From lecture 20. More Calvinist-bashing. Sigh.
Many things might still be said in discussion of the ninth thesis, but we must not tarry at this thesis any longer if we wish to finish the series.
In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person in living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.
This evening we shall consider the first part of this thesis, which refers to a mingling of Law and Gospel that occurs chiefly in the Roman Church and which is the principal reason why that Church declines Luther and his doctrine.
The Council of Trent, you know, was convened a few months before Luther’s death for the purpose of healing the wounds which the Reformation had dealt the Papacy. The Council put its seal on all errors which in the course of time had been adopted by the Roman Church, but presented them in a subtler manner than had been done by most of the theologians of that age. The Roman theologian Smets reproduces the following decree which the Council of Trent passed in its sixth session: “In defense of the divine Law, which excommunicates not only unbelievers, but also believers, namely, such as are fornicators, adulterers, pederasts, drunkards, robbers, and all who commit mortal sin, it must be firmly maintained that the Gospel, grace, righteousness, and the forgiveness of sin may be lost, not only by unbelief, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin, although faith is not lost by such sin.” The Council … teaches that salvation may be forfeited while faith is not lost; which is quite correct when applied to the religion of papists; for the most depraved Catholic can be the best member of the Catholic Church. According to the religion of Rome there can be believing thieves, believing fornicators, believing adulterers and pederasts, believing misers, drunkards, blasphemers, and robbers. Observe that these unfortunate people have no conception of what faith is. If they had an inkling of it, they would see that wicked men cannot truly believe, cannot have a genuine faith. At the same time they would see that the Lutheran Church does not believe what they think it believes. Far from placing good works in the background, the doctrine of the Lutheran Church points to the true source from which good works must spring. For a person who by the Holy Spirit and the grace of God has obtained a living confidence in Christ cannot abide in sin. His faith changes and purifies his heart.
It is scarcely believable that from another angle the Calvinists have fallen into the same error. We read in the Decrees of the Synod of Dort, chap. V:3–8: “…Instances of this kind [the elect falling into sin] are the deplorable fall of David, Peter, and other saints, which are recorded in Scripture. However, by such heinous sins they greatly offend against God, incur mortal guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the exercise of faith [mark: only the exercise of faith, not faith itself], grossly violate their conscience, and occasionally lose the consciousness of their faith for a season; until they return to the right way by earnest repentance and God again makes His fatherly countenance to shine upon them. For because of His unalterable decree of predestination, God, who is rich in mercy, does not entirely take His Holy Spirit away from His own in such deplorable instances, nor does He permit them to lapse to a point where they would fall from the grace of the adoption to sonship and from the state of being justified.”
The Calvinists, then, claim that, when David became an adulterer and even committed murder, he did not lose either his faith or the grace of God, but his faith merely withdrew somewhat, so that he could not exercise it. That was all. He did not fall from grace or lose his faith, they claim, so that he would have gone to perdition if he had died in that condition.
This is an awful doctrine. Men who believe it will not worry about repenting when they have committed such crimes as adultery and murder. When Cromwell, the miscreant, who sentenced his liege, the king, to death and instituted murderous and bloody trials throughout England, was at the point of death, he became alarmed. Summoning his chaplain, he asked him whether a person who had once been a believer could lose his faith, which the miserable chaplain negatived. Cromwell thereupon concluded that all was well with him, because he knew that once upon a time he had been a believer. Remembering the profound impressions which the Word of God had made upon him at certain times in his life, he relied on the abominable comfort which his chaplain offered him, viz., that, since he had had faith once, he still had it. This instance shows the awful effect of this doctrine of the Calvinists.
Let me now present a testimony from our own Confessions, namely, from the Smalcald Articles, Part III, Art. III, §§ 42–45 “when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins [that is, sins which do not remain hidden in the heart], as David into adultery, murder and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. David had ceased to be a prophet enlightened by the Holy Spirit and a child of God when he fell into sin. Had he died in those days, he would have gone to perdition. The light of faith can be extinguished not only by gross sins, but by any wilful, intentional sin. Accordingly, defection from faith occurs far oftener than we imagine.”
In conclusion I shall submit a testimony from Luther’s writings. “When a person sins against his conscience, that is, when he knowingly and intentionally acts contrary to God, as, for instance, an adulterer or any other criminal, who knowingly does wrong, he is, while consciously persisting in his intention, without repentance and faith and does not please God. Faith and the worship of God are delicate affairs; a very slight wound inflicted on the conscience may drive out faith and prayer. Every tried Christian frequently is put through this experience. Although there remains in the saints sin, inborn depravity, evil propensities; although they do not with full earnestness fear God and trust in Him, — which are indeed great sins and must not be regarded as trifling defects, — still these weaknesses are to be distinguished and placed far away from conscious and intentional sinning and wicked purposes, which make the conscience unclean. These latter sins do not coexist with holiness. In this connection we must not discuss predestination, but the wrath of God which is revealed in His Word, and then seek grace after our fall.”