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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE FIRST IMAGE
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THE BLESSING WITHIN US
WHO can recount only those blessings which every one hath in his own person? How great are, first, the gifts and endowments of the body; such as beauty, strength, health, and the lively play of the senses! To these there comes, in the case of the male, a greater nobility of sex, that fits him for the doing of many things both in public and in private life, and for many splendid achievements, to which woman is a stranger. And if, by the grace of God, you enjoy these excellent gifts for ten, twenty, or thirty years, and in all this time endure suffering for a few days now and then, what great matter is that? There is a proverb among knaves, Es ist umb ein bose stund zuthun, and, Ein gutt stund ist eyner posen werdt. What shall be said of us, who have seen so many good hours, yet are not willing to endure evil for a single hour! We see, therefore, how many blessings God showers upon us, and how few evils barely touch us. This is true at least of the most of us.
But not content with these blessings, our gracious God adds to them riches and an abundance of all things; if not in the case of all, certainly in the case of many, and of those especially who are too frail to bear the evil. For as I said before, when He grants fewer bodily gifts and possessions, He gives greater mental gifts; so that all things may be equal, and He the just Judge of all. For a cheerful mind is a greater comfort than much riches.
Moreover, to some He grants offspring, and, as men say, the highest pleasure, influence, rank, honor, fame, glory, favor, and the like. And if these be enjoyed for a long or even for a short season, they will soon teach men how they ought to conduct themselves under some small evil.
But more excellent than all these are the blessings of the mind; such as reason, knowledge, judgment, eloquence, prudence. And, here again, God tempers the justice of His dealing, so that when He bestows more of these gifts on some men, He does not therefore prefer them to others, since on these again He confers greater peace and cheerfulness of mind. In all these things we should gratefully mark the bountiful hand of God, and take comfort in our infirmity. For we should feel no surprise if among so many and great blessings there be some intermingling of bitterness; since even for epicures no meat is savory without salt, nor scarce any dish palatable that has not a certain bitter savor, either native or produced by seasoning. So intolerable is a continual and unrelieved sweetness, that it has been truly said, “Every pleasure too long continued begets disgust”; and again, “Pleasure itself turns at length to loathing.” That is to say, this life is incapable of enjoying only good things without a tempering of evil, because of the too great abundance of good things. Whence has arisen also this proverb, “It needs sturdy bones to bear good days”; which proverb I have often pondered and much admired for its excellent true sense, namely, that the wishes of men are contrary to one another; they seek none but good days, and, when these arrive, are less able to bear them than evil days.
What, then, would God have us here lay to heart but this, that the cross is held in honor even among the enemies of the cross! For all things must needs be tempered and sanctified with the relics of the cross, lest they decay; even as the meat must be seasoned with salt, that it may not breed worms. And why will we not gladly accept this tempering which God sends, and which, if He did not send it, our own life, weakened with pleasures and blessings, would of itself demand? Hence we see with what truth the Book of Wisdom says of God, “He reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly.”(Wisd. 8:1) And if we examine these blessings, the truth of Moses’ words, in Deuteronomy 32:10, will become plain, “He bore him on His shoulders, He led him about, and kept him as the apple of His eye.” With these words we may stop the mouths of those ungrateful praters who hold that there is in this life more of evil than of good. For there is no lack of good things and endless sweet blessings, but they are lacking who are of the same mind with him who said, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord”;( Psalm 33:5) and again, “The earth is full of His praise”; ( Habakkuk 3:3) and in <19A424> Psalm 104:24, “The earth is full of Thy riches”; “Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy work.” ( Psalm 92:4) Hence we sing every day in the Mass: f226 “Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” ( Isaiah 6:3) Why do we sing this? Because there are many blessings for which God may be praised, but it is done only by those who see the fullness of them. Even as we said concerning the evils of the first image, that a man’s evils are only so great as he in his thoughts acknowledges them to be, so it is also with the blessings. Though they crowd upon us from every side, yet they are only so great as we acknowledge them to be. For all things that God made are very good, but they are not acknowledged as very good by all. ( Genesis 1:31) Such were they of whom it is said in Psalm 77, “They despised the pleasant land.” ( <19A624> Psalm 106:24) The most beautiful and instructive example of this image is furnished by Job, who when he had lost all said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” ( Job 2:10) Truly, that is a golden saying, and a mighty comfort in temptation. For Job not only suffered, but was tempted to impatience by his wife, who said to him, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.” ( Job 2:9) As who should say, “It is plain that he is not God who is thus forsaking thee. Why, then, dost thou trust in him, and not rather, renouncing him, and thus cursing him, acknowledge thyself a mortal man, for whom naught remains after this life?” These things and the like are suggested to each one of us by his wife (i.e., his carnal mind ) in time of temptation; for the carnal mind* savoreth not the things that be of God. ( Matthew 16:23) But these are all bodily blessings, and common to all men. A Christian has other and far better blessings within, namely, faith in Christ; of which it is said in Psalm 45:14, “The king’s daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold.” For, as we said concerning the evil of the first image, that no evil in a man can be so great as to be the worst of the evils within him; so too the greatest of the blessings which are in the Christian, he himself is unable to see. Could he perceive it, he would forthwith be in heaven; since the kingdom of heaven, as Christ says, is within us. ( Luke 17:21) For to have faith is to have the Word and truth of God; and to have the Word of God is to have God Himself, the Maker of all. If these blessings, in all their fullness, were discovered to the soul, straightway it would be released from the body, for the exceeding abundance of sweet pleasure. Wherefore, of a truth, all the other blessings which we have mentioned are but as the monitors of those blessings which we have within, and which God would by them commend unto us. For this life of ours could not endure to have them revealed, but God mercifully keeps them hidden, until they have reached their full measure. Even so loving parents give their children foolish little toys, in order thereby to lead them on to look for better things.
Nevertheless, these blessings show themselves at times, and break out of doors, when the happy conscience rejoices in its trust to Godward, is fain to speak of Him, hears His Word with pleasure, and is quick to serve Him, to do good and suffer evil. All these are the evidence of that infinite and incomparable blessing hidden within, which sends forth such little drops and tiny rills. Still, it is sometimes more fully revealed to contemplative souls, who then are rapt away thereby, and know not where they are; as is confessed by St. Augustine and his mother, and by many others.
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