Rev. Michael Henson:
“That God Would Probe the Mind of Man”
This is, quite possibly, one of the most concise developments of the Lutheran teaching and preaching rubric of Law and Gospel I've ever heard. Written as a series of twelve simply stated theses, it begins with God's omniscient searching of Man's heart and mind, in which He finds sinfulness beyond man's capacity to measure. God, far from being blind to it, sees man's sin, and reveals man's sin to himself through His Law – revealing through it also His righteous anger, causing man to cry out either in rebellion against God or in anguish and a desire to be free from the effects of sin. This is the point where the Gospel has application: instead of a cry of hopeless complaint, the Gospel gives man a basis for crying out to this same God for mercy and deliverance from His wrath – which He freely and faithfully accomplishes through faith in His promises. The grateful Christian, receiving grace and mercy through faith, and thus free from God's wrath and no longer finding God's perfect Law to be a curse, still desires that God would probe his mind, would test and prove him. At peace with God, he is contented.
That is a summary of the twelve theses, each thesis being supported by Scripture, of course, and the whole being amplified by Luther's commentary on Psalm 90,vv7&8. It was a genuinely well-received paper, and I found it to be a marvelously fresh and concise presentation of Law and Gospel that emerged directly from the Scriptures – without being over-burdened with the use of elements from human psychology (“the sinner ought to feel this particular way about his sin, or else the Gospel has no application... then the Gospel will make him feel a different way,” etc...). Though nothing that Rev. Henson said was new to me, this was the first time I had heard all of these elements put together in this way. I found myself quite grateful for having been able to have received his presentation.
Rev. Paul Rydecki:
“The Forensic Appeal to the Throne of Grace in the Theology of the Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy: A Reflection on the Atonement and Its Relationship to Justification”
This paper more than met the high standards of scholarship and fidelity to the sources that readers of Intrepid Lutherans have come to expect from Rev. Rydecki, and which I was expecting from the papers of the Colloquium, and more than met the “post-Synodical-Conference” character of ELDoNA, for whom, as I stated above, neither Lutheran history nor the “Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy” began in 1848 – although, Rev. Rydecki (in his first footnote) redefines that latter term for the purposes of his paper: “For our purposes, the age of Lutheran orthodoxy will be defined as the period beginning with Martin Luther and ending with Johann Gerhard, c. AD 1515-1637” (typically, I think the “Lutheran Age of Orthodoxy” is defined as something like AD 1580-1730 – clearly as a reference to the growth and impact of Lutheran Scholasticism). In my opinion, this paper constitutes a vitally important and academically honest contribution to the current – and growing – debate over the proper and orthodox way to articulate the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification.
As the title of this paper – along with the first footnote – makes abundantly clear, it is concerned with establishing for the modern Lutheran an understanding of the Doctrine of Justification and its relationship to the Atonement, as they were taught during the first two generations of Lutheran theologians, based on what they stated directly concerning these doctrines, rather than how their statements “can be properly understood” according to various recent formulations of them. What this means is that neither the extended “Election Debates” of latter 19th Century America, nor the American Lutheran figures from that period, are in view – although the claims of some contemporary commentators regarding the doctrine of the Reformers, and of orthodox Lutherans in the immediate post-Reformation period, are addressed, since many such claims do not rely on the words of those early theologians as they spoke them, but instead pass those words through the prism of hardened positions taken by confessional Lutherans involved in the 19th Century “Election Debates,” and since such claims tend to frame the current and growing debate concerning the Doctrine of Justification.
Subsequent to delivering it at the ELDoNA Colloquium, Rev. Rydecki published his paper both on his own blog, Faith Alone Justifies, and on Intrepid Lutherans. The reader is invited to read the paper at either of these two sources; links to various sections of his paper will be included as it is reviewed, below.
