Sunday, October 18, 2015
Martin Luther on Assurance and the Possession OF and BY the Holy Spirit
The following is an excerpt from Martin Luther's commentary on the book of Galatians as can be found at this link HERE. The quote begins on page 296 (page numbering within the scanned book). The passage deals with the doctrine of assurance and related topics. My comments are in purple. I also emphasize some portions using differing combinations of underline, bold and use of blue text.
VERSE 6. And because you are sons, God hath sent forth the spirit of his Son into your hearts.
The Holy Ghost is sent two manner of ways. In the primitive church he was sent in a manifest and visible appearance. So he came upon Christ, at Jordan, in the likeness of a dove, (Matt. iii. 16.) and in the likeness of fire upon the apostles and other believers. (Acts ii. 3.) And this was the first sending of the Holy Ghost: which was necessary in the primitive church; for it was expedient that it should be established by many miracles, because of the unbelievers, as Paul witnesseth. "Strange tongues," saith he, "be for a sign and a token, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not," (1 Cor. xiv. 23.) But after that the church was gathered together, and confirmed with those miracles, it was not necessary that this visible sending of the Holy Ghost should continue any longer.
Secondly, the Holy Ghost is sent by the word into the hearts of the believers, as here it is said, "God sent the spirit of his Son," &c. This sending with without any visible appearance; to wit, when, by the hearing of the external word, we receive an inward fervency and light, whereby we are changed and become new creatures; whereby also we receive a new judgement, a new feeling, and a new moving. This change, and this new judgment, is no work of reason, or of the power of man, but is the gift and operation of the Holy Ghost, which cometh with the word preached, which purifieth our hearts by faith, and bringeth forth in us spiritual motions. Therefore, there is a great difference betwixt us and those which with force and subtilty persecute the doctrine of the gospel. For we, by the grace of God, can certainly judge by the word, of the will of God towards us: also of all laws and doctrines; of our own life, and of the life of others. Contrariwise, the Papists and sectaries cannot certainly judge of any thing. For they corrupt, they persecute, and blaspheme the word. Now, without the word, a man can give no certain judgment of any thing.
And although it appear not before the world, that we be renewed in spirit, and have the Holy Ghost, yet notwithstanding our judgment, our speech, and our confession do declare sufficiently, that the Holy Ghost with his gifts is in us. For before we could judge rightly of nothing. We spake not as now we do. We confessed not that all our works were sin and damnable, that Christ was our only merit, both before grace and after, as now we do, in the true knowledge and light of the gospel. Wherefore let this trouble us nothing at all, that the world (whose works we testify to be evil) judgeth us to be most pernicious heretics and seditious persons, destroyers of religion, and troublers of the common peace, possessed of the devil speaking in us, and governing all our actions. Against this perverse and wicked judgement of the world, let this testimony of our conscience be sufficient, whereby we assuredly know that it is the gift of God, that we do not only believe in Jesus Christ, but that we also preach and confess him before the world. As we believe with our heart, so do we speak with our mouth, according to that saying of the Psalmist, "I believed, and therefore have I spoken." (Psal. cxvi. 10.)
