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The Sacredness of the Ancient Landmark

John A. Moldstad

1944 Synod Convention Essay

“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy Fathers have set.” Prov. 22:28.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.” Ps. 143:5.

We are gathered in a historic place. In this vicinity were preached the first sermons by a pastor from the Church of Norway. Rev. Dietrichson’s first message was based on the Lord’s words in Rev. 3:11: “Behold I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” The following day he dwelt on the Savior’s sweet invitation: “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Those early settlers were numbered among those of whom Christ says, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6). And they came to the well-spring of the gospel and were filled. Congregations grew and flourished and lent their influence and their efforts to the uniting of congregations to establish the Norwegian Synod.

God gave them good and able men as leaders both among the pastors and lay members; and who can measure the grace of Christ which they received, enjoyed and spread abroad to others near and far. They laid a good and solid foundation and builded well thereon, for the foundation was the firm rock of God’s eternal Word. It is the rock of ages upon which we build and stand today with thanksgiving to God for His grace and blessing, for “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3 :11). It is this immovable foundation which is meant by the expression “Ancient Landmark” as used in this essay.

The Lord says, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28; Prov. 23:10; Deut. 19:14; Deut. 27:17). Cursed by God and men were all who removed the ancient landmark. True, the term landmark in the Old Testament referred especially to the temporal landmark (boundaries) of the lands allotted to the people of Israel; but far greater and more important is the spiritual landmark of the church of Christ. It is ancient because it is from eternity. — The law teaches us how to live in harmony with the Triune God. It was written in the heart of every human being at creation. — The gospel reveals God’s merciful plan of salvation for sinners “given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Tim. 1:9). It is a sacred landmark, because it is given by God, a holy revelation, and we should keep it as a sacred heirloom.

“Which thy fathers have set.” The fathers chose and set this landmark a hundred years ago, guarded and preserved it down through the history and the spiritual warfare of the Norwegian Synod. They have all long since entered into the rest of the people of God.

May it please God in His infinite mercy to preserve this landmark unto future generations of the Synod and through it to all whom it may reach. The ancient landmark is God’s revelation to man. Much has been written and published of late by our Synod regarding the revealed truths of God; and particularly a year ago in the volume entitled “Grace for Grace” longer treatises dealt with the chief doctrines that had been in controversy. It becomes necessary, however, also in this essay to set forth briefly the most important teachings which constitute the “ancient landmark.”

Holy Scripture. — The Old and the New Testament of the Bible with its law and gospel, its prophecy and fulfilment constitute the revelation of God. There has always been controversy concerning the Bible. Even within the Lutheran Church there has been much false teaching about the origin, the inspiration and the authority of Holy Scripture. This false doctrine and these varying beliefs concerning God’s Word are the source and cause of most of the controversies on other doctrines among Lutherans. Men prefer to follow human reason instead of the plain teachings of God’s Word. And yet Christianity is revealed religion, and it stands or falls with the gospel of Holy Scripture.

Who wrote the Bible? Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles. They were men. They were the writers but not the authors. The one and only author is the Holy Ghost, who by a miracle gave these writers what they should speak and write and also the very words which they should use. The more learned a man is in the world’s wisdom the more difficult it often is for him to believe the plain words of Scripture. Thus we find a number of such learned professors, who are so afraid of a bogey man called “Mechanical Inspiration” and also a great many who argue against “verbal inspiration” (inspiration of the words).

But what does God say? He says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16); “The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

In Galatians 3:16, St. Paul stresses the very form of the Word: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Note that the argument of Paul, being based upon a single word in the Old Testament, is a powerful argument for the verbal inspiration of the Bible” (P.E. Kretzmann). Jesus says in John 10:35: “And the Scripture cannot be broken.” The above passages all testify to the inspiration of the Old Testament. How about the New Testament? St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:13: “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual”; and in 1 Thess. 2:13: “When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, we received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” “But the word of God endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:25). Jesus says, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33). See also Matt. 1:22; Acts 4:24–25; Acts 1:16 and many other passages.

From this testimony of the Lord concerning Scripture it follows clearly, that, like God Himself, the Bible is eternal, unchangeable, without any error, sure, perfect, complete. We need no additional revelation, there never has been any other and there never will be. It is the only sure, perfect and infallible rule of faith and life, perfectly clear and plain in all that is necessary to know in order to be saved.

Scripture explains itself, and has absolute authority in whatsoever it teaches or records, not only in doctrine but also in all other things such as history, nature, science, etc. The Holy Ghost is always present in Scripture and works through it. He makes no mistakes. “The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). This gospel is the pearl of great price, the source of grace and blessing and comfort in death as well as in life.

