Johann Gerhard: The satisfaction for our sins

Besides being a brilliant Orthodox Lutheran exegete, domatician, and apologist, Johann Gerhard was also an expert in practical theology as well as devotional writing. In the following, note how touchingly Gerhard weaves in Christ’s active and passive righteousness for us, as well as the true and genuine comfort this gives to us as the Lord’s blood-bought saints. Note also how the true power and meaning of the Gospel is conveyed in the proper interpretation, based solely on Scripture, of how Christ was and is the satisfaction for our sins, and how His atonement has set us right with God. Enjoy!

“COME unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. xi. 28), are the precious words of our Saviour. Truly, my dear Lord Jesus, I am burdened beyond measure, and I groan under the awful weight of my sins; but I hasten to Thee, the fountain of living waters. Come unto me, O Lord Jesus, so that I may be able to come unto Thee. I am coming to Thee because Thou hast first come to me. I am coming to Thee, my dear Lord Jesus, and most ardently do I desire Thee, for I can find no good in myself at all. And if I could find anything good in me, I should not so anxiously long for Thee. Truly, O Lord Jesus, I “labor and am heavy laden.” I dare not compare myself to any of Thy saints, nor even to any repentant sinner, unless perchance to the penitent thief upon the cross. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, Thou who didst show Thyself so merciful to that penitent malefactor! Wretchedly, wretchedly, have I lived; my life hath been one of sin; but, oh! I do desire to die the death of the godly and of the righteous. But godliness and righteousness are far from my heart, and so in Thy godliness and in Thy righteousness I take refuge. Thou didst give Thy life, O Lord Jesus, as a ransom for many (Matt. xx. 28); let that come to my succor in my distress. Thy most holy body Thou didst give to be scourged, to be spit upon, to be buffeted, to be lacerated with thorns, and to be crucified, and all for me; O let that come to my help in my distress. Let Thy most precious blood, which Thou didst so freely shed in Thy bitter sufferings and cruel death upon the cross, and which cleanseth us from all sin (1 John i. 7), be my help. Let Thy most sacred divinity, which sustained Thy human nature in Thy passion, which refrained from the exercise of its glorious power while the adorable mystery of my redemption was being wrought out, and which gave infinite value and merit to Thy suffering for sin, so that God might ransom me –- me, a miserable sinner –- with His own blood (Acts xx. 28), come to my assistance in my distress. In Thy bleeding wounds is my only remedy; let them succor me. Let Thy most holy passion be my defence. Let Thy merit, my last refuge and the only remedy for my sins, be my comfort and my support. What Thou hast suffered, O Christ, Thou hast suffered for me. What Thy sufferings have merited, they have merited for me, and are set over against my unworthiness. God therefore “commendeth His love toward us,” and by the testimony of all men, yea, by its surpassing the comprehension even of the angels, confirms it, “in that while we were yet sinners and enemies Christ died for us” (Rom. v. 8). Who is there who does not wonder at this; who is not struck with deep amazement, that unasked by any one, nay even hated by men, the most merciful Son of God intercedes for sinners and for His enemies? And not only that, but renders a perfect satisfaction to divine justice for their sins, by His poor and humble birth, by His holy life, by His most bitter sufferings and cruel death.

Johann Gerhard, Meditation XI, The Satisfaction for Our Sins. Accessed November 11, 2017.

William Dallmann: Luther and Justification, part 4

This post continues and concludes from part 3 containing selections from Rev. William Dallman’s “Luther and Justification,” which appeared in Concordia Publishing House’s 1917 book, Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results. Again, Rev. Dallman:

2. The Effect of Faith

If God loved us to save us, we love God for having saved us,–we love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

The love of God was not an idle sentiment, it sacrificed His only-begotten Son for us; and our love of God is not sentimental moonshine, the the love of Christ constraineth us. (2 Cor. 5:14) Christ is our righteousness, also He is our sanctification. (1 Cor. 1:30) Justifying faith is the potent principle of holiness. If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature (2 Cor. 5:14; Rom. 5:5) Faith worketh by love. (Gal. 5:6, 22-25) Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith. (2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 6:4) It is the Apostle of Faith who has sung the divinest Hymn of Love, in 1 Cor. 13.

Since our good works flow from the fountain of our love of God, since they are the fruits of our faith, they cannot be the ground of our justification; they do not precede justifying faith, but follow after the same. Our good works are not merits to be rewarded, not service to be paid for, but they are the tokens of thanks for mercies received.

