IN the next place, we must notice some things in Dr. Pieper’s chapter on “Preparation for Conversion.” If we mistake not, he never calls this preparation “grace,” but only “acts,” “actus,” “motus,” “praeparatio,” etc. Just as if the gospel call were not of grace! This, it seems to us, is casting slight upon a most vital movement of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption. However, there is probably reason for this careful restraint about calling the preparatory work a work of grace ; for it were called grace, and were grace, that would introduce grace before conversion, and that would never do, as it would overthrow this particular dogma of conversion and election.
In a previous chapter the author seems to us to torture language in order to make it appear that those theologians who believe in “new powers imparted by grace” before conversion, always mean natural powers. Note how he puts it (page 36) : “What is intended by the phrase, ‘powers imparted by grace,’ never denotes, in reality, powers of grace, but natural powers.”
We wonder whether this is really generous. How could men of sincerity and scholarship say one thing and mean another? Nor do we see how any man could be guilty of such a mental hiatus as to mean that “imparted powers of grace” are “natural powers.” Men do not generally think in paradoxes like that. They might almost as well call white black and good evil. But whatever may be said of others, when we speak of the effects of prevenient grace, we do not mean the natural powers of the will, but the new powers imparted by God’s Spirit. We mean what we say, and will not permit a false meaning to be put into our words.
But let us notice some of Dr. Pieper’s statements. On page 27 he says : “Keep this in mind : previous to his conversion, or before the light of faith is kindled in his heart, man is spiritually dead, and can, previous to his conversion, employ the spiritual powers offered in God’s gracious call as little as one who is physically dead can employ the physical vitality, if it were offered to him.”
This is most remarkable. If “spiritual powers” cannot be employed by the sinner, why in the world does God offer them to him ? That is one of the strangest things you could imagine — God offering spiritual powers to a dead man who can in nowise employ them. And why does God call the sinner if He does not intend to arouse him ? Oh ! let us not represent God as acting in an irrational way. Does the reader begin to see now why the present writer felt in conscience bound to take up this subject for discussion? We simply could not let such ideas of God’s gracious dealings with men go un- corrected, for surely we would not want to try to cement the Lutheran Church into a union on such a basis of theology.
Dr. Pieper says rightly (page 104) : “Very properly, therefore, the Formula of Concord rejects the teaching that man, when grace is offered to him, in any way ‘can qualify and prepare himself for grace.’ On the other hand, it is correct to say that God prepares man for conversion.” So we all say. But when man has been awakened by the call and illumination to his condition, then he surely can, by his newly acquired power, let God prepare him for conversion. The idea that God could “prepare him for conversion,” and yet leave him as dead as he was before, is, to our mind, an inconsistent one. In that case God would work over him precisely as an undertaker works over a corpse. This is just as poor anthropology as theology.
But Dr. Pieper cannot always be consistent with his preconceived theories, even when he quotes Luther to corroborate his views. On page 105 he says: “Luther was accustomed to express this matter thus : ‘Man will not flee to Christ unless he has first tasted hell.’ ” The italics are ours except the word “first.” How can a dead man “flee to Christ” or “taste” anything? Oh, brethren, brethren, when we are dealing with man’s salvation, we must remember that we are dealing with spiritual and psychical facts, not with material blocks and stones and corpses ! Afterward Dr. Pieper quotes Luther as saying : “The law prepares for grace (ad gratiam praeparat) by revealing and augmenting sin and by humiliating the proud, in order that they may desire help from Christ.” This quotation is very unfortunate for Dr. Pieper’s theory, for a “dead” man could not “desire help from Christ.” Luther was right, for even in convicting men of sin by the law, God never fails to accompany the law by the gospel, and thus create a “desire for help from Christ,” which desire must be the result of grace. Thus “the law is a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.”
Dr. Pieper continues : “Chemnitz stigmatizes as slander the Romanist charge that the Lutherans taught no ‘preparation’ for the acceptance of justifying grace. He says : “It is untrue when they charge in the Ninth Canon that we deny that any motions of the will, imparted and quickened by God, precede the acceptance of justification. For we do teach that repentance or contrition comes first, and these cannot exist without great, sincere, and earnest motions of the will. But we do not say that penitence or contrition precede as something meritorious.”
