Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Luther vs. Reformed Theology: On Losing Salvation and the Sin of Unbelief

Some years back I did a blog entry entitled, Did Luther Believe Salvation Can Be Lost? In that entry, I noted the following Luther quote:
Even if he would, he could not lose his salvation, however much he sinned, unless he refused to believe. For no sin can condemn him save unbelief alone. All other sins, so long as the faith in God’s promise made in baptism returns or remains, are immediately blotted out through that same faith, or rather through the truth of God, because he cannot deny himself if you confess him and faithfully cling to him in his promise. But as for contrition, confession of sins, and satisfaction, along with all those carefully devised exercises of men: if you rely on them and neglect this truth of God, they will suddenly fail you and leave you more wretched than before. For whatever is clone without faith in God’s truth is vanity of vanities and vexation of spirit [Eccles. 1:2, 14]" [LW 36: 60].
An interesting historical analysis of this quote can be found here. A Lutheran recently left a portion of this quote in the comment section under the same entry stating,
Having graduated from a Lutheran seminary, this is the position of the Lutheran Church. It is different than Wesleyism in the sense that it does not teach that one loses their salvation because of sin, but that sin may have such an effect on a person that one may lose their faith, thus, coming to a place of unbelief!
I'm bringing this up simply to point out a significant difference between Luther and Reformed theology that is often overlooked from the Reformed side.  Note the following difference between Luther's quote, the Lutheran comment, and the following from R.C. Sproul. Note how Sproul connects the sin of unbelief to limited atonement:
However, the overwhelming majority of Christians who reject limited atonement also reject universal salvation. They are particularists, not universalists. They insist on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. That is, only believers are saved by the atonement of Christ. If that is so, then the atonement, in some sense, must be limited, or restricted, to a definite group, namely believers. If Christ died for all of the sins of all people, that must include the sin of unbelief. If God’s justice is totally satisfied by Christ’s work on the cross, then it would follow that God would be unjust in punishing the unrepentant sinner for his unbelief and impenitence because those sins were already paid for by Christ.
See also, this comment from Dr. Sproul. This is popular Reformed argumentation.  Note A.W. Pink's construction of it:
If ALL the sins of ALL men were laid upon Christ, then the sin of unbelief was too. That unbelief is a sin is clear from the fact that in 1 John 3:23 we read, "And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ." Refusal to believe in Christ is, therefore, an act of flagrant disobedience, rebellion against the Most High. But if all the sins of all men were laid upon Christ (as it is now asserted), then He also endured the penalty for the Christ-rejector's unbelief. If this be so, then Universalism is true. But it is not so. The very advocates of the view we are now refuting would not affirm it. And therein may be seen the inconsistency and untenableness of their teaching. For if unbelief is a sin and Christ did not suffer the penalty of it, then all sin was not laid upon Christ. Thus there are only two alternatives: a strictly limited Atonement, availing only for believers; or an unlimited Atonement which effectually secures the salvation of the entire human race.
See also John Owen's construction of the argument.

So, the moral of this story is that Calvinists should careful with Luther, and also be prepared for a long and tedious discussions with Lutherans on the extent of the atonement, and the meaning of the atonement.

16 comments:

Fred Savage said...

I know Dr. Sproul thinks he has a "gotcha" argument for limited atonement but his argument is based on human reason and logic not scripture. I would refer him to this:

Mark 3:28-29

'28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”"

and

Matthew 12:30-31

30 He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.

The Unpardonable Sin

31 “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.



Since the Holy Spirit is the creator of faith (see Luther's Small Catechism Article 3 of the Creed), you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit when He comes to you with God's Word (of Law and Gospel) which create faith and you stubbornly resist - that is to say persist in the unbelief that you were born into as flesh of Adam. You have the "power" to resist the unconditional election of Grace since the means of Grace are "weak and foolish" things (to human reason) such as words coming from a pasty old preacher and water, wine, bread etc.

So yes, Christ took all your sins - and the everyone's sins - past present and future but Christ himself says that there is an unpardonable sin - unbelief in Him (and His words and work on the Cross). I know this doesn't square with our vaulted "human reason" and sense of distributive justice but it is none the less true that these things are simultaneously true - simply because God's Word creates reality and truth not our human "logic".

Brigitte said...

The means, the means, the means:

Luther's annotations to Matthew.

But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country," etc.

This is a sweeping aphorism: that a prophet is without honor in His own country. It is all too true. John 1 says something similar: "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him." St.Paul, likewise, says, "They turn their hearing away from the truth" [ 2 Tim. 4:4]. And we see these horrifying signs in all the histories: that the Word of God is never so despised as where it is richly taught. Those who do not have it want it; those who have it despise it. Indeed, what is worse, heresies do not arise except amid the churches and from the churches. And this does not occur for any other reason except that they despise and disdain the Word, and then soon become judges over it. For if they did not disdain it, they would hear it in reverence and not stir up heresies.

