Rev. Paul Ylvisaker
1967 Synod Convention Essay
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer.” Amen.
Go back with me to the year 58. We are down by the harbor of Corinth, Greece. Among the ships there look at that one. It is getting ready to sail for Italy. A small group of friends are bidding farewell to Phoebe, a churchwoman of Cenchria. A man in the group carefully hands her a package and earnestly instructs her as to the delivery of that precious article. And who is the man? It is the Apostle Paul. And what did he with so much care entrust to Phoebe? Is it the letter to the Romans, or what one writer has called, “The whole future of Christian theology.” That Italy-bound ship carried cargo more valuable than gold. This is not our estimate. The Psalmist says, “The law of Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” All the Bible is infinitely valuable, every word of every book. But of the sixty-six gems in the lovely brooch that the Betrothed, the Church, has been given by the Spirit as proof of her Bridegroom’s favor until the day of the Great Marriage, the Letter to the Romans sparkles the brightest with the theology and love of Christ. Surely we, the heirs of the Reformation, have special reason to love this epistle. For Luther found the letters of Paul to be the sure ground for his evangelical certainty, and in Romans 1,16 and 17, he found as did Paul the grand theme of his whole life and work.
These verses have been chosen as the text of our convention. And when we speak of the abiding worth of our Reformation heritage we mean that these verses teach clearly the truths without which we would be indeed disinherited.
The request that I prepare the essay for our 1967 convention to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the Reformation came to me months ago. We should have had ample time. But as we tried to adequately study and meditate and prepare we were all the while chafing under the steady necessity of doing our day-by-day work in the parish. And we were near despair, when, one late evening, it became clear that if we were impatient with the work among God’s people in the comparatively narrow circle of the congregation then we were really missing the pertinent lesson of the Reformation, namely, the overwhelming patience of God with His Church. What we mean is,
The Reformation was God’s gift, utterly undeserved, and in His chosen time.
An uneducated but devout preacher once said, “The most precious words in the Bible are, ‘It came to pass.’” He meant that tribulations indeed come, but — patience! They come to pass. He sensed some of infinite patience and compassion of God; it was good theology that the mountain preacher expressed.
“It came to pass.” Think of the 430 years that Israel spent in Egypt. But in God’s time they came to pass. Think of the history behind those words in Galatians 4:4: “But when the fulness of the time was come.” The timetable of God, what a study!
For centuries the Church had been saddled with a spiritual bondage that staggers the imagination.
Somewhere, somehow, somebody, soon after the golden age of the Apostolic days, left the clearly marked path of the Gospel and wandered from the good pasture of the word of grace. Thus began the abomination that became for God an offense that moved Him to permit the human rule that later developed into the Papacy. For God meant it when His Spirit through the Apostle commended the Bereans, “in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things (‘which the Apostle taught’) were so” (Acts 17:11). Somewhere, somehow, somebody that had been a humble under-shepherd of Christ left that lowly path and began to be a 2-by-4 autocrat ruling in his own name instead of by the saving Name of the meek Christ. But Jesus meant it when he told us all, “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ” (Matthew 23:10).
Thus the seed of human rule and of blind following was sown. This was years before the invention of a chief earthly primate of the church had entered the minds of church leaders. But as a small picture negative can be “blown up” to make a large mural, so human rule is seen in the years before Luther to have been used in an ever-expanding area. This is a far cry from the good picture of the Good Shepherd who says of His flock, “My sheep hear my voice,” and who take to heart the admonition of the Apostle of Love, John, in his advice to a church that would be free: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (I John 4:1a).
But it came to pass. Sadness of the soul of man has perhaps never been better expressed than in Psalm 137. Hear these ancient plaintive words and note their perennial appropriateness in the light of Reformation times:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
We do not have space here to show how fully this Psalm describes also the yearning for liberty experienced by Luther and uncounted thousands with him. But, just this verse 3: “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” Spurgeon speaking of this verse says, “Worse than the Egyptians, the Babylonians asked not labor which their victims could have rendered, but they demanded mirth which they could not give and holy songs which they dared not profane to such a purpose. Compare the almost endless prayers and litanies of monastery life.
But, “It came to pass.” “The fullness of the time” came. The greatest hoax of all time was now to be removed; the brazen foisting of cruel human rule on the spiritual Zion was to be exposed. Fulfilled in New Testament times was the prophecy in Psalm 137:8: “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed.” God’s pity’s hour struck. Patience! The time had been running out for a long, long time, cried the serious souls. Consider John Wycliffe and his protests. He has been called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.” He gave vigorous utterance to the long-felt resentment, an indignation also felt on the Continent, against the Pope’s meddling in both national and church affairs. He maintained that the only head of the Church was Jesus Christ and that the Pope was the Anti-Christ. He denounced purgatory as a swindle. For this and other declarations he was excommunicated. Thirteen years after his death his bones were burned by order of the church officials. Why did not the Reformation succeed in the 14th century? For one thing, Wycliffe did not have the clarity of the central doctrine of Scripture to which Luther by the grace of God attained. Although he taught that Christ was the only mediator between God and the sinner he ascribed a certain degree of meritoriousness to good works. It was the clear ringing fulness of the doctrine of justification by faith alone that had to be the power that was to explode in the face of the monstrous bondage of work righteousness. It goes to prove again the explicit word of our Lord in John 8:36: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
“But when the fullness of the time was come.” Deliverance came not for Israel when Moses was forty, when he slew the Egyptian. Not by the sword shall the kingdom be saved, but by the Word of the Lord. As it took God four decades to prepare His chosen one to be the deliverer from Egypt so God’s people had to wait, and wait, until a unique leader, incomparably prepared, was prepared for the Reformation. “It came to pass.” Surely the seconds had ticked towards the dawn in the courageous testimony of John Hus of Bohemia. He saw clearly the need of cleansing the church; he attacked the shameful selling of indulgences; he stood for the supreme authority of the Scriptures. Yet he, too, though he preached Christ as the only Savior, did give a place in justification to works. He was not given to live long enough to see the inconsistency in his proclamation of grace. Just the same, the Church of Rome could not stand to hear him. He was burned alive at the stake on July 6, 1415. His last words were noble: “In the truth of the Gospel, which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness.” This just 102 years before the Friar at Wittenberg was to nail his 95 Theses on the church door. But soon God’s hour of deliverance was to come. Even in Hus’s work we can see the Lord having compassion on His own. Soon will come actions to match words such as God spoke before Moses: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7).
Always the Lord of the Church is the same Lord who is the Lord of the nations. So, in graciously preparing His Reformation, He made way for it even as He made way for the Advent of His Son and His Gospel. As in the Roman empire of Jesus’ time there was a long-felt mistrust of the Roman gods that went along with a new-found freedom of communication of new ideas, so in Europe of Luther’s youth there was a mistrust of the status quo. In the time of Jesus, and in the time of Luther, the world was as it were, turned upside down. The spirit of nationalism played a part; the dissatisfaction with the scholastic system of education went along with a yearning to return to the classical languages; along with this went the century-old resentment on the part of princes and peoples against the terrific draining away of wealth that went to satisfy the insatiable thirst for money and talent and power in Rome. Objections had long been raised against the iron-clad canon law that had been built up to seal the power of the pontiff of Rome who held by this law a unique monopoly of authority over the souls and bodies of men. These influences, and a dozen more, played a part in the storm that was brewing and would soon burst upon the lands. Then it happened; in the very year that Luther was to begin his work — the full extent of which he had little inkling — Pope Leo, ignoring all signs of protests, created 39 new cardinals and, according to well-documented records, netted one-half million ducats, valued conservatively at perhaps a million dollars. But his blindness to the real situation in his own domain would soon boomerang. We are reminded of a child’s verse:
Humpty Dumpty sat upon a wall;
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Could not put Humpty Dumpty together again.
