“Christ is the True Hero and I shall cling to Him” by Martin Luther

“Dear mother,

You know the real basis and foundation of your salvation, on which you must rest your confidence in this and all troubles, namely Jesus Christ, the cornerstone.

He will not waver or fail us, nor allow us to sink and perish, for He is the Saviour and is called the Saviour of all poor sinners, of all who face tribulation and death, of all who rely on Him and call on His name.

He says, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

If He has overcome the world, surely He has overcome the prince of this world with all His power. And what is His power but death, with which He has made us subject to Him, captives on account of our sin?

But now that death and sin are overcome, we may joyfully and cheerfully listen to the sweet words, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

And we must not doubt that they are certainly true. More than that, we are commanded to accept their comfort with joy and thanksgiving.

Whoever is unwilling to be comforted by these words does the greatest injustice and dishonor to the Comforter— as if it were not true that He bids us to be of good cheer, or as if it were not true that He has overcome the world.

If we act thus, we only restore within ourselves the tyranny of the vanquished devil, sin, and death, and we oppose the dear Saviour. From this may God preserve us!

Therefore, let us rejoice with all assurance and gladness. Should any thought of sin or death frighten us, let us lift up our hearts and say:

“Behold, dear soul, what are you doing? Dear death, dear sin, how is it that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome?

Do you, death, not know that you are quite dead? Do you not know the One who has said of you, I have overcome the world?

It does not behoove me to listen to or heed your terrifying suggestions. I shall pay attention only to the cheering words of my Saviour, ‘Be of good cheer, be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.’

He is the Conqueror, the true Hero, who in these words, ‘Be of good cheer,’ gives me the benefit of his victory. I shall cling to Him.

To His words and comfort I shall hold fast. Whether I remain here or go yonder, He will not forsake me.

You would like to deceive me with your false terrors, and with your lying thoughts you would like to tear me away from such a Conqueror and Saviour.

But they are lies, as surely as it is true that He has overcome you and commanded us to be comforted.”

This is also the boast of Saint Paul and his defiance of the terrors of death:

‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’ (1 Cor. 15:55)

Like a wooden image of death, you can terrify and frighten, but you have no power to destroy. For your victory, sting, and power have been swallowed up in Christ’s victory.

You can show your teeth, but you cannot bite. For God has given us the victory over you through Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be praise and thanks. Amen.’

With such words and thoughts, and with none other, you may set your heart at rest, dear mother.

Be thankful that God has brought you to such knowledge and not allowed you to remain in papal error, by which we were taught to rely on our own works and the holiness of the monks and to consider this only comfort of ours, our Saviour, not as a comforter but as a severe judge and tyrant, so that we could only flee from Him to Mary and the saints and not expect of Him any grace or comfort.

But now we know differently about the unfathomable goodness and mercy of our Heavenly Father.

We now know that Jesus Christ is our mediator, our throne of grace, and our bishop before God in heaven, who daily intercedes for us and reconciles all who call upon and believe in Him.

We now know that He is not a grim judge, except to those who do not believe in Him and who reject His comfort and grace.

We now know that He is not the Man who accuses and threatens us, but rather that He intercedes for and reconciles us by His own death, having shed His blood for us in order that we might not fear Him but approach Him with all assurance and call Him our dear Saviour, our sweet Comforter, the true Bishop of our souls.”

–Martin Luther, “To Mrs. John Luther, (May 20, 1531),” Letters of Spiritual Counsel, Ed. and Trans. Theodore G. Tappert, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1955/2006), 34-35.

“I commend you to Him who loves you more than you love yourself” by Martin Luther

“To my dear father, John Luther, citizen in the valley of Mansfeld:

Grace and peace in Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Dear Father:

My brother James has written me that you are seriously ill. As the weather is bad and the season dangerous, I am very anxious about you, for though God has given you a strong, tough body, yet your age and the inclemency of the weather give me disquieting thoughts.

