Friday, November 12, 2010

Luther: He that says the Gospel requires works for salvation is a liar

The following is from the web page Luther, Exposing the Myth, under the heading "Faith and Good Works":

“He that says the Gospel requires works for salvation, I say, flat and plain, is a liar” [Tischreden, P. 137].

Luther Exposing the Myth says their stated purpose is to show that "from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations." With this quote, they attempt to show Christ valued works as part of salvation, while Luther, directly opposing Christ, says the gospel opposes works for salvation.

Luther Exposing the Myth cites "Tischreden, P. 137." There's a strong possibility this quote was mined out this source. Note the similarities:

"Tischreden" refers to the German edition of Luther's Table Talk. There are multiple versions of this source. I'm going to demonstrate that the quote ultimately came from an English edition. The quote can also be found in Patrick O'Hare's The Facts About Luther. Note how Father O'Hare documents the quote:
"The Gospel," Luther falsely declares, "teaches nothing of the merits of works; he that says the Gospel requires works for salvation, I say, flat and plain, is a liar." (Table Talk, p. 137, Hazlitt.) If men believe in Christ, they are told, and accept Him as their personal Saviour, His justice will be imputed to them and they will go straight to Heaven. It does not matter what evil they have done during their lives; it does not matter whether or not they repent of their sins; it does not matter whether or not, at the moment of death, they have compunction, contrition or attrition, or, are in a state of grace, if they have faith they will be saved [Link].
O'Hare cited the same quote and page number, but refers to "Hazlitt." This refers to William Hazlitt's English translation of The Tischrenden (1848). Page 137 can be found here. The Table Talk is a collection of comments from Luther written down by Luther’s students and friends. Thus, it is not in actuality an official writing of Luther. Probably half of my Roman Catholic Luther studies involve tracking down obscure Luther quotes, and more often than not, these quotes find their way back to the Table Talk. It often appears to fall on deaf ears when I point out to the defenders of Rome that Luther didn't write the Table Talk. Since the statements contained therein are purported to have been made by Luther, they should serve more as corroborating second-hand testimony to something Luther is certain to have written.

Without an exact German source provided, the quote appears to be the following:

This can be found in Dr. Martin Luther's Sämmtliche werke page 300 and in Dr. Martin Luthers Sämmtliche schriften 22:428.  In English, the quote can be found in another form different from Hazlitt's, that put together by Joseph Kerby, The Familiar discourses of Martin Luther (1818), p. 171. Kerby rook multiple Table talk statements from the German text combining them into numerical sections.

Here is the quote from page 137 from Hazlitt:
The gospel preaches nothing of the merit of works; he that says the gospel requires works for salvation, I say, flat and plain, is a liar.
Nothing that is properly good proceeds out of the works of the law, unless grace be present; for what we are forced to do, goes not from the heart, nor is acceptable. The people under Moses were always in a murmuring state, would fain have stoned him, and were rather his enemies than his friends.
Here is Kerby's translation:
The Gospel is a comfortable messenger, it bringeth good news; namely that the Son of God is made man; that he died for us, arose again from the dead, &c. the gospel preacheth nothing of the merit of works. Therefore he that saith, that the Gospel requireth works necessary to salvation, I say flat and plain, he is a liar.
Nothing that is properly good proceedeth out of the works of the Law (except grace be present); for what we are forced to do, the same goeth not from the heart, neither is it acceptable. The people under Moses were always in a murmuring state and condition, They would need stone him, they were rather his enemies then his friends.
The German text cited above is found in the first paragraph presented by Kerby. Hazlitt's version has an edited first paragraph. The second paragraph in both Hazlitt and Kerby is from the next Table talk statement (see #40 on this page).

As with many of the Table Talk sayings, this one exists independently of a greater context or background. It is though consistent with Luther's basic understanding of faith and works. There is nothing radical about this sola fide statement.

 The second paragraph from the following Table Talk statement do a fair job with explaining Luther's theology (which is probably why Hazlitt and Kerby included it).  It explains that only a grace filled heart can produce what is "properly good." Works are the result of saving faith, done out of thankfulness for God's grace. These works aren't forced, for as Luther states elsewhere,
"We receive Christ not only as a gift by faith, but also as an example of love toward our neighbor, whom we are to serve as Christ serves us. Faith brings and gives Christ to you with all his possessions. Love gives you to your neighbor with all your possessions" (The Complete Sermons of Martin Luther 1:34).
The paragraph also explains what type of people forced works produces: murmurers under a heavy burden, despising God. This is why the Gospel doesn't require works. If works are required, people become enemies of God. This sheds light on the previous Table Talk utterance: why the Gospel does not require works.

Addendum (2016)
This blog entry is a revision of an entry I posted back in 2010. The original can be found here. Because so many sources are now available online, I'm revising older entries by adding additional materials and commentary, and also fixing or deleting dead hyperlinks. Nothing of any significant substance has changed in this entry from that presented in the former.

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