Friday, July 16, 2010

From the blood, wounds and death of Christ

But if you ask, where the faith and the confidence can be found and whence they come, this it is certainly most necessary to know. First: Without doubt faith does not come from your works or merit, but alone from Jesus Christ, and is freely promised and given; as St. Paul writes, Romans v: "God commendeth His love to us as exceeding sweet and kindly, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us"; as if he said: "Ought not this give us a strong unconquerable confidence, that before we prayed or cared for it, yes, while we still continually walked in sins, Christ dies for our sin?" St. Paul concludes: "If while we were yet sinners Christ died for us, how much more then, being justified by His blood, shall we be saved from wrath through Him; and if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life."

Lo! thus must thou form Christ within thyself and see how in Him God holds before thee and offers thee His mercy without any previous merits of thine own, and from such a view of His grace must thou draw faith and confidence of the forgiveness of all thy sins. Faith, therefore, does not begin with works, neither do they create it, but it must spring up and flow from the blood, wounds and death of Christ. If thou see in these that God is so kindly affectioned toward thee that He gives even His Son for thee, then thy heart also must in its turn grow sweet and kindly affectioned toward God, and so thy confidence must grow out of pure good-will and love -- God's love toward thee and thine toward God. We never read that the Holy Spirit was given to any one when he did works, but always when men have heard the Gospel of Christ and the mercy of God. From this same Word and from no other source must faith still come, even in our day and always. For Christ is the rock out of which men suck oil and honey, as Moses says, Deuteronomy xxxii.

- Martin Luther, from A Treatise on Good Works, 1520


Ed said...

I can't help but see this post as a response to my comment on Luther's demonic confidence on my blog. Obviously, I was not speaking of his confidence in Christ broadly, but rather of his confidence in himself and his own interpretations.

I can certainly appreciate his historical situation, for I, like himself, believe that the faith of much of the Roman Catholic world in the sixteenth century was in fact opposed to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures. However, the level at which I find him setting himself up as the final judge and arbiter of all things is still very disturbing to me.

I wish I could find the quote, but I recall from my studies that once someone asked Luther how one could know the pope was wrong, and Luther responded something to the effect of "because he disagrees with me." I don't know what to do with that sort of thing.

And the fact that he can be so bold as to claim both sola scriptura and that he "hates" certain books of the bible and "finds no grace in them," how can this be? To quote one such book, "can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?"

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Ed,

I'll admit it, that yes, you were the inspiration for this post. Having read a good amount of Luther I can see that he was a man without much of a filter who seemed to say or write whatever came to mind. There are many things Luther said and probably many things he did which make me uncomfortable. He was a flawed character like every saint of the church, only he has had hordes of his enemies picking through everything he wrote to find supposedly damning quotes. If all those other saints were put up to the same scrutiny I'm sure we could find things which they said which are wrong or are an evidence of some vice. But God has always used men who didn't "have it all together," like David, who had a man killed so he could commit adultery with his wife, and Peter, who denied our Lord on the very night of His suffering. I also believe Luther was a man used by God who was just as much if not more flawed than Peter and David. But Luther's flaws were no barrier to God's grace working through him in my opinion.

Thanks for challenging me Ed.

Ed said...

Well, it is tough to say, certainly God can work through whomever he chooses, and indeed the prophets say that he worked through truly evil empires such as Assyria and Babylon in order to chastise his people.

Nevertheless, it is hard for me to see Luther as a prophet or a saint, because the gospel he comes up with is not identical to the gospel that the Church had taught and held in perpetuity from the beginning. Perhaps God was at work there to cast down "the arrogant papal brow" and the evil Latin Christendom of the Middle Ages which had admittedly substituted merit for grace in much of its thought, but if it was truly of God, then it would have been in agreement with that faith which had been believed by the Apostles and ancient Fathers.

Sometimes I have a hard time, having read so little of Luther and that so long ago, of separating Luther's thought out from the thoughts of later Protestantism, but it seems to me he shattered traditional ecclesiology, rejected some of the received Scriptures of the Church (as defined by the councils of Carthage), misinterpreted the role of the Church in salvation and the Church's connection to Christ, continued to teach a RC-esque mechanical and legal salvation, and rejected most of the sacramental worldview which had always characterized Judaism and Christianity.

