March 23, 2020
Dear Saints of God,
Greetings in the precious name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We had a wonderful time in the Lord yesterday with reports coming in from around the world of His marvelous blessings. Although worship together in person was disrupted due to the global pandemic, we were able to connect with many believers using our streaming platform both for service and our continuing broadcasts. Many families joined us from the comfort and safety of their homes while enjoying the word of God and the blessings of His Spirit. We trust that you are enjoying the Chautauqua sermons preached in August of 1959 by Brother Branham that we recommended to you last week. We feel strongly that this series will give you strength and courage in these trying times.
By the grace of God and through the revealed Word for our day, we believe that Martin Luther was the Fifth (Sardisean 1520-1750) Church Age Messenger. It has been brought to our attention that he wrote a letter to the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, Pastor at Breslau and we believe it is both fitting and timely for the things we are facing today. Although we will not share the letter in its entirety here, we will make a link to the full letter available at the end of this post.
This letter, written in 1527 in response to the Black Plague, opens with:
Grace and Peace from God our Father and Our Lord Jesus Christ. Your letter, sent to me at Wittenberg was received some time ago. You wish to know whether it is proper for a christian to run away from a deadly plague… so that, as St. Paul repeatedly teaches, we may always agree with one another and be of one mind [1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 13:11; Phil. 2:2]. Therefore we here give you our opinion as far as God grants us to understand and perceive. This we would humbly submit to your judgement and to that of all all the devout Christians for them, as is proper, to come to their own decision and conclusion. Since the rumor of death is to be heard in these parts also, we have permitted these instructions of ours to be printed because others might also want to make use of them.
Regarding the emotions and faith of others, Luther writes,
Since it is generally true of Christians that few are strong and many are weak, one simply cannot place the same burden upon everyone. A person who has a strong faith can drink poison and suffer no harm, Mark 16 [:18], while one who has a weak faith would thereby drink to his death. Peter could walk upon the water because he was strong in faith. When he began to doubt and his faith weakened, he sank and almost drowned. When a strong man travels with a weak man, he must restrain himself so as not to walk at a speed proportionate to his strength lest he set a killing pace for his weak companion. Christ does not want his weak ones to be abandoned, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 15 [:1] and 1 Corinthians 12 [:22].
If someone is sufficiently bold and strong in his faith, let him stay in God’s name; that is certainly no sin. If someone is weak and fearful, let him flee in God’s name… To flee from death and to save one’s life is a natural tendency, implanted by God and not forbidden unless it be against God and neighbor, as St. Paul says in Ephesians 4 [5:29], “No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…” If someone is so strong in faith, however, that he can willingly suffer nakedness, hunger, and want without tempting God and not trying to escape, although he could do so, let him continue that way, but let him not condemn those who will not or cannot do the same.
During this time of fear, 25 million people (1/3 of the European population) died, and outbreaks of this plague continued for centuries. Despite the validity of the believer’s concern, Martin Luther encouraged “we should arm ourselves with this answer to the devil:”
How could any fear of you cause me to spoil such joy in heaven or such delight for my Lord? Or how could I, by flattering you, give you and your devils in hell reason to mock and laugh at me? No, you’ll not have the last word! If Christ shed his blood for me and died for me, why should I not expose myself to some small dangers for his sake and disregard this feeble plague? If you can terrorize, Christ can strengthen me. If you can kill, Christ can give life. If you have poison in your fangs, Christ has far greater medicine. Should not my dear Christ, with his precepts, his kindness, and all his encouragement, be more important in my spirit than you, roguish devil, with your false terrors in my weak flesh? God forbid! Get away, devil. Here is Christ and here am I, his servant in this work. Let Christ prevail! Amen.”
Finally, regarding our personal responsibility and liability for the lives of others, Martin Luther wrote:
It is even more shameful for a person to pay no heed to his own body and to fail to protect it against the plague the best he is able, and then to infect and poison others who might have remained alive if he had taken care of his body as he should have. He is thus responsible before God for his neighbor’s death and is a murderer many times over. Indeed, such people behave as though a house were burning in the city and nobody were trying to put the fire out. Instead they give leeway to the flames so that the whole city is consumed, saying that if God so willed, he could save the city without water to quench the fire.
No, my dear friends, that is no good. Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.
We thank God for these words of wisdom that are so befitting our time. We encourage you to walk in faith and wisdom, being “neither brash nor foolhardy,” giving all glory to God for His God-selected, God-ordained, God-equipped, and God-sent men.
May God continue to bless and keep you,
Your Brother in Christ,
Bro. Daniel Martin
Senior Pastor and Missionary
We would also like to thank The Lutheran Witness for making this letter available: