195) A “Measured Sorrow”

From a letter by Martin Luther to Doctor Benedict Paul, whose son had lately been killed by a fall from the top of a house.  (Paraphrased from The Table Talk of Martin Luther, translated by William Hazlitt, 1857; available at <www.ccel.org> )

     Although it is nowhere forbidden in Holy Scripture to mourn and grieve for the death of a godly child or friend– indeed, we have many examples of the godly who have bewailed the death of their children and friends– yet there ought to be a measure in sorrowing and mourning.  Therefore, loving doctor, while you do well to mourn and lament the death of your son, let not your grief exceed the measure of a Christian in refusing to be comforted.  First, I would have you consider that it was God who gave that son unto you, and God who received him back again; and secondly, I would wish you to follow the example of that just and godly man, Job, who, when he had lost all his children and all his wealth, said:  “Have we received good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil?  The hand of the Lord giveth and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 & 2:10).

      …You have much greater gifts and benefits of God left to you than the evil you now feel.  But you look now only upon the evil that your son is dead; and, in the meantime, you forget the glorious treasure God has given you in the true knowledge of his Word, and a good and peaceable conscience, and the promise of eternal life, which should outweigh all evil which may happen unto you…

     Therefore know, loving brother, that God’s mercy is greater than our tribulations.  You indeed have cause to mourn, as you think, but it is nothing else than sugar mingled with vinegar.  Your son is very well provided for.  He lives now with Christ, and oh! would to God that I, too, had finished my course.  If I were gone, I would not wish myself here again.

     Your suffering is only a temporary cross.  You are a good logician, and you teach others that art.  Make use of that logic now and put it in practice.  Define, divide, conclude, distinguish that which is spiritual and eternal, and separate it from that which is of the body and only temporary.  

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II Samuel 18:33  —  The king was shaken.  He went up to the room over the gateway and wept.  As he went, he said:  “O my son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you– O Absalom, my son, my son!”

John 16:22  —  (Jesus said), “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

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Dear Lord Jesus, I am hemmed in by Satan, grievously tormented by my sins, and constantly surrounded by death.  You came to earth to destroy the works of the devil.  You have abolished death and have brought to light the promise of eternal life.  Come to me now, for you bring forgiveness and life.  Help me to withstand the works of the devil by which he would cast me from life into death.  O Christ, who has overcome the devil, help me also to overcome him.  Amen.  

–Martin Luther