This truth majestically brushes aside the whole jungle of papal good works of monks and nuns, and celibacy, and fastings, and flagellations, and vows, and pilgrimages, and rosaries, and penances, and satisfactions, and sacrifices, and the countless host of saints, male and female, and their glory and intercession, and we see no man but Jesus only.

From what has been said there comes into view the relation between the Law and the Gospel. Though both are revelations of God, their functions differ fundamentally. The Law reveals God’s holiness, and by contrast man’s sinfulness and condemnation. The Gospel reveals God’s grace and man’s salvation through the atonement of Jesus Christ. By the Law is the knowledge of sin; by the Gospel is the forgiveness of sin.

The Law is a guide-post, pointing out the road of holiness; but it can supply no life and strength to walk the path of holiness. The Gospel gives the spiritual life and spiritual strength to travel the road to heaven.

The atoning work of Christ offered in the Gospel and received by faith unites me to Christ, the Head, and makes me a living member of His body, the Church. And so the Church is the communion of saints. The saints have communion with Christ, and through Christ with one another. The Church is not Chris’s vicar on earth, whom I must obey in order to become a member of the outward organization and thus a member of Christ, but the Church is Christ’s servant, which ministers the Gospel to me, and unites me to Christ, and thus makes me a member of the Church. Christ and faith in Christ is the basis of my church-membership. The Church does not make me a member of Christ, but Christ makes me a member of the Church.

Where is this Church, and by what marks can I know it? The Gospel creates faith; faith makes the Christian; the Christians make the Church. The Church, then, is where the Gospel and the Sacraments are in use, and by the use of the Gospel and the Sacraments I recognize the Church with unerring certainty; and there is where I belong. The people using the Gospel and the Sacraments are the congregation, or the visible Church.

In this visible congregation the Word of God rules with divine authority. Human rules may be made and altered from time to time, that everything may be done decently and in order, but human rules may not be enforced as necessary to salvation…

Was Luther’s teaching “novel,” “original with him”? Principal Forsyth says: “Luther, I reiterate, rediscovered Paul and the New Testament. He gave back to Christianity the Gospel, and restored Christianity to religion. . . . The issue which is raised concerns the essential nature of Christianity.” (Rome, Reform, and Reaction) Layman Abbott declares: “Lutheranism was a revival of Paulinism.” (Life of Paul, p. 327) Renan says Paul has “been for three hundred years, thanks to Protestantism, the Christian doctor par excellence.” D.S. Muzzey says “the theologians succeed in identifying St. Paul with Lutheranism.”

William Dallman, “Luther and Justification,” in Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results2nd ed., W.H.T. Dau, ed., (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 68-71. Public domain.



Another beautiful exposition on the atonement

Thank God for faithful preachers and teachers! Here’s another wonderful presentation of the vicarious satisfaction/substitutionary atonement within the context of our Lord’s resurrection by the Rev. Dr. Ken Schurb:

Resurrection and Vicarious Satisfaction

We start, paradoxically, with a topic in which the effects of the cross and of the resurrection must be distinguished and not mixed together. Yet even where we have to observe such a distinction there ought not be a separation, and we should give due stress to the resurrection as we spread the Gospel. The subject is Christ’s satisfying God’s wrath in our place (as our Vicar, or Substitute), and the resurrection is not part of it.

“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Luther noted that “if we are to be redeemed from death, we must at the same time-indeed, before that time-be freed from sin and God’s wrath, since death came upon us because of it.. .[the] Lord must restore us to a condition of eternal righteousness and innocence.”2 Put differently, Christ’s atonement preceded His resurrection substantively as well as temporally, that is, in reality as well as in time. Thus, the two are not the same. Jesus liberated us from sin and wrath by His sacrifice, taking our place under the Law and absorbing God’s just punishment for our sin (Matt. 20:28; Heb. 10:11-14; 1 John 2:1). Only then did God bring forth the miracle of life in the resurrection. Thus, while “Christ is said in the Scriptures to have suffered and died both on our behalf and in our place,” it remains true that “He was not resurrected in our place, but only on our behalf.” 3 The theologians of Lutheran orthodoxy, for example, consistently upheld this distinction for two reasons, First, they wanted clearly to assert the completed character of Calvary’s sacrifice. Once Jesus said “It is finished,” it really was finished; the resurrection does not constitute another part of the atonement. Second, the seventeenth-century Lutherans were determined to affirm that Christians too will rise at the Last Day, since Christ is not-strictly speaking-our Substitute in the resurrection. Of course, these Gospel truths are precious to us too.