None of us is, or should be, sure of his life at any time. I should have come to you personally with the greatest willingness, but my good friends advised me against it and have persuaded me not to, and I myself thought it better not to tempt God by putting myself in peril, for you know how lords and peasants feel toward me.

It would be the greatest joy to me if it were possible for you and mother to come hither, which my Katie and all of us beg with tears that you will do. I hope we are able to take good care of you.

Therefore I am sending Cyriac to see whether your weakness will allow you to be moved.

However in God’s wisdom your illness turns out, whether you live or die, it would be a heartfelt joy to me to be with you again and with filial piety and service to show my gratitude to God and to you according to the Fourth Commandment.

In the meantime I pray from the bottom of my heart that our Father, who has made you my father, will strengthen you according to His immeasurable kindness and enlighten and protect you with His Spirit, so that you may receive with joy and thanksgiving the blessed teaching of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to which doctrine you have now been called and to which you have come out of the former terrible darkness and error.

And I hope that His grace, which has given you such knowledge, and thereby begun His work in you, will guard and complete it to the end of this life and to the joyous hereafter of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

God has already sealed this teaching and faith in you and has testified to it by such marks as that you have suffered much slander, abuse, obloquy, mockery, scorn, hatred, and odium for His name’s sake, as we all have done. These are the true marks of our likeness to the Lord Christ, as Paul says, that we may be like Him also in future glory.

Let your heart be strong and at ease in your trouble, for we have yonder a true mediator with God, Jesus Christ, who has overcome death and sin for us and now sits in heaven with all His angels, looking down on us and awaiting us so that when we set out we need have no fear or care lest we should sink and fall to the ground.

He has such great power over sin and death that they cannot harm us, and He is so heartily true and kind that He cannot and will not forsake us, at least if we ask His help without doubting.

He has said, promised, and pledged this. He will not and cannot lie; of that we are certain.

“Ask,” says he, “and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7) And elsewhere: “Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

The whole Psalter is full of such comforting promises, especially Ps. 91, which is particularly good to read to the sick.

I wish to write this to you because I am anxious about your illness (for we know not the hour), that I may become a participant of your faith, temptation, consolation, and thanks to God for His holy Word, which He has richly and graciously given us at this time.

If it is His divine will that you should postpone that better life and continue to suffer with us in this troubled and unhappy vale of tears, to see and hear sorrow and help other Christians to suffer and conquer, He will give you the grace to accept all this willingly and obediently.

This life, cursed by sin, is nothing but a vale of tears. The longer a man lives, the more sin and wickedness and plague and sorrow he sees and feels. Nor is there respite or cessation this side of the grave. Beyond is repose, and we can then sleep in the rest Christ gives us until He comes again to wake us with joy. Amen.

I commend you to Him who loves you more than you love yourself.

He has proved His love in taking your sins upon Himself and paying for them with His blood, as He tells you by the gospel.

He has given you grace to believe by His Spirit, and has prepared and accomplished everything most surely, so that you need not care or fear any more, but only keep your heart strong and reliant on His Word and faith.

If you do that, let Him care for the rest. He will see to it that everything turns out well. Indeed, He has already done this better than we can conceive.

May our dear Lord and Saviour be with you so that, God willing, we may see each other, either here or yonder. For our faith is certain, and we doubt not that we shall shortly see each other in the presence of Christ.

Our departure from this life is a smaller thing to God than my journey would be from here to Mansfeld or yours from Mansfeld to Wittenberg. It is only an hour’s sleep, and after that all will be different. This is most certainly true.

I hope that your pastor and preacher will point out such things to you in faithful service, and so you will not need what I say at all. Yet I write to ask forgiveness for my bodily absence, which, God knows, causes me heartfelt sorrow.

My Katie, little Hans, Magdalene, Aunt Lena, and all my household send you greetings and pray for you faithfully. Greet my dear mother and all my friends.

God’s grace and strength be and abide with you forever. Amen.