Rev. Rydecki starts precisely where he ought, with the “Common Outline of Forensic Justification” that is articulated in the Formula of Concord (FC:SD:III:24-25) and cited by nearly every competent author who involves himself in this debate. The four components of that Outline are reiterated by Rev. Rydecki, as follows:
- “God's grace”
- “Christ's merit”
- “faith, through which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner, and”
- “the promise of the Gospel, since faith is only kindled in the heart by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.”
- “The role of each one of these components is described by all of the principal writers in the age of orthodoxy in ‘forensic,’ that is, ‘judicial’ or ‘courtroom’ terminology, as they unfold the Biblical concept of ‘justification’.”
This “courtroom setting” is the centerpiece of an analogy used by the early orthodox writers of the Lutheran Confession to explain the Lutheran Doctrine of Justification. It is not the analogy of a “bank account” nor of a “water tower” – which are frequently repeated in contemporary times, even though they are totally contrary in nature to that of justification, which is, again, juridical in nature, not financialin nature, nor having the nature of public utilities. Rather, Rev. Rydecki emphasizes, the early orthodox Lutherans actually used a juridical analogy of a courtroom to explain justification according to its Common Outline – an analogy in which there are at least three distinct features:
- A real human being as a whole person – not a pre-incarnate person, not God's foreknowledge of a person, but a real live person
- A Righteous Judge who examines the merits of that person's works, Who, finding none, justly condemns that person
- Another Authority to which that real human being can appeal for Mercy and Pardon (much like a condemned prisoner in our day will appeal to the Office of the Presidency for official pardon, saying “Yes, I'm guilty. Yet I beg of you, please have mercy on me.”).
- “In a human judgment, they are said ‘to be justified’ who are pronounced free from the guilt of the crimes of which they were accused... In the same way, understanding the word in the same forensic usage, they are said to be justified before God who, fleeing to the Throne of Grace2, are absolved from the guilt of sin and from damnation, and are reckoned as righteous by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, which consists in His obedience” (Articulus de iustificatione hominis peccatoris gratuita)
- The meaning of the word ‘justify’... is judicial, namely, that the sinner, accused by the Law of God, convicted, and subjected to the sentence of eternal damnations, fleeing in faith to the throne of grace, is absolved for Christ's sake, reckoned and declared righteous, received into grace, and accepted to eternal life.” (Examination, Vol. 1, 474)
Lest one be tempted to regard this Analogy as having been understood by the early Lutherans as anything other than a single event, however, he should take note, first, of the lengthy quote offered by Rev. Rydecki from the Loci Theologici of Martin Chemnitz:
- Thus, the use of the legal term “justification” refutes the ideas of the Epicureans. For it shows that the justification of the sinner is not some insignificant or perfunctory thing, but that the whole human being stands before the judgment of God and is examined both with respect to his nature as well as his works, and this according to the norm of the divine law. But because after the entrance of sin a human being in this life does not have true and perfect conformity with the law of God, nothing is found in this examination, whether in the person’s nature or in his works, that he can use to justify himself before God; rather the Law pronounces the sentence of condemnation, written by the very finger of God Himself.
...Therefore, because God does not justify out of frivolity, unconcern, error, or iniquity, nor because He finds anything in man whereby he might be justified before God; and yet the just requirement of the Law must be fulfilled in those who are to be justified... therefore a foreign righteousness must intervene – the kind of righteousness which not only with payment of penalties but also with perfect obedience to the divine law made satisfaction in such a way that it could be a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
To this the terrified sinner, condemned by the voice of the Law, flees in true faith. This he desires, begs for, lays hold of; to this he submits himself; this he uses as his defense before the judgment seat of God and against the accusation of the Law. By regard for this and by its imputation he is justified, that is, he is absolved from the comprehensive sentence of condemnation and receives the promise of eternal life.
- the sinner involved is a whole human being – not a pre-incarnate person, not the idea or foreknowledge of that person in God's mind from the moment of Christ's death or resurrection, long before that person came into existence, but a real, live whole person.
