That God should be reconciled after such a dreadful breach as the fall of man made, is wonderful; no sin, all things considered, was ever like to this sin: other sins, like a single bullet, kill particular persons, but this, like a chain-shot, cuts off multitudes as the sand upon the sea-shore, which no man can number.
If all the posterity of Adam in their several generations, should do nothing else but bewail and lament this sin of his, whilst this world continues, yet would it not be enough lamented; for a man so newly created out of nothing, and admitted the first moment into the highest order, crowned a king over the works of God’s hands, Psal. 8:5. a man perfect and upright, without the least inordinate motion, or sinful inclination: a man whose mind was most clear, bright, and apprehensive of the will of God, whose will was free, and able to have easily put by the strongest temptation: a man in a paradise of delights, where nothing was left to desire for advancing the happiness of soul or body: a man understanding himself to be a public, complexive person, carrying not only his own, but the happiness of the whole world in his hand: so soon, upon so slight a temptation, to violate the law of his God, and involve himself and all his posterity with him, in such a gulf of guilt and misery; all which he might so easily have prevented! O wonderful amazing mercy, that ever God should think of being reconciled, or have any purposes of peace towards so vile an apostate creature as man.
[Obedience to God’s will would], they say, be a burden too heavy for Christians! As if we could think of anything more difficult than to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength! Compared with this law, everything ought to be considered easy—whether the requirement to love our enemy or to banish all desire for revenge from our hearts. All these are indeed hard and difficult for our feebleness, even to the least detail of the law [cf. Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17]. It is the Lord in whom we act virtuously. … To be Christians under the law of grace does not mean to wander unbridled outside the law, but to be engrafted in Christ, by whose grace we are free of the curse of the law, and by whose Spirit we have the law engraved upon our hearts [Jer. 31:33].
For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
Here you see that a self-righteous person is a thief of the divine glory and also an idolater, because he lays claim to God’s glory for himself. He does not pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Aspiring to the glory of divinity is a most grievous monstrosity. Here you see the battle between God and the self-righteous concerning glory. The outward glory of this world is nothing compared with it. The self-righteous want to rob God of His glory. And God will not permit this.
The self-righteous man thinks that God will give him rewards for fasting and labor. He thinks that without these God will give him nothing. He thinks precisely that God is someone who will save him through his works, not for the sake of free grace. To this fiction, “God will save me through my works,” he attributes salvation.
This is the most persistent struggle and battle of the world against God. No one wants to rely on God’s glory alone and repudiate all his own merits. For that reason there are so many examples in Scripture which invite us to look to grace alone, whether we eat or whether we drink. So there are endless examples of sins, such as of the robber, that draw us to God’s grace alone.
He wants to make our heart … neither despair because of sins nor be presumptuous because of blessings. … Let the one who has fallen into sin say, “I shall not be condemned because of it.” Let the one who has done well say, “I am not saved thereby.” This teaching applies to the godly only, but for the rest of the crowd it opens the window of carnal liberty. The godly simply cling to God and trust in His grace. They see that the apostles and robbers were saved by the same grace, not by works and merits. This is a thunderbolt against every kind of righteousness.
“Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66” in Works, 17:162–163.
We have heard how the Spirit admonishes the unbelievers who strive to save themselves. This evil is inborn in us, that in times of need we run to all gods except the one God. Therefore God meets us with Scripture, where the contention is that all our toil and merits are cut out by the promises alone apart from the works of the Law, as Paul treats of it so richly in Galatians 3:15ff. There he says that God’s covenant was in force out of pure mercy and promise a long time, 400 years in fact, before the Law. These arguments are unfailing: By grace alone all things come to us who merit nothing. Yet the flesh cannot keep silent in afflictions but always runs back to its own resources, and people look for help to their own prayers and merits. Thus the sophists debated whether the blessed Virgin deserved to become a mother. I say that she was made a mother according to promise before she was born, before she gave any thought to the matter. So here Israel should be plucked out of the Babylonian captivity gratis, at no cost, absolutely free. Therefore the prophet meets this evil especially, since all of us, immersed in trials, forget the promises of God and have recourse to our own resources.
“Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66” in Works, 17:141–142.