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WORKS OF MARTIN LUTHER -
THE FOURTH IMAGE
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THE INFERNAL BLESSING, OR THE BLESSING BENEATH US
THUS far we have considered the blessings which are ours, and are found within ourselves; let us now turn to those blessings that are without us, and are found in others. The first of these is found in those who are beneath us, that is, the dead and damned. Do you wonder what kind of blessing can be discovered in the dead and damned? But the power of the divine goodness is everywhere so great that it grants us to descry blessings in the very greatest evils. Comparing, then, these poor wretches, first of all, with ourselves, we see how unspeakable is our gain; as may be gathered from the corresponding image of evils. For great as are the evils of death and hell that we see in them, so great certainly are the gains that we behold in ourselves. These things are not to be lightly passed over, for they forcibly commend to us the magnificent mercy of God. And we run the danger, if we lightly esteem them, of being found ungrateful, and of being condemned together with these men, and even more cruelly tormented. Therefore, when we perceive how they suffer and wail aloud, we ought so much the more to rejoice in the goodness of God toward us; according to Isaiah lxv: “Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry; behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty; behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed; behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart; and shall howl for vexation of spirit. And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen.” ( Isaiah 65:13 ff.) In short, as I have said, the examples of those who die in their sins and are damned are profitable unto us for admonition and instruction, as St.
Gregory also observes in his Dialogues; so that Happy are they who caution gain From that which caused another’s pain.
This blessing, indeed, affects us but little, because it is so common and well known; nevertheless, it is to be ranked among the very highest blessings, and is counted of no slight value by those who have an understanding heart; and many are the passages of Scripture that bear upon it, those, namely, which treat of the wrath, the judgments, and the threatenings of God. These most wholesome teachings are confirmed to us by the examples of those wretched men; and their examples only then have their effect on us, when we enter into the feelings of them that endure such things, and put ourselves as it were in their very place. Then will they move and admonish us to praise the goodness of God, Who has preserved us from those evils.
But let us also compare them with God, that we may see the divine justice in their case. Although this is a difficult task, yet it must be essayed. Now, since God is a just Judge, we must love and laud His justice, and thus rejoice in our God, even when He miserably destroys the wicked, in body and soul; for in all this His high, unspeakable justice shines forth. And so even hell, no less than heaven, is full of God and the highest good. For the justice of God is God Himself; and God is the highest good. Therefore, even as His mercy, so must His justice or judgment be loved, praised, and glorified above all things. In this sense David says, “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” ( Psalm 58:10) It was for this reason that the Lord forbade Samuel to mourn any longer for Saul ( 1 Samuel 16:1), saying, “How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?” As who should say, “Does My will so sorely displease thee, that thou preferrest the will of man to Me?” In short, this is the voice of praise and joy resounding through the whole Psalter, — that the Lord is the judge of the widow, and a father of the fatherless; that He will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor; that His enemies shall be confounded, and the ungodly shall perish; and many similar sayings. ( Psalm 68:5; 140:12) Should any one be inclined, in foolish pity, to feel compassion for that bloody generation, that killeth the prophets, yea, the Son of God Himself, and for the company of wicked men, he will be found rejoicing in their iniquity, and approving their deeds. Such a one deserves to perish in like manner with them whose sins he would condone, and will hear the word, “Thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends.” ( Samuel 19:6) For thus Joab said unto David, when he grieved too sorely over his impious and murderous son.
Therefore, in this image, we ought to rejoice in the piety of all the saints, and in the justice of God which justly punishes the persecutors of their piety, that He may deliver His elect out of their hands. And so you may see no small blessings, but the very greatest, shining forth in the dead and damned; even the avenging of the injuries of the saints, and of your own as well, if you be righteous with them. What wonder, then, if God, by means of your present evil, should take vengeance also on your enemy, that is, the sin in your body! You ought the rather to rejoice in this work of the high justice of God, which, even without your prayer, is thus slaying and destroying your fiercest foe, namely, the sin that is within you. But, should you feel pity for it, you will be found a friend of sin, and an enemy to the justice that worketh in you. Of this beware; lest it be said also to you, “Thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends.” ( 2 Samuel 19:6) Therefore, as you ought joyfully to consent to the justice of God when it rages against your sin, you should do even the same when it rages against sinners, those enemies of all men and of God. You see, then, that in the greatest evils may be found the greatest blessings, and that we are able to rejoice in these evils, not on account of the evils themselves, but on account of the supreme goodness of the justice of God our Avenger.
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