by F. Bente
XXI.Luther and Article XI of the Formula of Concord.
234. Luther Falsely Charged with Calvinism.
Calvinists and Synergists have always contended that Luther’s original doctrine of predestination was essentially identical with that of John Calvin. Melanchthon was among the first who raised a charge to this effect. In his Opinion to Elector August, dated March 9 1559, we read: “During Luther’s life and afterwards I rejected these Stoic and Manichean deliria, when Luther and others wrote: All works, good and bad, in all men, good and bad, must occur as they do. Now it is apparent that such speech contradicts the Word of God, is detrimental to all discipline and blasphemes God. Therefore I have sedulously made a distinction, showing to what extent man has a free will to observe outward discipline, also before regeneration” etc. (C. R. 9, 766.) Instead of referring to his own early statements, which were liable to misinterpretation more than anything that Luther had written, Melanchthon disingenuously mentions Luther, whose real meaning he misrepresents and probably had never fully grasped. The true reason why Melanchthon charged Luther and his loyal adherents with Stoicism was his own synergistic departure from the Lutheran doctrine of original sin and of salvation by grace alone. Following Melanchthon, rationalizing Synergists everywhere have always held that without abandoning Luther’s doctrine of original sin and of the gratia sola there is no escape from Calvinism. In this point Reformed theologians agree with the Synergists, and have therefore always claimed Luther as their ally. I. Mueller declared in Lutheri de Praedestionatione et Libero Arbitrio Doctrina of 1832:”As to the chief point (quod ad caput rei attinet) Zwingli’s view of predestination is in harmony with Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio.” In his Zentraldogmen of 1854 Alexander Schweizer endeavored to prove that the identical doctrine of predestination was originally the central dogma of the Lutheran as well as of the Zwinglian reformation. “It is not so much the dogma [of predestination] itself,” said he (1, 445), “as its position which is in dispute” among Lutherans and Calvinists. Schweizer (1, 483) based his assertion on the false assumption “that the doctrines of the captive will and of absolute predestination [denial of universal grace] are two halves of the same ring.” (Frank 1, 12. 118. 128; 4, 262.) Similar contentions were made in America by Schaff,Hodge, Shedd, and other Reformed theologians.
As a matter of fact, however, also in the doctrine of predestination Zwingli and Calvin were just as far and as fundamentally apart from Luther as their entire rationalistic theology differed from the simple and implicit Scripturalism of Luther. Frank truly says that the agreement between Luther’s doctrine and that of Zwingli and Calvin is “only specious, nur scheinbar.” (1, 118.) Tschackert remarks: “Whoever [among the theologians before the Formula of Concord] was acquainted with the facts could not but see that in this doctrine [of predestination] there was a far-reaching difference between the Lutheran and the Calvinistic theology.” (559.) F. Pieper declares that Luther and Calvin agree only in certain expressions, but differ entirely as to substance. (Dogm. 3, 554.)
The Visitation Articles, adopted 1592 as a norm of doctrine for Electoral Saxony, enumerate the following propositions on “Predestination and the Eternal Providence of God”which must be upheld over against the Calvinists as “the pure and true doctrine of our [Lutheran] churches”: “1. That Christ has died for all men, and as the Lamb of God has borne the sins of the whole world. 2. That God created no one for condemnation, but will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. He commands all to hear His Son Christ in the Gospel, and promises by it the power and working of the Holy Ghost for conversion and salvation. 3. That many men are condemned by their own guilt who are either unwilling to hear the Gospel of Christ, or again fall from grace, by error against the foundation or by sins against conscience. 4. That all sinners who repent are received into grace and no one is excluded, even though his sins were as scarlet, since God’s mercy is much greater than the sins of all the world, and God has compassion on all His works.” (CONC. TRIGL. 1153.) Not one of these propositions, which have always been regarded as a summary of the Lutheran teaching in contradistinction from Calvinism, was ever denied by Luther.
235. Summary of Luther’s Views.
Luther distinguished between the hidden and the revealed or “proclaimed” God, the secret and revealed will of God; the majestic God in whom we live and move and have our being, and God manifest in Christ; God’s unsearchable judgments and ways past finding out, and His merciful promises in the Gospel. Being truly God and not an idol, God, according to Luther, is both actually omnipotent and omniscient.Nothing can exist or occur without His power, and everything surely will occur as He has foreseen it. This is true of the thoughts, volitions, and acts of all His creatures. He would not be God if there were any power not derived from, or supplied by Him, or if the actual course of events could annul His decrees and stultify His knowledge. Also the devils and the wicked are not beyond His control.
As for evil, though God does not will or cause it,- for, on the contrary,He prohibits sin and truly deplores the death of a sinner-yet sin and death could never have entered the world without His permission. Also the will of fallen man receives its power to will from God, and its every resolve and consequent act proceeds just as God has foreseen, ordained, or permitted it. The evil quality of all such acts, however, does not emanate from God, but from the corrupt will of man.Hence free will, when defined as the power of man to nullify and subvert what God’s majesty has foreseen and decreed, is a nonent, a mere empty title. This, however, does not involve that the human will is coerced or compelled to do evil, nor does it exclude in fallen man the ability to choose in matters temporal and subject to reason.
But while holding that we must not deny the majesty and the mysteries of God,Luther did not regard these, but Christ crucified and justification by faith in the promises of the Gospel, as the true objects of our concern.Nor does he, as did Calvin, employ predestination as a corrective and regulative norm for interpreting, limiting, invalidating, annulling, or casting doubt upon, any of the blessed truths of the Gospel. Luther does not modify the revealed will of God in order to harmonize it with God’s sovereignty.He does not place the hidden God in opposition to the revealed God, nor does he reject the one in order to maintain the other.He denies neither the revealed universality of God’s grace, of Christ’s redemption, and of the efficaciousness of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace, nor the unsearchable judgments and ways of God’s majesty. Even the Reformed theologian A. Schweizer admits as much when he says in his Zentraldogmen (1, 445): “In the Zwinglio-Calvinian type of doctrine, predestination is a dogma important as such and regulating the other doctrines, yea, as Martyr,Beza, and others say, the chief part of Christian doctrine; while in the Lutheran type of doctrine it is merely a dogma supporting other, more important central doctrines.” (Frank 4, 264.)
Moreover, Luther most earnestly warns against all speculations concerning the hidden God as futile, foolish, presumptuous, and wicked. The secret counsels, judgments, and ways of God cannot and must not be investigated. God’s majesty is unfathomable, His judgments are unsearchable, His ways past finding out. Hence, there is not, and there cannot be, any human knowledge, understanding, or faith whatever concerning God in so far as He has not revealed Himself. For while the fact that there are indeed such things as mysteries, unsearchable judgments, and incomprehensible ways in God is plainly taught in the Bible, their nature, their how, why, and wherefore, has not been revealed to us and no amount of human ingenuity is able to supply the deficiency.Hence, in as far as God is still hidden and veiled,He cannot serve as a norm by which we are able to regulate our faith and life. Particularly when considering the question how God is disposed toward us individually, we must not take refuge in the secret counsels of God, which reason cannot spy and pry into. According to Luther, all human speculations concerning the hidden God are mere diabolical inspirations, bound to lead away from the saving truth of the Gospel into despair and destruction.
What God, therefore, would have men believe about His attitude toward them, must according to Luther, be learned from the Gospel alone. The Bible tells us how God is disposed toward poor sinners, and how He wants to deal with them. Not His hidden majesty, but His only-begotten Son, born in Bethlehem, is the divinely appointed object of human investigation. Christ crucified is God manifest and visible to men. Whoever has seen Christ has seen God. The Gospel is God’s only revelation to sinful human beings. The Bible the ministry of the Word, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and absolution are the only means of knowing how God is disposed toward us. To these alone God has directed us.With these alone men should occupy and concern themselves.
And the Gospel being the Word of God, the knowledge furnished therein is most reliable. Alarmed sinners may trust in its comforting promises with firm assurance and unwavering confidence. In De Servo Arbitrio Luther earnestly warns men not to investigate the hidden God, but to look to revelation for an answer to the question how God is minded toward them, and how He intends to deal with them. In his Commentary on Genesis he refers to this admonition and repeats it, protesting that he is innocent if any one is misled to take a different course. “I have added” [to the statements in De Servo Arbitrio concerning necessity and the hidden God] Luther here declares,”that we must look upon the revealed God. Addidi, quod aspiciendus sit Deus revelatus.” (CONC. TRIGL. 898.)
This Bible-revelation, however, by which alone Luther would have men guided in judging God, plainly teaches both, that grace is universal, and that salvation is by grace alone. Luther always taught the universality of God’s love and mercy, as well as of Christ’s redemption, and the operation of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace. Also according to De Servo Arbitrio,God wants all men to be saved, and does not wish the death of sinners, but deplores and endeavors to remove it. Luther fairly revels in such texts as Ezek. 18, 23 and 31, 11: “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die,O house of Israel?”He calls the above a “glorious passage” and “that sweetest Gospel voice-illam vocem dulcissimi Evangelii.” (E. v. a. 7, 218.)
Thus Luther rejoiced in universal grace, because it alone was able to convince him that the Gospel promises embraced and included also him. In like manner he considered the doctrine that salvation is by grace alone to be most necessary and most comforting. Without this truth divine assurance of salvation is impossible, with it, all doubts about the final victory of faith are removed.Luther was convinced that, if he were required to contribute anything to his own conversion, preservation, and salvation, he could never attain these blessings. Nothing can save but the grace which is grace alone. In De Servo Arbitrio everything is pressed into service to disprove and explode the assertion of Erasmus that the human will is able to and does “work something in matters pertaining to salvation,” and to establish the monergism or sole activity of grace in man’s conversion. (St. L. 18, 1686, 1688.)
At the same time Luther maintained that man alone is at fault when he is lost. In De Servo Arbitrio he argues: Since it is God’s will that all men should be saved, it must be attributed to man’s will if any one perishes. The cause of damnation is unbelief, which thwarts the gracious will of God so clearly revealed in the Gospel. The question, however, why some are lost while others are saved, though their guilt is equal, or why God does not save all men, since it is grace alone that saves, and since grace is universal, Luther declines to answer. Moreover, he demands that we both acknowledge and adore the unsearchable judgments of God, and at the same time firmly adhere to the Gospel as revealed in the Bible. All efforts to solve this mystery or to harmonize the hidden and the revealed God, Luther denounces as folly and presumption.
Yet Luther maintains that the conflict is seeming rather than real.Whatever may be true of the majestic God, it certainly cannot annul or invalidate what He has made known of Himself in the Gospel. There are and can be no contradictory wills in God. Despite appearances to the contrary, therefore, Christians are firmly to believe that, in His dealings with men, God, who saves so few and damns so many, is nevertheless both truly merciful and just.And what we now believe we shall see hereafter. When the veil will have been lifted and we shall know God even as we are known by Him, then we shall see with our eyes no other face of God than the most lovable one which our faith beheld in Jesus. The light of glory will not correct but confirm, the truths of the Bible, and reveal the fact that in all His ways God was always in perfect harmony with Himself.
Indeed, according to Luther, the truth concerning the majestic God, in whom we live and move and have our being, and without whom nothing can be or occur, in a way serves both repentance and faith. It serves repentance and the Law inasmuch as it humbles man, causing him to despair of himself and of the powers of his own unregenerate will. It serves faith inasmuch as it guarantees God’s merciful promises in the Gospel. For if God is supreme, as He truly is, then there can be nothing more reliable than the covenant of grace to which He has pledged Himself by an oath. And if God, as He truly does, controls all contingencies, then there remains no room for any fear whether He will be able to fulfil His glorious promises, also the promise that nothing shall pluck us out of the hands of Christ.-Such, essentially was the teaching set forth by Luther in De Servo Arbitrio and in his other publications.