You are right, in the lives of many saints one can find negative things and sometimes the occasional false or misleading teaching, but Luther's teachings seem to me more misleading than wholesome, and while I probably would prefer that people imbibe his teachings than those of Tetzel or Eck, I think he is also known by his fruit: almost no one believes Christianity like he believed it anymore. (And indeed who before him held his beliefs?)

Ed said...

The Evangelical Church in Germany and the Evangelical Lutherans here are a joke. Some of the Missouri Synod folks, Apostolic Lutherans, and Volga Germans are more faithful to his teachings, but even they are divided and are not even in communion with one another.

Luther explicitly condemned the early Anabaptists and I am aware that he saw them as leading good Evangelicals away from the true faith (and thus away from Christ).

Luther would certainly have condemned Calvin, had he lived to see Calvin's prime, over among other issues his weak sacramentology. He did condemn Zwingli over it.

Further, I somewhat doubt he had anything like a theology of "denominationalism," itself a post-Pietist phenomenon, and somehow I think he would have condemned the Pietists as well.

For all of its warts, Orthodoxy offers a continuous stream of faith. Oh, indeed, we have been affected by every conceivable force of the world and of the devil, and men of every generation are swayed this way and that by the things that pertains to the world in which they live, and indeed many have fallen away in this direction or in that direction, but fundamentally, our faith is miraculously unchanged from the faith of St. Matthew, St. John, St. James, St. Paul and St. Peter. Luther, for all of his teaching about grace, cannot understand what the Lord says when he says "be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" and stands mute before another book which he "hated," in which it is written "the dead were judged... according to their works." And indeed, again Christ condemns him from that book he hates, when he says "thou... art dead... for I have not found thy works perfect before God." Luther misunderstood works because he misunderstood faith, and he misunderstood faith because he misunderstood the teachings of the Lord. I grant that he received much of his error naturally from the scholastic academy, but even so, it does not justify him.

So I'm sorry my friend, no doubt we find ourselves at loggerheads once again. I still remember you in love, and hope you can say the same for me. Still, our disagreements are profound, and yet Christ calls us to agree with one another. Still, I cannot agree with sin, and I find much sin in the teaching of Luther, and no doubt you must find the same in the teachings of our Fathers and their successors the Bishops to this day. As I see it, Protestantism must die. It is constantly changing, constantly morphing. The sons do not agree with the fathers, nor the fathers with the sons. One man says as a Christian you should become entirely sanctified, his son says you must speak in tongues to be saved, his son says tongues are optional and has never heard of entire sanctification. If such Christianity were of the Holy Spirit, it would be able to keep its form, its shape, and its doctrine intact. And to make it worse, all of these first three men agreed on the Trinity, but now their sons are attacking and rejecting that doctrine as well for "it is not in the Scripture," as they say.

Disagreement and confusion are no miracle. Agreement between brothers is the miracle.

With Love,

Edward Ignatius

Matt Perkins said...

Ed, I must say you write powerfully and I can't imagine a much better apologist for Orthodoxy writing on my blog. I certainly appreciate what you have to say, even when I disagree. I'll have to think about what you wrote above more before I respond. May the Lord bless you, my brother.

Alexander said...


How did Luther misunderstand faith?

I agree with you that the holy spirit does have the power to maintain true Christian doctrine, so why has the Orthodox Church shifted so far away form the teachings of the early church fathers? Especially in the area of justification?



Ed said...


Please forgive me if you'd like to get involved in a protracted debate over these subjects, I suppose I probably shall not be able to oblige you.

But if you are interested in my answers, first, Luther misunderstood faith because he misunderstood the relationship between faith and works in the New Testament. To his credit, he recognized a dominant false teaching in the Roman Catholicism of his day as false. That is, he recognized that the culture of obligation or "merit" which was promoted by many Roman Catholics as the way to salvation was in fact contrary to the gospel.

