By Martin Luther, 1520
Source: Works of Martin Luther Vol 1 pp. 105-171
FOR SUCH AS LABOR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN (TESSARADECAS CONSOLATORIA)
1. When Luther’s Elector, Frederick the Wise (1485-1525), returned to his residence at Torgau, after participating in the election of Emperor Charles V, at Frankfort-on-the-Main, in the summer of 1519, he was stricken with a serious illness, from which there seemed little hope of his recovery.
Concerned for his noble patron, and urged by Dr. George Spalatin, his friend at court, to prepare a “spiritual consolation” for the Elector, Luther wrote “The Fourteen of Consolation,” one of his finest and tenderest devotional writings, and, his conception and execution, one of the most original of all his works.
Its composition falls within the months of August and September of the year 1519. On August 29th, the Day of the Beheading of St. John Baptist, we find him writing in Part I, chapter vi: “Does not the example of St. John Baptist, whom we commemorate on this day as beheaded by Herod, shame and amaze us all?” On September 22d, he sends the completed manuscript (in Latin) to Spalatin, requesting him to make a free translation of it into German and present it to the Elector. By the end of November Spalatin had completed his task (one marvels at the leisureliness of this, in view of the serious condition of the Elector; or was the manuscript translated and administered piecemeal to the noble patient?), and early in December he returned the original, doubtless together with his own translation, to Luther, who had requested its return, “in order to comfort himself therewith.”
The work was, therefore, in the strictest sense, a private writing, and not in the least intended for publication. F184 But the importunities of those who had seen it, particularly of Spalatin, prevailed, and on December 18th Luther writes to the latter that “the Tessaradecas, in both Latin and German, is in the hands of the printer.” On February 8th, 1520, he sends Spalatin a printed copy of the Latin, and six days later, one of the German edition. The latter contained a dedicatory letter to the Elector, which, however, by an oversight of the printer, and owing to Luther’s absence at the time, was omitted in the Latin edition.
In 1535, fifteen years after its first appearance in print, Luther issued his Tessaradecas in a new and final edition, adding a brief prefatory note. He no longer holds many of his former views, and there is much in his little book that he has outgrown and might now correct. But with characteristic unconcern, he lets it all stand, and even restores many passages that had been corrupted or omitted to their original form. It is a revised edition, with the errors, as it were, underscored. It is to be chiefly an historical record, to show the world how far he has progressed since its first writing ( 1 Timothy 4:15), a mile-post on the road of his inner development, f185 And more than this — and here one fancies one can see the sardonic smile on the battle-scarred face--it is to furnish his enemies with weapons against himself; he desires to show a favor to the hunters of contradictions in his works, “that they may have whereon to exercise their malice.”
2. The plan of the work is in the highest degree original and artificial. The title, Tessaradecas consolatoria, which we have rendered “The Fourteen of Consolation,” is explained by Luther in the dedicatory epistle to the Elector, pp. 110 ff. The “Fourteen” were the fourteen patron saints of mediaeval devotion, called the “Defenders from all evils” (defensores, auxi1iatores). Whence the cult arose is not altogether certain. It is said to have become popular in Germany since the vision of a Franconian shepherd, in 1446, to whom there appeared, in the fields, the Christ-child surrounded by the fourteen saints. The Vierzehnheiligenkirche at Staffelstein, a famous shrine for pilgrims, marks the spot. The names of the “Fourteen,” each of whom was a defender against some particular disease or danger, are as follows: Achatius (Acacius), Aegidius, Barbara (cf. St. Barbara’s cress), Blasius (the “defender” of those afflicted with throat diseases), Catharine (cf. St. Catharine’s flower), Christopher (cf. St. Christopher’s herb), Cyriacus, Dionysius, Erasmus (Italian: San Elmo; cf.
St. Elmo’s fire), Eustachius, George the Martyr (cf. St. George’s herb), Margaret, Pantaleon, and Vitus (cf. St. Vitus’s dance). Luther’s Sermons on the First Commandment (1516) may be compared for references to some of these saints and to many others.
As over against these saints, Luther also invents fourteen defenders or comforters, and arranges them in this writing in the form of an altar tablet; but his is not a tablet such as those found in the churches, representing the fourteen defenders, but it is a spiritual tablet or painting, to uplift and strengthen the pious heart of the Elector, and of all others who are weary and heavy laden. The first division, or panel, of this figurative altar-piece contains the images or paintings of seven evils (mala); the second, those of seven blessings (bona). The contemplation of the evils will comfort the weary and heavy laden by showing them how small their evil is in comparison with the evil that they have within themselves, namely, their sin; with the evils they have suffered in the past, and will have to suffer in the future; with the evils which others, their friends and foes, suffer; and, above all, with those which Christ suffered on the cross. Similarly, the contemplation of the blessings will help them to forget their present sufferings; for they are as nothing compared with the blessing within them, namely, their faith; the blessings they enjoyed in the past, and those that await them in the future, as well as those which are enjoyed by their friends and foes, and, finally, the highest blessing of all, which is Jesus Christ, risen and glorified.
We can only conjecture as to the origin of this unique conception of Luther’s. Of course, the evils and blessings came to him from the passage in Ecclesiasticus 11:26.
The order and arrangement may follow some contemporary altar-picture of the “Fourteen Saints.” There was a famous altar-painting of the “Fourteen,” by Lucas Cranach, in St. Mary’s at Torgau, the residence of the Elector. The fact is suggestive. F188
3. The Tessaradecas was favorably received by the Elector, was highly praised by Spalatin, who urged its publication, and must have been dear to Luther’s own heart, since he desired the return of his manuscript for his own comfort. The little work soon became very popular, and passed through numerous editions, both in Latin and in German. During the first two years five Latin editions were printed, and up to 1525 seven German editions. A translation was published in the Netherlands in 1521, and one in England in 1578. Erasmus commended it to Bishop Christopher of Basle, in 1523; “I am sending your Highness Luther’s book of the fourteen pictures, which has won great approbation even from those who oppose his doctrine at every point.” Mathesius, Luther’s pupil and biographer, judged that there had never before been such words of comfort written in the German language. The Franciscan Lemmens speaks of “the beautiful and Catholic thoughts” in it.
4. Our translation is made from the Latin text, as found in the Weimar edition of Luther’s works, volume vi, with continual reference to the German text, as given in the Berlin edition. We regret our inability to obtain a copy of the old English translation (A right comfortable Treatise conteining sundrye pointes of consolation for them that labor and are laden .... Englished by W. Gace. T. Vautroullier, London, 1578, sec. ed. 1580), although the form of the title would seem to indicate that it was made from Spalatin’s translation, and not from the original. F189 The many Scripture quotations, all naturally from the Latin Vulgate, and most of them freely quoted from memory, and sometimes “targumed” and woven into the texture of the treatise, are rendered by us, unless the sense should thereby be affected, in the words of the Authorised Version.
Important or interesting variations are indicated in the foot-notes.
