IT may be thought that we have not yet reached the heart of the question, because we have not defined faith, nor shown how it is begotten, and why some persons exercise faith while others do not. If there is any mystery about the implanting of faith in the sinner’s heart, we do see why it need be referred back to God’s eternal decrees. Of course, mystery inheres in all the operations of divine grace upon the soul.
At this juncture we want to have one thing distinctly understood ; we do not believe that God ever elected any one in view of “good conduct.” The expression may have been used by some polemists in an innocent way, but it connotes the idea of human desert, and of that we will have none. We decline to use the phrase “good conduct” in connection with election, or to be responsible for it in any way or in any degree. (It must be admitted, however, that Luther himself affords some ground for using the word “conduct.” He says : “Few are chosen, that is, few so deport themselves toward the gospel that God has pleasure in them.” The words “conduct” and “deportment” are synonymous. We note too, that Professor R. C. H. Lenski, of Capital University, Columbus, Ohio, defends the word “conduct” in a recent editorial in reply to Dr. Pieper. With the explanation given by Professor Lenski, who attributes the said “conduct” solely to the grace of God, there can be no objection to the word. However, for ourself we decline to use it, because it may be so easily misinterpreted. It seems to us, too, to assign too much activity and positive co-operation to man before regeneration. At this point it may be well to point out that Luther was not very much afraid of using apparently synergistic expressions, for he says : “Let every man sweep before his own door ; then we will all be saved ; then it will not require much brooding on what God has determined in His counsel, as to who shall and who shall not be saved.” (Tressel’s work, page 219)) But with faith it is different, for Paul says, “It is by faith that it might be by grace.”
In discussing the nature and office of faith we must think clearly and discriminate sharply, if we would avoid error — the error of Pelagianism, on the one hand, and of Calvinism, on the other.
At this point we wish to say emphatically that we reject, in toto, the Pelagian view, because it does not agree with the unmistakable teaching of God’s Word, which says: “Except any one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God;” “Without me ye can do nothing;” “No man cometh to me, except the Father draw him;” “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; that which is born of the Spirit is spirit ;” “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him ; neither can he know them, for they are spiritually discerned ;” “The mind of the flesh is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be ; and they that are in the flesh cannot please God;” “And ye, when ye were dead in trespasses and sins . . . but God, being rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ;” “And you, being dead through your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh,” etc. ; “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not ;” “By nature the children of wrath;” “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would ;” “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51 :5) ; “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). Many more texts might be cited. Those that have been given are, we believe, quoted in their true contextual relation, and mean just what the words say.
Thus the Bible teaches that a fatal moral disability lies upon man’s spiritual powers. In a spiritual sense man is said to be “blind,” “in darkness,” “carnally minded,” “conceived in sin,” “dead in sin,” “in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity,” “the slave of sin.” Man certainly is by nature in a sad state. How, then, can man be saved through faith when he has by nature not even a moiety of ability to exercise saving faith ? “Dead in trespasses and sins” — how can a “dead” man believe on Christ and accept His gift of salvation? We are trying to state the difficulty just as strongly as we can ; and it is a difficulty that the Bible itself makes.
Moreover, the difficulty is made still greater by the fact that, wherever in the Bible the offer of grace is made to man, he is not treated as if he were a dead man, but as if he were a living one, and even a free and responsible moral agent. Note that Christ began to preach to unregenerate men by saying, “Repent ye, and (Pelagianism also obliterates the distinction between nature and grace, and for that reason, too, we reject it.) believe the gospel.” Why command them to do what they were utterly unable to do? Nicodemus was an unregenerate man; yet Christ talked to him about the new birth, told him not to marvel about it, then went on to tell him about God so loving the world that He gave His only begotten Son that men might believe on Him and be saved. What incongruity to talk to a “dead” man about faith and the new birth ! The woman at the well was still an unregenerate person when Christ told her about the water of life. In His last commission to His apostles our Lord bade them preach to unregenerate men, and, strangely enough, added that those who would believe their message would be saved ; those who rejected it would be condemned. The frightened Philippian jailer was an unregenerate man when he cried out for help; yet Paul said to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Why bid a man believe when he couldn’t?
