III. The Lutheran Regulative Doctrine

A SERIOUS doctrinal blemish in the book under review is this : It puts into a minor place the material, chief and regulative principle of the Reformation, namely, justification by faith. This was the doc- trine which Luther made central and pivotal, and by which he judged and decided all other doctrines in the Biblical system. He contended ever that justification by faith alone was “the sign of a standing or a falling Church.” He would not subordinate this doctrine to any other doctrine, or to all other doctrines combined, but judged all by it, and assembled and co-ordinated all around it. This is also the view-point of the Augustana. To our mind it is the view-point of the Formula of Concord. If the eleventh chapter is read and studied in the search-light of this cardinal principle, it will be much more easily comprehended and evaluated.

But what is the impression made upon one who carefully reads Dr. Pieper’s book? That another doctrine has been introduced, not only as the chief one, but also as the regulative one; as it were, the major premise. That doctrine is the doctrine of the divine decrees, the divine sovereignty, election, predestination. This is the beginning and the end, the principal view-point ; it controls everything; it never for a moment slips out of sight; all other doctrines must take a secondary place. Even faith is treated meagerly, is subjected to election, is taken quite out of the sphere of freedom, and is so misconceived as to be made a mechanical thing, instead of the ethical and spiritual act it is always represented to be in the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. According to this dissertation, man is not elected in view of the fact that he accepts Christ by faith, but he both has faith and is justified because he has been elected unto salvation from eternity by a mysterious decree. If we mistake not, this is reversing the Lutheran order, making divine sovereignty central, and crowding justification by faith off to one side. Luther and his co-laborers did not begin with an insoluble mystery pertaining to the Godhead before the world was, but with the plain and simple revelation of Christ and His way of justification by faith ; and then, if they wanted to work back to the mysteries, they would judge them all in the light of the simple revelation. It was the Calvinists who began with the divina decreta, and made everything else subservient to God’s absolute sovereignty. We beg pardon for having to say it, but just in this one respect the Missouri view-point is more like that of the Calvinists and less like that of the Lutherans. We hasten to say, however, for fear of misunderstanding, that Missouri’s explanation of the doctrine of election itself is far from being Calvinistic; is, in fact, anti-Calvinistic, as has been shown.

Are we not correct in saying that the central and regulative principle of our Missouri friends is election, not justification by faith? Just note how little faith is discussed in this treatise ; how little it is urged ; what a small and insignificant place it occupies in comparison with election ; how it must ever step aside to make room for predestination; how belittlingly the intuitu fidei is represented, as if faith were a matter of small importance; note, too, that justification is scarcely mentioned in the entire production; and yet with Paul the great question was how a man could be accounted righteous before God. This is the doctrine, too, that saved Luther and made him the reformer he was ; the doctrine to which he always gave the primacy in his theological system. Does any one suppose that he ever would have made Rome tremble, that he ever would have changed the currents of religious and civil history, if he had spent much of his time in debating the order of God’s decrees in eternity? Indeed, he always deprecated controversies on this very subject, as any one may see by reading the quotations presented in Jacobs’ “Summary of the Christian Faith” (pp. 576-580).

Perchance the reply will be made that our Missouri friends do not mean to neglect or depreciate faith and justification, but that just now the doctrine of election is the one in dispute, and for that reason it occupies the foremost place in the controversy. That point we might readily admit, if it were not for the fact that our Concordia friends deal with every passage of Scripture, even the passages that refer to faith and justification, from the view-point of election. Note their theological method : If faith seems to come in the way of election, then faith must step aside, never election. Thus did not Paul ; thus did not Luther, who quotes approvingly the salient advice of Staupitz : “Begin with the wounds of Christ ; then all arguing concerning Predestination will come to an end” (Jacobs, ut supra, 578). Again in Dr. Pieper’s disposition toward intuitu fidei, he seems to treat faith as if it were so insignificant a thing that it would be absurd to think that it could in the least have affected God’s eternal self-determinations. This surely is not the servile place given to faith in John 3:16; nor in Paul’s preaching to the Philippian jailor ; nor in Christ’s words when He said : “Let not your heart be troubled ; believe in God, and believe in me ;” nor when He said : “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on Him may have eternal life.”

How much the Bible makes of faith ! How little, comparatively, of election! Everywhere Christ insisted on faith and belief, while scarcely more than half a dozen times does He refer to “the elect,” and almost always in passages whose interpretation is more or less difficult. Note how often faith is mentioned in the epistles. Two of Paul’s epistles — Romans and Galatians — were expressly written to prove that men are justified by faith, and not by the deeds of the law or their own righteousness. The letter to the Hebrews devotes a whole chapter — the 11th — to a panegyric on the heroes of faith. It declares that “without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of all them that diligently seek Him.” Our point is that faith is the outstanding doctrine of the New Testament, and therefore should take precedence of a doctrine like election, which is treated more incidentally.

Another mistake of the book is the constant assumption that faith is a matter of merit. That this is made a major premise is obvious from the fact that Dr. Pieper almost always joins the two terms, “in view of faith” and man’s “good conduct,” thus putting them in- to the same category ; also the fact that he constantly charges those who accept the doctrine of intuitu fidei with Synergism — that is, with thinking that God elects men on account of some merit in themselves, some natural goodness.