236.Object of Luther’s “De Servo Arbitrio.”
The true scope of De Servo Arbitrio is to prove that man is saved, not by any ability or efforts of his own, but solely by grace. Luther says: “We are not arguing the question what we can do when God works [moves us], but what we can do ourselves, viz., whether, after being created out of nothing, we can do or endeavor [to do] anything through that general movement of omnipotence toward preparing ourselves for being a new creation of His Spirit. This question should have been answered, instead of turning aside to another.” Luther continues: “We go on to say:Man, before he is renewed to become a new creature of the kingdom of the Spirit, does nothing, endeavors nothing, toward preparing himself for renewal and the kingdom; and afterwards, when he has been created anew, he does nothing, endeavors nothing, toward preserving himself in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone does each of these things in us, both creating us anew without our cooperation and preserving us when recreated,-even as Jas. 1, 18 says: ‘Of His own will begat He us by the Word of Truth that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures,’ He is speaking here of the renewed creature.” (E. v. a. 7, 317; St. L. 18, 1909; compare here and in the following quotations Vaughan’s Martin Luther on the Bondage of the Will, London, 1823.)
Man lacks also the ability to do what is good before God. Luther: “I reply: The words of the Prophet [Ps. 14, 2: “The Lord looketh down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside,” etc.] include both act and power; and it is the same thing to say,’Man does not seek after God,’ as it would be to say,’Man cannot seek after God.'” (E. 330; St. L. 1923.) Again: “Since, therefore, men are flesh, as God Himself testifies, they cannot but be carnally minded (nihil sapere possunt nisi carnem); hence free will has power only to sin.And since they grow worse even when the Spirit of God calls and teaches them, what would they do if left to themselves, without the Spirit of God?” (E. 290; St. L. 1876.) “In brief, you will observe in Scripture that wherever flesh is treated in opposition to the Spirit, you may understand by flesh about everything that is contrary to the Spirit, as in the passage John 6, 63]: ‘The flesh profiteth nothing.'” (E. 29i; St. L. 1877.) “Thus also Holy Scripture, by way of emphasis (per epitasin), calls man ‘flesh,’ as though he were carnality itself, because his mind is occupied with nothing but carnal things. Quod nimio ac nihil aliud sapit quam ea, quae carnis sunt.”(E. 302; St. L. 1890.)
According to Luther there is no such thing as a neutral willing in man. He says: “It is a mere logical fiction to say that there is in man a neutral and pure volition (medium et purum velle); nor can those prove it who assert it. It was born of ignorance of things and servile regard to words, as if something must straightway be such in substance as we state it to be in words, which sort of figments are numberless among the Sophists [Scholastic theologians]. The truth of the matter is stated by Christ when He says [Luke 11, 23]:’He that is not with Me is against Me,’He does not say,’He that is neither with Me nor against Me, but in the middle,’ For if God be in us, Satan is absent, and only the will for good is present with us. If God be absent, Satan is present,and there is no will in us but towards evil. Neither God nor Satan allows a mere and pure volition in us; but, as you have rightly said, having lost our liberty, we are compelled to serve sin; that is sin and wickedness we will, sin and wickedness we speak, sin and wickedness we act.” (E. 199; St. L. 1768.)
In support of his denial of man’s ability in spiritual matters Luther quotes numerous Bible-passages, and thoroughly refutes as fallacies a debito ad posse, etc., the arguments drawn by Erasmus from mandatory and conditional passages of Scripture. His own arguments he summarizes as follows:”For if we believe it to be true that God foreknows and preordains everything, also, that He can neither be deceived nor hindered in His foreknowledge and predestination furthermore that nothing occurs without His will (a truth which reason itself is compelled to concede), then, according to the testimony of the selfsame reason, there can be no free will in man or angel or any creature. Likewise, if we believe Satan to be the prince of the world, who is perpetually plotting and fighting against the kingdom of Christ with all his might, so that he does not release captive men unless he be driven out by the divine power of the Spirit, it is again manifest that there can be no such thing as free will.Again, if we believe original sin to have so ruined us that, by striving against what is good, it makes most troublesome work even for those who are led by the Spirit, then it is clear that in man devoid of the Spirit nothing is left which can turn itself to good, but only [what turns itself] to evil. Again, if the Jews, following after righteousness with all their might rushed forth into unrighteousness, and the Gentiles, who were following after unrighteousness, have freely and unexpectingly attained to righteousness, it is likewise manifest, even by very deed and experience, that man without grace can will nothing but evil. In brief, if we believe Christ to have redeemed man by His blood, then we are compelled to confess that the whole man was lost; else we shall make Christ either superfluous, or the Redeemer only of the vilest part [of man] which is blasphemous and sacrilegious.” (E. 366; St. L. 1969.)
237. Relation of Man’s Will toward God’s Majesty.
According to Luther man has power over things beneath himself, but not over God in His majesty.We read; “We know that man is constituted lord of the things beneath him, over which he has power and free will, that they may obey him and do what he wills and thinks. But the point of our inquiry is whether he has a free will toward God, so that God obeys and does what man wills; or, whether it is not rather God who has a free will over man, so that the latter wills and does what God wills, and can do nothing but what God has willed and does. Here the Baptist says that man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven: wherefore free will is nothing.” (E. 359, St. L. 1957.)
God as revealed in the Word may, according to Luther, be opposed and resisted by man, but not God in His majesty.We read:”Lest any one should suppose this to be my own distinction, [let him know that] I follow Paul, who writes to the Thessalonians concerning Antichrist (2 Thess. 2, 4) that he will exalt himself above every God that is proclaimed and worshiped, plainly indicating that one may be exalted above God, so far as He is proclaimed and worshiped, that is, above the Word and worship by which God is known to us, and maintains intercourse with us. Nothing, however, can be exalted above God as He is in His nature and majesty (as not worshiped and proclaimed); rather, everything is under His powerful hand.” (E. 221; St. L. 1794.)
God in His majesty is supreme and man cannot resist His omnipotence, nor thwart His decrees, nor foil His plans, nor render His omniscience fallible. Luther: “For all men find this opinion written in their hearts, and, when hearing this matter discussed, they, though against their will, acknowledge and assent to it, first, that God is omnipotent, not only as regards His power, but also, as stated His action; else He would be a ridiculous God, secondly, that He knows and foreknows all things, and can neither err nor be deceived. These two things, however, being conceded by the hearts and senses of all men they are presently, by an inevitable consequence, compelled to admit that, even as we are not made by our own will, but by necessity, so likewise we do nothing according to the right of free will,but just as God has foreknown and acts by a counsel and an energy which is infallible and immutable. So, then, we find it written in all hearts alike that free will [defined as a power independent of God’s power] is nothing, although this writing [in the hearts of men] be obscured through so many contrary disputations and the great authority of so many persons who during so many ages have been teaching differently.” (E. 268; St. L. 1851.)
The very idea of God and omnipotence involves that free will is not, and cannot be, a power independent of God. Luther: “However, even natural reason is obliged to confess that the living and true God must be such a one who by His freedom imposes necessity upon us, for, evidently, He would be a ridiculous God or, more properly, an idol, who would either foresee future events in an uncertain way, or be deceived by the events, as the Gentiles have asserted an inescapable fate also for their gods. God would be equally ridiculous if He could not do or did not do all things, or if anything occurred without Him.Now, if foreknowledge and omnipotence are conceded, it naturally follows as an irrefutable consequence that we have not been made by ourselves, nor that we live or do anything by ourselves, but through His omnipotence. Since, therefore,He foreknew that we should be such [as we actually are], and even now makes,moves, and governs us as such,pray, what can be imagined that is free in us so as to occur differently than He has foreknown or now works? God’s foreknowledge and omnipotence, therefore, conflict directly with our free will [when defined as a power independent of God]. For either God will be mistaken in foreknowing, err also in acting (which is impossible), or we shall act, and be acted upon, according to His foreknowledge and action. By the omnipotence of God, however, I do not mean that power by which He can do many things which He does not do but that active omnipotence by means of which He powerfully works all things in all, in which manner Scripture calls Him omnipotent. This omnipotence and prescience of God,I say, entirely abolish the dogma of free will. Nor can the obscurity of Scripture or the difficulty of the matter be made a pretext here.The words are most clear, known even to children; the subject-matter is plain and easy, judged to be so even by the natural reason common to all, so that ever so long a series of ages, times, and persons writing and teaching otherwise will avail nothing.”(E. 267; St. L. 1849.)
According to Luther, therefore, nothing can or does occur independently of God, or differently from what His omniscience has foreseen. Luther:”Hence it follows irrefutably that all things which we do, and all things which happen, although to us they seem to happen changeably and contingently, do in reality happen necessarily and immutably, if one views the will of God.For the will of God is efficacious and cannot be thwarted since it is God’s natural power itself. It is also wise, so that it cannot be deceived. And since His will is not thwarted, the work itself cannot be prevented, but must occur in the very place, time, manner, and degree which He Himself both foresees and wills.”(E. 134; St. L. 1692.)
238. God Not the Cause of Sin.
Regarding God’s relation to the sinful actions of men, Luther held that God is not the cause of sin. True, His omnipotence impels also the ungodly; but the resulting acts are evil because of man’s evil nature. He writes:”Since, therefore,God moves and works all in all, He necessarily moves and acts also in Satan and in the wicked.But He acts in them precisely according to what they are and what He finds them to be (agit in illis taliter, quales illi sunt, et quales invenit). That is to say, since they are turned away [from Him] and wicked, and [as such] are impelled to action by divine omnipotence, they do only such things as are averse [to God] and wicked, just as a horseman driving a horse which has only three or two [sound] feet (equum tripedem vel bipedem) will drive him in a manner corresponding to the condition of the horse (agit quidem taliter, qualis equus est), i.e., the horse goes at a sorry gait. But what can the horseman do? He drives such a horse together with sound horses, so that it sadly limps along,while the others take a good gait. He cannot do otherwise unless the horse is cured. Here you see that when God works in the wicked and through the wicked, the result indeed is evil (mala quidem fieri), but that nevertheless God cannot act wickedly, although He works that which is evil through the wicked; for He being good, cannot Himself act wickedly, although He uses evil instruments, which cannot escape the impulse and motion of His power. The fault, therefore, is in the instruments, which God does not suffer to remain idle, so that evil occurs, God Himself impelling them, but in no other manner than a carpenter who, using an ax that is notched and toothed, would do poor work with it. Hence it is that a wicked man cannot but err and sin continually,because, being impelled by divine power, he is not allowed to remain idle, but wills, desires, and acts according to what he is (velit, cupiat, faciat taliter, qualis ipse est).” (E. 255; St. L. 1834.) “For although God does not make sin, still He ceases not to form and to multiply a nature which, the Spirit having been withdrawn is corrupted by sin, just as when a carpenter makes statues of rotten wood. Thus men become what their nature is, God creating and forming them of such nature.” (E. 254; St. L. 1833.)
Though God works all things in all things the wickedness of an action flows from the sinful nature of the creature. Luther: “Whoever would have any understanding of such matters, let him consider that God works evil in us, i.e. through us, not by any fault of His, but through our own fault. For since we are by nature evil, while God is good, and since He impels us to action according to the nature of His omnipotence, He, who Himself is good, cannot do otherwise than do evil with an evil instrument, although, according to His wisdom, He causes this evil to turn out unto His own glory and to our salvation.” (E. 257; St. L. 1837.) “For this is what we assert and contend, that, when God works without the grace of His Spirit [in His majesty, outside ofWord and Sacrament],He works all in all, even in the wicked; for He alone moves all things, which He alone has created, and drives and impels all things by virtue of His omnipotence, which they [the created things] cannot escape or change, but necessarily follow and obey, according to the power which God has given to each of them-such is the manner in which all, even wicked, things cooperate with Him. Furthermore, when He acts by the Spirit of Grace in those whom He has made righteous, i.e., in His own kingdom, He in like manner impels and moves them; and, being new creatures, they follow and cooperate with Him; or rather, as Paul says, they are led by Him.” (E. 317; St. L. 1908.) “For we say that,without the grace of God, man still remains under the general omnipotence of God, who does, moves, impels all things, so that they take their course necessarily and without fail, but that what man, so impelled, does, is nothing, i.e., avails nothing before God, and is accounted nothing but sin.” (E. 315; St. L. 1906.)
