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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE THIRD IMAGE
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THE PAST BLESSING, OR THE BLESSING BEHIND US
THE consideration of this image is not difficult, in view of its counterpart, of the past evils; we would, however, aid him who undertakes it. Here St.
Augustine shows himself an excellent master, in his Confessions, in which he gives a beautiful rehearsal of the benefits of God toward him from his mother’s womb The same is done in that line <19D902> Psalm 139:2, “Lord, Thou hast searched me,” where the Psalmist, marveling among other things at the goodness of God toward him, says, “Thou understandest my thoughts afar off, Thou. compassest my path and my lying down.” Which is as though he said, Whatever I have thought or done, whatever I shall achieve and possess, I see now that it is not the result of my industry, but was ordered long ago by Thy care. “And there is no speech in my tongue.” Where is it then? In Thy power.
We learn this from our own experience. For if we reflect on our past life, is it not a wonder that we thought, desired, did and said that which we were not able to foresee? How far different our course would have been, had we been left to our own free will! Now only do we understand it, and see how constantly God’s present care and providence were over us, so that we could neither think nor speak nor will anything except as He gave us leave.
As it is said in Wisdom vii, “In His hands are both we and our words”; (Wisd. 7:16) and by Paul, “Who worketh all in all.” ( 1 Corinthians 12:6) Ought not we, insensate and hard of heart, to hang our heads in shame, when we learn from our own experience how our Lord hath cared for us unto this hour, and given us every blessing? And yet we cannot commit our care to Him in a small present evil, and act as if He had forsaken us, or ever could forsake us! Not so the Psalmist, in Psalm 40:17, “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh on me.” On which St.
Augustine has this comment: “Let Him care for thee, Who made thee. He Who cared for thee before thou wast, how shall He not care for thee now thou art that which He willed thee to be? But we divide the kingdom with God; to Him we grant (and even that but grudgingly) that He hath made us, but to ourselves we arrogate the care over ourselves; as though He had made us, and then straightway departed, and left the government of ourselves in our own hands.
But if our wisdom and foresight blind us to the care that God hath over us, because perchance many things have fallen out according to our plans, let us turn again, with <19D915> Psalm 139:15, and look in upon ourselves. “My substance was not hid from Thee when I was made in secret”— that is, Thou didst behold and didst fashion my bones in my mother’s womb, when as yet I was not, and my mother knew not what was forming in her ; — “and my substance was curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth”- - that is, even the form and fashion of my body in the secret chambers of the womb were not hidden from Thee, for Thou wast fashioning it. What does the Psalmist intend with such words but to show us by this marvelous illustration how God hath always been caring for us without our help! For who can boast that he took any part in his formation in the womb? Who gave to our mother that loving care wherewith she fed and fondled and caressed us, and performed all those duties of motherhood, when we had as yet no consciousness of our life, and when we should neither know nor remember these things, but that, seeing the same things done to others, we believe that they were done to us also? For they were performed on us as though we had been asleep, nay dead, or rather not yet born, so far as our knowledge of them is concerned.
Thus we see how the divine mercies and consolations bear us up, without our doing. And still we doubt, or even despair, that He is caring for us today.
If this experience does not instruct and move one, I know not what will. For we have it brought home to us again and again, in every little child we meet; so that so many examples proposed to our foolishness and hardness of heart may well fill us with deep shame, if we doubt that the slightest blessing or evil can come to us without the particular care of God.
Thus St. Peter says, “Casting all your care upon Him, because He careth for you.” ( 1 Peter 5:7) And Psalm 37, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain thee.” ( Psalm 37:5, Psalm 55:22) And St.
Augustine, in the Confessions, addresses his soul on this wise: “Why dost thou stand upon thyself, and dost not stand? Cast thyself on Him; for He will not withdraw His hand and let thee fall.” Again, we read in Peter 4:19, “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
O could a man attain unto such a knowledge of his God, how safely, how quietly, how joyfully, would he fare! He would in truth have God on his side, knowing this of a certainty, that all his fortunes, whatever they might be, had come to him, and still were coming, under the guidance of His most sweet will. The word of Peter stands firm, “He careth for you.” ( Peter 5:7) What sweeter sound than this word can we hear! Therefore, he says, “Cast all your care upon Him.” If we do this not, but rather take our care upon ourselves, what is this but to seek to hinder the care of God, and, besides, to make our life a life of sorrow and labor, troubled with many fears and cares, and much unrest! And all to no avail; for we accomplish nothing good thereby, but, as the Preacher saith, it is vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit. ( Ecclesiastes 1:2,14) Indeed, that whole book treats of this experience, as written by one who for himself made trial of many things, and found them all only weariness, vanity and vexation of spirit, so that he concludes it is a gift of God that a man may eat and drink and live joyfully with his wife, i.e., when he passes his days without anxiety, and commits his care to God. ( Ecclesiastes 5:18; 9:7, 9) Therefore, we ought to have no other care for ourselves than this, namely, not to care for ourselves, and rob God of His care for us.
Whatever remains to be said, will easily be gathered from the corresponding image of evils, as I have said, and from the contemplation of one’s past life.
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