No true Lutheran has ever taught that there is merit in faith. The fact is, Paul, for this very reason, says we are justified through faith and not by works or the deeds of the law. Note how clearly Paul puts it (Rom. 3:27, 28): ”Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Again (Rom. 4:16): “For this cause it is of faith that it may be according to grace.” In the preceding chapter, verses 24 and 25, he says: “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in His blood,” etc. In one place he says we are justified by faith, in another by grace, showing that in either case it is God’s grace that justifies. And here is a classical passage, and a decisive one (Eph. 2:8, 9): “For by grace have ye been saved through faith ; and that not of yourselves ; it is the gift of God ; not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Thus it is seen that faith has been made, in Scripture, the channel through which justification comes to man for the very reason that it will exclude all human merit, and make man’s salvation a pure work of God’s grace. Sola gratia — it is the teaching of God’s Holy Word. Precisely the same is the teaching of our Lutheran theologies that firmly uphold the material principle of the Reformation and the regulative doc- trine of Lutheran theology. We always say, Justificatio propter Christum per fidem, never propter fidem per Christum. Salvation comes to the believer on account of the merits of Christ through faith, not the reverse. It is not faith itself, but only its object — Christ and His vicarious work — that has merit, and is the ground of salvation. (See Jacobs, ut supra, page 190.)

From the very nature of faith it can have no merit. Faith is simply the act of the soul by which it accepts God’s gift of salvation. There surely can be no merit in a poor, unworthy, guilty sinner accepting the grace which God gratuitously offers him. No ; he feels so unworthy that it seems to be even a shame to accept salvation at the hands of a justly offended God. The fact is, the necessity of simply accepting the gratuity, without the ability to do anything to make him deserving, accentuates and enhances his unworthiness. If it were forced upon him nolens volens, he would not feel half so unworthy. If a beggar, who has never served you in any way, but has rather been a parasite on society, comes hungry to your door, and you proffer him food, there is no merit in his simply reaching out his hand and taking the benefaction. No more is there any merit in the unworthy, but penitent, sinner taking the gift of salvation.

Neither does such a sinner feel that he deserves any- thing on account of his faith. There is nothing in the act of faith that ministers to pride or that gives room for boasting. It is rather the impenitent sinner who boasts of his merits, and shows a self-righteous spirit, and says he needs nothing from God, and does not care for his proffered pardon and salvation.

Now, what is the connection between this discussion and the doctrine of election? It is this: Even if God did, by virtue of his foreknowledge, elect believers unto salvation, in view of their faith, it would not destroy the heavenly doctrine of sola gratia, because faith simply accepts the gratuity from the hands of the God of love and mercy. In view of the fact, therefore, that justification by faith connotes salvation by grace alone, we would not deem it unworthy of the wise and holy God to predestine unto eternal life those who He foresaw from eternity would believe on the Redeemer whom He foreordained from eternity to send to them. If He foreordained that men should be saved at all, if they fell into sin, and if He foreordained that they should be saved through faith in Christ (as He did), surely it would not be out of accord with His whole wonderful and gracious scheme, if He should have foreordained that those who He foresaw would exercise such faith should be chosen and kept unto eternal life. So we think that the ethical objection to the intuitu fidei doctrine has been removed. Surely, if God honors faith so much as to make it the vehicle of justification in time, it would not derogate from His honor for Him to have taken it into consideration in the counsels of eternity. God must have thought a good deal of faith, or He would not have elected from eternity that men should be justified and saved through faith. The Biblical grounds for this doctrine will be shown in a later chapter.

Let us put the matter in another way. What was it that predetermined God to send His Son into the world ? Was it not the fact that he foresaw that man would sin ? Thus we read of “the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world.” So it is plain that God must have foreordained the whole plan of redemption in view of sin. Then why might He not predetermine salvation in view of faith? If He could foreknow that Adam would sin, could He not also foreknow every person who would believe and continue in Christ to the end? And if foreordination in view of sin would not dishonor Him, why would foreordination in view of faith dishonor Him? All the more so, since sin is something entirely obnoxious to Him and contrary to His will, while faith is a holy principle, an activity begotten in the soul of the believer by His Spirit.

In proof that we have correctly represented Missouri’s position in saying that God foreordained the plan of redemption through Christ in view of sin, we quote from Dr. A. L. Graebner’s “Doctrinal Theology,” page 43, under the locus, “Decree of Redemption:”

“The decree of redemption is an eternal act of God, whereby He graciously, and with divine wisdom, purposed to work, in the fullness of time, through the Son made manifest in the flesh, a redemption of mankind, and to prepare a way of salvation for the whole human race, whose fall He had foreseen, but not decreed.”

What could be more lucidly stated than that? So, since God foreknew the fall of man, and, in view of it, foreordained a plan of redemption. He must have fore- ordained all the articulations and movements of that plan; therefore He could also foresee the faith and per- severance of the elect, and choose them in view of their acceptance of His mercy. The weakness of the above definition by Dr. Graebner is, it fails to say how God eternally purposed to save men — namely, through faith. We regret to say that faith is not even mentioned. Does not this fact prove our earlier contention — that the predestinarians always make election, instead of justification by faith, the ruling doctrine? Is it not a peculiar over- sight that an elaborate definition of “the decree of redemption” should ignore faith, which is included in the “gospel in nuce,” as Luther called John 3:16?

Dr. Pieper is so jealous of his favorite doctrine that he will not admit for a moment that faith might have been antecedent to election. That view, he thinks, would dishonor God. Yet, if he insists on speaking of eternal things in the terms of time, he must admit that the fall of man into sin was antecedent to the foreordination of the whole gracious plan of redemption. If the one does not detract from God’s glory, neither does the other. But the very fact that he will not permit faith to precede election proves what we have said before — that election, not justifying faith, is the regnant doctrine in his theological system.