Friday, March 11, 2011

Luther on Romans 9:3

Thus the words "I could wish, etc." are a most excellent and entirely apostolic way of speaking here of love both toward Christ as well as toward the Jews. For from the great love for Christ he hopes for great glory from the Jews for Christ. And in order that He might have this, he himself is glad and willing to be separated from Him, but without hating Him. For this love based on its opposite is the strongest and highest love, where the highest sign of hatred for oneself shows the great love for someone else.

Thus he wishes the greatest salvation also for the Jews, and in order that they might have this, he freely is willing to lose his own salvation. He does this also in another place, in 2 Cor. 12:15, where he says: "I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls."

But we must note that these words seem strange and foolish to those who think that they are righteous and love God with a covetous love, that is, because of their salvation and eternal rest or because of their escape from hell, and not for the sake of God Himself, but for their own sakes, men who babble that ordered love begins with itself and that each person must first desire salvation for himself and then his neighbor's salvation as his own. They have this kind of wisdom because they do not know what it is to be blessed and saved, unless of course it means to be happy and to do well according to their own imagination. Although this is what it means to be blessed, to will to do the will of God and glorify Him in all things and not at all to want one's own interests, neither here nor in eternity.

But to those who truly love God with a filial love and friendship, which does not arise out of nature but only from the Holy Spirit, these words are most beautiful and testimonies of a perfect example. For such men freely offer themselves to the entire will of God, even to hell and eternal death, if that is what God wills, so that His will may be fully done. Therefore they seek absolutely nothing for themselves. But just as they thus conform themselves purely to the will of God, so also it is impossible that they should remain in hell. For it is impossible that the man should remain outside of God who has so completely thrown himself upon the will of God. For he wills what God wills; therefore he pleases God. And if he pleases God, he is loved by Him; and if loved, then saved.

But you ask whether God has ever willed or may ever will that a man should resign himself to hell and damnation or give himself to the anathema from Christ for the sake of His will. I reply that it happens in many cases and especially in those who are imperfect in charity or pure love for God. For in their case the love of concupiscence which is so deeply rooted in them must necessarily be torn out. But it is not torn out except through a superabundant infusion of grace or through this very harsh resignation. For "nothing unclean shall enter into the kingdom of God" (Rev. 21:27). But now no one knows whether he loves God with a pure heart unless he has experienced in himself that if it should please God he would not desire even to be saved nor would he refuse to be damned. For the damned suffer so severely because they are unwilling to be damned and do not resign themselves to the will of God, which they cannot do without the grace of God...

But those who are truly righteous in that they abound in love achieve this resignation without great sadness. For because of their abounding love for God they make all things possible, even enduring hell. And by reason of this facility they immediately escape the penalty of this kind. Indeed they have no need to fear being damned, for they willingly and happily submit to damnation for the sake of God. Rather it is they who are damned who try to escape damnation.
For even Christ suffered damnation and desertion more than all the saints. And it was not easy for Him to suffer, as some imagine. For He really and truly offered Himself to God the Father for the condemnation for us. And in His human nature He acted in no way different than a man to be eternally damned to hell. And on account of this love of His toward God, God immediately raised Him from death and hell and thus devoured hell. This all His saints should imitate, some to a less and some to a greater degree, for the more perfect they have been in their love, the more readily and easily they can do this. But Christ underwent this with the greatest difficulty of all. Hence in many passages He complains about the agonies of hell.

Those who shrink from this interpretation are still being ruled by the imaginings of their flesh, thinking that to love oneself is to hope first of all for something good for oneself; but they do not understand what this kind of good is, and thus they do not know what it is to love. For to love is to hate oneself, to condemn oneself, and to wish the worst, in accord with the statement of Christ: "He who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (John 12:25). But if someone says: "I do not love my life in this world because I am seeking what is good for it in the life to come," I reply: "You are doing this out of love for yourself, which is a worldly love, and therefore you still love your life in this world. He who loves himself in this way truly loves himself. For he loves himself not in himself but in God, that is, in accord with the will of God, who hates, damns, and wills evil to all sinners, that is, to all of us. For what is good for us is hidden, and that so deeply that it is hidden under its opposite. Thus our life is hidden under death, love for ourselves under hate for ourselves, glory under ignominy, salvation under damnation, our kingship under exile, heaven under hell, wisdom under foolishness, righteousness under sin, power under weakness. And universally our every assertion of anything good is hidden under the denial of it, so that faith may have its place in God, who is a negative essence and goodness and wisdom and righteousness, who cannot be possessed or touched except by the negation of all of our affirmatives. Thus "the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field" (Matt. 13:44). The field is dirty in contrast to the treasure; while the one is trodden underfoot, the other is picked up. And yet the field hides the treasure. So also "our life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3), that is, in the negation of all things which can be felt, held, and comprehended by our reason. So also our wisdom and righteousness are not at all apparent to us but are hidden with Christ in God. But what does appear is that which is contrary to these things, namely, sin and foolishness, as the apostle says: "If anyone among you thinks that he is wise, let him become a fool that he may become wise" (1 Cor. 3:18), that is, let him become wise and rich in God, not in himself; let all his own wisdom disappear and nothing but foolishness remain. And thus it is in all other matters too. Thus these are the good things which we should wish for ourselves (that is, every kind of evil). For in this way we conform ourselves to God, who does not regard or consider anything in us as good. And in this way we are already good as long as we recognize nothing as good except God's good and our own good as evil, for he who is wise in this way with God is truly a wise and good man. For he knows that nothing is good outside of God in that in God everything is good. As Christ says: "The kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21). It is as if He were saying: "Outside of you is exile. Outside of you is everything which is seen and touched, but within you is everything which is believed only by faith."

Therefore these people are arguing in a very dangerous manner about the good which can be deduced from philosophy, since God has turned this good into evil. For even though all things are very good (Gen. 1:31), yet they are not good for us, and even if there are no things which are in any way evil, yet everything is evil for us; and all of this is the case because we have sin. Therefore it becomes necessary to flee the good things and take on the evil things. And we must do this not only with our voice and with a deceitful heart, but with our whole mind we must confess and wish that we might be damned and destroyed. For we must act toward ourselves in the same way that a man does who hates another man. For he does not hate him in imagination, but he sincerely desires to destroy and kill and damn the person whom he hates. Therefore if we so sincerely want to destroy ourselves that we offer ourselves to hell for the sake of God and His righteousness, and He will be merciful and free us. "If we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged by the Lord" (1 Cor. 11:31). For such people seek only this one thing, that they may wash away their sin and win the grace of an offended God; they do not seek the kingdom; they are prepared to lose their salvation, they are ready and willing to be damned, but under the grace of God who has already been placated, they do not fear punishment but only their offense against God.

Luther, Martin. Luther's Works vol. 25, Lectures on Romans. Saint Louis Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1972. pp. 379-384.