In fact, it is more than contrary, it is a total upending of the thing. If you recall from the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Pharisee boasts of his works and the Publican mourns his sin and begs for mercy. The Lord of course says that it is the Publican who "goes away justified" for his actions.

Now, as I understand it, medieval Roman Catholic theology had largely come to see salvation as based on merit. In other words, God was like a ruler who demanded tribute from his subjects. If the subjects did certain actions, they could attain merit which could ultimately be used to purchase the grace of eternal salvation, etc. So merit was earned and then essentially presented to God as an obligation. It's like saying, "okay God, I've done this, this, and that and now you owe me." Of course, this totally upends the teachings of the Lord, but I believe that this is how matters were being commonly presented in late medieval Europe.

Ed said...

Luther, rightly, rejected these notions and correctly came to see salvation as an action of God's grace or mercy and not of God's obligation to any person. (Although if I recall correctly I think one might say he did see things still in terms of the merit theology, it's just that all actual merit was now earned by Christ and thus it was Christ alone who could dispense merit and its consequence, salvation).

But of course, if one's salvation cannot be attained by making God one's debtor, there still needs to be some mechanism by which grace (in the form of Christ's merits) can be applied to the individual. Luther saw this as faith.

But by faith, I take Luther to mean a state of cognitive belief or trust and little more. Thus, having had one's moment of trust or justification, one thereafter is covered by the merits of Christ. (I hope I am recalling this correctly, because I may be conflating Luther and later Protestants on some points, and such conflations are unfortunate.)

So basically what one needs to do to be saved is to believe truly (an action which cannot be called one's own "work" for Luther, I think). Luther contrasts this with popular RC merit doctrine and sees his contrast in the Scripture made very clearly by St. Paul in his contrast of "faith" and "the works of the law" in Romans.

As I said above, he is absolutely correct in rejecting the RC merit doctrine.

Ed said...

But where I see Luther erring is his thought that cognitive belief or acceptance of Christ is opposed to Christian works or that Christian works play no part whatsoever in salvation.

Perhaps Luther was pushed by his context into something of a false dichotomy: either faith or works must be the agent by which an individual procures grace and salvation for himself.

I see this as clearly contrasting the apostolic vision, which was able to hold faith, works, membership in the Church, sacraments, in tandem as the means by which a person is saved. They are not separable from each other in the Apostolic mind, and they are all intimately tied to a person's salvation.

This is why St. Peter can speak of "the baptism which now saves you" (1 Peter 3:20). It is also why the Lord can unite baptism to belief as a condition of salvation in Mark 16:16. St. James even says explicitly that faith without works does not have the power to save (James 2:14-17). He even states the tandem directly: "you see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). And it is the tandem theology which allows St. Paul to say that "you are all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus, for as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal. 3:27). Indeed, in St. Paul's account of his conversion in Acts, St. Ananias tells him to "be baptized and wash away your sins" (22:16). The Lord himself makes clear that final salvation has to do with works, when he says so explicitly that the Son of Man "shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27).

Ed said...

Therefore, I submit that Luther improperly understood faith and the nature of the grace which is given to a Christian. For indeed, rather than having to do merely with a static imputation of Christ's merits, it has to do with a mystical, sacramental union between the believer and Christ which empowers the believer to actually live out Christ's commandments, to actually be transformed by the renewing of the mind into the form of that mind which is in Christ Jesus, and, in a word, to be perfect as the Father of Jesus Christ is perfect. Jesus does not speak these words idly or in order to create some elaborate trap of an unattainable goal, he speaks them to his disciples because he knows that by the power of the Holy Spirit and by participation in the sacramental life of the Church, these things will in fact be possible for them.

Salvation is not some mere merit transaction, and this I think is how Luther, in keeping with the men of his age, failed to properly understand the relationship between faith and works.


I think I've said enough for one evening. I'm not sure how you understand the Orthodox Church to have departed from the teachings of the Fathers regarding justification, so I cannot exactly answer you on that point without some clarification. My apologies.



Alexander said...

