=============== Synodical Conference–1872 ===============
"Over the Doctrine of Justification."
by C.F.W. Walther
(cont'd from Part 1)
On this article rests all salvation, and therefore it is absolutely necessary for every Christian. It would not help if one would precisely know all other doctrines, such as of the Holy Trinity, of the person of Christ etc., if this be not known and believed. An error in any other article would not cause as great a damage for the soul of the Christian as [LS XXX/21, 163-2] an error in this doctrine. And as it is with the individual Christian, so also it is related to the whole church. This article is indispensible for her if she is to lead souls out of the devil's power into God's Kingdom. When we speak of justification, we are speaking of the Christian religion, for the doctrine of the Christian religion is none other than the revelation of God about how one becomes righteous before God and is saved through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. All other religions show other ways which are supposed to lead to heaven. The one requires doing good works and so earning heaven; the other demands being virtuous, or being useful to the world, in order to obtain salvation. The Christian religion alone shows another way to heaven through its doctrine of justification, and therefore something unheard and unimaginable for the entire world, thoughts which had been hidden in the heart of God before the foundation of the world. Therefore all other doctrines lose their meaning, if the doctrine of justification is not right. It can be indifferent to us whether the nature of God consists in three [KM 2] or six Persons, as long as we must fear Him as the jealous God over us sinners. Only then, when we poor sinners from grace through Christ know and believe that we are reconciled with God the Father that righteousness is obtained, and alone through faith which the Holy Spirit alone works, only then does the doctrine of the Holy Trinity become a doctrine full of consolation and salvation. Whoever therefore attacks this doctrine, attacks for us the whole doctrine, the whole Bible, the whole Christian religion. As long as this doctrine is perfectly pure among us, no error in other points can adhere to us. It is as Luther says repeatedly: "This doctrine suffers no error." It is the sun in the sky of the church, and where it rises, all shadows must disappear. Our Book of Concord says about this in the Apology, Article 4:
We must repeat these words in our time. Not only have then the Papists defiled shamefully this fountain of salvation, but the same was done again by all the sects which arose after the Reformation. Of course nowadays this is largely no longer believed. But we must vigorously oppose the unionism of our time, when it is so easy to be seduced into believing: In the doctrine of justification we are of course united with the Methodists, Presbyterians, etc., although admittedly not in the doctrine of the Lord's Supper, of the Person of Christ, etc. We must testify it that no shadow of the right doctrine of justification is found in the teaching systems peculiar to the sects. Admittedly, they also pronounce the words: We become righteous only by grace through faith; but hardly they have said this, than they point man to his repentance, his struggling and contending, his holiness, and it becomes apparent after all that they want to bring man to heaven through his own efforts. But whoever does that takes from us the divine Light which alone can shine for us in this world's night of sin, and leaves us in terrible darkness. Therefore: "Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered [nor can anything be granted or permitted contrary to the same], even though heaven and earth, and whatever will not abide, should sink to ruin. For there is none other name [LS XXX/21, 163-3] under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved, says Peter, Acts 4:12. And with His stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5. And upon this article all things depend which we teach and practice in opposition to the Pope, the devil, and the [whole] world. Therefore, we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope and devil and all things gain the victory and suit over us." (Smalcald Articles, Part II, Article I, 5; Triglotta pgs 462-463, Tappert, p. 292).
This article concerning justification by faith (as the Apology says) is the chief article in the entire Christian doctrine, without which no poor conscience can have any firm consolation, or can truly know the riches of the grace of Christ, as Dr. Luther also has written: If this only article remains pure on the battlefield, the Christian Church also remains pure, and in goodly harmony and without any sects; but if it does not remain pure, it is not possible that any error [SCR 23] or fanatical spirit can be resisted. And concerning this article especially Paul says that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Therefore, in this article he urges with so much zeal and earnestness the particulas exclusivas, that is, the words whereby the works of men are excluded (namely, without Law, without works, by grace [freely], Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Eph. 2:8-9), in order to indicate how highly necessary it is that in this article, aside from [the presentation of] the pure doctrine, the antithesis, that is, all contrary dogmas, be stated separately, exposed, and rejected by this means. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declarations, Righteousness of Faith, parag. # 6, Triglotta pg. 917, Tappert, p. 540)
