Our Christian church-folk, to be sure, are expected to exercise considerable critical acumen when they are to recognize the error hidden under the expression that man conducts himself rightly, so as to bring about his own conversion, “by means of powers which grace offers him.” If a method of presenting this matter could be devised which would entirely dispense with the discussion concerning “dissimilar conduct” from “natural” or “spiritual powers,” that method surely ought to receive a royal welcome. Well, there is such a method. Nor do we need to go in search of such a method; for it is presented in our Lutheran Confessions. Our Confession declares that there is no such thing as “dissimilar conduct” when those who are converted and saved are compared with those who remain unconverted and are lost. When those who are saved are compared with those who are lost, dissimilar conduct is found to be a non-ens — something which does not exist in actual fact. For does not our Confession say expressly that we who are converted and saved do not conduct ourselves better, but quite as badly (as the rest), and are “in the same guilt?”)[[@Page:41]]
In reference to those who are finally saved, or the elect, our Confession makes a twofold statement: 1) when it describes the temporal aspect of the elect without inquiring into the reason for the difference, or 2) when it compares the elect with those who are lost in such a manner that the differential cause comes up for discussion. Regarding the first statement, our Confession says that those who are saved conduct themselves quite differently from those who are lost and rejected. This different mode of conduct is extensively treated in the paragraphs dealing with the question, “Whence, and by what token, can we know who are the elect?”) While those who are finally lost “despise the Word of God, reject, calumniate, and persecute it, or, when they hear it, harden their hearts, resist the Holy Ghost, without repentance persevere in sins, do not truly believe in Christ, only present [godliness in] an outward appearance, or seek other ways for righteousness and holiness apart from Christ,”) the elect, or saved, on the contrary, show a different conduct: “they hear the Gospel, believe in Christ, pray and give thanks, are sanctified in love, have hope, patience, and comfort under the cross, and although in them all this is very weak, yet they hunger and thirst for righteousness.”) So different, indeed, so contrary, is the conduct of those who will be finally saved to the conduct of the lost, when each class is considered separately, i. e., without asking for the cause of this difference. There is an altogether different tenor in what the Confessions say when they enter upon a discussion of the fact that “God gives His Word at one place, but not at another, removes it from one place, and allows it to remain at another; also, that one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another is again converted” — hence, when they inquire into the cause of the difference, why some are converted and [[@Page:42]]saved, and others are not converted and not saved, and with this point in view institute a comparison of the two classes of mankind, the saved and the lost, as to their conduct toward God’s Word and His grace. Here the Confession does not assert with Iowa, Ohio, and Dr. Schmidt: “The dissimilar conduct of man, then, toward the converting, saving grace explains the dissimilar workings of such grace”; on the contrary, the Confession devotes eight paragraphs to a demonstration of the fact that there is no dissimilar conduct, but conduct exactly similar. Those who are finally saved were “in the same guilt,” have also “conducted themselves evilly over against the Word of God.” True, even at this point the Confession maintains that those who will be lost are lost not, indeed, by reason of some lack of grace in God, but through their own guilt, having conducted themselves evilly over against the Word of God. But those who are finally saved are not saved because they conducted themselves “differently” or better than those who will be lost, but “placed alongside of them and compared with them”— (Latin: quam simillimi illis deprehensi) — “being found entirely similar unto them,” they may learn the more attentively to recognize and praise God’s pure unmerited grace.” This entire section of eight paragraphs (57—64) of the Formula of Concord is a protest against the assumption upon which our opponents are standing, the assumption, namely, that there is a dissimilar conduct on the part of man over against grace, and that the dissimilar working of converting, saving grace is thereby explained. By all means, read those paragraphs; they are as follows:—
