Thesis Thursday

Lecture 16, Walther vs. Zwingli. Go:


Apparently Zwingli has not wielded as great an influence as Calvin, but he laid the foundation of the Reformed Church before God snatched him out of the world of the living by a sudden death. The clumsy work of Zwingli has been smoothed down by Calvin, who by the finesse of his workmanship gained the English and the French over to his side, while he accomplished little among the German people. The doctrine of Zwingli is the source from which all false teachings of the Reformed churches have sprung. What does he say regarding the relation of the means of grace to faith?

Most of you know that in 1530 the Zwinglians wanted to join in the Augsburg Confession, but that the Lutherans denied them fellowship. Accordingly, Zwingli wrote a so-called Augsburg Confession of his own and sent it to the emperor. The most appalling feature of this confession is this: six months previous to this Zwingli had endorsed the very opposite doctrine. For in the late fall of 1529, at the Marburg Colloquy, he had, among other things, signed this statement: “In the eighth Place, the theologians have agreed that the Holy Spirit … gives faith to no one except through previous preaching and by and with the Word creates and works faith as, where, and in whom He pleases. In the ninth place, that Holy Baptism is a Sacrament, by which man is regenerated.”

The pure, plain Lutheran doctrine, then, had been laid before the Zwinglians and before Zwingli himself by Luther, and they had accepted it because they desired a union with the Wittenberg theologians. With tears in his eyes Zwingli stood before Luther, offering his hand and asking for brotherly fellowship. Going as far as he thought he could, he declared: “By the spoken Word of God faith is produced in men; by Baptism a person is regenerated.” Half a year later he denied all this. For in his confession he writes: “In the seventh place, I believe and know that all Sacraments, far from conferring grace, do not even offer or present it.” Remember, at Marburg Zwingli had subscribed to the opposite teaching and pledged his hand to the same as being his confession.

Zwingli proceeds: “Possibly I may appear to you, most puissant Emperor, as speaking with unwarranted freedom. But with me this matter is settled. For grace is wrought and bestowed by the Holy Spirit, and hence this gift must be attributed to the Holy Spirit. (I am using the term grace in the meaning which it has in Latin and understand it to mean forgiveness, kindness, and benefaction, without any merit and not as a recompense for same.)” He means to say: “That is the reason why preaching, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are useless; they are mere symbols.” “The Spirit, however,” says Zwingli, “requires no conveyance, or vehicle; for He is Himself the conveying force by which everything is transferred; He does not need to be transferred. We read nowhere in the Holy Scriptures a teaching of this kind, that external objects, such as the Sacraments, are a sure means of bringing the Spirit to men; on the contrary, whenever external objects have come along with the Spirit, it was in every instance the Spirit, not the external objects, that did the conveying. For instance, when a mighty wind began to blow, the languages came at the same time, by the power of the wind; the wind was not supported by the power of the languages. Likewise, a wind brought quails, another carried away grasshoppers; but never have quails and grasshoppers been so light and nimble as to bring wind. Likewise, when a wind so strong as to lift up mountains went by Elijah, the Lord was not in the wind. To be brief, ‘the Spirit [wind] bloweth where it listeth,’ that is, it blows in a manner agreeable to its nature, ‘and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth. [Zwingli: “wo er stille wird,” where it subsides.] So is every one that is born of the Spirit,’ that is, who is enlightened and drawn in an invisible and intangible manner. Truth has spoken these words; hence the grace of the Spirit is not conveyed by this immersing or yonder drinking or by unction. For if this were so, we should know how, where, whither, and upon what the Spirit comes. For if the presence and efficacy of grace is attached to the Sacraments, they will operate wherever they are applied; and wherever they are not applied, all will be decrepit and miserable. Theologians at this point must not prate about the substance, or person, receiving grace, namely, that the grace of Baptism or the Lord’s Supper is given to such as are in a proper condition and fit to receive it, as they say. For any one receiving grace by means of the Sacraments, as they claim, either makes himself fit, or is prepared by the Spirit, for its reception. If we do it ourselves, we must have some natural ability, and prevenient grace is naught. But if a person is prepared for the reception of grace by the Spirit, I ask whether this occurs in connection with the Sacrament or outside of it. If it occurs by means of the Sacrament, a person is prepared for the Sacrament by the Sacrament, and this process will have to be extended ad infinitum, a Sacrament being always required for preparation for a Sacrament. But if he is prepared without a Sacrament for the reception of sacramental grace, surely the Spirit with His grace is present prior to the Sacrament; hence there is grace conveyed and present before the Sacrament comes. This leads to the conclusion (which I gladly admit and concede in the sacramentarian controversy) that the Sacraments are offered as public evidence of that grace which exists previously in every individual.”

In what vulgar terms does Zwingli here speak of these sacred matters! When the Holy Spirit wants to approach man, He does not need the Word of God, the Gospel, Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, for a conveyance; He can come without them! It must be a queer Bible which Zwingli read. — In speaking of external objects that are to convey the Spirit, Zwingli inserts the word “surely.” That is ambiguous. The means of grace actually convey grace, but not in such a manner as to coerce man to receive them. To the person receiving Baptism, God says: “I will be thy God, and thou shalt be in grace and favor with Me.” If the person refuses to receive this offer, he obtains no grace; but the reason for that is not because there is no grace for him to receive, but because he despises it. The whole Bible is full of testimonies to the fact that the Word and the Sacraments actually convey the Holy Spirit. For instance, Acts 10, 44: “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the Word.” Here the coming of the Holy Spirit is attributed to the Word. As regards Baptism, you have heard that streams of the Holy Spirit are poured out with Baptism. — ”This immersing,” “yonder drinking,” is Zwingli’s way of referring to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He also mentions extreme unction because he is addressing the Roman Catholic emperor. Among Lutherans this temporary ceremony, which was in use in the time of the apostles, has never been regarded as a Sacrament. Remember, then, according to Zwingli’s teaching Baptism confers no gift because the Holy Spirit requires no vehicle for His conveyance.