Moreover we exercise ourselves in the fear of God, and avoid sin as much as we may. If we sin, we sin not of purpose, but of ignorance, and we are sorry for it. We may slip, for the devil lieth in wait for us, both day and night. Also the remnants of sin cleave yet fast in our flesh: therefore, as touching the flesh, we are sinners, yea, after that we have received the Holy Ghost. And there is no great difference betwixt a Christian and a civil honest man. For the works of a Christian in outward shew are but base and simple. He doth his duty according to his vocation, he guideth his family, he tilleth the ground, he giveth counsel, he aideth and succoureth his neighbour. These works the carnal man doth not much esteem, but thinketh them to be common to all men, and such as the heathen may also do. For the world understandeth not the things which are of the spirit of God, and therefore it judgeth perversely of the works of the godly. But the monstrous superstition of hypocrites, and their will-works, they have in great admiration. They count them holy works, and spare no charges in maintaining the same. Contrariwise, the works of the faithful, (which, although in outward appearance they seem to be but vile and nothing worth, yet are they good works indeed, and accepted of God, because they are done in faith, with a cheerful heart, and with obedience and thankfulness towards God,) these works, I say, they do not only not acknowledge to be good works, but also they despise and condemn them as most wicked and abominable. The world, therefore, believeth nothing less than that we have the Holy Ghost. Notwithstanding, in the time of tribulation or of the cross, and of the confession of our faith, (which is the proper and principal work of those that believe) when we must either forsake wife, children, goods, and life, or else deny Christ, then it appeareth that we make confession of our faith, that we confess Christ and his word, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
We ought not, therefore, to doubt whether the Holy Ghost dwelleth in us or not; but to be assuredly persuaded that we "are the temple of the Holy Ghost," as Paul saith, (1 Cor. iii. 16.) For if any man feel in himself a love towards the word of God, and willingly heareth, talketh, writeth, and thinketh of Christ, let that man know, that this is not the work of man's will or reason, but the gift of the Holy Ghost: for it is impossible that these things should be done without the Holy Ghost. Contrariwise, where hatred and contempt of the word is, there the devil, the god of this world, reigneth, "blinding men's hearts, and holding them captive, that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should not shine unto them." (2 Cor. iv. 4.) Which thing we see at this day in the most part of the common people, which have no love to the word, but contemn it, as though it pertained nothing at all unto them. But whosoever do feel any love or desire to the word, let them acknowledge with thankfulness, that this affection is poured unto them by the Holy Ghost. For we bring not this affection and desire with us, neither can we be taught by any laws how we may obtain it; but this change is plainly and simply the work of the right hand of the Most High. Therefore, when we willingly and gladly hear the word preached, concerning Christ the Son of God, who for us was made man, and became subject to the law, to deliver us from the malediction of the law, hell, death, and damnation; then let us assure ourselves that God, by and with this preaching, sendeth the Holy Ghost into our hearts. Wherefore it is very expedient for the godly to know that they have the Holy Ghost.
This I say, to confute that pernicious doctrine of the Papists, which taught that no man can certainly know (although his life be never so upright and blameless) whether he be in the favour of God or no. And this sentence, commonly received, was a special principle and article of faith in the whole papacy, whereby they utterly defaced the doctrine of faith, tormented men's consciences, banished Christ quite out of the church, darkened and denied all the benefits of the Holy Ghost, abolished the whole worship of God, set up idolatry, contempt of God, and blasphemy against God in men's hearts.
Augustine saith very well and godly, that "every man seeth most certainly his own faith, if he have faith." This do they deny. God forbid (say they) that I should assure myself that I am under grace, that I am holy, and that I have the Holy Ghost, yea, although I live godly, and do all good works. Ye which are young, and are not infected with the pernicious opinion, (whereupon the whole kingdom of the Pope is grounded,) take heed and fly from it, as from a most horrible plague. We that are old men have been trained up in this error, even from our youth, and have been so nusled [sic, some texts have "nursled" or "misled." See HERE and HERE. or HERE. "Nursled" seems to be the correct word. It is an archaic word that means "to nurture, train, raise (up) (a person)."] therein, that it hath taken deep root in our hearts. Therefore it is to us no less labour to unlearn and forget the same, than to learn and lay hold upon true faith. But we must be assured and out of doubt that we are under grace, that we please God for Christ's sake, and that we have the Holy Ghost: "For if any man have not the spirit of Christ, the same is none of his." (Rom. viii. 9.)
Wherefore, whether thou be a minister of God's word, or a magistrate in the commonwealth, thou must assuredly think that thy office pleaseth God: but this thou canst never do, unless thou have the Holy Ghost. But thou wilt say, I doubt not but that my office pleaseth God, because it is God's ordinance; but I doubt of mine own person, whether it please God or no. Here thou must resort to the word of God, which teacheth and assureth us, that not only the office of the person, but also the person itself pleaseth God. For the person is baptized, believeth in Christ, is purged in his blood from all his sins, liveth in the communion and fellowship of his church. Moreover, he doth not only love the pure doctrine of the word, but also he is glad, and greatly rejoiceth when he seeth it advanced, and the number of the faithful increased. Contrariwise, he detesteth the Pope and all sectaries, with their wicked doctrine; according to that saying of the Psalm: "I hate them that imagine evil things, but thy law do I love." (Psal. cxix. 113.)
