God’s Gracious Purpose in the Christian’s Trials

This quote from Luther’s Genesis commentary was highlighted today in the Treasury of Daily Prayer from Concordia Publishing House. (Now, if only Libronix would run on Linux! It’s been months since the last time I booted up Windows, and now the only reason to do so is to get this quote from Luther’s Works! What’s more, the only Windows version I have is XP Professional, which Libronix is likely to forsake at any time. Thus, Logos and CPH provide another small trial to help me remain humble.)

For look at Paul, who says about himself (1 Cor. 2:3): “I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling.” Likewise (2 Cor. 7:5): “Fighting without and fear within.” Do you speak this way, Paul? This does not behoove that chosen instrument (cf. Acts 9:15) who has the promise that he should carry Christ’s name before the Gentiles, does it? Where are you going, Paul? Into the prison of hell, fear, and despair? Where are we going to remain if you have doubts and are almost diffident concerning your completely certain calling? But this is how it must happen even with the greatest saints. For the divine promises are not given to make us smug; but, as Paul says in another place: “A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Why? “Lest the magnitude of the gifts of the grace and mercy of God elate me.” Therefore God sends wrestlings, trials, and struggles in order that from day to day we may understand and cling to the promises of God more clearly and certainly. This would not happen if the saints always practiced that heroic fortitude. Indeed, in the end they would become smug and lose the promise and every expectation. Therefore they must be disciplined, in order that they may retain faith, hope, and the expectation of the promises. And it is precisely this that edifies and consoles us, when we see that the patriarchs and the prophets were like us, that they were tried by weakness, by doubt, and almost by despair and the loss of faith.

What can be set forth to us that is more useful and more suitable for consolation than the example of Peter? He advances on the water to meet Christ. And when he stepped out of the boat, he first walked on the water to come to Jesus. As the evangelist says, he ran with great impetuosity, with heroic and special spirit, because he knew that Christ was there; and he had the Word and the promise of the Word for his petition: “If it be Thou, bid me come to Thee on the water” (Matt. 14:28). But soon, when a little wind blows, he wavers and sinks. What now? Where is that great spirit? Why did you doubt? But it pleased Christ that he should be tried in this way. For if he had not been tried, he would have been puffed up. But it is better to be tried than to be puffed up. For in this way the promises are retained, and in this way we learn to understand those sobs of the saints, as in Ps. 6:1: “O Lord, rebuke me not in Thy anger.” For David, too, was such a great man that God gave him the testimony: “I have found in David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22; cf. 1 Sam. 13:14). Yet he prays in this way and struggles with the trials of unbelief and despair.

In this way we, too, have been called, and we have promises that are much clearer and more glorious than those the fathers had. Thus Peter praises this good fortune of ours when he says (2 Peter 1:19): “And we have the prophetic Word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” Grace and eternal life have been promised and offered to us in a much more glorious way than to them. For the Son has come, and all the promises have been fulfilled. We hear the Son Himself; we have the sacraments and absolution; and day and night the Gospel proclaims to us: “You are holy. You are holy. Your sins have been forgiven you. You are blessed, etc.” But what do we do? We still tremble, and we cling to our weakness throughout our life. But why are we not aroused by the example of the patriarchs, who believed to complete perfection? I reply that they, too, were weak, just as we are, although we have richer promises than they had. But it comes to pass as God’s voice says to Paul: “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). For God could not retain and fulfill His promises in us if He did not kill that stupid, proud, and smug flesh in us.

Luther, M. (1999, c1968). Vol. 5: Luther’s works, vol. 5 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 26-30 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (5:254). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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