The presentation which the Formula of Concord makes of the doctrines of Conversion and Election leaves no room for the notion of “dissimilar conduct” on the part of those who are saved, and those who are lost, when these are compared with one another. The first advantage accruing from this presentation of doctrine is, that we are relieved of the necessity of investigating whether good or “right” conduct is ascribed to “natural” or “spiritual” powers. It offers, however, another, and a greater advantage. The presentation of the Formula of Concord has the assent of all Christians, and of all theologians in so far as they are Christians. The Formula of Concord speaks the language of every Christian heart. It expresses the innermost conviction not only of all Lutheran Christians, whether of Norwegian, German, or English tongue, but of all Christians on earth. Christian faith, i. e., faith in the grace of God for Christ’s sake, may exist in the midst of perversions and weaknesses. But there is one thing which precludes the beginning and the continuing of faith: the attitude of those who imagine that they are better in the sight of God than others, and who find in this fact the explanation why they have become, and remain, children of God. Faith cannot exist jointly with such [[@Page:46]]an attitude of the heart. By the example of the Pharisee, in Luke 18, the Holy Spirit invites all Christians to the end of time to a view of this fact. The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as yonder publican. In this difference between himself and others the Pharisee finds the explanation why he is accepted of God, while the publican and the rest are rejected from God’s presence. But according to the words of Christ, the reason given by the Pharisee is the very reason why the Pharisee went unjustified to his home, and was outside the pale of the Church, extra ecclesiam. This same attitude of the heart has worked harm for Israel according to the flesh. Israel could not attain to faith, but took offense at the corner-stone, Christ, because it claimed a preference over other persons and nations. Hence the warnings of Paul, directed to the Gentile Christians, lest they become guilty of the same fatal error. He admonishes them not to find an explanation why Israel was rejected and they themselves were engrafted by assuming a better conduct on their part as compared with the unbelieving and hardened Jews. If they should be ensnared by the same delusion, exalt themselves boastfully against the Jews, and thus fail to “continue in His goodness” (χρηστότης), they would also be cut off.) In short, there is not a single Christian in the world to-day, there has never in time past been a Christian, and there will never be a Christian until the Day of Doom who, as such, would explain his adoption to sonship with God by a reference to better conduct, on his part, in comparison with others. Faith will permit no such attitude, since faith, once for all time, is of such a nature that it “reposes on grace alone,” as the Apology declares.)
At this point we American Lutherans can all come to an agreement, because it is the point on which, as Christians, we already are agreed. The Iowaans, in so far as they are Christians, have never believed what they have maintained [[@Page:47]]against us since the early seventies, to wit, that conversion and salvation must be ultimately ascribed to man’s self-determination or to his conduct. The Iowaans, as Christians, have ever believed the very opposite, expressed by them elsewhere, e. g., when they wrote: “The entire Reformation was in reality nothing but a thousand-voiced anthem on the theme soli Deo gloria. And this consciousness, that the believer owes his salvation solely to the free grace of God in Christ, was the divine power which vanquished popery and the Roman Church.”) Dr. Schmidt, too, as a Christian, has never believed what he has written since 1880, namely, that it is an “altogether dreadful doctrine” to make the conversion and salvation of man dependent on God alone, without taking cognizance of man’s conduct.) Rather, as a Christian, Dr. Schmidt has always believed what he wrote in 1874 in rejection of the Iowaan notion of “self-determination”: “Our earnest opposition to the theory of self-determination exhibited and defended by Prof. G. Fritschel in Brobst’s Monatshefte, should astonish no one, as this doctrine ultimately transfers the miraculous work of conversion from the hand of God into the hand of man, and thus divests it of its real mystery. To render less profound the impenetrable mystery of Conversion and Election, by means of rationalizing speculation, here as with all mysteries of God, amounts to no more nor less than, in effect, demonstrating the mystery as such out of existence. We insist upon retaining the ‘mystery of faith’ also in this instance ‘in order not to be defrauded; for it is not unknown to us what he really has in mind.’ ”) Nor has any Ohioan, as a Christian, ever believed what has been maintained by the Ohio Synod since 1881 regarding human conduct, e. g., “Thus converting, saving grace is regulated by the conduct, over against it, of men,” or, “Thus the dissimilar working of converting, saving grace is explained by the dissimilar [[@Page:48]]conduct of men over against it.” On the contrary, every Ohioan, as a Christian, has ever believed what his Synod confessed with reference to the mystery in conversion in the year 1875. A thesis had been submitted which located the mystery practically in the incomprehensible wickedness of the human heart. The Ohio Synod voiced its dissent, and declared that the mystery “rather consisted in the fact that one is roused, through the divine call of grace, from his sleep of sin, receives the faith, remains therein, and is finally saved, while another also hears the call of God, but does not arise, or if he rises, falls again from the faith, and is finally lost. The cause of our eternal salvation rests entirely in the grace of God; the cause of damnation, in the resistance of man against the operations of divine grace. … It will ever remain an unsearchable mystery to human reason why God permits so many to be lost, when He earnestly desires that all should be saved. The Synod finally agreed to substitute for this thesis a paragraph from the Formula of Concord which states this difiicult matter with incomparable clearness, and which reads as follows: ‘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.’ ”
How now? — Is it possible for a person to speak and write otherwise in public than he believes in his heart before God? It is, indeed. Luther calls attention to this fact in De Servo Arbitrio. This is the way Luther explains it: The saints are entirely different persons “inter disputandum,” when they speak or write in public, from what they are when they come before God in their closet to pray and deal with their God. In public they attribute to man an ability to conduct himself rightly over against grace (vim, quae ad gratiam sese applicat); but as soon as they step before God, they completely forget (penitus obliti) their own ability, despair of themselves, sit down with all other [[@Page:49]]men on the same mourners’ bench, and cry for grace (desperantes de semet ipsis ac nihil nisi solam et puram gratiam lunge alia meritis invocantes), saying with St. Bernard on his death-bed: I have lived wickedly, perdite vixi. But whence this dualism, this twofold system of bookkeeping? Its origin must be sought in the conflicting interests maintained before God and before the public. In public controversy men seek to gain victories before men (verbis et disputationibus intenti sunt): they feel obliged to maintain a position once assumed, to indulge an old or recent grudge, to cultivate an old or a new friendship. As soon, however, as they come before God, the Christian mind (affectus) which dwells in them asserts itself, and according to this mind they do not boast of their own conduct, but indict the same as being purely hostile to God and His Word. Now, Luther continues, believers as well as unbelievers should be judged rather on the basis of their real disposition than from their utterances.) In like manner [[@Page:50]]Chemnitz points out the agreement of the Christians of every age and clime with the Lutheran doctrine of Justification. This agreement does not so much appear in public speech and argument — where they mingle works and human merit with Justification — as “in the serious exercise of repentance and faith, when an afflicted conscience, at the tribunal of God or in the agony of death, struggles with its own unworthiness.”) The same applies to the Church in general, and, in particular, to the American Lutheran Church, with reference to the sola gratia in the doctrine of Conversion and Election. In public writings and disputations a “better conduct” of some men over against grace is taught, in an effort to explain the fact that not all men are finally saved. When the same persons, however, come before God and deal with Him, they not only forget the “better conduct” defended in public, but reject it as rubbish. This cannot be branded as a judging of hearts, since the Scriptures themselves pass this judgment when they describe Christian faith as a faith resting on grace alone and not on human conduct. Our older dogmaticians have frequently adopted the method to conclude their argument for the correctness of Lutheran doctrine by the proof drawn from “the testimony of the opponents” (e testimonio adversariorum). And this procedure is perfectly proper. [[@Page:51]]Everything that is at all Christian ultimately agrees with Lutheran doctrine, either expressly or in principle. So with reference to universalis gratia. Chapters 21—24 in Book III of Calvin’s Institutiones are, in contents and manner, a great invective against the foolishness of people who believe that the grace of God in Christ is universal. But in times of stress, when an affrighted conscience desires the comfort of divine grace, also the Calvinists, by their own admission,) must take recourse to the general promises of grace. And so with reference also to sola gratia. Here in America the “blind Missourians” have been heaped with reproach, because they do not recognize the “dreadful dilemma” into which they have put themselves by making conversion and salvation dependent on divine grace alone and not on human conduct also. But that which in the controversy, inter disputandum, was made, and is still made, the object of harsh censure, is exactly the position which the censurists themselves, as Christians, assume before God, coram judicio Dei, quando conscientia in tentationibus cum sua indignitate luctaiur. For the union of the Lutheran Church in America with reference to the doctrine of Conversion and Election nothing more is needed than to bring the teaching which men profess in public into harmony with that which, as Christians, they believe in their heart.