Passing on now to lecture 15, we see Walther’s attention thankfully turning from the Reformed, to Lutheran Pietism. The quotes below are taken here and there from a much longer narrative. I omit “…” everywhere for the sake of flow.
A week ago we learned that it is a false method to prescribe to an alarmed sinner all manner of rules for his conduct, telling him what he has to do, how earnestly and how long he must pray, and wrestle and struggle until he hears a mysterious voice whispering in his heart: “Your sins are forgiven; you are a child of God; you are converted,” or until he feels that the grace of God has been poured out in his heart. That is the method adopted for conversion by all the Reformed sects and their adherents.
Would that this method of conversion were not found in the Lutheran Church! But, alas! such is the case. At first the Pietists tried to convert people by this method. In some points they were quite right. The Lutheran Church in those days had gone to sleep; it lay shrouded in spiritual death. The Pietists desired to come to the rescue. However, instead of going back to the purity of teaching of the Church of the Reformation and learning from that age how to quicken the spiritually dead, they adopted the method of the Reformed.
Let me illustrate this by the example of Dr. John Philip Fresenius. One of his most popular books is his Book on Confession and Communion. My reason for illustrating by this very book how even Lutherans mingle the Law with the Gospel is because I had some very sad personal experience with this book. [At university,] there began for me a period of the severest spiritual afflictions. I went to [a pietist acquaintance] and asked him, “What must I do to be saved?” He prescribed a number of things that I was to do and gave me several books to read, among them Fresenius’s Book on Confession and Communion. The farther I got in reading the book, the more uncertain I became whether I was a Christian.
Fresenius writes: “If sinners of this type are to be enabled to obtain the forgiveness of sins and to receive the body and blood of Christ worthily, everything depends on their conversion. Accordingly, I shall here offer a faithful instruction regarding the points that have to be observed on their part in order that they may be thoroughly converted in a short time.” (The remark “in a short time” sounded like Gospel to me, and I wished that it might be so in my case.) “I have tested the good quality of this instruction on many sinners in the past and found that it resulted in the certain salvation of every one who faithfully followed it.
“All depends on three rules which the sinner must observe. They are derived from the inmost nature of the divine order of salvation and are such that, if faithfully applied, the worst slaves of the devil are helped by them. If any one is not helped, he must blame his own unfaithfulness for it, and not the rules.” (I resolved gladly to obey all rules.) “The first rule is: Pray for grace. The second: Be watchful lest you lose grace. The third: Meditate upon the Word of God in a proper manner. Since a sinner cannot convert himself, he must pray for the grace of conversion. Since the grace which he has obtained in answer to his prayer can easily be lost, he must be watchful. Since the Word of God is the means of grace by which we are enlightened and regeneration, or the change of heart, is accomplished in adults, he must meditate upon it in a proper manner. This shows that these three rules have been derived from the inmost nature of the divine order of salvation.”
Fresenius concludes his explanation of the three rules for “such as are not yet converted, but would like to be” with these remarks: “Any one putting these three rules to practise with all possible fidelity will in a short time become a different person, and the grace of God will work in him so effectively that he will discover in himself with growing distinctness the marks of a new creature in Christ.”
I ask you now: Where do we find an advice of this kind in the Bible? Whenever the apostles preached and their hearers asked them, “What must we do to be saved?” they returned no other answer than this: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”