In our zeal to maintain them, however, we should not fall into the trap of neglecting the resurrection. For there is a way in which it relates to the vicarious satisfaction: it forms a “manifestation or confirmation, because the resurrection of Christ is evident testimony that satisfaction was fully made for our sins and perfect righteousness (was) brought up.”4 Further, the resurrection does not constitute a dry, ancient, dull testimony, albeit to something terribly important. It gives something besides information. As C. F. W. Walther put it, “What the Son had given to the Father on Calvary, the Father now in the garden of the tomb gave to the world.”5 In the resurrection, the treasures of Christ’s atoning work are bestowed on all people. The resurrection stands out as God’s absolution, based on the vicarious satisfaction, which He now powerfully proclaims to the world.6

Another quote from Walther, to show how this message can be set forth:

In the resurrection we hear that God was not satisfied merely to send his Son into the world and let him become man for us. Yes, it was not enough to give his own Son into death for us. No, when his Son had finished everything which be had to do and suffer in order to earn grace, life, and blessedness for us, God, humanly speaking, because of burning love to us sinners, could not wait for us to come and beg him for his grace in Christ. No, scarcely had his Son finished everything, then he hurried to give to all men the grace merited through the resurrection of his Son, to acquit them all from their sins, and before heaven and earth publicly, really, and solemnly declare them redeemed, reconciled, clean, guiltless arid righteous in Christ.7

In short, when the Law is proclaimed in terms of punishment for sinners, the cross can be set forth as Christ satisfying God’s wrath against us, and the resurrection correspondingly depicted as God the Father approving His work and giving the resulting blessings to humankind.

2. Luther’s Works, Am. ed., vol. 13, p. 240.

3. John Quenstedt, Theologia Didactico-Polemica (Leipzig: Thomas Fritsch, 1715), p. 543.

4. Calov, describing Gerhard’s position, quoted in John William Baier, Compendium Theologiac Positivae, rev, and ed. C. F. W. Walther, vol. 3 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1869), pp. 94-95.

5. C. F. W. Walther quoted in Tom Hardt, “Justification and Easter: A Study in Subjective and Objective Justification in Lutheran Theology,” in A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus, ed. Kurt E. Marquart, John R. Stephenson, and Bjarne W. Teigen (Fort Wayne: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985), p. 62.

6. Hardt, Justification and Easter. This paper is highly instructive on this matter. It is important to give due recognition to both the death and resurrection of Christ; “This [emphasis on the resurrection] does not at all imply that Paul compromises the absolute necessity and intrinsic efficacy of Christ’s death (as an atonement). It does mean, however, that he does not confuse the ransom price, no matter how sublime and precious, with what is secured by its payment. To Paul’s way of thinking, as long as Christ remains dead, Satan and sin are triumphant.” (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., The Centrality of the Resurrection: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology [Grand Gapids: Baker, 1978], p. 116).

7.C. F. W. Walther, Old Standard Gospels, trans. Donald E. Heck, part 1 (n.p., n.d.), p. 150.

Ken Schurb, “The Resurrection in Gospel Proclamation,” Issues, Etc. article archive. Accessed November 7, 2017.

William Dallmann: Luther and Justification, part 3

This post continues from part 2 containing selections from Rev. William Dallman’s “Luther and Justification,” which appeared in Concordia Publishing House’s 1917 book, Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results. Again, Rev. Dallman:

b. justification implies faith

  1. The Source of Faith.

The Gospel is the promise of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. How can I receive a promise? Of course, only by faith. Faith trusts the promise, clings to the promise, rests on the promise.

As a ring is precious on account of the diamond it holds, so faith has justifying power on account of the Christ it embraces. (Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15) What gives joy to the assurance of faith is the view of the exalted Christ making intercession for us. (Rom. 8:32-39)

While the Gospel is the object of faith (Mark 1:15), it is, at the same time, the principle of faith. The gracious promise itself produces the trustful faith in itself. The Gospel’s fair race and winsome ways win the will of the sinner, and beget a whole-hearted confidence and a fearless and unconditional surrender. The Gospel speaks with the accents of downright truth and transparent honesty, and thus woos and wins the enemy.

As the potter’s hands for the clay, so the Gospel is the formal principle–it gives form and shape to the faith. The Christian faith is no more and no less and none other than the Gospel makes it. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 1:17; Eph. 1:9, 10:13; 1 Thess. 2:13)

This Gospel is not a mere teaching about God, it is the power of God unto salvation; it is a living and life-giving and life-changing power. This Gospel is the means used by the Holy Spirit, and so it is the Gospel of our salvation. (Eph. 1:13) Of His own will begat He us with the Word of Truth. (James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23; John 3:5-6; 1 Thess. 2:13)

In common with the Gospel, the Sacraments are real means of grace, through which the Holy Spirit is conferred. Yet they are not charms that work in a magical manner. Holy Baptism is for the remission of sins. Yet it is not the water that does the work, but the word of God, which is in and with the water, and faith, which trust such word of God in the water. The Holy Communion is for the remission of sins. Yet it is not the eating and drinking that does the work, for he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins.” For the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe.