5. The Tessaradecas deserves to be more widely known and used. Its value is more than merely that of an historical document, representing a transition stage in Luther’s reformatory views. It gives us, besides this, a deep insight into the living piety of the man, his great heart so full of the peace of God that passeth all understanding. When we remember that this little work was composed ill the midst of a very “tempest” of other writings, chiefly polemical (e.g.:, the savage onslaughts on Emser), it will appear akin to the little book of Ruth, lying so peacefully between the warlike books of Judges and First Samuel. At the Leipzig Disputation, earlier in the same year, Luther was seen to hold a bouquet of flowers in his hand, and to smell of it when the battle waxed hot. The Tessaradecas is such a bunch of flowers. Its chief glory, however, that of a devotional classic, has been somewhat dimmed by Luther himself, who with the carelessness of genius refused to revise his outworn views in it; and yet, despite its relics of mediaevalism, particularly by reason of its firm evangelical foundation, its scriptural warp and woof, its fervent piety, and its fresh and original treatment, it is not less entitled to a high place in the devotional and ascetic literature of the Church than the much better known Imitatio Christi. In this sense it is herewith offered anew to the English reader, with the hope that “the diligent reading and contemplation of these ‘images’ may minister some slight comfort.” 6. Literature. — (1) The literary and historical introductions to the Tessaradecas in the Weimar, Erlangen, and Berlin editions. (2) Köstlin-Kawerau, Martin Luther,sein Lebenund seine Schriften. 5 th ed.,1903, vol. I, pp.280, 281. (3) H. Beck, Die Erbauungslit. der evang. Kirche Deutschlands, 1883. (4) On the fourteen Defenders see articles in Wetzer und Welte and the Catholic Encyclopaedia, and especially the article Nothelfer, by Zöckler, in PRE* where also see further literature. A. T. W. STEINHAEUSER Allentown, PA.
THE FOURTEEN OF CONSOLATION (TESSARADECAS CONSOLATORIA)
PREFATORY NOTE f190
THIS book was written, early in my career, for that most excellent prince, Frederick, Duke of Saxony, when he was stricken with a dangerous illness; but many desired that it be printed. After passing through various editions it has now become so sadly corrupted and mutilated that many passages are missing, whose original form I myself have clean forgot. However, I have restored the sense of them, as well as I was able, taking care to set down only such views as I held when the work was first written. I did not care to revise them now, as I might well do. For it is my purpose in this book to put forth a public record of my progress, and also to show a kindness to the “Contradictionists,” that they may have whereon to exercise their malice. For me it is enough if I please my Lord Christ and His saints; that I am hated of the devil and his scales, I rejoice with all my heart, and give thanks to God.
DEDICATORY EPISTLE f194
To The Most Illustrious Prince And Lord, Frederick, Duke Of Saxony, Arch-Marshal And Elector Of The Holy Roman Empire, Landgrave Of Thuringia, Margrave Of Meissen, His Most Gracious Lord. OUR Lord and Savior Jesus hath left us a commandment, which concerns all Christians alike,— that we should render the, duties of humanity, or (as the Scriptures call them) the works of mercy, to such as are afflicted and under calamity; that we should visit, the sick, endeavor to set free the prisoners, and perform other like acts of kindness to our neighbor, whereby the evils of this present time may in some measure be lightened. ( Luke 6:36; Matthew 25:34 ff.) And of this command our Lord Jesus Christ hath Himself given us the brightest example, in that, out of infinite love to the race of men, He descended out of the bosom of the Father into our misery and prison-cell, that is, our flesh and life so full of ills, and took upon Him the penalty of our sins, in order that we might be saved; as He saith in Isaiah 43:24, “Thou hast made Me to serve with thy sins, and wearied Me with thine iniquities.”
Whoever is not moved by so bright an example, and driven by the authority of the divine command, to show forth such works of mercy, he will deservedly hear, in the last judgement, the voice of the angry Judge saying: “Depart from me, thou cursed, into everlasting fire! For I was sick, and thou didst not visit Me; but, basely ungrateful for the many blessings I bestowed on thee and on all the world, thou wouldest not so much as lift a finger to succor thy brethren, nay Me, Christ, thy God and Savior, in thy brethren.” ( Matthew 25:41) Since, then, most noble Prince, I perceive that your Lordship has been smitten with a dangerous malady, and that Christ has thus fallen sick in you, I have counted it my duty to visit your Lordship with a little writing of mine. For I cannot pretend to be deaf to the voice of Christ crying to me out of your Lordship’s flesh and blood, “Behold, here am I sick.” For such ills as sickness and the like are endured, not by us Christians, but by Christ Himself, our Lord and Savior, in Whom we live. Even as He plainly testifies in the Gospel, “Whatsoever ye have done unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”( Matthew 25:40) And while we should visit and console all who are afflicted with sickness, yet we owe this duty specially to those who are of the household of faith. For Paul clearly distinguishes between strangers and those of the household, or those who are bound to us by intimate ties, ( Galatians 6:10) But I have yet other reasons for performing this my duty. For I consider that, as one of your Lordship’s subjects, I must needs share in your Lordship’s illness, together with the remainder of your many subjects, and suffer with you as a member with the Head, on which all our fortunes, our safety, and our happiness depend. For we recognize in your Lordship another Naaman, by whom God is now giving deliverance to Germany, as in times past He gave deliverance to Syria. ( 2 Kings 5:1) Wherefore the whole Roman Empire turns its eyes to your Lordship alone, and venerates and receives you as the Father of the Fatherland, and the bright ornament and protector of the whole Empire, but of the German nation in particular.
F195 Nor are we bound only to console your Lordship as much as in us lies, and to make your present sorrow our own, but much more to pray God for your health and safety; which I trust your Lordship’s subjects are doing with all diligence and devotion. But as for me, whom your Lordship’s many and signal benefactions have made your debtor above all others, I count it my duty to express my gratitude by rendering you some special service. But now, by reason of my poverty both of mind and fortune, it is not possible for me to offer anything of value; therefore I gladly welcomed the suggestion of Doctor George Spalatin, one of your Lordship’s court chaplains, that I should prepare a kind of spiritual consolation and present it to your Lordship, to whom, he said, it would be most acceptable. Being unwilling to reject this friendly counsel, I have put together the following fourteen chapters, after the fashion of an altar tablet, and have called them, “The Fourteen.” F196 They are to take the place of the fourteen saints whom our superstition has invented and called, “The Defenders against all evil” But this is a tablet not of silver, but of a spiritual sort; nor is it intended to adorn the walls of a church, but to uplift and strengthen a pious heart. I trust it will stand your Lordship in good stead in your present condition. It consists of two divisions; the former containing the images of seven evils, in the contemplation of which your present troubles will grow light; the latter presenting the images of seven blessings, brought together for the same purpose.
May it please your Lordship graciously to accept this little work of mine, and to make such use of it that the diligent reading and contemplation of these “images” may minister some small comfort.
Your Lordship’s humble servant, MARTIN LUTHER , Doctor.
PREFACE THE Apostle Paul, treating in Romans 15:4 of the consolations of Christians, writes, “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” In these words he plainly teaches that our consolations are to be drawn from the Holy Scriptures. Now the Holy Scriptures administer comfort after a twofold fashion, by presenting to our view blessings and evils, most wholesomely intermingled; as the wise Preacher saith, “In the day of evil be mindful of the good, and in the day of good be mindful of the evil.” (Ecclus. 11:26) For the Holy Spirit knows that a thing has only such meaning and value for a man as he assigns to it in his thoughts; for what he holds common and of no value will move him but little, either to pleasure when he obtains it, or to grief when he loses it.
Therefore He endeavors with all His might to draw us away from thinking about things and from being moved by them; and when He has effected this, then all things whatsoever are alike to us. Now this drawing away is best accomplished by means of the Word, whereby our thoughts are turned from the thing that moves us at the present moment to that which either is absent or does not at the moment move us. Therefore it is true that we shall attain to this state of mind only through the comfort of the Scriptures, which call us, in the day of evil, to the contemplation of good things, either present or to come, and, in the day of good, to the contemplation of evil things.