Even the Catholic historian Ludwig Pastor speaks of the climactic condition of his church in these significant words:
“The approach of great catastrophes is usually heralded by the dark foreshadowing of future events. At that calamitous time prophetic utterances increased, and notes of solemn warning sounded from all quarters. Shortly before the close of the Lateran Council the noble Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandella, in the presence of the Pope and the ecclesiastical assembly, delivered a famous oration relating to the reformation of morals in the Church. Nothing can reveal the necessity of reform in a more startling way than the wretched picture drawn by this distinguished layman. We have heard a great deal about the making of laws, said he, in apology for his interference, but very little about their observance. Yet nothing could be more urgent. To prove this, he described, by the aid of rhetorical antitheses, a picture, painted in the darkest colors, of the corruption which had made its way into the Church. He emphatically pointed out to the Pope that it was his strict duty to remove the crying abuses in ecclesiastical government. In conclusion, he added these words of warning: ‘If Leo leaves crime any longer unpunished, if he refuses to heal the wounds, it is to be feared that God Himself will no longer apply a slow remedy, but will cut off and destroy the diseased members with fire and sword.’ In that very year this oracular prediction was fulfilled.” (Ludwig Pastor, “The History of the Popes”)
Yes, the Lateran Council closed in 1517! But reform of morals standing by itself would not avail. The strong Popes had earlier by dictatorial powers succeeded quite well in keeping their houses in order as far as outward decency was concerned. We refer to the powerful Popes, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Gregory the III, and Innocent the III. But true morality must grow out of the acceptance of the Gospel of grace; no amount of human power will avail.
Upon the scene comes now a man schooled in the basic doctrines of sin and forgiveness for Christ’s sake. He it was that said in his mighty hymn, “A word shall overthrow him.” One word, one verse did what men and women had longed for, that is, demonstrate that Satan can be defeated by the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The verses that keynote the power of the Reformation are found in the letter to the Romans. Romans is the Prince among all the Apostolic Letters. And the verses constitutes not only the theme of the letter but indeed of the Apostle’s Life and Ministry. Nothing serves better to emphasize that Luther served us well in using this verse for himself and for breaking down the forces of work-righteousness that had so long entrenched themselves in the church. And what is the verse? Romans 1,16 and 17:
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith.
II. “I am not ashamed of the Gospel”
Paul knew of the offense of the Gospel. He knew how offensive the Gospel was to him before his conversion: he knew the deadly enmity of his flesh against the Gospel after he had been converted; and he knew the constant offense of the Gospel as was evidenced in his missionary journeys, for he lived among the Jews and among the Gentiles all the way from Jerusalem to Corinth, where he now is writing this Epistle. I know, he meant to say, what happened, for example, where the Holy Spirit enabled him to preach that masterly sermon on Mars Hill and how he was nevertheless met with mockery and calloused disdain. Knowing all this, there is nothing nevertheless that shall dissuade him. Speaking on another occasion to Timothy, as to a son, and speaking with the seriousness of an imminent martyr-death, Paul said in Timothy 1,7 and 8:
God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.
This boldness of Paul and of his pupil Luther stems from a double truth: one that they saw all mankind with eyes that God the Holy Ghost had enlightened, that is, Paul sees all the world owing a debt to God and unable to pay that fearful debt; the other part of this double truth is that Paul looks on Jesus, and he cried out with the new-found discovery that he wants all to share, namely, that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Spectacularly Paul’s life drove straight as a true arrow towards this one purpose, come what may. So also Luther in his service to the distressed church of his day.
The Power of God
Paul declares in I Corinthians 1:18: “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God.” Wind and rain, heat and cold are powers of God, too. Of nature, we say, but really of God, for they proceed from the might of His creative and providential will. But the Gospel God owns as His own in a peculiar and singular way. In the Gospel He acts and deals with our souls as a healing physician. When the Gospel is proclaimed it is not so that the proclaimer speaks words that merely indicate or point to Christ, as if He were distant still. No, the word of the Cross is filled with Him of whom the proclaimer speaks — there is no time lapse or space lag. Therefore it is that the Word of God is powerful to call, to enlighten, to sanctify, to keep. Can we say less in the light of Romans 10:8? “The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that is the word of faith, which we preach?”
In the Word, that we hear, God enfolds the very Holy Spirit, even as in His Sacraments the heavenly blessing is united with the earthly elements. For the proclaimer it is to be solemnly remembered that when we speak the Word of God we are wielding the very Sword of the Spirit. And, parallel to this solemn truth, is this awesome knowledge, that when we hear the Word of God, the sharp sword strikes us to the “casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). We so equate the highest power of God with the Gospel, and woe unto us if we look upon the use of that uniquely powerful Word as if God were “beating the air” (I Corinthians 9:26b). It is this sense of the Word’s power that impresses us in Paul and his student, Luther.
The Power of God Unto Salvation
Also the Word of the Law is a power of God, for it is the Word of the living God, of the Holy Spirit, and therefore spiritual. “This is He, that was in the wilderness with the angel which spake with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us” (Acts 7:38). But the Law is a power of God unto condemnation of the sinner. Paul calls the Law “the ministration of condemnation” (II Corinthians 3:9).
The Gospel, on the other hand, is the power of God unto salvation. For it is the Good News of the grace of God in Christ Jesus. It saves us from our sins. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). How wonderfully descriptive the Bible is of the Gospel. It gives “knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of sins” (Luke 1:77). Again, in Romans 4:6: “Even as David describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.” And, again, Paul speaks of the Gospel as the deliverance from God’s wrath: “Much more then, being justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9). The Bible comes to our defense on every front. It speaks of the Gospel freeing us from death. What a mighty armor does not the Holy Spirit afford us to drive away that fierce foe, Death? The weapon? None other than the Word of Christ’s death and resurrection! I Corinthians 15:57: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. “But.” Oh, that blessed “However”! Wait, O embattled soul, well-nigh bested in conflict, wait, wait on the Lord: “But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And, beyond the battlefields of this life — what of the eternal condemnation we so richly deserve? Shall this war start all over again? The Gospel says that for condemnation will God give life! What arithmetic does God use; anyway? Romans 5:10 tells us of this mystery of grace that constitutes His heavenly arithmetic: “If, when we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Oh, what an exultingly powerful message is not the Gospel! “In nothing terrified by your adversaries; which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God” (Philippians 1:28).
Now, in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ and His Gospel we can begin better to sense the holy joy of the Prophet Isaiah who saw by divine inspiration Jesus’ Day: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1–2).