If the Gospel is the divine object and also the divine cause of faith, then this Gospel has a unique dignity and authority, which nothing else can rival. Bound by the authority of God’s Word, we are bound by nothing else. If the Son has made us free, we will not again be entangled with the yoke of bondage. (John 8:26; Gal. 5:1)

This liberty is not an unbridled license or a chaotic anarchy, it is a liberty in Christ: one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren. (Matt. 23:8) Our liberty is regulated by Christ, otherwise we bow to no authority.

In this Protestant freedom we are free from the yoke of the Roman tradition, which the papists place on a level with the Bible as an independent source of knowledge and as of equal binding force and authority We are furthermore, free from the authority of Rationalism, which holds human reason the source and norm of spiritual knowledge. We are, finally, free from the authority of Mysticism, which places an inner light alongside of Scripture or even above Scripture.

William Dallman, “Luther and Justification,” in Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results2nd ed., W.H.T. Dau, ed., (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 67-68. Public domain.

The irreconcilable ethics of Lutherisms

Luthers Thesenanschlag am 31. Oktober 1517 ist das entscheidende Datum der Reformation. Er war der Beginn einer Bewegung, die weltweit Spuren hinterließ und bis heute anhält.1

Less than a week ago, Lutherans and representatives of other religious traditions gathered in Wittenberg, Germany to celebrate the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Organizers promised that, unlike nationalistic and anti‐Catholic observances one and two centuries ago, Reformation 2017 would have an international, ecumenical flavor. Decorative bunting and banners, rousing speeches by pastors, prelates and politicians, and commemorative Andenken celebrating the achievements of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon added to the festive atmosphere. Yet, I suspect that hardly noticed and most certainly unmentioned was the irreconcilable diversity of moral opinion held by most Lutheran participants, who, if asked, unanimously would purport their unswerving allegiance to the teachings of the “great reformer.”

A telling question: To which Luther do they hold? Perhaps it might be Luther the faithful nominalist. Others might say the eclectic firebrand tempered by Melanchthon’s Renaissance humanism. Luther the existentialist might be another. And what of his followers? One could list antinomians, neo‐Aristotelians, Ramists, Cartesians, and post‐Barthian dialecticians among them. Adding to the din are, as I call them, the Lutheran “systematic categories”2: law/gospel, sinner/saint, and three sola principles in the ablative, with the fourth in the nominative describing a Christ, whom Lutherans have declared to be ubiquitous according to both His divine and human natures. While few Lutherans would contend that these theological sound bites are sufficient to construct a classical Western moral framework, the tradition’s penchant for reductionism remains obdurate. I would argue that incompatible sexual mores within Lutheranism itself are the pudding’s proof that something has gone terribly wrong. Traditional marriage—one woman and one man joined for life for the purposes of procreating and educating children and mutual aid—simply cannot be confected from the Lutheran doctrines of the two kingdoms or vocation, for example. In fact, these teachings have been misused by some Lutherans to advocate Nazism and same‐sex marriage, respectively.3

Nevertheless, I believe that irreconcilable diversity of moral opinion within contemporary Lutheranism is not merely a theological problem; it is first and foremost a philosophical problem. Naturally, any meaningful theology cannot be obtained without some sort of philosophical basis, some way of dealing with epistemology and ontology. Despite Luther’s eclecticism (and penchant for hyperbole), it is clear that he was familiar with the teachings of Augustine, an unusual interpretation of Aquinas, as well as Scotus, Occam, Biel, and possibly Bernard.4 For their part, in stark contrast to the “early” Luther, theologians during the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy (ca. AD 1580‐ 1730) quite comfortably systematized doctrinal content derived from Scripture along Aristotelian lines, even reintroducing metaphysics. The “early” Luther would have been aghast. Although separated by careful nuances,5 Orthodox Lutheran (also labeled Lutheran scholastic or neo‐Aristotelian) moral theology is, in many respects, complementary to its traditional Roman Catholic counterpart.6 However, this potentially fertile field remains relatively unexplored.7 Here, for example, a comparison of Aquinas with the work of Cornelius Martini (1568‐1600), Johann Gerhard (1582‐1637), or Abraham Calov (1612‐86) might prove to be enlightening.

