That a Christian Should Bear
His Cross with Patience
By Martin Luther
The ancient and saintly fathers and theologians have contrasted the living wood with dead and have allegorized that contrast this way: From the living wood came sin and death; from the dead wood, righteousness and life. They conclude: do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of this dead tree; otherwise, you will remain in death.
You do indeed desire to eat and enjoy [the
fruit] of some tree. I will direct you to a tree so full that you can never eat
it bare. But just as it was difficult to stay away from that living tree, so it
is difficult to enjoy eating from the dead tree. The first was the image of
life, delight, and goodness, while the other is the image of death, suffering,
and sorrow because one tree is living, the other dead. There is in man’s heart
the deeply rooted desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from
death where one has the sure source of life.
Taking up the cross is by nature something that causes pain. It must not be self-imposed (as the Anabaptists and all the work-righteous teach); it is something that is imposed upon a person.
The Need for It
We must be conformed to the image of the Son
of God (Rom. 8:29).
“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
“In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33). Likewise, “You will be sorrowful; you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice” (John 16:20).
“If we share in [Christ’s] sufferings we shall also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17).
“If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). Otherwise, what is the purpose of so many comforting passages of Scripture?
The Source of It
The devil, a mighty, evil, deceitful spirit, hates the children of God. For them the holy cross serves for learning the faith, for [learning] the power of the Word, and for subduing whatever sin and pride remain. Indeed, a Christian can no more do without the cross than without food or drink.
The touch of Christ sanctifies all the sufferings and sorrows of those who believe in Him. Whoever does not suffer shows that he does not believe that Christ has given him the gift of sharing in His own passion. But if anyone does not wish to bear the cross which God places upon him, he will not be compelled to do so by anyone—he is always free to deny Christ. But in so doing he must know that he cannot have fellowship with Christ or share in any of His gifts.
For example, a merchant, a hunter, a soldier risk so much pain for the sake of an uncertain gain and victory, while here, where it is certain that glory and blessedness will be the result, it is a disagreeable thing to suffer even for a bit, as Isaiah 54:7, Christ in John 16:20–22, Peter in 1 Peter 1:6, and Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:17 usually put it, “for a little while,” and momentarily.
Notice how our adversaries, those torturers from the devil, are torn and divided in their teachings in so many ways that they fail to realize their hopes, since they must be concerned with so much peril and misfortune that they can never act for a moment with certainty or confidence. And these penalties and punishments are only temporal! How can I comprehend their guilt, namely, that without God and through the devil’s craftiness they, beset by an evil conscience, are eternally lost? Even though they are uncertain as to the outcome of their endeavor, they keep on rejoicing in a hope that is completely and absolutely lost, while we, on the other hand, have God’s unfailing promises for our comfort.
In short, since God is the same and the cause is the same, in which He has upheld the faith of all the saints so that He might be vindicated, God will not now, just for our own sake, be found a liar; nor are we to make a liar of Him. God grant, whether we do or do not believe, that He will yet defend His word and surely help [us]. This demands great effort and care so that, in the first place, we turn our eyes from the might [of this world] and second, hold fast to the Word. Eve disregarded the Word and relied on what was visible, but a Christian, in contrast, disregards what he can see and holds to the Word. The godless do not do so but rely upon the emperor to uphold them in this world, but because they neglect the Word, they will be ruined and lost to eternity.