In my Ph.D. dissertation, I studied Martin Luther’s pastoral care. The official title was Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding.
I learned so much about biblical counseling from Luther that I want to share with you Quotes of Note from my study. In Part One of this blog mini-series, we enjoy quotes regarding Luther’s ministry of biblical sustaining: bringing people God’s comfort by empathizing with their suffering.
Specifically, Luther began his sustaining ministry by joining people in developing a faith perspective on their suffering. Foremost in this process was helping people to turn their eyes to the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross.
Developing a Faith Perspective on Suffering
“If only a man could see his God in such a light of love how happy, how calm, how safe he would be! He would then truly have a God from whom he would know with certainty that all his fortunes—whatever they might be—had come to him and were still coming to him under the guidance of God’s most gracious will” (LW, Vol. 42, p. 154).
“The mercy of God shows us in our infirmity that even though death should not be taken away, its power has been reduced by him to a mere shadow” (LW, Vo. 42, p. 150).
“It is not as reason and Satan argue: ‘See there God flings you into prison, endangers your life. Surely He hates you. He is angry with you; for if He did not hate you, He would not allow this thing to happen.’ In this way Satan turns the rod of a Father into the rope of a hangman and the most salutary remedy into the deadliest poison” (LW, Vol. 16, p. 214).
“He who does not believe that he is forgiven by the inexhaustible riches of Christ’s righteousness is like a deaf man hearing a story. If we considered it properly and with an attentive heart, this one image—even if there were no other—would suffice to fill us with such comfort that we should not only not grieve over our evils, but should also glory in our tribulations, scarcely feeling them for the joy that we have in Christ” (LW, Vol. 42, p. 165).
“All that remains is for us now to pray that our eyes, that is the eyes of our faith, may be opened that we may see. Then there will be nothing for us to fear” (LW, Vol. 42, p. 163).
“And it is equally true that we measure, feel, or do not feel our evils not on the basis of the facts, but on the basis of our thoughts and feelings about them” (LW, Vol. 42, p. 127).
“Faith, is, as it were, the center of a circle. If anybody strays from the center, it is impossible for him to have the circle around him, and he must blunder. The center is Christ” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 45).
“In speaking of the consolations which Christians have, the Apostle Paul in Romans 15:4 writes, ‘Brethren, whatever was written, was written for our instruction, so that through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ In this passage he plainly teaches us that our consolations are to be drawn from the Holy Scriptures” (LW, Vol. 42, p. 124).
“Her illness is, as you see, rather of the mind than of the body. I am comforting her as much as I can, with my knowledge. In a word, her disease is not for the apothecaries (as they call them), nor is it to be treated with the salves of Hippocrates, but by constantly applying plasters of Scripture and the Word of God” (LC, p. 402).
Turn Your Eyes Upon the Cross of Christ: Christ Suffers with Us
“The flesh cries out against the belief that God is good, but the suffering Savior brings consolation that this is indeed true” (LSA, p. 157).
“God’s friendship is a bigger comfort than that of the whole world” (LW, Vol. 49, p. 306).
“When, therefore, I learned, most illustrious prince, that Your Lordship has been afflicted with a grave illness and that Christ has at the same time become ill in you, I counted it my duty to visit Your Lordship with a little writing of mine. I cannot pretend that I do not hear the voice of Christ crying out to me from Your Lordship’s body and flesh saying, ‘Behold, I am sick.’ This is so because such evils as illness and the like are not borne by us who are Christians but by Christ himself, our Lord and Savior, in whom we live even as Christ plainly testifies in the Gospel when he says, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (LSC, p. 27).
“Jesus Christ, God’s Son, has by his most holy touch consecrated and hallowed all sufferings, even death itself, has blessed the curse, and has glorified shame and enriched poverty so that death is now a door to life, the curse a fount of blessing, and shame the mother of glory. Suffering has been touched and bathed by Christ’s pure and holy flesh and blood and thus have become holy, harmless, and wholesome, blessed, and full of joy for you. There is nothing, not even death, that his passion cannot sweeten” (LW, Vol. 42, pp. 141-142).
“Grace and peace in the Lord. Christ has given me abundant testimony of you, dear brother Lambert, that you do not need my words, for He Himself suffers in you and is glorified in you. He is taken captive in you and reigns in you, He is oppressed in you and triumphs in you, for He has given you that holy knowledge of Himself which is hidden from the world.” (LC, p. 213).
“Herewith I commend you to Him who loves you more than you love yourself” (LW, Vol. 49, p. 270).
“True faith draws forth the following conclusion: God is God for me because He speaks to me. He forgives my sins. He is not angry with me, just as He promises: ‘I am the Lord your God.’ Now search your heart, and ask whether you believe that God is your God, Father, Savior, and Deliverer, who wants to rescue you” (LW, Vol. 4, p. 149).
(Discussing Psalm 119, “In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me.”) “The first verse teaches us where we should turn when misfortune comes upon us—not to the emperor, not to the sword, not to our own devices and wisdom, but to the Lord, who is our only real help in time of need. ‘I cried unto the Lord in my distress,’ he says. That we should do this confidently, cheerfully, and without fail he makes clear when he says, ‘And he heard me.’ It is as if he would say, ‘The Lord is pleased to have us turn to him in our distress and is glad to hear and help us’” (LSC, p. 204).
“Our sufferings have not yet become so deep and bitter as were those of his own dear Son and of the mother of our Lord. By the thought of these we should be comforted and strengthened in our sufferings, as St. Peter teaches us (first epistle, iii.18): ‘Christ has once suffered for us, the just for the unjust’” (LSA, p. 148).
The Rest of the Story
In Part Two, we’ll see how Luther, having first turned people to Christ for His infinite comfort, then became “Jesus with skin on” by empathizing with his hurting spiritual friends.
Join the Conversation
Which of today’s Quotes of Note impact your life and ministry the most?
Note: These quotes are derived from Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. The entire 212-page dissertation is available in PDF form at the RPM Store for $15.