As of late I have been reading Dennis Ngien’s book Luther as Spiritual Advisor: The Interface of Theology and Piety in Luther’s Devotional Writings to get a better understanding of Luther’s spirituality. As each chapter focuses on one of Luther’s specific works, I have been going back and then reading that.
The first work Ngien looks at is Luther’s Meditation on Christ’s Passion. Meditating on Christ’s passion was evidently commonplace in his day, so the work focuses on helping people understand good and bad meditative techniques. Luther starts, for instance, by positing three false meditations. First, there are those who meditate on Christ’s passion and focus on the Jews and Judas. Second, some people falsely meditate on Christ’s passion to acquire protection for themselves. Thirdly, others meditate for sentimental reasons, “nourishing an emotive piety dominated by pity for the crucified” (3). Therefore, it is “Only when believers realize that Christ had been given for them have they discerned the import of Christ’s accomplishment.” God is not merely God, he is God for me, and his dying is not just an event in history, but is an event for me. In Luther’s words,
"You must get this through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this…Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc."
"Therefore my dear Friar, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to praise him, and despairing of yourself, say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, you are my righteousness, just as I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and you have given me what is yours. You have taken yourself what you were not and have given me what I am not” (11).
"We say without hesitation that he who contemplates God’s suffering for a day, an hour, yes, only a quarter of an hour, does better than to fast a whole year, prayer a psalm daily, yes, better than to hear a hundred masses. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth."
Christ passion, for Luther, becomes the shape of the Christian life. The contours of our life, in the words of the Bible, conforms to taking up our crosses and living. Every frustration therefore, every sickness, lust, temptation and heartache serves as a way to bear our crosses with Christ, and know him in his own sufferings for our sins. The Christian life, therefore, for Luther, is to have Christ’s life rebirthed into our own.
What are your thoughts about this? I have never really read much of Luther’s devotional writings. His emphasis on suffering in the Chrisitan life is interesting, because as he was writing it his life was in danger from within the only church he had ever known (Catholic). For Luther, the Christian life simply will entail the church taking aim at your faithfulness. I find this encouraging.