He Rules the World with Truth and Grace… Far as the Curse is Found… (part 6)
In the last post, I stated: “the law and gospel – just like the Holy Spirit – reveal an important truth which is exactly the same: God has an overriding desire to do good to all men (even, finally, desiring that each not despair but be saved in Christ).
Again, if Luther is right when he says “[t]he law does not want you to despair of God… it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” (SDEA 367, 369),[i] how can we not conclude this? The Holy Spirit brings God’s good law!
But some will object:
Luther also says that “[t]he law is not given to make you certain of the forgiveness of sins” or grace (265, SDEA, see 289 also) – not even this law you quote him saying above! None of the above means that man can, from his own powers, do this or even want to do this! When Luther says things like: “Do not despair! Call on Him who helps you! Call on the one who makes you believe and hope!” (see 309, 311), he does so fully aware that without the Gospel of Christ – where grace is completely given or at least completely offered (“Come to the Feast!) — even these statements are ultimately law which kills and won’t empower us to call on Him in truth, rightly…
Well, yes. Exactly.
This in fact helps us complete our necessary dialectical exercise. For only with the Gospel ringing in our ears… only with the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ which utterly transforms our hearts… do Luther’s statements about the law’s demand that we trust unconditionally make any sense at all – i.e. insofar as we might be able to begin to realize this in our lives (see Rom. 4:23 – 5:1).
Only with the Gospel can we begin to believe that these statements – and any statements of God’s law, really – speak truth about the nature of the relationship we are to know with our Creator, and meant to live in accordance with. Only through the glorious message of salvation from sin, death, and the devil through the work of Jesus Christ can we begin to taste the glory and freedom of Eden again.
Only when sorrow produced not by man’s commands but God’s commands – a sorrow which, yes, may even reach hatred of God and despair of Him! – is repeatedly accompanied with this Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of our sins can there be an ongoing life of repentance that leads to life and not death.
And, again, must we not go further? When we walk this way, in faith, do we not see that the law does not work by itself – meaning that it is somehow the “opposite of the Holy Spirit” – to produce sorrow? For if that were the case, this would only be a sorrow that would lead to sickness and death! How could this be the case, given the unity that we saw and demonstrated in the last post regarding the law, the gospel, and the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit uses God’s law and gospel to produce a godly sorrow unto salvation!
Away with man’s Hidden God and to the Revealed God!
Must not unbiblical, un-Christian, and un-Lutheran notions of God’s hiddenness fall away from us at this point, as we see that everything that reveals truth to us comes from the same Holy Spirit who is Gift?
One can understand sympathize with the Radical Lutherans and their desire to shy away from these “propositional truths” men like Luther espouse in the Antinomian Disputations. Especially for pastors concerned to bring a comforting and encouraging word, it is no wonder why they might be tempted to downplay (or ignore) some things.
What, after all, is one to do with the assertion that the law or will of God Himself lies behind what happens to us – not just when we feel slighted in life, but particularly in times of great disaster and confusion? For the unbeliever — or even for the believer weak in faith – it seems such truths might drive them to a despair that has no chance to recover… to be able to hear good news.
Of course, these concerns are not unfounded, as many have lost faith. “Does God not care? How can He let this happen to me? How can this be God’s will?”
And no doubt many preachers have faltered here, trying to bring God’s Promise in Christ, but nevertheless giving the impression they are basically like Alexander Pope: “whatever is, is right….” (after all, if Judas betrayed by necessity…)
So perhaps we should just take comfort in the fact that whatever disasters befall us are only a “Hidden God” of our imagination – and have absolutely nothing to do with the true God revealed on the cross?
We cannot. For in the end not just trust but strong trust in God’s loving and redemptive Providence – against all appearances to the contrary – is to be identified as the will of God. Why? Because not only our Lord Jesus Christ, but saints like Job, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendego, Jeremiah, and, of course, Habakkuk – who ultimately live to testify of Christ – are also to be held up in honor as existing for the life of the world, fallen in sin and cursed.
I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
The biggest struggle of the Christian is to be tempted to disbelieve what the Scriptures clearly state as unambiguously true: that God really does mean and intend for all to be saved from those things and persons that oppose Him (and hence His children).[ii] He even intends me to be saved. He saves me, now — and later.
What? Yes, of course: ultimately not this life but the next. We should speak of “Joy to the world in this sense” – the thorns do indeed remain, far as the curse is found, for now.
For we know, deep down, that ultimately this life, blessings in this life, are not what our life is all about. Christians know even more: because we are all one in Adam’s sin, this world is not only passing away, but cursed and condemned (Gen. 3, Rom. 8). God has given it over to the consequences of its sin in judgment (Romans 1:18-3:23), and Christians are not immune from suffering – they should even expect more (2 Timothy 3:12).
