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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE SIXTH IMAGE
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THE EVIL ON OUR RIGHT HAND
ON our right hand are our friends, in the contemplation of whose evils our own will grow light, as St. Peter teaches, 1 Peter 5:9, “Resist the devil, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” Thus also does the Church entreat in her prayers, that provoked by the example of the saints, we may imitate the virtue of their sufferings; and thus she sings, What torments all the Saints endured, That they might win the martyr’s palm!
From such words and hymns of the Church we learn that the feasts of the saints, their memorials, churches, altars, names, and images, are observed and multiplied to the end that we should be moved by their example to bear the same evils which they also bore. And unless this be the manner of our observance, it is impossible that the worship of saints should be free from superstition. Even as there are many who observe all these things in order to escape the evil which the saints teach us should be borne, and thus to become unlike those whose feasts they keep for the sake of becoming like them.
But the finest treatment of this portion of our consolation is given by the Apostle, when he says, in Hebrews 12:4 “Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their good pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” Who must not be terrified at these words of Paul, in which he plainly states that they who are without the chastisement of God are not the sons of God! Again, what greater strengthening and what better comfort can there be than to hear that they who are chastened are beloved of the Lord, that they are sons of God, that they have part in the communion of saints, that they are not alone in their sufferings! So forceful an exhortation must make chastisement a thing to be loved.
Nor is there here any room for the excuse that some have lighter, others heavier, evils to bear. For to every one is given his temptation according to measure, and never beyond his strength. As it is written in Psalm 80:5, “Thou shalt feed us with the bread of tears, and give us for our drink tears in measure”; and as Paul says, “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” ( 1 Corinthians 10:13) Where there is, therefore, a greater evil, there is also more of divine help, and an easier way to escape; so that the unequal distribution of sufferings appears to be greater than it actually is. Does not the example of St. John Baptist, whom we commemorate on this day as beheaded by Herod, shame and amaze us all! — that so great a man, than whom there was none greater born of woman, the special friend of the Bridegroom, the forerunner of Christ, and more than all the prophets, should have been put to death, not indeed after a public trial, nor on a feigned charge (as it was with Christ), nor yet for the sake of the people; but in a dungeon, and for the sake of a dancing-girl, daughter of an adulteress! ( Matthew 11:11; John 3:29; Matthew 11:9; Matthew 14:3-11) This one Saint’s ignominious death, and his life so vilely and shamelessly given over into the hands of his sworn and adulterous enemy, must make all our evil light.
Where was God then, that He could look on such things? Where was Christ, Who, hearing of it, was altogether silent? He perished as if unknown to God, and men, and every creature. Compared with such a death, what sufferings have we to boast of; nay, what sufferings of which we must not even be ashamed? And where shall we appear, if we are unwilling to endure any suffering, when such a man endured so shameful a death, and so undeserved, and his body, after death, was given up to the insults of his enemies! ( 1 Peter 4:18) “Behold,” He saith in Jeremiah, “behold, they whose judgment was not to drink of the cup have assuredly drunken: and art thou he that shall altogether go unpunished? thou shalt not go unpunished, but thou shalt surely drink of it.” ( Jeremiah 49:12) Therefore, that hermit, who was used to fall ill every year, did well to weep and lament, when for one whole year he found himself in sound health, because, he said, God had forsaken him and withdrawn His grace from him. So necessary and so salutary is the Lord’s chastening for all Christians.
We see, then, that all our sufferings are as nothing, when we consider the nails, dungeons, irons, faggots, wild beasts, and all the endless tortures of the saints; nay, when we ponder the afflictions of men now living, who endure in this life the most grievous persecutions of the devil. For there is no lack of men who are suffering more sharp and bitter pains than we, in soul as well as in body.
But now some will say, “This is my complaint, that my suffering cannot be compared with the sufferings of the saints; because I am a sinner, and not worthy to be compared with them. They, indeed, suffered because of their innocence, but I suffer because of my sins. It is no wonder, then, that they so blithely bore all.” That is a very stupid saying. If you suffer because of your sins, then you ought to rejoice that your sins are being purged away.
And, besides, were not the saints, too, sinners? But do you fear that you are like Herod, and the thief on Christ’s left hand? You are not, if you have patience. For what was it that distinguished the thief on the left hand from him on the right but the patience of the one and the impatience of the other? If you are a sinner, well; the thief, too, was a sinner; but by his patience he merited the glorious reward of righteousness and holiness. Go, and do thou likewise. ( Luke 10:37) For you can suffer nothing except it be either on account of your sins or on account of your righteousness; and both kinds of suffering sanctify and save, if you will but love them. And so there is no excuse left. In short, just as soon as you have confessed that you are suffering on account of your sins, you are righteous and holy, even as the thief on the right hand. For the confession of sins, because it is the truth, justifies and sanctifies, and so, in the very moment of this confession, you are suffering no longer on account of your sins, but on account of your innocence. For the righteous man always suffers innocently. But you are made righteous by the confession of your merited sufferings and of your sins. And so your sufferings may truly and worthily be compared with the sufferings of the saints, even as your confession may truly and worthily be compared with the confession of the saints. For one is the truth of all, one the confession of all sins, one the suffering of all evils, and one the true communion of saints in all and through all. F217
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