But let us, for our better understanding of these two series of pictures or images, divide each of them into seven parts. The first series will treat of the evils, and we shall consider (1) the evil within us, (2) the evil before us, (3) the evil behind us, (4) the evil on our left hand, (5) the evil on our right hand, (6) the evil beneath us, and (7) the evil above us. f198
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
THE FUTURE EVIL, OR THE EVIL BEFORE US
IT will tend in no small degree to lighten any present evil if a man turn his mind to the evils to come. These are so many, so diverse, and so great, that out of them has arisen one of the strongest emotions of the soul; namely, fear. For fear has been defined by some as the emotion caused by coming evil. Even as the Apostle says in Romans 11:20, “Be not highminded, but fear.” This evil is all the greater because of our uncertainty in what form and with what force it may come; so that there goes a popular saying, “No age is proof against the itch,” although this is but a little children’s disease. Even so, no man is safe from the evils that befall any other; for what one has suffered another may suffer also. Here belong all the tragic histories of the ages, and all the lamentations of the world. Here belong the more than three hundred diseases — which some have observed — with which the human body may be vexed. And if there be so many diseases, how great will be the number of other misfortunes that may befall our possessions, our friends, and even our mind itself, that target of all evils, and trysting-place of sorrow and every ill!
And these evils increase in power and intensity as a man rises to higher rank and dignity; in which estate he must needs dread every moment the coming of poverty, disgrace, and every indignity, which may indeed swiftly overtake him, for they all hang by but a slender thread, not unlike the sword which the tyrant Dionysius suspended above the head of the guest at his table.
And if none of these evils befall us, we should count it our gain, and no small comfort in the evil that does befall us; so that we should feel constrained to say with Jeremiah, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed.” ( Lamentations 3:22f.) For when none of them befall us, it is because they have been kept from us by the right hand of the Most High that compasses us about with such mighty power (as we see in Job) that Satan and all evils can but gnash their teeth in helpless rage. ( Job 1:10) From this we see how sweetly we ought to love our Lord, whenever any evil comes upon us. For our most loving Father would by that one evil have us see how many evils threaten us and would fall on us, if He did not Himself stand in the way, ( Luke 22:31) as though He said, “Satan and the host of evils have desired to have thee, to sift thee as wheat; but I have marked out bounds for the sea, and have said, Hitherto shalt thou come, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed,” as He saith in ( Job 38:10 f.)
And, granted that perchance, if God please, none of these things will come upon you; nevertheless, that which is known as the greatest of terrors, death, is certain to come, and nothing is less certain than the hour of its coming. Truly, this is so great an evil that there are many who would rather live on amid all the above-named evils than to die once and have them ended. With this one thing the Scriptures, which hold all others in contempt, associate fear, saying, “Remember thy end, and thou shalt never do amiss.” (Ecclus. 7:40) Behold, how many meditations, how many books, how many rules and remedies have been brought together, in order, by calling to men’s minds this one evil, to keep them from sin, to render the world contemptible, to lighten suffering, to comfort the afflicted, — all by a comparison with this great and terrible, and yet so inevitable, evil of death. This evil even the saints dreaded, and Christ submitted to it with trembling and bloody sweat. ( Luke 22:44) So that the divine Mercy hath been nowhere more concerned to comfort our little faith than in the matter of this evil, as we shall see below.
But all these things are common to all men, even as the blessings of salvation under these evils are common to all. For Christians, however, there is another and a particular reason for dreading the evils to come, which easily surpasses all the evils that have been mentioned. It is that which the Apostle portrays in 1 Corinthians 10:12, when he says, “He that standeth, let him take heed lest he fall.” So unstable is our footing, and so powerful our foe, armed with our own strength (that is, the weapons of our flesh and all our evil lusts), attended by the countless armies of the world, its delights and pleasures on the right hand, its hardships and the plots of wicked men on the left, and, besides all this, master himself of the art of doing us harm, seducing us, and bringing us down to destruction by a thousand different ways. Such is our life that we are not safe for one moment in our good intentions. Cyprian, who in his De Mortalitate f206 touches on many of these matters, teaches that death is to be desired as a swift means of escape from these evils. And truly, wherever there have been high-hearted men, who brought their minds steadily to bear on these infinite perils of hell, we find them, with contempt of life and death (that is, all the aforesaid evils), desiring to die, that so they might be delivered at one and the same time from this evil of the sins in which they now are (of which we spoke in the previous chapter), and of the sins into which they might fall (of which we are treating now). And these are, indeed, two most weighty reasons why we should not only desire death, but also despise all evils, to say nothing of lightly bearing a single evil; if the Lord grant us to be moved thereby. For it is God’s gift that we are moved thereby. For what true Christian will not even desire to die, and much more to bear sickness, seeing that, so long as he lives and is in health, he is in sin, and is constantly prone to fall, yea, is falling every day, into more sins; and is thus constantly thwarting the most loving will of his most loving Father! To such a heat of indignation was St. Paul moved, in Romans 7:19, when after complaining that he did not the good that he would, but the evil that he would not, he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? The grace of God,” he answers, “through Jesus Christ.” (Rom 7:24 f.)
That man loves God his Father but little, who does not prefer the evil of dying to this evil of sinning. For God has appointed death, that this evil might come to an end, and that death might be the minister of life and righteousness, of which more below.
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.
CHAPTER - THE FOURTH IMAGE
THE INFERNAL EVIL, OR THE EVIL BENEATH US
HITHERTO we have seen, in all the evils that we endure, naught but the goodness of God, which is so great and so near that of all the countless, evils with which we are surrounded in this life, and in which we are shut up as in a prison, but a very few are permitted to approach us, and these never for long together. So that, when we are oppressed by any present evil, it is only to remind us of some great gain with which God is honoring us, in that He does not suffer us to be overwhelmed by the multitude of evils with which we are surrounded. For what wonder that a man, at whom an infinite number of blows is aimed, should be touched by one now and then! Nay, it is a mercy not to be struck by all; it is a miracle to be struck by but a few.
The first, then, of the evils beneath us is death, and the other is hell.
If we will but consider the deaths, so diverse and so terrible, with which other sinners are punished, we shall soon see how great a gain is ours in that we suffer far less than we have deserved. How many men are hanged, strangled, drowned or beheaded, who perchance committed less sins than we! And their death and misery are held up to us by Christ as in a mirror, in which we may behold what we have deserved. For it is said in Luke 13:1, when they told Him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, that He replied: “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered these things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise; perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” For we need not expect that we, who have committed the same or even graver sins, shall escape with a lighter punishment. Nor will the justice and truth of God, which hath decreed to render to every man according to his deeds, be turned for our sake into injustice and a lie, unless we hasten to make satisfaction by at least, bearing our trifling evil with patience. F211 ( Romans 2:6) And how many thousands are there in hell and everlasting damnation, who have not committed the thousandth part of our sins! How many virgins, youths, and those whom we call innocents, are there! How many monks, priests, and married pairs! These seemed all their life long to be serving God, and, it may be for a single lapse, are now being punished for ever.
For, it may not be denied, the justice of God is the same in the case of every sin, whatever it may be, and hates and punishes all sin alike, it matters not in whom it is found. Do we not then see here the inestimable mercy of God, Who hath not condemned us, though we have so many times deserved condemnation? Pray, what are all the sufferings life can bring, compared to eternal punishment, which they indeed justly endure on account of one sin, while we go free and unpunished for our many sins, which God hath covered! ( Psalm 32:1) That we take no thought of these benefits of God, or but lightly esteem them, that is ingratitude, and the hardening of our unbelieving heart.
Moreover, we must include here the many infidels, Gentiles, Jews, and infants, who, if to them had been granted the advantages that we enjoy, would not now be in hell, but rather in heaven, and who would have sinned far less than we. For this mirror also does Christ set before us, when He says in Matthew 11:21 “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” We see, therefore, what praise and love we owe to our good Lord, in any evil whatsoever of this life; for it is but a tiny drop of the evils which we have deserved, and which Job compares to the sea, and to the sand by the seashore. ( Job 6:3)
CHAPTER - THE FIFTH IMAGE
THE EVIL ON OUR LEFT HAND
HERE we must set before our eyes the whole multitude of our adversaries and wicked men, and consider, first, how many evils they would have inflicted on our bodies, our property, our good name, and on our souls, but could not, being prevented by the providence of God. Indeed, the higher one’s station and the wider one’s sway, the more is he exposed to the intrigues, slanders, plots, and stratagems of his enemies. In all this we may mark and feel the very present hand of God, and need not wonder if we be touched now and then by one of these evils.