Though everything occurs as God has foreseen, this, according to Luther, does not at all involve that man is coerced in his actions. Luther: “But pray, are we disputing now concerning coercion and force? Have we not in so many books testified that we speak of the necessity of immutability? We know … that Judas of his own volition betrayed Christ.But we affirm that, if God foreknew it, this volition would certainly and without fail occur in this very Judas …We are not discussing the point whether Judas became a traitor unwillingly or willingly, but whether at the time foreappointed by God it infallibly had to happen that Judas of his own volition betrayed Christ.” (E. 270; St. L. 1853.) Again: “What is it to me that free will is not coerced, but does what it does willingly? It is enough for me to have you concede that it must necessarily happen, that he [Judas] does what he does of his own volition, and that he cannot conduct himself otherwise if God has so foreknown it. If God foreknows that Judas will betray, or that he will change his mind about it,-whichever of the two He shall have foreknown will necessarily come to pass, else God would be mistaken in foreknowing and foretelling,- which is impossible. Necessity of consequence effects this: if God foreknows an event, it necessarily happens. In other words, free will is nothing” [it is not a power independent of God or able to nullify God’s prescience]. (E. 272; St. L. 1855.)
To wish that God would abstain from impelling the wicked is, according to Luther, tantamount to wishing that He cease to be God. Luther:”There is still this question which some one may ask,’Why does God not cease to impel by His omnipotence, in consequence of which the will of the wicked is moved to continue being wicked and even growing worse?’ The answer is: This is equivalent to desiring that God cease to be God for the sake of the wicked, since one wishes His power and action to cease, i.e. that He cease to be good, lest they become worse!” (E. 259; St. L. 1839.)
239. Free Will a Mere Empty Title.
Luther considers free will (when defined as an ability in spiritual matters or as a power independent of God) a mere word without anything corresponding to it in reality (figmentum in rebus seu titulus sine re, E. v. a. 5, 230), because natural will has powers only in matters temporal and subject to reason, but none in spiritual things, and because of itself and independently of God’s omnipotence it has no power whatever.We read: “Now it follows that free will is a title altogether divine and cannot belong to any other being, save only divine majesty, for He, as the Psalmist sings [Ps. 115, 3], can do and does all that He wills in heaven and in earth. Now, when this title is ascribed to men, it is so ascribed with no more right than if also divinity itself were ascribed to them,-a sacrilege than which there is none greater. Accordingly it was the duty of theologians to abstain from this word when they intended to speak of human power, and to reserve it exclusively for God, thereupon also to remove it from the mouth and discourse of men, claiming it as a sacred and venerable title for their God. And if they would at all ascribe some power to man, they should have taught that it be called by some other name than ‘free will,’ especially since we all know and see that the common people are miserably deceived and led astray by this term, for by it they hear and conceive something very far different from what theologians mean and discuss. ‘Free will’ is too magnificent, extensive, and comprehensive a term; by it common people understand (as also the import and nature of the word require) a power which can freely turn to either side, and neither yields nor is subject to any one,” (E. 158; St. L. 1720.)
If the term “free will”be retained, it should, according to Luther, be conceived of as a power, not in divine things, but only in matters subject to human reason.We read: “So, then, according to Erasmus, free will is the power of the will which is able of itself to will and not to will the Word and work of God, whereby it is led to things which exceed both its comprehension and perception. For if it is able to will and not to will, it is able also to love and to hate. If it is able to love and to hate, it is able also, in some small degree, to keep the Law and to believe the Gospel.For if you will or do not will, a certain thing, it is impossible that by that will you should not be able to do something of the work, even though, when hindered by another, you cannot complete it.” (E. 191; St. L. 1759.) “If, then,we are not willing to abandon this term altogether, which would be the safest and most pious course to follow, let us at least teach men to use it in good faith (bona fide) only in the sense that free will be conceded to man, with respect to such matters only as are not superior, but inferior to himself, i.e., man is to know that,with regard to his means and possessions, he has the right of using, of doing, and of forbearing to do according to his free will; although also even this is directed by the free will of God alone whithersoever it pleases Him. But with respect to God, or in things pertaining to salvation or damnation, he has no free will, but is the captive, subject, and servant, either of the will of God or of the will of Satan.” (E. 160; St. L. 1722.) “Perhaps you might properly attribute some will (aliquod arbitrium) to man, but to attribute free will to him in divine things is too much, since in the judgment of all who hear it the term ‘free will’ is properly applied to that which can do and does with respect to God whatsoever it pleases, without being hindered by any law or authority.You would not call a slave free who acts under the authority of his master.With how much less propriety do we call men or angels truly free,who, to say nothing of sin and death, live under the most complete authority of God, unable to subsist for a moment by their own power.” (E. 189; St. L. 1756.)
Lost liberty, says Luther, is no liberty, just as lost health is no health.We read: “When it has been conceded and settled that free will, having lost its freedom, is compelled to serve sin, and has no power to will anything good, I can conceive nothing else from these expressions than that free will is an empty word, with the substance lost. My grammar calls a lost liberty no liberty. But to attribute the title of liberty to that which has no liberty is to attribute an empty name. If here I go astray, let who can correct me; if my words are obscure and ambiguous, let who can make them plain and definite. I cannot call health that is lost health. If I should ascribe it to a sick man, I believe to have ascribed to him nothing but an empty name. But away with monstrous words! For who can tolerate that abuse of speech by which we affirm that man has free will, and in the same breath assert that he, having lost his liberty, is compelled to serve sin, and can will nothing good? It conflicts with common sense, and utterly destroys the use of speech. The r just such an answer as he gave in accused of blurting out its words as if it were asleep, and giving no heed to those of others. It does not consider, I say, what it means, and what it all includes, if I declare: Man has lost his liberty, is compelled to serve sin, and has no power to will anything good.” (E. 200; St. L. 1769.)
Satan causes his captives to believe themselves free and happy. Luther: “The Scriptures set before us a man who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick, dead, but who (through the operation of Satan, his prince) adds this plague of blindness to his other plagues, that he believes himself to be free, happy, unfettered, strong, healthy, alive. For Satan knows that, if man were to realize his own misery, he would not be able to retain any one in his kingdom, because God could not but at once pity and help him who recognizes his misery and cries for relief.For throughout all Scripture He is extolled and greatly praised for being nigh unto the contrite in heart, as also Christ testifies, Isaiah 61, 1. 2, that He has been sent to preach the Gospel to the poor and to heal the broken-hearted. Accordingly, it is Satan’s business to keep his grip on men, lest they recognize their misery, but rather take it for granted that they are able to do everything that is said.” (E. 213; St. L. 1785.)
240. The Gospel to be Our Only Guide.
According to De Servo Arbitrio God’s majesty and His mysterious judgments and ways must not be searched, nor should speculations concerning them be made the guide of our faith and life. Luther says: “Of God or of the will of God proclaimed and revealed, and offered to us, and which we meditate upon, we must treat in a different way than of God in so far as He is not proclaimed, not revealed, and not offered to us, and is not the object of our meditations. For in so far as God hides Himself, and desires not to be known of us, we have nothing to do with Him. Here the saying truly applies,’What is above us does not concern us.'”(E. 221, St. L. 1794.) “We say, as we have done before, that one must not discuss the secret will of [divine] majesty, and that man’s temerity, which, due to continual perverseness, disregards necessary matters and always attacks and encounters this [secret will], should be called away and withdrawn from occupying itself with scrutinizing those secrets of divine majesty which it is impossible to approach; for it dwells ‘in the light which no man can approach unto,’ as Paul testifies, 1 Tim. 6, 16.”(E. 227; St. L. 1801.) This statement, that God’s majesty must not be investigated, says Luther,”is not our invention, but an injunction confirmed by Holy Scripture. For Paul says Rom. 9, 19¡V21: ‘Why doth God yet find fault? For who hath resisted His will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? …Hath not the potter power,’ etc.? And before him Isaiah, chapter 58, 2: ‘Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God,’These words, I take it, show abundantly that it is unlawful for men to scrutinize the will of majesty.” (E. 228; St. L. 1803.)
Instead of searching the Scriptures, as they are commanded to do, men unlawfully crave to investigate the hidden judgments of God. We read: “But we are nowhere more irreverent and rash than when we invade and argue these very mysteries and judgments which are unsearchable. Meanwhile we imagine that we are exercising incredible reverence in searching the Holy Scriptures, which God has commanded us to search. Here we do not search, but where He has forbidden us to search, there we do nothing but search with perpetual temerity, not to say blasphemy. Or is it not such a search when we rashly endeavor to make that wholly free foreknowledge of God accord with our liberty, and are ready to detract from the prescience of God, if it does not allow us liberty, or if it induces necessity, to say with the murmurers and blasphemers, ‘Why doth He find fault? Who shall resist His will? What is become of the most merciful God? What of Him who wills not the death of the sinner? Has He made men that He might delight Himself with their torments?’ and the like, which will be howled out forever among the devils and the damned.” (E. 266, St. L. 1848.)
God’s unknowable will is not and cannot be our guide. Luther: “The Diatribe beguiles herself through her ignorance, making no distinction between the proclaimed and the hidden God, that is between the Word of God and God Himself. God does many things which He has not shown us in His Word. He also wills many things concerning which He has not shown us in His Word that He wills them. For instance,He does not will the death of a sinner namely, according to His Word, but He wills it according to His inscrutable will. Now, our business is to look at His Word, disregarding the inscrutable will; for we must be directed by the Word, not by that inscrutable will (nobis spectandum est Verbum relinquendaque illa voluntas imperscrutabilis; Verbo enim nos dirigi, non voluntate illa inscrutabili oportet) . Indeed, who could direct himself by that inscrutable and unknowable will? It is enough merely to know that there is such an inscrutable will in God; but what,why, and how far it wills, that is altogether unlawful for us to inquire into, to wish [to know], and to trouble or occupy ourselves with; on the contrary,we should fear and adore it.” (E. 222; St. L.1795)
Instead of investigating the mysteries of divine majesty, men ought to concern themselves with God’s revelation in the Gospel. Luther: “But let her [human temerity] occupy herself with the incarnate God or, as Paul says, with Jesus Crucified, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. For through Him she has abundantly what she ought to know and not to know. It is the incarnate God, then, who speaks here [Matt. 23]: ‘I would, and thou wouldest not.’ The incarnate God, I say, was sent for this purpose, that He might will, speak, do, suffer, and offer to all men all things which are necessary to salvation, although He offends very many who, being either abandoned or hardened by that secret will of His majesty, do not receive Him who wills, speaks, works, offers, even as John says: ‘The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not;’ and again: ‘He came unto His own and His own received Him not.’ ” (E. 227f., St. L. 1802.)
241. God’s Grace Is Universal and Serious.
All men are in need of the saving Gospel, and it should be preached to all. We read in De Servo Arbitrio: “Paul had said just before: ‘The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek,’ These words are not obscure or ambiguous: ‘To the Jews and to the Greeks,’ that is, to all men, the Gospel of the power of God is necessary, in order that, believing, they may be saved from the revealed wrath.” (E. 322; St. L. 1915.) “He [God] knows what, when, how, and to whom we ought to speak.Now,His injunction is that His Gospel,which is necessary for all, should be limited by neither place nor time, but be preached to all, at all times, and in all places.” (E. 149; St. L. 1709.)
