Thesis Thursday

Another from lecture 13, continuing to discuss:

Thesis VIII.

In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror an account of their sins or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.


We cannot, indeed, prescribe to sinners a certain degree of penitence; for an examination of the Holy Scriptures on this point reveals the fact that the degree of penitence, with those persons whose conversion has been recorded, has been quite different. But every person must have experienced something of the bitterness of penitence, or he will never even begin to relish the sweetness of the Gospel. In leading a person to salvation, God may permit him to obtain faith without previously passing through a great deal of anguish and fear; but He always compensates for that later. Those whom God in His mercy has led quickly to faith and joy in their Savior must by that same mercy be merged again and again in genuine sorrow over their sins lest they fall away. Time believers [zeitgläubigen — “Those who believe for a time”] have been described by the Lord as follows: the seed of the divine Word promptly takes root in them, causing faith to spring up in them rapidly. They receive the Word with joy, but are not profited by it. Unless the rocky subsoil in their hearts has been pulverized by the Law, the sweet Gospel is of no benefit to them.

It is indeed a common observation that all those who have passed through great and profound sorrow at the beginning have become the best and most stalwart Christians. Those who in their youth were deeply merged beneath floods of anguish and sorrow on account of their salvation turned out to be the best pastors and theologians.

…A young man who has arrived at “faith” in God’s Word by a sterile conviction of his intellect is a pitiful sight. If he is an acute reasoner, he can easily be led to accept all sorts of errors and become a heretic, because he has never passed through any real anguish of soul. But any one who has experienced the power of the Word and passed through the ordeal of genuine and serious penitence will not easily slip into the hidden spiritual sink-holes, for he has been made wary by experience. When his reason begins to hold forth to him, he clings to the Word and bids his reason be silent. God grant that you have not only been polite listeners to my remarks and resolve to put them to practise in the ministry, but that you also have experienced them in your own hearts.

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3 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. RubeRad says:

    Is Walther overstating here? Is it absolutely mandatory that every true believer experience “a great deal of anguish and fear” at some point in their life? Isn’t that the error of the experientalist/conversionist, that Lutheran objectivism typically wants to avoid?

  2. Echo_ohcE says:

    Yes, overstated, in my opinion.

    But to be fair, he’s speaking primarily of/to pastors, I think. Is there anything about that in the introduction? It seems clear here. And if that’s the case, then he’s not overstating as much as if he were talking to/about believers more generally.

    Also, he seems to think that a great deal of anguish over sin at the beginning – which I take to mean at the time closer to conversion, probably before conversion – is the best way to experience the Christian life. At least, that’s what he seems to be saying. And he seems to be saying that this is preferable to someone who shoots up quickly, like the seed planted on rocky ground.

    But I’m not sure if he’s handling the text correctly on this point or not.

    Mat 13:20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

    Walther’s stated cure for this state of affairs is apparently for the person in question to have been crushed by the law for a while first, before finding the forgiveness of the gospel. Perhaps this deep rooted sorrow for sin will help the Christian to endure in times of persecution or suffering.

    But I don’t see how this cure solves the problem. The problem, according to the text, is that the person lacks “root” (whatever that means), and thus when suffering comes, the person falls away, ostensibly to end the suffering. So instead of fleeing to Christ for refuge in times of suffering, instead of clinging to their hope in the age to come and abandoning hope in this world, they’re turning aside to idols of various kinds, looking for this-worldly salvation elsewhere than in Christ. It seems to me that the root that the person lacks is an unshakable faith in Christ. How is the law and the heaping up of sorrow for sin the cure for this problem?

    One could argue, of course, that if someone is intensely aware of the depth and true horror of their sin, and if they are truly repentant, and if they TRULY know and believe that God has saved them, even them, the chief of sinners from themselves, THEN they will have this unshakable faith in Christ. And of course, the only way that they will have this intense understanding of the horror of their sin will come only through the law.

    One could make such an argument. But first of all, I don’t see Walther making it, even if he might be implying it. But secondly, this argument, while not completely stupid, is fairly stupid nonetheless. Unshakable faith comes from the law and the gospel working together. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ”. Not law, not gospel, but the Word, consisting of both law and gospel working together, not one to the exclusion of the other.

    Thirdly, faith arises from hearing the word, not emotional experiences. We do not grow in our faith through intense feelings of sorrow. Good grief, this is like when I was a Pentecostal once upon a time. Come down to the altar and cry a while. For Pentecostals, shedding tears at the altar is a means of grace. Walther is implying something similar, namely that feelings of intense sorrow for sin will themselves make our faith stronger, granting us the power to endure times of suffering.

    But what, or more properly, WHO does the Bible attribute our power to persevere to? Isn’t it the Holy Spirit? And doesn’t the Spirit work through the hearing of the Word, especially the preached Word? Guilt is what the Spirit produces in the unrepentant sinner. This guilt does not help us to endure. The Spirit does that.

  3. RubeRad says:

    Yes, I think it is clear he is addressing future pastors. Don’t have a direct ref. for that though.

    As for perseverance, you make a good, Calvinist point, but Lutes are all turned around in this department, putting the certainty into baptismal regeneration, but allowing truly-baptismally-regenerated Christians to fall away at some point. You have to expect that that confusion will manifest in other areas as well.

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