By noting the words and phrases which we have italicised above, it will be seen that Chemnitz overthrows Dr. Pieper’s central position. He would make the “dead” sinner even more active before conversion than we would ourself, for we would not go so far as to say that “repentance” goes before regeneration, because repentance has its faith side as well as its contrition side. With Chemnitz we also deny that there is anything meritorious in penitence and contrition.
Dr. Pieper frequently refers to and quotes from Latermann and Musaeus. We must confess frankly that we have no direct acquaintance with the writings of these theologians ; but, if Dr. Pieper quotes them correctly — and we have no doubt he does — they surely went too far toward synergism. If they say that, before conversion, the sinner is capable of “good conduct” toward grace and of “co-operation unto conversion,” we would object ; for that would imply, first, some merit in man (“good conduct”), and, second, a positive activity of the human will before conversion (“co-operation”), and thus would enable the sinner partly to convert himself ; where- as we hold that the prevenient will is purely passive at this point, and can only say : “Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner; I can do nothing; Thou, and Thou alone, must save me !” Just as Peter cried, when sinking in the waves : “Lord, save me, or I perish ;” he could not do a thing to save himself ; he could simply let Christ save him. As he did let Christ save him, he was saved ; but if he had not left Christ save him, he would have perished — unless, perchance, Christ had saved him by physical force, which He will never do for the sinner. So we refuse to be put into the company of Latermann and Musaeus, if they taught what has been attributed to them.
At this point Dr. Pieper again tries to put his opponents into a logical cul-de-sac (pages 108-9). He quotes from the Strassburg Faculty. We give the gist of it : How could a will created by grace — in other words, the new power imparted by the Spirit — exercise any choice between good and evil? If it is a spiritually enabled will, it surely could choose only in accord with the will of God.
This, we reply, is simply another example of the materialistic and mechanical way of looking at ethical and spiritual realities. It comes from a misconception of an ethical will. More study of the deep principles of Christian ethics would be helpful. A will — that is, a good will — is not something that must choose one way, and only one, but a faculty that has the power of alternate choice. Otherwise it is not a will, in the true sense of the term, but an enslaved will. The corrupt will of the unsaved sinner is not truly a will, for it can choose only one way. Not so with a good will, a spiritually enabled will; it is good by the very token that it is free from bondage, and can elect. We prove this statement from Christ Himself (John 8:34-37): “Every one that committeth sin is the slave of sin. And the slave abideth not in the house forever ; the son abideth forever. If therefore the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” When Adam came from the creative hand of God, was his will a good will or an evil one? A good will, surely, for God never created evil ; and yet he had the power of alternate choice, and, sadly enough, made a misuse of it.
Missouri teaches that, after conversion, the will is made free by divine grace. If so, according to her own logic, this will could choose only one way, because it is a will established by grace; yet Missouri teaches that those who have been converted can backslide. But how can a will established by God’s grace ever decide against that grace? This would seem to be another “mystery,” this time a psychological one. However, according to our view, that a good will is one that has the power of alternate choice, there is no difficulty.
But even taking Missouri’s mechanical view of the will, there might be said to be two wills in man after the call and prior to his conversion — the old evil one and the good enabled one. They would certainly oppose each other. The evil will would try to overcome and destroy the good one that God has stirred into activity; and that would account for the schism that occurs in every sinner’s soul when the Holy Spirit convicts him through the law and offers him pardon through the gospel. Note Paul’s graphic portrayal of the two wills within him, the one lusting against the other (Rom. 7:13-25). Also Christ: “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
The rest of our Concordia friend’s dissertation on preparatory work is not only full of contradictions, strained reasoning and ex parte interpretations of Scripture, but also reduces the preparatory work of the Spirit through the call and illuminiation to nihil. The idea that all these prevenient impressions are only “from without” is, in our opinion, wide of the mark. That would be an anomalous work of the Holy Spirit that would simply make outside impressions, without in the least affecting the inside of the sinner’s soul. Why, even the “rubber-ball” illustration would show more than that, for you could not make the least impression upon the ball’s surface without causing a movement of all the atoms within ! Much less a human soul where the operations are not mechanical, but psychical and spiritual. But even here our earnest friend cannot preserve his consistency, for in referring to Paul’s discourse before Festus and Agrippa (page 114), he says: “The context shows that the whole company were listening attentively, and that Festus and Agrippa were really inwardly moved and powerfully agitated.” Yet, so far as we know, they never were converted. This shows how difficult it is for any man, however learned and sincere, to sustain an inconsistent theory. If this sounds too severe, it is meant kindly.