So we might go through the whole New Testament. But the same method obtains in the Old Testament. Isaiah was preaching to rank sinners when he said : “Come now, saith the Lord, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. The idea of God’s proposing to reason with such crass, deep-dyed sinners in their unconverted state ! The idea of asking “dead” people to reason ! and to reason with Him, the all-wise and eternal God ! The invitation, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters,” was extended to unconverted people. To the same unconverted lot of people God said through the prophet (Isa. 55: 6, 7) : “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found; call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts ; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”
Is this another unsoluble mystery? If so, it is not a mystery, this time, of God’s sovereign decrees in eternity, but a mystery of conversion, faith, grace and freedom right here before our eyes every day. So we need not go back to eternity to find mysteries. But is it really a mystery, or only a difficulty of human speculation? The plain man, if a Christian, accepts all these varied and seemingly diverse statements of the Bible, and never thinks of them as being contradictory. Why? Because he thinks practically, and the Bible is a practical book, and expresses itself in a practical way. But when we get to prying and speculating, we at once get into con- fusion, especially if we do not hold all the facts in mind.
Let us restate the difficulty in a simple and concise way, so that our proposition may stand out clear-cut be- fore our thought: On the one hand, the Bible plainly teaches that the unconverted man is dead in sin, totally unable to believe on Christ ; on the other hand, it commands, urges and entreats him, while still unconverted, to believe on Christ, and threatens him with dire punishment if he refuses. Shall we stop here, throw up our hands, and call it an inscrutable mystery, as the Synodical Conference brethren do relative to election, and thus represent the Bible as a bundle of contradictions, and so put a club into the hands of the skeptics and scoffers? Or shall we think more acutely and exaltedly, and see whether we will not find the Bible throughout to be a book of wondrous beauty, of perfect harmony, of organic unity? We shall try to pursue the latter pathway; it will not be easy, not so easy, perhaps, as the other way would be, but we hope and pray that it may be worth while. We think we shall be able to steer clear of the Scylla of Pelagianism and Synergism, on the one hand, and of the Charybdis of unconditional election, on the other ; but shall uphold and magnify the blessed, holy and comforting doctrines of justification by faith alone and salvation by grace alone, which are the cardinal and correlating doctrines of the Lutheran Church. Let us walk slowly and think patiently.
First, then, the unconverted sinner is “dead in trespasses and sins.” We take the strongest Biblical statement of his condition. Being spiritually dead, he can do nothing toward his salvation ; can originate no spiritual motions. But worse yet: though spiritually dead, he is carnally very much alive, and so is violently opposed to God. Yes, the “dead” sinner is full of ethical and spiritual contradictions, just as a vile sinner would naturally be; just as Paul describes the woman who follows sinful pleasure as being “dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). Dead as to spiritual things, alive as to carnal things.
But now is this terrible and paradoxical condition to continue always, waxing worse and worse? Is there no eye to pity? no arm to save? “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” Does God know? Does He care ? Does He pity ? Will He intervene ? Yes, we know He will; we know He has. He says as Jesus did : “I have compassion on the multitude ;” “And He had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd; and He began to teach them.” “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son;” “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” This must have been His eternal purpose, but it was entirely a gracious one, and in nowise arbitrary. Now, having devised and perfected a merciful and gracious plan of redemption through Jesus Christ, what does God do to and for those sinners who are so dead to spiritual things and so alive to carnal things ?
He sends His Holy Spirit to apply the redemption through the holy means of grace. And what is the Spirit’s initial movement in performing this function? He calls sinners ; through the Word He calls them to repentance. Thanks be to God for His gracious Vocation! What a clarion call it is! “Ho, every one that thirsteth; come ye to the waters;” “Repent ye, and believe the gospel ;” “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden;” “Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out;” “The Spirit and the Bride say. Come; and he that heareth, let him say, Come; and he that is athirst, let him come ; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” Hear the call ringing out clear and sweet, line upon line, precept upon precept.
And here comes in our precious Lutheran doctrine of the Word of God as the means of grace, which the Holy Spirit always accompanies and through which He always operates. “My Word shall not return unto me void, but shall accomplish that which I please, and pros- per in the thing whereunto I have sent it” (Isa. 55:11). Now, what does the divine call through the law and the gospel do for the “dead” sinner? Nothing? Absolutely nothing? Does it leave him just as he was? To say that, would be to deny both the sincerity and the efficacy of the Spirit’s Call. What does the heavenly Call do for the “dead” sinner ? It stirs him to wakeful- ness; it brings him to a consciousness of his condition. That is its very purpose. Will not God accomplish His purpose? Is He going to call on dead men to wake up and accept salvation, and yet leave them utterly dead? We fear some men have theologized so much about re- generation, conversion and eternal election that they have overlooked and undervalued the importance, grace, power and efficacy of the divine Call, which, we maintain, is just as vital a link or movement in the order of salvation as any other part; and it is a matter of pure grace, too, just as faith, justification and conversion are.