We ought, therefore, to be surely persuaded, that not only our office, but also our person pleaseth God; yea, whatsoever it saith, doth, or thinketh particularly, the same pleaseth God, not for our own sakes, but for Christ's sake, who was made under the law for us. Now, we are sure that Christ pleaseth God, that he is holy, &c. Forasmuch, then, as Christ pleaseth God, and we are in him, we also please God, and are holy. And although sin do still remain in our flesh, and we also daily fall and offend, yet grace is more abundant and stronger than sin. The mercy and truth of the Lord reigneth over us for ever. Wherefore sin cannot terrify us, and make us doubtful of the grace of God which is in us. For Christ, that most mighty giant, hath quite abolished the law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and all evils. So long as he is at the right hand of God, making intercession for us, we cannot doubt of the grace and favour of God towards us.
Moreover, God hath also sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, as Paul here saith. But Christ is most certain in his spirit that he pleaseth God, &c.; therefore we also, having the same spirit of Christ, must be assured that we are under grace for his sake which is most assured. This I have said concerning the inward testimony, whereby a Christian man's heart ought to be fully persuaded that he is under grace, and hath the Holy Ghost. Now, the outward signs (as before I have said) are, gladly to hear of Christ, to preach and teach Christ, to render thanks unto him, to praise him, to confess him, yea, with the loss of goods and life: moreover, to do our duty according to our vocation as we are able: to do it (I say) in faith, joy, &c. Not to delight in, nor to thrust ourselves into another man's vocation, but to attend upon our own, to help our needy brother, to comfort the heavy hearted, &c. By these signs, as by certain effects and consequents, we are fully assured and confirmed that we are in God's favour. The wicked also do imagine that they have the same signs, but they have nothing less. Hereby we may plainly perceive that the Pope with his doctrine doth nothing else but trouble and torment men's consciences, and at length driveth them to desperation. For he not only teacheth, but also commandeth men to doubt. Therefore, as the Psalm saith, "There is no truth or certainty in his mouth," (Ps. v. 9.) And in another place: "Under his tongue is iniquity and mischief," (Ps. x. 7.)
Here we may see, what great infirmity is yet in the faith of the godly. For if we could be fully persuaded that we are under grace, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the spirit of Christ, that we are the children of God, then, doubtless, we should be joyful, and thankful to God for this inestimable gift. But because we feel contrary motions, that is to say, fear, doubtfulness, anguish and heaviness of heart, and such-like, therefore we cannot assure ourselves hereof: yea, our conscience judgeth it a great presumption and pride to challenge this glory. Wherefore, if we will understand this thing rightly, and as we should do, we must put it in practice; for without experience and practice it can never be learned.
Wherefore, let every man so practise with himself, that his conscience may be fully assured that he is under grace, and that his person and his works do please God. And if he feel in himself any wavering or doubting, let him exercise his faith, and wrestle against this doubting, and let him labour to attain more strength and assurance of faith, so that he may be able to say, I know that I am accepted, and that I have the Holy Ghost: not for mine own worthiness, my work, my merit, but for Christ's sake, who, of his inestimable love towards us, made himself thrall and subject to the law, and took away the sins of the world. In him do I believe. If I be a sinner and err, he is righteous and cannot err. Moreover, I gladly hear, read, sign, and write of him, and I desire nothing more than that his gospel may be known to the whole world, and that many may be converted unto him.
These things do plainly witness, that the Holy Ghost is present with us and in us. For such things are not wrought in the heart by man's strength, nor gotten by man's industry or travel, but are obtained by Christ alone, who first maketh us righteous by the knowledge of himself in his holy gospel, and afterwards he createth a new heart in us, bringeth forth new motions, and giveth unto us that assurance, whereby we are persuaded that we please the Father for his sake. Also he giveth us a true judgment, whereby we prove and try those things which before we knew not, or else altogether despised. It behoveth us, therefore, to wrestle against this doubting, that we may daily overcome it more and more, and attain to a full persuasion and certainty of God's favour towards us; rooting out of our hearts this cursed opinion, that a man ought to doubt of the grace and favour of God, which hath infected the whole world.
