1918 Synod Convention Doctrinal Discussion
1. Through the lamentable fall into sin man entered into the abyss of misery in which he exists before regeneration.
2: In this state man is wholly deprived of the image of God; his nature is completely depraved and corrupted in sin, inclined only to evil and unable and.unwilling to do any good.
3. All men are by nature in this corrupted state and therefore subject to God’s wrath and curse upon body and soul, in time and eternity; if not revived or regenerated, man will remain in death and be forever lost.
The primary aim in presenting this subject for discussion should be to subdue in us all high, vain thoughts concerning ourselves and to incite us to exalt and praise the wonderful grace of God in Christ Jesus. It can not be questioned, for it is a certainty, that through sin our nature is in a state of deep depravity, entirely bankrupt as to any good; hence all idle and arrogant thoughts in us concerning our ability or efficiency to accomplish anything either in the preparation or acceptance of salvation must be abandoned. We must acknowledge that not we ourselves but grace alone brings about our conversion or vivification. Since even a physically dead man can not accomplish anything in order to obtain life, how much less can one do so, who is spiritually dead.
Much has been said and written about man in his natural state, “choosing life or death,” “conducting himself properly,” “discontinuing default or rebellious resistance,” “the possibility of his conversion,” and the like, and this not only among Romanists and sectarians, but even in Lutheran circles. Why is this? These good people must either have forgotten, what it really means to be spiritually dead or they have not yet grasped and accepted the teachings of God’s Word on this subject. But what is most to be regretted in this matter is, that so many will not admit, that in the same degree that anything is attributed to man in bringing about his conversion or regeneration in exactly the same measure God is robbed of His glory; every lessening of man’s corruptness curtails and diminishes the work of God. It ought to be evident, that whenever the natural depravity of man is made less than it actually is according to God’s Word, and whenever powers or efficiencies are ascribed to man by which he is enabled to decide for grace, to pronounce the final deciding yea in conversion, or by any conduct to effect his conversion or bring it about or cause it to take place, this is and must be a deviation from God’s truth. In other words, it is a gross error to ascribe and credit to natural man, who is utterly helpless, what the almighty grace of God alone can effect and do, namely remove all opposition and resistance to the operations of the Holy Spirit, make a willing heart out of an unwilling one. May God in His mercy keep us from falling into this error! On the other hand, the more distinctly we acknowledge the total spiritual depravity of natural man the more we will be humbled before God in true meekness and glorify Him alone for having brought us to faith and salvation. Such a saving, living knowledge will also prompt us to appreciate and keep the grace granted us through Christ in the gospel and cause us to exert ourselves to the utmost in spreading this saving truth among others.
1. Through the lamentable fall into sin man entered into the abyss of misery in which he exists before regeneration.
Originally, from the very beginning man’s spiritual condition was exactly the opposite of the state in which he now is by birth. Scripture reveals this clearly. Dr. Walther has very strikingly set this forth in the following words: “Holy Scripture does not only declare: “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, is was very good;” but it expressly declares: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him.” Hence man was in an exalted state. His reason was a bright light, his will, the will of God; his whole being, body and soul, reflected the image of God as a living mirror. The image of God’s wisdom radiated from his reason; the image of God’s goodness, longsuffering and patience was reflected in his mind; the image of divine love and mercy permeated the human will and divine tenderness his very expression, gestures and speech. There was not an evil emotion or lust in any of his members or in his soul; without struggle or resistance all in man was inclined toward God as. the greatest good. All his powers were in perfect harmony; there was no duel or combat; every thought was obedient to God. In a word, man was in the state of pure innocence; God was so reflected in him, that in himself he could perceive God. On this account God also took pleasure in man in His own image, even as a father in his own child. Man also rejoiced in God, his creator; he was at rest, filled with peace and bliss; no fear, no fright, no dejection was found in his heart. Yet, who can worthily describe the condition of man in the state of innocence? We speak of it, as those, who ail their clays have lived in a dungeon, speak of the beauty of light. It was the golden age of humanity. But oh, of what short duration was this blessed space of time! Man was like David’s son of whom we read: “But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.” For as Absalom was not content with all his splendor, but desired also the royal crown of his father and started a revolt against him, in like manner man did not remain satisfied with his created sublimity, but desired to be as gods, voluntarily transgressed the commandment of God, and rose in bold defiance and revolt against his God, Lord, Creator and Father. But in this way he fell from his exalted station into the dreadful mire of sin, darkness, death and damnation. He lost the image of God and obtained the image of the prince of darkness. And even as man, if he had not fallen into sin, would have transmitted his original sublimity to his descendants, so now his sin with all its misery is inherited by children and grandchildren unto the last person born on earth” (Ev. Post. 6th Sund. after Trin.)