Let us find an illustration in the life of Christ. He once stood before the grave of Lazarus, and simply called to the dead man, “Lazarus, come forth.” What was the use of calling to a dead man? Why, Christ’s call was accompanied with power, as His Word always is, and so Lazarus was awakened by it, and as soon as he was aroused, he began some kind of movement, not by virtue of any natural power he had, but solely by virtue of the power imparted to him by the call of Christ. So when God calls sinners to repentance and faith. He does not leave them just as they were, wrapped in the unconscious sleep of spiritual death. Is this mere speculation? It is the gospel. Hear Paul’s way of proclaiming the gracious Call : “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine upon thee” (Eph. 5:14). Whatever the calls and invitations of God do or do not effect, they surely do not leave the “dead” sinner just as he was before, else they would be both idle and absurd. Some kind of movement is always effected by God’s Word and Spirit. Let no one accuse us of saying that this movement is a natural movement, that is, a movement of the natural man ; no, it is effected solely by the Spirit of God ; therefore sola gratia is preserved, and all Synergism and human merit are excluded. The Call may have to be repeated many times before the dead sinner is fully aroused to his condition and need ; indeed, on account of his perversity, he may resist it for a time ; yes, even throughout his whole life, and thus be finally lost ; and that, as we shall show presently, entirely through his own fault. Here our illustration about the raising of Lazarus would be defective, because in his case the whole process was instantaneous, whereas what is known in the purely spiritual realm as “prevenient grace” operates gradually.
But now we must consider another office of the Spirit in the order of salvation. Simultaneously with the Call, or straightway following it, no matter which, there goes another most gracious work of God — Illumination. Thanks be to God for this wonderful function of His grace! The Call of God always carries light with it : “The entrance of thy words giveth light ;” “I am the light of the world;” “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light ;” “Whereby the Dayspring from on high shall visit us, to shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death; to guide our feet in the way of peace;” “To open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light;” “God hath shined into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
The Illumination comes by God’s grace in two ways : First, by the law ; second, by the gospel : “Through the law cometh the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20) ; through the gospel comes the knowledge of salvation from sin: “Christ hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10).
Again we ask whether the “dead” sinner is left in precisely the same condition after the Call and Illumination as he was before? Surely not, else all these gracious movements of the Holy Spirit would be idle and vain. He must now have some knowledge of his lost and ruined condition; also some knowledge of the way of salvation through Christ; therefore some sense of guilt, of responsibility, of freedom, of power to relate himself to God’s proffer of salvation. And is not “prevenient grace” grace just as well as converting grace ? Is it not just as pure, simple, powerful and precious? Dr. Jacobs very properly devotes two long chapters to Vocation and Illumination in his excellent work, “A Summary of the Christian Faith.” He attributes both to the pure grace and mercy of God, just as he does Justification, Regeneration and Conversion.
(An enigma to us has been how Dr. Pieper could entirely ignore such a masterly presentation as that of Dr. Jacobs in the work already adverted to, “A Summary of Christian Faith.” Dr. Jacobs’ book bears copyright date, 1905, while Dr. Pieper wrote in 1913; yet Dr. Pieper writes as if Dr. Jacobs had never written a line on the subject of the divine purpose. Had he read and studied his compeer in theology, we doubt whether he would have written with so much assurance. Here is another puzzle: How could he charge the advocates of intuitu fidei with Synergism, Pelagianism, work-righteousness and human merit, in view of Dr. Jacobs’ most complete and almost classical chapter, in which he repudiates all these errors, and advocates salvation solely on account of the merit of Jesus Christ? All who want to read both sides of the question are referred to Dr. Jacobs’ work. It is no less a puzzle to us that Dr. Pieper could repeat his charge of Synergism and Plagiarism against his opponents, in view of the hundreds of denials and dis- claimers made by them in Tressel’s great work, “The Error of Missouri,” containing the arguments of Drs. Stellhorn and Schmidt and Revs. Allwardt and Ernst. These theologians, while they uphold the doctrine of intuitu fidei, also uphold sola gratia just as stoutly and uncompromisingly as does Dr. Pieper himself. To our mind, they have performed their task with invincible logic and on a sound Biblical and confessional basis. Of course, this commendation does not mean to include an endorsement of the drastic expressions they sometimes used in the heat of controversy. But these can easily be separated from the masterly arguments of these brethren.)
