Matthew 5:4, Martin Luther

THE FIFTH CHAPTER OF ST. MATTHEW

V. 4.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

As he began this sermon against the teaching and faith of the Jews (and indeed not of them alone, but of the whole world, even where it is at its best, which clings to the notion that it is well off if it only has possessions, honor, and its mammon, and it serves God only for this end), he now continues and shows the folly of what they regarded as the best, most blessed life upon earth, viz., having good, quiet days and suffering no discomfort, as some are described in the seventy-third Psalm: “They are not in trouble as other men,neither are they plagued like other men.” For that is the chief thing that men desire, that they may have joy and pleasure and have no trouble. Now Christ turns the leaf over, states the exact opposite, and calls those blessed that have sadness and suffering, and so throughout, all these statements are made in direct opposition to the world’s way of thinking, as it would like to have it. For it does not want to suffer hunger, trouble, disgrace, contempt, injustice and violence, and those who can be free from all this it counts blessed.

So that he means here to say that there must be another life than the one they seek and care for, and that a Christian must see to it that he is a sufferer and sorrow-bearer in this life. He who will not do this may indeed have a good time here, and live according to all his heart’s desire, but he will have to suffer forever hereafter, as Luke says, 6:25, “Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep.” So it went with the rich man, Luke 16., who lived sumptuously and joyfully every day, clothed in purple and fine linen, and thought he was a great saint and well off before God because he had given him so much that was good, though he at the same time let poor Lazarus lie daily before his door full of sores, in hunger and distress and great misery. But what kind of a judgment did he hear at last when he was lying in hell? “Remember thou in thy lifetime didst receive thy good things and Lazarus his evil things, therefore thou art now tormented and he is comforted,” etc. See, that is exactly our text: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted;” and again, as much as to say: Those who here seek and have nothing but joy and pleasure shall weep and howl forever.

Do you ask again: What then are we to do? Are those all to be damned that laugh, sing, dance, dress well, eat and drink? We surely read about kings and holy people that were cheerful and lived well. And especially Paul is a wonderful saint, who insists upon it that we be always cheerful, Philippians 4:4, and says, Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,” and again: “Weep with those that weep.” Observe, that seems inconsistent, to rejoice evermore and yet weep and mourn with others. Answer: Just as I said before, that to have riches is no sin, nor is it forbidden; just so to be cheerful, to eat and drink well, is no sin, nor is it condemnatory; in like manner it is not wrong to have honor and a good name; and yet I am to be blessed if I do not have this, or can do without it, and instead of this suffer poverty, wretchedness, disgrace and persecution. So both of these things are here, and must be, to mourn and be cheerful, to eat and suffer hunger, as Paul boasts concerning himself, Philippians 4:11 seq.: “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased and how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” Also, 2 Corinthians 6:8 seq.: “By honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as dying, and behold we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” etc.

Therefore, the meaning is: Just as not he is called spiritually poor who has no money or anything of his own, but he who does not hanker after it or put his confidence in it as if it were his kingdom of heaven: so also not he is said to mourn who is always outwardly of downcast countenance, looking gloomy and never laughing; but he who does not comfort himself with having a good time and living sumptuously, as the world does — that cares for nothing but having constant joy and pleasure, and revels in it, and does not think or care how it goes with God or the people. Thus many excellent, great people, kings and others, that were Christians, have had to mourn and bear trouble, although they lived splendidly before the world; as David everywhere in the Psalms complains about his weeping and sorrowing. And also now I could easily give examples of great people, lords and princes, who have had the same bitter experience with reference to the precious gospel; as, now at the late diet at Augsburg and on other occasions, although they got along very well outwardly, and were clothed in princely style in silk and gold, and to all appearance were like those who walk upon roses, yet they had to be daily right among poisonous serpents, and they had to experience at heart such unheard-of arrogance, insolence and shame, so many evil tricks and words from the shameful papists, who took pleasure in embittering their hearts and as far as they could in preventing them from having a single cheerful hour, so that they had to chew the cud of inward misery and do nothing but lament before God with sighs and tears. Such people know something of what it means to mourn and be sorrowful, although they do not at once show it, but eat and drink with others, and sometimes with laughing and jesting, to conceal their sorrow. For you must not think that mourning means only weeping and lamenting, or wailing, like children and women; this is not yet the real deep grief, if it has found its way to the heart and pours itself out through the eyes; but that is it, when the real hard blows come that strike and crush the heart, so that one cannot weep or dare complain to any one.

