20 January 2007

Comforted in Death

It is one thing to thunder from a pulpit and to make boast in the pew. It is something altogether different to fix your thoughts on Christ when death calls. Many testify that life brings no more bitter experience than to see the death of one's own child, yet, even here, Christ reigns in the hearts of His. The following episode evidences that it was grace that gripped Luther, and not merely Luther who gripped truth. Read, consider, and learn.

Illness of Luther’s Daughter Becomes Graver, September 1542

When the illness of his daughter became graver he [Martin Luther] said, “I love her very much. But if it is thy will to take her, dear God, I shall be glad to know that she is with thee.”

Afterward he said to his daughter, who was lying in bed, “Dear Magdalene, my little daughter, you would be glad to stay here with me, your father. Are you also glad to go to your Father in heaven?”

The sick girl replied, “Yes, dear Father, as God wills.”

The father said, “You dear little girl!” [Then he turned away from her and said,] “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak [Matt. 26:41]. I love her very much. If this flesh is so strong, what must the spirit be?”

Among other things he then said, “In the last thousand years God has given to no bishop such great gifts as he has given to me (for one should boast of God’s gifts), I’m angry with myself that I’m unable to rejoice from my heart and be thankful to God, though I do at times sing a little song and thank God. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s [Rom. 14:8]—in the genitive singular and not in the nominative plural.”

Desire to Talk with Christ Before the End, September 1542

Turning to Rörer he [Martin Luther] said, “Be of good cheer, Master!”

He responded, “I have at some time heard a word from Your Reverence that has often comforted me, namely, ‘I have prayed our Lord God that he may grant me a blessed end in order that I may depart from this life, and I’m sure he’ll do it. Just before I die I’ll speak with Christ, my Lord, even if it should be but a brief word.’ ”

The doctor said, “I’m afraid I’ll go suddenly and silently, without being able to utter a single word.”

Philip Melanchthon said, “Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s [Rom. 14:8]. Even if you should fall down the staffs or should suddenly expire while you are writing, it wouldn’t matter. Let it be! The devil hates us but God protects and keeps us.”

Description of the Death of Magdalene Luther, September 20, 1542

When his daughter was in the agony of death, he [Martin Luther] fell on his knees before the bed and, weeping bitterly, prayed that God might will to save her. Thus she gave up the ghost in the arms of her father. Her mother was in the same room, but farther from the bed on account of her grief. It was after the ninth hour on the Wednesday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity in the year 1542.

The Love of Parents for Their Children, September 1542

Often he [Martin Luther] repeated the words given above: “I’d like to keep my dear daughter because I love her very much, if only our Lord God would let me. However, his will be done! Truly nothing better can happen to her, nothing better.”

While she was still living he often said to her, “Dear daughter, you have another Father in heaven. You are going to go to him.”

Philip Melanchthon said, “The feelings of parents are a likeness of divinity impressed upon the human character. If the love of God for the human race is as great as the love of parents for their children, then it is truly great and ardent.”

Luther’s Daughter Magdalene Placed in Coffin, September 1542

When his dead daughter was placed in a coffin, he [Martin Luther] said, “You dear little Lena! How well it has turned out for you!”

He looked at her and said, “Ah, dear child, to think that you must be raised up and will shine like the stars, yes, like the sun!”

The coffin would not hold her, and he said, “The little bed is too small for her.”

[Before this,] when she died, he said, “I am joyful in spirit but I am sad according to the flesh. The flesh doesn’t take kindly to this. The separation [caused by death] troubles me above measure. It’s strange to know that she is surely at peace and that she is well off there, very well off, and yet to grieve so much!”

The Coffin Is Escorted from the Home, September 1542

When people came to escort the funeral and friends spoke to him according to custom and expressed to him their sympathy, he [Martin Luther] said, “You should be pleased! I’ve sent a saint to heaven—yes, a living saint. Would that our death might be like this! Such a death I’d take this very hour.”

The people said, “Yes, this is quite true. Yet everybody would like to hold on to what is his.”

Martin Luther replied, “Flesh is flesh, and blood is blood. I’m happy that she’s safely out of it. There is no sorrow except that of the flesh.”

Again, turning to others, he said, “Do not be sorrowful. I have sent a saint to heaven. In fact, I have now sent two of them.” [Luther’s eight-month-old daughter Elizabeth had died August 3, 1528.]

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