The synergistic solution of the mystery of election is brought about by a denial of sola gratia. It is immaterial how much one subtracts from divine grace. If conversion and salvation do not rest upon divine grace alone, but in some measure upon man himself, upon his “good conduct,” upon anything good that man does, or upon anything evil that he omits to do, the problem why only a part of humanity becomes converted and saved is made clear to human reason. In this case only some men have — by acting or not acting — contributed the necessary share required of man toward effecting conversion. Thus the difficulty in the path of human understanding is fully removed, but at the same time a contradiction with the Scriptures is created. A contradiction, in the first place, with all the texts which describe the state of natural man. According to these texts there is no difference among men. There is no part of mankind, no, not a single human being, which maintains the “right attitude” over against grace. Every man is by nature not only dead (νεκρος) in sins,) but is filled with enmity against the Gospel: he regards the Gospel as foolishness (μωρία)), and resists grace until God has changed his heart and will.) In the second place, a contradiction is created with regard to all those texts that ascribe to the working of God’s grace and omnipotence alone the effects of conversion and final salvation. We believe according to the working of His mighty power.) We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.) It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.) If there is a thought which all Christians reject as a suggestion of the devil and as a lapse from faith, it is the thought that the fact of their conversion is to be explained by good conduct on their part [[@Page:32]]over against grace. Hence it is the purpose of Section 5 of the Madison Theses to reject the synergistic solution of the mystery in election.
Does Thesis 5 really accomplish this? Or may synergists rightly claim that their doctrine is set forth in Section 5? This thesis has been viewed in two ways within the camp of those who hitherto waged war against the Norwegian Synod and ourselves. Some have regarded it as acceptable, others not. Which party is supported by the facts in the case? Manifestly the latter, which rejects Section 5. In all subdivisions of this section, synergism, as it has appeared in the American Lutheran Church, is excluded. This is done already in Subdivision a, where, in the language of the Formula of Concord, the doctrine is rejected, “that God’s mercy and the most holy merits of Christ are not the sole reason for our election, but that there is also in ourselves a cause for such election, for the sake of which God has ordained us to eternal life. Even in this place the notion of “right conduct” on the part of man is dismissed; for, surely, right conduct on the part of man is something in man. More than this: In the following subdivision of Section 5 right or good conduct on the part of man is expressly rejected as the ground of explanation for a person’s conversion, and that, not only such conduct as a person is able to render by his natural powers, but also such conduct as results from what are called powers imparted by the Spirit. Hence it is clear that no Iowaan, no Ohioan, nor Dr. Schmidt and his followers can find, in Section 5, any approval or tolerance of the position hitherto maintained by them. For all these parties have not only made casual mention of the “conduct” that is here rejected, but they have persistently and with one accord maintained that this “conduct” is the “cardinal question” and the principal matter in their controversy with us. They have persistently, and with one accord, insisted that there is absolutely no way of getting along without this element of man’s “conduct” in any presentation of the doctrine of Conversion and Election. [[@Page:33]]This human conduct they have held to be the only means of steering clear of Calvinism. And because the Norwegian Synod and the Synodical Conference rejected man’s conduct as the ground of explanation for a person’s conversion and final salvation, they have seized upon this rejection to justify their emphatic, unanimous, and persistent charge of Calvinism against us.
