Luther on True Contemplation of the Cross

Luther on True Contemplation of the Cross

Let us meditate a moment on the passion of Christ....true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten....You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.

The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instill it.

The greater and the more wonderful is the excellence of his love by contrast with the lowliness of his form, the hate and pain of passion. Herein we come to know both God and ourselves. His beauty is his own, and through it we learn to know him. His uncomeliness and passion are ours, and in them we know ourselves, for what he suffered in the flesh, we must suffer in the spirit. He has in truth borne our stripes. Here, then, in an unspeakably clear mirror you see yourself. You must know that through your sins you are as uncomely and mangled as you see him here.

We ought to suffer a thousand and again a thousand times more than Christ because he is God and we are dust and ashes, yet it is the reverse. He who had a thousand and again a thousand times less need, has taken upon himself a thousand and again a thousand times more than we.

No understanding can fathom nor tongue can express, no writing can record, but only the inward dealing can grasp what is involved in the suffering of Christ.

Adapted from Nancy Guthrie, ed., Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 11-14. Originally adapted from Martin Luther's Easter Book, Roland Bainton, ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 1981).

Michael Johnson is a Resource Consultant at Desiring God.