Martin Luther on Assurance
(Commentary on Galatians
VERSE 6. And because ye are sons,
God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts.
In the early Church the Holy Spirit was sent forth in
visible form. He descended upon Christ in the form of a dove (Matt.
3:16), and in the likeness of fire upon the apostles and other believers
(Acts 2:3). This visible outpouring of the Holy Spirit was necessary to
the establishment of the early Church, as were also the miracles that
accompanied the gift of the Holy Ghost. Paul explained the purpose of
these miraculous gifts of the Spirit in I Corinthians 14:22, "Tongues
are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not."
Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these
miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.
Next, the Holy Ghost is sent forth into the hearts of
the believers, as here stated, "God sent the Spirit of his Son into your
hearts." This sending is accomplished by the preaching of the Gospel
through which the Holy Spirit inspires us with fervour and light, with
new judgment, new desires, and new motives. This happy innovation is not
a derivative of reason or personal development, but solely the gift and
operation of the Holy Ghost.
This renewal by the Holy Spirit may not be
conspicuous to the world, but it is patent to us by our better judgment,
our improved speech, and our unashamed confession of Christ. Formerly we
did not confess Christ to be our only merit, as we do now in the light
of the Gospel. Why, then, should we feel bad if the world looks upon us
as ravagers of religion and insurgents against constituted authority? We
confess Christ and our conscience approves of it.
Then, too, we live in the fear of God. If we sin, we
sin not on purpose, but unwittingly, and we are sorry for it. Sin sticks
in our flesh, and the flesh gets us into sin even after we have been
imbued by the Holy Ghost. Outwardly there is no great difference between
a Christian and any honest man. The activities of a Christian are not
sensational. He performs his duty according to his vocation. He takes
good care of his family, and is kind and helpful to others. Such homely,
everyday performances are not much admired. But the setting-up exercises
of the monks draw great applause. Holy works, you know. Only the acts of
a Christian are truly good and acceptable to God, because they are done
in faith, with a cheerful heart, out of gratitude to Christ.
We ought to have no misgivings about whether the Holy
Ghost dwells in us. We are "the temple of the Holy Ghost" (I Cor. 3:16).
When we have a love for the Word of God, and gladly hear, talk, write,
and think of Christ, we are to know that this inclination toward Christ
is the gift and work of the Holy Ghost. Where you come across contempt
for the Word of God, there is the devil. We meet with such contempt for
the Word of God mostly among the common people. They act as though the
Word of God does not concern them. Wherever you find a love for the
Word, thank God for the Holy Spirit who infuses this love into the
hearts of men. We never come by this love naturally, neither can it be
enforced by laws. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Roman theologians teach that no man can know for
a certainty whether he stands in the favour of God or not. This teaching
forms one of the chief articles of their faith. With this teaching they
tormented men's consciences, excommunicated Christ from the Church, and
limited the operations of the Holy Ghost.
St. Augustine observed that "every man is certain of
his faith, if he has faith." This the Romanists deny. "God forbid," they
exclaim piously, "that I should ever be so arrogant as to think that I
stand in grace, that I am holy, or that I have the Holy Ghost." We ought
to feel sure that we stand in the grace of God, not in view of our own
worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As certain as we
are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please
God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our
sins, yet as often as we sin, God's mercy bends over us. Therefore sin
cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ,
that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils. So
long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have
nothing to fear from the anger of God.
This inner assurance of the grace of God is
accompanied by outward indications such as gladly to hear, preach,
praise, and to confess Christ, to do one's duty in the station in which
God has placed us, to aid the needy, and to comfort the sorrowing. These
are the affidavits of the Holy Spirit testifying to our favourable
standing with God.
If we could be fully persuaded that we are in the
good grace of God, that our sins are forgiven, that we have the Spirit
of Christ, that we are the beloved children of God, we would be ever so
happy and grateful to God. But because we often feel fear and doubt we
cannot come to that happy certainty.
Train your conscience to believe that God approves of
you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God.
Say: "I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I
do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and write of
Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ's Gospel be known
throughout the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him."
VERSE 6. Crying, Abba, Father.
Paul might have written, "God sent forth the Spirit
of his Son into your hearts, calling Abba, Father." Instead, he wrote,
"Crying, Abba, Father." In the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the
Romans the Apostle describes this crying of the Spirit as "groanings
which cannot be uttered." He writes in the 26th verse: "Likewise the
Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray
for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with
groanings which cannot be uttered."