It is all but impossible for our brethren across the line to keep their modes of expression in accord with their own views : they are constantly overstepping the line. Even good Dr. Walter had this failing. See this quotation on page 109 : “Conversion, indeed, does not occur ordinarily without several preparatory phenomena (Vorgaenge) within man, and in this sense conversion is accomplished by degrees, gradually; but conversion itself in every case occurs in an instant.” Notice “with- in man,” not merely ”outside.”
Take one of Dr. Walter’s favorite illustrations (pages 113, 114)— that of a besieged fortress. “The fortress receives impressions from without; it is bombarded and attacked. The besieged, however, do not make common cause with the besieging force, but try to prevent the taking of the fortress.” To our mind, this is a very ineffective illustration; but let us admit it for the sake of argument. If the walls were violently bombarded from without, and were beginning to topple, it is likely that the people within the fortress would be a good deal impressed, a good deal agitated, just as the human heart is when it is assaulted by the law. Again, if the besieging forces did not succeed in taking the fortress, it would be because the army within were too strong for them, and so they were finally driven away by superior force and skill. Here again the illustration fails, for the Holy Spirit cannot be over-come by force; nor does He act upon the soul by coercion. But suppose the people within the walls finally capitulate ; this must have occurred in one of two ways : either because they were forcibly overcome while yet resisting, or because they at length became willing to surrender. In which way do our Missouri brethren think the transaction takes place in the case of a sinner’s conversion ?
We must pause here to remark on this matter of the sinner being converted without his consent, or, in other words, by force. If he is positively dead, like a corpse, before his conversion, he must be converted by coercion. If so, how can it be by grace? Could a conversion that was forced upon an unwilling sinner be called a work of grace? Would not that method nullify sola gratia? We ask the question kindly, not for the purpose of driving our brethren into a corner ; merely as a matter to be seriously pondered. But if the call awakens the sinner to his condition, and prevenient grace enables him to be willing to let God save him, and he so consents, then the whole process is ethical and spiritual, and therefore — sola gratia.
Another of Dr. Walter’s remarks is found on page 117: “When the Lord says, ‘Thou art not far from the kingdom of God,’ Mark 12:34, He would say, ‘There are in thee even now preparatory effects of the Spirit ;’ for the scribe here addressed had already yielded to a better understanding of the law.”
Note the words, “in,” “effects,” and “had already yielded ;” and yet all of it had taken place in the man’s soul before his conversion, for we do not know even today whether he was ever converted or not. Yet our author says : “In the same connection Walter rejects every status medius. He says : ‘Whoever teaches that a man may be converted, and yet not be entirely converted, contradicts the Scriptures, which know but two states, death and life. Whoever is not under grace is under wrath ; whoever is not in life is still in death ; whoever is not on the way to heaven is on the way to hell ; who- ever is an unsaved person is a damned person. There is no twilight stage, no middle state between light and darkness.’ ”
How do these radical statements comport with what he says above about the scribe having “already yielded to a better understanding of the law?” How could a man utterly “dead” and in utter “darkness” commend the lofty spiritual import of the law, as Christ had interpreted it to him ? This statement entirely ignores both God’s call and illumination before conversion, making them ineffective. Besides, if there is no “twilight” stage, God’s method in nature and His method in grace are utterly diverse : for in nature there is always a twilight stage (or, rather, dawn) before the sun comes up in its full glory. Why, the Bible itself recognizes a period of dawn in spiritual matters (2 Pet. 1 :19) : “Until the day dawn, and the day-star arise in your hearts.”