VERSE 6. Crying, Abba, Father.
Paul might have said, "God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts," calling, Abba, Father. He saith not so, but crying "Abba, Father," that he might shew and set forth the temptation of a Christian, which yet is but weak, and weakly believeth. In the eighth to the Romans, he calleth this crying an unspeakable groaning. Likewise he saith: "The spirit helpeth our infirmities: for we know not how to pray as we ought, but the spirit maketh intercession for us, with unspeakable groanings," &c.
And this is a singular consolation when he saith, "that the spirit of Christ is sent into our hearts, crying Abba, Father:" and again, "that he helpeth our infirmities, making intercession for us with unspeakable groanings." He that could assuredly believe this, should never be overcome with any affliction, were it never so great. But there are many things that hinder this faith in us. First, our heart is born in sin: moreover, this evil is naturally grafted in us, that we doubt of the good-will of God towards us, and cannot assure ourselves that we please God, &c. Besides all this, the devil our adversary rangeth about with terrible roarings, and saith: Thou art a sinner; therefore God is angry with thee, and will destroy thee for ever. Against these horrible and intolerable roarings, we have nothing whereupon to hold and stay ourselves, but only the word, which setteth Christ before us as a conqueror over sin and death, and over all evils. But to cleave fast to the word, in this temptation and these terrors of conscience, herein standeth all the difficulty. For then Christ appeareth to no sense. We see him not; the heart feeleth not his presence or succour in temptation; but rather it seemeth that he is angry with us, and that he forsaketh us. Moreover, when a man is tempted and afflicted, he feeleth the strength of sin, and the infirmity of the flesh, he doubteth, he feeleth the fiery darts of the devil, the terrors of death, the anger and judgment of God. All these things cry out horribly against us, so that we see nothing else but desperation and eternal death. But yet, in the midst of these terrors of the law, thunderings of sin, assaults of death, and roarings of the devil, the Holy Ghost (saith Paul) crieth in our hearts, "Abba, Father!" And this cry surmounteth the horrible cries of the law, sin, death, the devil, &c.; it pierceth the clouds and the heavens, and ascendeth up into the ears of God.
Paul signifieth, therefore, by these words, that there is yet infirmity in the godly: As he doth also in the eighth chapter to the Romans, when he saith, "the spirit helpeth our infirmities." Forasmuch, therefore, as the sense and feeling of the contrary is strong in us; that is to say, forasmuch as we feel more the displeasure of God, than his good-will and favour towards us, therefore the Holy Ghost is sent into our hearts, which doth not only sigh and make request for us, but mightily crieth, "Abba, Father!" and prayeth for us according to the will of God, with tears and unspeakable groanings. And how is this done? When we are in terrors, and in the conflict of conscience, we take hold of Christ, and believe that he is our Saviour; but then do the law and sin terrify and torment us most of all. Moreover, the devil assaileth us with all his engines and fiery darts, and goeth about with all his power to take away Christ and all consolations from us. Here we feel ourselves almost gone, and at the point of desperation: for then are we that bruised reed and smoking flax, which Isaiah speaketh of, chap. xlii. 3. Notwithstanding, in the mean season, the Holy Ghost helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with unspeakable groanings, (Rom. viii. 28.) and certifieth our spirits that we are the children of God. Thus is the mind raised up in terrors: it looketh unto his Saviour and high bishop, Jesus Christ; it overcometh the infirmity of the flesh; it conceiveth comfort again, and saith, "Abba, Father." This groaning which then we scantly feel, Paul calleth, a crying and unspeakable groaning, which filleth both heaven and earth. Moreover, he calleth it the crying and groaning of the spirit, because the Holy Ghost stirreth up the same in our hearts when we are weak, and oppressed with temptation and terror.