I further suspect that, given several pertinacious layers of academic, professional, and philosophical commitments, such an analysis would be difficult to obtain within a contemporary Lutheran context. Why? Because of the persistent rigid adherence to those commitments.

While one might draw a connection with what I’m suggesting to the Enlightenment critique proposed by Alasdair MacIntyre, I have only become familiar with his work within the past few years. My initial suspicions as to the ethical dissonance problem were enabled by a decades‐long interest in health care ethics. Through an informal exploration of changing Lutheran views on contraception, I discovered the work of Reformed theologians Grabill8 and Charles,9 who suggest that the Protestant rejection of natural law theory was of late vintage. Along with my work on presenting an updated English rendering of Melanchthon’s Apology to the Augsburg Confession,10 these initial insights led to the publication of Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal. With humility and respect, I mention these items only to emphasize, from what I have gathered thus far, that behind contemporary Lutheran moral quandaries lie various strata of conflicting philosophical approaches. These naturally lead to dissonant moralities. Contributing to the confusion are two significant “Luther Renaissances,” i.e., that of J.C.K. von Hofmann (nineteenth century) and Karl Holl (early twentieth century). In reaction to Kant and indebted to other figures including Schleiermacher and many others, contemporary Lutherans have sought a modernized version of Luther’s teachings compatible with the academy, but not necessarily with Scripture.

  1. “Was ist Lutherdekade?,” 500 Jahre Reformation. Available at Accessed January 18, 2012.
  2. Robert C. Baker, “Natural Law, Human Sexuality, and Forde’s ‘Acid Test,’” in Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal , edited by Robert C. Baker and Roland Cap Ehlke (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011), 139.
  3. Robert C. Baker, “Book Review: Natural Law: A Lutheran Reappraisal,” in Notes for Life,  Volume 7, Issue 2 (Summer, 2011), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Available at: Accessed January 29, 2011.
  4. Franz Possett, The Real Luther: A Friar at Erfurt and Wittenberg  (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2011).
  5. Robert P. Scharleman, Thomas Aquinas and John Gerhard  (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1964).
  6. Benjamin T.G. Mayes, Counsel and Conscience: Lutheran Casuistry and Moral Reasoning After the Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011).
  7. In addition to Mayes, a preliminary review of additional recent dissertations published on ProQuest revealed Kalvin S. Budiman’s A Protestant Doctrine of Nature and Grace as Illustrated by Jerome Zanchi’s Appropriation of Thomas Aquinas (PhD diss., Baylor University, 2011). In contrast to Budiman, I am far more interested in the Protestant, specifically Lutheran, appropriation of the classical Western philosophical method, especially as it pertains to morality and ethics.
  8. Stephen J. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics  (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006).
  9. J. Daryl Charles, Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things  (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008).
  10. Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, edited by Paul Timothy McCain, Edward Andrew Engelbrecht, Robert Cleveland Baker, and Gene Edward Veith (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005, 2006).


The third use of the law debate is a red herring

Dear reader, if you’ve been following this blog and have read some of the many quotations contained therein, you may have drawn the conclusion, as I have, that the “third use of the law” debate is nothing but a great, big red herring. How much time, energy and ink (both literal and virtual) have been spent on contending whether or not there is a third use, whether or not it is merely the first or second use of the law for the Christian, and so on? Much. But alas and alack, to no avail.

The reason for this isn’t that there has not been serious attention and concerted effort devoted to the subject (despite the title, Concordia Publishing House’s The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law and Gospel serves as a recent example). There have. Many persons of goodwill on one side and the other (and in the middle, too) seemingly cannot agree. And at the risk of appearing to offer a simplistic explanation, I would like to propose that the reason contemporary Lutherans, especially those of the “confessional” stripe, seem incapacitated in finding consensus is not because they haven’t tried, but rather because the manner in which they have tried has been found wanting.

It is, indeed, a case of missing the forest for the trees.

The third use of the law debate, in my view, is not a debate over the third use of the law. Rather, it is a debate over the Law. Better yet, it is not merely a debate over the Law (for such might be limited to a mere discussion about opposing definitions and functions of the Law, and so on), but rather on how the Law relates to the entire corpus of Christian doctrine. This impacts even the doctrine of justification, the doctrine upon which “the Church stands or falls.” As such, the debate encompasses all of Christian doctrine, again, doctrine in the singular.

