It would amount to concealing from oneself the true state of affairs, to assume that, by what is said in Theses 1 to 3 of the Madison Agreement about the two conceptions of election, the real difference has been brought to light which has hitherto separated the warring factions in the Lutheran Church of America. In the Articles of Agreement, which have been formulated after thirty years of controversy, the “first” and the “second form” for presenting the doctrine of Election are placed peaceably side by side. During the years of controversy they did not stand peaceably side by side, but stood in hostile opposition one against the other. The reason for this was that the “second form” was, by its American advocates, used as a key with which they attempted to solve the mystery contained in the doctrines of Conversion and Election. The Madison Theses recognize this fact. They do not accept the “second form” unconditionally, but only permit it to stand side by side with the first, with the limitation, that it must not be used in an effort to explain the mystery involved in the doctrine of Election. For in Thesis 4 all “errors” are rejected which would attempt to explain “the mystery of election” on either synergistic or Calvinistic grounds.
Wherein, then, does this mystery consist? It would certainly have been in the interest of a clear presentation of the matter if Thesis 4 had been made to state distinctly wherein the mystery consists; for there are definitions of this mystery being circulated which are utterly at variance with one another. However, the matter involved in this mystery is indicated by a reference to the respective paragraphs of the Formula of Concord. Paragraphs 39 to 44 of the Norwegian edition correspond to paragraphs 52 to 64 of Mueller’s German edition of the Formula. Hence the mystery referred to in Thesis 4 is that described by the Formula of Concord as follows: “One is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is [[@Page:21]]indeed in the same guilt, is again converted, etc.” Thesis 4 of the Articles of Agreement, then, demands that no attempt be made to solve this mystery either on synergistic grounds, by a denial of sola gratia, or on Calvinistic grounds, by a denial of gratia universalis, but that it be acknowledged to be insoluble during our present life. Let us ascertain briefly in what respect we are facing a mystery at this point. The Scriptures teach, on the one hand, that the grace of God in Christ is extended to all men alike, and, on the other hand, that there is no difference among men, since all are in the same state of total depravity and in the same guilt before God, and their conduct over against the saving grace of God is equally evil. Such being the case, we might conclude, either that all men would be saved by the grace of God, or all men be lost by reason of their own guilt. Instead, the Scriptures teach that some are saved merely by the grace of God, and the rest are lost solely by their own guilt. Why this different result when the underlying conditions are the same? This is the mystery which no man ever has properly solved, and no man ever will properly solve in this life, because the Word of God offers no solution. We should bear in mind that no mystery appears when each of the classes, those who are finally saved, and those who are lost, are considered separately. In this separate view of the two classes everything is explained by the Word of God. The Word of God names only one cause of the conversion and final salvation of those actually converted and finally saved: it is in each and every instance the grace of God in Christ. Likewise it names only one cause of the non-conversion, and failure to be saved, of those who are not converted and not finally saved: it is in each and every instance the fault of man; it is owing, in particular, to his resistance against the converting operations of the Holy Spirit. The hardening of man’s heart, too, proceeds only on the basis of human guilt. But the mystery appears when both classes are compared with one another. The question then arises: If grace is universal and total depravity [[@Page:22]]general, then, why are not all converted and finally saved? Why some rather than others? Cur alii prae aliis? It is this question that the Word of God does not answer. At this point we must, with the Formula of Concord, acknowledge a mystery insoluble in this life. If a person so much as strives to solve this difficulty, he proves himself a poor theologian, because he does not know the limitations of theological knowledge: he presumes to know more in matters spiritual than is revealed in God’s Word, while he who actually solves this mystery is forthwith proved a false teacher; for he denies either the sola gratia, that is, he denies that those who are saved are saved solely by the grace of God, or he denies universalis gratia, i. e., he denies that all who are lost are lost by their own fault. We are bound, therefore, to acknowledge that we have before us a grand statement in these words of Thesis 4 of the Norwegian Agreement: “We have agreed to reject all erroneous doctrines which seek to explain away the mystery of Election either in a synergistic manner or a Calvinizing way.”