The universal promises of the Gospel offer firm and sweet consolation to poor sinners. Luther: “It is the voice of the Gospel and the sweetest consolation to poor miserable sinners when Ezekiel says [18, 23. 32]: ‘I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he be converted and live,’ Just so also the thirtieth Psalm [v. 5]: ‘For His anger endureth but a moment; in His favor is life [His will rather is life].’And the sixty-ninth [v. 16]: ‘For Thy loving-kindness is good [How sweet is Thy mercy, Lord!]’ Also: ‘Because I am merciful,’ And that saying of Christ,Matt. 11, 28:’Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,’ Also that of Exodus [20, 6],’I show mercy unto thousands of them that love Me,’ Indeed, almost more than half of Holy Scripture,-what is it but genuine promises of grace, by which mercy, life, peace, and salvation are offered by God to men? And what else do the words of promise sound forth than this:’I have no pleasure in the death of a sinner’? Is it not the same thing to say, ‘I am merciful,’ as to say, ‘I am not angry,’ ‘I do not wish to punish,’ ‘I do not wish you to die,’ ‘I desire to pardon,’ ‘I desire to spare’? Now, if these divine promises did not stand [firm], so as to raise up afflicted consciences terrified by the sense of sin and the fear of death and judgment, what place would there be for pardon or for hope? What sinner would not despair?” (E. 218; St. L. 1791.)
God, who would have all men to be saved deplores and endeavors to remove death, so that man must blame himself if he is lost. Luther: “God in His majesty and nature therefore must be left untouched [unsearched] for in this respect we have nothing to do with Him, nor did He want us to deal with Him in this respect; but we deal with Him in so far as He has clothed Himself and come forth in His Word, by which He has offered Himself to us. This [Word] is His glory and beauty with which the Psalmist, 21, 6, celebrates Him as being clothed.” Emphasizing the seriousness of universal grace, Luther continues: “Therefore we affirm that the holy God does not deplore the death of the people which He works in them, but deplores the death which He finds in the people, and endeavors to remove (sed deplorat mortem, quam invenit in populo, et amovere studet). For this is the work of the proclaimed God to take away sin and death, that we may be saved. For He has sent His Word and healed them.” (E. 222; St. L. 1795.) “Hence it is rightly said, If God wills not death, it must be charged to our own will that we perish. ‘Rightly,’ I say, if you speak of the proclaimed God. For He would have all men to be saved, coming, as He does, with His Word of salvation to all men; and the fault is in the will, which does not admit Him, as He says, Matt. 23, 37: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not!'” (E. 222: St. L. 1795.)
242. Sola gratia Doctrine Engenders Assurance.
Luther rejoices in the doctrine of sola gratia because it alone is able to engender assurance of salvation. He writes: “As for myself, I certainly confess that, if such a thing could somehow be, I should be unwilling to have free will given me, or anything left in my own hand, which might enable me to make an effort at salvation; not only because in the midst of so many dangers and adversities and also of so many assaulting devils I should not be strong enough to remain standing and keep my hold of it (for one devil is mightier than all men put together, and not a single man would be saved), but because, even if there were no dangers and no adversities and no devils, I should still be compelled to toil forever uncertainly, and to beat the air in my struggle. For though I should live and work to eternity, my own conscience would never be sure and at ease as to how much it ought to do in order to satisfy God.No matter how perfect a work might be, there would be left a doubt whether it pleased God, or whether He required anything more, as is proved by the experience of all who endeavor to be saved by the Law (iustitiariorum), and as I, to my own great misery,have learned abundantly during so many years.But now, since God has taken my salvation out of the hands of my will, and placed it into those of His own and has promised to save me, not by my own work or running, but by His grace and mercy, I feel perfectly secure, because He is faithful and will not lie to me; moreover, He is powerful and great, so that neither devils nor adversities can crush Him, or pluck me out of His hand. No one, says He, shall pluck them out of My hand; for My Father, who gave them unto Me, is greater than all. Thus it comes to pass that, though not all are saved, at least some, nay, many are, whereas by the power of free will absolutely none would be saved, but every one of us would be lost.We are also certain and sure that we please God, not by the merit of our own work, but by the favor of His mercy which He has promised us, and that, if we have done less than we ought, or have done anything amiss, He does not impute it to us, but, as a father, forgives and amends it. Such is the boast of every saint in his God.” (E. 362; St. L. 1961f.)
In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession this thought of Luther’s is repeated as follows: “If the matter [our salvation] were to depend upon our merits, the promise would be uncertain and useless, because we never could determine when we would have sufficient merit. And this experienced consciences can easily understand [and would not, for a thousand worlds, have our salvation depend upon ourselves].” (CONC. TRIGL. 145, 84, compare 1079, 45f.)
243. Truth of God’s Majesty Serves God’s Gracious Will.
Luther regarded the teaching that everything is subject to God’s majesty as being of service to His gracious will.We read:”Two things require the preaching of these truths [concerning the infallibility of God’s foreknowledge, etc.]; the first is, the humbling of our pride and the knowledge of the grace of God; the second, Christian faith itself. First, God has certainly promised His grace to the humbled i.e., to those who deplore their sins and despair [of themselves]. But man cannot be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is altogether beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will, and works, and depends altogether upon the decision, counsel, will, and work of another, i.e., of God only. For as long as he is persuaded that he can do anything toward gaining salvation, though it be ever so little, he continues in self-confidence, and does not wholly despair of himself; accordingly he is not humbled before God, but anticipates, or hopes for, or at least wishes for, a place, a time, and some work by which he may finally obtain salvation.” (E. 153. 133, St. L. 1715 1691.) “More than once,” says Luther, “I myself have been offended at it [the teaching concerning God’s majesty] to such an extent that I was at the brink of despair, so that I even wished I had never been created a man,-until I learned how salutary that despair was and how close to grace.” (E. 268; St. L. 1850.)
Of the manner in which, according to Luther, the truth concerning God’s majesty serves the Gospel, we read:”Moreover, I do not only wish to speak of how true these things are, … but also how becoming to a Christian, how pious, and how necessary it is to know them. For if these things are not known, it is impossible for either faith or any worship of God to be maintained. That would be ignorance of God indeed; and if we do not know Him, we cannot obtain salvation, as is well known. For if you doubt that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, or if you scorn such knowledge, how will you be able to believe His promises, and with full assurance trust and rely upon them? When He promises, you ought to be sure that He knows what He is promising, and is able and willing to accomplish it, else you will account Him neither true nor faithful. That, however, is unbelief, extreme impiety, and a denial of the most high God. But how will you be confident and sure if you do not know that He certainly, infallibly,unchangeably,and necessarily knows, and wills, and will perform what He promises? Nor should we merely be certain that God necessarily and immutably wills and will perform [what He has promised], but we should even glory in this very thing, as Paul does, Rom. 3, 4: ‘Let God be true, but every man a liar.’ And again, Rom. 9, 6; 4, 21; 1 Sam. 3, 19: ‘Not that the Word of God hath taken none effect.’ And in another place, 2 Tim. 2, 19: ‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.’ And in Titus 1, 2: ‘Which God, that cannot lie, hath promised before the world began.’And in Heb. 11, 6:’He that cometh to God must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of them that hope in Him,’ So, then, Christian faith is altogether extinguished, the promises of God and the entire Gospel fall absolutely to the ground, if we are taught and believe that we have no need of knowing the foreknowledge of God to be necessary and the necessity of all things that must be done. For this is the only and highest possible consolation of Christians in all adversities to know that God does not lie, but does all things immutably, and that His will can neither be resisted, nor altered, nor hindered.” (E. 137. 264; St. L. 1695. 1845.)
244. There Are No Real Contradictions in God.
Among the mysteries which we are unable to solve Luther enumerates the questions:Why did God permit the fall of Adam? Why did He suffer us to be infected with original sin? Why does God not change the evil will? Why is it that some are converted while others are lost? We read: “But why does He not at the same time change the evil will which He moves? This pertains to the secrets of His majesty, where His judgments are incomprehensible. Nor is it our business to investigate, but to adore these mysteries. If, therefore, flesh and blood here take offense and murmur, let them murmur; but they will effect nothing,God will not be changed on that account. And if the ungodly are scandalized and leave in ever so great numbers, the elect will nevertheless remain. The same answer should be given to those who ask,’Why did He allow Adam to fall, and why does He create all of us infected with the same sin when He could have preserved him [Adam], and created us from something else, or after first having purged the seed?’He is God, for whose will there is no cause or reason which might be prescribed for it as a standard and rule of action; for it has no equal or superior, but is itself the rule for everything. If it had any rule or standard, cause or reason, it could no longer be the will of God. For what He wills is right, not because He is or was in duty bound so to will, but, on the contrary, because He wills so, therefore what occurs must be right. Cause and reason are prescribed to a creature’s will, but not to the will of the Creator, unless you would set another Creator over Him.” (E. 259; St. L. 1840.)
Regarding the question why some are converted while others are not, we read: “But why this majesty does not remove this fault of our will, or change it in all men (seeing that it is not in the power of man to do so), or why He imputes this [fault of the will] to man when he cannot be without it, it is not lawful to search, and although you search much, you will never discover it, as Paul says, Rom. 9, 20: ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ ” (E. 223, St. L. 1796.) “But as to why some are touched by the Law and others are not, so that the former receive, and the latter despise, the grace offered, this is another question, and one not treated by Ezekiel in this place, who speaks of the preached and offered mercy of God, not of the secret and to-be-feared will of God, who by His counsel ordains what and what kind of persons He wills to be capable and partakers of His preached and offered mercy. This will of God must not be searched, but reverently adored, as being by far the most profound and sacred secret of divine majesty, reserved for Himself alone, and prohibited to us much more religiously than countless multitudes of Corycian Caves.” (E. 221; St. L. 1794.)
Christians firmly believe that in His dealings with men God is always wise and just and good. Luther: “According to the judgment of reason it remains absurd that this just and good God should demand things that are impossible of fulfilment by free will, and, although it cannot will that which is good but necessarily serves sin, should nevertheless charge this to free will; and that, when He does not confer the Spirit,He should not act a whit more kindly or more mercifully than when He hardens or permits men to harden themselves. Reason will declare that these are not the acts of a kind and merciful God. These things exceed her understanding too far, nor can she take herself into captivity to believe God to be good, who acts and judges thus; but setting faith aside, she wants to feel and see and comprehend how He is just and not cruel. She would indeed comprehend if it were said of God:’He hardens nobody,He damns nobody, rather pities everybody, saves everybody,’ so that, hell being destroyed and the fear of death removed, no future punishment need be dreaded. This is the reason why she is so hot in striving to excuse and defend God as just and good. But faith and the spirit judge differently, believing God to be good though he were to destroy all men.”(E. 252, St. L. 1832.) “The reason why of the divine will must not be investigated, but simply adored, and we must give the glory to God that, being alone just and wise, He does wrong to none, nor can He do anything foolish or rash, though it may appear far otherwise to us. Godly men are content with this answer.” (E. 153; St. L. 1714.)