And, because the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, it is thereby also a power to translate us into a life of righteousness, of life, and glory, that is, it is a present salvation. Paul gives “thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Colossians 1:12–13). The current and full value of our salvation is emphasized again and again. Jesus said unto Zaccheus, “This day is salvation come to this house!” (Luke 19:9). Again it is emphasized in II Corinthians 6:2b: “Now is the day of salvation.” Again it is emphasized in the glorious “grace” chapter of Ephesians: “But God, who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, hath quickened us with Christ, (by grace are ye saved)” (Ephesians 2:4·5).
Yet, the Scriptures also emphasize that the salvation that is ours now is a hidden salvation. Paul tells the Colossians: “Your life is hid with Christ in God” (3:3b). And to the Romans he declares: “We are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth why doth he yet hope for?” And to the Thessalonians (to whom the Apostle revealed the mystery of iniquity and the man of sin) he says that they did well in that they “wait for God’s Son from heaven” (1:10a). Even as the Prophets constantly joined the beginning and the end of the future salvation, seeing the first advent and the second advent as one great whole, so also the New Testament writers consider as one the faith and the hope, and speak in the scope of the over-all concept of the first fruits and the full harvest in God’s eternal kingdom. Only thus can we begin to explain the unbelievable patience exhibited by the saints. Consider this patience as expressed by Benjamin Schmolk, often called the second Paul Gerhardt:
My Jesus, as Thou wilt,
All shall be well for me;
Each changing future scene
I gladly trust with Thee.
Thus to my home above
I travel calmly on
And sing in life or death,
My Lord, Thy will be done.
Here, too, is the hidden strength of Luther’s constancy. Here we see why he with Paul could say: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Luther was well aware of the implications of confessionalism. For martyrdom had in his lifetime already occurred. On July 1, 1523, two Augustinian monks were burned at the stake at Brussels — for the confession of the evangelical faith. Luther wrote a hymn on that sad occasion. A verse of it reads:
The Father hath received
Their latest living breath;
And vain is Satan’s boast
Of victory in their death;
Still, still, though dead, they speak,
And, trumpet-tongued, proclaim
To many a wakening land
The one availing Name.
To Every One That Believeth
Here work-righteousness, believe it or not, imagines itself “re-justified!” The Gospel, it has heard, gives all glory to God, but here, I, work-righteousness come into my own again, and I hold the victory! For is it not written, “To every one that believeth”? Here surely co-operation, self-determination is called for. So self-righteousness argues, and exults that once having its foot inside the door it shall surely succeed in selling its wares again. For work-righteousness asks, is it not made a condition of salvation that we believe? Against this counter-attack, or rather infiltration, of the Gospel stronghold we really need to cite only one Bible passage. “A word shall overthrow them.” Luther in his “Babylonian Captivity,” 1520, points out that excellent verse when he writes: “Do not think lightly of faith. It is of all works the most difficult. Through it alone you will be saved, even though you were obliged to do without all other works. For it is the work of God, not of man, as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:19: where the Apostle speaks of those ‘Who believe according to His mighty power.’” Luther could have gone on also to Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” Luther continues in that treatise: “The other works He performs with our co-operation and through us; this alone He works within us and without our cooperation.” Would that all Lutherans would have read Luther here. How much grief could have been spared our fathers and their sons and daughters!
Let us call Lydia as witness from Thyatira. Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus unto her and the infallible Record states: “Whose heart the Lord opened” (Acts 16:14). The beggar’s hand that grasps the salvation is by nature a paralyzed hand. Our natural deadness, yes, enmity, the Gospel conquers. This is Paul’s teaching, which he had received by revelation of Jesus Christ, as he claims both in the Book of Acts, and in the Epistle of the Galatians where he certifies his apostleship in these words: “I neither received it (the Gospel) of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). Pretty well fortified then is our teaching with Luther that faith is a work of God, of God alone.
That “every one” is a precious emphasis of the Holy Spirit to us in tribulation when our heart condemns us and would block all avenues to comfort, and would din into our ears what great sinners we are. Then this “every one” will declare what power lies in the Gospel of forgiveness. To our deceitful heart we may now, on the strength of this “every one,” say: to doubt would be to make God a liar who has declared to me “Thy sins be forgiven thee.”
To the Jew First, And Also to the Greek
The universality of the saving power of the Gospel the Apostle emphasizes by the terms, Jew and Greek. The Jews first, because of the promises made unto the fathers (15:8b). Paul writes here to the people of Rome and they are to be fully aware of the favor of God: they owed the very letter they were to read to the fact that Paul, a converted Jew, is now proclaiming that Gospel that was first committed to the Jews. To them were committed the oracles of God (3:2). Salvation, Jesus said to the woman of Samaria, is of the Jews. Of the Jews Jesus came; to the Jews the Gospel was first preached; and by the Jews the Gospel was first preached to the Gentiles.
But he adds, “and also to the Greeks.” Usually Paul said, “Jew and Gentile,” but here he would point out the Greeks, as they were the Gentiles with whom the Jews then were most familiar. The Greek language was the world language, the language by which the Gospel went out into all the world. The apostolic era shows how God opens avenues for His saving purposes, even as in the Reformation period. He made use of the increased tempo of life in the European lands. The Son of Abraham was to bless all nations. The pattern of God’s directing all things according to His wise counsel is often hidden from our eyes, but we know that from Adam’s time until now that it has been an article of faith that God rules over all things for the benefit of His Church. We may take an Old Testament text to confirm this: “Thou makest Him (The Messiah) to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under His feet” (Psalm 8:6). Shortsighted we are, and we are too much like the impetuous Moses when he slew the Egyptian. We have to learn patience. But, God’s plan for blessing all nations goes on. Thus in the light of Bible stories we have at the same time the authentication of the Lord’s purposes in the unfolding of the Reformation. Brilliant as was the mind of the Reformer, he could not know the distances to which the recovered Gospel would go. Columbus had discovered America just twenty-five years before the beginning of Luther’s work.
Now the Apostle Paul, after that he in verse 16 has shown that he is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, in that it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe, now in verse 17 shows why the Gospel alone works salvation and why faith alone grasps and receives this salvation.
For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written.
The Just Shall Live By Faith
“The Lord loveth the righteous” (Psalm 146:8b). This basic truth the Jew knew; and the Gentile could have known this truth if he had not held the truth in unrighteousness (verse 18). All then should know that God loves him that is righteous. It is an elemental truth that needs no argumentation. But how does man gain the confidence to say, “God is surely well-pleased with me”? Among the heathens God finds none. None! They are “filled with all unrighteousness” (29b).
And the Jews? Any there? It is true that the people of Israel were given the name Jeshurun, which means no less than “the darling upright” (Deuteronomy 32:15). Isaiah also uses the name for Israel: “Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen” (44:2). But Moses in his farewell song, inexpressibly tender in its sadness, says of Israel, “They have corrupted themselves; they are a crooked and perverse generation.” So the scathing indictment is against all, every mouth is to be stopped, and all the world is to be guilty before God (3:19). The prospect would have been utterly hopeless had not God, along with the requisite of righteousness, also given the promise of righteousness. In word and type He did just that. Think of the Mercy Seat typifying Him whom “God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (3:25–26).
