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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pieper: The Open Heaven, Part 10 (Chain of Salvation)

In this installment of this series (Table of Contents in Part 1) from Pieper's essay The Open Heaven, Pieper drives home the importance of the doctrine that keeps the gates of Heaven open – grace alone, sola gratia.  pages 286-288:
     Dr. Walther was wont to remind his hearers that every chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Now let us suppose that a chain has twelve links and that eleven of these are strong enough to carry a thousand pounds apiece. But notwithstanding the fact that the eleven links do not cause us any worry that the chain might break, yet the twelfth link, so weak that it could hear only ten pounds, would reduce the carrying power of the whole chain to merely ten pounds.
What a wonderful analogy of a chain and its weakest link that Walther draws on to view the absolute importance of the this doctrine!  Pieper now expands on this analogy:
     Let us apply this truth to the chain of salvation. The chain which God has prepared for our salvation is indeed very, very strong, so strong that it can support heaven and earth and all mankind. That chain is the eternal mercy of God in Christ offered the whole world of lost sinners. "It is that mercy never ending, Which all conception far transcends, Of Him who, with love's arms extending, To wretched sinners condescends." The links of this heavenly chain are these: God's reconciliation of the whole world unto Himself through the vicarious sacrifice of His incarnate Son. The result: The message of the consummated reconciliation, – not a human message, but God's own, – proclaimed through the divinely ordained means of grace, the Gospel and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord's Supper). Moreover, the divine operation of the Holy Ghost to produce and preserve faith in the hearts of men, by which they are established upon the impregnable rock of God's promises. "For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of My peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee," Is. 54:10.
Note well Pieper's emphasis on "the divine operation of the Holy Ghost".  This emphasis is impugned by Martin Noland in his essay on Walther and prefers instead philosophical ideas such as "reliablism" and "reasonableness".
Now Pieper shows how this chain can easily be weakened to nothing...  here is how it is done (pgs 287-288):
     But, alas, men have conceived the idea that they can improve the divine chain of grace by adding to it man's own good conduct. But what is the value of this good conduct with respect to the Gospel? How many pounds' weight can it bear? Neither ten pounds nor a single pound nor a thousandth part of a pound. And why not? There is no such thing as upright human conduct with respect to the Gospel and the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel. That is mere fiction. Holy Scripture teaches the very opposite when it declares: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto Him; neither can he know them," 1 Cor. 2: 14. Christ Crucified, that is to say, the opening of heaven through Christ Crucified, is to "the Jews a stumblingblock and to the Greeks foolishness," 1 Cor. 1: 23. According to these words there is not a single man whose conduct is truly good with reference to the grace of God which Christ has obtained and which is now offered to men in the means of grace.
     Now, if this figment of human reason is woven into the heavenly chain, then the message which we preach must be: Divine grace indeed exists, but only for those who can give evidence of their right conduct; God is indeed merciful, but only toward those who freely decide for themselves to accept His grace; the Son of Man indeed came to seek and to save that which was lost, but this is conditioned upon the upright behavior of those who are lost. The Gospel, Baptism, and the Lord's Supper are indeed means ordained by God to appropriate the forgiveness of sins, but these are dependent on man's good conduct.
     In this way man's proper attitude, by which God's heavenly chain is to be improved and strengthened, looms up as a monster between the gracious God and all poor sinners and actually brushes aside the one Mediator between God and men, who has given Himself for the redemption of all. It is for this reason that Luther uttered his cry of agony: "You have seized me by the throat! You want to choke me!" when Erasmus urged him to infuse into the divine chain the right conduct of man, or man's ability to apply himself to divine grace, his facultas applicandi se ad gratiam.
The world likes to talk and be entertained by the idea of "monsters" – monster trucks, monster drinks, monster movies, etc.  But the monster that Pieper identifies is a very real monster, one that keeps man from The Open Heaven.  But Pieper is standing in the way, saying Nein, Nein, no, no! Don't listen to this monster, stay with the Grace of God in Christ!

In the next installment Part 11 of this series, Pieper speaks about the man who got those doors to Heaven open again by clearing away all these false teachings, The American Luther! ... and a warning.

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