3“But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jon 1:3). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


It is also a source of great comfort to us to see that even the greatest and best saints sin grievously against God and that we are not the only poor, miserable sinners. We observe that they, too, were human, that they had flesh and blood as we do, and now we, too, must not despair, even though we fall into sin. If only we do not defect from the kingdom of grace through false doctrine and superstition! For just as there is no sin so great as to be unforgivable in that kingdom, so there is no work so good, no life so holy, as not to be damnable without this grace. However, I declare that to remain in the kingdom of grace implies that we do not sin against grace. Sinning against grace is done in a twofold manner: first, by sinning against God’s commandment and then aggravating this by adding the devilish sin to despond and despair, believing and disturbing my conscience with the thought that God will not forgive my sin and that there is no longer any mercy for me. Under those circumstances there is, in fact, no longer any mercy, but God with all His mercy is denied and thwarted. This is no longer a human but a devilish sin, a sin against the Holy Spirit, which is unforgivable so long as it remains, for it directly counteracts the mercy by which sin is to be remitted.

I remain in the kingdom of grace when I do not despair of God’s mercy, no matter how great my sin may be, but resolutely pin mind and conscience to the belief that there is still grace and forgiveness for me, even if the wrath of God and that of all creatures would threaten to consume me and even if my conscience would bear out this wrath and say that the supply of mercy is exhausted and that God will not forgive me. That is elevating God’s grace above everything else, praising and extolling it and with it defying all anger and judgment, joining in the words of the Epistle of [reftagger title=””]James 2:13[/reftagger]: “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” that is, mercy asserts itself and proves stronger than all wrath and every sentence and judgment of God. And whoever believes that can therewith defy all the anger and every judgment of God. He who is unable to do that bids judgment to challenge grace. And grace must perish and judgment hold sway alone to produce death and damnation. Conversely, where grace defies judgment, judgment must vanish and grace alone prevail to produce eternal life and bliss. That is Jonah’s experience here. This is no longer human righteousness based on our works and power, but it is an angelic, yes, a divine righteousness based on faith and spirit and devoid of any works. It clings solely to grace, and this no work is able to do. For all of this takes place in the heart and conscience, where there is no work and where no work can enter.

The second manner in which I sin against grace is if I perform good works with the simultaneous devilish thought that I comfort myself with these or rely on them, that I tell my conscience that I can stand before God with these, as if there were no sin here. Thereby I neutralize grace for myself, acting as though grace were neither necessary nor beneficial, since works could do this. That, too, is denying God with all His mercy, and that is no longer human but devilish righteousness, which cannot be forgiven so long as it remains and is not recognized. If a person becomes so pious in his works and his being that he does not require forgiveness or grace but regards his works in themselves good and pure enough to render grace and forgiveness superfluous, he remains outside the kingdom of grace and sins against grace. Such an attitude reverses the statement of James. It no longer reads: “Mercy triumphs over judgment,” but: “Works triumph over judgment,” yes, “Works triumph over mercy.” This is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which cannot be forgiven, that is, it is a sin that lacks grace, the grace through which it might be pardoned, as all other sins that do not have this devilish addition may be pardoned. For with all other sins the belief in mercy remains intact. They retain the reliance on mercy and forgiveness, believing that these abound more than sin does. This sin and good works, however, lose sight of grace and do not let that triumph remain. This sin declares: There is no grace, and grace is not willing to forgive. Good works declare: Grace is nothing, and we can dispense with it. Thus both have dropped from the kingdom of grace and sin against grace.

Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 19: Minor Prophets II: Jonah and Habakkuk. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 19, pp. 47–48). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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