I indeed had a sincere yearning and desire to understand St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans properly. And nothing had till then prevented this, except only the single little words justitia Dei (righteousness of God) in the first chapter, verse 17, where Paul says: the righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel. I was very hostile towards this word "righteousness of God," and according to the usage and custom of all doctors I was not otherwise informed and [SCR 26] instructed than that I had to understand it in the philosophical manner of the sort of righteousness in which God is righteous in Himself, does and works right, and punishes all sinners and unrighteous ones, which righteousness is called the essential (formalem) or actual (activam) righteousness. Now things stood thus with me: Although I lived as a holy and blameless monk, I nevertheless considered myself a great sinner before God, and in addition I had an anxious and restless conscience, and could not make bold to reconcile God with my satisfaction and merits. For this reason I did not at all love this [KM 6] righteous and wrathful God, Who punishes sin, but I hated Him and (though this neither was nor is to be regarded as blasphemy) was secretly and with real earnestness angry with God, saying often: Is it not enough for God that He, beside the Law's threats and terrors, places all sorts of misery and sorrow of this life upon us poor, miserable sinners, who are already condemned to eternal death through original sin? Must He yet increase this misery and heartache through the Gospel, and through the preaching and voice of the same further threaten and proclaim His righteousness and earnest [LS XXX/22, 169-3] wrath? Here I was often infuriated in my confused conscience; yet I would repeatedly ponder what dear Paul meant at this place, and had a hearty thirst and desire to know it. With such thoughts I spent day and night, till through God's grace I noticed how the words were connected, namely thus: The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel, as it is written: the righteous one lives of his faith. From this I learnt to understand this righteousness of God, in which the righteous one by God's grace and gift lives solely out of faith, and I realized that this was the Apostle's meaning: through the Gospel there is revealed that righteousness which is valid before God, in which God justifies us out of grace and pure mercy through faith. This is called in Latin justitia passiva, as it is written: the righteous one lives of his faith. Here I felt at once that I had been born quite anew, and had now found a wide-open door, leading into Paradise itself. And now the dear holy Scripture looked quite different to me than before. I soon ran through the whole Bible, as much as I could remember of it, and gathered together according to this rule all its interpretations also of other terms, such as: God's work, that means what God Himself works in us; God's power, with which He makes us strong and powerful; God's wisdom, with which He makes us wise; likewise the others: God's strength, God's salvation, God's glory, and the like. Now, just as I had before earnestly hated this little word, "God's righteousness," so now I began, on the contrary, to esteem the same highly, as my very dearest and most comforting word, and that place in [SCR 27] St. Paul was for me the very gate of Paradise (St. Louis Edition 14, pgs 446-448 [Google Books] , Walch XIV, 460-462, American Edition 34, pg 336-337).
Also with the words, "in my heart there rules alone and shall rule this single article", (St. Louis Edition 9, pg 8, parag. 1, [HathiTrust], Walch VIII, 1529, parag. 9, American Edition 27, pg 145) Luther expressed clearly enough that nothing other than this doctrine had directed him in the Reformation. Also in other lands and ages, it was this doctrine which renewed the Church. Luther had indeed soon recognized many abominations of the papacy, but he still entertained the false doctrine concerning the Church, and meanwhile still had the false doctrine of the Church and thought what was he that he should dare to rebel against the holy Church? That he may nevermore do; rather he must crouch down. Only when he clearly realized that the righteousness which is revealed in the Gospel is that which God gives and with which He makes the sinner righteous, were the gates of Paradise opened to him, and now he was able to stand up to the papacy like a hero to stand up to the papacy and all its temptations. But how it goes when one no longer has this pure doctrine, is very evident in this country. What abominable and nonsensical errors arise and find supporters nevertheless! Why? Because if someone no longer has the right standard [KM 7] for truth and error, he may well think at first: the passages on which the errorists rely can hardly say what is alleged of them. But if he falls into the hands of a clever fox, who knows how to make the matter plausible to him, he yet falls into the error. We must therefore have a standard which, if we are directed by it, makes it impossible for us to accept an error. But this standard is the doctrine of justification. Whoever [LS XXX/22, 170-1] has recognized it, laughs at all learned unbelieving and half-believing professors with all their eloquence and learning, if they teach falsely; if, what they establish and announce does not harmonize with the truth of the child’s saying, “The blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, cleanseth us from all sin,” even the most simple treads it under foot, and calls it devil's dung, no matter how great an aura of wisdom or holiness it may have. That was the reason why Luther became such an insurmountable Reformer. If he had failed here, a man like Erasmus could have vanquished him with ease. Because he stood, however, on this rock, he laughed at the pope’s scholars, and at Zwingli as well. When new, delusive spirits presented themselves, he tried them according to this article, and if they did not accord with it, he said: Depart to him who sent you. But this doctrine must be taken up by us in such a manner that it becomes the principle of our faith, of our life, and of the whole administration of our office--then also our congregations will become confident and cheerful, for when they notice that we make them certain of their salvation, then we are their best friends. For what are they profited by eloquent orators, popular preachers, dignified ministers? Certainly very little. But if they can say: our pastor has made us certain of our salvation, we know [SCR 28] now in whom we believed: then they have the “best part” for time and eternity; then also they will no longer consider churches and synods as clerical institutions which consume much, but don't benefit anybody, but they know then that it is always a matter of bearing to them and to the whole world the good news: You are redeemed and saved! Only believe it, only accept it! And they willingly help then to spread this message with their gifts.
= = = = = = continued in Part 3 = = = = = = = = =
Go ahead dear reader... highlight the portions that speak to you – it's all good!
The next Part 3 begins the exposition of Thesis 3.