Herrenhuter readings for Tuesday, the 6th January 2015

journey-of-the-magi-james-tissotI called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place. (Psalm 118:5)

St. Peter writes: But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. (1.Petrus 2,9)

Luther writes in his exposition of Psalm 118 (Das schoene Confitemini) about verse 5: “Here we see where this small band is. It does not move in manifest joy before the world. Anxiety is its abode. The psalmist pictures himself and his condition, namely, his many troubles. As is proper when one begins to talk about something, he is brief; he sums up all kinds of troubles and calls them “distress.” Later he will say and explain more. Thus I may say: “Oh, how much Paul suffered!” This does not yet explain his sufferings; it merely indicates in a general way that he suffered, but not what he suffered. So the psalmist indicates also the comfort and help of God generally and briefly when he says: “The Lord answered me.” As if he were saying: “I must always Suffer, but I am always comforted.” He will soon describe how this happens and wherein his comfort consists.

In Hebrew the word “distress” means “something narrow.” I surmise that the German noun for distress is also derived from an adjective meaning narrow.24 It implies fear and pain, as in a process of clamping, squeezing, and pressing. Trials and misfortunes do squeeze and press, as is indicated by the proverb: “The great wide world is too narrow for me.” In Hebrew “in a large place” is used in contrast to “distress.”25 “Distress” means tribulation and need; “in a large place” denotes consolation and help. Accordingly, this verse really says: “I called upon the Lord in my trouble; He heard me and helped me by comforting me.” Just as distress is a narrow place, which casts us down and cramps us, so God’s help is our large place, which makes us free and happy.

Note the great art and wisdom of faith. It does not run to and fro in the face of trouble. It does not cry on everybody’s shoulder, nor does it curse and scold its enemies. It does not murmur against God by asking: “Why does God do this to me? Why not to others, who are worse than I am?” Faith does not despair of the God who sends trouble. Faith does not consider Him angry or an enemy, as the flesh, the world, and the devil strongly suggest. Faith rises above all this and sees God’s fatherly heart behind His unfriendly exterior. Faith sees the sun shining through these thick, dark clouds and this gloomy weather. Faith has the courage to call with confidence to Him who smites it and looks at it with such a sour face.

That is skill above all skills. It is the work of the Holy Spirit alone and is known only by pious and true Christians. The self-righteous are ignorant of it. They prate about good works, although they have never known or performed any. Nor can they perform them, because human nature cannot acquire this skill. As soon as God touches it with a little trouble, it is frightened and filled with despair, and can only think that grace is at an end and that God has nothing but wrath toward it. The devil also adds his power and trickery, in order to drown it in doubt and despondency. The situation is aggravated by the provoking sight of God showering abundant blessings on the other three groups. Then human nature begins to think that the others have only the grace of God and none of His anger. Then the poor conscience becomes weak; it would collapse were it not for the help and comfort that come from God, through pious pastors, or by some good Christian’s counsel. Some there are who hang, drown, or stab themselves, or otherwise perish, shrivel, and wither.

Whoever can learn, let him learn. Let everyone become a falcon and soar above distress. Let everyone know most assuredly and not doubt that God does not send him this distress to destroy him, as we shall see in verse eighteen. He wants to drive him to pray, to implore, to fight, to exercise his faith, to learn another aspect of God’s person than before, to accustom himself to do battle even with the devil and with sin, and by the grace of God to be victorious. Without this experience we could never learn the meaning of faith, the Word, Spirit, grace, sin, death, or the devil. Were there only peace and no trials, we would never learn to know God Himself. In short, we could never be or remain true Christians. Trouble and distress constrain us and keep us within Christendom. Crosses and troubles, therefore, are as necessary for us as life itself, and much more necessary and useful than all the possessions and honor in the world.