Hence we reject every doctrine which in teaching or practice denies or explains away God’s own testimony concerning the origin, authority and attributes of Holy Scripture; and we thank God for the privilege of testifying to His truth.

May the Lord in mercy preserve us from removing this sacred and ancient landmark.

Regarding the condition of natural man before his regeneration we hold with Scripture, that man is by nature “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephes. 2:1), and that “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7); and that 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” (1 Cor. 2:14). God says, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). David complains in Psalm 51, v. 5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Every natural man is born with the old Adam in his soul, spiritually blind, deaf and dead, the enemy of God. He is like a log or a stone without feeling, thought, will or power for the good which is of God. And, therefore, Luther teaches us to confess: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” And in the old Norwegian catechisms and explanations these emphatic words were added: “But it is the work of the Holy Ghost, who has called me,” etc.

Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, accordingly, clearly reject the teaching, that natural, unregenerate man has a feeling of responsibility or debt with regard to (or face to face with) the acceptance or rejection of Grace. May we never remove this landmark, which the fathers have set.

Grace. — But, when man cannot be saved by his own efforts nor even contribute to his salvation by his cooperation (synergism), how then are we saved? Paul the Apostle answers: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephes. 2:8–9). “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Accordingly grace is the opposite of works, merit and wages. It is a quality in God, eternal as God Himself, “God’s free favor” (gratuitus favor Dei). It is God’s wonderful love toward us poor, miserable sinners, who have deserved nothing but temporal punishment and eternal damnation. John 1:16–17: “For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Grace alone is the source and cause of our salvation and every good gift and blessing and comfort. It exists without any cooperation on our part; we have nothing to do with bringing it about. Rom. 11:6: “And if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.

By our own reason or strength we cannot even accept grace. “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost” (1 Cor. 12:3). Christ Himself teaches Nicodemus the meaning of grace, when he said, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s grace is universal, it embraces all mankind; for “God will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). “Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:6). “And he (Jesus) is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), John 1:29; Titus 2:11. — Grace is, therefore, a grace in Christ Jesus, paid for and made possible by His full atonement. By His righteous life, His suffering and death He has made it possible for the just God to be gracious unto us and to save us. Out of the fountain of grace flow all of God’s gifts and blessings: creation, upholding, redemption, regeneration, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, sanctification and glorification.

We, therefore, reject every doctrine which in any way, even in the smallest degree, would make grace a work or merit of man. We reject every teaching which denies that grace always is active and efficacious. We reject the doctrine which denies that grace is universal and extends to all sinners, and likewise, the doctrine which denies that all is of grace (sola gratia) and which thus robs God of His honor as the author and finisher of our faith and salvation (Heb. 5:9 and 12:2). May the Lord in mercy preserve this landmark in our Synod.

Conversion or regeneration. — We have learned from Luther’s Small Catechism to confess: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him”; but this is the work of the Holy Ghost. We are by nature God’s enemies, dead in trespasses and sins. We have no understanding or will or strength in spiritual matters before our conversion. That we come to faith in Christ is what is known as conversion or regeneration, the creation of the new life in our hearts. The Holy Ghost calls us by the gospel and enlightens us with His gifts without any help or cooperation (synergism) from us. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament testify that conversion is always the Lord’s work. Jeremiah 31:18–19: “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely, after that I was turned, I repented.” 2 Tim. 1:9: God “who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” 2 Cor. 4:6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” See also Acts 11:18; John 3:6; Heb. 12:2.

The means employed by the Holy Ghost in regeneration are Baptism and God’s Word (the gospel). John 3:5: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” — Rom. 1:16: “The gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.” 1 Peter 1:23: “Being born again … by the word of God.” Also Phil. 1:6. The Lord is the one who begins, performs and finishes the good work. All is of grace. To God alone be the glory!

We reject the doctrine: 1) that man cooperates in conversion (synergism); 2) that “the final little deciding point rests with or lies in man himself”; 3) that man himself removes his stubborn resistance against the call of the Holy Ghost.

Justification or the Forgiveness of Sins. — Justification is the central teaching of Christianity. It includes the cleansing from all sin, the bestowal of Christ’s righteousness, adoption as God’s child, peace with Him, free admittance to His daily grace, and finally eternal life. — The Justifier is alone God Himself (Rom. 3:26). He sits as judge in the court of divine justice. Man has no part in the act of justification.

The source or cause is solely the grace of God in Christ. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 3:24. By grace God credits to the sinner the righteousness of Christ, declares him free from the guilt and punishment of sin, and looks upon him in Christ as though he had never sinned. It is a judicial act, a judicial declaration. It was made possible by the perfect atonement of our Substitute, the Lord Jesus Christ. He paid the price.

