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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE THIRD IMAGE
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THE PAST EVIL, OR THE EVIL, BEHIND US
IN this image, above all others, the sweet mercy of God our Father shines forth, able to comfort us in every distress. For never does a man feel the hand of God more closely upon him than when he calls to mind the years of his past life. ( <19D905> Psalm 139:5) St. Augustine says: “If a man were set before the choice either of dying or of living his past life over, it is certain that he would choose to die, seeing the many perils and evils which he had so hardly escaped.” This is a very true saying, if it be rightly pondered.
Here a man may see how often he has done and suffered many things, without any exertion or care of his own, nay, without and against his wish; of which things he took so little thought before they came to pass, or while they were taking place, that, only after all was over, he found himself compelled to exclaim in great surprise: “Whence have all these things come to me, when I never gave them a thought, or when I thought of something very different?” So that the proverb is true, “Man proposeth, but God disposeth”; ( Proverbs 16:9) that is, God turns things about, and brings to pass something far different from that which man proposes. Therefore, from this consideration alone, it is impossible for us to deny that our life and all our actions are under the direction, not of our own prudence, but of the wonderful power, wisdom, and goodness of God. Here we see how often God was with us when we knew it not, and with what truth Peter has said, “He careth for us all.” ( 1 Peter 5:7) Therefore, even if there were no books or tracts, yet our very life itself, brought through so many evils and dangers, if we will but consider it, abundantly commends to us the ever present and most tender goodness of God, which, far above all that we purposed or perceived, carried us as it were in its bosom. As Moses says in Deuteronomy 32:10, “The Lord kept him as the apple of His eye, and led him about, and bore him on His shoulders.” F209 Hence arose those exhortations in the Psalter: “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy works; I muse on the work of Thy hands.” ( <19E305> Psalm 143:5) “Surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” ( Psalm 77:11) Again, “I remembered Thy judgments of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself.” ( <19B952> Psalm 119:52)
These exhortations and the like are intended to teach us that, if God was with us when we thought it not, or when He seemed not to be with us, we should not doubt that He is always with us, even when He appears to be far from us. For He Who, in so many necessities, has sustained us without our aid, will not forsake us in our smaller need, even though He seem to be forsaking us. As He saith in Isaiah, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.” ( Isaiah 54:7) Moreover, who had the care of us so many a night, while we slept? Who cared for us when we were at work, or at play, or engaged in all those countless things wherein we had no care for ourselves? Indeed, how much of our time is there in which we have the care of ourselves? Even the miser, careful as he is to gain riches, must perforce put by his care in the midst of all his getting and gaining. And so we see that, whether we will or no, all our Care falls back on God alone, and we are scarcely ever left to care for ourselves. Still, God does now and again leave us to care for ourselves, in order to bring home to us His goodness, and to teach us how great the difference between His care and ours. Hence, He suffers us now and then to be assailed by some slight malady or other ill, dissembling His care for us (for He never ceases to care), and yet at the same time preventing the many evils that threaten us on every side from bursting in upon us all together. Hereby He tries us as His well-beloved children, to see whether we will not trust His care, which extends through all our past life, and learn how vain and powerless a thing is any care of ours. How little, indeed, do we or can we do for ourselves, throughout our life, when we are not able to stop a small pain in one of our limbs, even for the shortest space of time? F210 Why, then, are we so anxious in the matter of a single danger or evil, and do not rather leave our care to Him? For our whole life bears witness to the many evils from which He has delivered us, without our doing. To know this, is indeed to know the works of God, to meditate on His works, and by the remembrance of them to comfort ourselves in our adversities. ( <19E305> Psalm 143:5; 119:52) But they that know this not come under that other word in Psalm 28:5, “Because they regard not the works of the Lord, nor the operations of His hand, He shall destroy them, and not build them up.” For those men are ungrateful toward God for all His care over them during their whole life, who will not, for one small moment, commit their care to Him.
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