Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"Faith," wrote Luther, “is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith."

I get various questions of tedium throughout the week. Here's a recent one:

Hi James, Do you know where Luther said, "if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith"? It's quoted in Bainton's Here I Stand, but in the references section it just says, "VIII, 361." Do you have any idea what that refers to?

I also came across this same snippet from Bainton here:

According to Roland Bainton's biography of Luther, Here I Stand, Luther wrote at one time: Faith is a living, restless thing. It cannot be inoperative. We are not saved by works; but if there be no works, there must be something amiss with faith. Bainton's citation for this purported Luther quote is simply VIII, 361. I do not know what this refers to, so if anyone could comment below and let me know where it comes from, it would be much appreciated.

I actually went through Bainton's use of Luther on this some time back: Did Luther Believe in Saving Faith? I originally cited the quote from Bainton many years ago in my review of Luther's famous "sin boldly" statement. As I recall, only one defender of Rome ever challenged me for not quoting Luther directly (kudos to him for catching this).

Bainton cited WA 8:361. The comment from Luther is found translated into English in a 1521 sermon on Luke 17:11-19. In that context, Luther states the following:
See, this is what James means when he says, 2, 26: "Faith apart from works is dead." For as the body without the soul is dead, so is faith without works. Not that faith is in man and does not work, which is impossible. For faith is a living, active thing. But in order that men may not deceive themselves and think they have faith when they have not, they are to examine their works, whether they also love their neighbors and do good to them. If they do this, it is a sign that they have the true faith. If they do not do this, they only have the sound of faith, and it is with them as the one who sees himself in the glass and when he leaves it and sees himself no more, but sees other things, forgets the face in the glass, as James says in his first chapter, verses 23-24.
[This passage in James deceivers and blind masters have spun out so far, that they have demolished faith and established only works, as though righteousness and salvation did not rest on faith, but on our works. To this great darkness they afterwards added still more, and taught only good works which are no benefit to your neighbor, as fasting, repeating many prayers, observing festival days; not to eat meat, butter, eggs and milk; to build churches, cloisters, chapels, altars; to institute masses, vigils, hours; to wear gray, white and black clothes; to be spiritual; and innumerable things of the same kind, from which no man has any benefit or enjoyment; all which God condemns, and that justly. But St. James means that a Christian life is nothing but faith and love. Love is only being kind and useful to all men, to friends and enemies. And where faith is right, it also certainly loves, and does to another in love as Christ did to him in faith. Thus everyone should beware lest he has in his heart a dream and fancy instead of faith, and thus deceives himself. This he will not learn anywhere as well as in doing the works of love. As Christ also gives the same sign and says: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John 13, 35. Therefore St. James means to say: Beware, if your life is not in the service of others, and you live for yourself, and care nothing for your neighbor, then your faith is certainly nothing; for it does not do what Christ has done for him. Yea, he does not believe that Christ has done good to him, or he would not omit to do good to his neighbor. [The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 3:1 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), pp. 71-72].
Elsewhere in The Sermons of Martin Luther, Luther states:
This is what St. James means when his says in his Epistle, 2:26: ‘"Faith without works is dead." That is, as the works do not follow, it is a sure sign that there is no faith there; but only an empty thought and dream, which they falsely call faith. Now we understand the word of Christ: "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness." That is, prove your faith publically by your outward gifts, by which you win friends, that the poor may be witnesses of your public work, that your faith is genuine. For mere external giving in itself can never make friends, unless it proceed from faith, as Christ rejects the alms of the Pharisees in Mat. 6:2, that they thereby make no friends because their heart is false. Thus no heart can ever be right without faith, so that even nature forces the confession that no work makes one good, but that the heart must first be good and upright.  [The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 2:2 (Michigan: Baker Books, 2000), p. 308].

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