Therefore mourning is not a rare plant among Christians, although it makes no outward show, even if they would gladly be cheerful in Christ, and also outwardly as much as they can. For when they look at the world they must daily see and be painfully conscious of so much malice, arrogance, contempt for and blasphemy of God and his word, and besides so much misery and misfortune that the devil occasions, both in church and state, that they cannot have many cheerful thoughts, and their spiritual joy is very weak. And if they were to look at such things all the while, and did not sometimes turn their eyes away, they could never be cheerful at all; it is enough that this really happens oftener than they would wish, so that they need not go far to find it.

Therefore only begin and be a Christian, and you will soon learn what mourning means. If you cannot do better, take a wife, and settle yourself, and make a living in faith, so that you love the word of God and do what belongs to your calling; then you will soon learn, both from neighbors and in your own house, that things will not go as you would like, and you will be everywhere hindered and hedged so that you will get enough to suffer and must see what will make you sad at heart. Especially however the dear preachers must learn this thoroughly, and be daily exercised with it, so that they must take to heart all manner of envy, hatred, scorn and ridicule, ingratitude, contempt besides, and revilement, so that they are inwardly pierced and uninterruptedly tormented.

But the world will have none of this mourning, therefore it seeks those callings and modes of living in which it can have a good time and need not suffer anything from anybody, as the monks’ and priests’ calling used to be. For it cannot endure that it should in a divinely given calling serve other people with constant care, trouble and labor, and get nothing for this but ingratitude and contempt and other malicious treatment as a reward. Therefore when things do not go with it as it wishes, and one is scowled at by another, they can do nothing but pound away with cursing and swearing, yes, and with their fists besides, and are ready to sacrifice property and reputation, land and people. But God orders it so, that they still must not get off so easily, that they need not see or suffer any misery, and he awards to them as a recompense, because they try to avoid it, that they still must suffer, and even make this twofold greater and heavier by their wrath and impatience, and cannot have any comfort and good conscience. But Christians have this advantage, that although they mourn they shall be comforted and be blessed both here and there.

Therefore, whoever does not want to be out and out a worldling, but to have part with Christians, let him be counted in as one who helps to sigh and mourn, so that he may be comforted, as this promise tells. We read of a case of this kind in the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapter nine, how God sent six men with deadly weapons to the city of Jerusalem. But he commissioned one among them to go through the midst of the city with “a writer’s inkhorn by his side,” to “set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.” Those thus marked were to remain alive, but the rest were all to be slain. See, this is the advantage of Christians, that although they must see only sorrow and misery in the world, yet at last it comes to pass, when the world is most secure and is moving along in full enjoyment, that the little wheel turns, and suddenly a misfortune overtakes them in which these must remain and perish, whilst the others are snatched out of it and delivered, as in the case of dear Lot at Sodom, when they had long vexed his heart (as St. Peter says) “with their filthy conversation.” Therefore let the world now laugh and live in revelry, according to its lust and wantonness. And though you have to mourn and weep, and daily see what grieves your heart, submit and hold fast to the saying [of our text], that you may be satisfied and comfort yourself with it, and also outwardly refresh yourself and be as cheerful as you can.

For those who thus mourn may properly have and take joy when they can, so that they do not utterly sink through sadness. For Christ also added these very words and promised this consolation, that they should not despond in their sorrow, or let the joy of their heart be entirely taken away and extinguished, but should mingle this mourning with consolation and refreshment, otherwise, if they never had any comfort or joy, they would have to pine and shrivel away. For no man can endure nothing but mourning; for it sucks out the very juices of the body, as the wise man says: “Grief has killed many people.” Also: “A gloomy spirit dries up the marrow in the bones.” Therefore we should not only avoid this, but we should commend and urge such people to be cheerful sometimes, if possible; or at least to moderate their grief and partly forget it.

Therefore Christ does not wish that there should be nothing but mourning and sadness here, but warns against those who will not mourn at all, who want to have only a good time and all their comfort here; and he wants to teach his Christians, if it goes badly with them and they have to mourn, that they may know that this is God’s good pleasure, and it should also be theirs, and that they should not swear, or rage, or despair, as though their God had no mercy. When this is the case, the little bitter draught is to be mixed with honey and sugar, and so made less repulsive; that is the purpose of this promise, that this is well pleasing to him, and that he calls them blessed, besides that he comforts them here, and there they shall be entirely relieved of sorrow.

Therefore bid good-bye to the world and all that harm us, in the name of their lord, the devil, and let us sing this song and be cheerful, in the name of God and Christ. For it will surely not end with them as they wish; but, although they now rejoice at our misfortune, and do much to injure us, we will still keep up good courage, and shall live to see that they will have to weep and lament when we are comforted and happy.