word] when we preach on suffering and cross. And anybody who accuses us of teaching nothing about suffering is doing us an injustice. But this we do not do; we do not make our suffering meritorious before God. No, far from it. Christ alone did that and nobody else, and to him alone belongs the glory. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.205-206)

#51 Suffering and Crosses are No Match for the Christ

Therefore we know that we can quite rightly bid defiance and say: Even though there were ten popes or Turkish emperors, I would like to see whether all of them together are a match for the Man who is called Christ. They may very well start a game which will grow too big for them to handle, but they will not demolish the Word. And this will happen even though we are weak in faith.

This then is the true art, that in suffering and cross we should look to the Word and the comforting assurance, and trust them, even as He said, “In me you shall have peace, but in the world, tribulation” [cf. John 16:33]. It is as if he were saying: Danger and terror will surely hit you if you accept my Word; but let it come, this will happen to you because of me. So be of good cheer; I will not forsake you, I will be with you and will help you. No matter how great the affliction may be, it will be small and light for you, if you are able to draw such thoughts from the Word of God. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.205)

#50 Give Yourself to Scripture And All Will Be Better

If you give yourself to Scripture, you will feel comfort and all your concerns will be better, which otherwise you cannot control by any act or means of your own. After all, a merchant can bring himself, for the sake of gaining money and wealth, to leave house and home, wife and child, and risk his life for the sake of filthy lucre, and still have no sure promise or assurance that he will return home in health to wife and child; and yet he is foolhardy and rash enough to venture boldly into such danger without any promise whatsoever. Now, if a merchant can do that for money and riches, fie upon you, that we should not want to bear a little cross and still want to be Christians, even though besides we have in our hands the tree to which we cling against the waves, namely, the Word and the fine strong promises that we shall not be overwhelmed by the waves….

Now if the merchant … can muster up such courage to take upon himself … and suffer such peril, effort, and labor, we should be simply ashamed that we rebel against suffering and the cross, even though we know, in the first place, that God has appointed that we should suffer and that it cannot be otherwise. In the second place, we also know our promise and assurance, that, even though we are not such good Christians as we ought to be and are timid and weak both in life and faith, He will nevertheless defend his Word simply because it is his Word. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.204-205)

#49 The Christian Art of Suffering

For this is the Christian art, which we must all learn, the art of looking to the Word and looking away from all the trouble and suffering that lies upon us and weighs us down. But the flesh is utterly incapable of this art, it sees no farther than the present suffering. For this also is the way of the devil; he removes the Word far from one’s eyes, so that one sees nothing but the present difficulty, just as he is doing with us now. What he wants is that we should deny and forget the Word altogether and gaze only at the danger which threatens us from the pope and the Turks. Then if he wins the play, he drowns us in the difficulty, so that we see nothing but its rush and roar. But this should not be. For this is what happens: when a person wants to be a Christian and acts according to his feelings, he soon loses Christ. Drive the suffering and cross from your heart and mind as quickly as you can; otherwise if you think about it for long the evil grows worse. If you have affliction and suffering, say: I have myself not chosen and prepared this cross; it is because of the Word of God that I am suffering and that I have and teach Christ. So let it be in God’s name. I will let him take care of it and fight it out who long ago foretold that I should have this suffering and promised me his divine and gracious help. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.203-204)

#48 Christ Strengthens Us in Our Suffering

So it is with all other things; when it gets going it becomes too heavy, whether it be sin, devil, hell, or even our own conscience. But how are we going to do it? Where shall we go and hide ourselves? For us it looks as if the whole thing would fall to the ground. But on the other side they are confident and proud; they think they already have won the day. I too see the good Christopher sinking; nevertheless he gets through, for he has a tree which he holds on to. This tree is the promise that Christ will do something remarkable with our suffering. “In the world,” he says, “you shall have afflictions and tribulations, but in me you shall have peace” [cf. John 16:33]. And St. Paul says, “We have a faithful God who helps us out of affliction, so that we can bear it” [cf. I Cor. 10:13]. These sayings are staves, yea, trees, which we can hold on to and let the waters roar and foam as they will.

So in Christopher we have an example and a picture that can strengthen us in our suffering and teach us that fear and trembling is not as great as the comfort and the promise, and that we should therefore know that in this life we shall have no rest if we are bearing Christ, but rather that in affliction we should turn our eyes away from the present suffering to the consolation and promise. Then we will learn that what Christ says is true: “In me you shall have peace” [John 16:33]. (Luther’s Works, v.51, p.203)

2nd Tim. 4, v. 7-8. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

[All of the pictures for this year’s posts are from an etching entitled “Augsburg Confession” by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) and found in the Royal Collection Trust.]