Doubtlessly, the most current controversy is the direct result of not only changes in philosophy concerning the law (here Rommen is especially helpful), but also epistemology. Sadly, Lutherans tend to suffer from mental myopia in that they are unable to conceive of how and in what ways they have been impacted by external (i.e., secular) changes in thought patterns and world views that directly impact their theology. These changes have been profound, and their results in Lutheran doctrine and life have likewise been profound. Here I am not merely speaking about changes in sexual mores; like the law’s third use, that too is a single tree found in a much larger forest. (We might chalk up changes in sexual morality to changes in epistemology, as the inspired and inerrant social sciences came to be viewed in some quarters as equivalent with Holy Scripture, with “Luther’s” “bound choice” merely sealing the deal.)

Rather than being distracted by side issues like the third use of the law (which invites the serious risk of falsely concluding that “all is well” should that debate finally be “resolved”), I think that time is better spent trying to understand the historical and philosophical contexts and the theological frameworks which hold isolated doctrines in place. So for example, in this line of thinking the third use of the law is not an isolated teaching. It certainly pertains to the Law, but it also relates to justification. Indeed, it relates to the doctrine presented by Holy Scripture. As such, any change or difference in teaching about the law’s third use serves as a red flag indicating a change in theological framework! If the third use is indeed taught by the Bible, as I believe that it is, then a denial of the third use is serious business. Not merely because the one denying the third use has jettisoned one teaching of our faith, but rather because that denial indicates something far more serious.

For further thoughts on this subject, please see my A constellation of denials.


Kolb’s Luther on the atonement

Was Christ’s atonement substitutionary or vicarious? Yes, according to Dr. Robert Kolb’s reading of Martin Luther. Not only did Christ obey the Law perfectly for us, He also suffered in our place on the cross for our disobedience of that Law. His death was the price God demanded for the punishment of our sins. Here note how specifically Kolb refers to Luther’s work on Galatians:

[Luther’s] lecture on Galatians 3:13 of 1531 associates sinners with the Crucified by clothing and wrapping Christ in the sins of the entire world, abolishing this sinfulness and bestowing righteousness. Luther asserted that Christ is ‘the greatest thief, murderer, adulterer, robber, desecrator, blasphemer, etc. there has ever been anywhere in the world’… Luther created a dialog in which the Father tells Christ, ‘Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer’… (LW 26:277)

Such words show clearly that Luther taught substitutionary or vicarious satisfaction, but not, as he had written in his Small Catechism, as a payment of gold or silver, a tit-for-tat recompense for actual sins. He noted: the term ‘satisfaction’ is ‘too weak to fully express Christ’s grace and does not adequately honor his suffering’. (‘Summer Postil’, 1544) The Law evaluates sinners as guilty and condemns them to death. Only execution satisfies the Law’s demand that sinners die. (LW 26:278) Thus, sinners are so closely drawn into Christ’s crucifixion that they die with him. (LW 26:165) Luther regarded Christ’s fulfilling of the Law in his perfect obedience as an important presupposition for being the perfect sacrifice for sin. But his concept of passive righteousness meant that his perfect human performance of obedience did not atone for sin since the law demands only death, not good works to make up for bad works. Even before the Fall perfect obedience was the product, not the cause, of righteousness in God’s sight.

Robert Kolb, “Christ Jesus Holds the Field Victorious: Luther’s Understanding of the Person of Christ, the Atonement, and Justification,” in Martin Luther: Confessor of the Faith, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 120-121.

Siggens’ Luther vs. Elert on the atonement

Do you believe that God punished Jesus on the cross in your place for your disobedience of the moral law, and that His passive obedience for you was necessary for your salvation? If so, you cannot possibly agree with Werner Elert’s understanding of the atonement, or even of the Law.

In the first selection, titled “The Atonement: Christ Going to the Father,” Ian Siggens suggests that “Luther has no theory of atonement” in the sense of how the atonement actually works. That said, according to Siggens Luther describes the atonement as Scripture describes it, limiting himself to the words, metaphors and images of the atonement (mediator, reconciler, priest, high priest, etc.) found in the Bible. Siggens’ Luther presents the view of atonement compatible with Orthodox Lutheranism (quotations are taken from various writings of Luther):