According to Luther, divine justice must be just as incomprehensible to human reason as God’s entire essence. We read: “But when we feel ill at ease for the reason that it is difficult to vindicate the mercy and equity of God because He damns the undeserving, i.e. such ungodly men as are born in ungodliness, and hence cannot in any way prevent being and remaining ungodly and damned, and are compelled by their nature to sin and perish, as Paul says [Eph. 2, 3]: ‘We were all the sons of wrath even as others,’ they being created such by God Himself out of the seed which was corrupted through the sin of the one Adam,-then the most merciful God is to be honored and revered in [His dealings with] those whom He justifies and saves, although they are most unworthy, and at least a little something ought to be credited to His divine wisdom by believing Him to be just where to us He seems unjust. For if His justice were such as could be declared just by human understanding, it would clearly not be divine, differing nothing from human justice. But since He is the one true God, and entirely incomprehensible and inaccessible to human reason, it is proper, nay, necessary, that His justice also be incomprehensible, even as Paul also exclaims, Rom. 11, 33, saying: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ Now, they would not be incomprehensible if we were able, in everything He does, to comprehend why they are just.What is man compared with God? How much is our power capable of as compared with His? What is our strength compared with His powers? What is our knowledge compared with His wisdom? What is our substance compared with His substance? In short,what is everything that is ours as compared with everything that is His?” (E. 363; St. L. 1962.)
Christians embrace the opportunity offered by the mysterious ways of God to exercise their faith. Luther: “This is the highest degree of faith, to believe that He is merciful, who saves so few and condemns so many, to believe Him just,who by His will [creating us out of sinful seed] necessarily makes us damnable, thus, according to Erasmus, seeming to be delighted with the torments of the wretched, and worthy of hatred rather than of love. If, then, I could in any way comprehend how this God is merciful and just who shows such great wrath and [seeming] injustice, there would be no need of faith. But now, since this cannot be comprehended there is to be an opportunity for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published, even as when God kills, our faith in life is exercised in death.”(E. 154; St. L. 1716.)
245. Seeming Contradictions Solved in Light of Glory.
Christians are fully satisfied that hereafter they will see and understand what they here believed, viz., that in His dealings with men God truly is and always was absolutely just. Luther: “If you are pleased with God for crowning the unworthy, you ought not to be displeased with Him for condemning the undeserving [who were not worse or more guilty than those who are crowned]. If He is just in the former case, why not in the latter? In the former case He scatters favor and mercy upon the unworthy, in the latter He scatters wrath and severity upon the undeserving [who are guilty in no higher degree than those who are saved]. In both cases He is excessive and unrighteous before [in the judgment of] men but just and true in His own mind. For how it is just that He crowns the unworthy is incomprehensible to us now; but we shall understand it when we have come to that place where we shall no longer believe, but behold with our face unveiled. So, too, how it is just that He condemns the undeserving we cannot comprehend now, yet we believe it until the Son of Man shall be revealed.” (E. 284; St. L. 1870.) “Of course, in all other things we concede divine majesty to God; only in His judgment we are ready to deny it, and cannot even for a little while believe that He is just, since He has promised us that, when he will reveal His glory, we all shall then both see and feel that He has been, and is, just.” (E. 364; St. L. 1964.)
Again: “Do you not think that since the light of grace has so readily solved a question which could not be solved by the light of nature, the light of glory will be able to solve with the greatest ease the question which in the light of the Word or of grace is unsolvable? In accordance with the common and good distinction let it be conceded that there are three lights-the light of nature, the light of grace, and the light of glory. In the light of nature it is unsolvable that it should be just that the good are afflicted while the wicked prosper. The light of grace, however, solves this [mystery]. In the light of grace it is unsolvable how God may condemn him who cannot by any power of his own do otherwise than sin and be guilty. There the light of nature as well as the light of grace declares that the fault is not in wretched man, but in the unjust God. For they cannot judge otherwise of God, who crowns a wicked man gratuitously without any merits, and does not crown another, but condemns him, who perhaps is less, or at least not more wicked [than the one who is crowned]. But the light of glory pronounces a different verdict, and when it arrives, it will show God, whose judgment is now that of incomprehensible justice, to be a Being of most just and manifest justice, which meanwhile we are to believe, admonished and confirmed by the example of the light of grace, which accomplishes a like miracle with respect to the light of nature.” (E. 365; St. L. 1965.)
246. Statements Made by Luther before Publication of “De Servo Arbitrio.”
Wherever Luther touches on predestination both before and after 1525, essentially the same thoughts are found, though not developed as extensively as in De Servo Arbitrio. He consistently maintains that God’s majesty must be neither denied nor searched, and that Christians should be admonished to look and rely solely upon the revealed universal promises of the Gospel. In his Church Postil of 1521 we read: “The third class of men who also approve this [the words of Paul,Rom. 11, 34. 35: ‘For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counselor? Or who hath first given to Him, and it shall be recompensed unto Him again?’] are those who indeed hear the Word of Revelation. For I am not now speaking of such as deliberately persecute the Word (they belong to the first class, who do not at all inquire about God) but of those who disregard the revelation and led by the devil, go beyond and beside it, seeking to grasp the ways and judgments of God which He has not revealed. Now, if they were Christians, they would be satisfied and thank God for giving His Word, in which He shows what is pleasing to Him, and how we are to be saved. But they suffer the devil to lead them, insist on seeking other revelations, ponder what God may be in His invisible majesty,how He secretly governs the world, and what He has in particular decreed for each one in the future. For nature and human reason cannot desist; they will meddle in His judgment with their wisdom, sit in His most secret council, instruct Him and master Him. This is the pride of the foul fiend, who was cast into the abyss of hell for trying to meddle in [matters of] divine majesty, and who in the same way eagerly seeks to bring man to fall, and to cast him down with himself, as he did in Paradise in the beginning, tempting also the saints and even Christ with the same thing, when he set Him on the pinnacle of the Temple, etc. Against such in particular St. Paul here introduces these words [Rom. 11, 34. 35] to the inquisitive questions of wise reason: Why did God thus punish and reject the Jews while He permitted the condemned heathen to come to the Gospel? Again,Why does He govern on this wise, that wicked and evil men are exalted while the pious are allowed to undergo misfortune and be suppressed? Why does He call Judas to be an apostle and later on reject him while He accepts the murderer and malefactor? By them [his words, Rom. 11] Paul would order such to cease climbing up to the secret Majesty, and to adhere to the revelation which God has given us. For such searching and climbing is not only in vain, but also harmful. Though you search in all eternity, you will never attain anything, but only break your neck.”
“But if you desire to proceed in the right way, you can do no better than busying yourself with His Word and works, in which He has revealed Himself and permits Himself to be heard and apprehended, to wit, how He sets before you His Son Christ upon the cross. That is the work of your redemption. There you can certainly apprehend God, and see that He does not wish to condemn you on account of your sins if you believe,but to give you eternal life, as Christ says: ‘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.) In this Christ, says Paul, are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2, 3.) And that will be more than enough for you to learn, study, and consider. This lofty revelation of God will also make you marvel and will engender a desire and love for God. It is a work which in this life you will never finish studying; a work of which, as Peter says, even the angels cannot see enough, but which they contemplate unceasingly with joy and delight. (1 Pet. 1, 12.)”
“This I say that we may know how to instruct and direct those (if such we should meet with) who are being afflicted and tormented by such thoughts of the devil to tempt God, when he entices them to search the devious ways of God outside of revelation, and to grope about trying to fathom what God plans for them- whereby they are led into such doubt and despair that they know not how they will survive. Such people must be reminded of these words [Rom. 11], and be rebuked with them (as St. Paul rebukes his Jews and wiseacres) for seeking to apprehend God with their wisdom and to school Him, as His advisers and masters, and for dealing with Him by themselves without means, and for giving Him so much that He must requite them again. For nothing will come of it; He has carefully built so high that you will not thus scale Him by your climbing. His wisdom, counsel, and riches are so great that you will never be able to fathom or to exhaust them. Therefore be glad that He permits you to know and receive these things somewhat by revelation.” (E. 9, 15 sqq.; St. L. 12, 641 sqq.)
In a sermon on 2 Pet. 1, 10, delivered in 1523 and published in 1524, Luther said: “Here a limit [beyond which we may not go] has been set for us how to treat of predestination.Many frivolous spirits, who have not felt much of faith, tumble in, strike at the top, concerning themselves first of all with this matter, and seek to determine by means of their reason whether they are elected in order to be certain of their standing. From this you must desist, it is not the hilt of the matter. If you would be certain, you must attain to this goal by taking the way which Peter here proposes. Take another, and you have already gone astray; your own experience must teach you. If faith is well exercised and stressed, you will finally become sure of the matter, so that you will not fail.” (E. 52, 224, St. L. 9, 1353.)
After a discussion at Wittenberg with a fanatic from Antwerp, in 1525, Luther wrote a letter of warning to the Christians of Antwerp, in which he speaks of God’s will with respect to sin in an illuminating manner as follows: “Most of all he [the fanatic] fiercely contended that God’s command was good, and that God did not desire sin, which is true without a doubt; and the fact that we also confessed this did not do us any good. But he would not admit that, although God does not desire sin, He nevertheless permits (verhaengxt) it to happen, and such permission certainly does not come to pass without His will. For who compels Him to permit it? Aye, how could He permit it if it was not His will to permit it? Here he exalted his reason, and sought to comprehend how God could not desire sin, and still, by permitting sin, will it, imagining that he could exhaust the abyss of divine majesty: how these two wills may exist side by side … Nor do I doubt that he will quote me to you as saying that God desires sin. To this I would herewith reply that he wrongs me, and as he is otherwise full of lies, so also he does not speak the truth in this matter. I say that God has forbidden sin, and does not desire it. This will has been revealed to us, and it is necessary for us to know it. But in what manner God permits or wills sin, this we are not to know; for He has not revealed it. St. Paul himself would not and could not know it, saying, Rom. 9, 20: ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ Therefore I beseech you in case this spirit should trouble you much with the lofty question regarding the secret will of God,to depart from him and to speak thus: ‘Is it too little that God instructs us in His public [proclaimed] will, which He has revealed to us? Why, then, do you gull us seeking to lead us into that which we are forbidden to know, are unable to know, and which you do not know yourself? Let the manner in which that comes to pass be commended to God; it suffices us to know that He desires no sin. In what way, however, He permits or wills sin, this we shall leave unanswered (sollen wir gehen lassen). The servant is not to know his master’s secrets but what his master enjoins upon him, much less is a poor creature to explore and desire to know the secrets of the majesty of its God,’- Behold,my dear friends, here you may perceive that the devil always makes a practise of presenting unnecessary, vain, and impossible things in order thereby to tempt the frivolous to forsake the right path. Therefore take heed that you abide by that which is needful, and which God has commanded us to know, as the wise man says: ‘Do not inquire for that which is too high for you, but always remain with that which God has commanded you,’We all have work enough to learn all our lifetime God’s command and His Son Christ.” (E. 53, 345; St. L. 10, 1531;Weimar 18, 549f.)
247. Statements Made by Luther in 1528.
In a letter of comfort written July 20, 1528, Luther says: “A few days ago my dear brother Caspar Cruciger, Doctor of Divinity, informed me with grief that on his various visitations he learned from your friends that you are afflicted with abnormal and strange thoughts pertaining to God’s predestination, and are completely confused by them; also that you grow dull and distracted on account of them, and that finally it must be feared that you might commit suicide,-from which Almighty God may preserve you! … Your proposition and complaints are: God Almighty knows from eternity who are to be and who will be saved, be they dead, living or still to live in days to come,-which is true, and shall and must be conceded; for He knows all things, and there is nothing hidden from Him, since He has counted and knows exactly the drops in the sea, the stars in the heavens, the roots, branches, twigs, leaves of all trees, also all the hair of men. From this you finally conclude that, do what you will, good or evil, God still knows whether you shall be saved or not (which is indeed true) yet, at the same time, you think more of damnation than of salvation and on that account you are faint-hearted, nor do you know how God is minded toward you; hence you grow dispirited and altogether doubtful.”
