These are Luther's fantastic words on Galatians 4:7: And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
They are extremely comforting for all those wrestling in prayer against the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.
With these words, then, Paul wants to indicate the weakness there still is in the pious, as in Rom. 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 (Eph. 6:16), 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 (Rom. 8:26), 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.
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 (Rom. 8:27), “knows what is the mind of the Spirit.” 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 Cor. 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 Luke 18:1–8, in the parable of the unjust judge, 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 the Lord says to Moses at the Red Sea (14:15): “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.
The papists imagined that the saints had the Holy Spirit in such a way that they never experienced or had any temptations. They speak about the Holy Spirit only speculatively, as the fanatical spirits do today. But Paul says that the power of Christ is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), and that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26). Therefore we have the greatest need for the aid and comfort of the Holy Spirit, and He is also nearest to us when we are at our weakest and nearest to despair. If someone passes through evil with a courageous and happy spirit, then the Holy Spirit has already performed His work in him. But He really performs His work in those who are thoroughly terrified and who have come near to what the psalm calls “the gates of death” (9:13). Thus I have just said that Moses saw the very presence of death in the water and wherever he turned his gaze. Therefore he was in the deepest anxiety and despair, and undoubtedly he sensed in his heart the loud cry of the devil against him, saying: “This entire people will perish today, for they cannot escape anywhere. You alone are responsible for this great calamity, for you led them out of Egypt.” Then there came the cry of the people, who said (Ex. 14:11–12): “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Then the Holy Spirit was present in Moses, not speculatively but actually; He interceded for him with sighs too deep for words, so that Moses sighed to God and said: “Lord, it was at Thy command that I led the people out. Therefore do Thou help!” This sigh is what He calls “crying.”
I have discussed this at some length in order to show what the work of the Holy Spirit is and how He usually carries it out. In temptation we must not on any account decide this matter on the basis of our feeling or of the cry of the Law, sin, and the devil. If we want to follow our feeling here or to believe those cries, we shall decide that we are bereft of all help from the Holy Spirit and that we have been utterly banished from the presence of God. Should we not rather remember, then, that Paul says that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and cries: “Abba! Father!”? That is, He emits what seems to us to be some sort of sob and sigh of the heart; but in the sight of God this is a loud cry and a sigh too deep for words. In every temptation and weakness, therefore, just cling to Christ and sigh! He gives you the Holy Spirit, who cries: “Abba! Father!” Then the Father says: “I do not hear anything in the whole world except this single sigh, which is such a loud cry in My ears that it fills heaven and earth and drowns out all the cries of everything else.”
You will notice that Paul does not say that the Spirit intercedes for us in temptation with a long prayer, but that He intercedes with a sigh, and one that is too deep for words. He does not cry loudly and tearfully: “Have mercy on me, O God” (Ps. 51:1); but He merely utters the words of a cry and a sigh, which is “Oh, Father!” This is indeed a very short word, but it includes everything. Not the lips, but the feelings are speaking here, as though one were to say: “Even though I am surrounded by anxieties and seem to be deserted and banished from Thy presence, nevertheless I am a child of God on account of Christ; I am beloved on account of the Beloved.” Therefore the term “Father,” when spoken meaningfully in the heart, is an eloquence that Demosthenes, Cicero, and the most eloquent men there have ever been in the world cannot attain. For this is a matter that is expressed, not in words but in sighs, which are not articulated in all the words of all the orators; for they are too deep for words.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, pp. 381–385). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
This Sunday we begin our study of Ecclesiastes. As I've mentioned several times Ecclesiastes presents us with the same struggle so many around us have -- how do I find meaning in this life? How do I find contentment in this life?
This is Luther's introduction to the book. I encourage you to read it in preparation for this Sunday:
The summary and aim of this book, then, is as follows: Solomon wants to put us at peace and to give us a quiet mind in the everyday affairs and business of this life, so that we live contentedly in the present without care and yearning about the future and are, as Paul says, without care and anxiety (Phil. 4:6). It is useless to plague oneself with anxiety about the future. By a sort of continuing induction from particulars, Solomon concludes that the efforts and endeavors of men are vain and useless, so that he draws a universal conclusion from particulars and shows that the efforts of all men are vain. He denies (9:11) that bread is to the wise or the race to the swift or the battle to the strong. In fact, the wiser or holier or busier someone claims to be, the less he accomplishes, and his wisdom, his righteousness, and his work are useless. And so if none of these things nor anything else amounts to anything, it follows that everything is vain and useless.
But here at the very beginning it is necessary to eradicate the error and dangerous opinion held by many, that the author is speaking about a contempt for creatures, which Scripture by no means wants to be despised or condemned. For all things that God has made are very good and have been made for the use of man, as Paul says in very clear words in 1 Tim. 4:4–5: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the Word of God and prayer.” Therefore it is foolish and wicked when many preachers inveigh against glory, power, social position, wealth, gold, fame, beauty, or women, thus openly condemning a creation of God. Government, or power, is a divine ordinance. Gold is good, and riches are conferred by God. A woman is a good thing, made to be a helper for man (cf. Gen. 2:18). For God has made all things to be good and to be useful for some human purpose.