Therefore, let this be our consolation, that our word--or, rather, God's Word--is held in disdain by the very ones who are closest to us and that it is no wonder that it should be disdained, not only by the peasants and nobles, the ones who have quickly had their fill of it, but even by the learned and those of our own household (or our fellow bishops), who seek to cast us down from the mountain (cf. Luke 4:29] so long as we refuse to speak and do the things they want. Here it is a matter of "the prophet in his own country," and as Matthew quotes from Micah [7:6] in Matthew 10 [:36]: "A person's enemies will be those of his own household." However, on the other hand, it comforts us that Jesus "passing through their midst, went away" [Luke 4:30]. They are not going to bring things to an end and must leave the prophet alone.

(Luther's Works, 67, p. 218. Annotations on Matthew.)

Brigitte said...

But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country," etc.

This is a sweeping aphorism: that a prophet is without honor in His own country. It is all too true. John 1 says something similar: "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him." St.Paul, likewise, says, "They turn their hearing away from the truth" [ 2 Tim. 4:4]. And we see these horrifying signs in all the histories: that the Word of God is never so despised as where it is richly taught. Those who do not have it want it; those who have it despise it. Indeed, what is worse, heresies do not arise except amid the churches and from the churches. And this does not occur for any other reason except that they despise and disdain the Word, and then soon become judges over it. For if they did not disdain it, they would hear it in reverence and not stir up heresies.

Therefore, let this be our consolation, that our word--or, rather, God's Word--is held in disdain by the very ones who are closest to us and that it is no wonder that it should be disdained, not only by the peasants and nobles, the ones who have quickly had their fill of it, but even by the learned and those of our own household (or our fellow bishops), who seek to cast us down from the mountain (cf. Luke 4:29] so long as we refuse to speak and do the things they want. Here it is a matter of "the prophet in his own country," and as Matthew quotes from Micah [7:6] in Matthew 10 [:36]: "A person's enemies will be those of his own household." However, on the other hand, it comforts us that Jesus "passing through their midst, went away" [Luke 4:30]. They are not going to bring things to an end and must leave the prophet alone.

(Luther's Works, 67, p. 218. Annotations on Matthew.)

Ken said...

For whatever is clone without faith in God’s truth is vanity of vanities and vexation of spirit [Eccles. 1:2Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), 14Open in Logos Bible Software (if available)]" [LW 36: 60].

did you mean "done" ?

Ken said...

Sproul makes a good case.

Ken said...

"to recall to mind his baptism" (in the article in American Journal of Theology by John Alfred Faulkner)

How can a person "recall to his mind his baptism" who was baptized as a baby?

to just recall to mind THAT one was baptized as a baby is not as powerful as recalling the experience of actually hearing the gospel over a period of time, wrestling with the truths, being convicted of sin, repenting and believing; and THEN being baptized and being taught on what it means to be united with Christ - Romans 6:1-7; Colossians 2:11-13.

But faith is a mystery; one cannot "work it up" within himself. It is perhaps the saddest thing to see people that we thought were believers later say, "I no longer believe in Christ".

"I do believe, help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24)

One the one hand, God commands us "to repent and believe" (Mark 1:15) and to "come to Me" (Matthew 11:28-30), etc. but on the other hand, only God can overcome a stony evil heart of rebellion, pride, lusts, selfishness. (John 6:44; Ezekiel 36:26; Acts 16:14; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Ephesians 2:1-4)

Ken said...

James,
This was very good from your earlier article:

"Many Lutherans are rightly agitated when the Reformed try to present Luther as a 5 point Calvinist. However, I as a Reformed person tend to be agitated by those who ignore evidence, or don't ask interpretive questions about contexts. I'm particularly not at all fond of attempts to wiggle out of Luther's strong statements in The Bondage of the Will regarding predestination. "

Brigitte said...

Luther leaves the point open, to be understood only in the "light of glory".

Brigitte said...

Luther speaks of the example of Pharaoh, saying that he had had plenty of opportunities.

To remember your baptism means to remember that it was a gift from God, that stands firm no matter how you feel today, and how wobbly your faith feels today. There is a foundation firmer than that. Going back to word and sacrament and the promises means that you look away from yourself and trust in God instead. That IS having Faith.

Ken said...

How can one remember it (their baptism), if was done to them as an infant?

Brigitte said...

How can you remember Jesus' death when you were not there?

Ken said...

Good point.