Your loving son,

Martin Luther
February 15, 1530.”

–Martin Luther, Letters of Spiritual Counsel, Ed. and Trans. Theodore G. Tappert, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1955/2006), 30-32.

[John Luther, Martin’s father, died on May 29, 1530, three months after this letter of consolation was written. On June 5, Luther wrote to Melanchthon: “John Reineck wrote me today that my beloved father, the senior Hans Luther, departed this life at one o’clock on Exaudi Sunday. This death has cast me into deep mourning, not only because of the ties of nature but also because it was through his sweet love to me that my Creator endowed me with all that I am and have. Although it is consoling to me that, as he writes, my father fell asleep softly and strong in his faith in Christ, yet his kindness and the memory of his pleasant conversation have caused so deep a wound in my heart that I have scarcely ever held death in such low esteem.” (30)]

“Now is the time for all of you who love souls” by Charles Spurgeon

“Whether we gather in the harvest or not, there is a reaper who is silently gathering it every hour. Just now, it is whispered that he is sharpening his sickle. That reaper is death!

You may look upon this great city as the harvest-field, and every week the bills of mortality tell us how steadily and how surely the scythe of death moves to and fro, and how a lane is made through our population, and those who were once living men are taken, like sheaves to the garner, carried to the graveyard, and laid aside.

You cannot stop their dying; but, oh, that God might help you to stop their being damned! You cannot stop the breath from going out of their bodies; but, oh, that the gospel might stop their souls from going down to destruction!

It can do it, and nothing else can take its place. Just now, the cholera has come again. There can be little doubt, I suppose, about it being here already in some considerable force, and probably it may be worse.

The Christian need not dread it, for he has nothing to lose, but everything to gain, by death. Still, for the sake of others, he may well pray that God would avert His hand, and not let His anger burn.

But, since it is here, I think it ought to be a motive for active exertion. If there ever be a time when the mind is sensitive, it is when death is abroad. I recollect, when first I came to London, how anxiously people listened to the gospel, for the cholera was raging terribly.

There was little scoffing then. All day, and sometimes all night long, I went about from house to house, and saw men and women dying, and, oh, how glad they were to see my face!

When many were afraid to enter their houses lest they should catch the deadly disease, we who had no fear about such things found ourselves most gladly listened to when we spoke of Christ and of things Divine.

And now, again, is the minister’s time; and now is the time for all of you who love souls. You may see men more alarmed than they are already; and if they should be, mind that you avail yourselves of the opportunity of doing them good.

You have the Balm of Gilead; when their wounds smart, pour it in. You know of Him who died to save; tell them of Him. Lift high the cross before their eyes.

Tell them that God became man that man might be lifted to God. Tell them of Calvary, and its groans, and cries, and sweat of blood. Tell them of Jesus hanging on the cross to save sinners. Tell them that—

“There is life for a look at the Crucified One.”

Tell them that He is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him. Tell them that He is able to save even at the eleventh hour, and to say to the dying thief, ‘Today shall thou be with Me in Paradise.'”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1834–1854, Volume 1 (Cincinnati; Chicago; St. Louis: Curts & Jennings, 1898), 1: 371.

“Sickbeds and deathbeds” by Herman Bavinck

“The satisfaction of the human heart and conscience are the seal and crown of religion. A religion that has no consolation to offer in time of mourning and sorrow, in life and in death, cannot be the true religion.

From other sciences, from logic, mathematics, physics, etc., we do not expect comfort for the guilty conscience and the saddened heart. But a religion that has nothing to say at sickbeds and deathbeds, that cannot fortify the doubting ones, nor raise up those who are bowed down, is not worthy of the name.

The contrast often made between truth and consolation does not belong in religion. A truth that contains no comfort, which does not connect with the religious-ethical life of human beings, ceases by that token to be a religious truth.

Just as medical science in all its specialties is oriented to the healing of the sick, so in religion people have a right to look for peace and salvation.”