Again, let us consider the evils which these men themselves endure; not that we may exult over them, but that we may feel pity for them. For they, too, are exposed to all these same evils, in common with ourselves; as may be seen in the preceding images. Only, they are in a worse plight than we, because they stand outside our fellowship, both as to body and soul.
For the evil that we endure is as nothing compared to their evil estate; for they are in sin and unbelief, under the wrath of God, and under the dominion of the devil, wretched slaves to ungodliness and sin, so that, if the whole world were to heap curses on their heads, it could wish them no worse things. If we rightly consider this, we shall see how much more highly favored we are of God, in that we may bear our slight bodily ill in faith, in the kingdom of Christ, and in the service of God; and, indeed, are scarce able to feel it, being so rich in those high blessings. Nay, this wretchedness of theirs must so sorely trouble a pious Christian heart as to make its own troubles seem delights beside them. Thus St. Paul exhorts in Philippians 2:4, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, took upon Him the form of a servant, etc.” That is to say, Out of fervent love He took our form upon Himself, bearing Himself amidst our evils as though they were His own, and so completely forgetting Himself and all His goods, and humbling Himself, that He was found in all things to be made in the likeness of men, counting nothing human foreign to Himself, and wholly giving Himself over to our evils.
Animated with this love, and moved by this example, the saints are wont to pray for wicked men, even their enemies, and to do all things for them after the example of Christ; ( Luke 6:27 f.) and forgetting their own injuries and rights, to take thought only how they may rescue them from their evils, with which they are far more cruelly tormented than with any evils of the body. Even as St. Peter writes of Lot, that he “dwelt among them who from day to day vexed the just soul with unjust works.” ( 2 Peter 2:8) You see, then, how deep an abyss of evils is here discovered, and how great an opportunity for showing mercy and compassion, as well as for overlooking our own trifling ills, if the love of God dwell in us; since that which God permits us to suffer is as nothing to that which those others endure. But the reason why these things affect us so little is, because the eye of our heart is not clear enough to see how great is the squalor anti wretchedness of a man lying in sin; that is, separated from God, and in the possession of the devil. For who is there so hard of heart that he must not sicken at the spectacle of those miserable forms lying at our church doors and in our streets, their faces disfigured, and all their members hideously consumed with putrifying sores; so that the mind is horror-struck at the thought and the senses recoil from the sight! And what does God intend, through these lamentable specimens of our flesh and brotherhood, but to open the eyes of our mind, that we may see in how much more dreadful a guise the soul of the sinner shows forth its disease and decay, even though he himself go in purple and gold, and lie among lilies and roses, as a very child of paradise! Yet how many sinners are there, to one of those wretched creatures? When these evils on the part of our neighbors, so great both in number and degree, are disregarded by us, it follows that our one evil, be it never so trifling, will appear as the sole evil, and the greatest of all.
But even in respect of bodily evils, the wicked are of necessity in a worse plight than we. For what sweet and pure joy can be theirs, so long as their conscience can find no peace? Or can there be a more terrible evil than the unrest of a gnawing conscience? Isaiah says, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.
There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” ( Isaiah 57:20 f.) This also, in Deuteronomy 28:65, applies to them: “The Lord shall give thee a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: and thy life shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night, and shalt have none assurance of thy life; in the morning thou shalt say, Would God it were even! and at even thou shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of thine eyes which thou shalt see.” In a word, if one regarded all the evils of the wicked in the right spirit, whether they be those of his friends or his foes, he would not only seem to be suffering nothing at all, but he would also, with Moses and the Apostle Paul, be filled with an hearty desire to die for them, if it might be, and to be blotted out of the book of life, as it is written in Romans 9:3, that thereby they might be set free. ( Exodus 32:32) With such zeal and burning was Christ’s heart kindled, when He died for us and descended into hell, leaving us an example that we also should be so regardful of the evils of others, and forgetful of our own, nay, rather covetous of evils of our own.
CHAPTER - THE SIXTH IMAGE
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
CHAPTER - THE SEVENTH IMAGE
THE SUPERNAL EVIL, OR THE EVIL ABOVE US
FINALLY, let us lift up our hearts, and ascend with the Bride into the mountain of myrrh. ( Song of Solomon 4:6) This is Jesus Christ the Crucified, Head of all saints, and Prince of all sufferers; of Whom many have written many things, and all all things, as it is meet. F218 His memory is commended to the Bride, when it is said, “Set Me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm.” ( Song of Solomon 8:6) The blood of this Lamb, signed upon the threshold, wards off the destroying angel. ( Exodus 12:7,13) By Him is the Bride praised, because “the hair of her head is as the king’s purple” ( Song of Solomon 7:5); that is, her meditation glows red with the remembrance of the Passion of Christ. This is that tree which Moses was commanded to cast into the waters of Marah (that is, the bitterness of suffering), and they were made sweet. ( Exodus 15:23 ff.) There is nothing that this Passion cannot sweeten, not even death itself; as the Bride saith, “His lips are lilies, dropping sweet-smelling myrrh.” ( Song of Solomon 5:13) What resemblance is there between lips and lilies, since lips are red and lilies white? But she says this in a mystery, signifying that the words of Christ are most fair and pure, and that there is in them naught of blood-red bitterness or guile; nevertheless, in them He drops precious and chosen myrrh, that is, the bitterness of death.
These most pure lips and sweet have power to make the bitterest death sweet and fair and bright and dear, — death that, like precious myrrh, removes at once all of sin’s corruption.
How does this come to pass? When, forsooth, you hear that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, hath, by His most holy touch, consecrated and hallowed all sufferings, even death itself, hath blessed the curse, glorified shame, and enriched poverty, so that death has been made a door to life, curse a fount of blessing, and shame the mother of glory: how can you then be so hard and ungrateful as not to long for and to love all manner of sufferings, now that they have been touched by Christ’s most pure and holy flesh and blood, and made unto you holy, harmless, wholesome, blessed, and full of joy?
For if Christ, by the touch of His most innocent flesh, has hallowed all waters unto baptism, yea, and every creature besides; how much more has He, by the same contact of His most innocent flesh and blood, hallowed every form of death, all suffering and loss, every curse and shame, unto the baptism of the Spirit, or the baptism of blood! Even as He saith of this same baptism of His Passion, in Luke 12:50, “I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened until it be accomplished!” Behold, how He is straitened, how He pants and thirsts, to sanctify suffering and death, and make them things to be loved! For He sees how we stand in fear of suffering, He marks how we tremble and shrink from death. And so, like a godly pastor or faithful physician, He hastens to set bounds to this our evil, and is impatient to die and by His contact to commend suffering and death unto us. So that the death of a Christian is henceforth to be regarded as the brazen serpent of Moses, which indeed hath in all things the appearance of a serpent, yet is quite without life, without motion, without venom, without sting. ( Numbers 21:8) Even so the righteous seem, in the sight of the unwise, to die; but they are in peace. (Wisdom 3:2,3) We resemble them that die, nor is the outward appearance of our dying unlike that of others; but the thing itself is different, because for us death is dead.
In like manner all our sufferings are like the sufferings of other men; but it is only in the appearance. In reality our sufferings are the beginning of our freedom from suffering, as our death is the beginning of our life. This is that which Christ saith in John 8:51, “If a man keep my saying he shall never see death.” How shall he not see it? Because when he dies, he begins to live, and so he cannot see death for the life that he sees. For here the night shineth as the day; since the life that breaks upon him is brighter far than departing death. ( <19D912> Psalm 139:12) These things are assured to all who believe in Christ, to the unbelieving they are not.
