TO GEORGE SPENLEIN, AUGUSTINIAN IN MEMMINGEN
In this year began Luther’s acquaintance with Tauler’s works. This letter contains an exquisite passage on true righteousness.
April 7, 1516.
Grace and peace in God and the Lord Jesus Christ! Dearest Brother George! I write to let you know that I have realized two gulden and a half, for what I sold for you. One florin for the Brussels robe, half a florin for the Eisenach volume, and one for the cowl, etc. We cannot dispose of the rest, so have handed the money to the honored Prior for you. Regarding the half-gulden you still owe him, you must see to the paying of it, or let him remit the debt. This will not be difficult, as the esteemed father is well disposed to you. 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
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 hast assumed that which Thou wert not, and given me what I had not.”
Beware, my brother, at 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 thou wilt experience His sweetest consolation. For if by our own efforts we are to attain peace of conscience, why then did Christ die? Therefore thou wilt only find peace in Him when thou despairest of self and thine own works. He, Himself, will teach thee how in receiving thee He makes thy sins His, and His righteousness thine. When thou believest this firmly (for he is damned who does not believe) then bear patiently with erring brothers, making their sins thine. If there be any good in thee, then receive ye 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 thou the same. If thou esteem thyself better than others, do not pride thyself 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 thou a lily or rose of Christ, knowing that thy walk must be among thorns.
Only see that through impatience, hasty judgments, or secret pride, thou dost not thyself 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, thy Lord, had only lived among the good, or had died 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 thee. Farewell, in the Lord! Your brother.
Martin Luther Link