After writing on this topic for more than a quarter of a century, it is with a feeling of reluctance that we take up the task of pointing out this fact again and again and of submitting the respective utterances for publication. Such procedure, however, serves to clarify the situation, and thus may aid in establishing an honest peace. The question of human conduct has been termed “the cardinal question of the entire controversy.”) It is “undeniable that in a certain respect conversion and final salvation are dependent upon man and not upon God alone.”) “We consider it un-Christian and heathenish to say that the actual attainment of that salvation which has been perfectly provided and earnestly intended for all men is not in any respect dependent upon man’s conduct over against this salvation, but in every respect upon the grace of God alone.”) “One would suppose that even a blind Missourian could still comprehend this much, viz, that he puts himself in a precarious condition by maintaining the thesis that man’s conversion and salvation are dependent upon God alone — exclusive of all consideration of man’s conduct over against the effectual calling, quickening, and working of the grace of God.”) “This thesis” — that man’s conversion and salvation are dependent alone on the grace of God and in no wise upon human conduct — “is the real quintessence of the whole Calvinian concept of Election.”) And because it is supposed to be “undeniably” true that the converting and saving grace [[@Page:34]]of God is regulated by the good conduct of man or man’s self-determination, there is no longer any such mystery as the Formula of Concord speaks of in [[§§ 57-64 >> BookOfConcord:Formula:SD:11, 57-64]], this mystery, to wit: “One is hardened, blinded, and given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is again converted.” To assert a mystery here is “Calvinism.” “The dissimilar workings of converting and saving grace are well explained on the ground of the dissimilar conduct of men over against grace.”) Nor can the means of grace effect conversion and conserve faith without the superaddition of man’s good conduct. “The actual final result of the means of grace depends not only upon the sufficiency and efficacy of the means themselves, but also upon the conduct of man in regard to the necessary condition of passiveness and submissiveness under the Gospel call.” ) As surely as the above-cited utterances express the doctrine of the opponents of the Norwegian Synod and the Synodical Conference, so certain it is that this doctrine of theirs is condemned in Section 5 of the Madison Agreement.
At its last convention the Synodical Conference voiced the desire that in Section 5 the cessation of willful resistance before conversion, as a determinative factor in conversion and election, be rejected. This does not raise a new issue, but merely emphasizes a particular species of “good conduct” which our opponents have employed in teaching the dependence of conversion upon man’s cooperation. The Norwegian Synod has frequently and emphatically declined this very notion of the cessation of willful resistance as the ground of explanation for a person’s conversion and election.) The second of the five test-questions submitted to Dr. Schmidt by the “Norwegian Missourians” reads: “Is it God alone who takes away the willful resistance of the [[@Page:35]]heart against grace, in every instance where it is taken away?”)
However, objection must be made to a few words in the rejection of synergism in Section 4. Reference there is made to “man’s sense of responsibility in respect of the acceptance or rejection of God’s grace.” Judging from the context, it appears that this expression is intended to urge the universal and earnest grace of God (gratia sufficiens) as extending to all hearers of the Word, and thus to bring out strongly the fact that man’s failure to be converted must in each instance be charged to his own account. However, the clause says not only this, but more than this. The words read as if man stood in like relation to the acceptance as to the rejection of grace. As a matter of fact, however, acceptance and rejection of grace proceed from “dissimilar principles”—as the later theologians urged against Latermann’s position. Rejection of grace is purely a work of man, acceptance of grace purely a work of God. The phrase, “feeling of responsibility over against the acceptance or rejection of grace,” creates the impression as if there existed in man before his conversion a condition or a moment of time in which he may decide, as well whether he will accept, as whether he will reject, the grace offered him. This notion, however, is, quite properly, rejected with much emphasis in Section 5.
No objection can be raised to the term in Section 5d where we read that man, before his conversion, has no energy conveyed by the call of grace, and therefore “indwelling in him or belonging to him.” This expression was used in the 17th century against Latermann, and has been used also by the Missouri Synod to ward off a twofold error: 1) the error involved in teaching that previous to conversion there are no motions (motus) whatever effected in the human heart by the Spirit of God, which is contrary to the Scriptures and to the Scriptural terminology in vogue in our Church; [[@Page:36]]and 2) the false assumption of a status medius, which takes for granted that man even before his conversion is no longer spiritually dead, but in part has commenced to be spiritually alive, his will being no longer full of enmity against the Gospel, but in a measure favorably inclined to its call. The chapter on the “Preparations for Conversion” will deal more fully with this point.