Selected Meditations from Balthasar Meisner

by Balthasar Meisner
translated by Andrew Hussman

Translator’s Preface

When one thinks of the classic authors of Lutheran devotional literature, the first names to come to mind for many would be Martin Luther, Johann Arndt, and Johann Gerhard, among others. Despite his relative obscurity compared to such renowned figures within Lutheranism, Balthasar Meisner (1587-1626) deserves to be considered for his edifying devotional writings as well. While Meisner is not well-known even among Lutherans today, in his own day the situation was reversed. Meisner was widely recognized as one of the leaders of the Lutheran church, serving vigorously on the front lines for the sake of God’s people, who were under constant attack by doctrinal strife and the ravages of war. David R. Preus notes that Meisner “was celebrated, even during his life, as a paragon of piety and prudence,”1 while Robert Preus likewise observes that Meisner was a “model of piety” and “was especially appreciated for his devotional writings.”2

The following meditations are selected from Meisner’s Meditationes in Evangelia Festivitatum Annuarum (Meditations on the Gospels for the Annual Festivals), published in Wittenberg by Caspar Heyden in 1622. This is one of two volumes containing sermons by Meisner spanning the entirety of the church year. The other volume is entitled Meditationes in Evangelia Dominicalia (Meditations on the Sunday Gospels), published in Wittenberg by Caspar Heyden in 1619, and covers the non-festival half of the church year. While the majority of these volumes includes sermons devoted to the Sundays or chief festivals of the church year, Meisner included in this volume several dozen brief devotions for Christmas, New Year’s, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and the festival of St. Michael and the angels.

In 1628 Johannes Lucius, a deacon serving in Dresden, published a translation of Meisner’s Meditationes into German entitled Geistliche Andachten über die Sontäglichen Evangelien (2 volumes) and Geistliche Andachten über die Evangelien der Jährlichen Sonn- und Festtagen (2 volumes). An edition of this German translation can be found as late as 1659.

As becomes evident from the meditations themselves, Meisner’s writing is rich in biblical allusions and imagery. His thought penetrates the depths of the biblical text. Throughout his meditations Meisner demonstrates abundantly that a proper understanding and reflection on sound doctrine leads to godly living, both of which are vitally needed during these last times, as Meisner himself observes in the preface to this volume: “We are now living in the last times, when piety and love have grown cold in the hearts of many [Matt. 24:12], and therefore there is a need for the continual breeze of admonitions and meditations, so that a holy fire would either be kindled in our hearts anew, or, having been kindled, that this fire would be constantly fed.” God grant that these meditations fan the flame of faith and love in your hearts as well as you ponder the saving acts of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Pious Meditations Devoted to the Birth of Jesus Christ

Seventh Meditation

Expounding on the saying of Titus 2:14, “Christ gave himself for us.”

Rejoice, you righteous, for the birthday of our great Savior returns. Today we hear the angelic voice: “I announce to you great joy” (Luke 2:10). Today we hear the apostolic trumpet: “Christ gave himself for us” (Titus 2:14). May the Apostle’s declaration be our daily and sacred meditation, in which we should consider Christ’s act, gift, and the manner of giving.

Christ’s actis his great act of kindness, for “he gave,” as the Apostle says. Christ’s perpetual work is giving, granting. He is the Father of lights, from whom every good thing comes down to us (James 1:17). He is the supreme Giver, whose desire to give is never satisfied.

A giver must be kind and gracious. Who would have any doubts about the mercy of little Jesus, our Giver? He is the inexhaustible fount of grace. He considers it a joy to love men and to be among men.

A giver must be powerful and wealthy. Who would dispute the power and treasures of little Jesus, our Giver? To him belongs the earth and all that is in it.

A giver must be truthful in his promises: Who would call into question the truthfulness of little Jesus, our Giver? His speaking is doing. Will he not make good on what he promises? Does he speak and not follow through (Num. 23:19; Ps. 33:4)? For these reasons he has all the requirements of a true giver, and so we also rightly have all our hope stored up in him alone.

O great Giver, Jesus Christ, give me also the kind of spirit that gives to everyone whatever I owe. Help me give glory to my God, honor to the ministry, obedience to the state, and help to my neighbor in need. Make me never forget either your voluntary giving, so that it would be glorified, or my necessary giving, so that it would not be neglected. For one must give in order that more might be given. One must give thanks so that greater thanks would soon follow, since thanksgiving is an invitation to give more.