“Likewise when we see that God gives His Word at one place, but not at another; removes it from one place, and allows it to remain at another; also, that one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is again converted, etc.: in these and similar questions Paul fixes before us a certain limit as to how far we should go, viz., that in the one part we should recognize God’s judgment. For they are richly [[@Page:43]]deserved penalties of sins when God so punishes a land or nation for despising His Word, that the punishment extends also to their posterity as is to be seen in the Jews. Thereby God shows to those that are His, His severity in some lands and persons, in order to indicate what we all have richly deserved, since we have acted wickedly in opposition to God’s Word, and often have sorely grieved the Holy Ghost; so that we may live in God’s fear and acknowledge and praise God’s goodness in and with us without, and contrary to, our merit, to whom He gives and grants His Word, and whom He does not harden and reject. For inasmuch as our nature has been corrupted by sin, and is worthy of, and under obligation to, God’s wrath and condemnation, God owes to us neither Word, Spirit, nor grace; and when, out of grace, He bestows these gifts, we often repel them from us, and judge ourselves unworthy of everlasting life, [[Acts 13, 46 >> Acts 13.46]]. Therefore this His righteous, richly deserved judgment He displays in some countries, nations, and persons in order that, when we are considered with respect to them and compared with them” (Latin: quam simillimi illis deprehensi, found to be entirely like unto them), “we may learn the more attentively to recognize and praise God’s pure and unmerited grace in the vessels of mercy. For no injustice is done those who are punished and receive the wages of their sins; but in the rest, to whom God gives and preserves His Word, and thereby enlightens, converts, and preserves men, God commends His pure grace and mercy without their merit. When we proceed thus far in this article, we remain upon the right way, as it is written: ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thy help,’ [[Hos. 13, 9 >> Hos 13.9]]. But with respect to that in this disputation which will proceed too high and beyond these limits, we should with Paul place the finger upon our lips and remember and say: ‘O man, who art thou that repliest against God?’ For that in this article we neither can nor should inquire after and investigate everything, the great apostle Paul declares. For when, after having argued much concerning this article from the revealed Word of God, he [[@Page:44]]comes to where he points out what, concerning this mystery, God has reserved for His hidden wisdom, he suppresses and cuts off the discussion with the following words: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord?’ — that is, in addition to and beyond that which He has revealed in His Word.”
Every reader must observe, from the foregoing statement of the Confession, that according to the Lutheran Confession there is no such thing as “dissimilar conduct of men” over against grace by which the dissimilar working of grace might be explained. Consequently, this whole argument is superseded, viz., whether conduct proceeds from “natural” or “spiritual” energies. Dissimilar conduct is simply non ens. And it is for this very reason, because there is no unlike human conduct over against grace, that our Confession declares it to be a mystery why “one is hardened, blinded, given over to a reprobate mind, while another, who is indeed in the same guilt, is again converted.”
By inculcating the non-existence of “dissimilar conduct,” the Formula of Concord also puts an end to the game of blind man’s buff which has been played with the word “mystery.” The Confession continually points out the presence of a mystery in the doctrine of Conversion and Election. Naturally, one who does not agree with the Confession, but tries to make himself and others believe that he does agree with it, will endeavor to find some sort of mystery somewhere. For this purpose the “psychological” mystery was invented during the controversy. Just recently these parties said: “The mystery is there, and we cannot clear it up, but we can and should know where it lies, and where it is to be found. It is a psychological mystery, not a theological one. That is to say, it does not reside in God, and His will and working, but in the soul of man. We cannot understand, when the grace of God does all—short of compelling man—that is really necessary for his conversion, [[@Page:45]]how it is that man can resist so maliciously and persistently as to render it impossible for God to convert him.) Whoever accepts this “psychological mystery,” will find the mystery in the incomprehensible malice and baseness of those who will be lost. It is clear, however, that this is not the “mystery” which the Formula of Concord has in mind, since our Confession finds exactly the same malice and baseness among those who will finally be saved, as among those who will be lost: the same guilt, the same evil conduct, the same image, quam simillimi illis deprehensi.