–Herman Bavinck, Ed. John Bolt and Trans. John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 1: Prolegomena (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 552.

“A rich and gracious Savior” by John Newton

“I may express all my complaints in one short sentence: I am a poor creature.

And all my hopes and comforts may be summed up as briefly by saying: I have a rich and gracious Saviour.

Full as I am in myself of inconsistencies and conflicts, I have in Him a measure of peace.

He found me in a waste howling wilderness. He redeemed me from the house of misery and bondage.

And though I have been ungrateful and perverse, He has not yet forsaken me. I trust He never will.

‘Unsustained by Thee I fall.’ But He is able to hold even me up: to pity, to support, and to supply me to the end of life.

How suitable a Saviour! He is made all things to those who have nothing, and He is engaged to help those who can do nothing.”

–John Newton, The Aged Pilgrim’s Thoughts Over Sin and the Grave, Illustrated in a Series of Letters to Walter Taylor, Never Before Published, by the Rev. John Newton (London: Baker and Fletcher, 2nd Ed., 1825), 6.

“The firmament of Scripture” by John Newton

“When we pray for increase of faith and grace, and that we may have stronger proofs of our own sincerity, and of the Lord’s faithfulness and care, we do, but in other words, pray for affliction.

He is best known and noticed in the time of trouble, as a present and all-sufficient help. How grand and magnificent is the arch over our heads in a starry night! But if it were always day, the stars could not be seen.

The firmament of Scripture, if I may so speak, is spangled with exceeding great and precious promises, as the sky is with stars, but the value and beauty of many of them are only perceptible to us in the night of affliction…

Oh! For grace to be always ready, always watching, with our loins girded up, and our lamps burning. Then we may cheerfully leave the when, the how, and the where to Him, of whose kind care and attention we have had so many proofs hitherto.

He will be our Guide and our Guard even unto death, and beyond it.

John Newton
25th September 1797″

–John Newton, “Letter LXXIII” in The Aged Pilgrim’s Thoughts Over Sin and the Grave, Illustrated in a Series of Letters to Walter Taylor, Never Before Published, by the Rev. John Newton (London: Baker and Fletcher, 2nd Ed., 1825), 135-136. As quoted in Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 189.

“Everything is needful that He sends” by John Newton

“All shall work together for good: everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 2: 147.

“No tear escapes His notice” by John Newton

“O! Madam, we want nothing but faith in stronger exercise to make us cheerful and comfortable under all the actual and possible changes of this poor life. Have we not a Saviour, a Shepherd full of compassion and tenderness?

If we wish for love in a friend, He has shewn love unspeakable; —He left His glory, assumed our nature, and submitted to shame, poverty, and death, even the death of the cross, that He might save us from sin and misery, and open the kingdom of heaven to us, who were once His enemies.

For He saw and pitied us, when we knew not how to pity ourselves.

If we need a powerful friend, Jesus is almighty: our help is in Him who made heaven and earth, who raises the dead, and hushes the tempest and raging waves into a calm with a word.

If we need a present friend, a help at hand in the hour of trouble, Jesus is always near, about our path by day, and our bed by night; nearer than the light by which we see, or the air we breathe; nearer than we are to ourselves; so that not a thought, a sigh, or a tear, escapes His notice.

Since then His love and His wisdom are infinite, and He has already done so much for us, shall we not trust Him to the end?

His mercies are countless as the sands, and hereafter we shall see cause to count our trials among our chief mercies.

He sees there is a need-be for them, or we should not have them, and He has promised to make all work together for our final good.

For want of time I am writing by candle-light, which my eyes do not much like; but they submit to it, because I am writing to you; yet they hint that I must now desist.

May the Lord bless you all, with all desirable blessings, temporal and spiritual.

So prays now and often,

Your most affectionate and obliged,

John Newton
6th December, 1800”

–John Newton, “Letter LXXIII” in The Aged Pilgrim’s Thoughts Over Sin and the Grave, Illustrated in a Series of Letters to Walter Taylor, Never Before Published, by the Rev. John Newton (London: Baker and Fletcher, 2nd Ed., 1825), 169-170.