But we have Christ, the Promised One.
He. Loved. Us. Inexplicably loved us.
Hence, faith’s attitude, anchored in the cross of Christ, is the following: Even if I feel condemned in this world—even by God—in the end, I will be saved and, if need be, the whole world condemned.[iii] Temporally or eternally or both.
So be it.
For He is good. So His promises are good. Even if that is hidden in Christ with God, to say the least (Col. 3:3).
Even more—God means for not only my family and friends but my enemies to have this same invincible confidence in Christ, who suffered God’s full wrath for us.
The facts must be faced. Pure Radical Lutheranism cannot abide this teaching, this faith.
For it is not our faith, our realization that God is “not mad at us through Christ,” that satisfies Him and neutralizes His wrath. That saves us (see Preus, 95). God is still mad at sin, even the believer’s sin, and will destroy it utterly.[iv]
Rather, our salvation is only in Christ’s saving work for our sakes whereby He turned His own wrath away by taking His wrath onto, into, Himself.
And not just in Christ’s “passive obedience”[v] but Christ’s full obedience to every jot and title of God’s law (Matthew 5), through the Holy Spirit, was completely necessary for our salvation!
Everything that Christ did in His role as prophet, priest, king, and suffering servant corresponded with the outward duty He fulfilled towards His Father according to the 10 commandments, God’s eternal law. Reality is, after all, an ontology of harmony for eternity. And of course, all of these things that we can see went hand in hand with the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23) which derive from the heart that believes God’s words. These include, but not limited to, the “suffering of love, which bears all things (I Cor. 13:7).”
Why must the Pure Radical Lutheran ultimately create a new ladder theology, a new “law story,” in order to save himself? Why is even the one who dabbles in Radical Lutheranism, or tolerates it, responsible for laying the foundation of a new law, even unawares?
Because to seek the weightier matters of the law apart from the complete obedience of Christ—perfectly exemplifying to the world the fulfillment of the eternal law of God in every facet—is indeed, as Andrew Preus clearly sees, “to create justice, mercy, and faithfulness in one’s own image” (99).
And it is to scorn the work and honor of the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Patience towards the people, always (2 Peter 3:9).
But abject intolerance and sheer hatred towards the doctrine.
Let’s end with some of the theses from the third set of Antinomian Disputations:
- The Lord’s Prayer, taught by the Lord himself to his saints and believers, is part of repentance and is full of the teaching of the law.
- For whoever prays it truly confesses with his own voice that he sins against the law and repents (cf. LC VI:9).
- For who asks that the name of God be hallowed confesses that the name of God has not been sanctified perfectly yet.
- And who asks that the kingdom of God come confesses that he partly still is stuck in the kingdom of Satan that is contrary to God’s kingdom.
- Who asks that the will of God be done confesses that he is largely disobedient to the will of God and that he repents of that.
- Yet it is God’s law that teaches that God’s name is to be hallowed; praying, one bears witness that one has not fulfilled this law.
- And who detests the kingdom of Satan left in him, thereby bears witness that he did not fulfill chiefly the law of the First Table.
- And who prays that the will of God be done in him, bears witness that he is disobedient to the will of God.
- Yet this prayer ought to be prayed by the entire Church until the end of the world and by each saint until death.
- For the entire Church is holy and acknowledges that she has sin and that repentance needs to take place perpetually.
- Therefore even the Lord’s Prayer teaches that the law is before, under, and after the Gospel, and that repentance must take its beginning from it.
- For who asks for anything first confesses that he does not have what he asks for and expects it to be given.
- Yet it is the law that first shows us what we do not have, and that it is nonetheless necessary to have this.
- It follows from this that those enemies of the law also need to eliminate the Lord’s Prayer itself when they eliminate the law.
- In reality, they even are forced to eliminate most of the sermons of Christ himself from the history presented in the Gospels.
- For he not only recites the law of Moses in Matt. 5, but also explicates it perfectly and teaches that it is not to be destroyed.
- And teaching the Pharisee on the great and first commandment of the law he confirms the law and says (Luke 10:28): “Do this and you will live.”
- Throughout the Gospel he also convicts, scolds, threatens, terrifies, and practices similar offices of the law.
- So that never anything more impudent is heard, or will come about, than that of those who teach that the law be eliminated.
- Namely, poor men who are ashamed to teach and do what the Lord himself did and taught.
- One might pose the case that sin may be known through something other than the law, although this is impossible.
- Why should the law be given up, when it works the same that is caused by something else, namely, the recognition of sin.
- And even if the law is eliminated by grammatically and materially removing the word itself—for this is what they must think.
- Who will eliminate that living law inscribed in the hearts (cf. Rom. 2:15) and the handwriting of requirement (cf. Col. 2:14) that stands against us, which is identical with the Law of Moses?
