June 16, 1975
Esteemed Members and Friends of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod, Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
In his last address to the convention of the Synod at Chicago in 1893, the Rev. Herman Amberg Preus summed up very well the aim and goal of an orthodox church body. We quote thus, “A true witness delivereth souls,” says the Holy Spirit (Prov. 14,25) … When our orthodox Lutheran congregations in this country joined together forty years ago in a Synod, the chief purpose of this church organization was to “Deliver souls”, to the glory of God. By all its teachings and practice, by its resolutions, measures and institutions, it was to have the salvation of souls in mind and thus to be “a true witness”.
Today, which happens to be the 150th birthday of that sainted forefather, we as a synod firmly maintain that this is still our chief purpose, namely that by using the sacred Means of Grace we might deliver blood bought souls out of the kingdom of darkness and eternal death, and into the everlasting kingdom of grace and eternal salvation.
If we are to accomplish this God-appointed task of “delivering souls” there is one message which must be the constant theme of our pulpits, our classrooms, and our personal witnessing, and that is nothing else but the SAVING GRACE OF GOD. Yes, it is an old song and you have heard it before, but, as Luther says, “a good song bears repetition”. We would therefore place before our beloved Synod again a brief message concerning this amazing grace.
The doctrine of salvation by grace is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. It is the heart and center of divine revelation. It is the teaching that makes the Christian religion different from all others. All the other doctrines of Holy Writ are inseparably connected with the doctrine of grace and if one errs in this teaching he will likewise err in all the others. Without the grace of God we would forever be lost and condemned creatures, separated from God and heaven, and destined to spend eternity in hell. But with the grace of God we have been rescued from the condemnation of sin, redeemed from the curse of the Law, given full and free remission of our sins, and made heirs of eternal life.
What do we mean when we speak of God’s grace? It is clear from the Scriptures that when we speak of God’s saving grace we are talking about the gracious disposition or attitude on the part of God towards all men, by which, for Christ’s sake. He does not charge men with their sins but mercifully forgives them. Luther says, “Grace, in the proper sense of the term, denotes God’s favor and good will toward us which He cherishes in Himself.” The theologian Martin Chemnitz writes that grace is “the gratuitous goodness, favor, benevolence, and compassion of God, by which He, not according to our works and worthiness, but solely from compassion, for Christ’s sake, receives into grace those sinners who repent and in faith flee to the Mediator, accepts them unto life eternal, their sins being forgiven and the righteousness of Christ imputed to them”. (Loci II, p. 728)
It was this gracious disposition in the heart of God towards fallen mankind that moved Him to send His only-begotten son to redeem the world from sin. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only-begotten Son into the world.” I John 4,9. It was His loving attitude of Grace which caused God to enter upon and carry out the plan of salvation through the sacrifice of Christ which He had planned from eternity. Paul writes, “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, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ.” II Tim. 1,9–10. This merciful disposition in the heart of the Father, this loving compassion towards lost sinners is put into verse by Luther in these words:
Then God beheld my wretched state
With deep commiseration,
He thought upon His mercy great,
And willed my soul’s salvation;
He turned to me a Father’s heart;
Not small the cost! to heal my smart,
He gave His best and dearest.
(Lutheran Hymnary No. 526, v. 4)
Salvation is now available to all men by way of God’s saving grace; “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.” Eph. 2,8–9. And this way of salvation by grace is revealed to men through the Gospel, which is called in Acts 20:24, “The Gospel of the grace of God.”
But before one can accept and appreciate the Gospel of the Grace of God it is necessary that the Holy LAW OF GOD perform its function of showing the sinner his lost condition. Dr. C.F.W. Walther in a Good Friday sermon shows how the Law drives man to despair of his own righteousness and thus prepares the way for the Gospel. We quote, “But you will say, What should we do that God’s Spirit works this in us? I answer: use the means through which God’s Spirit alone will work all spiritual good, His holy Word, His Law and Gospel. Read and hear first of all the law: you will hear what God demands of you, how you should be not only in your deeds, words, and desires, but also in your thoughts, heart and disposition. If you hear that, you will soon recognize that you have done nothing which God demands of you. Yes, it will become clear to you that you hate the law of God with its demands and threats, that you are God’s enemies. If God s Spirit has brought you to this knowledge through the Law, do not look away from this frightful picture, but think about how deeply you have fallen, how far you have swerved! Then God the Holy Spirit will awaken you in divine sorrow. “I am God’s enemy:” these words will ring in your conscience like the thunder of God’s wrath; “I am God’s enemy;” these words will pierce your heart like a dagger; “I am God’s enemy;” these words will come down upon you like a flash of lightning from the judgment throne of the Most Holy and crush you. Then you will wish you could hide from God. But nowhere will your conscience find protection, nowhere a refuge from God’s angry countenance. Therefore, you will finally cry out, “I am lost! I am lost! Woe is me!”
Then you are ready to hear about God’s saving grace. Then, when you realize that you stand condemned by the Law, that “all the world has become guilty before God” (Rom, 3,19) and that “By the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight” (Rom. 3,20), then you are at the point where the saving grace of God will sound like the sweetest music your ears have ever heard.
The saving grace of God is always grace in Christ Jesus. This grace is not an absolute grace, an exercise of God’s absolute power, but always that which has been gained by the perfect life, the suffering and death and resurrection of the Saviour. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Rom. 3,24. Grace can never be detached from the work of Christ. It is always in Him, and through Him, and on account of His vicarious atonement that grace is available for us. Luther writes, “Thus, indeed, grace is given us gratuitously, so as to cost us nothing, but it did cost another very much and has been obtained with an incalculable, infinite treasure-through the Son of God himself.” (St. L. XII:262f.)
