Walther opens Lecture 22 with a very interesting introduction concerning the state of the church, which seems somewhat familiar. In the excerpts below I skip around, but you can go read the whole lecture if you want to see how he gets from Point A to Point B…
It is an undeniable fact, my friends, that at the present time there is a greater number of believing theologians than when I was young, fifty years ago. In those days hardly any others than vulgar rationalists occupied not only the ecclesiastical offices created by the government, but also almost all the pulpits. The small number of believing theologians were tolerated, provided they behaved by keeping quiet, made no serious attempt to confess their faith, and, above all, did not zealously oppose the forces of unbelief.
What a change has taken place since then within the so-called Protestant Church! Vulgar rationalists, who turn the Bible into a code of ethics and declare the specifically Christian doctrines to be Oriental myths and fantasies, valuable only as far as moral lessons may be drawn from them, — these men have done acting their part and have gone into bankruptcy. Persons laying claim to intelligence nowadays refuse to be classified as vulgar rationalists. True, the so-called Society of Protestants has made an attempt to reintroduce and rehabilitate vulgar rationalism, but without success. Even the spokesmen of the society declare that vulgar rationalism is antiquated. In order to be regarded as a person of brains, it is nowadays absolutely necessary for one to acknowledge that the Christian religion is a religion supernaturally revealed and the Bible in a sense the Word of God, namely, in as far as it contains God’s Word. …
In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.
This thesis describes chiefly the method of the Roman Church; however, the same method is adopted by all fanatics and all Pietists within the so-called Protestant Church. If among these people a person is found who is alarmed over his sins and is in a state of contrition and sorrow because of them, he is asked to state the source of his contrition; particularly, whether he feels sorry for his sins merely because he knows that he is going to perdition and sees nothing above him but the wrath of God and nothing beneath him but the abyss of damnation. If he admits that such is his condition, the papists and fanatics tell him that contrition to be genuine and worthy of the name must proceed from love of God, and the Gospel cannot be proclaimed to him until he has such contrition. This is an appalling error, which can easily be shown to be such.
Here is the Biblical doctrine: The sinner is to come to Jesus just as he is, even when he has to acknowledge that there is nothing but hatred of God in his heart, and he knows of no refuge to which he may flee for salvation. A genuine preacher of the Gospel will show such a person how easy his salvation is: Knowing himself a lost and condemned sinner and unable to find the help that he is seeking, he must come to Jesus with his evil heart and his hatred of God and God’s Law; and Jesus will receive him as he is. It is His glory that men say of Him: Jesus receives sinners. He is not to become a different being, he is not to become purified, he is not to amend his conduct, before coming to Jesus. He who alone is able to make him a better man is Jesus; and Jesus will do it for him if he will only believe.
Let me present [a testimony] from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession. We read (Mueller, p. 168; Trigl. Conc., p. 254): “Moreover, our adversaries teach and write many things that are still more inept and confusing. They teach that grace may be merited by contrition. When they are asked to explain why Saul and Judas, in whom there was quite an awful contrition, did not merit grace, they ought to answer that Judas and Saul lacked the Gospel and faith, that Judas did not comfort himself with the Gospel and did not believe. For faith constitutes the difference between the contrition of Peter and Judas. But our adversaries give no thought to the Gospel and faith, but to the Law.
In the papists’ view the reason why Judas perished was, because his contrition did not flow from love of God; if it had, he would have acquired merit. Papists are always looking for some merit, either of the de congruo or of the de condigno kind. … Papists talk about contrition as a blind man talks about color; they have never experienced a salutary terror on account of their sins.
[Luther] writes (St. L. Ed. XIV, 446 ff.) : “I verily had a hearty desire, indeed, I was yearning, to understand the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans. So far nothing had hindered me except only the single phrase justitia Dei [the righteousness of God] in v. 17 of the first chapter, where Paul says: ‘The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel.’ I was very wroth at this term ‘righteousness of God’ because my training had been according to the usage and practise of all teachers at that time, and I had been told that I must understand this term after the manner of philosophers as signifying that righteousness by which God is righteous in His essence, does right, and works righteousness, and punishes all sinners and unrighteous persons, — what is called justitia formalis seu activa (essential, or active, righteousness). Now, my condition was this: Although I was leading the life of a holy and blameless monk, I discovered that in the sight of God I was a great sinner. Moreover, my conscience was troubled and distressed, nor did I venture to reconcile God with my own satisfactions and merits. For this reason I did not at all love this righteous and angry God, who punishes sinners, but I hated Him and was full of secret anger against Him, and that, in all seriousness. (I am afraid that this was, or may have to be accounted as, blasphemy.) Frequently I would say: Is God not satisfied with having loaded all manner of misery and affliction, besides the terrors and threatenings of the Law, on us poor, miserable sinners, who are already condemned to everlasting death on account of hereditary sin? Must He increase this misery and heartache still more by the Gospel and by its preaching and its message proclaim His righteousness and serious anger and add to our terror? In my confused conscience I was full of indignation. Nevertheless I continued my meditation on blessed Paul, endeavoring, with a great thirst for knowledge and a hearty desire, to ascertain his meaning in this passage. I spent days and nights in these musings, until by the grace of God I perceived the connection of these words in the passage, thus: The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, as is written: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ From this connection I learned to understand that righteousness of God by which the righteous lives by the gracious gift of God, through faith alone, and I perceived this to be the apostle’s meaning: By the Gospel that righteousness is revealed which is valid in the sight of God and by which God, from grace and pure mercy, makes us righteous by faith. In Latin this righteousness is called justitia passiva, and to this righteousness the fact refers which says: ‘The just shall live by his faith.’ At this point I immediately felt that I had been entirely born anew and had found a door wide open, leading straight into paradise.”