Originally, from his creation man was in a live communion with God, and God is life. Man’s relation to God was most tender and confidential; there was a most intimate union between man and his creator. The Spirit of God moved him; and he was in constant communion with his maker, who had planned his high destination. While possessing the image of God, man lived a life in truth, righteousness and holiness. Still he was not God, not like God in all his essentials; man was not almighty, omniscient, omnipresent; but in certain respects he resembled God. And being truthful, holy and just he enjoyed both peace and happiness and possessed life, spiritual and eternal. He was endowed with power to govern all terrestrial creatures and faculties to search the kingdom of nature. He was free from sin, he knew of no sorrow, sickness, trouble or any evil. Man loved God; he voluntarily gave himself to serve Him, and God was his highest joy and pleasure. He had a true knowledge of God, His will and works. Accordingly Adam was able to name all animals and birds properly and to perceive at once the origin of woman. All inward feelings and emotions, all expressions were pure and holy; Adam and Eve were not ashamed of their nakedness. Their will was free to choose and to do what was good and to abstain from evil. As a result God took pleasure in man, loved him with an everlasting love and placed him in the beautiful garden of Eden.
But soon the fall into sin occurred. God put man to a test which must come and could not be avoided. This test, however, was not too severe for man; God had made it as easy as possible. We notice that only the fruit of one tree was prohibited; the tempter came in the likeness of an animal; man was conscious of the fact that all beasts were in his power; God had intimated there was a possibility of danger as they were not only placed in the garden to dress it, but also to keep it. Man was so endowed that he could stand the test. Yet Adam and Eve did not pass, did not stand the test; they sinned in transgressing God’s express command. And “sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 Joh. 3,4.) The Lord God had commanded man with regard to the tree of knowledge: “Thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2,17.) Sin separates man from God, who is life and so sin brings death and leads into death. Hence sin is a to any people and man’s destruction.
The origin of sin is not found in God, nor does it proceed from Him. On the other hand it is clue to the devil and to the fact that man misapplied his free will. The Lord says Rom. 5,12: “By one man sin entered into the world.” Because man was in Eden the devil was bent on deceiving him, leading him away from God and into death. Craftily he succeeded, as we see 1 Tim. 2,14: “The woman being deceived was in the transgression.” The devil being “a murderer from the beginning” and “a liar and the father of it,” (Joh. 8,44.) and prompted by envy carried out his plan. So it is written 1 Joh. 3,8: “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.”
But here we must closely observe, that the lamentable fall into sin did not only effect and concern Adam and Eve, but the whole human race. Humanity is a unit, “of one blood;” one root, forms one trunk; and as the root and trunk so also the whole tree and its fruit. Adam begat children “after his image;” but not after the image of God in which he was created, that was already lost. Our daily experience confirms this fact, that all men are sinners and Scripture plainly states it. We read Joh. 14,4: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.” Again Ps. 51,5: “Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And Gen. 8,21: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” For the very reason that the whole human race was in Adam, all men die in him. As Paul testifies: “In Adam all die;” (1 Cor. 15,22.) “Sin hath reigned unto death” and “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned;” “by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation” and “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” (Rom. 5.)
So it is evident the fall comprised the whole of humanity, threw it into the dreadful mire of sin. Sin entered into the heart of man through the untruthful word of the liar even fore the forbidden fruit was taken. By means of a lie the devil in cunning deceit kindled the evil lust in the woman, who “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.” (Gen. 3,6.) Following the evil desire she took the fruit. Because as James says (1,14.15.): “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when the lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Through the evil lust she was already overcome and both Adam and Eve ate and fell into sin and death. Hence we see that sin is to disobey God and to separate one self from Him and at the same time to do the will of the devil and to unite with him. Our Lord says: “He that is not with me is against me.” (Matt. 12,30.)
The fatal import of the fall was doubtless not fully realized by our first parents, but did that excuse them? Indeed not. God did not hold them guiltless. They no longer believed Him, trusted in Him or obeyed Him; they had fallen into unbelief, which brought darkness and revolt as a result. But by unbelief God is made a liar. “He that believeth not God hath made him a liar.” (1 Joh. 5,10.) We see then, that the deplorable fall into sin is the origin and cause of the dreadful state in which man is found by nature before his quickening or regeneration. This state is fraught with trouble and distress, labor and suffering, woe and misery. Death is man’s fate through sin.
