Quotes of Note: Martin Luther—Master Pastor, Part 8
Note: You’re reading Part 8 of a blog mini-series sharing Quotes of Note derived from my Ph.D. dissertation: Spiritual Care in Historical Perspective: Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.
So far we’ve shared quotes from Luther’s pastoral care ministry of sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. Now we shift focus to factors that shaped Luther’s pastoral counseling: his spiritual trials and his theological convictions.
Spiritual Trials and Biblical Counseling
Luther called his spiritual trials anfechtungen (the plural form for spiritual trials) or anfechtung (the singular form of the same word). He clearly connected these strivings to his theological development.
Bainton emphasized the importance of anfechtung, while he also provided a working definition.
“Toward God he was at once attracted and repelled. Only in harmony with the Ultimate could he find peace. But how could a pygmy stand before divine Majesty; how could a transgressor confront divine Holiness? Before God the high and holy Luther was stupefied. For such an experience he had a word. The word he used was Anfechtung, for which there is no English equivalent. It may be a trial sent from God to test man, or an assault by the Devil to destroy man. It is all the doubt, turmoil, pang, terror, panic, despair, desolation, and desperation which invade the spirit of man” (p. 42).
“I didn’t learn my theology all at once. I had to ponder over it ever more deeply, and my spiritual trials were of help to me, for one does not learn anything without practice” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 50).
“If I live longer, I would like to write a book about anfechtungen, for without them no person is able to know Holy Scripture, nor faith, the fear or the love of God. He does not know the meaning of hope who was never subject to temptations” (cited in Vallee, p. 294).
Speaking of his battle with anfechtungen, Luther wrote, “living, dying and being damned make the real theologian” (LW, Vol. 41, p. xi).
“I can say nothing about grace outside of those temptations” (cited in Vallee, p. 294).
“Theology is not learned on a peaceful path, or through tranquil reflection: it is acquired per afflictions” (cited in Vallee, p. 294).
“Anfechtung is the touchstone which teaches you not only to know and understand, but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting the Word of God is, wisdom beyond all wisdom” (cited in Vallee, p. 294).
Luther As Physician of His Own Soul
“When I was in spiritual distress (anfechtung) a gentle word would restore my spirit. Sometimes my confessor said to me when I repeatedly discussed silly sins with him, ‘You are a fool. God is not incensed against you. God is not angry with you, but you are angry with God’” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 15).
“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).
“I was very pious in the monastery, yet I was sad because I thought God was not gracious to me” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 95).
“How can I face the terror of the Holy? The words ‘righteous’ and ‘righteousness of God’ struck my conscience like lightning. When I heard them I was exceedingly terrified. If God is righteous I thought, he must punish me” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 193).
“He (the devil) can make the oddest syllogisms: ‘You have sinned. God is angry with sinners. Therefore despair!’ Accordingly we must proceed from the law to the gospel and grasp the article concerning the forgiveness of sin” (LW, Vol. 54, p. 275).
The Rest of the Story
In Part 9, we’ll explore how Luther attempted to cure his own soul using the church culture remedies of his day. Then in Part 10 we’ll examine how Luther’s theological convictions about salvation by grace alone through faith alone through Christ alone led to Christ’s healing of Luther’s soul.
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.
RPM Ministries: Equipping You to Change Lives with Christ’s Changeless Truth