October 29, 2011 4 Comments
This Sunday we Lutherans around the globe [and now that we are in full altar and pulpit communion with our Anglican brothers and sisters] will be celebrating Reformation Day.
Many of us Lutherans trace the beginning of the 16th century Reformation to Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Thesis on the Wittenberg Church door; with the intention of them being debated publicly with other scholars, likely at the University of Wittenberg, where Luther himself was a professor. However, as Luther’s ideas of reforming the church spread like wildfire, especially in Germany, then later into Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, and Eastern Europe; it became clearer that Western Christendom would never be the same again. Historians have spilled plenty of ink over Luther and his place within the church catholic. In my humble opinion, if I were to single out his most significant contribution; it would be his discovery of the hermeneutic of grace. Luther had been tormented by God the Judge who left him in constant fear that he had not done enough to merit God’s acceptance and forgiveness. Then Luther “saw the light” so-to-speak, and read the Bible with a view that everything in it needed to be measured by the doctrine of all doctrines—justification by grace alone, through faith alone. According to Luther, and his reading of the Bible; there is nothing we can do to merit or earn or deserve our salvation; it is an unconditional gift from God. So, on this Reformation weekend, I thought it would be appropriate to share some primary source quotations from Martin Luther himself on justification. Shalom, Dim Lamp
In this epistle, therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness. For if the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost. And those in the world who do not teach it are either Jews or Turks or papists or sectarians. For between these two kinds of righteousness, the active righteousness of the Law and the passive righteousness of Christ, there is no middle ground. Therefore he who has strayed away from this Christian righteousness will necessarily relapse into the active righteousness; that is, when he has lost Christ, he must fall into a trust in his own works. (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works – Volume 26: Lectures On Galatians 1535, trans. Jaroslav Pelikan, p. 9.)
THE SECOND PART, Luther’s Smalcald Articles of 1537
Treats of the Articles which Refer to the Office and Work of Jesus Christ, or Our Redemption.
Part II, Article I: The first and chief article.
1] That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25. 2] And He alone is the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1:29; and God has laid upon Him the iniquities of us all, Is. 53:6. 3] Likewise: All have sinned and are justified without merit [freely, and without their own works or merits] by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3:23f 4] Now, since it is necessary to believe this, and it cannot be otherwise acquired or apprehended by any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us as St. Paul says, Rom. 3:28: For we conclude that a man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the Law. Likewise 3:26: That He might be just, and the Justifier of him which believeth in Christ. 5] 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 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.
Luther’s Works Volume 54: Table Talk (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), p. 456. Recorded by Caspar Heydenreich, It Is Faith that Justifies, Not Works, Spring 1543.
“That works don’t merit life, grace and salvation is clear from this, that works are not spiritual birth but are fruits of this birth. We are not made sons [or daughters], heirs, righteous, saints, Christians by means of works, but we do good works once we have been made, born, created such. So it’s necessary to have life, salvation, and grace before works, just as a tree doesn’t deserve to become a tree on account of its fruit but a tree is by nature fitted to bear fruit. Because we’re born, created generated righteous by the Word of grace, we’re not fashioned, prepared, or put together as such by means of the law or works. Works merit something else than life, grace, or salvation—namely, praise, glory, favour, and certain extraordinary things—just as a tree deserves to be loved, cultivated, praised, and honoured by others on account of its fruit. Urge the birth and substance of the Christian and you will at the same time extinguish the merits of works insofar as grace and salvation from sin, death, and the devil are concerned.
“Infants who have no works are saved by faith alone, and therefore faith alone justifies. If the power of God can do this in one person it can do it in all, because it’s not the power of the infant but the power of faith. Nor is it the weakness of the infant that does it, otherwise that weakness would in itself be a merit or be equivalent to one. We’d like to defy our Lord God with our works. We’d like to become righteous through them. But he won’t allow it. My conscience tells me that I’m not justified by works, but nobody believes it.