2. In this state man is wholly deprived of the image of God; his nature is completely depraved and corrupted in sin, inclined only to evil and unable and unwilling to do any good.
When we speak of man’s present spiritual state before quickening or regeneration, there are principally two things to be marked. One is this, that man in this state is void of something, has lost or is deprived of something which he originally possessed, but is now without. The other is, that something is added to or has come to him, which he now possesses, that he did not own before. The first is what is called good; the latter is, that which is evil. If we ask: what has man lost, of what is he void or deprived? In brief the answer must be: he has lost the image of God, the holiness, righteousness and perfection as regards all his moral and spiritual faculties and powers with which he was endowed by creation. In regard to all this man is dead, that is separated and excluded from all good, he is entirely powerless and unable to think, speak, will or do anything to please God. And when we ask further: what has man obtained in place of this, of what is he now partaker? The answer is: he is inclined to, has lust and desire after all evil; and in this respect he is living and very active. He is continually bent on opposing God in desires, thoughts, words and acts.
Man in his natural state has lost, is without the image of God. That means more than merely being without something worth having, and without which one may get along and still be perfect and reach his destination. To illustrate, when a beast is not righteous and holy it is no privation as far as the beast is concerned, because these properties do not belong to its purpose and perfection. But to man’s perfection and purpose these qualities are necessary. A man is a human being as to nature and essence without holiness and righteousness so long as he has body and soul. A man is a man though he has lost some faculty or limb, though he be demented or a cripple. So now, when man has lost, is void of the original righteousness and holiness, it is a deficiency which in the beginning did not exist in man and which is contrary to the plan of God, and he ought to have these properties. On the other hand by this loss or deficiency in man there arose no vacancy or vacuum, like when the contents of a bottle is poured out leaving it empty. No, something of a different nature has entered and taken possession of man in place of what he lost, and this is evil, wickedness. All good is lost and instead evil has captured his being, nature, faculties and powers. This is now man’s spiritual state. Man leads a natural physical life here in time, but effects nothing pleasing or good in the sight of God. Let us again illustrate; a watch is humanly speaking a perfect timepiece; when it correctly indicates the time; but if it get out of order, it may continue to run although it no longer gives the correct time. So with man, he has gotten out of order. His purpose and striving, his acting and omitting is incorrect, he is inclined to evil. Many texts in God’s word plainly point out this deficiency in man in the state of sin. Let us hear a few of them. Ps. 14,3: “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” This passage speaks of man in his natural, unregenerated state. The first verse of this Psalm already indicates this by pronouncing man a “fool.” And now his condition is described as wanting or lacking holiness and righteousness. He has “gone aside”; away from the right path. Yea, all are “filthy”, not in a condition to do any good; all are depraved. Ps. 143,2: “In thy sight shall no man living be justified.” In the eyes of God man is void of, is in want of the holiness in which he was created; this extends to all. So it is now and ever was since the fall. Job 15,14: “What is a man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” Here it is stated as selfevident, as an undisputed fact, that every man begot in a natural way is deficient in the original righteousness. Job 14,4: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” The answer is: “Not one.” It is an impossibility. If we then turn to the New Testament a very strong text is found Joh. 3,5.6: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Jesus spoke these words in his conversation with Nicodemus. The issue up to this man was, what must I do in order to be saved: He was of the opinion, that an external, human righteousness was sufficient. He was a Pharisee, a ruler, teacher and leader among his people. He had concluded that perhaps this Jesus could teach him some more works to perform, whereby he could increase his present store of righteousness. Jesus shows him, he was in need of something entirely different, that a complete change must take place within him, if he would be saved. Not any righteousness of ones own, no outward piety or holiness however great in the sight of man could avail any thing in this matter. Thus with one stroke the Lord here crushes to the earth this virtuous, self-righteous man, who must to himself admit, that if such be the case, his own holiness could not help him, he was utterly lost. Because to be born again, for him to become spirit, who was all flesh, exceeded his powers to effect, was a complete imposibility for him to accomplish. But he is told, what is impossible for man is yet possible for God. And Jesus holds him to the fact that as he now is by nature even with all his own righteousness, he must be born again; there must be a complete transformation in him, if he is to enter God’s kingdom. Rom. 3,23: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” This text shows us that man is now in want of something in order to please God or glorify him, and this very thing is that original holiness, righteousness and truthfulness, which was a token of his high station and purpose, but which now is lost by sin and therefore man comes short of that glory. Rom. 7,18: “For I know that in me that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” So depraved and corrupt is man by nature, that there is absolutely nothing good in him, as he is flesh and thing but flesh. Eph. 2,1: “Who were dead in trespasses and sins,” verse 5: “Even when we were dead in sins.” Our natural deficiency can not be expressed in stronger words. In his spiritual relation to God he Is dead, separated from Him, who is life. Man has no communion with, no life in God. Though he is living a natural life and accomplishing many good and praiseworthy things in the eyes of men, being decent and virtuous, yet all he does is earthly, fleshly and does not belong in the spiritual kingdom of God. In the sight of God unregenerate man can not in his heart conceive a thought, nor speak a word to the glory of God’s holy name, nor with a single member perform an act to worship and serve Him. In this condition before his quickening man is in God’s eyes like a pale, lifeless, stinking corpse, in whom he finds nothing pleasing or good.