Christ’s gift is Christ himself, for he gave “himself.” Kings give some of their own treasures, but not everything; much less do they give their whole kingdom; least of all do they give all of themselves. Yet Jesus, the King of kings, gave us all that was his and all of himself. O love without measure and without example! Jesus is the greatest of all, because he is God; the holiest of all, because he is free from sin; the most beautiful of all, because he is without blemish; the richest of all, because he possesses heaven and earth; the most powerful of all, because nothing is impossible for him; the most merciful of all, because in him are found the depths of mercy. Now this great Lord comes to us, comes among us, comes into us, comes for our sake, and consecrates all of himself for us.

Faithful soul, ponder carefully how great this gift is and what kind of Lord he is who gave himself to us! He is the crusher of the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), the ladder to heaven (Gen 28:12), Shiloh and the expectation of the nations (Gen. 49:10). He is the burning bush (Exod. 3:2), the Paschal lamb (Exod. 12:3ff), the atoning sacrifice (Lev. 16:6ff). He is the exalted serpent (Num. 21:8-10), the great prophet (Deut. 18:15), the commander of the Lord’s army (Josh. 5:13-15), our Redeemer (Job 19:25), and the high priest (Ps. 110:4). He is the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6), our righteousness (Jer. 23:6), one shepherd (John 10:16)3, the most holy reconciler (Dan. 9:24). He is the heavenly bridegroom (Hosea 2:19-20), the ruler over Israel (Mic. 5:2), the messenger of peace (Nah. 1:15), the desire of the nations (Hag. 2:7), the King of Zion (Zech. 9:9), and the most brilliant sun of righteousness (Mal. 4:2). He is the gentle caller of men (Matt. 11:28), the benefactor of all (Mark 7:26), the horn of salvation (Luke 1:69), the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the author of life (Ac. 3:15), the atonement seat of salvation (Rom. 3:25), our redemption (1 Cor. 1:30), Mediator (1 Tim. 2:15), Intercessor (1 John 2:1), Savior (Titus 2:14) – everything. He is the blessing of the cursed, the justification of sinners, the illumination of the blind. He is the relief of the poor, the freedom of the slaves, the life of the dead, and the salvation of the damned. Therefore, when he gave himself, he gave all things together in himself. From him comes the Holy Spirit; from the Holy Spirit comes the Word; from the Word, faith; from faith, good works; from these, a pure conscience; and from this, eternal life.

O that I could love this Giver enough and worthily honor such a gift! When Mary, the mother of the Lord, came, Elizabeth said: “How has this been granted to me, that the mother of the Lord comes to me?” (Luke 1:43) It is even more fitting for me to exclaim: “How has this been granted to me, that the Lord himself comes to me and gives me all of himself?” O, lift up the gates of your heart, that this King of glory may come in [Ps. 24:7, 9]. I lift up mine and I open them up as much as I can. You have given yourself to me; why would I not also give myself to you out of love? Therefore, I give my mind, that you may live in it. I give my tongue, that it may honor you. I give my ears, that they may listen to you alone. Indeed, I offer all myself to all of you, that you may live in me, and I in you, and that I might say with Paul: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), my ever supreme Giver.

As it pertains to the manner of giving: Christ gave “himself for us.” In this way his love for mankind4 grows brighter still. He did not give himself either for leisure or for luxury, but in our place, for us,5 into bitter suffering and death, that we might have life and salvation.

We were conceived in sins (Ps. 51:6), destitute of glory (Rom. 3:23), enemies of God himself (Rom. 5:10), and yet Christ gave himself for us.

We deserved punishment because of our various transgressions against the law, and yet Christ gave himself for us.

We should have been cast away and condemned forever, and yet Christ gave himself for us.

Who is Christ, who are we? He is rich, we are poor. He is holy, we are filthy. He is beautiful, we are deformed. He is blessed, we are cursed. He is light, we are darkness. He is life, we are death. He is spirit, we are flesh and are of the flesh. Yet Christ gave himself for us: God for men, the rich for the poor, the holy for the filthy, the beautiful for the deformed, the blessed for the cursed, light for darkness, life for death, spirit for flesh and those of the flesh. Who has ever heard of such great grace?

