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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE FIFTH IMAGE
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THE BLESSING ON OUR LEFT HAND
HERE are our adversaries who are yet in this life; for in the foregoing image we considered those who are already damned and given over to devils.
These we must regard with other feelings, and find in them a twofold blessing. The first is this, that they abound in temporal goods, so that even the prophets were well nigh moved to envy thereby; as we read in Psalm lxxii, “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”; ( Psalm 73:2 f.) and again, “Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.” ( Psalm 73:12) And Jeremiah says, “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee: yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments: wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?” ( Jeremiah 12:1) Why does He lavish and waste so many blessings upon them except to comfort us thereby, and make us to know how good He is to “such as are of a clean heart”? as it is said in that same Psalm 73:1. If He is so good to the wicked, how good will He not be to the good? Except that He does not vex the wicked with any evil, yet afflicts the good with many evils, in order that they may acknowledge His goodness to them not only in the present blessings, but even in those that are hidden and yet to come, and that they may say, with the same Psalmist, “But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord God.” ( Psalm 73:28) Which is as though he said, Even though I suffer certain things, from which I see that those men are free, nevertheless I trust that God is far more good to me than He is to them. Thus the blessings which we see the wicked enjoy become to us an incentive to hope for those blessings which are not seen, and to despise the evils which we suffer.
Even as Christ, in Matthew 6:26, bids us behold the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field, saying, “Wherefore if God so clothe the grass, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Hence, by this comparison of the blessings in which the wicked abound with the evils that we suffer, our faith is exercised, and our consolation is placed in God alone, which is the only holy consolation. So doth He make all things work together for good unto His saints. ( Romans 8:28) The other blessing, which is more marvelous, is this, that the evils of our adversaries become blessings to us, under the providence of God. For though their sins are a stumbling-block to the weak, to such as are strong they are an exercise of virtue, and an opportunity for conflict and the amassing of greater merit. For, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation, for when tie is tried, he shall receive the crown of life.” ( James 1:12) What greater temptation can there be than a host of evil examples? For this reason, indeed, the world is called one of the enemies of God’s saints, because with its allurements and ungodly works it incites, provokes, and entices us from the way of God to its own way. As we read in Genesis 6:2, “The sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were fair, and they were made flesh.” And in Numbers 25:1, “the people of Israel began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.”
So it is good for us to be always oppressed with some trouble or other, that we may not, in our weakness, stumble at the offenses of the world, and fall into sin. Thus Lot is praised by Peter, in 2 Peter 2:8., because he suffered many things because of the evil example of the people of Sodom, so that he made progress thereby in his righteousness. It must needs be that these offenses come, which furnish us an occasion for conflict and for victory; but woe unto the world because of offenses! ( Matthew 18:7) But if God procures us such great blessings in the sins of others, should we not with our whole heart believe that He will work us much greater blessings in our own troubles; even though our flesh and blood judge it to be otherwise!
Nor does the world confer a smaller blessing on us from another side of its evils; namely, its adversities. For, when it is unable to swallow us up with its allurements, and through its offenses to make us one with itself, it endeavors through sufferings to drive us out, and through pains to cast us forth; always laying snares for us by the example of its sins, or else visiting its fury upon us through the torment of its pains. This is indeed that fabled monster, Chimaera, with the head of a maiden, seductive, the body of a lion, cruel, and the tail of a serpent, deadly. For the end of the world, both of its pleasures and its tyranny, is poison and death everlasting. Hence, even as God grants us to find our blessings in the sins of the world, also its persecutions, that they may not remain fruitless and in vain, are appointed unto us to increase our blessings; so that the very things that work us harm are turned to our profit. As St. Augustine says, concerning the innocents slain by Herod, “Never could he have done them so much good with his favor as he did with his hatred.” And St. Agatha the blessed martyr, went to prison as to a banquet chamber; “for,” said she, “except thou cause my body to be well broken by thy executioners, my soul will not be able to enter paradise, bearing the victor’s palm; even as a grain of wheat, except it be stript of its husk, and well beaten on the threshing-floor, is not gathered into the barn.”
But why waste words here, when we see the whole of the Scriptures, the writings and sayings of all the Fathers, and the lives and acts of all the saints, agreeing together in this matter; namely, that they who bring the most harm upon believers are their greatest benefactors, if only we bear with them in the right spirit. As St. Peter says, “And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” ( 1 Peter 3:13) And Psalm 89:22, “The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wickedness afflict him.” How is it that he shall not harm us, seeing that oftentimes he even kills us? ( Romans 8:36) Because, forsooth, in harming us he is working us the very greatest gain. Thus we find ourselves every way dwelling in the midst of blessings, if we are wise, and yet, at the same time, also in the midst of evils. So wondrously are all things tempered together under the rule of the goodness of God.
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