Still another quotation from Walter is given on pages 117 and 118: “It sounds very fine when modern theologians say : ‘When God gives strength to unconverted man, he is able to co-operate toward his con- version.’ ”
We pause, lest we be misunderstood, to say we reject the view that the unconverted man can “co-operate toward his conversion ;” the word “co-operate” is, to our mind, too strong a word at that stage ; the called and illumined sinner can do nothing toward his conversion ; he can simply let God save him; that much ability God gives in the call and illumination — to be passive in God’s hands ; even as long as he tries to save himself, he will balk God’s efforts to save him. This lies at the very heart of moral and spiritual realities : a sinner cannot convert himself, nor forgive himself, nor cleanse away his own sins.
Dr. Walter pursues : “But that is wrong ; for a dead person cannot make use of imparted powers as long as he lacks the strength necessary for the employment of such powers, that is to say, as long as he lacks life. You may roll a dead body back and forth, and by applying electricity cause him to open his eyes or his mouth, and so on, but all this remains a result of forces affecting him from without. Only he who has become subjectively a possessor of power can move himself.”
Oh ! no ! no ! the Holy Spirit does not work in that mechanical way on the human heart. Electricity is a dead force, a purely mechanical energy, but Paul says (1 Cor. 15 :45) : “The last Adam (Christ) became a life- giving spirit;” and (2 Cor. 3:6): “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” We maintain once more that, when the Holy Spirit calls the sinner to grace and salvation, He does not assault him like a dead force, but with a living power and persuasion ; He awakens him to his undone and defiled condition and shows him Christ as his Saviour. If the Spirit can do that much through the call and illumination. He can also quicken the will, or confer a new will, to the extent that the sinner will be willing to let God pardon and save him. Observe also the contradiction in the above quotation from Walter: “A dead person cannot make use of imparted powers,” etc. Then how can they be imparted, or if they can be, what good does it do for God to impart them? And also what good would it do to apply electricity to a dead body — unless it would be merely for scientific and experimental purposes, or perchance to satisfy idle curiosity?
Apology is made to Dr. Pieper for our having to say that his chapter on “The ‘Possibility’ of Conversion” is a species of hair-splitting that ought to be left entirely in the domain of dogmatic liberty, and should never for a moment be permitted to cause schism in our great and beloved Lutheran Zion. It is somewhat ingenious, but far from convincing. It contains contradictions. Commenting on Isa. 55 :6, “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found,” he quotes Osiander as follows: “The Lord is near and can be found when, through the preaching of the gospel. He offers salvation to us. But when He takes away His Word, so that it no longer is correctly understood. He can be neither found nor properly worshipped. Let us, then, gratefully seise the opportunity by means of which the Lord in His grace approaches us.”
But a “dead” man could not “gratefully seize the opportunity.” You see, it is impossible for our dear friends, the electionists, to maintain their consistency. We hope they will not reply that such is the teaching of the Bible, and thus try to fix the responsibility for dogmatic inconsistency upon the inspired volume. And when does God take away His Word? He never does this arbitarily. When He says (Gen. 6:3) : “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” it is because, as the context shows, they have, by their terrible sins and stub- born resistance, “grieved the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30); or as is said in Gen. 6:6: “And it repented Jehovah that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at the heart.” No, the Bible never represents God as acting in an arbitrary or capricious way.
Further on (page 120), Dr. Pieper himself says: “The expressions, ‘possibility of conversion,’ ‘opportunity’ of conversion, ‘possibility of being converted,’ should then be retained in the sense, viz., that the saving grace of God comprises all men, and that the Holy Spirit operates in all hearers unto conversion, and that the cause of non-conversion is to be sought solely in man’s resistance. This is summed up in the terms gratia sufficiens. The Scriptures teach gratia sufficiens, that is to say, that God operates through the call in such a manner and to such an extent that all hearers of the Word may be ‘enlightened, converted and saved,’ and that no hearer remains unconverted by reason of some deficiency in the operations of divine grace or by reason of a lack of gracious intent on the part of God.”