Again there are many texts which point out the great evil and sinful tendencies in man that have taken the place of the good which was lost. We will also consider a few of these. Before the flood God spoke thus about man, Gen. 6,5: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great. … that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Man’s conceptions, ideas, emotions, feelings and all his fancies were evil. There was not one sign of holiness and righteousness in his heart; and this state was not temporary; not for a day, an hour or a moment, but lifelong from infancy to hoary old age, from the cradle to the grave; it is man’s nature to be such. The means God chose for improving and correcting the human race was the chastisement by the flood. In this flood all perished except the family of Noah, which found favor with God. Yet also Noah had an evil heart and was by nature depraved, notwithstanding his godfearing and true piety. And so after the flood we again hear God speak about man as before: “The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Gen. 8,21. For this reason the apostle Paul can declare about himself and all regenerated persons, Eph. 2,3: “Also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” According to this text all men by nature are living in a state wherein they follow the lust of the flesh, they do the will of their thoughts and blinded reason, all of which is opposed to the will of God. Flesh and Spirit are antagonists; man does the will of the flesh, not constrained, but willingly. Day and night be is bent on following these evil inclinations. In Eph. 4,18. we again read: “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them.” Being spiritually dead they do not know God, are strangers and away from Him. The natural life they live is spent in sin, a service of the devil. A very strong passage that proves this utterly corrupted state of man is Rom. 8,7: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Here it is not said of man in his natural spiritual state, that he is indifferent in his relation to God, that he does not care whether or not there be a God. or what He demands of him. No, it is said, man is God’s enemy, withstands and hates Him, puts up a fight against and enters into judgment with God, he resists Him. We do well to consider and ponder what this means. Adam originally had his greatest pleasure in God, now his descendants their greatest displeasure in Him. Adam was a friend of God and loved Him, his children are His enemies and hate Him. And this disposition of man is not acquired by degrees through instruction and example, but it is inborn, inherited, he enters this life in such a deplorable state.