“Against this I, as a servant of my dear Lord Jesus Christ, give you this advice and comfort, that you may know how God Almighty is disposed toward you, whether you are elected unto salvation or damnation. Although God Almighty knows all things, and all works and thoughts in all creatures must come to pass according to His will (iuxta decretum voluntatis suae), it is nevertheless His earnest will and purpose, aye, His command, decreed from eternity, to save all men and make them partakers of eternal joy, as is clearly stated Ezek. 18, 23, where He says: God does not desire the death of the wicked but that the wicked turn and live.Now, if He desires to save and to have saved the sinners who live and move under the wide and high heaven, then you must not separate yourself from the grace of God by your foolish thoughts, inspired by the devil. For God’s grace extends and stretches from east to west from south to north, overshadowing all who turn, truly repent, and make themselves partakers of His mercy and desire help. For He is ‘rich unto all that call upon Him,’Rom. 10, 12. This, however requires true and genuine faith, which expels such faint-heartedness and despair and is our righteousness, as it is written Rom. 3, 22: ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all.’ Mark these words, in omnes, super omnes (unto all, upon all), whether you also belong to them, and are one of those who lie and grovel under the banner of the sinners.” “Think also as constantly and earnestly of salvation as you [now] do of damnation, and comfort yourself with God’s Word, which is true and everlasting, then such ill winds will cease and pass entirely.”
“Thus we are to comfort our hearts and consciences, silence and resist the evil thoughts by and with the divine Scriptures. For one must not speculate about God’s Word, but be still, drop reason and, holding the Word to be true, believe it, and not cast it to the winds, nor give the Evil Spirit so much power as to suffer ourselves to be overcome, and thus to sink and perish. For the Word, by which all things and creatures in all the wide world, no matter what they are called, have been created and made and by which all that lives and moves is still richly preserved, is true and eternal; and it must be accounted and held to be greater and more important, mightier and more powerful than the fluttering, empty, and vain thoughts which the devil inspires in men. For the Word is true, but the thoughts of men are useless and vain. One must also think thus: God Almighty has not created, predestinated, and elected us to perdition, but to salvation, as Paul asserts, Eph. 1, 4; nor should we begin to dispute about God’s predestination from the Law or reason, but from the grace of God and the Gospel,which is proclaimed to all men.””Hence these and similar thoughts about God’s predestination must be judged and decided from the Word of God’s grace and mercy.When this is done, there remains no room or occasion for a man thus to pester and torment himself,-which neither avails anything even if he should draw the marrow out of his bones, leaving only skin and hair.” (E. 54, 21ff.)
248. Statements Made by Luther in 1531 and 1533.
In a letter of comfort, dated April 30, 1531, Luther refers to the fact that he, too, had passed through temptation concerning predestination. “For,” says he, “I am well acquainted with this malady, having lain in this hospital sick unto eternal death.Now, in addition to my prayer I would gladly advise and comfort you, though writing is weak in such an affair. However, I shall not omit what I am able to do (perhaps God will bless it), and show you how God helped me out of this affliction, and by what art I still daily maintain myself against it. In the first place, you must; be firmly assured in your heart that such thoughts are without doubt the inspiration and the fiery darts of the foul fiend …Hence it is certain that they do not proceed from God, but from the devil, who therewith plagues a heart that man may become an enemy of God and despair,-all of which God has strictly forbidden in the First Commandment, bidding men to trust, love, and praise Him-whereby we live. Secondly:When such thoughts come to you, you must learn to ask yourself, ‘Friend, in what commandment is it written that I must think or treat of this?’ … Fourthly: The chief of all the commandments of God is that we picture before our eyes His dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.He is to be the daily and the chief mirror of our heart, in which we see how dear we are to God, and how much He has cared for us as a good God, so that He even gave His dear Son for us.”
“Here, here, I say, and nowhere else, a man can learn the true art of predestination. Then it will come to pass that you believe on Christ.And if you believe, then you are called; if you are called, then you are also surely predestinated. Do not suffer this mirror and throne of grace to be plucked from the eyes of your heart. On the contrary when such thoughts come and bite like fiery serpents, then under no circumstances look at the thoughts or the fiery serpents, but turn your eyes away from them and look upon the brazen serpent, i.e., Christ delivered for us. Then, by the grace of God, matters will mend.” (St. L. 10, 1744 sq.; E. 54, 228.)
In Luther’s House Postil of 1533 we read: “From the last passage: ‘Many are called, but few are chosen,’ wiseacres draw various false and ungodly conclusions. They argue:He whom God has elected is saved without means; but as for him who is not elected, may he do what he will, be as pious and believing as he will, it is nevertheless ordained that he must fall and cannot be saved; hence I will let matters take what course they will. If I am to be saved, it is accomplished without my assistance; if not, all I may do and undertake is nevertheless in vain.Now every one may readily see for himself what sort of wicked, secure people develop from such thoughts. However, in treating of the passage from the Prophet Micah on the day of Epiphany, we have sufficiently shown that one must guard against such thoughts as against the devil, undertake another manner of studying and thinking of God’s will, and let God in His majesty and with respect to election untouched [unsearched]; for there He is incomprehensible. Nor is it possible that a man should not be offended by such thoughts, and either fall into despair or become altogether wicked and reckless.”
“But whoever would know God and His will aright must walk the right way. Then he will not be offended, but be made better. The right way, however, is the Lord Jesus Christ, as He says:’No one cometh unto the Father but by Me,’ Whoever knows the Father aright and would come unto Him must first come to Christ and learn to know Him, viz., as follows: Christ is God’s Son, and is almighty, eternal God.What does the Son of God now do? He becomes man for our sakes, is made under the Law to redeem us from the Law, and was Himself crucified in order to pay for our sins. He rises again from the dead, in order by His resurrection to pave the way to eternal life for us, and to aid us against eternal death.He sits at the right hand of God in order to represent us, to give us the Holy Spirit, to govern and lead us by Him, and to protect His believers against all tribulations and insinuations of Satan. That means knowing Christ rightly.”
“Now when this knowledge has been clearly and firmly established in your heart, then begin to ascend into heaven and make this conclusion: Since the Son of God has done this for the sake of men, how, then,must God’s heart be disposed to us, seeing that His Son did it by the Father’s will and command? Is it not true that your own reason will compel you to say: Since God has thus delivered His only-begotten Son for us, and has not spared Him for our sakes,He surely cannot harbor evil intentions against us? Evidently He does not desire our death, for He seeks and employs the very best means toward assisting us to obtain eternal life. In this manner one comes to God in the right way, as Christ Himself declares, John 3, 16: God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Now contrast these thoughts with those that grow out of the former opinion, and they will be found to be the thoughts of the foul fiend, which must offend a man, causing him either to despair, or to become reckless and ungodly, since he can expect nothing good from God.”
“Some conceive other thoughts, explaining the words thus: ‘Many are called’, i.e., God offers His grace to many, but few are chosen, i.e.,He imparts such grace to only a few; for only a few are saved. This is an altogether wicked explanation.For how is it possible for one who holds and believes nothing else of God not to be an enemy of God, whose will alone must be blamed for the fact that not all of us are saved? Contrast this opinion with the one that is formed when a man first learns to know the Lord Christ, and it will be found to be nothing but devilish blasphemy.Hence the sense of this passage, ‘Many are called,’ etc., is far different. For the preaching of the Gospel is general and public, so that whoever will may hear and accept it. Furthermore, God has it preached so generally and publicly that every one should hear, believe, and accept it, and be saved. But what happens? As the Gospel states: ‘Few are chosen,’ i.e., few conduct themselves toward the Gospel in such a manner that God has pleasure in them. For some do not hear and heed it; others hear it, but do not cling to it, being loath either to risk or suffer anything for it; still others hear it, but are more concerned about money and goods, or the pleasures of the world. This, however, is displeasing to God, who has no pleasure in such people. This Christ calls ‘not to be chosen,’ i.e., conducting oneself so that God has no pleasure in one. Those men are chosen of God and well-pleasing to Him who diligently hear the Gospel, believe in Christ, prove their faith by good fruits, and suffer on that account what they are called to suffer.”
“This is the true sense, which can offend no one, but makes men better, so that they think: Very well, if I am to please God and be elected, I cannot afford to live so as to have an evil conscience, sin against God’s commandments, and be unwilling to resist sin; but I must go to church, and pray God for His Holy Spirit; nor must I permit the Word to be taken out of my heart, but resist the devil and his suggestions, and pray for protection, patience, and help. This makes good Christians, whereas those who think that God begrudges salvation to any one either become reckless or secure, wicked people, who live like brutes, thinking: It has already been ordained whether I am to be saved or not; why, then, should I stint myself anything? To think thus is wrong; for you are commanded to hear God’s Word and to believe Christ to be your Savior, who has paid for your sin.Remember this command and obey it. If you notice that you are lacking faith, or that your faith is weak, pray God to grant you His Holy Ghost, and do not doubt that Christ is your Savior, and that if you believe in Him, i.e., if you take comfort in Him, you shall by Him be saved. Dear Lord Jesus Christ, grant this unto us all! Amen.” (E. 1, 204; St. L. 13, 199.)
249. Statements Made by Luther in 1538 and 1545.
In his remarks of 1538 on Matt. 11:25-26, Luther says: “Christ speaks especially against those who would be wise and judge in religious matters, because they have on their side the Law and human reason, which is overwise, exalting itself against the true religion both by teaching and by judging.Hence Christ here praises God as doing right when He conceals His secrets from the wise and prudent, because they want to be over and not under God.Not as though He hid it in fact or desired to hide it (for He commands it to be preached publicly under the entire heaven and in all lands), but that He has chosen that kind of preaching which the wise and prudent abhor by nature, and which is hidden from them through their own fault, since they do not want to have it-as is written Is. 6, 9: ‘See ye indeed, but perceive not,’ Lo, they see, i.e., they have the doctrine which is preached both plainly and publicly. Still they do not perceive, for they turn away from it and refuse to have it. Thus they hide the truth from themselves by their own blindness.And so, on the other hand,He reveals it to the babes; for the babes receive it when it is revealed to them. To them the truth is revealed since they wish and desire it.” (W. 7, 133.)
In a letter giving comfort concerning predestination, dated August 8, 1545,Luther wrote:”My dear master and friend N. has informed me that you are at times in tribulation about God’s eternal predestination, and requested me to write you this short letter on that matter. Now to be sure, this is a sore tribulation.But to overcome it one must know that we are forbidden to understand this or to speculate about it. For what God wants to conceal we should be glad not to know. This is the apple the eating of which brought death upon Adam and Eve and upon all their children, when they wanted to know what they were not to know. For as it is sin to commit murder, to steal, or to curse, so it is also sin to busy oneself searching such things. As an antidote to this God has given us His Son, Jesus Christ. Of Him we must daily think; in Him we must consider ourselves (uns in ihm spiegeln). Then predestination will appear lovely. For outside of Christ everything is only danger, death, and the devil; in Him, however, there is nothing but peace and joy. For if one forever torments himself with predestination, all one gains is anguish of soul. Hence flee and avoid such thoughts as the affliction of the serpent of Paradise, and, instead, look upon Christ. God preserve you!” (E. 56, 140; St. L. 10. 1748.)
250. Statements Made by Luther in His Commentary on Genesis.
Luther’s caeterum censeo, that we are neither to deny nor to search the hidden God (who cannot be apprehended in His bare majesty-qui in nuda sua maiestate non potest apprehendi, E., Op. Lat. 2, 171), but to adhere to the revelation He has given us in the Gospel, is repeated again and again also in his Commentary on Genesis, which was begun in 1536 and completed in 1545. In the explanation of chap. 26, 9 we read, in part:”I gladly take occasion from this passage to discuss the question concerning doubt, concerning God and God’s will. For I hear that everywhere among the nobles and magnates profane sayings are spread concerning predestination or divine prescience. For they say: ‘If I am predestinated, I shall be saved, whether I have done good or evil. If I am not predestinated, I shall be damned, without any regard whatever to my works,’ Against these ungodly sayings I would gladly argue at length if my ill health would permit. For if these sayings are true, as they believe them to be, then the incarnation of the Son of God, His suffering and resurrection, and whatever He did for the salvation of the world, is entirely abolished. What would the prophets and the entire Holy Scriptures profit us? what the Sacraments? Let us therefore abandon and crush all this,” all these ungodly sayings.
