God Comprehends Everything in Mercy

Lent 5 Thursday

Psalm 130:4

“For with you there is forgiveness that you may be feared.”


Why does David add “that you may be feared”? … David means to say: “I have learned from experience why forgiveness is with you and why you claim the title that you are merciful and gracious, Psalm 103:8. For since you comprehend everything in being merciful, freely out of grace, leaving nothing for human merit and works – that is why you are feared. Now, if not everything depended on your mercy and we could remove sins by our own powers, no one would fear you; instead, the entire world would proudly despise you.” For daily experience shows that wherever this knowledge of God’s mercy is not, men walk in the arrogance of their merits. Consider monks, especially those who go unshod – this kind I have always hated the most because of this arrogance – since they have a rule and a law according to which they live, they are without any true fear of God and walk in greatest carnal security. There are very few who come to the realization of their sins and who experience despair. For those who experience despair concede gladly that forgiveness is with God, but those who do not, persecute–even with fire and sword–the doctrine concerning forgiveness. For this is the customary practice of the law: It produces arrogant, proud people and despisers of grace, as Paul demonstrates fittingly in the Jews, Romans 2:17: “You are called a Jew and rely on the law and boast of God.” These people are not moved by the renown of the apostles, not by the miracles of Christ who raised the dead, but stand immovable like rocks. For in their carnal security they do not understand forgiveness, but even persecute it. Such people are, therefore, twice as bad as public sinners like the tax collectors, and Christ rightly says in Matthew 21:31: “The tax collectors and prostitutes may enter heaven before you.” For these are easily convinced that they are sinners and need forgiveness out of grace, while Annas, Caiaphas, and the other Pharisees laugh when they hear this and cannot stand to be instructed by anyone. But as far as both groups are concerned, God decided most justly that righteousness is to be weighed, not according to our works, but simply according to the mercy and the forgiveness of sins. For if righteousness came from the works or the law, despair would necessarily follow when the law is not observed in a holy manner, but pride would follow when the law is observed in such way. But in despair, fear is greater than it should be, while in pride there is no fear whatsoever. The middle path, therefore, is that God comprehends everything in mercy. To be sure, he does not abrogate the law. For without the law, this life cannot exist. For how would our civic life together look if murder, adultery, and theft were permitted without punishment? Moreover, the exercises and works of those blessed by God must be governed by God’s Word. God lets the law remain for these uses, and accepts it as obedience in the case of those who believe. But as far as sin itself is concerned, he commands us to set aside all trust in the law and to trust only in the mercy which God demonstrates in Christ Jesus who suffered for sins. This is how arrogance is abolished, and fear is retained – not how it is among desperate people, but how you can find fear among well-raised children toward their father. … Thus, God rightly concluded all under sin in order to have mercy on all, Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22. For if he had left anything to do for human nature by which it could earn anything from God, no one would fear or serve God. … But this is how you lose God, worshiping instead of God the idol of your heart. … This is why true idolatry results from the righteousness of the law which invents a different god and loses the true God. For the true God is the forgiveness through Christ.


St. Louis ed., 5:2050-2052.

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