“The Church, then,” Zwingli continues, “receives by Baptism those who have been first received by grace. Accordingly, Baptism confers no grace, but only testifies to the Church that the person receiving it has already obtained grace. … In the tenth place, I believe that the office of prophesying, or preaching, is sacred because it is highly necessary above all other offices. For, to speak with canonical correctness, we observe that among all nations external preaching by the apostles and evangelists or bishops has preceded faith” [Zwingli mentions this because it is an undeniable fact, and he calculates that his adversaries will now be unable to charge him with concealing this fact], “and yet we attribute man’s faith to the Spirit alone. For, alas! we behold a great many who are hearing the external preaching of the Gospel and yet do not believe because the Spirit is lacking.”

There you behold the fanatic. From this teaching fanaticism is bound to crop out. It certainly has cropped out. We have the best evidence of it here in America, where the appeal to the Spirit is heard everywhere.

In conclusion, Zwingli says, in words that give us a glimpse of his doctrine of absolute predestination: “If, notwithstanding this, the prophets, or preachers of the Word, are sent to any place, that is an indication of the grace of God, who wants to reveal the knowledge of Himself to the elect.” He means to say: “When the Word is preached and there are still so many people unconverted, the reason is not that the Word has not exerted its efficacy, but because there is no efficacy in the Word. The Spirit must produce the effect. God permits preaching only because He wants to convert the elect. Accordingly, He applies His Spirit to some and takes Him away from others.”

That plainly shows what the Reformed Church teaches regarding the relation of the means of grace to grace, righteousness, and the salvation of sinners.

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7 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. RubeRad says:

    The Spirit, however,” says Zwingli, “requires no conveyance, or vehicle; for He is Himself the conveying force by which everything is transferred; He does not need to be transferred. We read nowhere in the Holy Scriptures a teaching of this kind, that external objects, such as the Sacraments, are a sure means of bringing the Spirit to men

    [Walther:] In speaking of external objects that are to convey the Spirit, Zwingli inserts the word “surely.” That is ambiguous. The means of grace actually convey grace, but not in such a manner as to coerce man to receive them.

    To Zwingli I’m sure all confessional Calvinists would say, “Of course the Spirit requires no conveyance, but he chooses to use means.”

    We might actually agree with Walther, in a sense. In WCF 29.7-8, perhaps we could say that something is actually (surely even) conveyed in the Lord’s supper, to all participants. It’s just a different something for the elect believer vs. the ignorant and wicked.

  2. Pingback: Thesis Thursday – holyspirithealingblogs

  3. John Yeazel says:

    Rube, there is nothing about Zwingli in lecture 15- it is all about the pietist Fresnieus.

  4. John Yeazel says:

    Okay you Calvinists, explain to us Lutherans how Word and Sacrament does not convey grace (which really means Christ). What is the difference between the Spirit conveying grace (Christ) in Word and Sacrament and the Spirit applying grace while partaking of Word and Sacrament in faith? And did not Calvin differ from Zwingli in how grace (Christ) was conveyed in the Preaching of the Word and the partaking of the sacrament? I think Fesko goes into this in his book on Baptism in great detail. He almost equates Zwingli’s position on how grace is conveyed with that of the Anabaptists. This all gets fairly difficult to sort out.

    Going back to Fresnieus, Walther does conceed that believers do have to struggle in prayer with our sins and quotes the verse that God will not hear our prayers when we are living with known sins in our lives that have not been dealt with properly by repentance and a fleeing away from them and into Christ by our faith. I see myself doing this every Sunday when listening to the Law and the Gospel and then partaking of the sacrament in faith to wash away my sin. I find that the besetting sins still want to come back though. So, I have to go through the whole process again the next Sunday. I am miffed by those who say they no longer struggle with the desire to sin anymore- that they have overcome their besitting sins on a regular basis. I have not found that to be my exprience at all. That is why I could not be a Calvinist, because they base their assurance on the evidence that they are overcoming their sin regularly. I turn to Christ and his work for me regularly as found in Word and Sacrament where grace (Christ) is conveyed and applied to me. This is my only hope and comfort.

  5. RubeRad says:

    Sez us: Zwingli was wrong, Calvin was right.

    Sez Walther: Zwingli was wrong, Calvin was just like him, but “smoothed down”.

    What is the difference between the Spirit conveying grace (Christ) in Word and Sacrament and the Spirit applying grace while partaking of Word and Sacrament in faith?

    I think we Reformed are all on board receiving grace (not the same as receiving The Lord’s Physical Body) in the sacraments, “while partaking in faith“. (Even without faith, the sacraments are effectual to convey condemnation (“eat and drink judgment,” and also there’s this))

  6. todd says:

    I would not say we receive grace in the sacrament – grace is not really a thing that can be received through anything. The sacrament deals with our assurance of the grace in which we already stand through justification (Rom 5:1). We already have all of God’s grace as Christians. We just need help being assured of it.

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