We do not want to be hypercritical, but since Missouri constantly makes all her favorite figures of speech “go on all fours,” as the saying is, we would kindly ask. How can “dead” sinners be “hearers of the Word ?” If they are “dead” like logs or corpses, how can it be said that “the Holy Spirit operates in all hearers unto conversion?’’ Our brethren ought to remember that every simile is defective in some points, while entirely pertinent in others, that is, the points in which the parallelism is intended. “Omne simile claudicat.”
What Dr. Pieper says on pages 121-123 on Synergism does not concern us, for, as we have so often said before, we reject Synergism, which means that the unconverted sinner, in his natural state, can co-operate with God in his salvation, or that, by means of spiritual abilities imparted in the Call, he can actively co-operate or in any way help to convert and save himself. Most positively do we reject Melanchthon’s formula in the last edition of his Loci, when he enumerated “three causes of conversion, viz., the Holy Spirit, the Word, and the will of man” (Jacobs, id., page 224). If, after the sinner’s awakening through the Call, he would be saved, he must simply surrender to God’s saving power, must be quiescent in God’s hand, must let God save him; and this He can do, because God’s Call to him has been a living, energizing Call.
A word now as to what Dr. Walter called motus inevitabiles. This is the scholastic term which he applied to the motions or acts of the Holy Spirit prior to con- version. They are simply inevitable motions, so far as the sinner’s will is concerned. In rejoinder we would say that the only motus of that kind in the process are the first proffers of grace through the Call. Of course, the sinner must first hear the Word of God. Just how long such motus are continued by our heavenly Father we need not try to determine; for He alone knows how to fit His overtures to every person’s case. From the very nature of the process there must be such initial movements on God’s part: if God did not first give the Call, no one would ever be saved; no one would ever know about Christ and His redemption. “How shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard?” God always initiates the process: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (Matt. 15:16) ; “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19; also John 3:16). Yes, the initiative in salvation always comes from God. But after God, by His gracious Call and Illumination, has sufficiently aroused the sinner to produce conviction and the sense of responsibility, the motus invitabiles must cease, and acts involving man’s moral and spiritual freedom must begin and continue. Not to be outdone by our learned friends in the use of scholastic terms, these acts might be called motus morales et voluntarii.
An instance of treating an opponent unfairly and imposing upon him views that he does not hold, is found on page 123, where a quotation is made from the Strassburg Faculty as follows : “Does not God on His part grant that we will? Does He merely grant that we are able to will, able to convert ourselves, able to believe?”
We wonder whether there ever has been a Lutheran who said or thought that we poor, undone sinners are “able to convert ourselves?” By running that damaging phrase into the sentence, the writers did not fairly represent their opponents’ view. God certainly does confer the ability to will and believe. Surely He does not do our willing and believing for us, any more than He does our walking, breathing, eating, or even our thinking for us ; but that is continents away from saying that a man is able to convert himself. To will and believe belong to a different category from to convert, for God enables willing and believing, and then men must use the powers conferred ; but as for converting, God alone can and must do that, just as He alone must forgive and save. We have contended all along that, through prevenient grace, the sinner is simply enabled to let God convert and save him.
“Then,” we fancy Dr. Pieper will reply, “it all depends, after all, on man’s choice.” Not so. It all depends on God’s grace and power, and, of course, on His eternal foreordination ; for the whole process of salvation must have been predetermined in eternity. But there must come a time in the process when God’s Spirit enables the sinner to choose to let himself be saved or not, as the Scripture teaches : “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve” (Josh. 24:15) ; “How long halt ye between two opinions? If God be God, follow Him; if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21, spoken to unregenerate men). If such a moment of option does not come to the sinner before conversion, then conversion is forced upon him. Will the theologian, or, for that matter, any one else, try to think of a man being converted without his consent or against his consent? What kind of a con- version would that be? Figure it out as you will, there must be a point, prior to conversion, when God deals with the sinner’s will, which He has called into action. From a psychological view-point this must be true ; for God’s Call and Illumination give the sinner the knowledge of sin and salvation, as the Missourians themselves admit; so, as the mind is a unit, the cognising power could not be called into action without producing some effect upon the susceptibility and the will. If this is not true, God acts contrary to the psychical laws which He Himself has foreordained and established.
