Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Conquering temptation & "dejection of spirit"

1530:  Jerome Weller writes Martin Luther for advice on conquering temptations.

Luther responds:

"In this sort of temptation and struggle, contempt is the best and easiest method of winning over the devil.  Laugh your adversary to scorn and ask who it is with whom you are talking.  But by all means flee solitude, for the devil watches and lies in wait for you most of all when you are alone.  This devil is conquered by mocking and despising him, not by resisting and arguing with him.  Therefore, Jerome, joke and play games with your wife and others.  In this way you will drive out your diabolical thoughts and take courage....

"Be of good courage, therefore, and cast these dreadful thoughts out of your mind.  Whenever the devil pesters you with these thoughts, at once seek out the company of other Christian men, drink more, joke and jest, or engage in some other form of merriment.  Sometimes it is necessary to drink a little more, play, jest, or even commit some infraction in defiance and contempt.  Accordingly if the devil should say, 'Do not drink,' you should reply to him, 'On this very account, because you forbid it, I shall drink, and what is more, I shall drink a generous amount.'  Thus one must always do the opposite of that which Satan prohibits.  What do you think is my reason for drinking wine undiluted, talking freely, and eating more often, if it is not to torment and vex the devil who made up his mind to torment and vex me."

1534:  Prince Joachim of Anhalt writes Martin Luther, seeking counsel.  The prince was suffering from melancholy and "dejection of spirit."

Luther responds:

"I should like to encourage Your Grace, who are a young man, always to be joyful, to engage in riding and hunting, and to seek the company of others who may be able to rejoice with Your Grace in a godly and honorable way.  For solitude and inwardness are poisonous and deadly to all people, and especially to a young man.  Accordingly, God has commanded us to be joyful in his presence; he does not desire a gloomy sacrifice.  [Here Luther quotes Ecclesiastes 12.]  No one realizes how much harm it does a young person to avoid pleasure and cultivate solitude and sadness.  Your grace has Master Nicholas Hausman and many others near at hand.  Be merry with them; for gladness and good cheer, when decent and proper, are the best medicine for a young person -- indeed, for all people.  I myself, who have spent a good part of my life in sorrow and gloom, now seek and find joy wherever I can.  Praise God, we now have sufficient understanding of the Word of God to be able to rejoice with a good conscience and to use God's gifts with thanksgiving, for he created them for this purpose and is pleased when we use them."


The Iron Men of DPC have been studying Ecclesiastes together on Tuesday mornings.  This kind of counsel -- though parts of it may shock today's American evangelical -- comes right out of the pages of Ecclesiastes.

And it's all the richer when you understand what Luther meant by spending a good part of his own life in sorrow and gloom.  Remember the monk who was trying to please God with his self-imposed misery and denial and asceticism?

Well... he found the gospel.

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