MARTIN LUTHER ON PSALM 6:5 (from The Seven Penitential Psalms)
5. "For in death there is no remembrance of Thee."
That is, the dead do not praise Thee and do not extol Thy mercy; only the living do this, as we read in Ps. 115:17–18:5 “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence; but we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Therefore here the psalmist speaks not only of temporal death but also of spiritual death, when the soul is dead. For sin is the death of the soul, and pain is its hell. Both are felt by one who lies in this distress, namely, in sin and in punishment for sin. Therefore he says: “Do not let me remain in death and hell; but according to Thy mercy graciously raise me up, deliver me from hell, and console me.” Thus this verse makes us understand that this tribulation is a door and entrance into eternal sin and punishment, that is, into death and hell, as King Hezekiah says: “I have said in great terror: I must enter the gates of hell in the midst of my days, that is, when I thought I was in the best years of my life” (Is. 38:10).
"In hell who will give Thee thanks?"
Therefore I have said, “for Thy mercy’s sake!” Hell, where Thy mercy does not dwell, does not praise Thee; it really desecrates and blasphemes Thy justice and truth. This is by far the noblest thought which the saints have in their crosses and by which they are also sustained. Otherwise they are in every way like the damned, as we read later in the last of these psalms: “Hide not Thy face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit” (Ps. 143:7). The difference is this, that the saints retain a good will toward God, and that they are more concerned about losing God’s gracious will, praise, and honor than about being damned. For he does not say: “In hell there is no joy and pleasure” but rather: “There is no praise and honor.” Therefore here he inserts the thought that God is well disposed toward no one in hell, and if he goes to hell, he, like the condemned, would be in God’s disfavor. This would be more unwelcome and painful to him than the pain itself. Therefore we read in the Song of Solomon that the love of God is as strong as death and as firm as hell, because it remains even in deathly and hellish pain (8:6). Thus God says through Isaiah: “I will bridle you with My love, that you do not perish” (48:9). That is: “I will grant you a sincerely favorable disposition toward Me in the midst of your suffering, and this will restrain you and keep you. Without this all others perish in their trials.”
Again, in Ps. 18:3: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” We must overcome afflictions, death, and hell. However, they will not be overcome by running away or by impatience, but with favor, good will, and love continuing toward God in their presence. These are sharp words for the old Adam, especially if he is still fresh and green; but that does not matter.
Luther's Works, AE, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, p. 144. Copyright 1958 by Concordia Publishing House.
I have always found it so, that in my afflictions my fervor and love of God have grown. This is how one is "bridled with his love". Sing a Paul Gerhardt song and keep going.
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