[i] The full argument:
Sixteenth [Forty-Third] Argument
The proper office of pointing out sin is despair. Despair, however, is induced by the law. Therefore the law is not to be taught.
Response: Despair of ourselves is very good and pleases God. But to despair of God is the highest shame and sin against the First Commandment. For here one sins exceedingly in each part, either despairing of God or being presumptuous about our powers and be secure. This is why one ought to argue like this: The law induces despair of God. Therefore the law is not to be taught.
Here I deny the antecedent and the consequence, since the law does not want you to despair of God, but rather that, having recognized the sin concerning yourself, you might also learn to seek help from him, in whom it is offered by God. For the sum of the First Commandment is not to despair, rather to trust and fear God and to love him above all things, for he wants to be believed wholeheartedly, requiring not only hands and feet. But the law also, if it sneaks in and finds that we do not hope, nor love God, there accuses this security and unfaithfulness, contempt of God and our presumptuousness, and commands and wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God—believe it! But I can’t. Call upon him, it says, who is powerful to make you to be able to, and hope, do not despair but call (end argument).
And when Luther does not hesitate to talk about “the good” (SDEA 33) should not many of our questions about Luther’s views of natural law vis a vis a scholastic theologian like Thomas Aquinas begin to dissipate?
[ii] Thomas Aquinas, good on natural law/“the good”, nevertheless failed this test badly, succumbing to a hard “double predestination” view which, ultimately, could only undermine the comfort the Gospel provides.
[iii] In December , on an Issues ETC. radio program (Dec. 11, hours 1 & 2, “Judgment Psalms”), Pastor Todd Wilken interviewed Dr. Reed Lessing of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Dr. Lessing had written an article in the recent Concordia Journal called “Broken Teeth, Bloody Baths, and Baby-Bashing: is there any Place in the Church for the Imprecatory Psalms?”….
I believe Dr. Lessing has done a great service in bringing attention to these passages. Dr. Lessing… is getting right to the heart of the matter: Cursing the enemies of the faithful is built into the very fabric of the Promise. There can be no salvation without damnation. There is no Gospel without Law. There is no deliverance and mercy without justice. Simply put: darkness cannot exist with light and evil and its offspring must ultimately be annihilated forever. Helpfully, Lessing also noted that God’s anger lasts only for a moment, and host Todd Wilken added that God’s justice and vengeance – being his “alien work” – operate to serve his mercy. With all of these points, I could not agree more, for on the last day, we who are in Christ will no doubt rejoice (Revelation 18:20 [all following passages are NIV]), shouting “hallelujahs” (Rev. 19:1), and saying “true and just are His judgments!” (Rev 19:2) The fact that “with such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again (Revelation 18:21)”, is indeed a part of our comfort in the Gospel. God will finally, as the Anglican scholar N.T. Wright notes, “set the world to rights”. Here, there can be no doubt that this will be the pinnacle of happiness.
“In order to test and humble them, God hides his true face of ‘life, glory, salvation, joy, and peace’ under the mask of ‘wrath, death, and hell.’ He ‘afflicts the godly and conceals the fact that He is our God and Father and rather conducts Himself as a tyrant and judge who wants to torture and destroy us.’” LW 8:4, 31 (1545); cf. LW 4:324 (1539).
“For Luther, the point is that ‘reason despairs’, the ‘will murmurs’ and the senses ‘are completely downcast.’ The fallen flesh is crushed in order for the redeemed spirit to conquer and persevere in true faith in spite of all evidence to the contrary.” LW 8:8 (1545).
“At the same time, invasion by the brutal Turks was a constant threat that struck fear into the hearts of Luther’s audience. The primary question on their minds was, ‘Where is Christ? Where is our God?’ Luther’s response was that God was still present, but it is his custom to ‘pretend that He is quite alienated from us.’ Luther likened God to a father who hides from his children in a game of hide-and-seek, which at this period in his life was a game Luther had no doubt played with his own children. Such a game ‘pains us immeasurably, since we do not understand it. . . . [But] He hides himself and disguises himself so that he may test us to see whether we will remain firm in faith and love toward him.’” LW 6:259 (1543); 47:209 (1543).
[v] For Paulson and Hopman, second generation Lutheran reformers (like Flacius and Chemnitz) preserved Luther’s teaching of the atonement even as they insist that they changed it as well: “for [them], this obedience to the law is not only to suffer its punishment passively, as in Luther, but atonement also depends of Christ’s actual obedience to the law” (49, “Atonement”, Dictionary of Luther and the Lutheran Traditions). See Andrew Preus’ weighty and thoroughly convincing response to claims like this in the recent Concordia Theological Quarterly.