Even Dr. Pieper gives a somewhat lengthy chapter to the “preparation for conversion,” the “acts preparatory” (actus praeparatorii) ; but he is so wrapped up in his peculiar view of election and conversion that he treats these functions of the Spirit grudgingly, lamely, as if they were practically ineffective, almost negligible factors in the process of conversion. He and others even compare the motus effected by preparatory grace on the sinner’s soul to the indentations made on a rubber ball by some external impact : the indentations made, the rubber immediately springs back to its original form. Is not that a mechanical and materialistic way of looking upon the acts and effects of the Holy Ghost? What is the use of preparatory acts at all, then, if they create no feeling of responsibility, and effect no ability whatever for the sinner to relate himself to the gracious overtures of salvation? That view makes conversion a purely mechanical thing; it makes God force salvation on some people, while it leaves others to their awful fate. The Bible never represents salvation that way, never ! See how well-balanced and all-sided Paul is : “The wages of sin is is death ; but the gift of God is eternal life.” And a “gift” must be accepted, and accepted freely, or it is not a gift. Something that is forced upon you is not a gift. We must, therefore, differ from Missouri’s position, because its teachings slight and minify God’s gracious work in the preparatory movements leading to conversion.
In conformity with the Bible, we have excellent Lutheran authority for this view. We quote an admirable paragraph from Dr. Jacobs’ work, ut supra, page 229:
“How is it (Regeneration) related to Illumination? By illumination man is brought to see his lost condition and to learn of the provision made in Christ for his salvation. This act, as it progresses, includes a certain disposition of the will toward the offered grace. Regeneration occurs when the act of self-surrender to God’s will and promise is accomplished by the inner workings of the Holy Spirit in Word or Sacrament. Illumination influences the will, but it belongs to regeneration to determine the decision.”
Admirable, for it honors God’s grace and power in the prevenient operations of His Spirit, and makes room for some real effect upon the will of the unsaved sinner. It also makes conversion an ethical and spiritual movement, not a mechanical and coerced one.
Even Dr. A. L. Graebner, in his “Outlines of Doctrinal Theology” (a work that we esteem very highly, and use for reference in the class-room), was almost forced to veer over to this view (stalwart Missourian though he was), when he came to the locus, “Conversion and Preparatory Operations”: ”Regeneration, or Conversion in the stricter sense, being essentially the procreation of the true and saving faith, is an instantaneous act or process, but is in adults preceded by preparatory operations, whereby the sinner is convicted of his sinful state and helpless condition under divine wrath by means of the Law, and led to a logical or historical under- standing of the contents of the Gospel, and which, with the outer use of the means of grace, in a measure, lie within the power and reach of the irregenerate man.”
Altogether admirable, and true as well; but it is not in accord with Missouri’s position; for if “the con- tents of the Gospel,” “in a measure lie within the power and reach of the irregenerate man,” then preparatory grace must have done something in that unregenerate man’s will, so that he has the “power” in some way to let himself be disposed to the offer of salvation. If he has a certain “power and reach” in spiritual matters, he is not in quite the helpless condition he was before the Call and Illumination came, for then he was wholly “dead ;” now he has a kind of “power and reach.” Therefore he is responsible for the proper use of the “power and reach” that God’s Spirit has conferred upon him. If he uses that conferred “power and reach” according to God’s will and preordained plan, he will be saved; if he refuses, he will be lost. Why must we go back, then, to God’s eternal election to find a mystery as to why some men are saved and others lost, when we have the reason given right here before our eyes, proved by a Missouri Lutheran himself, and that by numerous quotations from the Bible? Why make a mystery of it when the Bible tells us just why the elect are justified and the others condemned ?