Therefore, if you kiss, caress, and embrace, as most sweet relics, f220 consecrated by His touch, the robe of Christ, the vessels, waterpots, and what things soever He touched and used; why will you not the rather caress, embrace, and kiss the pains and evils of this world, disgrace and death, which He not only hallowed by His touch, but sprinkled and blessed with His most holy blood, yea, embraced with willing heart, and great constraining love? The more, since in these there are for you far greater merits, rewards, and blessings than in those relics; for in them there is offered to you the victory over death, and hell, and all sins, but in those relics nothing at all. O could we but see the heart of Christ, when, hanging on the Cross, He was so eager to slay death, and hold it up to our contempt! With what grace and ardor He embraced death and pain for us timid ones, who shrink from them! How willingly He first drinks this cup for us sick ones, that we may not dread to drink it after Him! For we see that naught of evil befell Him, but only good, in His resurrection. Could we see this, then doubtless that precious myrrh, dropping from Christ’s lips, and commended by His words, would grow most sweet and pleasant unto us, even as the beauty and fragrance of lilies. Thus saith also St. Peter, 1 Peter 4:1, “Forasmuch as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind.” And St. Paul, Hebrews 12:3, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.”
If we have learned, in the foregoing images, beneath us and above us, to bear our evils with patience, surely in this last, lifted above and out of ourselves, caught up unto Christ, and made superior to all evils, we ought not only to bear with them, but to love them, desire them, and seek them out. Whoever is yet far from this state of mind, for him the Passion of Christ has little value; as it is with those who use the sign and arms of Christ to ward off evils and death, that so they may neither suffer pain nor endure death, which is altogether contrary to the cross and death of Christ. Hence, in this image, whatever evils we may have to bear must be swallowed up and consumed, so that they shall not only cause us no pain, but even delight us; if indeed this image find its way into our heart, and fix itself in the inmost affections of our mind.
THE second part also consists of seven images, answering to the first; the first representing the internal blessing, the second the future blessing, the third the past blessing, the fourth the infernal blessing, the fifth the blessing on the left hand, the sixth the blessing on the right hand, and the seventh the supernal blessing.
CHAPTER - THE FIRST IMAGE
THE BLESSING WITHIN US
WHO can recount only those blessings which every one hath in his own person? How great are, first, the gifts and endowments of the body; such as beauty, strength, health, and the lively play of the senses! To these there comes, in the case of the male, a greater nobility of sex, that fits him for the doing of many things both in public and in private life, and for many splendid achievements, to which woman is a stranger. And if, by the grace of God, you enjoy these excellent gifts for ten, twenty, or thirty years, and in all this time endure suffering for a few days now and then, what great matter is that? There is a proverb among knaves, Es ist umb ein bose stund zuthun, and, Ein gutt stund ist eyner posen werdt. What shall be said of us, who have seen so many good hours, yet are not willing to endure evil for a single hour! We see, therefore, how many blessings God showers upon us, and how few evils barely touch us. This is true at least of the most of us.
But not content with these blessings, our gracious God adds to them riches and an abundance of all things; if not in the case of all, certainly in the case of many, and of those especially who are too frail to bear the evil. For as I said before, when He grants fewer bodily gifts and possessions, He gives greater mental gifts; so that all things may be equal, and He the just Judge of all. For a cheerful mind is a greater comfort than much riches.
Moreover, to some He grants offspring, and, as men say, the highest pleasure, influence, rank, honor, fame, glory, favor, and the like. And if these be enjoyed for a long or even for a short season, they will soon teach men how they ought to conduct themselves under some small evil.
But more excellent than all these are the blessings of the mind; such as reason, knowledge, judgment, eloquence, prudence. And, here again, God tempers the justice of His dealing, so that when He bestows more of these gifts on some men, He does not therefore prefer them to others, since on these again He confers greater peace and cheerfulness of mind. In all these things we should gratefully mark the bountiful hand of God, and take comfort in our infirmity. For we should feel no surprise if among so many and great blessings there be some intermingling of bitterness; since even for epicures no meat is savory without salt, nor scarce any dish palatable that has not a certain bitter savor, either native or produced by seasoning. So intolerable is a continual and unrelieved sweetness, that it has been truly said, “Every pleasure too long continued begets disgust”; and again, “Pleasure itself turns at length to loathing.” That is to say, this life is incapable of enjoying only good things without a tempering of evil, because of the too great abundance of good things. Whence has arisen also this proverb, “It needs sturdy bones to bear good days”; which proverb I have often pondered and much admired for its excellent true sense, namely, that the wishes of men are contrary to one another; they seek none but good days, and, when these arrive, are less able to bear them than evil days.
What, then, would God have us here lay to heart but this, that the cross is held in honor even among the enemies of the cross! For all things must needs be tempered and sanctified with the relics of the cross, lest they decay; even as the meat must be seasoned with salt, that it may not breed worms. And why will we not gladly accept this tempering which God sends, and which, if He did not send it, our own life, weakened with pleasures and blessings, would of itself demand? Hence we see with what truth the Book of Wisdom says of God, “He reacheth from end to end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly.”(Wisd. 8:1) And if we examine these blessings, the truth of Moses’ words, in Deuteronomy 32:10, will become plain, “He bore him on His shoulders, He led him about, and kept him as the apple of His eye.” With these words we may stop the mouths of those ungrateful praters who hold that there is in this life more of evil than of good. For there is no lack of good things and endless sweet blessings, but they are lacking who are of the same mind with him who said, “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord”;( Psalm 33:5) and again, “The earth is full of His praise”; ( Habakkuk 3:3) and in <19A424> Psalm 104:24, “The earth is full of Thy riches”; “Thou, Lord, hast made me glad through Thy work.” ( Psalm 92:4) Hence we sing every day in the Mass: f226 “Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” ( Isaiah 6:3) Why do we sing this? Because there are many blessings for which God may be praised, but it is done only by those who see the fullness of them. Even as we said concerning the evils of the first image, that a man’s evils are only so great as he in his thoughts acknowledges them to be, so it is also with the blessings. Though they crowd upon us from every side, yet they are only so great as we acknowledge them to be. For all things that God made are very good, but they are not acknowledged as very good by all. ( Genesis 1:31) Such were they of whom it is said in Psalm 77, “They despised the pleasant land.” ( <19A624> Psalm 106:24) The most beautiful and instructive example of this image is furnished by Job, who when he had lost all said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” ( Job 2:10) Truly, that is a golden saying, and a mighty comfort in temptation. For Job not only suffered, but was tempted to impatience by his wife, who said to him, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.” ( Job 2:9) As who should say, “It is plain that he is not God who is thus forsaking thee. Why, then, dost thou trust in him, and not rather, renouncing him, and thus cursing him, acknowledge thyself a mortal man, for whom naught remains after this life?” These things and the like are suggested to each one of us by his wife (i.e., his carnal mind ) in time of temptation; for the carnal mind* savoreth not the things that be of God. ( Matthew 16:23) But these are all bodily blessings, and common to all men. A Christian has other and far better blessings within, namely, faith in Christ; of which it is said in Psalm 45:14, “The king’s daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold.” For, as we said concerning the evil of the first image, that no evil in a man can be so great as to be the worst of the evils within him; so too the greatest of the blessings which are in the Christian, he himself is unable to see. Could he perceive it, he would forthwith be in heaven; since the kingdom of heaven, as Christ says, is within us. ( Luke 17:21) For to have faith is to have the Word and truth of God; and to have the Word of God is to have God Himself, the Maker of all. If these blessings, in all their fullness, were discovered to the soul, straightway it would be released from the body, for the exceeding abundance of sweet pleasure. Wherefore, of a truth, all the other blessings which we have mentioned are but as the monitors of those blessings which we have within, and which God would by them commend unto us. For this life of ours could not endure to have them revealed, but God mercifully keeps them hidden, until they have reached their full measure. Even so loving parents give their children foolish little toys, in order thereby to lead them on to look for better things.