All this God promised afore by His prophets in the Holy Scripture (verse 12). Now, in the Gospel the glory of the promise is unveiled, namely, in the Gospel of that righteousness that avails before God. Luther in his translation of verse 17 words it: “Gerechtigheit, die vor Gott gilt.” And more precisely the Apostle’s meaning could not be stated. It is a righteousness that God has prepared; it is a righteousness that satisfies Him; it is a righteousness that God gives without money and without price. This is what Scripture attests throughout, and it is man’s blindness of mind that alone obscures it. We, as Luther did so long and painfully, look by nature to ourselves for it. Paul knew the struggle against the invasion of works, but he declares that his peace is found in this alone: “To be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith (Philippians 3:29). Luther’s translation of Romans 1:17 then is eminently in holy keeping with “Now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (3:20), and with “And that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).
This was the grand discovery for Luther. Until the veil was lifted for him, the righteousness of God was for him the wrath of God, because the poor sinner could not attain to a satisfactory righteousness, strive as he might. Luther, by this happy discovery for his own soul, became the instrument to break new ground in the teaching of the Church, for all had been teaching the righteousness of God as the wrath of God, with the exception, he says, of Augustine. This unattainable righteousness had as a grievous residue the consequent Anger of God. It was so crucial for Luther before his rediscovery of this gold mine of grace, that he wished that God had never revealed the Gospel. For who, he says, can love God when He rages against me, judges me, damns me? But there the words stood all the while; and when the Holy Spirit enlightened him, then it was that he exclaimed that he was as one new born, and that heaven’s door had been opened wide for him who for so long had been forlorn.
From Faith to Faith
This righteousness is of faith, and it is to faith, that is, it must be received and accepted by faith. We are aware that some understand this “from faith to faith” to express a progress from a weak faith to that which is more perfect. It is more in keeping with Paul’s language and, with him, Luther’s language, that the weight of the phrase is to emphasize that we are justified by faith and faith alone.
As It Is Written, The Just Shall Live By Faith
The Prophet of the Old Testament, Habakkuk, and the expositor of Christ in the New Testament Paul, both teach salvation by faith. While Habakkuk speaks of faith in the sense of trust in God and His word of prophecy, the Apostle now applies faith to trust in Christ. Faith in all instances is essentially the same. Paul, and his student Luther, standing in the light of Jesus having appeared, point to Christ as the central object of our faith. In fact, for Luther, every page in the Bible now illumines this transcendent theme: Christ is the fulfillment of all prophecy.
Also wholesome it is to see the use Paul makes of the Old Testament. In this one epistle, for example, he cites the faith that justified David. Quoting the penitential Psalm 32, he stresses the truth we have dealt with here: “Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered” (Romans 4:6–7). And speaking of Abraham, Paul states: “What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:1–3).
The Grace of God, His favor, was, in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament, found in Christ and His Merit. As Habakkuk puts it literally, “He that is righteous by faith, shall live.”
This, then, is the theme of Romans. The Epistle to the Romans came by reason of importance first of Paul’s writings. Luther says of it, “It is the chief book of the New Testament and the purest gospel. It would be quite proper for a Christian not only to know it by heart word for word, but also daily to use it as daily bread of the soul; for you can never read and study it too much and too well. The more one uses it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes!”
III. An Appraisal of Our Worthiness as Heirs of the Reformation
As we stand at the threshold of this anniversary, surely our thought should be: “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a). But our sense of spiritual taste, is that very sharp? Are we any better than our synod’s people 100 years ago? Then, Pastors J.A. Otteson and H.A. Preus, Editors of Kirkelig Maanedstidende, comparable to our Lutheran Sentinel, declared that with the gracious granting of peace after the bitter Civil War the American people were quickly becoming more worldly minded. If that was true, even in our then closely-knit parishes, how much more in danger are we now when our people are confronted on every side by the call of materialistic opportunities.
Nevertheless the two editors and our synod knew no other way to stir up our people 100 years ago than to urge them to the study of God’s Word. The topic for study at the 1867 Convention was indeed the central doctrine of Scripture: “The Justification of the Sinner.” Now it is 1967. Are we going to celebrate just because it is 1967? It would be a dreary observance indeed if we were to note this anniversary just because the calendar indicated it. God spare us from such a mechanical ceremony. A warm, fresh marking of this landmark in the life of our church is our bounden duty to a God who has been so very good to us.
Whether or not this sincere declaration is possible among us is a matter of deep concern. It depends on the quality of church life in our homes and in our congregations. The quality of a synod is no better than the grass roots character of your and my homes and parishes. First we need then an appraisal of the attitude we have to our worship of God, not here at Mankato during these days, but back home. If worship in the smaller circles is wholesome then we may look forward also to the happy observance of the Reformation anniversary.
We have learned from childhood how we should keep Sunday and other church festivals. Is it not first of all, and last, that we together might with devout hearts adore God?
There will be no lack of fervor in our Reformation celebration if throughout our parishes we properly observe Sunday. What congregations, if any, observe Sunday properly? Yes, there are congregations that regularly have very good attendance. But they are few and far between. And who among us must not confess that it is so easy to have work righteousness creep into our thoughts as we approach church. “I do not see Mr. So-and-So and his family; they are breaking the Third Commandment.” And I smugly punch, as it were, the time clock card. Ah, there is more to church than that.
Church is more than roll call; it is to come with devout hearts and adore God. We come as the publican, who looked neither to the right nor the left but down; for he was downcast, because of his failures and sins and transgressions and iniquities. The weeks and the years had been too much for him to bear alone. He saw no one; his eyes were in a haze. All he clung to was the Word. And he went home justified. He was justified in God’s sight, for God had spoken by the Prophets, and that word he believed. The whole worship as commanded by God, with all its ordinances, had that one purpose, to justify the sinner by faith in Him who was to come. Anna knew her theology when she spoke in Luke 2:38. That one verse is a touchstone. It reads: “And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spoke of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.”
Need of redemption and thanks for redemption are the thoughts that occupy the mind of a true worshipper. We are bankrupt, but God is rich in mercy. If this mind be in our people in home and church we shall not need to be too concerned about our people’s appreciation of their Reformation heritage. For it is the precious justification of the poor sinner through faith in the grace of God in Christ that constitutes the Reformation heritage. But do we see the value of our heritage?
Does our heritage hold a prominent place in our family life? J.M. Weidenschilling in his fine little book, now out of print, on “Our Home,” has a story that could serve to rouse some of our families: “The story is told of a Japanese college girl studying in an American college, one of whose American friends invited her home for the Christmas holidays. At the end of the holidays her hostess said to her as she was leaving, ‘I hope you have had a happy time with us.’ ‘Oh, yes, a beautiful time, except that I have missed the god in the house.’ ‘The god in the house?’ asked the hostess. ‘You know,’ said the Japanese student, ‘in my country each home has its god shelf, and we worship every day; but you have no god in your house.’” To many’s shame we are thereby reminded that we have a verse in the Bible that should take care of that, namely Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Thus, not on the shelf, as the gods, but in our forgiving one another as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us.
