Martin Luther on “how to deal properly with the question of predestination”

LutherWritingTO BARBARA LISSKIRCHEN. April 30, 1531.

Grace and peace in Christ.

Dear and virtuous Lady:

Your dear brother Jerome Weller has informed me that you are sorely troubled about eternal election. I am very sorry to hear this. May Christ our Lord deliver you from this temptation. Amen.

I know all about this affliction. I was myself brought to the brink of eternal death by it. In addition to my prayer in your behalf, I should gladly counsel and comfort you, but it is difficult to discuss such matters in writing. Nevertheless, if God will grant me the necessary grace, I shall do what I can. I shall show you how God helped me out of this trouble and by what means I now protect myself against it every day.

First, you must firmly fix in your mind the conviction that such thoughts as yours are assuredly the suggestions and fiery darts of the wretched devil. The Scriptures declare in Prov., ch. 7, “He who searches out the lofty things of majesty will be cast down.” Now, such thoughts as yours are a vain searching into the majesty of God and a prying into his secret providence. Jesus the son of Sirach declares in the third chapter: “Search not out things that are above thy strength. The things that have been commanded thee, think thereupon.” It is of no profit to you to gape at that which you are not commanded. David also complained in Ps. 131 that he did not fare well when he inquired into matters that were too high for him. Accordingly, it is certain that these notions of yours come, not from God, but from the devil, who torments us with them to make us hate God and despair. God has strictly forbidden this in the First Commandment. He desires that we love, trust, and praise him by whom we live.

Secondly, when such thoughts assail you, you should learn to ask yourself, “If you please, in which Commandment is it written that I should think about and deal with this matter?” When it appears that there is no such Commandment, learn to say: “Begone, wretched devil! You are trying to make me worry about myself. But God declares everywhere that I should let him care for me. He says, ‘I am thy God.’ This means, ‘I care for you; depend upon me, await my bidding, and let me take care of you.’” This is what Saint Peter taught, “Cast all thy care upon him, for he careth for you.” And David taught, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.”

Thirdly, if these thoughts nevertheless continue (for the devil is reluctant to give up), you too must refuse to give up. You must always turn your mind away from them and say: “Don’t you hear, devil? I will have nothing to do with such thoughts. Moreover, God has forbidden me to. Begone! I must now think of God’s commandments. Meanwhile I shall let him care for me. If you are so clever in these matters, go up to heaven and dispute with God himself; he can give you an adequate answer.” In this way you must always put these thoughts away from you and turn your attention to God’s Commandments.

Fourthly, the highest of all God’s commands is this, that we hold up before our eyes the image of his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Everyday he should be our excellent mirror within we behold how much God loves us and how well, in his infinite goodness, he has cared for us in that he gave his dear Son for us.

In this way, I say, and in no other, does one learn how to deal properly with the question of predestination. It will be manifest that you believe in Christ. If you believe, then you are called. And if you are called, then you are most certainly predestinated. Do not let this mirror and throne of grace be torn away from before your eyes. If such thoughts still come and bite like fiery serpents, pay no attention to the thoughts or serpents. Turn away from these notions and contemplate the brazen serpent, that is, Christ given for us. Then, God willing, you will feel better.

But, as I have said, it requires a struggle to shun such thoughts. If they enter your mind, cast them out again, just as you would immediately spit out any filth that fell into your mouth. God has helped me to do this in my own case. It is his urgent command that we keep before us the image of His Son, in whom he has abundantly revealed himself to be our God (as the First Commandment teaches) who helps and cares for us. Therefore, he will not suffer us to help or take care of ourselves. That would be to deny God, and to deny the First Commandment and Christ as well.

The wretched devil, who is the enemy of God and Christ, tries by such thoughts (which are contrary to the First Commandment) to tear us away from Christ and God and to make us think about ourselves and our own cares. If we do this, we take upon ourselves the function of God, which is to care for us and be our God. In paradise the devil desired to make Adam equal with God so that Adam might be his own god and care for himself, thus robbing God of his divine work of caring for him. The result was the terrible Fall of Adam.

For the present this is advice enough. I have also written to your brother Jerome Weller that he warn and admonish you with all diligence until you learn to put away such thoughts and let the devil, from whom they come, plumb their depth. He knows very well what happened to him before in a similar situation: he fell from heaven into the abyss of hell. In short, what we are not commanded should not disturb or trouble us. The devil, and not God, is the instigator of such perplexity.

May our dear Lord Jesus Christ show you his hands and his side and gladden your heart with his love, and may you behold and hear only him until you find your joy in him. Amen.

The last day of April, 1531.                                                            Martin Luther

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