Although, then, the law, sin, and the devil cry out against us never so much, with great and terrible roarings, which seem to fill heaven and earth, and far to exceed this groaning of our heart, yet can they not hurt us. For the more fiercely they assail us, accuse, and torment us with their cryings, so much the more do we groan; and in groaning lay hold upon Christ, call upon him with heart and mouth, cleave unto him, and believe that he was made under the law, that he might deliver us from the curse of the law, and destroy both sin and death. And thus, when we have taken hold of Christ by faith, we cry through him, "Abba, Father." (Gal. iv. 6) And this our cry doth far surmount the roaring of the law, sin, the devil, &c.
But so far off is it that we think this groaning, which we make in these terrors and this our weakness, to be a cry, that scarcely we perceive it to be a groaning. For our faith, which in temptation thus groaneth unto Christ, is very weak, if we consider our own sense and feeling; and therefore we hear not the cry. "But he," saith Paul, "which searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the meaning of the spirit," &c. (Rom. viii. 27.) To this searcher of the hearts, this small and feeble groaning (as it seemeth unto us) is a loud and a mighty cry, and an unspeakable groaning; in comparison whereof, the great and horrible roarings of the law, of sin, of death, of the devil, and of hell, are nothing; neither can they be once heard. Paul, therefore, not without cause calleth this groaning of a godly afflicted heart, a cry and a groaning of the spirit, which cannot be expressed; for it filleth heaven, so that the angels think they hear nothing else but this cry.
But in us there is a clean contrary feeling. For it seemeth unto us that this our small groaning doth not so pierce the clouds, that there is nothing else heard in heaven of God or his angels. Nay, we think, and especially during the time of temptation, the devil horribly roareth against us, that the heavens thunder and the earth trembleth, that all will fall upon us, that all creatures threaten our destruction, that hell is open and ready to swallow us up. This feeling is in our heart; these horrible voices, and this fearful shew we hear and we see. And this is it that Paul saith, in 2 Cor. xii. 9, that "the strength of Christ is made perfect through our weakness." For then is Christ almighty indeed; then doth he truly reign and triumph in us, when we are so weak that we can scarcely groan. But Paul saith, that this groaning is, in the ears of God, a most mighty cry, which filleth both heaven and earth.
Christ also, in the eighteenth of Luke, in the parable of the wicked judge, calleth this groaning of a faithful heart, a cry, yea, and such a cry as ceaseth not day and night to cry unto God, where he saith: "Here what the unrighteous judge saith. Now shall not God avenge his elect, which cry day and night unto him, yea though he suffer long for them? yea, I tell you, he will avenge them quickly." We at this day, in so great persecution and contradiction of the Pope, of tyrants and sectaries, which fight against us both on the right hand and on the left, can do nothing else but utter such groanings. And these were our guns and artillery, wherewith we have so many years scattered the counsels and enterprises of our adversaries; whereby, also, we have begun to overthrow the kingdom of Antichrist. They also shall provoke Christ to hasten the day of his glorious coming, wherein he shall abolish all rule, authority, and power, and shall put all his enemies under his feet. So be it.
In the fourteenth of Exodus, the Lord speaketh unto Moses at the Red Sea, saying, "Why criest thou unto me?" Yet Moses cried not, but trembled and almost despaired, for he was in great trouble. It seemed that infidelity reigned in him, and not faith. For he saw the people of Israel so compassed and enclosed with the Egyptian host and with the sea, that there was no way whereby they might escape. Here Moses durst not once open his mouth. How, then, did he cry? We must not judge, therefore, according to the feeling of our own heart, but according to the word of God, which teacheth us that the Holy Ghost is given to those that are afflicted, terrified, and ready to despair, to raise them up and to comfort them, that they be not overcome in their temptations and afflictions, but may overcome them, and yet not without great terrors and troubles.
