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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE FIFTH IMAGE
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THE EVIL ON OUR LEFT HAND
HERE we must set before our eyes the whole multitude of our adversaries and wicked men, and consider, first, how many evils they would have inflicted on our bodies, our property, our good name, and on our souls, but could not, being prevented by the providence of God. Indeed, the higher one’s station and the wider one’s sway, the more is he exposed to the intrigues, slanders, plots, and stratagems of his enemies. In all this we may mark and feel the very present hand of God, and need not wonder if we be touched now and then by one of these evils.
Again, let us consider the evils which these men themselves endure; not that we may exult over them, but that we may feel pity for them. For they, too, are exposed to all these same evils, in common with ourselves; as may be seen in the preceding images. Only, they are in a worse plight than we, because they stand outside our fellowship, both as to body and soul.
For the evil that we endure is as nothing compared to their evil estate; for they are in sin and unbelief, under the wrath of God, and under the dominion of the devil, wretched slaves to ungodliness and sin, so that, if the whole world were to heap curses on their heads, it could wish them no worse things. If we rightly consider this, we shall see how much more highly favored we are of God, in that we may bear our slight bodily ill in faith, in the kingdom of Christ, and in the service of God; and, indeed, are scarce able to feel it, being so rich in those high blessings. Nay, this wretchedness of theirs must so sorely trouble a pious Christian heart as to make its own troubles seem delights beside them. Thus St. Paul exhorts in Philippians 2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, took upon Him the form of a servant, etc.” That is to say, Out of fervent love He took our form upon Himself, bearing Himself amidst our evils as though they were His own, and so completely forgetting Himself and all His goods, and humbling Himself, that He was found in all things to be made in the likeness of men, counting nothing human foreign to Himself, and wholly giving Himself over to our evils.
Animated with this love, and moved by this example, the saints are wont to pray for wicked men, even their enemies, and to do all things for them after the example of Christ; ( Luke 6:27 f.) and forgetting their own injuries and rights, to take thought only how they may rescue them from their evils, with which they are far more cruelly tormented than with any evils of the body. Even as St. Peter writes of Lot, that he “dwelt among them who from day to day vexed the just soul with unjust works.” ( 2 Peter 2:8) You see, then, how deep an abyss of evils is here discovered, and how great an opportunity for showing mercy and compassion, as well as for overlooking our own trifling ills, if the love of God dwell in us; since that which God permits us to suffer is as nothing to that which those others endure. But the reason why these things affect us so little is, because the eye of our heart is not clear enough to see how great is the squalor anti wretchedness of a man lying in sin; that is, separated from God, and in the possession of the devil. For who is there so hard of heart that he must not sicken at the spectacle of those miserable forms lying at our church doors and in our streets, their faces disfigured, and all their members hideously consumed with putrifying sores; so that the mind is horror-struck at the thought and the senses recoil from the sight! And what does God intend, through these lamentable specimens of our flesh and brotherhood, but to open the eyes of our mind, that we may see in how much more dreadful a guise the soul of the sinner shows forth its disease and decay, even though he himself go in purple and gold, and lie among lilies and roses, as a very child of paradise! Yet how many sinners are there, to one of those wretched creatures? When these evils on the part of our neighbors, so great both in number and degree, are disregarded by us, it follows that our one evil, be it never so trifling, will appear as the sole evil, and the greatest of all.
But even in respect of bodily evils, the wicked are of necessity in a worse plight than we. For what sweet and pure joy can be theirs, so long as their conscience can find no peace? Or can there be a more terrible evil than the unrest of a gnawing conscience? Isaiah says, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” ( Isaiah 57:20 f.) This also, in Deuteronomy 28:65, applies to them: “The Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life; in the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.” In a word, if one regarded all the evils of the wicked in the right spirit, whether they be those of his friends or his foes, he would not only seem to be suffering nothing at all, but he would also, with Moses and the Apostle Paul, be filled with an hearty desire to die for them, if it might be, and to be blotted out of the book of life, as it is written in Romans 9:3, that thereby they might be set free. ( Exodus 32:32) With such zeal and burning was Christ’s heart kindled, when He died for us and descended into hell, leaving us an example that we also should be so regardful of the evils of others, and forgetful of our own, nay, rather covetous of evils of our own.
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