While we are dealing with this interesting subject, we wish to show how a Concordia theologian of blessed memory involved himself in contradiction, just because, instead of taking justification by faith as the determining principle, he looked at every thing through the eye- glass of election. On page 172 of his “Doctrinal Theology” Dr. Graebner defines Vocation. See how admirable his statement is : “Vocation is the act of God by which He, through the means of grace, earnestly offers to all who hear or read the Gospel, or to whom the sacraments are administered, the benefits of Christ’s redemption, truly and earnestly invites and exhorts them to accept and enjoy what is thus offered, and endeavors to move and lead them by the power inherent in the means of grace to such acceptance and enjoyment of the benefits of the redemption.”
Could anything be more clearly stated ? Here is the total rejection of the Calvinistic doctrine of divine election to preterition and reprobation, and of the “will of the sign” over against the “will of the purpose.” But now let us turn over to page 175, where our author defines the “effects of the call” : “By the divine power residing in the means of grace, and working through the same, the calling grace of God effects regeneration or conversion. Where these effects are not attained, this is due to obstinate resistance on the part of man.”
Note the contradiction : In the first paragraph quoted, the Call is simply the earnest “offer” of salvation ; in the second paragraph it actually “effects regeneration or conversion.” That must be a curious act of the Holy Spirit that both offers a boon and forcibly bestows it. An offer is something to be accepted or rejected; when you accept it, you have it; if you reject it, you cannot have it. If, on the one hand, we cannot accept the offer (referring to the saved), and, on the other, we cannot help but reject it (the lost), then how could the offer have been made sincerely and earnestly? Moreover, if man has no freedom whatever to accept the offered grace, then, if it does come to him, it must have been forced upon him, nolens volens; which is contrary to all Scriptural representation and all experience in conversion.
True, our Missouri brethren will reply : “We have said again and again that this is the mystery of election ; we do not try to solve it; we leave it with the eternal counsels of the Almighty to be revealed in the next life.” But why should we, in our theologizing, make the Bible a book of contradictions and inconsistencies by a method of setting proof-text over against proof-text? Why not study it more deeply, and see whether we cannot co- ordinate its teachings and find their inner harmony? Surely if God is the altogether excellent One, He must be harmonious in His own being, and when He gives His children a revelation, it surely cannot be so full of contradictions as to turn them into infidels. We believe in “the divine unity of the Scriptures.” By collating Scripture with Scripture, we can, more and more, find the beautiful and higher harmony of its teachings. We like Dr. Jacobs’ view-point here (page 9, ut supra); he defines the proper hermeneutical principle as being an observance of “the organic relation of the various parts of Holy Scripture to one another.” True, we confess to some doubt about what is known as the doctrine of “the analogy of faith,” for it seems to set up a human standard of interpretation outside of the Bible, while we believe in taking the Bible teaching just as it stands. But then every text ought to be interpreted in its true contextual setting and according to the meaning of the writer, with due attention to the correct exegesis. Mere phrases and brief sentences should not be treated in an insolated way, nor wrenched from their context, nor interpreted merely according to the sound of the words, when the real sense may be something quite different. You cannot truly and fairly interpret any writing in that way — that is, by simply quoting a detached sentence here and there; for sometimes a preceding or succeed- ing statement of the author may qualify the quoted statement. Take, for instance, 1 Cor. 2:9. Suppose a dogmatician should try to formulate from that passage the doctrine that the glories of heaven are far beyond human conception and imagination, because Paul says: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,” etc. The true interpreter of Scripture would simply tell him to read the next verse, when he would see that Paul was not referring to heaven at all, but to the revelations Christians now have through the Spirit of God. We shall have occasion more than once, in succeeding chapters, to show how our Concordia brethren miss the mark in drawing their peculiar doctrines from the Scriptures by a too infinitesimal treatment of the Bible.
Again, if there are certain passages of Scripture that are difficult and seemingly obscure, we ought not to seize upon them as the norm of doctrine, and try to regulate and gauge everything by them, but should take the plain and clear passages as our guide to lead us into the others, which may by and by, through prayer, study and the leading of the Spirit, also become explicit. And if there are apparent contradictions, we ought not to stop praying and studying, and decide hastily that the contradictions are in the Bible. We would better go on the principle that, as God is a unity in Himself, and there can be no inconsistencies in His being and character, so His revelation must be consistent with itself. Would it not be irreverent to think or say that one part of Scripture contradicts another? or that God has said one thing in one place and a different thing in another? To our mind, it would be more humble and reverent to think that God would not contradict Himself, and that, therefore, if we are patient and prayerful, we will presently discover the sacred harmony that pervades His entire revelation. A good rule is to compare Scripture with Scripture. Perhaps that is what Paul means when he says, “comparing spiritual things with spiritual,” for the Bible is a spiritual book.