The Papists dreamed, "that holy men had the Holy Ghost in such sort that they never had nor felt any temptation." They spake of the Holy Ghost only by speculation and naked knowledge. But Paul saith, that "the strength of Christ is made perfect through our weakness." Also, that "the spirit helpeth our infirmities, and maketh intercession for us with unspeakable groanings." Therefore we have then most need of the help and comfort of the Holy Ghost; yea, and then is he most ready to help us, when we are most weak, and nearest to desperation. If any man suffer affliction with a constant and joyful heart, then hath the Holy Ghost done his office in him. And, indeed, he exerciseth his work specially and properly in those which have suffered great terrors and afflictions, "and have," as the Psalm saith, "approached nigh to the gates of hell." As I said of Moses, which saw present death in the waters, and on every side whithersoever he turned his face. He was therefore in extreme anguish and desperation; and (no doubt) he felt in his heart a mighty cry of the devil against him, saying, All this people shall this day perish, for they can escape no way; and of this great calamity thou only shalt be found to be the author, because thou hast led them out of Egypt? Besides all this, the people cried out against him, saying, "Were there no graves in Egypt? Thou has brought us out, that we should die here in the wilderness. Had it not been better for us to have served the Egyptians, than here wretchedly to die in the wilderness?" (Exod. xiv. 11.) The Holy Ghost was not here in Moses by bare speculation and knowledge only, but truly and effectually, who made intercession for him with an unspeakable groaning, so that he sighed unto the Lord and said, "O Lord, at thy commandment have I led forth this people: help us, therefore." This groaning or sighing unto God, the scripture calleth a crying.
This matter I have the more largely prosecuted, that I might plainly shew what the office of the Holy Ghost is, and when he specially exerciseth the same. In temptation, therefore, we must in no wise judge thereof according to our own sense and feeling, or by the crying of the law, sin, and the devil, &c. If we then follow our own sense, and believe those cryings, we shall think ourselves to be destitute of all help and succour of the Holy Ghost, and utterly cast away from the presence of God. Nay, rather let us then remember what Paul saith, "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities," &c. Also it crieth, "Abba, Father;" that is to say, it uttereth a certain feeble sighing and groaning of the heart, (as it seemeth unto us), which, notwithstanding, before God is a loud cry and an unspeakable groaning. Wherefore, in the midst of thy temptation and infirmity, cleave only unto Christ, and groan unto him: he giveth the Holy Ghost, which crieth, "Abba, Father." And this feeble groaning is a might cry in the ears of God, and so filleth heaven and earth that God heareth nothing else: and moreover it stoppeth the cries of all other things whatsoever.
Thou must mark also that Paul saith, that the Spirit maketh intercession for us in our temptation; not with many words or long prayer, but only with a groaning, which notwithstanding cannot be expressed. And that he crieth not aloud with tears, saying, "Have mercy on me, O God," &c. (Ps. li.1.) but only uttereth a little sound, and feeble groaning, as "Ah, father." This is but a little word, and yet, notwithstanding, it comprehendeth all things. The mouth speaketh not, but the affection of the heart speaketh after this manner: Although I be oppressed with anguish and terror on every side, and seem to be forsaken and utterly cast away from thy presence, yet am I thy child, and thou art my father, for Christ's sake. I am beloved, because of the Beloved. Wherefore, this little word, "father," conceived effectually in the heart, passeth all the eloquence of Demosthenes, Cicero, and of the most eloquent rhetoricians that ever were in the world. This matter is not expressed with words, but with groanings; which groanings cannot be expressed with any words or eloquence, for no tongue can express them.
I have used many words to declare that a Christian must assure himself that he is in the favour of God, and that he hath the crying of the Holy Ghost in his heart. This have I done, that we may learn to reject and utterly to abandon that devilish opinion of the whole kingdom of the Pope, which taught that a man ought to be uncertain, and to stand in doubt of the grace of and favour of God towards him. If this opinion be received, then Christ profiteth nothing; for he that doubteth of God's favour towards him, must needs doubt also of the promises of God, and so, consequently, of the will of God, and of the benefits of Christ; namely, that he was born, suffered, died, and rose again for us, &c. But there can be no greater blasphemy against God, than to deny his promises, to deny God himself, to deny Christ, &c. Wherefore, it was not only an extreme madness, but a horrible impiety that the monks did so earnestly entice the youth, both men and women, to their monasteries, and to their holy orders, (as they called them) as to a most certain state of salvation; and yet, when they had thus done, they bade them doubt of the grace and favour of God towards them.