What is being condemned in this book, therefore, is not the creatures but the depraved affection and desire of us men, who are not content with the creatures of God that we have and with their use but are always anxious and concerned to accumulate riches, honors, glory, and fame, as though we were going to live here forever; and meanwhile we become bored with the things that are present and continually yearn for other things, and then still others. For this is the height of vanity and misery, to cheat oneself of the use of present goods and vainly to be troubled about future ones. Such depraved affection and human striving, I say, is what Solomon is condemning in this book, not the creatures themselves. For about the attitude toward creatures he himself says below (5:18) that there is nothing better for any man than to find enjoyment and make life pleasant for himself, to eat and drink and enjoy his toil, etc. He would be contradicting himself completely if he were to condemn these things themselves rather than the abuse of these things, which comes solely from the affections.
Some foolish men have not understood this and have therefore taught absurd ideas about contempt for the world and flight from it, and they themselves have also done many absurd things. Thus in the Lives of the Fathers we read that there were some who did not even want to look at the sun (such men would deserve to have their eyes gouged out) and who for the sake of religion ate the filthiest of foods. The quality of such behavior is clear enough from what has already been said` The proper contempt of the world is not that of the man who lives in solitude away from human society, nor is the proper contempt of gold that of the man who throws it away or who abstains from money, as the Franciscans do, but that of the man who lives his life in the midst of these things and yet is not carried away by his affection for them. This is the first thing that should be considered by those who are about to read Solomon.
In the second place, this, too, should be diligently observed: in this book Solomon is speaking simply about the human race and is clearly confining himself within the limits of human nature. That is, he is speaking about the efforts, the endeavors, and the desires of man, about the counsels of man. Therefore we should not follow the imaginations of the interpreters who suppose that the knowledge of nature, the study of astronomy or of all of philosophy, is being condemned here and who teach that such things are to be despised as vain and useless speculations. For the benefits of these arts are many and great, as is plain to see every day. In addition, there is not only utility, but also great pleasure in investigating the nature of things. Holy Scripture also points to things to show their properties and powers; for example, in the psalm (Ps. 103:5), “Your youth is renewed like the eagle’s,” or (Deut. 32:11), “As an eagle provokes its young to fly,” or (Ps. 42:1), “As a hart longs for flowing streams,” or (Prov. 6:6), “Go to the ant, O sluggard.” The Scriptures are all so full of such metaphors and parables taken from the nature of things that if someone were to remove these things from the Holy Scriptures, he would also remove a great light.
Thus the subject or matter of this book is simply the human race, which is so foolish that it seeks and strives for many things by its efforts which it cannot attain or which, even if it does attain them, it does not enjoy but possesses to its sorrow and harm, as the fault not of the things themselves but of its own foolish affections. Julius Caesar was occupied with the effort to achieve the imperial power. How much danger and how much labor did this cost him? And when he had achieved it, he still was not satisfied. He still did not have what he wanted, but in the strenuous attempt to gain more he perished miserably. This is what happens in all human efforts. When things come flowing in, boredom soon takes over; if they do not flow in, there is an insatiable desire to have them, and there is no peace. This vice of the human spirit was seen by pagan writers. Thus Ovid says: “Whatever is permissible is unpleasant, but what is not permissible inflames us more violently. I run away from what follows me, and I follow what runs away from me.” Again: “No one lives content with his lot, and no one has learned to remain within his destiny.”4 This is the vanity of the human heart, that it is never content with the gifts of God that are present but rather thinks of them as negligible; it continually looks for others, and then still others, and is not satisfied until it achieves what it wishes, whereupon it despises what it has achieved and looks for something else.
To reiterate, the point and purpose of this book is to instruct us, so that with thanksgiving we may use the things that are present and the creatures of God that are generously given to us and conferred upon us by the blessing of God. This we are to do without anxiety about the things that are still in the future. The important thing is that we have a tranquil and quiet heart and a mind filled with joy, that is, that we be content with the Word and work of God. Thus in the verses that follow he exhorts us (9:7–9) to eat and drink and enjoy life with the wife of our youth; oil should not be lacking on our head, and our garments should always be white. This is in accord with the saying of Christ (Matt. 6:34): “The day’s own trouble is sufficient for the day”; and Paul says (Rom. 13:14): “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” If a man were to follow this, he would have a peaceful and tranquil heart, and God would abundantly supply everything. But now a man tortures himself with a twofold evil, depriving himself of the use of things that are present and uselessly troubling himself with anxiety about things that are in the future; or if some use is made of things, it is only in bitterness. Cicero was a man of such eloquence that he could have been completely happy if he had known how to use his tranquillity. But that good man always wanted something bigger and vainly pressed his plans, and see how many good things he robbed himself of and what calamity and ruin he brought down upon himself! Therefore St. Augustine says aptly: “Thou hast commanded, Lord, that a man who is not content with what he has receive a restless heart as a punishment.”
But if someone compares the good things he has with the bad things he does not have, he will finally recognize what a treasure of good things he has. Someone who has sound and healthy eyes does not estimate this blessing of God very highly nor take pleasure in it. But if he is deprived of them, what a treasure he would be willing to give in exchange for them! That is how it goes with health and with everything else. If God were to give me the eloquence of Cicero, the power of Caesar, or the wisdom of Solomon, I would still not be satisfied. We are always looking for something that is lacking, and we despise what is present. When a man does not have a wife, he looks for one; when he has one, he becomes bored with her. We are just like quicksilver, which never remains still. Such is the inconstancy of the human heart, which does not deserve to enjoy a single blessing of God. In this book Solomon inveighs against this miserable state of human affections. He denounces the inconstancy and vanity of the human heart, which enjoys neither present nor future goods; it does not acknowledge or give thanks for the blessings it has received, and it vainly pursues the things it does not have. This is really being suspended between heaven and earth!
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 15: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 15, pp. 7–11). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
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