Nevertheless, these blessings show themselves at times, and break out of doors, when the happy conscience rejoices in its trust to Godward, is fain to speak of Him, hears His Word with pleasure, and is quick to serve Him, to do good and suffer evil. All these are the evidence of that infinite and incomparable blessing hidden within, which sends forth such little drops and tiny rills. Still, it is sometimes more fully revealed to contemplative souls, who then are rapt away thereby, and know not where they are; as is confessed by St. Augustine and his mother, and by many others.
CHAPTER - THE SECOND IMAGE
THE FUTURE BLESSING, OR THE BLESSING BEFORE US
THOSE who are not Christians will find small comfort, amid their evils, in the contemplation of future blessings; since for them all these things are uncertain. Although much ado is made here by that famous emotion called hope, by which we call on each other, in words of human comfort, to look for better times, and continually plan greater things for the uncertain future, yet are always deceived. Even as Christ teaches concerning the man in the Gospel, Luke 12:18, who said to his soul, “I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Nevertheless, God has not so utterly forsaken the sons of men that He will not grant them some measure of comfort in this hope of the passing of evil and the coming of good things. Though they are uncertain of the future, yet they hope with certain hope, and hereby they are meanwhile buoyed up, lest falling into the further evil of despair, they should break down under their present evil, and do some worse thing. Hence, even this sort of hope is the gift of God; not that He would have them lean on it, but that He would turn their attention to that firm hope, which is in Him alone. For He is so long-suffering that He leadeth them to repentance, as it is said in Romans 2:4 and suffers none to be straightway deceived by this deceitful hope, if haply they may “return to the heart,” and come to the true hope. ( Isaiah 46:8) But Christians have, beside this twofold blessing, the very greatest future blessings certainly awaiting them; yet only through death and suffering. Although they, too, rejoice in that common and uncertain hope that the evil of the present will come to an end, and that its opposite, the blessing, will increase; still, that is not their chief concern, but rather this, that their own particular blessing should increase, which is the truth as it is in Christ, in which they grow from day to day, and for which they both live and hope. But beside this they have, as I have said, the two greatest future blessings in their death. The first, in that through death the whole tragedy of this world’s ills is brought to a close; as it is written, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints”; ( <19B615> Psalm 116:15) and again, “I will lay me down in peace and sleep”; ( Psalm 4:8) and, “Though the righteous be prevented with death, yet shall he be at rest.” (Wisd. 4:7) But to the ungodly death is the beginning of evils; as it is said, “The death of the wicked is very evil,” ( Psalm 34:21) and, “Evil shall catch the unjust man unto destruction.” ( <19E011> Psalm 140:11) Even so Lazarus, who received his evil things in his lifetime, is comforted, while the rich glutton is tormented, because he received his good things here. ( Luke 16:25) So that it is always well with the Christian, whether he die or live; so blessed a thing is it to be a Christian and to believe in Christ. Wherefore Paul says, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” ( Philippians 1:21) and, in Romans 14:8, “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” This security Christ hath won for us by His death and rising again, that He might be Lord of both the living and dead, able to keep us safe in life and in death; as Psalm 23:4 saith, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” If this gain of death move us but little, it is proof that our faith in Christ is feeble, and does not prize highly enough the reward and gain of a blessed death, or does not yet believe that death is a blessing; because the old man is still too much alive in us, and the wisdom of the flesh too strong. We should, therefore, endeavor to attain to the knowledge and the love of this blessing of death. It is a great thing that death, which is to others the greatest of evils, is made to us the greatest gain. And unless Christ had obtained this for us, what had He done that was worthy of the great price He paid, namely, His own self? It is indeed a divine work that He wrought, and none need wonder, therefore, that He made the evil of death to be something that is very good. ( Genesis 1:31) Death, then, to believers is already dead, and hath nothing terrible behind its grinning mask. Like unto a slain serpent, it hath indeed its former terrifying appearance, but it is only the appearance; in truth it is a dead evil, and harmless enough. Nay, as God commanded Moses to lift up a serpent of brass, at sight of which the living serpents perished, even so our death dies in the believing contemplation of the death of Christ, and now hath but the outward appearance of death. ( Numbers 21:8 f.) With such fine similitudes the mercy of God prefigures to us, in our infirmity, this truth, that though death should not be taken away, He yet has reduced its power to a mere shadow. ( Matthew 9:24) For this reason it is called in the Scriptures a “sleep” rather than death. ( 1 Thessalonians 4:13 ff.)
The other blessing of death is this, that it not only concludes the pains and evils of this life, but (which is more excellent) makes an end of sins and vices. And this renders death far more desirable to believing souls, as I have said above, than the former blessing; since the evils of the soul, which are its sins, are beyond comparison worse evils than those of the body. This alone, did we but know it, should make death most desirable. But if it does not, it is a sign that we neither feel nor hate our sin as we should. For this our life is so full of perils — sin, like a serpent, besetting us on every side — and it is impossible for us to live without sinning; but fairest death delivers us from these perils, and cuts our sin clean away from us.
Therefore, the praise of the just man, in Wisdom iv, concludes on this wise: “He pleased God, and was taken away, and was beloved of Him: so that living among sinners he was translated. Yea, speedily was he taken away, lest that wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. For the bewitching of naughtiness doth obscure things that are honest; and the wandering of concupiscence doth undermine the simple mind (O how constantly true is this!). He, being made perfect in a short time, fulfilled a long time, for his soul pleased the Lord: therefore hasted He to take him away from the wicked.” (Wisd. 4:10-14) Thus, by the mercy of God, death, which was to man the punishment for his sin, is made unto the Christian the end of sin, and the beginning of life and righteousness. Wherefore, he that loves life and righteousness must not hate, but love sin, their minister and workshop; else he will never attain to either life or righteousness. But he that is not able to do this, let him pray God to enable him. For to this end are we taught to pray, “Thy will be done,” ( Matthew 6:10) because we cannot do it of ourselves, since through fear of death we love death and sin rather than life and righteousness. And that God appointed death for the putting to death of sin, may be gathered also from the fact that He imposed death upon Adam immediately after his sin; and that before He drove him out of paradise; in order to show us that death should bring us no evil, but every blessing, since it was imposed in paradise, as a penance and satisfaction. (Wisd. 2:24) For it is true that, through the envy of the devil, death entered into the world; but it is of the Lord’s surpassing goodness that, after having thus entered in, it is not permitted to harm us very much, but is taken captive from the very beginning, and set to be the punishment and death of sin.
This He signified when, after having in His commandment foretold the death of Adam, ( Genesis 2:17) He did not afterward hold His peace, but imposed death anew, and tempered the severity of His commandment, nay, He did not so much as mention death with a single syllable, but said only, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”; and, “Until thou return unto the ground, from whence thou wast taken” ( Genesis 3:19) — as if He then so bitterly hated death that He would not deign to call it by its name, according to the word, “Wrath is in His indignation; and life in His good will. ( Psalm 30:5) Thus He seemed to say that, unless death had been necessary to the abolishing of sin, He would not have been willing to know it nor to name it, much less to impose it. And so, against sin, which wrought death, the zeal of God arms none other than this very death again; so that you may here see exemplified the poet’s line, f239 By his own art the artist perisheth.