Are we not prone, as the mill run of people today, to look on the old values as sort of antique? Do we put them in the attic, as it were, not quite willing to discard them altogether, but regarding them as not up-to-date enough to use them in our modern day? Wholesome it will be for us to read again this year of those times four and a half centuries ago when sin and grace were again proclaimed and believed as in Apostolic days. Let us then first ask ourselves, Do we know what sin is, and what grace is? These are the questions in 1967 as in 1517.
Sin and Grace
The sensation of death worked by the law, which sensation is contrition, and the almost unbelievable joy and thanks when the Holy Spirit enlightens us with the gift of faith — these are the matters of concern. This we must learn by believing the testimony of Scripture, testimony against us, and, by the paradox of our religion, testimony for us, namely full and free pardon by reason of the merit of Jesus.
I was privileged in the ’20’s to see the North Dakota prairie wheatland stretching almost unbrokenly from horizon to horizon. There was a majesty about it, like unto the ocean, the golden grain nodding in gentle billows.
But, then, in three days the Chinook winds withered the promised wealth. Instead of beauty, the searing sensation of death. So the law makes short shift of our glorying.
Each one of you could cite as good an illustration of the fleeting worth of all things of earth. I could offer the tornado of Sunday evening, May 30; I could point to the now desolate hilltop farm place within sight of our village. So, everything we touch has inherent in it, not the ability to turn to gold, but to dust. Everything! “All is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastics 1:14). Pride and glory in the things of earth deserves the chiding that is given by George Eliot in Adam Bede: “He’s welly like a cock as thinks the sun’s rose o’purpose to hear him crow.”
But there is a companion lesson in the Dakota farm scene. The farmer knew the promise of God that another season would follow. “Seedtime and harvest” (Genesis 8:9). And the farmer, believing the promise, stayed on and was not put to shame.
So we enter church as bankrupt sinners. We enter as sick in soul. We leave healed by the tender ministration of the God of grace. Of what do we boast? Of God’s gift of forgiveness, life and salvation! Soli Deo Gloria!
It is this sense of sin and grace that must be present among us. This is prerequisite. Are we a thankful people?
For These Truths Are Gifts
Johann Mentzer in his very fine hymn, “O would, my God, that I could praise thee with thousand tongues by day and night,” has a line in the second verse which states, “Your noblest work is to adore.” It is this truth so well expressed by the devout pastor who had studied theology at Wittenberg that is for us on this occasion a predominant thought. Recall how the hymn writer was so overjoyed at God’s mercy to his neighbor and to himself, for it could just as well have been the Mentzer house that was destroyed — that his joys knew no bounds. Hear him:
O all ye powers that He implanted,
Arise, and silence deep no more;
Put forth the strength that He hath granted,
Your noblest work is to adore.
O soul and body, be ye meet
With heartfelt praise your Lord to greet!
So our thoughts these days are of our neighbor, even while they are of ourselves. A fire has been ignited and has consumed many a home dedicated to the spiritual care of our neighbor. The fire has been ignited, not by an act of God, as lightning struck that home in Kimnitz of Saxony; it has rather been of incendiary origin. We on this occasion would thank God for those who have been accorded the favor of retaining the truth that alone saves us from the ultimate and consuming wrath of God.
How can we express it? This mixed emotion of praise that knows no bounds because we know that God loves us in His dear Son, and the emotion running alongside it of deep sorrow over the condition in nominal Christendom as well as in the world at large? The answer lies in the very nature of our Christian religion. Even as we according to the new nature in us rejoice in all hallowing of God’s Name, so also at the same time we weep when His holy Name is profaned. And, even as we rejoice in being given the supreme privilege of being citizens in the kingdom of grace, we also are saddened by the desolation wrought by those who pose as builders of Christ’s kingdom by means other than God’s marvelous grace in our dear Savior. Hand in hand, in Christ’s Church militant, must go joy and sorrow. For godly sorrow is experienced alone by the soul that knows the inestimable joy of salvation.
The Value of the Individual
What strikes one then is the necessity of seeing that in our consideration of the lessons of the Reformation the individual soul is the object of our study. Harking back to the publican in the Temple: he had, as it were, business to do with His God — no one else. How often we see this aloneness with God when we consider Jesus’ ministry. For example, His conversation that night alone with Nicodemus where we hear Jesus say-and it ought to ring out in our lonely nights — “Verily, verily, I say unto thee.” And, when Jesus was alone with the woman of Samaria by Jacob’s well, and He said, “If thou knewest the gift of God …” How he thereby untangled the mixed-up web of her understanding of prophecy, and how wondrously He made plain the approach to God! We could go on and study the hundred and one instances of Jesus’ person-to-person dealings with the souls that met Him, go on even to that hour on the Cross when He drew the poor malefactor out of an otherwise certain damnation by His compassionate, “Verily, I say unto thee …”
No amount of recitation of Reformation history with its complex interplay of a dozen influences must draw us away from this fundamental question that Luther posed and that God in His Word answered, namely, how shall a sinner dare come home to his God? We have difficulty when we try to put ourselves in Luther’s place as he struggled for peace with his God. Oh, how self-sufficient we are! How well arranged is not our existence! So little there is of Luther’s acutely painful realization that, try as he might, there still kept tumbling down his hopes, his efforts ever evading his grasping hands. How abominable his behavior, how uncertain the end!
When the temptation comes to think that it is better with us, it is high time to be caught up short. We live in such an antiseptic age! A little air-freshener can clear a room of cigar odor or other objectionable taint. Oh, we have it real clean! When self-complacency would settle down upon us it does one person at least good to recall the home in a city slum — now razed — consisting of one room with the only window being the transom over the hall entrance. When two seminary students on a neighborhood mission canvass finally had the door opened for us the man of the house growled, “What do you want?” In one hand he held a whiskey bottle and in the other a sick crying baby. What glory, man!
Something akin to that is needed for us to face up to the problem of sin that Luther faced and from which most think they are immune. We are infected with the blight of our time, a terribly weakened sense of the reality of the law’s demands and of our responsibility to God.
Dr. Paul Tournier, an eminent Swiss psychiatrist, said, “We all know that guilt is no invention of the Bible or the church. It is present universally in the human soul. And we cannot deal with the guilt without dealing with the religious questions it poses.” (Quoted in Reader’s Digest, March, 1967.)
What little law is preached generally today is done by the rabble rousers who scold us for ignoring the poor, but whose insistent haranguing stems from a denial of all authority. The breakers of the Fourth Commandment ask no boon from God; for the Haves are to be Santa Claus or God, and the giver of good things to the despisers of authority.
If we are, in 1967, in this anniversary of the Reformation, to have any good from this occasion we shall first have to have a Bible view of the Doctrine of Man and of his sin.
Man was originally “very good” (Genesis 1:31). For God said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:27). That image consisted in more than intellect and will, it consisted of the right disposition of his intellect and will, the will to do only God’s will. Man was not a brute, “morally indifferent,” neither good or bad. Luther called it idle talk when the Scholastics described the original state of Man as being capable of doing good. He says, “If we wish to follow Moses, we can say that the original righteousness consisted in this, that man was righteous, true, and upright, not only in his body and externally, but, above all inwardly in his soul, and that he knew God, was obedient to Him with the utmost pleasure” (St. L. 1, 138). As he puts it elsewhere, to love God was “As natural for Adam as it is natural for the eye to behold the light” (St. L. 1,201).