- the sinner – as a living breathing human being, not a pre-incarnate person, not the idea or foreknowledge of that person in God's mind – actually stands before the judgment seat of God (also referred to by Chemnitz as the Throne of Justice, in his Enchiridion, Q.146), in the nakedness of his own sins, to which the Righteous Judge does not turn a blind eye, but on account of which He justly convicts and condemns the wretched man
- the sinner – again, as a whole human being – terrified by this sentence which he justly deserves and cannot escape on his own, flees in faith to the Throne of Grace and appropriates to himself the promises freely extended to him there
- the sinner – again as a living breathing human being – pleads his case before the Throne of Justice with the promises of the Gospel as his defense against the accusations of the Law, and thus is granted absolution from the sentence he deserves, and is justified.
The second point one should note, lest he be tempted to regard this Analogy as having been understood by the early Lutherans as anything other than a single event, is amplified by Rev. Rydecki as he notes several aspects from Chemnitz' lengthy recitation of the Analogy with respect to the Common Outline of Justification that the Analogy was intended to explain:
- ALL components of the Outline are necessary, not just some, and
- ALL components occur simultaneously.
- “[J]ustification occurs in the divine courtroom, not without the accused fleeing in faith to the Throne of Grace, not before the accused flees in faith to the Throne of Grace, but simultaneously with this ‘fleeing’ or this ‘forensic appeal.’” ...Chemnitz’ analogy illustrates that the concept of forensic justification, as described by the Lutheran Fathers, is not a piecemeal justification that already ‘happened’ for all sinners, whether or not they appeal to the foreign righteousness of Christ, and then later ‘happens’ again through the Word and faith. Instead, it is the culmination of the four ‘causes’ that comprise the article of justification, each of which is a sine qua non in forensic justification. There can be no forensic justification of the sinner without God’s grace, or without the merit of Christ, or without the sinner being clothed by faith in the foreign righteousness of Christ, or without the promise of the Gospel that kindles faith.
But what of this “Throne of Grace”? What is it and where does it come from? Surely, all Lutherans understand the picture of the “Throne of Justice” – this is, of course, where the Righteous Judge sits. But what is the Throne of Grace in this old Lutheran analogy of Justification? It is the seat of mercy, or the “Mercy Seat,” Who is Jesus Christ Himself, who in mercy freely confers NOT the sinner's own “pre-incarnate Justification” (since all aspects of Justification occur simultaneously within the confines of the Divine courtroom-setting, in which the whole person is present for the duration), but the benefit of His own Atoning or Reconciling work. Rev. Rydecki states:
- “On account of the satisfaction Christ made to the divine law, there exists, objectively, a Throne of Grace to which all sinners are invited (in the Gospel) to flee, an alternate place of judgment opened up as a result of God’s grace and the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is ‘another tribunal,’ apart from the Law, where God is propitious, where absolution is pronounced, justification is declared, and eternal life is bestowed for the sake of Christ. The ‘atonement’ made by Christ has opened up this Throne of Grace, which is actually Christ Himself, the ‘atonement cover’ or ‘Mercy Seat,’ sprinkled with His own blood6, the ‘Atoner’ or ‘Reconciler.’”