Luther proceeds: “These thoughts must be opposed by the true and firm knowledge of Christ, even as I frequently admonish that above all it is useful and necessary that our knowledge of God be absolutely certain, and being apprehended by firm assent of the mind, cleave in us, as otherwise our faith will be in vain. For if God does not stand by His promises, then our salvation is done for, while on the contrary this is to be our consolation that, although we change, we may nevertheless flee to Him who is unchangeable. For this is what He affirms of Himself, Mal. 3, 6: ‘I am the Lord, I change not,’ and Rom. 11, 29: ‘For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’ Accordingly, in the book De Servo Arbitrio and elsewhere I have taught that we must distinguish when we treat of the knowledge of God or, rather, of His essence. For one must argue either concerning the hidden or the revealed God. Concerning God, in so far as He has not been revealed to us, there is no faith, no knowledge, no cognition whatever. Here one must apply the saying: What is above us does not concern us (Quae supra nos, nihil ad nos). For such thoughts as search for something higher, beyond or without the revelation of God, are altogether diabolical; and by them nothing else is achieved than that we plunge ourselves into perdition, because they are occupied with an unsearchable object, i.e., the unrevealed God. Indeed, rather let God keep His decrees and mysteries concealed from us, for there is no reason why we should labor so much that they be disclosed to us. Moses, too, asked God to show His face,or glory, to him. But the Lord answered, Ex. 33, 23: ‘Thou shalt see My back parts; but My face shall not be seen. Posteriora mea tibi ostendam, faciem autem meam videre non poteris.’ For this curiosity is original sin itself, by which we are impelled to seek for a way to God by natural speculation. But it is an enormous sin and a useless and vain endeavor. For Christ says, John 6, 65; 14, 6: ‘No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ Hence, when we approach the non-revealed God, there is no faith, no word, nor any knowledge, because He is an invisible God whom you will not make visible.”
With special reference to his book De Servo Arbitrio Luther continues:”It was my desire to urge and set forth these things, because after my death many will quote my books and by them try to prove and confirm all manner of errors and follies of their own. Now, among others I have written that all things are absolute and necessary; but at the same time (and very often at other times) I added that we must look upon the revealed God, as we sing in the Psalm: ‘Er heisst Jesus Christ, der Herr Zebaoth, und ist kein andrer Gott,’ ‘Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, and there’s none other God.’But they will pass by all these passages, and pick out those only concerning the hidden God. You, therefore, who are now hearing me, remember that I have taught that we must not inquire concerning the predestination of the hidden God, but acquiesce in that which is revealed by the call and the ministry of the Word. For there you can be certain regarding your faith and salvation and say: I believe in the Son of God who said: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,’ John 3, 36. In Him therefore is no damnation or wrath, but the good will of God the Father. But these very things I have set forth also elsewhere in my books, and now I transmit them orally, too, viva voce; hence I am excused-ideo sum excusatus.” (E., Op. Exeg. 6, 200. 292. 300; CONC. TRIGL. 897f.)
251. Luther Never Retracted His Doctrine of Grace.
It has frequently been asserted that Luther in his later years recalled his book De Servo Arbitrio, and retracted, changed and essentially modified his original doctrine of grace, or, at least silently, abandoned it and relegated it to oblivion. Philippi says in his Glaubenslehre (4, 1, 37): “In the beginning of the Reformation [before 1525] the doctrine of predestination fell completely into the background. But when Erasmus, in his endeavors to restore Semi-Pelagianism, injected into the issue also the question of predestination, Luther, in his De Servo Arbitrio with an overbold defiance, did not shrink from drawing also the inferences from his position. He, however, not only never afterwards repeated this doctrine, but in reality taught the very opposite in his unequivocal proclamation of the universality of divine grace, of the all-sufficiency of the merits of Christ, and of the universal operation of the means of grace; and he even opposed that doctrine [of De Servo Arbitrio] expressly as erroneous, and by his corrections took back his earlier utterances on that subject.” Endorsing Philippi’s view as “according well with the facts in the case” J.W.Richard, who, too, charges the early Luther with “absolute predestinarianism,” remarks: “But this is certain: the older Luther became, the more did he drop his earlier predestinarianism into the background and the more did he lay stress on the grace of God and on the means of grace,which offer salvation to all men (in omnes, super omnes) without partiality, and convey salvation to all who believe.” (Conf. Hist., 336.)
Time and again similar assertions have been repeated, particularly by synergistic theologians. But they are not supported by the facts. Luther, as his books abundantly show was never a preacher of predestinarianism (limited grace, limited redemption, etc.), but always a messenger of God’s universal grace in Christ, offered in the means of grace to all poor and penitent sinners. In his public preaching and teaching predestination never predominated. Christ Crucified and His merits offered in the Gospel always stood in the foreground. In De Servo Arbitrio Luther truly says: “We, too, teach nothing else than Christ Crucified.” (St. L. 18, 1723; E. v. a. 7, 160.) Luther’s sermons and books preached and published before as well as after 1525 refute the idea that he ever made predestination, let alone predestinarianism, the center of his teaching and preaching. It is a fiction that only very gradually Luther became a preacher of universal grace and of the means of grace. In fact, he himself as well as his entire reformation were products of the preaching, not of predestinarianism, but of God’s grace and pardon offered to all in absolution and in the means of grace. The bent of Luther’s mind was not speculative, but truly evangelical and Scriptural. Nor is it probable that he would ever have entered upon the question of predestination to such an extent as he did in De Servo Arbitrio, if the provocation had not come from without. It was the rationalistic, Semi-Pelagian attack of Erasmus on the fundamental Christian truths concerning man’s inability in spiritual matters and his salvation by grace alone which, in Luther’s opinion, called fhe had ______________________________De Servo Arbitrio. Wherever the occasion demanded it Luther was ready to defend also the truth concerning God’s majesty and supremacy, but he always was and remained a preacher of the universal mercy of God as revealed in Christ Crucified.
Nor is there any solid foundation whatever for the assertion that Luther later on retracted his book against Erasmus or abandoned its doctrine,-a fact at present generally admitted also by disinterested historians. (Frank 1, 129. 135. 125.) In his criticism of the Book of Confutation, dated March 7, 1559 Landgrave Philip of Hesse declared: “As to free will,we a long time ago have read the writings of Luther and Erasmus of Rotterdam as well as their respective replies; and, although in the beginning they were far apart, Luther some years later saw the disposition of the common people and gave a better explanation (und sich besser erklaeret); and we believe, if a synod were held and one would hear the other, they would come to a brotherly agreement in this article.” (C. R. 9, 760.) But Flacius immediately declared that this assertion was false, as appeared from Luther’s Commentary on Genesis and his letter to the Elector concerning the Regensburg Interim. (Preger 2, 82.) Schaff writes: “The Philippist [Christopher] Lasius first asserted, 1568 that Luther had recalled his book De Servo Arbitrio; but this was indignantly characterized by Flacius and Westphal as a wretched lie and an insult to the evangelical church. The fact is that Luther emphatically reaffirmed this book, in a letter to Capito [July 9], 1637, as one of his very best.” (Creeds 1, 303.) In his letter to Capito, Luther says: “Nullum enim agnosco meum iustum librum nisi forte ‘De Servo Arbitrio’ et ‘Catechismum,'” thus endorsing De Servo Arbitrio in the same manner as his Catechism. (Enders 11, 247.) Before this Luther had said at his table: “Erasmus has written against me in his booklet Hyperaspistes, in which he endeavors to defend his book On Free Will, against which I wrote my book On the Enslaved Will, which as yet he has not refuted, and will never in eternity be able to refute. This I know for certain, and I defy and challenge the devil together with all his minions to refute it. For I am certain that it is the immutable truth of God.” (St. L. 20, 1081.) Despite numerous endeavors, down to the present day, not a shred of convincing evidence has been produced showing that Luther ever wavered in this position, or changed his doctrine of grace. Luther’s extensive reference to De Servo Arbitrio in his Commentary on Genesis, from which we freely quoted above, has frequently been interpreted as a quasi-retraction. But according to the Formula of Concord these expositions of Luther’s merely “repeat and explain” his former position. They certainly do not offer any corrections of his former fundamental views. Luther does not speak of any errors of his own, but of errors of others which they would endeavor to corroborate by quoting from his books-“post meam mortem multi meos libros proferrent in medium et inde omnis generis errores et deliria sua confirmabunt.”Moreover, he declares that he is innocent if some should misuse his statements concerning necessity and the hidden God, because he had expressly added that we must not search the hidden majesty of God, but look upon the revealed God to judge of His disposition toward us-“addidi, quod aspiciendus sit Deus revelatus … Ideo sum excusatus.” (CONC. TRIGL., 898.) Luther’s entire theological activity, before as well as after 1525, was an application of the principle stressed also in De Servo Arbitrio, viz., that we must neither deny nor investigate or be concerned about the hidden God, but study God as He has revealed Himself in the Gospel and firmly rely on His gracious promises in the means of grace.
252. Luther’s Doctrine Approved by Formula of Concord.
Flacius, who himself did not deny the universality of grace, declared at the colloquy in Weimar, 1560, that, when taken in their context, Luther’s statements in De Servo Arbitrio contained no inapt expressions (nihil incommodi). He added: “I do not want to be the reformer of Luther, but let us leave the judgment and discussion concerning this book to the Church of sound doctrine. Nolo reformator esse Lutheri, sed iudicium et discussionem istius libri permittamus sanae ecclesiae.” (Planck 4, 704, Frank 4, 255.) In Article II of the Formula of Concord the Church passed on Luther’s book on the bondage of the will together with his declarations in his Commentary on Genesis. In referring to this matter the Formula gives utterance to the following thoughts: 1. that in De Servo Arbitrio Luther “elucidated and supported this position [on free will, occupied also by the Formula of Corcord] well and thoroughly, egregie et solide”; 2. that “afterwards he repeated and explained it in his glorious exposition of the Book of Genesis, especially of chapter 26;” 3. that in this exposition also “his meaning and understanding of some other peculiar disputations, introduced incidentally by Erasmus, as of absolute necessity, etc., have been secured by him in the best and most careful way against all misunderstanding and perversion;” 4. that the Formula of Concord “appeals and refers others” to these deliverances of Luther. (CONC. TRIGL. 896, 44.)
The Formula of Concord, therefore, endorsed Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio without expressing any strictures or reservations whatever, and, particularly in Articles I, II and XI, also embodied its essential thoughts though not all of its phrases statements, and arguments. The said articles contain a guarded reproduction and affirmation of Luther’s doctrine of grace, according to which God alone is the cause of man’s salvation while man alone is the cause of his damnation. In particular they reaffirm Luther’s teaching concerning man’s depravity and the inability of his will to cooperate in conversion; the divine monergism in man’s salvation; the universality of grace and of the efficaciousness of the means of grace; man’s responsibility for the rejection of grace and for his damnation; God’s unsearchable judgments and mysterious ways; the mystery why some are lost while others are saved, though all are equally guilty and equally loved by God; the solution of this problem in the light of glory where it will be made apparent that there never were contradictory wills in God. In its doctrine of predestination as well as of free will, therefore, the Formula of Concord is not a compromise between synergism and monergism, but signifies a victory of Luther over the later Melanchthon.
253.Attitude of Apology of the Book of Concord.
