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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE FOURTH IMAGE
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THE INFERNAL EVIL, OR THE EVIL BENEATH US
HITHERTO we have seen, in all the evils that we endure, naught but the goodness of God, which is so great and so near that of all the countless, evils with which we are surrounded in this life, and in which we are shut up as in a prison, but a very few are permitted to approach us, and these never for long together. So that, when we are oppressed by any present evil, it is only to remind us of some great gain with which God is honoring us, in that He does not suffer us to be overwhelmed by the multitude of evils with which we are surrounded. For what wonder that a man, at whom an infinite number of blows is aimed, should be touched by one now and then! Nay, it is a mercy not to be struck by all; it is a miracle to be struck by but a few.
The first, then, of the evils beneath us is death, and the other is hell.
If we will but consider the deaths, so diverse and so terrible, with which other sinners are punished, we shall soon see how great a gain is ours in that we suffer far less than we have deserved. How many men are hanged, strangled, drowned or beheaded, who perchance committed less sins than we! And their death and misery are held up to us by Christ as in a mirror, in which we may behold what we have deserved. For it is said in Luke 13:1, when they told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, that He replied: “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered these things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise; perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” For we need not expect that we, who have committed the same or even graver sins, shall escape with a lighter punishment. Nor will the justice and truth of God, which hath decreed to render to every man according to his deeds, be turned for our sake into injustice and a lie, unless we hasten to make satisfaction by at least, bearing our trifling evil with patience. F211 ( Romans 2:6) And how many thousands are there in hell and everlasting damnation, who have not committed the thousandth part of our sins! How many virgins, youths, and those whom we call innocents, are there! How many monks, priests, and married pairs! These seemed all their life long to be serving God, and, it may be for a single lapse, are now being punished for ever.
For, it may not be denied, the justice of God is the same in the case of every sin, whatever it may be, and hates and punishes all sin alike, it matters not in whom it is found. Do we not then see here the inestimable mercy of God, Who hath not condemned us, though we have so many times deserved condemnation? Pray, what are all the sufferings life can bring, compared to eternal punishment, which they indeed justly endure on account of one sin, while we go free and unpunished for our many sins, which God hath covered! ( Psalm 32:1) That we take no thought of these benefits of God, or but lightly esteem them, that is ingratitude, and the hardening of our unbelieving heart.
Moreover, we must include here the many infidels, Gentiles, Jews, and infants, who, if to them had been granted the advantages that we enjoy, would not now be in hell, but rather in heaven, and who would have sinned far less than we. For this mirror also does Christ set before us, when He says in Matthew 11:21 “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” We see, therefore, what praise and love we owe to our good Lord, in any evil whatsoever of this life; for it is but a tiny drop of the evils which we have deserved, and which Job compares to the sea, and to the sand by the seashore. ( Job 6:3)
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