Even so sin is destroyed by its own fruit, and is slain by the death which it brought forth; as a viper is slain by its own offspring. This is a brave spectacle, to see how death is destroyed, not by another’s work, but by its own; is stabbed with its own weapon, and, like Goliath, is beheaded with its own sword. ( 1 Samuel 17:51) For Goliath also was a type of sin, a giant terrible to all save the young lad David, — that is Christ, — who single-handed laid him low, and having cut off his head with his own sword, said afterward that there was no better sword than the sword of Goliath ( 1 Samuel 21:9) Therefore, if we meditate on these joys of the power of Christ, and these gifts of His grace, how can any small evil distress us, the while we see such blessings in this great evil that is to come!
CHAPTER - THE THIRD IMAGE
THE PAST BLESSING, OR THE BLESSING BEHIND US
THE consideration of this image is not difficult, in view of its counterpart, of the past evils; we would, however, aid him who undertakes it. Here St.
Augustine shows himself an excellent master, in his Confessions, in which he gives a beautiful rehearsal of the benefits of God toward him from his mother’s womb The same is done in that line <19D902> Psalm 139:2, “Lord, Thou hast searched me,” where the Psalmist, marveling among other things at the goodness of God toward him, says, “Thou understandest my thoughts afar off, Thou. compassest my path and my lying down.” Which is as though he said, Whatever I have thought or done, whatever I shall achieve and possess, I see now that it is not the result of my industry, but was ordered long ago by Thy care. “And there is no speech in my tongue.” Where is it then? In Thy power.
We learn this from our own experience. For if we reflect on our past life, is it not a wonder that we thought, desired, did and said that which we were not able to foresee? How far different our course would have been, had we been left to our own free will! Now only do we understand it, and see how constantly God’s present care and providence were over us, so that we could neither think nor speak nor will anything except as He gave us leave.
As it is said in Wisdom vii, “In His hands are both we and our words”; (Wisd. 7:16) and by Paul, “Who worketh all in all.” ( 1 Corinthians 12:6) Ought not we, insensate and hard of heart, to hang our heads in shame, when we learn from our own experience how our Lord hath cared for us unto this hour, and given us every blessing? And yet we cannot commit our care to Him in a small present evil, and act as if He had forsaken us, or ever could forsake us! Not so the Psalmist, in Psalm 40:17, “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh on me.” On which St.
Augustine has this comment: “Let Him care for thee, Who made thee. He Who cared for thee before thou wast, how shall He not care for thee now thou art that which He willed thee to be? But we divide the kingdom with God; to Him we grant (and even that but grudgingly) that He hath made us, but to ourselves we arrogate the care over ourselves; as though He had made us, and then straightway departed, and left the government of ourselves in our own hands.
But if our wisdom and foresight blind us to the care that God hath over us, because perchance many things have fallen out according to our plans, let us turn again, with <19D915> Psalm 139:15, and look in upon ourselves. “My substance was not hid from Thee when I was made in secret”— that is, Thou didst behold and didst fashion my bones in my mother’s womb, when as yet I was not, and my mother knew not what was forming in her ; — “and my substance was curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth”- - that is, even the form and fashion of my body in the secret chambers of the womb were not hidden from Thee, for Thou wast fashioning it. What does the Psalmist intend with such words but to show us by this marvelous illustration how God hath always been caring for us without our help! For who can boast that he took any part in his formation in the womb? Who gave to our mother that loving care wherewith she fed and fondled and caressed us, and performed all those duties of motherhood, when we had as yet no consciousness of our life, and when we should neither know nor remember these things, but that, seeing the same things done to others, we believe that they were done to us also? For they were performed on us as though we had been asleep, nay dead, or rather not yet born, so far as our knowledge of them is concerned.
Thus we see how the divine mercies and consolations bear us up, without our doing. And still we doubt, or even despair, that He is caring for us today.
If this experience does not instruct and move one, I know not what will. For we have it brought home to us again and again, in every little child we meet; so that so many examples proposed to our foolishness and hardness of heart may well fill us with deep shame, if we doubt that the slightest blessing or evil can come to us without the particular care of God.
Thus St. Peter says, “Casting all your care upon Him, because He careth for you.” ( 1 Peter 5:7) And Psalm 37, “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain thee.” ( Psalm 37:5, Psalm 55:22) And St.
Augustine, in the Confessions, addresses his soul on this wise: “Why dost thou stand upon thyself, and dost not stand? Cast thyself on Him; for He will not withdraw His hand and let thee fall.” Again, we read in Peter 4:19, “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God, commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.”
O could a man attain unto such a knowledge of his God, how safely, how quietly, how joyfully, would he fare! He would in truth have God on his side, knowing this of a certainty, that all his fortunes, whatever they might be, had come to him, and still were coming, under the guidance of His most sweet will. The word of Peter stands firm, “He careth for you.” ( Peter 5:7) What sweeter sound than this word can we hear! Therefore, he says, “Cast all your care upon Him.” If we do this not, but rather take our care upon ourselves, what is this but to seek to hinder the care of God, and, besides, to make our life a life of sorrow and labor, troubled with many fears and cares, and much unrest! And all to no avail; for we accomplish nothing good thereby, but, as the Preacher saith, it is vanity of vanities, and vexation of spirit. ( Ecclesiastes 1:2,14) Indeed, that whole book treats of this experience, as written by one who for himself made trial of many things, and found them all only weariness, vanity and vexation of spirit, so that he concludes it is a gift of God that a man may eat and drink and live joyfully with his wife, i.e., when he passes his days without anxiety, and commits his care to God. ( Ecclesiastes 5:18; 9:7, 9) Therefore, we ought to have no other care for ourselves than this, namely, not to care for ourselves, and rob God of His care for us.
Whatever remains to be said, will easily be gathered from the corresponding image of evils, as I have said, and from the contemplation of one’s past life.
CHAPTER - THE FOURTH IMAGE
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.
CHAPTER - THE FIFTH IMAGE
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.
CHAPTER - THE SIXTH IMAGE
THE BLESSING ON OUR RIGHT HAND
THIS is the Church of the saints, the new creation of God, our brethren and our friends, in whom we see naught but blessing, naught but consolation; not, indeed, always with the eyes of the flesh (to which they would appear to belong rather under the corresponding image of evils but with the eyes of the spirit. Nevertheless, we must not disregard even those blessings of theirs which may be seen, but rather learn from them how God would comfort us. For even the Psalmist did not venture, in Psalm 73:15, to condemn all those who amass riches in this world, but said, “If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of Thy children.”
That is to say, If I should call all men wicked who possess riches, health, and honor, I should be condemning even Thy saints, of whom there are many such. Paul also instructs Timothy to charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded; but he does not forbid them to be rich. ( 1 Timothy 6:17) And Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were rich men, as the Scriptures record. Daniel, also, and his companions were raised to honor even in Babylon. ( Daniel 2:48 f.) Moreover many of the kings of Judah were saintly men. It is with regard to such persons that the Psalmist says, “If I say, I will speak thus; behold, I should offend against the generation of Thy children.” ( Psalm 73:15) God gives, even to His people, an abundance of these blessings, for their own comfort, and the comfort of others. Still, these things are not their proper blessings, but only shadows and emblems of their true blessings, which consist in faith, hope, love, and other gifts and graces, which love communicates to all.