A few more observations are needed to complete this part of the subject. If Missouri means by conversion the whole process of grace from awakening to justification, she should say so positively and clearly, and should not insist on actus praeparatorii; then we could agree with her ; then, too, much confusion and controversy would be avoided in the Church. That really is what should be called conversion (conversio, a complete turning), while the actual bestowal of the new life and of faith should be called regeneration (from regenerare, to beget again). In that case, however, Missouri should not call conversion instantaneous. Really we have sometimes suspected that what the rest of us term the Call and the Illumination, the Missouri advocates call conversion ; for when Dr. Pieper on page 111 speaks about the experience of conversion he makes it such a gentle, zephyr-like transaction that one wonders what all the theological agitation is about. Conversion, he says, occurs “in a way imperceptible to human feeling, and so divinely gentle that few converted persons are able to state the hour of their conversion.” Beautiful, indeed ! While many adults are not converted in that quiet way, many are, and almost all properly reared children of Christian parents are. It is the normal way. But, somehow, it does not comport well with Missouri’s position, for during the introductory stage (praeparatio) the “dead” sinner seems to be more active, alive and conscious of what is transpiring than he is in the moment of actual conversion. Is our debate a logomachy?
Our next paragraph is about a good will, a free will, a will disenthralled to the extent needed at the given moment in God’s economy of grace. Missouri always treats the will as if it were a kind of material thing or a machine. Therefore, in the interest of Christian ethics, we desire to say that a free will is not something that is pulled down by force on one side or the other, but that is placed in equilibrium, so that it can elect for itself. That was the will in liberty with which Adam and Eve were originally endowed. Now, in the process of divine mercy and grace in restoring man to his original estate, there must come moments when man is capable of exercising this original enduement. It is restored sola gratia just as it was originally bestowed sola gratia.
There is one significant phrase in the Madison Agreement of the Norwegians to which Dr. Pieper objects. It is in Sec. 4 (page 8) where the Norwegians say: “In other words, we reject every doctrine which . . . would weaken man’s sense of responsibility in re- spect of the acceptance or rejection of God’s grace.” So alert is Dr. Pieper constantly in his defense of his favorite doctrines that he scents danger here. There might be the least hint of Synergism in such language. He says (page 35) : “The phrase, ‘feeling of responsibility over against (The phrase “over against” is not used in the Madison Agreement, but “in respect of.” This is perhaps only a technical oversight.) the acceptance or rejection of grace,’ creates the impression as if there existed in man before his conversion a condition or moment of time in which he may decide, as well whether he will accept, as whether he will reject, the grace offered him.”
Do our Missouri brethren ever preach the gospel to the unconverted? If they do, do they tell them they have and can have no “feeling of responsibility” in regard to the salvation offered them? If they do tell them this, how can they ever expect any sinner to repent and come to God? If they do not tell them this frankly, but talk to them as if they were responsible beings since they have heard the gospel, then the Missourians are not preaching their own doctrine, but another doctrine. How do they preach to the unconverted, anyway? If the preaching of the law to the unsaved produces conviction — and surely that is its office — then it must stir a “feeling of responsibility.” Why do our brethren preach the law? And when they do preach it to the unconverted, do they expect it to produce no other effect than that of an impact on a rubber ball or of an electric shock on a dead body? You cannot build an operative Church on this doctrine of election. It is too academic and scholastic. It is not a practical or a preachable theology. It may be a theology for the professor’s chair, but not for the practical preacher and pastor out in the field, dealing with living, thinking, sinning men and women. Even most of the Presbyterian ministers with whom we have conversed have accepted election in view of faith persevered in to the end of life. They could not make the theology of their creed applicatory in their work.