Moreover, the Pope called all the world to the obedience of the holy church of Rome, as to a holy state, in the which they might undoubtedly attain salvation; and yet, after he had brought them under the obedience of his laws, he commanded them to doubt of their salvation. So the kingdom of Antichrist braggeth and vaunteth, at the first, of the holiness of his orders, his rules, and his laws, and assuredly promiseth everlasting life to such as observe and keep them. But afterwards, when these miserable men have long afflicted their bodies with watching, fasting, and such-like exercises, according to the traditions and ordinances of men, this is all that they gain thereby, that they are uncertain whether this obedience please God or no. Thus Satan most horribly dallied in the death and destruction of souls through the Pope; and therefore is the papacy a slaughter-house of consciences, and the very kingdom of the devil.
Now, to establish and confirm this pernicious and cursed error, they alleged the saying of Solomon—"The just and the wise men are in the hands of God; and yet no man knoweth whether he be worthy of love or of hatred." (Eccles. ix. 1.) Some understand this of that hatred which is to come; and some again of that which is present; but neither of them understand Solomon, who in that place meaneth nothing less than that which they dream. Moreover, the whole scripture teacheth us, especially and above all things, that we should not doubt, but assure ourselves and undoubtedly believe that God is merciful, loving and patient; that he is neither a dissembler nor a deceiver; but that he is faithful and true, and keepeth his promise: yea, and hath performed that he promised in delivering his only begotten Son to death for our sins, that every one that believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life. Here we cannot doubt but that God is pleased with us, that he loveth us indeed, that the hatred and wrath of God is taken away, seeing he suffered his Son to die for us wretched sinners. Although this matter is set out and often repeated throughout the whole gospel, yet it profited nothing at all. This one saying of Solomon, perversely understood, did more prevail (especially among the votaries and hypocrites of the straiter religion) than all the promises and consolations of the whole scripture, yea than Christ himself. They abused the scripture therefore, to their own destruction, and were most justly punished for despising the scripture, and rejecting the gospel.
It is expedient for us to know these things: first, because the Papists vaunt of their holiness, as if they had never committed any evil. Therefore they must be convinced by their own abominations, wherewith they have filled the whole word, as their own books do witness, whereof there is yet an infinite number. Secondly, that we may be fully certified that we have the pure doctrine of the gospel: of which certainty the Pope cannot glory, in whose kingdom, though all things else were sound and uncorrupt, yet this monstrous doctrine, of doubting of God's grace and favour, passeth all other monsters. And although it be manifest that the enemies of Christ's gospel teach uncertain things, because they command that men's consciences should remain in doubt, yet notwithstanding they condemn and kill us as heretics, because we dissent from them, and teach those things which are certain. And this they do with such devilish rage and cruelty, as if they were most assured of their doctrine.
Let us therefore give thanks unto God, that we are delivered from this monstrous doctrine of doubting, and can now assure ourselves that the Holy Ghost crieth, and bringeth forth in our hearts unspeakable groanings; and this is our anchor-hold, and our foundation. The gospel commandeth us to behold, not our own good works, our own perfection; but God the promiser, and Christ the mediator. Contrariwise, the Pope, commandeth us to look, not unto God the promiser, nor unto Christ our high bishop, but unto our works and merits. Here, on the one side, doubting and desperation must needs follow: but on the other side, assurance of God's favour and joy of the spirit. For we cleave unto God, who cannot lie. For he saith, Behold, I deliver my Son to death, that through his blood he may redeem thee from thy sins, and from eternal death. In this case, I cannot doubt, unless I will utterly deny God. And this is the reason that our doctrine is most sure and certain, because it carrieth us out of ourselves, that we should not lean to our own strength, out own conscience, our own feeling, our own person, and our own works; but to that which is without us, that is to say, the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive us. This the Pope knoweth not, and therefore he wickedly imagineth that no man knoweth, be he never so just or so wise, whether he be worthy of love or of hatred. But if he be just and wise, he knoweth assuredly that he is beloved of God, or else he is neither just nor wise.