The Word of God also fully describes the condition of man’s faculties, endowments and powers and shows how these are affected by his sinful state. In passing we will point to a few of these texts. 1 Cor. 2,14: “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This is said of man before his regeneration. He does not perceive, grasp or accept what pertains to or belong to the Spirit of God, that is everything divine, spiritual or belonging to the heavenly kingdom. Whatever is told, presented or brought before man to consider comes within the scope of reason to grapple with, to perceive, know and grasp. As a being created with power to understand and to reason man meditates, observes and draws conclusions, takes to heart and forms his views and principles according to whatever is set before his mind. Now whatever pertains to God, belongs to God, man can not receive with his natural reason and comprehension; he simply regards it all as foolishness, idiotic and preposterous speculations, and he deems himself wise, rational and prudent. Man has lost God and the power to perceive and grasp what He tells him in order to save him. This was the case with the enlightened and for learning renowned men of Athens, when the apostle Paul came to them. In their conceit and superiority they ask: “What will this babbler say?” These enlightened, learned and cultured Greeks Romans are even today renowned for their wisdom, learning and art. If a person even in our day lays claim to classical culture, he must at least be somewhat familiar with their writings. But in regard to divine, spiritual things what where they? Fools, dunces. According to their theology gods existed on and under the earth, in the air and in the sea almost without number, besides they had a great number of heroes or half-gods. They imagined their gods as beings with human characteristics and passions, yes, even licentious. As to future bliss they imagined an existance with their gods at banquets in revelry and debauchery. Similar conditions exist among pagan peoples all over the world; and this is the natural state of each unquickened and unregenerated individual. Man will sneer at and ridicule the Word of God when preached to him. In Athens an altar was erected to the unknown god, but when Paul appeared and preached this God, the only true God, they regarded this preaching as foolishness and poked fun at it. Very few accepted the Word and believed. Again we read, 2 Cor. 3,5: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” This passage also speaks of human reason, the thinking activity of man; and we hear, that he is not fit, but entirely incompetent to produce one good thought. We also notice Paul includes himself; though he was quickened and the Spirit of God dwelt in his heart, still his reason could not of itself think or produce the spiritual and divine things, which he proclaimed and which pertained to God and salvation. Then we have the text, Eph. 5,8: “Ye were sometime darkness.” That is before regeneration they were darkness. It is not said that there was a little, some or even much darkness in them. No, there was nothing else, all was darkness, not a speck or spot of spiritual and divine light and truth could be found. They had no knowledge of God, His will and work that could save them. So when man in this state searches for truth, he simply gropes in darkness; he can not discern what is truth, good or salvation. The terrible darkness of despair envelops him. If ever any of men or any people ought to have been able to find the truth, it would have been the old Greeks and Romans, who have not yet lost their fame, but with one accord they all ask: “What is truth?” We hear Plato say: “We will wait until one arrives who can teach us our religious duties and remove darkness from our path, be it a god or a god-endowed man.” Seneca says: “If we only had a guide into the truth.” Cicero said after enumerating a number of opinions and questions concerning immortality: “”Which of these diverse opinions are true, only a god can know; and which only are plausible, is a question.” All was uncertainty regarding the life hereafter and the great beyond; different opinions prevailed; some believed in a future life, others not. The apostle tells us, they were all without hope. The greatest comfort Seneca could offer was to end life by suicide. This reveals to us something of the fearful darkness of human reason before quickening. Finally there is, Eph. 4,18: “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them.” Being spiritually blinded and darkened they are ignorant and callous at heart, have no ability to receive spiritual things. With the Lutheran Church we confess: “In the first place man’s understanding or natural reason though it yet has retained a faint spark of the knowledge that there be a God and of the precepts of the law, Rom. 1,(9), yet it is so ignorant, blind, and perverted, that even the most enlightened and learned people who read or hear the gospel of God’s Son and the promise of eternal salvation, can not of their own powers receive, grasp, understand or believe it and accept it as truth; on the contrary, the more they endeavor and with their reason would comprehend these spiritual things, the less they understand and believe it and regard it all as foolishness and fables until they are enlightened and taught by the Holy Spirit. “Because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand; but it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13.) So Scripture plainly declares the natural man to be in darkness as regards spiritual and divine things. Joh. 1,(5). “The light shineth in darkness;” (that is in the dark, blind world, which does not acknowledge God or mind Him) “and the darkness comprehended it not.” (Book of Conc.)
Besides reason man is also endowed with will, which is also corrupted in sin. Before the fall man’s will was in perfect harmony with the Will of God and complied with His law inscribed in the heart. But now the will is perverted and in op position to the Will of God, which is revealed in the ten commandments. Here God forbids idolatry, to take His holy name in vain, to despise His word, also murder, adultery, theft etc. But why forbid man these things, if man were not bent on and had a will to do them? In the gospel God has also revealed His will, namely that man out of pure grace by faith alone for the sake of Jesus Christ shall be saved. Man is also opposed to this good and gracious Will of God. He will not even permit God to help and save him. O, what a perversion and misery! The Scotchman was right, when he said: “It took two to convert me, the almighty God and myself;” and when asked: “What did you do?” He said: “I resisted God with all my strength and God did all the rest.”
