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  • WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
    THE SECOND IMAGE


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    THE FUTURE BLESSING, OR THE BLESSING BEFORE US

    THOSE who are not Christians will find small comfort, amid their evils, in the contemplation of future blessings; since for them all these things are uncertain. Although much ado is made here by that famous emotion called hope, by which we call on each other, in words of human comfort, to look for better times, and continually plan greater things for the uncertain future, yet are always deceived. Even as Christ teaches concerning the man in the Gospel, Luke 12:18, who said to his soul, “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

    Nevertheless, God has not so utterly forsaken the sons of men that He will not grant them some measure of comfort in this hope of the passing of evil and the coming of good things. Though they are uncertain of the future, yet they hope with certain hope, and hereby they are meanwhile buoyed up, lest falling into the further evil of despair, they should break down under their present evil, and do some worse thing. Hence, even this sort of hope is the gift of God; not that He would have them lean on it, but that He would turn their attention to that firm hope, which is in Him alone. For He is so long-suffering that He leadeth them to repentance, as it is said in Romans 2:4 and suffers none to be straightway deceived by this deceitful hope, if haply they may “return to the heart,” and come to the true hope. ( Isaiah 46:8) But Christians have, beside this twofold blessing, the very greatest future blessings certainly awaiting them; yet only through death and suffering. Although they, too, rejoice in that common and uncertain hope that the evil of the present will come to an end, and that its opposite, the blessing, will increase; still, that is not their chief concern, but rather this, that their own particular blessing should increase, which is the truth as it is in Christ, in which they grow from day to day, and for which they both live and hope. But beside this they have, as I have said, the two greatest future blessings in their death. The first, in that through death the whole tragedy of this world’s ills is brought to a close; as it is written, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”; ( <19B615> Psalm 116:15) and again, “I will lay me down in peace and sleep”; ( Psalm 4:8) and, “Though the righteous be prevented with death, yet shall he be at rest.” (Wisd. 4:7) But to the ungodly death is the beginning of evils; as it is said, “The death of the wicked is very evil,” ( Psalm 34:21) and, “Evil shall catch the unjust man unto destruction.” ( <19E011> Psalm 140:11) Even so Lazarus, who received his evil things in his lifetime, is comforted, while the rich glutton is tormented, because he received his good things here. ( Luke 16:25) So that it is always well with the Christian, whether he die or live; so blessed a thing is it to be a Christian and to believe in Christ. Wherefore Paul says, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” ( Philippians 1:21) and, in Romans 14:8, “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” This security Christ hath won for us by His death and rising again, that He might be Lord of both the living and dead, able to keep us safe in life and in death; as Psalm 23:4 saith, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” If this gain of death move us but little, it is proof that our faith in Christ is feeble, and does not prize highly enough the reward and gain of a blessed death, or does not yet believe that death is a blessing; because the old man is still too much alive in us, and the wisdom of the flesh too strong. We should, therefore, endeavor to attain to the knowledge and the love of this blessing of death. It is a great thing that death, which is to others the greatest of evils, is made to us the greatest gain. And unless Christ had obtained this for us, what had He done that was worthy of the great price He paid, namely, His own self? It is indeed a divine work that He wrought, and none need wonder, therefore, that He made the evil of death to be something that is very good. ( Genesis 1:31) Death, then, to believers is already dead, and hath nothing terrible behind its grinning mask. Like unto a slain serpent, it hath indeed its former terrifying appearance, but it is only the appearance; in truth it is a dead evil, and harmless enough. Nay, as God commanded Moses to lift up a serpent of brass, at sight of which the living serpents perished, even so our death dies in the believing contemplation of the death of Christ, and now hath but the outward appearance of death. ( Numbers 21:8 f.) With such fine similitudes the mercy of God prefigures to us, in our infirmity, this truth, that though death should not be taken away, He yet has reduced its power to a mere shadow. ( Matthew 9:24) For this reason it is called in the Scriptures a “sleep” rather than death. ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff.)

    The other blessing of death is this, that it not only concludes the pains and evils of this life, but (which is more excellent) makes an end of sins and vices. And this renders death far more desirable to believing souls, as I have said above, than the former blessing; since the evils of the soul, which are its sins, are beyond comparison worse evils than those of the body. This alone, did we but know it, should make death most desirable. But if it does not, it is a sign that we neither feel nor hate our sin as we should. For this our life is so full of perils — sin, like a serpent, besetting us on every side — and it is impossible for us to live without sinning; but fairest death delivers us from these perils, and cuts our sin clean away from us.

    Therefore, the praise of the just man, in Wisdom iv, concludes on this wise: “He pleased God, and was taken away, and was beloved of Him: so that living among sinners he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. For the bewitching of naughtiness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind (O how constantly true is this!). He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time, for his soul pleased the Lord: therefore hasted He to take him away from the wicked.” (Wisd. 4:10-14) Thus, by the mercy of God, death, which was to man the punishment for his sin, is made unto the Christian the end of sin, and the beginning of life and righteousness. Wherefore, he that loves life and righteousness must not hate, but love sin, their minister and workshop; else he will never attain to either life or righteousness. But he that is not able to do this, let him pray God to enable him. For to this end are we taught to pray, “Thy will be done,” ( Matthew 6:10) because we cannot do it of ourselves, since through fear of death we love death and sin rather than life and righteousness. And that God appointed death for the putting to death of sin, may be gathered also from the fact that He imposed death upon Adam immediately after his sin; and that before He drove him out of paradise; in order to show us that death should bring us no evil, but every blessing, since it was imposed in paradise, as a penance and satisfaction. (Wisd. 2:24) For it is true that, through the envy of the devil, death entered into the world; but it is of the Lord’s surpassing goodness that, after having thus entered in, it is not permitted to harm us very much, but is taken captive from the very beginning, and set to be the punishment and death of sin.

    This He signified when, after having in His commandment foretold the death of Adam, ( Genesis 2:17) He did not afterward hold His peace, but imposed death anew, and tempered the severity of His commandment, nay, He did not so much as mention death with a single syllable, but said only, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”; and, “Until thou return unto the ground, from whence thou wast taken” ( Genesis 3:19) — as if He then so bitterly hated death that He would not deign to call it by its name, according to the word, “Wrath is in His indignation; and life in His good will. ( Psalm 30:5) Thus He seemed to say that, unless death had been necessary to the abolishing of sin, He would not have been willing to know it nor to name it, much less to impose it. And so, against sin, which wrought death, the zeal of God arms none other than this very death again; so that you may here see exemplified the poet’s line, f239 By his own art the artist perisheth.

    Even so sin is destroyed by its own fruit, and is slain by the death which it brought forth; as a viper is slain by its own offspring. This is a brave spectacle, to see how death is destroyed, not by another’s work, but by its own; is stabbed with its own weapon, and, like Goliath, is beheaded with its own sword. ( 1 Samuel 17:51) For Goliath also was a type of sin, a giant terrible to all save the young lad David, — that is Christ, — who single-handed laid him low, and having cut off his head with his own sword, said afterward that there was no better sword than the sword of Goliath ( 1 Samuel 21:9) Therefore, if we meditate on these joys of the power of Christ, and these gifts of His grace, how can any small evil distress us, the while we see such blessings in this great evil that is to come!

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