We’re up to Lecture 35, and Thesis XXII, where it seems that Walther is rejecting prevenient, resistible grace (but using different words).
It is a great and awful sin not to draw any soul that has been entrusted to us for instruction to Jesus and not to tell that soul again and again what a treasure it has in the Lord Jesus, its Savior. To keep some one from believing in Christ is such an awful sin that words cannot express it. The worst offenders in this respect are the so-called rationalistic preachers, who with diabolical audacity mount Christian pulpits and instead of preaching Christ, the Savior, to all sinners, recite their miserable moral precepts for a virtuous life and fill the ears of the people with their empty bombast. However, equally grievous is the offense of papists in this respect. They, too, do not draw men to Christ, the Savior and Friend of sinners, but represent Christ as a more rigorous lawgiver even than Moses because he has laid on men many more and much more rigorous commandments than Moses. A poor sinner coming to a priest in his anguish for advice is not directed to Christ, but to Mary, the so-called “Mother of Mercy”. They have taught men to be afraid of Christ, telling them that Mary must take them under her sheltering cloak.
Well, it is easy to avoid this gross manner of keeping men away from Christ. I need not warn you against it. But it is difficult to avoid doing the same thing in a more refined manner. This more refined way of keeping men away from Christ is discussed in our twenty-second Thesis.
In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.
During the first half of the eighteenth century those who were guilty before others of this serious confusion of Law and Gospel were the so-called Pietists. These men were guilty of that more refined way of confounding Law and Gospel, namely, of keeping men away from Christ. They did this by making a false distinction between spiritual awakening and conversion; for they declared that, as regards the way of obtaining salvation, all men must be divided into three classes: 1. those still unconverted; 2. those who have been awakened; 3. those who have been converted.
Admitting that these Pietists were well-intentioned men and by no means wished to depart from the right doctrine, still their classification was utterly wrong. They would have been right if by people who have been awakened they had understood such persons as occasionally receive a powerful impression the Word of God, of the Law and of the Gospel, but promptly stifle the impression, so that it is rendered ineffectual. For there are, indeed, men who can no longer continue to live in their carnal security, but suppress their unrest until God smites them again with the hammer of His Law and then makes them taste the sweetness of the Gospel. But the awakened persons to whom the Pietists referred are no longer to be numbered with the unconverted. According to Scripture we can assume only two classes: those who are converted and those who are not.
True, there are people who, when contrasted with true Christians, could be called awakened if they are not measured by the pattern of Holy Scripture. A great number of instances of such people are found in the Scriptures. Herod Antipas was one of them. We are told that he heard John the Baptist gladly because John preached many comforting sermons in which he pointed to the promised Messiah. He also asked John’s advice occasionally and followed it. Nevertheless he remained the Herod he had always been. By this King’s order John had to lose his head to please a miserable dancing girl.
Another instance is that of Felix the governor … Festus … Agrippa … People like these must not be numbered with the converted. But it is wrong to call them awakened. When Scripture speaks of awakening, it always means conversion.
Our opponents claim that God first awakens a person and in that act gives him the power to decide whether he will be converted or not. That is a rehash of a false doctrine of former times; it overlooks the fact that a person is either spiritually dead or spiritually alive. They claim that a person must first be given a liberated will, which means that he must be quickened before he is converted.