Let us now consider a few texts that shows us the condition of man’s will before regeneration. Rom. 8,7: “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” The will of man is not obedient unto the law of God, it is opposed to it and can not be obedient. This fundamental truth we confess in “En Redegj.” II,8: “In the will of the unregenerated man there is no power left with which he could assist the Holy Spirit in His operations.” Then we have Phil. 2,13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” This declaration is made after the apostle had admonished the believers to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. He would say: You can not accomplish this of yourselves, but be assured God can and will accomplish this and work in you the desire, inclination and power to strive in filial fear with all your might for salvation. “En Redegj.” II,3.4.6. also points to this, when it says: “Being dead in sin natural man can not change the condition of his heart nor cooperate little or much in effecting this change; because the person not regenerated struggles wholly against God and is completely and entirely a servant of sin;” and “he is and remains an enemy of God until he is converted, brought to faith, regenerated and renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit through the word preached and heard of pure grace, without any cooperation (or synergy) on his part.” “The natural man has the freedom and ability outwardly to hear and to consider the Word of God or not to do so, but to bring about any inward change in the heart for the better man can not contribute the least or even cooperate. That the unregenerated person outwardly hears and with his darkened reason ponders the Word of God is no effective cause much less a decisive cause of his conversion, although the hearing is necessary as a means employed by God to bring about conversion.”
Rom. 6,17: “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” We all know a slave is deprived of his personal liberty, can not do as he pleases, but must do his master’s bidding. So man, he must obey and serve sin, he can not escape it, nor does he resist sin or want to be free from its service. Rom. 7,8.9: “But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived.” The instant the law is preached to the unconverted, his will rebels against it, he will not do what God commands; what he wants to do is what God prohibits. Rom. 7,17.18: “Now then, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Some one might here observe, but does not the apostle in these words declare, he has a will to do good? Truly, but we must not forget, he speaks of himself as converted, quickened and regenerated. According to the new man or the spirit, he wants to do what is good, but according to the old man or the flesh he wants to do evil. The flesh always even in the regenerated contends against what is good; it is never neutral or inactive, but stubborn, egotistic on account of the natural ignorance and hardness. The flesh wills what is worthless in the eyes of God. It is further a natural consequence of all this, that man’s tastes, desires and inclinations are polluted and wholy directed toward things sensual, vain and worldly. The heart of man is captivated by created things or gifts granted him by God and does not adhere to or care for God the creator or giver. In this way man abuses what is in the world, to satisfy the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the.pride of life,” instead of glorifying God. We also see this, Gen. 6,5: “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.” These words do not merely reflect the general corruption but point to the mind, inclination and striving of man. Verse 2 says: “The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.” Noah and the patriarchs had preached the Word of God to them for a long time and kept them within bounds; but as times passed and they multiplied, they also more and more despised God’s word; they began to follow their own lust and will when entering holy wedlock, took no thought as to whether their spouse was pious and godfearing or not; what they looked for was beauty, riches, honor and the like. They considered no longer the law of God, the advice of pious parents but were led by their own notions. Christ says about them: “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” indicating they were voluptuous and epicurean; and this was prevalent; they did not bridle their evil lust any more. And because of such evil hearts, they no longer listened to Noah, who was the only one to testify against their sins. Christ points out the very root of the evil, when he says Matt. 15,19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Not from without by precept or gradual training, but from within the heart as the fountain of all evil lust and desire proceeds all wickedness.
That this corrupt and depraved state of man in all his capacities and powers must exert an influence also over his whole body is selfevident and can easily be understood. Sin dominates the different members and organs of the human body and utilizes them in its service contrary to their high appointment. Therefore the Christians are warned and admonished, Rom. 6,13: “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteous- ness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” According to God’s purpose man should use his members to honor and serve Him, but now in his sinful state he abuses them in all manner of unrighteousness. Even the regenerated are in danger of doing this on account of their flesh and must continually be on their guard. In Rom. 3,13–18. we find a description of how the members of the body are used in the service of sin, when the apostle says: “Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace have they not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.” So we hear the lips, mouth, tongue and throat, which were all given wherewith to praise God and proclaim his truth are now serving lies, malediction and virulence. The feet purposed to carry man to places of divine worship, where God’s word is taught and heard and our neighbor benefited, now instead willingly and hastily convey man to places where God is dishonored and his fellow-men are harmed. The evil heart controls and guides the members on the way to man’s destruction and misery. His eyes, a mirror reflecting the soul, created as a dwelling of heavenly contentment and joy, are now a place teeming with numberless unclean, uncontrolled passions; these very eyes of man reveal this polluted soul. O, in truth, the spiritual state of man before regeneration is lamentable, miserable and hopeless.