General or objective justification. — When Jesus on Good Friday proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30) He thereby declared that His work was completed, full atonement had been made, and the whole world had been justified and saved. God raised Jesus from the dead, and on Easter morning thereby announced that Christ’s righteousness was acceptable and sufficient, all guilt was blotted out, God’s justice was fully satisfied, and all mankind stood before Him justified. “Jesus was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25); “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (2 Cor. 5:19); “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). — It is clear that there is no conditional or partial justification or absolution. 2 Cor. 5:14–15; Rom. 5:10. Our faith rests on a sure foundation. Rom. 5:18–19.

Individual or subjective justification. — There is a universal justification in Christ Jesus; but if this world justification shall benefit us, it must become our very own. This can be done only by the Holy Spirit, who works by the means of grace and creates faith in the sinner’s heart. Faith is the acceptance of Christ, His person, His grace, His atonement, His righteousness and all His merits. “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12). As soon as the sinner has been regenerated he is immediately and simultaneously justified, for Christ and His righteousness have in that instant become his, appropriated by him. He is cleansed by the blood of God’s Son from all sin (1 John 1:7b) and is clothed in the holiness of Jesus. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28); “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth” (Rom. 8:33). For this sacred Scripture landmark the fathers were repeatedly forced into battle. May succeeding generations follow their steps.

We reject every doctrine which denies or weakens the Bible teaching that God by the resurrection of Christ justified the whole world (Rom. 4:25). We reject the statement, “To this end He (God) also purposes to justify those who have come to faith.”

Sanctification, Preservation, and Eternal Blessedness. — Holy Scripture assures us that all that belongs to our Christian life on earth and our blessedness in heaven)s the work of the Holy Ghost and rests upon and flows from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. Our daily sanctification, our steadfastness, preservation and our blessed death are the gifts of God who loved us from eternity.

All these blessings are sacred to us, first of all because they are from God, the giver of all good then because they have been set as landmarks, cherished and championed by our fathers, and because of the fruits and benefits that have come to the thousands that through them have won for the Kingdom of Christ.

What can be more natural than that we come to God with thanksgiving, praise and service and obey His charge, when He says: “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28).

Remove not, change not. Neither words nor meaning must be changed. “Hold fast” (Rev. 3:11). Jesus says in John 8:31–32: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” St. Paul writes to the Galatians (ch. 1:6): “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel.” — 2 Tim. 2:1,2: “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” Matt. 7:15: “Beware of false prophets.” 1 Tim. 1:18: “This charge I commit unto thee … that thou mightest war a good warfare.” Jude v. 3b: I “exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

These expressions, be strong, beware, war a good warfare, contend, impress upon us that there is danger, that we must not remove but hold fast, and that we are called to a holy war, to contend for and protect the ancient landmark. As a Synod both old and new, we have met such dangers, and Satan will see to it that history repeats itself.

The future does not look bright. We are few and we have the unpopular side of all questions; but God lives and rules; and one with God is always a majority. So let us be faithful and free from worry.

The chief danger of today, as it was previous to 1911 to 17, is that so many church members are indifferent to the teaching of God’s Word. They neither read it nor study it, but depend upon someone else to lead them, to read and think for them. Such indifference ruined the old Synod and brought about the merger. The spirit of the time is materialism, worldliness, ambition, the Old Adam, lodgery. Indifferentism leads to unionism and unionism eventually to unbelief. Hence war a good warfare.

Another danger which threatens the church is Church Politics. It was an important factor in destroying the old Synod and may also become a danger in our Synod. The Church Council (Kirkeraad) in the old Norwegian Synod originally served a good purpose but after 1910 it became a dangerous power for the Synod’s downfall. The lay people and most of the ministers were kept in ignorance. They depended on the Church Council to lead them. The press, both religious and secular, was closed to all who strove to bear witness against the false doctrine of “Opgjør” and to warn against union on a false basis. For more than five years the “minority” was subjected to a terrible spiritual tyranny; and you of the younger generation may be called upon to endure a similar trial. So beware and prepare.

When the Norwegian Synod was reorganized, it was the prayer of all, especially of the lay people, that there should be no Church Council and no church politics, in order that the Synod might remain faithful and true holding fast to the revelation of Holy Scripture.

This hope can be realized then only, when we obey the Holy Spirit’s admonition: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1). Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephes. 6:10–11).

May the Lord in His mercy by the Holy Spirit guide and preserve us, so that the ancient landmark, the gospel of grace, may be kept sacred and inviolate down through the ages to His glory and as a blessing to countless generations. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.