This grace is UNIVERSAL, that is, it extends to all the world. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” Titus 2,11. And thanks be to God, this grace is ABUNDANT. There is no shortage of it. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, Rom. 5,20. And we sing with the hymnwriter:
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to pardon all my sin.
(Lutheran Hymnary, No. 244)
Luther compares the abundance of grace to the sun which is not dimmed or darkened by shining on the entire world, or a candle which loses nothing by lighting other candles, or a scholar whose knowledge is not diminished by teaching others. Thus Christ, our Lord, … is an interminable well, the chief source of all grace, truth, righteousness, wisdom, and life, without limit measure, or end. Even if the whole world were to draw from this fountain enough grace and truth to transform all people into angels, still it would not lose as much as a drop. This fountain constantly overflows with sheer grace.” (LW, Vol. 22, p.134)
How wonderful then that we poor sinners can come to this fountain of Grace and believe and be saved. It is by FAITH ALONE that we accept this saving grace in Christ and thus receive the free gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Rom. 5,1. And this faith is not a meritorious act which earns or deserves that salvation, but only the empty hand which reaches out and accepts it. All human merit or worthiness on our part is excluded. If it is by grace, then it cannot be by works as Paul writes, “If by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace.” Rom. 1,6. This we also confess in the Augsburg Confession, “Our churches also teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works but are freely justified for Christ’s sake through faith when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight.” (A.C. IV)
May it always, therefore, be true that the Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a church body which understands and holds fast to the doctrine of the saving grace of God. In the 1880’s it rejected the teachings of those who made salvation partly dependent upon man’s cooperation. (“I will not be along in this contention that my salvation from the beginning to end is due to the grace of God alone.” F.A. Schmidt.) In 1917 it refused to accept the false teaching that man can cooperate in his conversion because this too was opposed to the doctrine of grace. In 1955 it took a strong stand against those who began questioning the inerrancy of the Bible, where the wonderful doctrine of grace is revealed. May we always continue to be on guard against any attempt to detract from this saving truth. Today there is a danger of confusing the pure, free, saving grace of God (favor Dei) with grace that is poured into man (gratia infusa). If sinners are directed to look within themselves, to their good works, to their pious life, to their experiences, or to their feelings and emotions for their assurance of forgiveness, rather than to the objective promises of the Gospel, they are being led to depend upon infused grace rather than saving grace and this in effect becomes salvation by works. This trend is common in the Reformed evangelistic sects and we need to be on guard that we do not fall into their error. They may talk forever about grace but really do not understand the difference between saving grace and infused grace.
May it always be said of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod that we are a church body which proclaims God’s saving grace in pulpit and classroom and whose people rejoice in it and take comfort in it. Here pastors and teachers will have to make certain that they are known as those who love to preach about the grace of God. At Luther’s time comforting Gospel preachers were criticized and sarcastically called “sweet preachers”. But Luther didn’t mind that reproach nor should we. Walther expresses his sorrow over some ministers in his day when he says, “in some there is a legalistic trend, which does great injury to their own and to their hearer’s souls. They do not administer their office with genuine cheerfulness and do not make their people cheerful Christians. But that is what you will have to do to achieve wonderful results.” (Law and Gospel, p. 408.) We must also take great care that the doctrine of grace is not neglected in favor of other ideas and human imaginations. Luther goes on to say, “a true minister, however, urges this article most of all, yea, without ceasing, since on it is based everything that pertains to the knowledge of God and our salvation.” (Law and Gospel, p. 409.) And we would go on to urge the dear members of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod to cherish the doctrine of grace and let it be your chief source of joy and comfort. In the doctrine of grace you can be certain that you have the forgiveness of your sins. You can know that you are a child of God and have eternal life. You can face the future with the assurance that when your earthly pilgrimage is over there is reserved for you a mansion in heaven. Do not let a Sunday pass without wanting to be in the house of the Lord eager to hear of Christ and His love. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matt. 5,6.
What a tremendously comforting statement we have in the Formula of Concord concerning this matter. We quote, “we also believe, teach and confess that although the genuinely believing and truly regenerated persons retain much weakness and many shortcomings down to their graves, they still have no reason to doubt either the righteousness which is reckoned to them through faith or the salvation of their souls, but they must regard it as certain that for Christ’s sake, on the basis of the promises and the Word of the holy Gospel, they have a gracious God.” (FC, Epitome, Art. III.)
Finally, may it always be said of our Evangelical Lutheran Synod that we are a church body which is alive and on fire with the desire to share this good news of the grace of God with as many as we can possibly reach. Let us not be timid about inviting friends and relatives and neighbors and strangers to come and hear the wonderful message. Let us not be bashful about talking to others of what this grace means to us personally. And in our congregational and synodical work may we show how much this grace means to us by our diligent and faithful work, our generous support and our fervent prayers.
By Grace! This ground of faith is certain;
So long as God is true, it stands.
What saints have penned by inspiration,
What in His Word our God commands,
What our whole faith must rest upon,
Is grace alone, grace in His Son.
By grace! On this I’ll rest when dying;
In Jesus’ promise I rejoice,’
For though I know my heart’s condition,
I also know my Savior’s voice.
My heart is glad, all grief has flown,
Since I am saved by grace alone.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
George M. Orvick, President