Moreover, this sentence of Solomon speaketh nothing at all of the hatred or favour of God towards men, but it is a moral sentence, reproving the ingratitude of men. For such is the perverseness and ingratitude of the world, that the better a man deserveth, the less thanks he shall have, and oftentimes he that should be his most friend, shall be his most enemy. Contrariwise, such as least deserve, shall be most esteemed. So, David, a holy man, and a good king, was cast out of his kingdom. The prophets, Christ, and his apostles were slain. To conclude, the histories of all nations witness, that many men, well deserving of their country, were cast into banishment by their own citizens, and there lived in great misery, and some also shamefully perished in prison. Wherefore Solomon in this place speaketh not of the conscience having to do with God, nor of the favour or judgement, the love or hatred of God; but of the judgments and affections of men among themselves. As though he would say, There are many just and wise men, by whom God worketh much good, and giveth peace and quietness unto men. But so far off are they from acknowledging the same, that oftentimes they requite them again most unkindly and uncourteously for their well-doings and deservings. Therefore, although a man do all things well, and never so well, yet he knoweth not whether by this his diligence and faithfulness he deserve the hatred or favour of men.
So we, at this day, when we thought we should have found favour among our own countrymen, for that we preach unto them the gospel of peace, life, and eternal salvation; instead of favour, we have found bitter and cruel hatred. Indeed, at the first, many were greatly delighted with our doctrine, and received it gladly. We thought they would have been our friends and brethren, and that with one consent, together with us, they would have planted and preached this doctrine to others. But now we find that they are false brethren and our deadly enemies, which sow and spread abroad false doctrine; and that which we teach well and godly, they wickedly pervert and overthrow, stirring up offences in the churches. Whosoever, therefore, doth his duty godly and faithfully, in what kind of life soever he be, and for his well-doing receiveth nothing again but the unkindness and hatred of men, let him not vex and torment himself therefore, but let him say with Christ, "They hated me without a cause." Again, "For that they should have loved me, they slandered me; but I did pray." (Ps. cix. 3, 4.)
The Pope, therefore, with this devilish doctrine, whereby he commanded men to doubt of the favour of God towards them, took away God and all his promises out of the church, buried all the benefits of Christ, and abolished the whole gospel. These inconveniences do necessarily follow; for men do not lean to the promises of God, but to their own works and merits. Therefore they cannot be assured of the good-will of God towards them, but must needs doubt thereof, and so at length despair. No man can understand what God's will is, and what pleaseth him, but in his good word. This word assureth us that God cast away all the anger and displeasure which he had conceived against us, when he gave his only-begotten Son for our sins, &c. Wherefore, let us utterly abandon this devilish doubting, wherewith the whole papacy was poisoned, and let us be fully assured that God is merciful unto us, that we please him, that he hath a care over us, that we have the Holy Ghost, which maketh intercession for us with such crying and groaning as cannot be expressed.
Now this is the true crying and groaning indeed, when a man in temptation calleth upon God: not as a tyrant, not as an angry judge, not as a tormentor, but as a father, although this groaning be so soft and so secret, that it can scarcely be perceived. For in serious temptations, and in the time of trial, where the conscience wrestleth with the judgment of God, it is wont to call God, not a father, but an unjust, an angry, a cruel tyrant and judge. And this crying, which Satan stirreth up in the heart, far passeth the cry of the spirit, and is strongly felt. For then it seemeth that God hath forsaken us, and will throw us down into hell. So the faithful complain oftentimes, in the Psalms: "I am cast down from the presence of God." (Ps. xxxi. 22.) Also, "I am become as a broken vessel, &c.) This is not the groaning that crieth, "Abba, Father;" but the roaring of God's wrath, which crieth strongly, O cruel judge, O cruel tormentor, &c. Here it is now time that thou turn away thine eyes from the law, from works, from the sense and feeling of thine own conscience, and lay hold by faith of the promise; that is to say, of the word of grace and life, which raiseth up the conscience again, so that it now beginneth to groan and say, Although the law accuse me, sin and death terrify me never so much, yet, O my God, thou promisest grace, righteousness and everlasting life through Jesus Christ. And so the promise bringeth a sighing and a groaning, which crieth, Abba, Father.