We may digress momentarily to notice a warning from the pen of Gustaf Aulén. He says, “Every attempt to prove that Luther’s teaching contains an idea of ‘satisfaction’ other than that involved in the triumph of Christ over the tyrants is doomed to hopeless failure.” (Christus Victor, 118) But at the risk of the futility Aulén predicts, Luther’s own words seem to make the endeavor inevitable. For to Luther sin-bearing (the sacrifice motif) and atonement or payment for sin (the satisfaction motif) go hand in hand. We may say that when Luther mentions one, he normally mentions the other in the same breath. “Because no man fulfills God’s commandment or can be sinless before God, and therefore all men are under God’s wrath and subject to eternal damnation by the law, God has found a remedy for this evil: He determined to send His Son into the world, that He might become a sacrifice for us and make satisfaction for our sins by the shedding of His blood and His death, removing from us the wrath of God which not creature could reconcile.” “He had to take our place, become a sacrifice by the shedding of His blood and His death in order to pay for our sins.” He was sent by the Father “as a sacrifice and payment for the sin of the world by His own blood.” Since there was no hope of redemption through any creature in heaven or earth, “the Son of God had to take our place and become a sacrifice for our sins, in order thereby to appease God’s anger and make payment for us.” “Christ has offered Himself once for us, and has thereby made satisfaction for sins.” The same association appears in even more concise form: Christ must be crucified and become “a sacrifice for the sins of the world,” take our sins upon Him and make Himself “a sacrifice to the everlasting wrath of God which we had merited by our sins.”

Ian D. Kingston Siggens, “The Atonement: Christ Going to the Father,” in Martin Luther’s Doctrine of Christ, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1970), 130.

While using traditional, even biblical, terminology, Elert envisions a markedly different concept of the atonement. For Elert, there was no internal necessity within God, namely a need or desire to satisfy His own justice, in sending Jesus to the cross. Jesus doesn’t suffer in our place; Jesus doesn’t experience the wrath of God that we deserve; Jesus’ blood (death) was not the payment God demanded for our sins. Rather, in Elert’s view the cross is God’s attempt to force man to recognize the truth of man’s disobedience and the “reality of guilt.” Jesus “had” to die because He revealed man’s sin. God was satisfied by Jesus’ restorative work of truthfulness between God and man. Further, the cross also relieves us of our “nomological, i.e., legalistic existence.” God wanted Jesus to die, and Jesus did so willingly, even obediently. But the sacrifice of Christ is not the atonement envisioned by Siggens, or by Siggens’ Luther.

Christ dies because God wants it so; he dies “obediently.” Is this active or passive obedience? Undoubtedly it is active obedience or otherwise he would have been a sinner like the rest. But in this instance he also renders passive obedience (patiendo) because the fulfillment complies not only with the legislative but judicial will of God. (Solida Declaratio, III, 15) “He trusted to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23) The death of Christ is his verdict. God pronounces judgment according to the law of retribution. Man’s nomological existence is not only disclosed in this event but it mortally wounded. It is disclosed because the death of Christ brings the craftiness of all human legal systems to light. It is mortally wounded because atonement must be made. The atonement consists in the fact that he who restores the state of truth between God and man by making all of the sinners in truth must die for that deed. The judgment of God, to which Christ submits as the bearer of the guilt of all, proclaims that God has accepted the atonement. The curse of legalism which rested upon mankind has been cancelled.

“Christ is end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.” (Rom. 10:4) The second part of the statement is not yet a subject for discussion. Christ is the end of nomological existence and thereby also the originator of a new existence. Because God has accepted the atonement of the guilt of all, that guilt is now expiated. Henceforth there can be a guiltless existence which is no longer subject to retribution and to death.

Werner Elert, The Christian Ethos, Carl J. Schindler, trans. (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, nd), 194.

William Dallman: Luther and Justification, part 2

This post continues from part 1 containing selections from Rev. William Dallman’s “Luther and Justification,” which appeared in Concordia Publishing House’s 1917 book, Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results. Again, Rev. Dallman:

c. The work of Christ involves the Holy Trinity. Christ made atonement for our sins; He achieved the reconciliation; He paid the ransom, the price of our redemption. But it was the Father who so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son. (John 3:16) It pleased the Father by Christ to reconcile all things unto Himself. (Col. 1:20; Rom. 5:8)

While the Father conceived the reconciliation, and the Son achieved the reconciliation, we received the reconciliation (Rom. 5:11) through the word of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:19), which the Holy Spirit applied to us–“Ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost. (1 Cor. 12:3) With this faith we possess the Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6), and who is the seal and earnest of our salvation. (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:23).

The expiation is made to the Father; the expiation is made by the Son; the expiation is imputed by the Holy Spirit–a threefold, yet uniform activity of the Trinity. This relation of the Holy Trinity is real, continuing, and eternal.

2. What does justification imply?

a. Justification implies the sinfulness of man.

