Luther wants, most of all, to escape punishment; only secondly does he want to escape being wicked (interior corruption). He would, that is, rather be in heaven with a heart of hell, than in hell with a heart of heaven. He writes,
“We would perhaps have disregarded corruption [the inward evil] and been pleased with our evil unless this other evil, which is wrath [the outward evil], had refused to indulge our foolishness and had resisted it with terror and the danger of hell and death, so that we have but little peace in our wickedness. Plainly wrath is a greater evil for us than corruption, for we hate punishment more than guilt” (LW 32:224).
“Just as wrath is a greater evil than the corruption of sin, so grace is a greater good than that health of righteousness which we have said comes from faith. Everyone would prefer—if that were possible—to be without the health of righteousness [gift] rather than the grace of God, for peace and the remission of sins are properly attributed to the grace of God, while healing from corruption is ascribed to faith.” (LW 32:227)
Sed Contra! Even the Pagan Horace rejects such an inversion of priorities:
“The wicked hate sinning because of fear of punishment, the virtuous hate sinning because of a love of virtue” (Epistles I, 16).
In an age in which mercy’s link to justice is insufficiently expressed, one wonders whether the mercy sought is indeed “freedom from punishment” rather than “freedom for truth, opportunity for repentance.”
St. Paul rejects the use of mercy to condone or tolerate sin (Rom 2:4ff). Moreover, mercy is not opposed to judgment, for the Gospel declares divine mercy, but St. Paul says that “according to my Gospel, God will judge the secrets of hearts” (end Rom 2).