Excursus II. Luther On Speculations Concerning Predestination.
(From a letter to Caspar Aquila, Oct. 21, 1528, De Wette’s Luther’s Briefe, III, 391 sqq.)
“Why is it that we most miserable men who as yet are unable by faith to receive the rays of the divine promise or by our works to reflect the smallest sparks of the divine commands, notwithstanding our impurity and weakness, should assume to rise to the comprehension of the light of the sun, yea to the incomprehensible light of God’s mysteries ? Do we not know that He dwells in light unto which no man can approach? And yet we approach, or rather presume to approach! Do we not know that His judgments are past finding out? And yet we endeavor to find them out! This too we do, before we have been enlightened by the rays of the promise and the sparks of the commandments. With the eyes of moles we rush into the majesty of that light which cannot be described by words or signs; yea, is hidden and not revealed. What wonder if the glory stupefy us, while we look upon its majesty! What wonder, if, in a reverse order, we seek for the fullest light, before we seek for the day-star. Let the day-star first arise in our hearts (as 2 Peter 1: 19 says) then we will be able to see at last the light of noonday.
“We must teach, indeed, concerning the inscrutable will of God, in order that we may know that there is such a thing, but to endeavor to comprehend it is a most perilous precipice. Hence I am accustomed to confine myself to the word of Christ to Peter: ‘If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me’; for Peter had asked concerning God’s dealings with another, viz., as to what was to be the lot of John. So when Philip asked: ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us,’ He checked him with the words: ‘Believest thou not that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father? He who sees me, sees also the Father.’ For Philip wanted to see the majesty and secrets of the Father, as though God were far beyond the promises and commands concerning Christ. So too, the wise man says: ‘Seek not the things that are too high for thee; but diligently think of what has been commanded thee’ (Ecclesiasticus 3:22). Besides, only consider, I ask, what advantage would it be for you to know these secret judgments of God, beyond his commands and promises? Tell him, therefore, that, if he wants to have peace of heart and to avoid the perils of blasphemy and despair, he must abstain from such thoughts, since he knows they are clearly incomprehensible. Why does he permit himself to be tormented by Satan with things that are impossible ; as though one were to be rendered anxious as to how the earth could stand upon the waters without sinking into them, or the like? First let him busy himself with the promises and commandments; and then he will see whether he ought to attempt impossibilities in addition. If he neglect this advice, let him beware lest he repent too late. There is no other remedy for such thoughts than to absolutely abandon them; although while Satan urges them, it is very difficult to do so, since he represents that they demand examination. For this reason, we must contend here no less with contempt, than with distrust, despair or any other heresy. The majority are deceived by not recognizing such thoughts as temptations of Satan; and for this reason almost every one despises them or tries to despise them although they are the fiery darts of the most wicked of the most wicked of spirits in heavenly places. For by them Satan fell from heaven, when he wanted to be like the Most High, to know all things which God knows, and was not content with knowing only what he ought to know. Here we must fight by fleeing; and must not try to be wiser than we should be, but be sober; for otherwise one will be overcome. For we cannot think of Christ, while such thoughts prevail. Adam fell, when the prohibition of one tree troubled him with questions concerning the wisdom and will of God. In short, this is the chief temptation and one that is peculiarly diabolical; it is enough for us to experience such as are common to man. This will furnish an answer also to the other question, viz.: that the preacher should discharge the duty with which God has entrusted him, without regard to what God has not commanded, viz.: as to the question why one hears and another does not. ‘What is that to thee,’ says Christ. ‘Follow thou me,’ me, me, ME, not your questions, or speculations.”
Every reader of Luther’s writings knows the references he repeatedly makes to the aid afforded him by Staupitz when he was tormented by abstract speculations concerning Predestination. “Begin with the wounds of Christ,” said Staupitz; “then all arguing concerning Predestination will come to an end…. But when men follow their own thoughts, the Laudate ceases and the Blasphemate begins.”
His final opinion is in the last of his works, his ”Lectures on Genesis” (Opera Exegetica, 6:296, 300).
“Audi Filium incarnatum et sfxrnte se offeret Praedestinatio…. When, therefore, the devil attacks thee, say only: ‘I believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom I have no doubt that He became incarnate, suffered and died for me, and that into His death I have been baptized.’ At this reply, the temptation will cease and Satan will turn his back…. This also must we do: we must cease our disputations, and must say: ‘I am a Christian,’ i. e., ‘The Son of God was incarnate and born. He has redeemed me. He sits at the right hand of the Father, and is my Saviour.’ In the very fewest words thus repel Satan: ‘Get thee behind me. God’s Son came into the world, to destroy thy work and dispel all doubt.’… Through Christ and the Gospel, God reveals to us His will. This we reject with disdain, and, after the example of Adam, are delighted with the forbidden tree above all others. This vice inheres in our very nature. Paradise and heaven are closed. While the angel guards the entrance, in vain do we attempt to enter. For Christ has said truly: ‘No man hath seen God at any time’ (John 1: 18), and, nevertheless, of His immense goodness, God has revealed Himself to us, in order to satisfy our desire. He has presented to us His visible image. ‘Lo, thou hast my Son,’ He says. ‘He who hears Him and is baptized is in the Book of Life. This I reveal through my Son, whom thou canst touch with thy hands and gaze upon with thine eyes.’
“These things I have desired to present thus carefully and accurately. For after my death, many will quote from my books, and attempt to establish errors and fancies of every kind. Among other things, I have written, it is true, that all things are absolute and necessary. But, at the same time, I have added that God is to be considered only as He has been revealed, as we sing in the Psalm:
‘Ask ye, Who is this?
Jesus Christ it is.
Of Sabaoth Lord,
And there’s none other God,’
“And I have taught thus in many other places. But they will pass by such passages, and will seize hold only of those concerning God as unrevealed (de Deo abscondito). You, then, who are now listening to me, remember that I have taught that we are not to inquire concerning the Predestination of an unrevealed God, but that we are to acquiesce in what is revealed through the call and the ministry of the Word. For there thou canst be certain of thy faith and salvation, and canst say: ‘I believe in the Son of God who said, He that believeth in the Son, hath everlasting life (John 3: 36). In Him, therefore, there is no condemnation or wrath, but the gracious purpose of God the Father.’ This protest I have made elsewhere in my books, and now enter it once more with my living voice. Ideo sum excusatus.”