The fact that the Spirit of Christ in our hearts
cries unto God and makes intercession for us with groanings should
reassure us greatly. However, there are many factors that prevent such
full reassurance on our part. We are born in sin. To doubt the good will
of God is an inborn suspicion of God with all of us. Besides, the devil,
our adversary, goeth about seeking to devour us by roaring: "God is
angry at you and is going to destroy you forever." In all these
difficulties we have only one support, the Gospel of Christ. To hold on
to it, that is the trick. Christ cannot be perceived with the senses. We
cannot see Him. The heart does not feel His helpful presence. Especially
in times of trials a Christian feels the power of sin, the infirmity of
his flesh, the goading darts of the devil, the agues of death, the scowl
and judgment of God. All these things cry out against us. The Law scolds
us, sin screams at us, death thunders at us, the devil roars at us. In
the midst of the clamour the Spirit of Christ cries in our hearts:
"Abba, Father." And this little cry of the Spirit transcends the
hullabaloo of the Law, sin, death, and the devil, and finds a hearing
The Spirit cries in us because of our weakness.
Because of our infirmity the Holy Ghost is sent forth into our hearts to
pray for us according to the will of God and to assure us of the grace
Let the Law, sin, and the devil cry out against us
until their outcry fills heaven and earth. The Spirit of God outcries
them all. Our feeble groans, "Abba, Father," will be heard of God sooner
than the combined racket of hell, sin, and the Law.
We do not think of our groanings as a crying. It is
so faint we do not know we are groaning. "But he," says Paul, "that
searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit" (Romans
8:27). To this Searcher of hearts our feeble groaning, as it seems to
us, is a loud shout for help in comparison with which the howls of hell,
the din of the devil, the yells of the Law, the shouts of sin are like
so many whispers.
In the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, the Lord
addresses Moses at the Red Sea: "Wherefore criest thou unto me?" Moses
had not cried unto the Lord. He trembled so he could hardly talk. His
faith was at low ebb. He saw the people of Israel wedged between the Sea
and the approaching armies of Pharaoh. How were they to escape? Moses
did not know what to say. How then could God say that Moses was crying
to Him? God heard the groaning heart of Moses and the groans to Him
sounded like loud shouts for help. God is quick to catch the sigh of the
Some have claimed that the saints are without
infirmities. But Paul says, "The Spirit helpeth our infirmities, and
maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." We
need the help of the Holy Spirit because we are weak and infirm. And the
Holy Spirit never disappoints us. Confronted by the armies of Pharaoh,
retreat cut off by the waters of the Red Sea, Moses was in a bad spot.
He felt himself to blame. The devil accused him: "These people will all
perish, for they cannot escape. And you are to blame because you led the
people out of Egypt. You started all this." And then the people started
in on Moses. "Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us
away to die in the wilderness? For it had been better for us to serve
the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness" (Ex.
14:11-12). But the Holy Ghost was in Moses and made intercession for him
with unutterable groanings, sighings unto the Lord: "O Lord, at Thy
commandment have I led forth this people. So help me now."
The Spirit intercedes for us not in many words or
long prayers, but with groanings, with little sounds like "Abba." Small
as this word is, it says ever so much. It says, "My Father, I am in
great trouble and you seem so far away. But I know I am your child,
because you are my Father for Christ's sake. I am loved by you because
of the Beloved." This one little word "Abba" surpasses the eloquence of
a Demosthenes and a Cicero.
I have spent much time on this verse in order to
combat the cruel teaching of the Roman church, that a person ought to be
kept in a state of uncertainty concerning his status with God. The
monasteries recruit the youth on the plea that their "holy" orders will
assuredly recruit them for heaven. But once inside the monastery the
recruits are told to doubt the promises of God.
In support of their error the papists quote the
saying of Solomon: "The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in
the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is
before them" (Ecc. 9:1). They take this hatred to mean the wrath of God
to come. Others take it to mean God's present anger. None of them seem
to understand this passage from Solomon. On every page the Scriptures
urge us to believe that God is merciful, loving, and patient; that He is
faithful and true, and that He keeps His promises. All the promises of
God were fulfilled in the gift of His only- begotten Son, that
"whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life." The Gospel is reassurance for sinners. Yet this one saying from
Solomon, misinterpreted at that, is made to count for more than all the
many promises of all the Scriptures.
If our opponents are so uncertain about their status
with God, and even go so far as to say that the conscience ought to be
kept in a state of doubt, why is it that they persecute us as vile
heretics? When it comes to persecuting us they do not seem to be in
doubt and uncertainty one minute.
Let us not fail to thank God for delivering us from
the doctrine of doubt. The Gospel commands us to look away from our own
good works to the promises of God in Christ, the Mediator. The pope
commands us to look away from the promises of God in Christ to our own
merit. No wonder they are the eternal prey of doubt and despair. We
depend upon God for salvation. No wonder that our doctrine is certified,
because it does not rest in our own strength, our own conscience, our
own feelings, our own person, our own works. It is built on a better
foundation. It is built on the promises and truth of God.
Besides, the passage from Solomon does not treat of
the hatred and love of God towards men. It merely rebukes the
ingratitude of men. The more deserving a person is, the less he is
appreciated. Often those who should be his best friends, are his worst
enemies. Those who least deserve the praise of the world, get most.