Harstad: The Bible is straight forward and plain in all its teachings, not a philosophical system. The divine truth concerning the spiritual condition of man in his natural state after the fall into sin, is given here and there in statements of many concrete instances and facts. By gathering the different utterances of the Lord as to the true condition of sinful man we will have a complete picture of the sinner as he is in the sight of God. That picture, you will find to be so horrible, that you ask in surprise: how is it possible that such a depraved, filthy and lost creature ever can escape eternal destruction? We find then, that God, who best knows our natural and true condition, tells us, that we, in spiritual matters pertaining to our soul’s salvation are not only deprived of all good things, but also full of all kinds of evil.
The serpent, the devil, attacked man even in his state of innocence, persuaded him to transgress the will of God and thereby succeeded in robbing man of the image of God, in which he was created, and in giving him his own image of falsehood, hatred and all evil. God had made man a vessel of honor, full of all good qualities, true holiness and perfect happiness for soul and body. But the liar and deceiver was able to empty that vessel of all its good contents so that there remained no good in it. Not only that, he also filled the vessel with sin and evil inclinations, false judgments and a strong will against God and thus made it, in the sight of God, a stinking vessel of dishonor. By this destructive operation of the devil the very nature of man with aU its mental and physical faculties became so penetrated and imbued with sin and evil, that we must call this evil a sin of nature, or a natural thing in sinful man. For you will find the word of God describing every faculty of man’s mind, all his senses and even every member of his body as totally deprived of all good things, and an abode of incomprehensible depravity and evil deeds, Some of the filthiest sins are even called members of fallen man.
These truths are given us in scripture in many plain declarations such as: “Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil continually,” Gen. 6,5, “is evil from his youth,” Gen. 8,21. In Rom. 3,10–22 we find much of this together with the declaration that they are all alike, there is no difference.
On this deplorable wretch (Ezech. 16) the Lord had compassion. God so loved the sinful world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (See John 3,16). He became one of us, a true man without sin and true God, who by His obedience and suffering reconciled the world unto Himself and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation by sending us His Holy Spirit, who by His divine power in the word and sacraments creates in our hearts a true sorrow for sin and trust in our Saviour’s fulfillment of the law in our stead. This is faith, by which alone we are justified before God and saved from condemnation. The law condemns every human being, because he has not perfectly fulfilled the good which it requires. But the gospel points us to the Lamb of God, that bore the sins of the world. His blood alone cleanseth from all sin, and we are thus justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
When this message is brought to an unregenerate person, (that is, one who has not yet been converted by the Holy Spirit to despair of his own efforts and earnest endeavors to please God nor yet has learned to depend only on Christ’s deeds for him and to trust in the free promises of salvation through faith without the deeds of the law) he will in some shape or manner neglect or reject this wonderful message of salvation. For the Lord says: Natural man, receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Cor. 2,14. This does not say, that only the gross sinner, the slave of vice, deems the gospel foolishness, but that every man, even an educated and accomplished person, in whom the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit has not yet created a new spiritual life, such a man does not only not see, hear, feel, taste or appreciate the good things of the gospel, but they are even foolishness unto him before he is spiritually enlightened. This is illustrated in the Pharisees, who boasted of their relationship to Abraham and their observance of the law of Moses. Their natural mind did understand that our Lord condemned selfrighteousness and exhibited Himself as the Son of God and as the only savior of mankind, but they deemed both Him and His message deserving of destruction. So did that well trained young man, Saul of Tarsus, in consenting to the stoning of Stephen. Even the friendly disposed Nicodemus mocked our Savior’s teaching of regeneration when he asked: How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb? In many other treacherous ways and by many clever excuses man will reject the truth of both the law and the gospel.
When it is said, that by the proffered grace in the gospel man can decide to receive the Lord or believe, this declaration is not plain; it is ambiguous and therefore wrong; because the Lord says that natural man cannot receive the things of the spirit. When a man in truth and sincerity decides to accept Jesus Christ as his only salvation from his sins, then his mind is enlightened and his will turned, not against God, but to Him for help. A new spiritual life is then already kindled in his heart. The tree must be good before it can bear good fruit. The Lord said to the Pharisees, who heard His powerful message of salvation: How can ye, being evil, speak good things, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. Matt. 12, 34. Another dangerous and misleading statement against the of God is to say that man has a feeling of responsibility toward the acceptance or rejection of the grace of God, or, that he feels guilt in rejecting grace and duty to receive it. These sentences reveal a very dangerous confounding or mixing of the two vitally different doctrines, the law and the gospel. It is true in the first place that all men have a great responsibility for rejecting grace or the kind invitation to the great supper. Luke 4,16. They will be condemned for neglecting to come. But the question is: Do they feel the responsibility? Their acts show their feeling. They feel greater interest in their fields, oxen and enjoyments. What feeling did those invited by the Son of God Himself show when they cried: crucify, crucify? and when they stoned Stephen and believed that they served God by doing so? Such satanic revolt against God is one of the, many ways in which spiritual death shows itself. The dead have no feeling of life.