We call this a grand statement, because a glance into the history of the Church informs us that the great majority of well-known theologians in all ages have tried to solve this mystery, and have thereby run counter to the clear teaching of the Scriptures. In this matter even the great Augustine never fully gained the right balance. In his early life he offended against sola gratia by teaching synergism. For this he made amends in his Retractationes.) But later he encroached upon universalis gratia.) The right balance was recovered in 529 at the Synod of Arausio (Orange). The resolutions of this synod utter the correct Scriptural position; for they reject, on the one hand, the praedestinatio ad malum, and, on the other hand, they pursue into its farthest retreats, and refute by clear passages of Scripture, [[@Page:23]]the error that faith and salvation have any cause or motive in man.) However, in the Gottschalkian controversy on Predestination in the ninth century dense darkness again reigns on both sides. The one side has fallen into the ditch on the left, the other on the right side of the road. Gottschalk denied universal grace,) and his opponents (Hinkmar and others), who pretended to speak for the “Church,” as clearly denied sola gratia, by teaching that man’s free will after the Fall is not dead unto the good, but merely imperfect (non emortuum, sed vitiatum). This party held that election unto everlasting life is conditioned upon God’s foreknowledge of man’s good behavior. Those who are lost might also have merited eternal life if they had so willed.) [[@Page:24]]Pelagianism and Semipelagianism reigned throughout the Middle Ages until the Reformation. In the century of the Reformation again it was Melanchthon in his later years who with his followers solved the mystery by asserting a dissimilar conduct on the part of various men,) that is to say, by denying sola gratia. Calvin gained the same end by denying universal grace. In the Eleventh Article of the Formula of Concord, Christian truth again is given utterance. No document exists prior to the Eleventh Article of the Formula of Concord in which conversion and salvation, on the one hand, has been so emphatically referred only to the grace of God in Christ, while non-conversion and damnation, on the other hand, have been referred with such clearness to the guilt and the resistance of men. Moreover, in this connection it is also stated more forcibly than ever before that the question why some are saved rather than others cannot be answered in this life, but involves an insoluble mystery, since a comparison of those who are saved with those who are lost reveals the fact that there is no such thing as dissimilar conduct, inasmuch as the former are guilty of the same evil conduct and are in the same condemnation as the latter.
Soon, however, a down-grade movement becomes noticeable again in the Lutheran Church as regards this clear perception of the above truth. In the 17th century Latermann and his companions, as well as Musaeus and his following, again present the synergistic solution by ascribing to man before his conversion a self-determination in favor of conversion or a “good conduct” over against grace. Only a part of the later theologians, such men as Calovius, Quenstedt, J. A. Osiander, still cling to the statement: There is [[@Page:25]]no arbitrium liberatum prior to conversion, not even an arbitrium liberatum produced by the powers imparted by divine grace by means of which man may conduct himself properly towards grace or decide to accept it. We must, therefore, rest the entire matter with these two statements: Whoever is converted and finally saved owes it all to the grace of God, and whoever remains unconverted and is lost has no one to blame but himself.) However, even these theologians maintain this position only with great labor and difficulty, because they are entangled with that unfortunate formula of intuitu fidei, and occasionally their theological trains begin to jump the track.
If we proceed now to review conditions in the 19th century, we find Calvinists, such as Shedd, Hodge, and Boehl, insisting with the utmost energy on the Calvinistic solution of the mystery in election by denying universal grace. On the other hand, “conservative” and “Lutheran” theologians of Germany (Luthardt, Frank, Dieckhoff, and others) regard it as self-evident that all must see the necessity of applying the synergistic solution of the difficulty. They contend that the teaching of the Formula of Concord regarding sola gratia must suffer a “restriction” and must be “developed” in such a way that under the influence of divine grace man decides for his own conversion, and in the last analysis conversion and salvation rest on a person’s conduct. And now as to the state of affairs within the Lutheran Church in our own country, the theology which would “develop” the Lutheran Confessions was brought to America by the Iowa Synod. Its controversy with the Missouri Synod on the doctrines of Conversion and Predestination began in 1871. Retaining the intuitu fidei, the Iowa Synod maintained that in the last analysis conversion and salvation are dependent on man’s conduct and man’s self-determination. Iowa branded as Calvinists those who profess that there is a [[@Page:26]]mystery contained in the discretio personarum or in the question why some are saved rather than others. Dr. Schmidt and the Ohio Synod since 1880 have taken the Iowa Synod’s position with the strongest emphasis upon “right conduct” as the deciding factor, and with a more forcible denunciation of all who recognize the mystery of the discretio personarum as Calvinists. In the Missouri Synod’s Thirteen Theses of 1881, the doctrinal position of the Formula of Concord was again given clear utterance. These theses maintain at every point both universal grace over against Calvinism and salvation “by grace alone” over against synergism, and, accordingly, warn against either the Calvinistic or the synergistic solution of the mystery of election. The Norwegian Agreement in Section 4 likewise rejects “all erroneous doctrines which attempt to explain the mystery of election, either in a synergistic or a Calvinistic way.” Section 5 is intended to exclude the synergistic, Section 6 the Calvinistic solution of the mystery. The fundamental difference, then, in the controversy consists in the acknowledgment or rejection of an insoluble mystery in the fact that “one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is again converted.” As will be clear from a perusal of the following chapters, the Lutheran Church in America has had to deal only with synergistic attempts to solve this mystery.