Sin entered. The Law was broken. “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). The norm of the Law has to do with the condition of man as well as the internal and external actions. We are now by nature sinful. Our condition is sin. This condition is sin even though the Christian detests it. The Apostle declares, “The evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:19). This is important to remember in Luther’s life, for he learned to see the full condemning scope of the Law which puts all men to silence. For Rome teaches that nothing is sin unless in some degree the will consents to it. (Bellarmine. It was Roberto Bellarmine who wrote a systematic presentation of the doctrines set forth by the Council of Trent. Johann Gerhard answered in his Loci.) To think that we gain anything by avoiding the full weight of the Law is to rob ourselves of the strength of the Gospel that has full power to save. Just this spring a Catholic commission study appeared in which original sin is described as having “wounded” man. So the error persists today. How happy we should be that in our midst is preserved the full strength of Scripture in this fundamental point of the Doctrine of Man. I refer to question 129 in our 1966 edition of our catechism: “Original sin is the Total corruption of our whole human nature,” and to question 156 which declares, “Since the Fall Man’s spiritual understanding is completely darkened.” These are severe indictments and will be accepted only when we bow to the authority of Scripture. The consequence of sin is death, death of the soul, disruption of the communion with God. When Adam sinned that major sin, he died, spiritually. Luther says of Genesis 3:15, “This text is the absolution acquitting him and us all.” When we cringe before the impact of Scripture’s teaching on original sin let us ever keep in mind that only as we let God be true when He speaks of sin will we ever be ushered into the God-intended joy of the Gospel. The Letter Killeth! So be it! Original sin is guilt; it is corruption. “By the offense of one, judgment came upon all men unto condemnation!” (Romans 5:18). Thereby God places all men of all time under guilt. Hereditary guilt is imputed to all. To balk at this is to join not Luther, but to accept the fundamental tenet of Rome concerning the unclearness of the Bible. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore wrote in “The Faith of Our Fathers,” page 111, “The Scriptures are not of themselves clear and intelligible, even in matters of the highest importance.” They still hold to that. The Knights of Columbus this spring offered a free booklet which they say “will give you the basic principles for understanding not only what the Scriptures say, but what they mean.” Luther on the contrary declares: “Be it known, then, that Scripture, without any gloss (explanation) is the sun and sole light from which all teachers receive their light, and not the contrary” (St. 1. 18, 120).
The full understanding of the depth of our corruption must be gotten from God’s Word. Rome did not learn. For the Council of Trent declares: “With regard to this concupiscence (sinful desire) which remains after Baptism, although Scripture sometimes calls it sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly, sin in those born again, but because it is of sin and inclines to sin.” We see here the fatal ingredient of self-decision. Let us be clear in the matter of the Scripture teaching, and see the minimizing of hereditary corruption which has also crept into the Lutheran Church and has destroyed thereby its witness to the truth. It involves nothing less than “Grace alone” which is basic to the Christian religion. Rome teaches: “If anyone saith that man’s free will, moved and excited by God by assenting to God exciting and calling, nowise co-operates towards disposing and preparing itself for obtaining the grace of justification — let him be Anathema, Session 6, chapter 5. See how deep error here leads to error in the Doctrine of Conversion. Synergists are in the Roman camp, not with Luther, who said of this supposedly mere “wounding” of the free will: “Since this doctrine detracts from the magnitude of original sin, it is to be shunned as deadly poison.”
The times in which we live are so pitiably sad just because the basic prerequisite of spiritual health is ignored; the honest diagnosis of our ill. Our sickness has been diagnosed by God. He tells us frankly that we are by nature dead in trespasses and prone only to evil and unable and unwilling to do that which is good. Shall we not be sensible and accept the divine diagnosis? To fail to do this is fatal. But, right and left, this diagnosis is ignored. Instead we have the spectacle of church leaders flocking to Rome as to Mecca, leaders of almost every description falling over one anther in their frenzied desire for a coveted audience vvi.th an unchanged Anti-Christ. Only the Protestants have changed. No change is apparent in Rome in the concerns of sin and grace — and they are the vital matters. Namely, that we are sinners through and through, and that a poor sinner is justified before his God alone by faith in Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
As proof of the continued successful deception of the Papacy, we have the Easter week papal encyclical on Poverty. In that letter he points the finger of correction on the Have Nations for not sharing more with the Have-Not Nations. All the while he knows that on the whole the Have Nations possess their wealth as a secondary blessing, however extended, from loyalty to the Gospel; while the poverty of the Have-Not Nations is that of nations largely deprived of the Gospel. Accompanying the encyclical is the announcement of gifts to the poor, but which amount to an infinitisimal part of the untold wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. On the other hand every citizen of our nation, for example, knows that from his income is taxed considerable sums that go for foreign aid from a generous nation. The former Episcopal Bishop James Pike has done us at least one favor by pointing to the evidence that the Jesuits control large American corporations and have a huge yearly income on which they pay no taxes. And we should have the world listen with mouths open to such advisers on sharing the wealth?
Jesus says, “Wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19). Those then who are the children of the highest possible wisdom, salvation by faith in Christ, are to justify wisdom before them who have not this wisdom. How should we so do? “We must always firmly hold and teach this doctrine of justification by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith because —
it is the chief doctrine of the Christian religion;
it distinguishes the Christian religion from false religions, all of which teach salvation by works;
it gives enduring comfort to the penitent sinner; and it gives all glory to God.
— Acts 4:12; Galatians 5:4; Matthew 9:2; Revelation 1:5–6. (Catechism, question 259.)
IV. True Doctrine Alone Can Insure For Us The Heritage
Do you ever have a longing to have seen some of the great events of church history? But what are the great events? I think of the time when the Apostle Paul was about to set out on what must have been the most dangerous trip of all his life, the hundred-mile trip from Perga to Antioch of Pisidia. He undoubtedly refers to this treacherous journey in II Corinthians 11:26: “In perils of waters, in perils of robbers … in perils in the wilderness … in weariness and painfulness.” And then to have Mark leave him, evidently shrinking from the dangers. The look in Paul’s eyes! We have no photograph of this zealous man, but we can imagine some of the hurt showing in his eyes. That is a great event in church history, albeit sad.
Or think of Luther, grieved because his parishioners were being cheated of money and, worse, of their true spiritual security by the unscrupulous salesman of forgiveness, namely by Johann Tetzel who thus became the occasion (not the cause) of the Reformation. Grief, yes, anger shone in Luther’s eyes. Luther’s eyes, it was noted by every observer, were unusual even at rest, which was not often. A student of Luther, Kessler by name, spoke of those “deep black eyes and brows, sparkling and burning like stars, so that one could hardly bear looking at them.” Different members of his congregation at Wittenberg remarked that they got the feeling when he preached that he could see everything they had done during the week.
Is there something about the eyes of a genius that mark him as different? I sat in a St. Louis street car in the later ’20’s when I asked an old and dignified man if he knew where the old Concordia Seminary buildings were, and it turned out that he had been a lifelong member of Trinity Church where Dr. C.F.W. Walther preached. Now this street car conversation took place forty years after Dr. Walther’s death. Yet this dignified old gentleman said that if you had seen his eyes you could not possibly forget the man.
