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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
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THE EVIL WITHIN US
THIS is most certain and true — we may believe it or not -- that no suffering in a man’s experience, be it never so severe, can be the greatest of the evils that are within him. So many more and far greater evils are there within him than any that he feels. And if he were to feel those evils, he would feel the pains of hell; for he holds a hell within himself. Do you ask how this can be? The Prophet says, “All men are liars”; and again, “Every man at his best state is altogether vanity.”( <19B611> Psalm 116:11; 39:6) But to be a liar and vanity, is to be without truth and reality; and to be without truth and reality, is to be without God and to be nothing; and this is to be in hell and damned. Therefore, when God in His mercy chastens us, He reveals to us and lays upon us only the lighter evils; for if He were to lead us to the full knowledge of our evil, we should straightway perish. Yet even this He has given some to taste, and of them it is written, “He bringeth down to hell, and bringeth up.” ( 1 Samuel 2:6) Therefore they say well who call our bodily sufferings the monitors of the evil within. And the Apostle, in Hebrews 12:6, calls them God’s fatherly chastenings, when he says, “He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.” And He does this, in order by such scourgings and lesser evils to drive out those great evils, that we may never need to feel them; as it is written, “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” ( Proverbs 22:15) Do not loving parents grieve more for their sons when they turn out thieves and evil-doers than when they receive a wound? Nay, they themselves beat them until the blood flows, to keep them from becoming evil-doers. F199 What is it, then, that prevents us from feeling this our true evil? It is, as I have said, so ordered by God, that we may not perish on seeing the evils hidden in the depths of our hearts. For God keeps them hidden, and would have us discern them only by faith, when He points them out to us by means of the evil that we feel. Therefore, “In the day of evil be mindful of the good.” (Ecclus. 11:26) Behold, how great a good it is, not to know the whole of our evil! Be mindful of this good, and the evil that you feel will press you less cruelly. Again, “In the day of good be mindful of the evil.”
That is to say, Whilst you do not feel your true evil, be grateful for this respite; then will the evil that you feel sit lightly upon you. It is clear, then, that in this life a man’s freedom from pain is always greater than his pain.
Not that his whole evil is not present with him, but he does not think about it and is not moved by it, through the goodness of God, Who keeps it hidden.
How furiously do those men rage against themselves, to whom their true evil has been revealed! How they count as nothing whatever sufferings life may bring, if only they might not feel the hell within! Even so would every one do, who felt or truly believed in the evil within him. Gladly would he call down all external evils on his head, and count them mere child’s play; nay, he would never be more sorrowful than when he had no evils to bear, after the manner of certain of the saints, such as David in Psalm 6.
Therefore, this is our first :image of consolation, that a man should say to himself: “Not yet, O man, dost thou feel thine evil. Rejoice and give thanks that thou dost not need to feel it!” And so the lesser evil grows light by comparison with the greatest evil. That is what others mean when they say, “I have deserved far worse things, yea, hell itself” — a thing easy to say, but horrible to contemplate.
And this evil, though never so deeply hidden, yet puts forth fruits that are plainly enough perceived. These are the dread and uncertainty of a trembling conscience, when faith is assailed, and a man is not sure, or doubts, whether he have a gracious God. And this fruit is bitter in proportion to the weakness of one’s faith. Nay, when rightly considered, this weakness alone, being spiritual, far outweighs every weakness of the body, and renders it, in comparison, light as a feather.
Moreover, to the evils within us belong all those tragic experiences described by the Preacher, when he refers again and again to “vanity and vexation of spirit.” ( Ecclesiastes 1:2,14) How many of our plans come to naught! How oft our hopes are deceived! How many things that are not to our liking must we see and hear! And the very things that fall out according to our wish fall out also against our wish! So that there is nothing perfect and complete. Finally, all these things are so much greater, the higher one rises in rank and station; for such a one will of necessity be driven about by far more and greater billows, floods, and tempests, than others who labor in a like case. As it is truly said in <19A425> Psalm 104:25, f201 “In the sea of this world there are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts,” that is, an infinite number of trials. And Job, for this reason, calls the life of man a “trial.” F202 ( Job 7:1) These evils do not, indeed, cease to be evils because they are less sharply felt by us; but we have grown accustomed to them from having them constantly with us, and through the goodness of God our thoughts and feelings concerning them have become blunted. That is why they move us the more deeply when we do feel them now and then, since we have not learned through familiarity to despise them. So true is it, therefore, that we feel scarce a thousandth part of our evils, and also that we estimate them and feel them or do not feel them, not as they are in themselves, but only as they exist in our thoughts and feelings. F203
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