So far is covered the Common Outline of Justification, articulated in the Confessions, and cited as the starting point by everyone who has involved themselves in the current and growing debate on the Doctrine of Justification, and a Common Analogy used by orthodox Lutherans from the time of Luther to that of Gerhard – exhausting fully six pages of text (though referring to additional supporting material in the Appendices). The Common Analogy used by these early Lutherans says a great deal about how they understood the Doctrine of Justification and its relationship to the Atonement – but it is still just an analogy, not the Doctrine of Justification proper. For this reason, it was not, nor should any mere analogy be, used as a binding Confession – such are used only to assist in explaining what a given Confession is. For this reason Rev. Rydecki continued for an additional eleven pages to voluminously adduce evidence from the Lutheran Confessions and the doctrinal treatises and Scripture commentaries of these early Lutherans in an attempt to show that the Common Analogy they used to explain the Doctrine of Justification was in perfect harmony with the Doctrine they Confessed and explicated, and was consistent with their explanation and use of Scripture concerning that Doctrine. This evidence was broken down according to the four components of the Common Outline, and the reader can take in that evidence directly at the following links:Samuel Huber. Rev. Rydecki continues:
- “But within three years, the Wittenberg faculty noticed that Huber was straying from the ‘common (and Scriptural) outline’ of justification. He was teaching a justification that ‘happened’ for all men apart from the Word and apart from faith. It was a ‘general justification,’ a ‘universal justification’ that was supposedly pronounced at some time on all men. As they dug back into his book of 1185 theses, the Wittenberg theologians found that he had already been teaching this false doctrine there... It can easily be determined, both from Huber’s writings (especially his Tübingen Theses) and from Hunnius’ writings against him, that Huber was by no means a ‘Universalist’ in the modern sense of the word; he did not teach that all people go to heaven. Nor did Hunnius ever bring that accusation against him... What Huber did teach was that, although God had justified the whole world, people could reject this general justification and fall back under God’s condemnation. But he taught that baptismal regeneration was necessary for salvation. He also taught that justification by faith was necessary for a person to be eternally saved.
Huber’s problem was not that he was a Universalist. It was that he strayed from proper Biblical exegesis of certain passages, including Romans 5:12-20... It was that he strayed from the common outline of forensic justification that requires the imputation, by faith, of Christ’s righteousness in order for any sinner to be justified. It was that he strayed from the confessional Lutheran teaching that ‘restricts justification to believers only, as prescribed by all prophetic and apostolic Scriptures’ (Hunnius, Theses Opposed to Huberianism, Thesis 20 Concerning Justification).”
Finally, filling out the forty pages Rev. Rydecki submitted to the Colloquium, he included four appendices to his paper, offering still further evidence from the direct statements of orthodox Lutherans from Luther to Gerhard concerning the Doctrine of Justification as to what they in fact believed, taught and confessed.
- Appendix 1 is entitled, “The ‘Causes’ of Justification”, and adduces lengthy explanations from Polycarp Leyser, Aegidius Hunnius,and Johann Gerhardt.
- Appendix 2 is entitled, “The Lutheran Fathers on Specific Bible Passages,” and adduces the explanations of Martin Chemnitz, Aegidius Hunnius, Martin Luther, Johann Gerhardt, Philip Melanchthon, and the Book of Concord for the following Bible references:
- John 1:29
2 Corinthians 5:19
- Appendix 3 is entitled, “Citations from Luther's Commentary on Galatians”
- Appendix 4 is entitled, “Answering some Questions Concerning Specific Citations from the Lutheran Fathers,” and responds to the following commonly raised questions:
In this reviewer's opinion, Rev. Rydecki did a thorough and convincing job of establishing such an understanding. It seems clear that, based on the volume of material he marshals from the early orthodox Lutherans, the number of different authors cited and their recognized stature as respected theologians, and the unity of these citations across the two generations from which they are drawn, it is therefore reasonable to conclude, based strictly on their own statements, that Lutherans from the time of Luther to Gerhard taught that
- Justification consists of the following four components: (1) the Grace of God; (2) the Merit of Christ; (3) Faith, through which the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the sinner; and, (4) the promise of the Gospel, since faith is only kindled in the heart by the Holy Spirit working through the Word.
- ALL components are necessary to Justification, not just some components
- ALL components are regarded as juridical – as occurring before a judge in a courtroom setting.
- ALL components occur simultaneously
- the sinner involved is a whole human being – not a pre-incarnate person, not the idea or foreknowledge of that person in God's mind
- the sinner involved is not “already Justified,” but is already condemned on account of his sin, and is in very real need of Mercy
- “they are said to be Justified BEFORE GOD who, fleeing to the Throne of Grace [in faith], are absolved from the guilt of sin and from damnation, and are reckoned as righteous by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ”
Click here to Continue to PART V.5