Great moments in church history are not always those in the headlines. I would like to have been there when my Norwegian forefathers drew the first deep breaths of the free Gospel after the centuries of heaviness of soul that can seem particularly oppressive in a land of isolation. Or would it not have been something to have been there when our Synod forefathers drew up the blue-prints for a free church in a free land? But all I have tangible of the early Wisconsin scenes is a letter opener fashioned from one of the Koshkonong oaks. How many of us here today were present when at Lime Creek church those resolute men resolved to build anew upon the tried foundations. We seem so far away from it all, and we begin to wonder whether we are not the poorer for it. And then we recall that God has His ways also now to encourage. Last year I had the privilege of officiating at the funeral services for two churchmen of Lime Creek, both of which had the testimony of the peers that they represented a firm loyalty to the Word of God preached by a man who was the host pastor for that reorganization meeting — a true disciple of Paul and of Luther. There is a legacy of loyalty among our people still, and God is raising up new confessors of the Gospel — again by the teaching and preaching of the Gospel. But here is a good place to admit to a real doubt whether much of the rank and file of our membership is keenly aware of our heritage. And we should set about stirring up our zeal and the appreciation for the heritage of those truths without which, we say again, we be disinherited indeed.
Lest we be so disinherited let us acknowledge that it was a miracle worked by the Holy Ghost through the Word that God gave us Luther and the Reformation. Luther knew no Holy Spirit other than Him whom he found in the Scriptures. Hear his testimony to the Holy Spirit’s place in our salvation in his Pentecost hymn, “Come Holy Ghost, God and Lord!”:
Thou holy Light, and Guide divine!
O cause the word of life to shine;
Teach us to know our God aright,
And call Him Father with delight!
From error, Lord, our souls defend,
That they on Christ alone attend;
In Him with living faith confide,
And in unfaltering trust abide.
The Roman Church indeed teaches that the Holy Ghost is God, but in the next breath spoils it. In “A Catholic Dictionary,” edited by Donald Attwater, Macmillan, 1956, three inches of a column are devoted to the Holy Ghost and that space is wasted in that it is stated: “He sanctifies us by His graces and by the virtues he infuses, and enlightens and moves us so that, if we cooperate with grace, we may attain unto everlasting life.” This is not the monergism of the Scripture. (More on infused grace later.)
To illustrate the sidelines to which the Third Person of the Godhead is relegated in Catholic teaching we noted that, in this Catholic Dictionary, while only three inches of space are allotted God the Holy Ghost, seventy-six inches are given to other “holies”: Holy Blood of Bruges (2 inches), The Congregation of the Holy Cross, The Holy Face, The Holy Family, The Holy Father, Holy Oils, Holy Places (4 inches), The Holy See; in all, thirty-six “holies.” Thirty-six to one is the score by which God loses! We propose, lest we be disinherited, that we take a good look at Luther’s Explanation of the Third Article of our Creed and study it until we, with cordiality, can think in accordance with Clausmitzer’s verse:
All our knowledge, sense, and sight
Lie in deepest darkness shrouded,
Till Thy Spirit breaks our night
With the beams of truth unclouded.
Thou alone to God canst win us,
Thou must work all good within us.
Then we with Luther can say: “Whatever the Holy Spirit does not perform — however good, just, and holy it may appear to be — is flesh (St. L. 6, 480).
The Heritage of the Doctrine of the Scripture
But we will also let go our heritage by default if we do not recognize that the Holy Ghost uses the Bible as His Text Book. We could sing all day to the Holy Ghost and it would profit us nothing — our song would be but a tinkling cymbal — if we broke loose from the Written Word. This is our heritage restored to the Church in the Reformation. The Catholic Church teaches that the Church is teacher. Yes, it declares that the revelation has come down to us partly in the Bible, but again truth is taken back when the Roman Church teaches that the rule of faith is the teaching of the living church. A Catholic Dogma does not therefore, in the eyes of Rome, need any scriptural text for its warrant. Again and again this has been emphasized in the current tug-of-war going on between liberals and conservatives. The Roman Church boasts of authority, but it is the authority of men.
We equate the authority of God and the authority of Scripture. Jesus gives his blanket subscription to all of the canonical books. By canon we mean that the prophetic and apostolic writings had inherent in them their own testimony of authenticity.
Luther grew in his appreciation of Scriptures as the Spirit’s unique text book. As a loyal Catholic he revered the Bible and assumed that the Church in its teaching was in agreement. When he learned otherwise he spoke out and thereby touched the Achilles’ Heel of Rome. Then, sparks flew. From beginning to end Luther was willing to have any and all test his teaching by the norm of the Scriptures. He had no claims to a secret for which others would have to pay him a royalty, as it were. He owed a great deal to Erasmus for his Greek text — he knew very little Greek at the time of the 95 Theses. It was Paul Wernle who appraised Erasmus’ contribution to the Reformation in these words: “There can be no doubt that something great and new had happened, which had declared war on Scholasticism and occasioned its fall, for Christianity was taken back more than a thousand years to the very time of the first expositors of the New Testament, yes even to the building of the ‘canon’ itself” (Wernle, Die Renaissance, page 26).
And what Erasmus gave to the New Testament, John Reuchlin gave to the renewed study of the Hebrew Old Testament. Thus many minds in various parts of Europe paved the way for the Reformation. It was the acceptance of the Bible as the very Word of God that moved Luther to say of the Bible, of every word of it: “Therefore no matter what happens, you should say: There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains where it remains; I, too, remain. Where it goes, I, too, go. The Word must stand, for God cannot lie; and heaven and earth must go to ruins before the most insignificant letter or title of His Word remains unfulfilled” (St. L. 11, 1086).
We are impatient when people say Luther said nothing about verbal inspiration. It was the very breath that he drew from Holy Writ.
To my desk on June 10 came the Spring issue of “Luther,” the official paper of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa. A professor in the Religion Department says, “We who teach at Luther College cannot subscribe to scriptural inerrancy because our knowledge of prevents us from making such a claim.” This at Luther College by our forefathers! The sainted Rev. Otteson said that he had prayed more prayers for God’s blessing upon that school than there were bricks in the building. As a young student there in 1918 we had the then president not being too proud to teach high school freshmen the Genesis account of God’s Creation work as summarized in Exodus 20:11a, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is.”
We have in our 1966 edition of our Catechism strengthened our confession of the Bible doctrine of Revelation and Inspiration (cf. questions 7–13). “But let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). We ask with sadness how a formerly orthodox school of the church can so completely lose its way. The aforementioned article gives an illuminating explanation. The professor says, “Theology by its very nature is a dynamic enterprise, changing from generation to generation in the language and concepts used, as well as in the insights that come and go according to the pressures and needs of our times.”
Luther would say such a floating theology will bring you mighty quickly to the “Monstrum Incertitudinis,” the Monster of Uncertainty, from which the Reformation freed us by pointing to the certainty of faith in the Christ of Scripture.