But of course we read about it in the Scriptures. Faith comes by hearing; and hearing the word about Christ. Romans 10:17

So, are you saying an adult has to read about their baptism (that happened when they were infants) and the meaning of baptism in the Scriptures?

for example, Romans 6:1-7
Colossians 2:11-13

LPC said...

Good point James,

Well done for this post

Yes indeed Luther and the Lutherans believe that salvation may be lost due to loss of faith. Faith may be lost so as a consequence, because we believe in Justification By Grace Through Faith Alone, Luther even mentioning that faith itself is justification, salvation may be lost when faith is lost.

Luther who wrote the Smalcald Articles Article II
42] On the other hand, if certain sectarists would arise, some of whom are perhaps already extant, and in the time of the insurrection [of the peasants] came to my own view, holding that all those who had once received the Spirit or the forgiveness of sins, or had become believers, even though they should afterwards sin, would still remain in the faith, and such sin would not harm them, and [hence] crying thus: "Do whatever you please; if you believe, it all amounts to nothing; faith blots out all sins," etc.—they say, besides, that if any one sins after he has received faith and the Spirit, he never truly had the Spirit and faith: I have had before me [seen and heard] many such insane men, and I fear that in some such a devil is still remaining [hiding and dwelling].

43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, ... and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.


Ken,

The practice of the church of giving you a certificate of baptism tells you have been baptised. Not only that in Lutheran family time (devotional time) or family catechesis your parents remind you that you were baptised. Indeed, when Luther became uncertain of his own salvation, he did not point to his faith, he pointed to his baptism in front of the devil. Baptism in the Lutheran construct sees it as part of Justification By Grace Through Faith Alone.
--

LPC
PS James, I emailed you privately regarding the author Herbert David DIx's book. Martin Luther - The Man and the Image. Would be grateful for any comments

Brigitte said...

Last night, I watched a YouTube video in German language about what it is like for Muslims to raise children in Islam but integrated into German life. A Muslim's child's faith life starts with the elder male relative singing a particular prayer or confession over the child (I forget the name of it.). From then on the baby is a Muslim and it is impressed upon it from there on that this man chanted this prayer over the person. It is deeply meaningful, and for coverts to Christianity, this is particularly difficult to get over--it is a break with the family.

While our primary relationship is with the Lord, this whole family network, it is what we have been put into. We would do well to stress and utilize this, as the early church did, also. The households were baptized together.

PeaceByJesus said...

If Christ died for all of the sins of all people, that must include the sin of unbelief. If God’s justice is totally satisfied by Christ’s work on the cross, then it would follow that God would be unjust in punishing the unrepentant sinner for his unbelief and impenitence because those sins were already paid for by Christ.

His conclusion, and that of Pink's, is erroneous as it is based upon a false premise, that having provided for something means that it must be efficacious for all that he provided it for, regardless if they appropriated it. Consistent with this, then under LA souls themselves do not have to believe in order to obtain what the atonement provided for.

The king who made a marriage feast for his son provided the food for all whom he invited, but which is only efficacious for those who come, and the rejection of it by some does not in any way impugn the king. "I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: (Matthew 22:4-5)

The fact is that Christ "is the propitiation for our [believers] sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) But only those who by the grace of God are both enabled and motivated to repentant faith appropriate it. Those who will not cannot realize what was provided for them, and taste and see that the Lord is good, anymore than those invited to the wedding feast by who spurned such grace can taste of its food.

Like as the word of God will not come back void, but will either save souls or condemn then, likewise the atonement will either save souls or judge them. But there were false prophets...even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. (2 Peter 2:1)

I cannot understand how great minds cannot understand this but must insist on demanding one believe in universalism is one rejects LA.

PeaceByJesus said...

What is also quite clear is that while man can cannot claim any worthiness of merit ([ince man could not and would not believe on the Lord Jesus or follow Him unless God gave him life, and breath, and all good things he has, (Acts 17:25) and convicted him, (Jn. 16:8) drew him, (Jn. 6:44; 12:32) opened his heart, (Acts 16:14) and granted repentance (Acts 11:18) and gave faith, (Eph. 2:8,9) and then worked in him both to will and to do of His good pleasure the works He commands them to do. (Phil. 2:13; Eph. 2:10)], yet man can be blamed for resisting whatever degree of grace was given him, and in accordance with it.

And that God warns believers - as believers (not a mixed multitude) - of drawing back in unbelief, either by denying the faith by assent to a false gospel, or by impenitent sinning, thus effectively making Christ of no effect, falling from grace, and drawing back into perdition, unlike persevering souls.

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. (Galatians 5:1-4)

But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:6)

Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12)

Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:38-39)