Why did Christ have to make an expiation? Naturally, because man could not make it himself. We have come short of the glory of God,  we have failed to attain to the righteousness of God. (Rom. 3:9, 19, 23) The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them. (1 Cor. 2:14) We are dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13)

And sin is not simply a lack, a defect, an imperfection, something negative; no, man is positively and actively a transgressor. The carnal mind is enmity against God (Rom. 8:7), and from this covert enemy mind come overt enemy acts of aggression and rebellion in thought, word, and deed. And so man knows himself laden with guilt and therefore a child of wrath. (Eph. 2:3)

As to this very guilt of the guilty is declared not guilty. Justification is just this, that God does not impute their trespasses unto sinners, but does impute the righteousness of Christ. (2 Cor. 5:19-21; Rom. 4:6-8) The guilty is transferred into the state of grace. The child of wrath is accepted in the beloved.

So justification implies man’s total depravity, which is taught in Scripture and found int he Christian’s experience.

When we now probe human nature, we shall discover the fountain of iniquity in original sin, which has corrupted and vitiated our whole human nature. And the more we grow in grace and holiness, the more we realize the corruption of our native condition. The clearer the light from heaven beats upon our heart, the deeper the blackness of night comes out by violent contrast between God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.

From the nadir of our fallen state we view the zenith of our original estate. The fallen state of man’s present enmity against God implies his former state of friendship with God, when man walked with God int he cool of the evening. Then man was in the image of God, which consisted in holiness, righteousness, and the true knowledge of God.

Christ has slain the enmity; He is our peace; and in the strength of my justification I grow in holiness, and thus put on more and more of the image of God, return nearer to the original state from which I had fallen.

This total depravity also implies the bondage of the will. It is not denied that man is a free agent in civil and political matters; it is denied that he is a free agent in spiritual matters. And this is not a barren speculation of philosophy, but a very practical truth taught in Scripture and found in the Christian experience.

Dead in sin, we have been quickened by God. Blind in sin, we have been enlightened by God, who hath shined into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. It is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Both Scriptures and experience lead a Christian to confess: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel,” etc.

Even the best of Christians still feels the terrific power of sin,–what must have been that power before he became a Christian! (Rom. 7:14-25) So justification implies the bondage of the will, and denies all Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. We are saved by the operation of God, not by the cooperation of man; by God’s monergism, not by man’s synergism.

William Dallman, “Luther and Justification,” in Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results2nd ed., W.H.T. Dau, ed., (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 64-47. Public domain.








William Dallman: Luther and Justification, part 1

In 1917, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg castle church door, Concordia Publishing House published a wonderful collection of essays about the Reformer. Entitled Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results, the collection included writings by prominent theologians and pastors, all of whom wrote about aspects of Luther’s life and work.

In the following, I wish to provide a portion of Rev. William Dallmann’s essay entitled “Luther and Justification,” quite apropros for our our 500th anniversary celebrations this week. Pastor Dallmann faithfully represents the Orthodox Lutheran teaching on justification, including the atonement. Here’s the first installment of this selection of Rev. Dallman’s “Luther and Justification”:

Justification is the imputation of the expiation. That is the key-stone holding the other doctrines in place; without it they would fall into meaningless ruins. The other doctrines form the warp and woof of justification, and that cannot be destroyed without destroying the rest. Justification presupposed and implies all the important Christian doctrines, so that it is not a doctrine of Christianity—it is Christianity.

  1. What does justification presuppose?

a. Justification presupposes the whole work of Christ for our salvation.

We were disobedient sinners, and the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience. (Eph. 2:3; 5:6; Rom. 1:18; 2:8)

“Oh, generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7)

Jesus delivered us from the wrath to come. (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Rom. 5:9)

How? He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. (John 1:29)

How? Christ, our Passover, is sacrificed for us. (1 Cor. 5:7) Christ’s soul was a guilt-offering for sin. (Is. 53:10)

Christ gave Himself for an offering and sacrifice to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Eph. 5:2; Heb. 2:17) Christ died for our sins, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 3:18)

b. This work of Christ involves the whole person of Christ. He was born, He suffered, He died; and so He is the man Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 2:5; Luke 24:39)

But no man can redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth forever. (Ps. 49:7-8)

Christ is man, true man, but not a mere man. He is the God-man, and so the blood of Christ is the blood of the Son of God, God hath purchased His Church with His own blood, and so it is the precious blood of Christ that cleanseth us from all sins. (1 Peter. 1:18-19; Acts 20:28)

Because He is man, His work is available for man; because He is God, His work is satisfactory to God.

William Dallman, “Luther and Justification,” in Four Hundred Years: Commemorative Essays on the Reformation of Dr. Luther and Its Blessed Results, 2nd ed., W.H.T. Dau, ed., (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1917), 63-64. Public domain.