Thanks for the reply,

A couple of quick things

I was curious how a member of the Orthodox church view Luther. Thanks for the thorough answer, I completely disagree with almost everything you have said but its given me some stuff to ponder.

A quick point about Lutheran Theology is that it affirms the effigy of baptism and denies that it is a work.

As for the early church fathers here are some quotes that seem to be against the Orthodox Church.

"God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins."

"They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God." -Ambrosiaster

Chrysostom (349-407): The patriarch Abraham himself before receiving circumcision had been declared righteous on the score of faith alone: before circumcision, the text says, “Abraham believed God, and credit for it brought him to righteousness.”

Chrysostom (349-407): “For a person who had no works, to be justified by faith, was nothing unlikely. But for a person richly adorned with good deeds, not to be made just from hence, but from faith, this is the thing to cause wonder, and to set the power of faith in a strong light.”

Jerome “God justifies by faith alone.”

“Therefore let no one boast of his works, because no one can be justified by his works; but he who is just receives it as a gift, because he is justified by the washing of regeneration. It is faith, therefore, which delivers us by the blood of Christ, because blessed is he whose sins are forgiven, and to whom pardon is granted.” Ambrose

Clement of Rome: “We also, being called through God's will in Christ Jesus, are not justified through ourselves, neither through our own wisdom or understanding, or piety, or works which we have done in holiness or heart, but through faith."

Ok I have lots more if you want them. I think these are more then enough to illustrate my point unless I misunderstand the Orthodox position on Justification.

Ed said...


I'll be back with you after the weekend. I have two 12-hour shifts coming up with church in between them. :-P

Matt Perkins said...

Hey Ed,

This doesn't answer some of the stuff you brought up in your first posts but Luther was quite a bit more nuanced than the way you present him in your response to Alexander. Here are some more quotes from Luther's Treatise on Good Works:

"The first and highest, the most precious of all good works is faith in Christ, as He says, John vi. When the Jews asked Him: "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?" He answered: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him Whom He hath sent." When we hear or preach this word, we hasten over it and deem it a very little thing and easy to do, whereas we ought here to pause a long time and to ponder it well. For in this work all good works must be done and receive from it the inflow of their goodness, like a loan. This we must put bluntly, that men may understand it."

"So utterly and roundly does the Apostle [Paul] reject works and praise faith, that some have taken offence at his words and say: "Well, then, we will do no more good works," although he condemns such men as erring and foolish."

"Therefore, when some say that good works are forbidden when we preach faith alone, it is as if I said to a sick man: 'If you had health, you would have the use of all your limbs; but without health, the works of all your limbs are nothing'; and he wanted to infer that I had forbidden the works of all his limbs; whereas, on the contrary, I meant that he must first have health, which will work all the works of all the members. So faith also must be in all works the master-workman and captain, or they are nothing at all."

Ed said...

Okay, so I have a question for you guys about Luther. Did he believe in a moment of personal justification by faith that was separate from baptism? That is, did he believe something along the lines of Wesley's moment of experiencing "justifying grace?"

I remember when I read him all those ages ago I assumed he did, but I could have just been reflecting my teenage self (evangelical United Methodist with Calvinist, Fundamentalist, and Pentecostal influences) onto Luther's writings.

Also, it's good to know Luther saw baptism as necessary and efficacious, but if it was necessary, how could he speak of salvation by faith alone? (Or does he take baptism to be an action subsumed under faith somehow?) Also, does he regard the holy eucharist as necessary for salvation?

(Sorry, I don't mean to throw so many questions at you there, I'm just curious. It has been a long time since I had any dealings with Luther directly, and I'm a much different man now than I was then, I think.)

Alexander said...

First if you want a good book to read about the Lutheran view of baptism this one is very good.

Just click the title (Water with the word) to start the download. Reading this book would be better at answering your questions then I could be in this format.

I have to get to bed, look for an answer to your question tomorrow.

Jacob M. Aho said...

Has anyone out there read the book by Gerhard O'Forde "Where God Meets Man"?

Anonymous said...

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Is this possible?

Matt Perkins said...

Hey anonymous poster from August 1st, to be honest I don't understand what you're asking. You can e-mail me at