In the second place it is true, that the unregenerate has a certain feeling of responsibility towards the demands of the law which finds expression in a slavish fear of punishment. For even after the wreck of human nature man’s understanding has still a dim spark of the knowledge that there is a God, as also of the work of the law, (Rom. 1.) yet it gropes in darkness, trying to appease the wrath of God by works and sacrifices and thus to find peace and true happiness. In this feeling of responsibility Jews, Gentiles and unregenerate church members will become either presumptuous hypocrites, who swell with the opinion of their own righteousness, as the Pharisees, or despair as did Judas. But this is not feeling the responsibility of accepting or rejecting grace. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. Rom. 10,3. They do not even have a proper feeling of responsibility towards the law, for most of such people feel sure, that God cannot demand more than they are able to perform. Therefore our church confesses: Christ takes the law into His hands, and explains it spiritually (Matt. 5,21. Rom. 7,14).
And thus the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness (Rom. 1,18), and by this means sinners are instructed in the law, and then from it first learn to know aright their sins—a knowledge to which Moses never could coerce them.”
The feeling of responsibility resulting from one’s own erroneous ideas and misled conscience must be taken away and through the means of grace he replaced with a sincere sorrow over sin and a childlike faith and trust in the Lord”s work of redemption. That alone brings victory and peace to the human heart.
We cannot without sin ascribe to an unregenerate person any spiritually good thing, for St. Paul declares: I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing. (Rom. 7,18). If there before his conversion had been a feeling of guilt for rejecting the grace of Jesus Christ and a feeling of duty to accept it, then there did dwell in his flesh some very good thing and he would not have denied it. He declares Eph. 4,19 that the ungodly are “past feeling.” But the Lord by His providence and word works that feeling in man “if haply they might feel after Him and find Him,” Acts 17,27. So they did not have that feeling by nature. And Jeremiah 5,3 says: O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth? thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved [felt pain]; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return.
Friends! let us take heed, that we do not mock the Lord, preaching falsehood in the name of God.
G.P. Nesseth: We, who are here present will no doubt say we agree with the essayist. But do not all ministers in the Norwegian Lutheran denominations teach that we are dead in trespasses and sins? I have found that all do not agree with us in this matter. At a conference of lay people and of our synod held in McIntosh, Minn., in the fall of 1895 were present also two ministers of other denominations. One was from the United Church and one from the Free Church. These ministers did not agree with Rev. P.T. Hilmen, who was the speaker at said meeting. When Rev. Hilmen spoke about the necessity of regeneration and our total inability to help ourselves in this misery, they said that the sinner before regeneration was like a man drowning. He could call for help. Rev. Hilmen then said: “Han er dau!” (He is dead, he can not call for help). Here it is that we must be on our guard. In “Opgjør” we note this word “følelse” and the sentence “følelse af ansvar ligeoverfor naadens annammelse eller forkastelse.” With regard to this sentence we find that Dr. Joh. Ylvisaker at our Synod meeting in 1913 held in Minneapolis, Minn., said, (see Synodal beretningen, page 80): “Dernæst siger sats 4, at man skal ikke svække menneskets følelse af ansvar ligeoverfor naadens annamelse eller forkastelse. Denne sats er ganske vist meget misvisende (uden at tale om, at den er saglig urigtig). Den synes, at ville give rum for en god del synergisme.” For this reason we are here fighting for the truth. For this reason we will also restore the old Norwegian Synod. For this reason we are fighting against such synergism. We do not understand why our opponents have such love for this word “følelse” and the sentence “følelse af ansvar ligeoverfor naadens annammelse” and at the same time confess the third article of our creed: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.”
Luther also says (XII,313): “It is ridiculous to force out of such passages (as Is. 44,22, return unto me), that there should be in us a power to return of ourselves without the grace of God. Those whom He gives His word will He also give power to believe His word; because the word is not taught in vain or without fruit; but the Holy Ghost is in the Word and moves the heart by the Word to believe.” All this work is the work of the Holy Ghost solely.