David was a holy man and a good king. Nevertheless he was chased from
his own country. The prophets, Christ, the apostles, were slain. Solomon
in this passage does not speak of the love and hatred of God, but of
love and hatred among men. As though Solomon wanted to say:
"There are many good and wise men whom God uses for the advancement of
mankind. Seldom, if ever, are their efforts crowned with gratitude. They
are usually repaid with hatred and ingratitude."
We are being treated that way. We thought we would
find favour with men for bringing them the Gospel of peace, life, and
eternal salvation. Instead of favour, we found fury. At first, yes, many
were delighted with our doctrine and received it gladly. We counted them
as our friends and brethren, and were happy to think that they would
help us in sowing the seed of the Gospel. But they revealed themselves
as false brethren and deadly enemies of the Gospel. If you experience
the ingratitude of men, don't let it get you down. Say with Christ:
"They hated me without cause." And, "For my love they are my
adversaries; but I give myself unto prayer" (Ps. 109:4).
Let us never doubt the mercy of God in Christ Jesus,
but make up our minds that God is pleased with us, that He looks after
us, and that we have the Holy Spirit who prays for us.
VERSE 7. Wherefore thou art no more a servant,
but a son.
This sentence clinches Paul's argument. He says,
"With the Holy Spirit in our hearts crying, 'Abba, Father,' there can be
no doubt that God has adopted us for His children and that our
subjection to the Law has come to an end." We are now the free children
of God. We may now say to the Law: "Mister Law, you have lost your
throne to Christ. I am free now and a son of God. You cannot curse me
any more." Do not permit the Law to lie in your conscience. Your
conscience belongs to Christ. Let Christ be in it and not the Law.
As the children of God we are the heirs of His
eternal heaven. What a wonderful gift heaven is, man's heart cannot
conceive, much less describe. Until we enter upon our heavenly
inheritance we are only to have our little faith to go by. To man's
reason our faith looks rather forlorn. But because our faith rests on
the promises of the infinite God, His promises are also infinite, so
much so that nothing can accuse or condemn us.
VERSE 7. And if a son, then an heir of God
A son is an heir, not by virtue of high
accomplishments, but by virtue of his birth. He is a mere recipient. His
birth makes him an heir, not his labours. In exactly the same way we
obtain the eternal gifts of righteousness, resurrection, and everlasting
life. We obtain them not as agents, but as beneficiaries. We are the
children and heirs of God through faith in Christ. We have Christ to
thank for everything.
We are not the heirs of some rich and mighty man, but
heirs of God, the almighty Creator of all things. If a person could
fully appreciate what it means to be a son and heir of God, he would
rate the might and wealth of nations small change in comparison with his
heavenly inheritance. What is the world to him who has heaven? No wonder
Paul greatly desired to depart and to be with Christ. Nothing would be
more welcome to us than early death, knowing that it would spell the end
of all our miseries and the beginning of all our happiness. Yes, if a
person could perfectly believe this he would not long remain alive. The
anticipation of his joy would kill him.
But the law of the members strives against the law of
the mind, and makes perfect joy and faith impossible. We need the
continued help and comfort of the Holy Spirit. We need His prayers. Paul
himself cried out: "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from
the body of this death?" The body of this death spoiled the joy of his
spirit. He did not always entertain the sweet and glad expectation of
his heavenly inheritance. He often felt miserable.
This goes to show how hard it is to believe. Faith is
feeble, because the flesh wars against the spirit. If we could have
perfect faith, our loathing for this life in the world would be
complete. We would not be so careful about this life. We would not be so
attached to the world and the things of the world. We would not feel so
good when we have them; we would not feel so bad when we lose them. We
would be far more humble and patient and kind. But our faith is weak,
because our spirit is weak. In this life we can have only the
first-fruits of the Spirit, as Paul says.
VERSE 7. Through Christ.
The Apostle always has Christ on the tip of his
tongue. He foresaw that nothing would be less known in the world some
day than the Gospel of Christ. Therefore he talks of Christ continually.
As often as he speaks of righteousness, grace, the promise, the
adoption, and the inheritance of heaven, he adds the words, "In Christ,"
or "Through Christ," to show that these blessings are not to be had by
the Law, or the deeds of the Law, much less by our own exertions, or by
the observance of human traditions, but only by and through and in
Martin Luther on Galatians 3:7: "With faith
always must be joined a certain assurance (fiducia)
of God's mercy. Now this assurance comprehendeth a faithful
trust (fidem) of remission of sins for Christ's
sake. For it is impossible that thy conscience should look
for anything a God's hand, except first it be assured, that
God is merciful unto thee for Christ's sake" (A
Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians
[London: James Clarke, 1962], p. 232).