This is the communion of saints, in which we glory. And whose heart will not be lifted up, even in the midst of great evils, when he believes that which is indeed the very truth; namely, that the blessings of all the saints are his blessings, and that his evil is also theirs! For this is the sweet and pleasant picture which the Apostle Paul depicts, in Galatians 6:2, “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Is it not a blessing to be in such a company in which, “whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it”? ( 1 Corinthians 12:26) as it is said in 1 Corinthians Therefore, when I suffer, I suffer not alone, but Christ and all Christians suffer with me; as He saith, “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of My eye.” ( Zechariah 2:8) Even so others bear my burden, and their strength becomes my own. The Church’s faith supports my fearfulness, the chastity of others bears the temptations of my flesh, the fastings of others, are my gain, the prayer of another pleads for me. In short, such care have the members one for another, that the comely parts cover, serve, and honor the uncomely; as it is beautifully set forth in 1 Corinthians 6 ( Corinthians 12:22 ff.) And so I can truly glory in the blessings of others as though they were my own; and they are truly my own when I find joy and pleasure therein. Let me, then, be base and vile; yet they whom I love and admire are fair and beautiful. And by my love I make not only their blessings, but their very selves my own; so that by their honor my shame is made honorable, by their abundance my poverty is filled, by their merits my sins are healed. Who, then, could despair in his sins? Who would not rejoice in his pains? For it is not he that bears his sins and pains; or if he does bear them, he bears them not alone, but is assisted by so many holy sons of God, yea, even by Christ Himself. So great a thing is the communion of saints, and the Church of Christ. f255 If any one does not believe this, he is an infidel, and has denied Christ and the Church. For even if it should not be perceived yet it is true; but who could fail to perceive it? For why is it that you do not sink in despair, or grow impatient? Is it your strength? Nay: it is the communion of saints.
Otherwise you could not bear even a venial sin, nor endure a word of man against you. So close to you are Christ and the Church. It is this that we confess in the Creed, “I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic f257 Church.” What is it to believe in the holy Church but to believe in the communion of saints. But what things have the saints in common?
Blessings, forsooth, and evils; all things belong to all; as the Sacrament of the Altar signifies, in the bread and wine, where we are all said by the Apostle to be one body, one bread, one cup. ( 1 Corinthians 10:17) For who can hurt any part of the body without hurting the whole body?
What pain can we feel in the tip of the toe that is not felt in the whole body? Or what honor can be shown to the feet in which the whole body will not rejoice? But we are one body. Whatever another suffers, that I suffer and bear; whatever good befalls him, befalls me. So Christ says that whatsoever is done unto one of the least of His brethren, is done unto Him. ( Matthew 25:40) If a man partake of the smallest fragment of the bread of the altar, is he not said to have partaken of the bread? If he despise one crumb of it, is he not said to have despised the bread?
When we, therefore, feel pain, when we suffer, when we die, let us turn hither our eyes, and firmly believe and be sure that it is not we, or we alone, but that Christ and the Church are in pain, are suffering, are dying with us. For Christ would not have us go alone into the valley of death, from which all men shrink in fear; but we set out upon the way of pain and death attended by the whole Church, and the Church bears the brunt of it all. Therefore, we can with truth apply to ourselves the words of Elisha, which he spake to his timid servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” ( 2 Kings 6:16 f.) This one thing remains for us also; namely, to pray that our eyes may be opened (I mean the eyes of our faith), that we may see the Church round about us.
Then there will be nothing for us to fear; as it is said also in <19C502> Psalm 125:2, “Mountains are round about it: so the Lord is round about His people from henceforth now and forever.” f260
CHAPTER - THE SEVENTH IMAGE
THE SUPERNAL BLESSING, OR THE BLESSING ABOVE US
I DO not now speak of the eternal blessings of Heaven, which the blessed enjoy in the perfect vision of God; or father, I do speak of them in faith, and in so far as they some within our comprehension. For this seventh image is Jesus Christ, the King of glory, rising from the dead; even as, in His Passion and death, He formed the seventh image of evils. Here there is nothing at all of evil; for “Christ, being risen from the dead, dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.” ( Romans 6:9) Here is that furnace of love and fire of God in Zion; as Isaiah saith. ( Isaiah 31:9) For Christ is not only born unto us, but He is also given unto us. ( Isaiah 9:6) Therefore, His resurrection, and all that He wrought by it, are mine, and, as the Apostle exults in exuberant joy, “how hath He not also, with Him, given us all things?” ( Romans 8:32) But what is it that He hath wrought by His resurrection? Why, He hath destroyed sin and brought righteousness to light, abolished death and restored life, conquered hell and bestowed on us everlasting glory. These are such inestimably precious blessings that the mind of man dare scarce believe that they have become ours; as it was with Jacob, in Genesis 45:26, who, when he heard that his son Joseph was ruler in Egypt, was like one awakened out of deep slumber, and believed them not, until, after telling him all the words of Joseph, they showed him the wagons that Joseph had sent. So difficult, indeed, would it be for us to believe that in Christ such great blessings have been conferred on us unworthy creatures, did He not teach us to believe it, with many words, and by the evidence of our own experience; even as He manifested Himself to His disciples in divers appearances. ( Acts 1:3) Such are our “Joseph’s wagons.” This is indeed a most goodly “wagon,” that He is made unto us of God righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and wisdom; as the Apostle saith in 1 Corinthians 1:30 For, I am a sinner; yet am I drawn in His righteousness, which is given me. I am unclean; but His holiness is my sanctification, in which I pleasurably ride. I am an ignorant fool; but His wisdom carries me forward. I have deserved condemnation; but I am set free by His redemption, a wagon in which I sit secure. So that a Christian, if he but believe it, may boast of the merits of Christ and all His blessings, even as if he had won them all himself. So truly are they his own, that he may even dare to look boldly forward to the judgment of God, unbearable though it be. So great a thing is faith, such blessings does it bring us, such glorious sons of God does it make us. For we cannot be sons without inheriting our Father’s goods. Let the Christian say, then, with full confidence: “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” ( 1 Corinthians 15:55 ff.) That is to say, the law makes us sinners, and sin makes us guilty of death. Who hath conquered these twain?
Was it our righteousness, or our life? Nay: it was Jesus Christ, rising from the dead, condemning sin and death, bestowing on us His merits, and holding His hand over us. And now it is well with us, we keep the law, and vanquish sin and death. For all which be honor, praise, and thanksgiving unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.
This, then, is the highest image of all, in which we are lifted up, not only above our evils, but above our blessings as well, and are set down amid strange blessings, brought together by another’s labor; whereas we formerly lay among evils, heaped up by another’s sin, f265 and added to by our own. We are set down, I say, in Christ’s righteousness, with which He Himself is righteous; because we cling to that righteousness by which He is well pleasing to God, intercedes for us as our Mediator, and gives Himself wholly to be our own, as our High-Priest and Protector. Therefore, as it is impossible that Christ, with His righteousness, should not please God, so it is impossible that we should not please Him. Hence it comes that a Christian is almighty, lord of all, having all things, and doing all things, wholly without sin. And even if he have sins, they can in no wise harm him, but are forgiven for the sake of the inexhaustible righteousness of Christ that swalloweth up all sins, on which our faith relies, firmly trusting that He is such a Christ unto us as we have described. But if any one does not believe this, he hears the tale with deaf ears and does not know Christ, and understands neither what blessings He hath nor how they may be enjoyed.
Therefore, if we considered it aright and with attentive hearts, this image alone would suffice to fill us with so great comfort that we should not only not grieve over our evils, but even glory in our tribulations, nay, scarcely feel them, for the joy that we have in Christ. ( Romans 5:3) In which glorying may Christ Himself instruct us, our Lord and God, blessed for evermore. ( Romans 9:5) Amen.
With these prattlings of mine, Most Illustrious Prince, in token of my willingness to serve your Lordship to the best of my poor ability, I commend myself to your Illustrious Lordship, being ready to bring a worthier offering, if ever my mental powers shall equal my desires. For I shall always remain a debtor to every neighbor of mine, but most of all to your Lordship, whom may our Lord Jesus Christ, in His merciful kindness, long preserve to us, and at last by a blessed death take home to Himself.
Your Most Illustrious Lordship’s Intercessor, BROTHER MARTIN LUTHER, Augustinian at Wittenberg.