The attitude of the Formula of Concordwith respect to Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio was shared by contemporary Lutheran theologians. They expressed objections neither to the book itself nor to its public endorsement by the Formula of Concord. In 1569 the theologians of Ducal Saxony publicly declared their adherence to the doctrine “set forth most luminously and skilfully (summa luce et dexteritate traditum)” in De Servo Arbitrio, the Commentary on Genesis, and other books of Luther. (Schluesselburg 6, 133.) That the authors of the Formula of Concord were fully conscious of their agreement with Luther’s De Servo Arbitrio and his Commentary on Genesis appears also from the Apology of the Book of Concord, composed 1582 by Kirchner Selneccer, and Chemnitz. Instead of charging Luther with errors, these theologians, who were prominent in the drafting of the Formula or Concord, endorse and defend his position, viz., that we must neither deny nor investigate the hidden God, but search the Gospel for an answer to the question how God is disposed toward us.
In this Apology the opening paragraph of the section defending Article XI of the Formula of Concord against the Neustadt theologians reads as follows: “In their antilog [antilogia – attack on Article XI of the Formula of Concord] regarding God’s eternal election and predestination they merely endeavor to persuade the people that in this article the doctrine of the Christian Book of Concord [Formula of Concord] conflicts with the teaching of Doctor Luther and his book De Servo Arbitrio, while otherwise we ourselves are accustomed to appeal to Luther’s writings.They accordingly charge the Book of Concord with condemning Luther, who in the book called Servum Arbitrium maintained the proposition that it was not superfluous but highly necessary and useful for a Christian to know whether God’s foreknowledge (Versehung) is certain or uncertain, changeable, etc. Now, praise the Lord, these words of Dr. Luther are not unknown to us, but, besides, we also well know how Dr. Luther in his last explanation of the 26th chapter of the First Book of Moses explains and guards these words of his.” (Fol. 204a.) After quoting the passages from Luther’s Genesis, which we cited above (p. 223f.), the Apology continues: “With this explanation of Luther we let the matter rest. If our opponents [the Neustadt theologians] wish to brood over it any further and in their investigating and disputing dive into the abyss or unfathomable depth of this mystery, they may do so for themselves [at their own risk] and suffer the consequences of such an attempt.As for us we are content to adhere to God in so far as He has revealed Himself in His Word, and lead and direct Christianity thereto, reserving the rest for the life to come.” (405a.)
254. Agreement of Apology with Formula of Concord and Luther.
Doctrinally also, the Apology of the Book of Concord is in agreement with both Luther and the Formula of Concord. This appears from the following excerpts: “Nor does the Christian Book of Concord [Formula of Concord] deny that there is a reprobation in God or that God rejects some; hence also it does not oppose Luther’s statement when he writes in De Servo Arbitrio against Erasmus that it is the highest degree of faith to believe that God, who saves so few, is nevertheless most merciful; but it does not intend to ascribe to God the efficient cause of such reprobation or damnation as the doctrine of our opponents teaches; it rather holds that, when this question is discussed all men should put their finger on their lips and first say with the Apostle Paul, Rom. 11, 20: ‘Propter incredulitatem defracti sunt- Because of unbelief they were broken off,’ and Rom. 6, 23: ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ In the second place: When the question is asked why God the Lord does not through His Holy Spirit convert, and bestow faith upon, all men, etc. (which He is certainly able to do-das er doch wohl koennte), that we furthermore say with the Apostle [Rom. 11, 33]: ‘Quam incomprehensibilia sunt iudicia eius et impervestigabiles viae eius-How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out,’ but not in any way ascribe to the Lord God Himself the willing and efficient cause of the reprobation and damnation of the impenitent.”
“But when they, pressing us, declare, ‘Since you admit the election of the elect, you must also admit the other thing, viz., that in God Himself there is from eternity a cause of reprobation, also apart from sin,’ etc., then we declare that we are not at all minded to make God the author [Ursacher] of reprobation (the cause of which properly lies not in God, but in sin), nor to ascribe to Him the efficient cause of the damnation of the ungodly, but intend to adhere to the word of the Prophet Hosea, chapter 13, where God Himself says: ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.’ Nor do we intend to search our dear God in so far as He is hidden and has not revealed Himself.For it is too high for us anyway, and we cannot comprehend it. And the more we occupy ourselves with this matter, the farther we depart from our dear God, and the more we doubt His gracious will toward us.” (206.)
The Apology continues: “Likewise the Book of Concord [Formula of Concord] does not deny that God does not work in all men in the same manner. For at all times there are many whom He has not called through the public ministry.However, our opponents shall nevermore persuade us to infer with them that God is an efficient [wirkliche] cause of the reprobation of such people, and that He decreed absolutely from His mere counsel [fuer sich aus blossem Rat] to reject and cast them away eternally, even irrespective of their sin [auch ausserhalb der Suende]. For when we arrive at this abyss of the mysteries of God, it is sufficient to say with the Apostle Rom. 11:’His judgments are unsearchable,’ and 1 Cor. 15, 57:’But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’Whatever goes beyond this our Savior Christ Himself will reveal to us in eternal life.”
“Nor is there any cause for the cry that the Book of Concord did not distinguish between malum culpae, i.e., sin which God neither wills, nor approves, nor works, and malum poenae, or the punishments which He wills and works.For there [in Article XI] the purpose was not to discuss all questions which occur and might be treated in this matter concerning God’s eternal election, but merely to give a summary statement of the chief points of this article; and elsewhere this distinction is clearly explained by our theologians. Nor is there any one among us who approves of this blasphemy, that God wills sin, is pleased with it, and works it; moreover, we reject such speech as a blasphemy against God Himself. Besides, it is plainly stated, p. 318 [edition of 1580; CONC. TRIGL. 1065, 6], that God does not will evil acts and works, from which it is apparent that the Book [Formula] of Concord does not at all teach that God is the author of malum culpae or of sins in the same manner as He executes and works the punishments of sins.” (206 b.)
255.Apology on Universalis Gratia Seria et Efficax.
Emphasizing the universality and seriousness of God’s grace and the possibility of conversion and salvation even for those who are finally damned, the Apology proceeds: “And why should we not also reject [the proposition]: ‘The reprobate cannot be converted and saved,’ since it is undoubtedly true that, with respect to those who are finally rejected and damned, we are unable to judge with certainty who they are, and there is hope for the conversion of all men as long as they are still alive? For the malefactor, Luke 23, was converted to God at his last end; concerning whom, according to the judgment of reason everybody might have said that he was one of the reprobates. The passage John 12, 39: ‘Therefore they could not believe,’ etc., does not properly treat of eternal reprobation, nor does it say with so many words that no reprobate can be converted and saved … It is therefore the meaning neither of the prophet [Is. 6, 9. 10] nor of the evangelist [John 12, 39] that God, irrespective of the sins and wickedness of such people, solely from His mere counsel, purpose, and will, ordains them to damnation so that they cannot be saved.Moreover, the meaning and correct understanding of this passage is, that in the obstinate and impenitent God punishes sin with sins, and day by day permits them to become more blind, but not that He has pleasure in their sin and wickedness, effectually works in them blindness and obstinacy, or that He, solely from His purpose and mere counsel, irrespective also of sins, has foreordained them to damnation so that they cannot convert themselves and be saved. In all such and similar passages, therefore, we shall and must be sedulously on our guard, lest we spin therefrom this blasphemy, that out of His free purpose and counsel, irrespective also of sin, God has decreed to reject eternally these or others … ” (207.)
With respect to the seriousness of universal grace we furthermore read: “They [the Neustadt theologians] say that in His Word God declares what He approves, and earnestly demands of, all men, but not what He wishes to work and effect in all of them.For, they say,He reveals His secret counsel in no other way than by working in man, viz., through conversion or final hardening of those who are either converted or hardened and damned …With regard to this we give the following correct answer, viz.: that we are not minded in the least to carry on a dispute or discussion with our opponents concerning God and His secret counsel, purpose, or will in so far as He has not in His Word revealed Himself and His counsel. The reason is the one quoted above from the words of Luther himself, viz., that concerning God, so far as He has not been revealed [to us], or has not made Himself known in His Word, there is neither faith nor knowledge, and one cannot know anything of Him, etc., which also in itself is true.Why, then, should we, together with our opponents dive into the abyss of the incomprehensible judgments of God and presumptuously assert with them that from His mere counsel, purpose, and will, irrespective also of sin, God has ordained some to damnation who cannot be converted, moreover, whom He, according to His secret purpose, does not want to be converted, despite the fact that through the office of the ministry He declares Himself friendly towards them and offers them His grace and mercy? My dear friend, where is it written in the Word of God that it is not the will of God that all should be saved, but that, irrespective of their sin,He has ordained some to damnation only from His mere counsel, purpose, and will, so that they cannot be saved? Never in all eternity, try as they may,will they prove this proposition from God’s revealed Word. For nowhere do the Holy Scriptures speak thus.Yet from sheer foolhardiness they dare employ, contrary to Scripture, such blasphemous doctrine and speech and spread it in all Christendom.” (108 b.)
256. Apology on God’s Mysterious Judgments and Ways.
Concerning the mysterious judgments and ways of God the Apology says:”At the same time we do not deny that God does not work alike in all men, enlightening all,-for neither does He give His Word to all,-and that nevertheless He is and remains both just and merciful, and that nobody can justly accuse Him of any unfaithfulness, envy, or tyranny, although He does not, as said, give His Word to all and enlighten them. But we add that, when arriving at this mystery, one should put his finger on his lips and not dispute or brood over it [gruebeln-from the facts conceded infer doctrines subversive of God’s universal serious grace], but say with the apostle:’How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ Much less should one rashly say, as our opponents do, that ofHis free will, and irrespective of sin, God has ordained that some should be damned. For as to what God holds and has decreed in His secret, hidden counsel, nothing certain can be said. Nor should one discuss this deeply hidden mystery, but reserve it for yonder life,and meanwhile adhere to the revealed Word of God by which we are called to repentance, and by which salvation is faithfully offered us. And this Word, or revealed will, of God concerning the giving rest to all those that labor and are heavy laden, is certain, infallible, unwavering, and not at all opposed to the secret counsel of God,with which alone our opponents are occupied. Accordingly nothing that conflicts with the will revealed in the Word of God should be inferred from it, even as God Himself in His Word has not directed us to it. Because of the fact, therefore, that not all accept this call,we must not declare that from His free purpose and will, without regard to sin, God in His secret counsel, has ordained those who do not repent to damnation, so that they cannot be converted and saved (for this has not been revealed to us in the Word), but adhere to this, that God’s judgments in these cases are unsearchable and incomprehensible.”
“It is impossible that the doctrine of the opponents concerning this article should not produce in the hearers either despair or Epicurean security, when in this doctrine it is taught that God, from His mere counsel and purpose and irrespective of sin, has ordained some to damnation so that they cannot be converted. For as soon as a heart hears this, it cannot but despair of its salvation, or fall into these Epicurean thoughts: If you are among the reprobate whom, from His free purpose and without regard to sin, God has ordained to damnation, then you cannot be saved, do what you will. But if you are among those who shall be saved, then you cannot fail; do what you will, you must nevertheless be saved, etc.We do not in the least intend to join our opponents in giving occasion for such things. God also shall protect us from it.” (209.)
Again: “They [the opponents] also say that we stress the universal promises of grace, but fail to add that these belong and pertain to believers. But herein they wrong us. For we urge both, viz., that the promises of grace are universal, and that, nevertheless, only believers, who labor and are heavy laden,Matt. 11, become partakers of them. But their [our opponents’] object is to have us join them in saying that some are ordained to damnation from the free purpose of God, also without regard to sin,whom He does not want to be saved, even though He calls them through the Word and offers His grace and salvation to them,-which, however,we shall never do. For our heart is filled with horror against such a Stoic and Manichean doctrine.” (209 b.)