We read: “I called upon the Lord.” You must learn to call. Do not sit by yourself or lie on a couch, hanging and shaking your head. Do not destroy yourself with your own thoughts by worrying. Do not strive and struggle to free yourself, and do not brood on your wretchedness, suffering, and misery. Say to yourself: “Come on, you lazy burn; down on your knees, and lift your eyes and hands toward heaven!” Read a psalm or the Our Father, call on God, and tearfully lay your troubles before Him. Mourn and pray, as this verse teaches, and also Ps. 142:2: “I pour out my complaint before Him, I tell my trouble before Him.” Likewise Ps. 141:2: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before Thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!” Here you learn that praying, reciting your troubles, and lifting up your hands are sacrifices most pleasing to God. It is His desire and will that you lay your troubles before Him. He does not want you to multiply your troubles by burdening and torturing yourself. He wants you to be too weak to bear and overcome such troubles; He wants you to grow strong in Him. By His strength He is glorified in you. Out of such experiences men become real Christians. Otherwise, men are mere babblers, who prate about faith and spirit but are ignorant of what it is all about or of what they themselves are saying.

You must never doubt that God is aware of your distress and hears your prayer. You must not pray haphazardly or simply shout into the wind. Then you would mock and tempt God. It would be better not to pray at all, than to pray like the priests and monks. It is important that you learn to praise also this point in this verse: “The Lord answered me and set me free.” The psalmist declares that he prayed and cried out, and that he was certainly heard. If the devil puts it into your head that you lack the holiness, piety, and worthiness of David and for this reason cannot be sure that God will hear you, make the sign of the cross, and say to yourself: “Let those be pious and worthy who will! I know for a certainty that I am a creature of the same God who made David. And David, regardless of his holiness, has no better or greater God than I have.”

There is only one God, of saint and sinner, worthy and unworthy, great and small. Regardless of the inequalities among us, He is the one and equal God of us all, who wants to be honored, called on, and prayed to by all. Before they became holy and worthy, what did the saints and the deserving souls have that I do not possess? Did they perhaps become holy and worthy by themselves? As unworthy sinners, did they not receive it from the same God from whom I seek to receive it, as a poor, unworthy sinner? He who gave it to David has promised it also to me. He has commanded me to demand, seek, pray, and knock (Matt. 7:7). At His command and promise I kneel down, raise my eyes to heaven, and beg for comfort and help. Thereby He is honored as the true God, from whom I implore help and comfort, as a true God deserves. Thus He regards me as worthy, and He will prove Himself to be what He sees that I think He is, a true God. He will not place His divine honor and name in jeopardy for my sake. Of this I am sure. He who does not call on God or pray to Him in trouble certainly does not consider Him to be God. Nor does he give Him the divine honor which we as creatures owe Him. Much is said about this elsewhere.”26 So far Luther’s exposition.

24 See also Luther’s Works, 13, p. 7, note 6.

25 The Hebrew term is בַּמָּרְחָב.

26 Luther regularly explains the term “god” as a reference, not primarily to the sovereign power or majesty of the Almighty but to His love; see Luther’s Works, 13, p. 6, note 4.

Luther, M. (1999, c1958). Vol. 14: Luther’s works, vol. 14 : Selected Psalms III (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (14:58). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

“Hail, Thou Source of Every Blessing” by Basil Woodd, 1760-1831

1.Hail, Thou Source of every blessing,
Sovereign Father of mankind!
Gentiles now, Thy grace possessing,
In Thy courts admission find.
Grateful now we fall before Thee,
In Thy Church obtain a place,
Now by faith behold Thy glory,
Praise Thy truth, adore Thy grace.

2. Once far off, but now invited,
We approach Thy sacred throne;
In Thy covenant united,
Reconciled, redeemed, made one.
Now revealed to Eastern sages,
See the Star of Mercy shine;
Mystery hid in former ages,
Mystery great of love divine.

3. Hail, Thou all-inviting Savior!
Gentiles now their offerings bring;
In Thy temples seek Thy favor,
Jesus Christ, our Lord and King.
May we, body, soul, and spirit,
Live devoted to Thy praise,
Glorious realms of bliss inherit,
Grateful anthems ever raise!

The Lutheran Hymnal Hymn #129  Text: Matt. 2:11
Author: Basil Woodd, c. 1810
Tune: “O Durchbrecher

About Wilhelm Weber jr

Rector of the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Tshwane
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