It was right for the angel to descend from heaven out of joy and tell the whole world: “Do not fear! Today a Savior is born to you!” [Luke 2:10-11]

For we should have died eternally, and neither we nor any creature could satisfy God’s righteousness on our behalf. Therefore, the Son of God had mercy on us, formed a plan, and brought us help by putting on human flesh, by suffering in it, and to this extent by reconciling us with an angry Father. Therefore “being given for us” signifies not only for our benefit, but rather being given and killed in our place, for he bore our iniquities, and by his bruises we are healed (Isa. 53:5). For just as the sins of the people were imputed to the sacrifices, and those sacrifices were slaughtered for the people, or, in place of them, so our transgressions were cast upon Christ, and in this way he was given and died for us, or, in our place.

Accordingly, he alone accomplished everything that pertains to our salvation. He came from heaven to Mary’s womb, from the womb to the earth, from the earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave he returned to heaven. These are the five journeys that Christ undertook and completed for us.

So be confident, O faithful soul. Why will you tremble in fear? Christ gave himself for you. What will you lack? If your conscience accuses you because of your sins, behold Christ, who gave himself and made satisfaction! If Satan wants to throw you into despair, behold Christ, who gave himself and redeemed you, so that the Devil would no longer have anything on you from the law. If tyrants chase after you or death hastens, behold Christ, who gave himself so that tyrants could not rage with pleasure and death could do no harm.

Therefore, O most gentle Immanuel, write these golden words with your finger on my heart: “Christ gave himself for us.” If I should forget all else, grant only that I never forget this sentence. Christ “gave,” therefore I will hope. He gave “himself,” therefore I will love. He gave himself “for us,” therefore I will believe. Thus hope can be kindled by remembering the Giver; love, by remembering the gift; faith, by remembering the manner [of giving].

These are the three virtues and theological charities [1 Cor. 13:13].

It is good to suffer with this aphorism, for if Christ gave himself for us, he will not leave us in disaster.

It is good to live with this aphorism, for if Christ gave himself for us, he will stand by us and he will not abandon us all the days of our life.

It is good to die with this aphorism, for if Christ gave himself for us, he will not desert us in death, but will transform it into sleep and the most blessed life.

To you then, O Jesus Christ, be praise and thanks that you have given yourself for us. In your favor grant that I would hope in you, for you gave; that I would love you, for you gave yourself; that I would trust in you alone, for you gave yourself for us; and that thus through faith I would be saved eternally and sing with the heavenly army: “Glory to God in the highest from now on and forever”[Luke 2:14]. Amen.

Penitential Meditations

Twelfth Meditation

Lord, you have said: “The one who comes to me I will not cast out” (John 6:37). Relying on this promise, I come to you and I firmly believe that I will not be cast out.

I come, however, because I am afflicted and burdened. The load of my sins weighs down on me; in humble confession I lay it before your face. Oh, Father, “I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Oh, how often have I offended you? How often have I provoked you to anger? I am grieved to recite my offenses one by one. I am sorry that I have committed such terrible sins. I am ashamed to confess with so many words. This one thing I say, Lord, and I confess it frankly: I deserve the numerous punishments which I can hardly avoid by my strength.

But you are gentle and merciful and full of compassion. Therefore, I approach your throne of grace with confidence [Heb. 4:16] and I most humbly call upon your favor. Dismiss my debts, O God. Because of my weakness I have no power at all to release myself from them, but you can pardon me by grace. Do not enter, Oh, do not enter into judgment with your servant. Do not count against me the debts that I have committed either by choice6 orthrough error and ignorance. Look upon the blood of your Son; it was poured out for the sins of the world. I am in the world and I am a sinner. Therefore, it was poured out for me as well.

Oh Lord, you have stricken me; make me whole. You have torn me; heal me. Pour faith and steadfastness into me, so that I might be a worthy guest at your table and advance in piety. Lead me in the future, so that I might put into action the good I have determined to do. Bend my heart toward piety, my ears toward an attentive hearing of your Word, my tongue toward the proclamation of your name. Bless my labors, grant peace at home and abroad, remove stumbling blocks, guard those who are mine, and govern all my actions, that they may be pleasing to you and beneficial to believers. Hear this sigh, O my God, yes, hear it clearly, that I may be and remain in you, and you in me, from now and forever, Amen.

Easter Meditations

Second Meditation

Which stirs up thanksgiving.

“Come, let us shout with joy to the Lord, let us shout with joy to the God of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and let us joyfully praise him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God and the great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:1-3). Now is the time for waking, not for sleeping. Now is the time for praising, not for mourning. It has been a long time now, Oh, it has been long enough that we have wept over the misery and suffering of Christ. But now we must rejoice, for we hear the angel’s most joyous voice: “He has risen.” He has risen, I say, the most blessed Savior. Come then, let us shout with joy to the Lord, let us shout with joy to the God of our salvation.

