Plough My Account Sign Out
My Account
    View Cart

    Subtotal: $

    etching of a rose

    Letters as an Augustinian

    “Beware of aiming at a purity which rebels against being classed with sinners.”

    By Martin Luther

    May 21, 2023

    To George Spehnlein, Augustinian in Memmingen:

    April 7, 1516

    Grace and peace in God and the Lord Jesus Christ! Dearest Brother George: … Now I would like to know how it is with your soul, if it has at length learned to despise its own righteousness and seek comfort and joy in Christ’s.

    For, at present, the temptation to rest in one’s own works is very powerful, especially with those who long to be good and pious. They are ignorant of God’s righteousness, which has been so richly bestowed on us in Christ without money and price, and try to do good of themselves, till they fancy they can appear before God adorned with every grace. But they never get thus far. You yourself, when with us in Erfurt, suffered from this illusion, or rather delusion, and I also was a martyr to it, and even yet I have not overcome it. Therefore, dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Praise and laud his name, and despairing of self say to him, “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken what is mine, and given me what is thine. Thou has assumed that which thou wert not, and given me what I had not.”

    etching of Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk

    Lucas Cranach the Elder, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk, 1520

    Beware, my brother, of aiming at a purity which rebels against being classed with sinners. For Christ only dwells among sinners. For this he came from heaven, where he dwelt among saints, so that he might also sojourn with the sinful. Strive after such love, and you will experience his sweetest consolation. For if by our own efforts we are to attain peace of conscience, why then did Christ die? Therefore you will only find peace in him when you despair of self and your own works. He himself will teach you how in receiving you he makes your sins his, and his righteousness yours. When you believe this firmly (for he is damned who does not believe) then bear patiently with erring brothers, making their sins yours. If there be any good in you, then receive one another, even as Christ received us, to the glory of God. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” Be the same. If you esteem yourself better than others, do not pride yourself on that, but be as one of them, bearing their burdens. For he is a pitiable saint who will not bear patiently with those worse than himself, and longs only for solitude, when he, through patience, prayer, and example, might be exercising a salutary influence over others. This is burying his Lord’s talent, and not giving his fellow servants their due. Therefore, be a lily or rose of Christ, knowing that your walk must be among thorns.

    Only see that through impatience, hasty judgments, or secret pride you do not yourself become a thorn! “Christ’s kingdom,” says the psalmist, “subsists in the midst of its enemies.” Why then rejoice in being surrounded only by faithful friends? If he, your Lord, has only lived among the good, or had did only for his friends, for whom then would he have died, or with whom could he have lived? Remember this, brother, and pray for me. The Lord be with you. Farewell, in the Lord!

    Your brother, Martin Luther

    To George Leiffer

    Salvation in the Lord, most cherished brother. I hear that your brotherly love is deeply tried by manifold waves of temptation. But God, the Father of mercies and all consolation, has placed over you the best of comforters and advisers, Father Bartholomew. Only see that you keep a tight hand over your thoughts, and make room for God’s word in your heart.

    For I know from my own experience, as well as from that of all troubled souls, that it is solely our own self-conceit which is at the root of all our disquietude.

    For our eye is a knave, and, alas, what misery he has caused me, and still plagues me to the utmost. The cross of Christ is distributed through the whole world, and each receives his portion. Therefore do not cast you portion away, but cherish it as a precious relic, certainly not enshrined in a casket of gold or silver, but in a golden heart filled with loving charity. For, even as the wood of the cross is consecrated through coming in contact with the flesh and blood of Christ, so that henceforth they are esteemed to be the costliest of relics, how much more with the injustice, persecution, and hatred of men, whether it be right or wrong, not through contact with His flesh, but through union with His loving heart and divine will, which consecrates everything which is in touch with it, thereby transform the curse into a blessing, suffering into glory, and the cross into a crown of joy.

    Farewell, dearest friend and brother, and pray for me.

    Martin Luther

    To Johann Bercken, Augustinian Prior in Mainz

    May 1, 1516

    Honored and beloved Prior. I was sorry to hear that Baumgaertner, from our cloister in Dresden, who had fled in a hurried manner, and for good reason, had found refuge with you. I must thank you for receiving him so kindly, so that the scandal might be put an end to.

    He is my lost sheep, who belongs to me, therefore I must try to restore the erring one, if God will.

    So, I beg you, by our common faith in Christ, and the order of St. Augustine, that you will either send him to Dresden or to Wittenberg, or lovingly try to persuade him to return of his own free will. I shall receive him with open arms if he come; he need have no fear on account of having injured me.

    I know that offences will come, and it is no marvel when a man falls, but it is a miracle when he recovers himself and remains steadfast.

    Peter fell, so that he might know he was human. Even in the present day the cedars of Lebanon, whose branches almost reach heaven, fell.

    Yes, even an angel in heaven fell, which was indeed a marvel—and Adam fell in paradise.

    So, is it to be wondered at that the reed should bend before the storm, and the glimmering torch be extinguished? May the Lord Jesus enable you to perfect this good work. Amen. Farewell. From our cloister in Dresden.

    Martin Luther

    To Michael Dressel, Augustinian Prior in Neustadt

    June 22, 1516

    Salvation and peace! But not such peace as is manifest to the natural man, but that which lies beneath the cross, the peace which passes all understanding. You are longing for peace, but in the wrong way; for you seek it as the world gives it, and not as Christ does. Do you know, dear father, that in this matter God deals in a wondrous manner with his people, having placed his peace in the midst of dispeace, nay, in the very thick of temptation and dissensions. “Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.” Therefore it is not he whom no one disturbs who has peace – that is the world’s peace, but he who is troubled on every side, and bears all quietly and joyfully. You say with Israel, “Peace, peace, and there is no peace.” Cry rather with Christ, “Cross, cross!” And yet there is no cross. For, as soon as you can joyfully say, “Blessed cross, of all kinds of wood there is none like unto thee,” in that moment, the cross has ceased to be a cross. See, then, how graciously the Lord is leading you to true peace in surrounding you with so much of the cross. For he who seeks peace will find it. And the best way to seek it is, when affliction overtakes you, to receive it with joy, as a sacred relic, and cease searching vainly for a peace which commends itself to your lower nature. For God considers any such peace far inferior to his peace, which is inseparable from the cross and the troubles of this life. Farewell, and pray for me, dear father. May the Lord reign in you.

    Martin Luther, Vicar


    Source: The Letters of Martin Luther, selected and translated by Margaret A. Currie (London: MacMillan, 1908).

    Contributed By MartinLuther Martin Luther

    Martin Luther was a German theologian and religious reformer who was the catalyst of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation.

    Learn More
    You have ${x} free ${w} remaining. This is your last free article this month. We hope you've enjoyed your free articles. This article is reserved for subscribers.

      Already a subscriber? Sign in

    Try 3 months of unlimited access. Start your FREE TRIAL today. Cancel anytime.

    Start free trial now