If we wished to be so unkind, we might drive the Missouri advocates into a logical cul-de-sac by their own piecemeal method of handling the Scriptures. They stoutly disclaim teaching and holding the Calvinistic doctrine of eternal election to reprobation ; sinners are not elected to be condemned, but are condemned solely on account of their own fault. Now read 1 Pet. 2 :8 : “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense; for they stumble at the Word, being disobedient; whereunto also they were appointed.” Take that passage by itself, as the Missourians take the election passages, and it teaches the baldest Calvinistic doctrine — namely, that God “appointed” the “disobedient” to “stumble at the Word,” and even to be “disobedient.” And, according to the Missouri view, you would not dare to “interpret” this passage, nor explain it by any other. And so here would be another insoluble mystery — namely, that, in one place, the Bible teaches that sinners are condemned on account of their own fault, and, in another, that they are “appointed” to stumble into condemnation. How many mysteries you could create in that way ! But take the better way of interpreting Scripture, and all is clear. By reading the context, especially verses 6 and 7, you will see who the people are that stumble at Christ and his Word — those who “disbelieve.” And, of course, people who reject Christ are “appointed” to stumble over many things in God’s Word. We have seen them stumble over the most simple and precious doctrines. Such is God’s inevitable law — -that spiritual blindness comes upon people who reject His Word and His offer of salvation.
After writing the foregoing, we read over again Dr. J. L. Neve’s graphic report of the Missouri-Ohio-Iowa free conferences at Milwaukee and Detroit in 1903-4. It would appear that they spent a large part of their time in wrestling over methods of Biblical interpretation. Missouri was against the doctrine of the “Analogy of Faith;” the others for it. We have no time to amplify on this matter now. For our part, we do not hold up any objective rule by which to interpret Scripture, nor do we feel obliged to “harmonize” the various parts of the Bible ; we believe they do not need to be harmonized ; they need simply to be understood, and then they will be seen to be harmonious. If God is a unity, His revelation will be like Himself. Therefore our simple hermeneutical rule is to take each passage according to its natural and literal meaning in connection with the context, always reading enough to be sure of the author’s main proposition. By applying this simple rule — it is the rule of all true literary exposition — we do not find one passage of Scripture teaching one thing, and another something else. Of course, no brief Scripture verse teaches all the doctrines of redemption. John 3:16, though called the “gospel in nuce,” says nothing about vicarious atonement or the resurrection. You must go to other parts of the Bible to find those doctrines. But all portions of the Scripture are complementary. One of the strongest evidences of the divine authority and inspiration of the Bible is its organic unity.
According to the Bible, the way of salvation is so plain that “the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein.” It is not likely, therefore, that God, in re- vealing that way in His Word, would set it forth in a self-contradictory manner. Let us give a few examples of how text may be set up against text by the piecemeal method. In John 14:27 Christ said: “Peace I leave with you ; my peace I give unto you.” The angels over Bethlehem’s plains sang (Matt. 2:14): “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men” (old version). But in Matt. 10:34 Christ said the opposite: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth : I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The Concordia Lutherans do not throw up their hands and say: “Here is a plain contradiction, and therefore an in- explicable mystery, which we must simply accept, but must not try to harmonize.” No ; they know that the interpretation is very simple — that to the sinner in his sins the Word of God is a sword, while to the true believer it imparts peace. Take another instance. John 16:7: “Nevertheless I tell you the truth : it is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come.” Set over against it Matt. 28 :20 : “And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” Do the Missouri expositors say this is another contradiction, an insoluble mystery? No; they simply interpret the two passages in the larger light of the ascension, glorification, transcendence and consequent immanence of Christ’s human nature — that is, by means of the glorious Lutheran doctrine of the commimicatio idiomatum, just as the Formula of Concord does in Chapter VIII of the Epitome and Solid Declaration.
Thus we must compare Scripture with Scripture in the investigation of other doctrines in order to get the whole truth. The same interpretative rule should hold with reference to election and conversion.