For this is the day on which hell was destroyed, on which death was defeated and Satan was bound. This is the day on which the Son of God overcame his enemies and restored golden freedom to us. “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). Today the second Adam comes from heaven, wakes up, and is given back to the Church, as to his betrothed Eve (Gen. 2:22). Today the blessed seed of the woman crushed the ancient serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Today Christ, the true Abraham and the Father of many nations, scatters the infernal Kedorlaomer and sets all his captives free (Gen. 14:15-16). Now Joseph comes out of prison and rejoices (Gen. 41:14). Now Moses is drawn from the basket and rescued from the jaws of death (Exod. 2:6). Now we are led out of slavery in Egypt, and our enemies perish in the red sea of Christ’s blood (Exod. 14:24-28). Even now the heavenly Samson demolishes the gates of hell and emerges unharmed (Judg. 16:3). Even now David defeats Goliath and plunders his weapons (1 Sam. 17:50-51). Even now Jonah leaves the belly of the whale and appears alive on dry ground (Jon. 2:11). Now all things have been fulfilled. Now the matter of our redemption has been confirmed.

Behold, the trophies of Christ, the most glorious Victor! He brings us the robe of righteousness, peace of conscience, and the inheritance of eternal life.

O dearest brothers, come and sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth. Bring to the Lord, you families of peoples, bring to the Lord the glory of his name (Ps. 96:7-8). Blessed be God Most High, by whose protection our enemies are in Christ’s hands (Gen. 14:20). The Lord is the true warrior; Jehovah is his name. Your right hand, Lord, is glorified in strength. Your right hand, Lord, has struck down the enemy (Exod. 15:3, 6). Bless the Lord that Israel has now been freed. Hear, you kings! Give ear, you rulers! I am the one, I am the one who will sing to the Lord, who will praise the Lord, the God of Israel (Judg. 5:2-3). Let all your enemies perish, Lord, but let those who love you shine like the sun shines in its rising (Judg. 5:31).

Be glad, all you Christians who celebrate this festival. Death has now been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your sting? Where, O hell, is your victory? Praise and thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, always victorious and blessed forever (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).

We who are devout call upon him together, so that he might mercifully apply to us the benefits he brings through the resurrection, and so that he might make us participants in all his gifts.

O Jesus, perfect Conqueror, you who died for me, I ask: grant that I would always die to sin. Today you rise from the grave; make me rise from the tomb of my wicked deeds. You are our Paschal Lamb. Therefore, allow us to purge the old yeast and to feast on the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth (1 Cor. 5:8). Otherwise the Pharisaic yeast, which is the yeast of heretical doctrine, and the Herodian yeast, which is the yeast of a perverse life, will scatter themselves far and wide (Matt. 16:6; [see also Mark 8:15]). Purge this yeast yourself, so that truth may reign among us and sincerity may flourish everywhere. If in my heart, if among those who are mine, if in my home this yeast still lies hidden, Oh, cast it out by your mighty right hand, so that we might be unleavened and serve you with a pure heart in this life, and in the next life, after the joyous resurrection, that we might celebrate the Passover after the Passover, the feast after the feast,7 and ever cry out with the holy angels: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ” (Rev. 12:10), to whom be glory and honor and praise8 forever, Amen.

  1. David R. Preus, “Balthasar Meisner (1587-1626)” in Lives and Writings of the Great Fathers of the Lutheran Church, ed. Timothy Schmeling (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016): 197. 

  2. Robert Preus, The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism, Volume I (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1970): 54-55. 

  3. While Meisner’s inclusion of a New Testament reference here seems out of place in his sequential progression through the Scriptures, there is a parallel reference to “one shepherd” in Ezekiel 34:23 which would fit well between his references to Jeremiah and Daniel. 

  4. Greek φιλανθρωπία. 

  5. Greek ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν. 

  6. Greek προαιρέσι. 

  7. The Latin is Pascha ex Paschate, epulum ex epulo celebremus. Cf. Lucius’ German translation: ein Pascha und einen Sabbath nach dem andern feyren. The point in context seems to be that our eternal heavenly celebration will bear similarities to our pious celebrations of Christ here on earth. See Matt. 8:11, 26:26-29. 

  8. Greek εὐλογία. 

A small collection of 17th century German meditations.

 Apr 17, 2020