Oh, brethren, we must have a theology that we can preach to all classes of men and that will make a truthful appeal to them. Again we must raise the relevant question, Can the Lutheran Church of America accept the electionist theology as the only basis of union?
Not to inject too much of the personal element into this discussion, the present writer, who was a pastor for many years, was blessed of God with the joy of winning many unconverted persons to Christ. He had a theology that he could preach, and preach with all his heart ; and he always tried to arouse a feeling of responsibility in the sinner’s mind, telling him that he could have salvation if he would, and that, if he did not, it would be his own fault. Whether this was the correct theology or not, it worked. Today there are many faithful and loyal Lutherans in the churches he served that were brought to Christ by that kind of preaching. Do we want to accept a system of dogmatics that we cannot preach right out with utter frankness and fullness to all classes of people? And, above all, do we want to make such a system the basis of union?
And where did our Lord Jesus Christ try to posit the “feeling of responsibility?” Precisely with the un- converted people to whom He preached. He said to the Pharisees : “Ye will not come to me that ye may have life.” Was He not trying to stir a “feeling of responsibility” in them, or was he simply trying to make indentations on rubber balls? Our Lord severely up- braided the cities of Galilee, Chorazin, Capernaum and Bethsaida, saying it would be more tolerable for Tyre, Sidon and Sodom than for them in the day of judgment (Matt. 11 :20-24). And why this stern rebuke? Because of the mighty works He had done among them. Was He not fixing the responsibility upon those sinners to whom He was preaching? The fact is, He was making their own choice the very thing that determined their eternal destiny. And remember they were unconverted sinners, too. Why, brethren, every command of God, every precept, every invitation, every threat of punishment — every one connotes human responsibility. When Peter, on the day of Pentecost, accused his hearers of their wickedness in having crucified Jesus, he was trying to stir within them the “feeling of responsibility;” and he succeeded, too, for they “were pricked in their heart,” and cried out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” When Isaiah said : “Come now, saith the Lord, and let us reason together; though your sins be as scarlet,” he was trying to make those sinners conscious of their “responsibility.” So we hope the Norwegian brethren will retain the aforesaid clause.
If there is no “condition or moment” before con- version when the sinner can decide whether he will let God save him or not, then, if he is converted, he must be converted by force, just as we have proved again and again. Such a theology makes all the gracious invitations of the Bible to the unconverted nugatory, not to say insincere. Again, this idea that sinners before con- version have no responsibility, and even no feeling of responsibility, is not true to the facts of every-day experience, for thousands of them do have that feeling, as you will discover if you have a heart-to-heart talk with them. Worst of all, these stiff, immobile, procrustean doctrines of election and conversion would logically lead to fatalism; also the destruction of all sense of moral obligation on the part of unconverted people. What state of society would that bring about? The saving feature about the whole matter is that neither the Missourians nor the Calvinists consistently push their logic to the fatal conclusion. In every-day practice they treat sinners just as if they were responsible human beings. The conclusion is that they have a theology that is not practical, but theoretical, academic and speculative.
Another difficulty about this peculiar doctrine of conversion and election is this: In the first place, Missouri teaches that unsaved sinners are condemned solely through their own fault; in other words, it is their own fault that they are non-elect; yet she teaches, in the next breath, that they could not do otherwise than they do, even though God calls them to repentance. Then how can the blame be theirs? They could not do otherwise than they do. If God calls them, and they can only resist, and God does not even make them will- ing to allow themselves to be saved, then God fails to make the call effectual in their case, while He does make it effectual in the case of the elect. Then who is to blame if the non-elect are not saved? Of course, Missouri will say, “Right there is the mystery!” But it is a mystery created by Missouri, not by the Bible. The Bible says in ringing tones, “Whosoever will ! whosoever will !”
Our friends may object to having this remorseless logic applied to their theology ; but we reply that men will think ; you cannot prevent that ; and if theologians will take an inconsistent position, they cannot blame thinking men for drawing the logical conclusions from their premises. We challenge any gospel preacher to preach this doctrine of the irresponsibility of the sinner to the sinner himself ! For our part, we do not care for a system of theology that you must keep in the classroom, but dare not proclaim from the house-top.