“Let us trust our Physician” by John Newton

“If the Lord is pleased to sanctify the infirmities to which our present mortal frame is subject, we shall have cause to praise Him at least, no less for the bitter than the sweet.

I am convinced in my judgment, that a cross or a pinch somewhere or other, is so necessary to us, that we cannot go on well for a considerable time without one.

We live on an enchanted ground, are surrounded with snares, and if not quickened by trials, are very prone to sink into formality or carelessness. It is a shame it should be so, but so it is, that a long course of prosperity always makes us drowsy.

Trials therefore are medicines, which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes, because we need them; and He proportions the frequency and the weight of them to what the case requires.

Many of His people are sharply exercised by poverty, which is a continual trial every day, and all the year round. Others have trials in their families.

They who have comfortable firesides, and a competence for this world, often suffer by sickness, either in their own persons, or in the persons of those they love.

But any, or all of these crosses, are mercies, if the Lord works by them to prevent us from cleaving to the world, from backsliding in heart or life, and to keep us nearer to Himself.

Let us trust our Physician, and He will surely do us good. And let us thank Him for all His prescriptions, for without them our soul-sickness would quickly grow upon us.”

–John Newton, The Aged Pilgrim’s Thoughts Over Sin and the Grave, Illustrated in a Series of Letters to Walter Taylor, Never Before Published, by the Rev. John Newton (London: Baker and Fletcher, 1825), 33-34.

“In our dying hour, Christ lives” by J.C. Ryle

“The day may come when after a long fight with disease, we shall feel that medicine can do no more, and that nothing remains but to die. Friends will be standing by, unable to help us. Hearing, eyesight, even the power of praying, will be fast failing us. The world and its shadows will be melting beneath our feet. Eternity, with its realities, will be looming large before our minds.

What shall support us in that trying hour? What shall enable us to feel, ‘I fear no evil’? (Psalm 23:4.) Nothing, nothing can do it but close communion with Christ. Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith,—Christ putting His right arm under our heads,—Christ felt to be sitting by our side,—Christ can alone give us the complete victory in the last struggle.

Let us cleave to Christ more closely, love Him more heartily, live to Him more thoroughly, copy Him more exactly, confess Him more boldly, follow Him more fully. Religion like this will always bring its own reward. Worldly people may laugh at it. Weak brethren may think it extreme. But it will wear well. At even time it will bring us light. In sickness it will bring us peace. In the world to come it will give us a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

The time is short. The fashion of this world passeth away. A few more sicknesses, and all will be over. A few more funerals, and our own funeral will take place. A few more storms and tossings, and we shall be safe in harbour. We travel towards a world where there is no more sickness,—where parting, and pain, and crying, and mourning, are done with for evermore.

Heaven is becoming every year more full, and earth more empty. The friends ahead are becoming more numerous than the friends astern. ‘Yet a little time and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.’ (Heb. 10:37.) In His presence shall be fulness of joy. Christ shall wipe away all tears from His people’s eyes. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death. But he shall be destroyed. Death himself shall one day die. (Rev. 20:14.)

In the meantime let us live the life of faith in the Son of God. Let us lean all our weight on Christ, and rejoice in the thought that He lives for evermore. Yes: blessed be God! Christ lives, though we may die. Christ lives, though friends and families are carried to the grave. He lives who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.

He lives who said, ‘O death, I will be thy plagues: O grave, I will be thy destruction.’ (Hos. 13:14.) He lives who will one day change our vile body, and make it like unto His glorious body. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, let us lean confidently on Him. Surely we ought to say daily with one of old, ‘Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!'”

–J.C. Ryle, “Sickness” in Practical Religion: Being Plain Papers on the Daily Duties, Experience, Dangers, and Privileges of Professing Christians (London: Charles Murray, 1900), 372-374.