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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
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THE FUTURE EVIL, OR THE EVIL BEFORE US
IT will tend in no small degree to lighten any present evil if a man turn his mind to the evils to come. These are so many, so diverse, and so great, that out of them has arisen one of the strongest emotions of the soul; namely, fear. For fear has been defined by some as the emotion caused by coming evil. Even as the Apostle says in Romans 11:20, “Be not highminded, but fear.” This evil is all the greater because of our uncertainty in what form and with what force it may come; so that there goes a popular saying, “No age is proof against the itch,” although this is but a little children’s disease. Even so, no man is safe from the evils that befall any other; for what one has suffered another may suffer also. Here belong all the tragic histories of the ages, and all the lamentations of the world. Here belong the more than three hundred diseases — which some have observed — with which the human body may be vexed. And if there be so many diseases, how great will be the number of other misfortunes that may befall our possessions, our friends, and even our mind itself, that target of all evils, and trysting-place of sorrow and every ill!
And these evils increase in power and intensity as a man rises to higher rank and dignity; in which estate he must needs dread every moment the coming of poverty, disgrace, and every indignity, which may indeed swiftly overtake him, for they all hang by but a slender thread, not unlike the sword which the tyrant Dionysius suspended above the head of the guest at his table.
And if none of these evils befall us, we should count it our gain, and no small comfort in the evil that does befall us; so that we should feel constrained to say with Jeremiah, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.” ( Lamentations 3:22f.) For when none of them befall us, it is because they have been kept from us by the right hand of the Most High that compasses us about with such mighty power (as we see in Job) that Satan and all evils can but gnash their teeth in helpless rage. ( Job 1:10) From this we see how sweetly we ought to love our Lord, whenever any evil comes upon us. For our most loving Father would by that one evil have us see how many evils threaten us and would fall on us, if He did not Himself stand in the way, ( Luke 22:31) as though He said, “Satan and the host of evils have desired to have thee, to sift thee as wheat; but I have marked out bounds for the sea, and have said, Hitherto shalt thou come, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed,” as He saith in ( Job 38:10 f.)
And, granted that perchance, if God please, none of these things will come upon you; nevertheless, that which is known as the greatest of terrors, death, is certain to come, and nothing is less certain than the hour of its coming. Truly, this is so great an evil that there are many who would rather live on amid all the above-named evils than to die once and have them ended. With this one thing the Scriptures, which hold all others in contempt, associate fear, saying, “Remember thy end, and thou shalt never do amiss.” (Ecclus. 7:40) Behold, how many meditations, how many books, how many rules and remedies have been brought together, in order, by calling to men’s minds this one evil, to keep them from sin, to render the world contemptible, to lighten suffering, to comfort the afflicted, — all by a comparison with this great and terrible, and yet so inevitable, evil of death. This evil even the saints dreaded, and Christ submitted to it with trembling and bloody sweat. ( Luke 22:44) So that the divine Mercy hath been nowhere more concerned to comfort our little faith than in the matter of this evil, as we shall see below.
But all these things are common to all men, even as the blessings of salvation under these evils are common to all. For Christians, however, there is another and a particular reason for dreading the evils to come, which easily surpasses all the evils that have been mentioned. It is that which the Apostle portrays in 1 Corinthians 10:12, when he says, “He that standeth, let him take heed lest he fall.” So unstable is our footing, and so powerful our foe, armed with our own strength (that is, the weapons of our flesh and all our evil lusts), attended by the countless armies of the world, its delights and pleasures on the right hand, its hardships and the plots of wicked men on the left, and, besides all this, master himself of the art of doing us harm, seducing us, and bringing us down to destruction by a thousand different ways. Such is our life that we are not safe for one moment in our good intentions. Cyprian, who in his De Mortalitate f206 touches on many of these matters, teaches that death is to be desired as a swift means of escape from these evils. And truly, wherever there have been high-hearted men, who brought their minds steadily to bear on these infinite perils of hell, we find them, with contempt of life and death (that is, all the aforesaid evils), desiring to die, that so they might be delivered at one and the same time from this evil of the sins in which they now are (of which we spoke in the previous chapter), and of the sins into which they might fall (of which we are treating now). And these are, indeed, two most weighty reasons why we should not only desire death, but also despise all evils, to say nothing of lightly bearing a single evil; if the Lord grant us to be moved thereby. For it is God’s gift that we are moved thereby. For what true Christian will not even desire to die, and much more to bear sickness, seeing that, so long as he lives and is in health, he is in sin, and is constantly prone to fall, yea, is falling every day, into more sins; and is thus constantly thwarting the most loving will of his most loving Father! To such a heat of indignation was St. Paul moved, in Romans 7:19, when after complaining that he did not the good that he would, but the evil that he would not, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God,” he answers, “through Jesus Christ.” (Rom 7:24 f.)
That man loves God his Father but little, who does not prefer the evil of dying to this evil of sinning. For God has appointed death, that this evil might come to an end, and that death might be the minister of life and righteousness, of which more below.
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