All people intuitively think and speak of men as free moral agents. An old Presbyterian farmer was once declaring stoutly that he believed in the genuine old-fashioned doctrine of election. Some one asked him why it was, then, that so many people are not elected. He replied : “Have you ever known a person to be elected who refused to be a candidate?” He simply could not be consistent with his theory. A well-known Presbyterian divine, now gone to his reward, was wont to say: “I believe in the perseverance of saints — if the saints persevere !” All men who are not in the thrall of a theory think and act in that practical way. We believe in both a theology and philosophy that can be lived and applied. The theology of the Bible is just such a theology. In some places it properly emphasizes God’s sovereign rule ; at other places man’s free moral agency and responsibility. Both principles are true, and there is no conflict between them. Indeed, it magnifies the power and glory of God to know that He is so great and omniscient that He can make free agents and yet preserve His perfect rulership. If He could not do that, He would not be infinite in wisdom and power.
A mistake that Concordia makes is to try to prove, by a dialectical process, that their doctrine of election gives to believers assurance of final salvation, while the opposing doctrine leaves them in uncertainty. Here we believe there has been some error on both sides, or, perhaps, lack of clearness. Such a thing as absolute and unconditional assurance of final salvation is not taught in the Sacred Scriptures. Such assurance would lead to carnal security. There would then be no need for Christ to say: “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation ;” “What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch ;” “Abide in me, and I in you;” “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered.” Other warnings are : “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall;” “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith ;” “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation ;” “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give a crown of life.” God’s way is right. He gives us enough assurance to keep us from worry and anxiety, yet not so much as to cause us to be “at ease in Zion.” Even Paul expressed some concern for his final salvation (1 Cor. 9:27) : “But I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage : lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.”
The Missouri position can never give unconditional assurance, for no one can be sure in this life just what took place in the counsels of eternity (unless God reveals it in time, and Missouri holds that he has not made such a revelation respecting election). True, it might be said, if a man has accepted Christ as his Lord and Redeemer, that ought to be a sure token of his election. Ah ! the trouble is, so many believe on Christ for a time, then lose their faith, and so do not persevere to the end. So faith in Christ is not, after all, a sure criterion of election unto eternal life. Anyway, if election is a closed secret with God, no one can ever know until he dies and goes to heaven whether he has been elected or not.
No less can the advocates of election intuitu fidei give absolute certitude of final perseverance and salvation. Why? Because the believer may fail to keep on to the end. Many converted persons have backslidden. Even Missouri does not hold to the Calvinistic doctrine, “once in grace always in grace.”
So there is small need of bandying argument on this point. For our part, we believe the advantage lies on the side of the intuitu fidei doctrine. It will prove a spur to continuance in faith, whereas the Missouri doctrine, if pushed to its conclusion, would be likely to lead either to false security or to despair. We would state our position in this way: In view of all the peace, comfort and joy of faith in Jesus Christ ; of the darkness and sorrow of a life of sin and doubt; of the many precious promises of eternal bliss to those who are faithful to the end ; of the many assurances that God will be faithful to his part of the baptismal covenant ; that He will not, if we trust Him, suffer us to be tempted above our ability ; that both Christ and the Father will hold us in their all-powerful hands — in view, we say, of all these things, there surely is small inducement for believers ever to desire to turn back to “the beggary elements of the world.” Should they give up their birthright, it would be against every incentive that heaven can place before them. If God-in-Christ holds us in His hands, so that no enemy can pluck us from His grasp, it certainly would be very foolish for us to want to squirm out of His gracious and omnipotent protection. If we did so, we would deserve no further consideration at His hands. We confess that we feel more secure with such assurance than we would if we thought a mysterious decree were hanging over us. At the same time, we would have more heart to persevere in faith. Thus, on the one hand, the believer is immune from anxiety; on the other, he is saved from carnal security.