The Heritage of the Pure Doctrine on Sin
There were those who said that Luther took sin much too seriously. And there will be many who may say — and our Old Adam will chime in — that we bend backwards in too sharply defining sin. Now, it was said of Luther when he was younger he was so this and erect he almost bent backwards when he walked. Thus we must learn from Scripture that we had better be straight and thin in our walk before God. For contrition must be worked in us by the Holy Spirit through the Law — mighty thin fare for our pride. “For by the Law is the knowledge of sin” (3:20). The basic meaning of contrition is “crushing.” Contrition is the very sensation of death and is the foretaste of hell. Terrors of conscience are indeed a necessary gift of God, though grievously painful. The heathen convert who compared himself to a despised serpent in a heated kettle from which there was no escape until a benefactor mercifully snatched him from certain death was using a crude illustration but was on good theological ground. Luther, too, found this to be so true in his life. He found that it simply was not true that “if a man does as much as is in him, God certainly grants him His grace.” The Smalcald Articles reminds us that true contrition is not “activa contritio,” but “passiva contritio” (Triglotta, page 479). That is, God works contrition, we suffer it, for our good. Before the Spirit of God moved the prodigal son to say, “I have sinned …”, the wayward one had to taste the emptiness and dirty taste of the husks meant for the swine and cry that he was perishing from hunger. That is contrition, and we must learn to say the A of contrition before there is any point in speaking of the B of salvation.
The grief and annihilation of all pride can be seen also, and pre-eminently, in the humiliation of Jesus, a substitutionary humiliation. The Prophet David shows the essence of contrition when he has the Messiah cry out: “I am a worm and no man.” Luther, a man after the heart of God, was great because he was small, yes, nothing but a lost and condemned sinner.
The Roman church has no teaching, properly speaking, of contrition. For here the alleged mere “wounding” works its havoc. For if we are merely wounded then we can at least crawl for help, or at least lift a hand for help. Then the terrible hoax is worked on the souls of men. Tantalizingly, righteousness is offered, but always a little out of reach. This is the religion of uncertainty, that uncertainty that marks the Roman Church as still the church of the Anti-Christ. As recently as June 11 we have testimony that this failure to truly console the needy soul is still the dominant character of the church of Rome. The press reported that Cardinal Ruffini said just before his death. “I’m dying. But I’m serene; I’m with the Virgin Mary.” In sadness we ask, Where is the sun of grace that made Luther’s life so bright in life and death?
Fast bound in Satan’s chains I lay,
Death brooded darkly o’er me,
Sin was my torment night and day,
In sin my mother bore me;
Deeper and deeper still I fell,
Life had become a living hell,
So firmly sin possessed me.
He spoke to His beloved Son:
’Tis time to take compassion:
Then go, bright Jewel of my crown,
And bring to man salvation;
From sin and sorrow set him free,
Slay bitter death for him, that he
May live with Thee forever.
The Supreme Heritage of the Grace of God
How sad it must be to follow the mirage of gaining favor with God by works of whatever label, however pious. How sad beyond words when the Scriptures so clearly state what is to be the proclamation of the Church: “God hath reconciled us to Himself and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (II Corinthians 5:18). The Reformation was of God because it was built on the grace of God which is in Christ Jesus. Our glorying, then, in the Reformation is God-pleasing. We can test the proclamation of Luther and his associates in many lands and his successors of every succeeding period by the measure of adherence of them. all to Scripture. And we can test our claim to be worthy heirs of the Reformation by the truths taught by the Reformers. The Confessions of the Lutheran Church we accept as a true series of confessions because they are true to the Scriptures and therefore valid also for our time. We may then glory in the abiding worth of the Reformation.
So let us celebrate! Not in pride of self, our hold on the eternal truths so nobly enunciated again to mankind too often feeble. We see how with great difficulty the truths so long blurred became clear to those people of the 16th century. We have too often taken for granted these truths and thus have endangered our very keeping them. And now, when so many despise the heritage, we need so much the encouraging of one another in the faithful and confident use of the heritage so graciously given us.
How lightly we let the word “grace” pass our lips. May there be a fresh appreciation of grace among us. Grace is the favor of God. It is not in us, it is the heart of God and revealed to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do know that the Bible speaks of grace that is in us, but woe unto us if we confess our terms. No, grace in the proper sense, says Luther in the light of the Scripture revelation, “denotes God’s favor and good will toward us in Himself” (St. L. 14, 98). Grace, the favor of God which justifies must never be mixed with infused grace, which is an effect of saving faith. Johann Huelsemann, who taught at Wittenberg after Luther’s day, puts the distinction between grace as gratuitous favor and infused grace as the gifts to the converted, this way: Where the causes, instrumental as well as meritorious, of justification and salvation on our part are treated, it is wrong ever to take the word “grace” in the sense of infused grace” (Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Volume 2, page 10). He taught correctly with Luther who said, “Grace signifies that favor with which God receives us, forgiving our sins and justifying us freely (gratis) through Christ. Do not consider it a quality in man, as the sophists do” (St. L. 5, 573).
Hear Luther stress the means of grace: “God indeed is not lost and can always be found; the fault lies in you, that you do not seek Him right, namely, where He is to be sought, because you are judging according to your feelings and expect to seize Him with your thoughts. But you must come here, where there is neither yours nor man’s but God’s business and rule, namely, where His Word is. There you will meet Him and hear and see neither wrath nor displeasure, but only grace and cordial love to you. But the heart must first be crushed and must realize that all our notions of seeking Christ are futile and that there is no other choice than to turn away from oneself and all other human consolation and trust only in His Word.”
Yes, may the Sun of grace shine upon us! This concerns the very survival of our Christianity. In a day that dwells on earthly values, and in a day when our heavily tax-supported schools, and non-denominational schools, too, encourage the study of comparing of the various world religions, we realize that our tax money is used all too frequently to equate our dear religion of grace with other religions, all of which basically teach work-righteousness. We feel so alone in proclaiming grace as demanding a monopoly; Christianity is not satisfied with equal status in its claim upon the souls of men redeemed alone by our Christ. We are happy for every testimony on behalf of grace. This one, for example, spoken before the meeting of the British Bible Society by Max Mueller:
“In the discharge of my duties for forty years as professor of Sanskrit in the University of Oxford, I have devoted as much time as any man living to the study of the Sacred Books of the East and I have found the one keynote, the diapason so to speak of all these — the one refrain through all — salvation by works. They all say that salvation must be purchased. Our own Holy Bible — is from beginning to end a protest against this doctrine” (Quoted by Pieper, Volume 2, page 4).
A group of Arabs touring Europe were shown a mighty waterfall high in the Alps. They stood looking at this wonder, riveted as it were to the place, in silent awe. For they came from a desert country where water is sold by the cupful. How much more should not we be amazed at the revelation of God’s grace. For we, too, come by nature from desert country, and what is worse, we must needs, were we not given water from Scripture, of God’s compassion, go to a country where even a cupful of comfort would be denied us (Luke 16:24). O let us sing praises to God! For example, 377 in the Lutheran Hymnal, by Speratus, a hymn that has been called “The true confessional hymn of the Reformation” and “The poetical counterpart of Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.” The first verse:
Salvation unto us has come,
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.