Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield
Reprinted from The Biblical Review, ii. 1917, pp. 490-512 (published by The Biblical Seminary in New York;).
Charles Beard begins his Hibbert Lectures on The Reformation with these words: "To look upon the Reformation of the sixteenth century as only the substitution of one set of theological doctrines for another, or the cleansing of the Church from notorious abuses and corruptions, or even a return of Christianity to something like primitive purity and simplicity - is to take an inadequate view of its nature and importance." He wishes us to make note of the far-reaching changes in human life which have been wrought by what we call the Reformation, to observe the numerous departments of activity which have been at least affected by it, and then to seek its cause in something as wide in its extension as its effects. He himself discovers this cause in the "general awakening of the human intellect," which had begun in the fourteenth century and was being "urged on with accelerating rapidity in the fifteenth." In his view the Reformation was merely the religious side of what we speak of as the Renaissance. "It was the life of the Renaissance," he affirms, "infused into religion under the influence of men of the grave and earnest Teutonic race." He even feels justified in saying that, in the view he takes of it, the Reformation "was not, primarily, a theological, a religious, an ecclesiastical movement at all."
That there is some exaggeration in this representation is obvious. That this exaggeration is due to defective analysis is as clear. And the suspicion lies very near that the defect in analysis has its root in an imperfect sense of values. To point us to the general awakening of the human intellect which was in progress in the fifteenth century is not to uncover a cause; it is only to describe a condition. To remind us that, as a result of this awakening of the human intellect, a lively sense had long existed of the need of a reformation, and repeated attempts had been vainly made to effect it, that men everywhere were fully alive to the corruption of manners and morals in which the world was groveling, and were equally helpless to correct it, is not to encourage us to find the cause of the Reformation in a general situation out of which no reformation had through all these years come. The question which presses is: Whence came the power which achieved the effect - an effect apparently far beyond the power of the forces working on the surface of things to achieve?
There is no use in seeking to cover up the facts under depreciatory forms of statement. It is easy to talk contemptuously of the "substitution of one set of theological doctrines for another," as it would be easy to talk contemptuously of the substitution of one set of political or of sanitary doctrines for another. The force of the perverse suggestion lies in keeping the matter in the abstract. The proof of the pudding in such things lies in the eating. No doubt it is possible to talk indifferently of merely working the permutations of a dial-lock, regardless of the not unimportant circumstance that one of these permutations differs from the rest in this - that it shoots the bolts. The substitution of one set of theological doctrines for another which took place at the Reformation was the substitution of a set of doctrines which had the promise and potency of life in them for a set of doctrines the issue of which had been death. What happened at the Reformation, by means of which the forces of life were set at work through the seething, struggling mass, was the revival of vital Christianity; and this is the vera causa of all that has come out of that great revolution, in all departments of life. Men, no doubt, had long been longing and seeking after "a return of Christianity to something like primitive purity and simplicity." This was the way that an Erasmus, for example, pictured to himself the needs of his time. The difficulty was that, rather repelled by the Christianity they knew than attracted by Christianity in its primitive purity - of the true nature of which they really had no idea - they were simply feeling out in the dark. What Luther did was to rediscover vital Christianity and to give it afresh to the world. To do this was to put the spark to the train. We are feeling the explosion yet.
The Reformation was then - we insist upon it - precisely the substitution of one set of theological doctrines for another. That is what it was to Luther; and that is what, through Luther, it has been to the Christian world. Exactly what Luther did was for himself - for the quieting of his aroused conscience and the healing of his deepened sense of sin - to rediscover the great fact, the greatest of all the great facts of which sinful man can ever become aware, that salvation is by the pure grace of God alone. O, but, you will say, that resulted from Luther's religious
experience. No, we answer, it was primarily a doctrinal discovery of Luther's - the discovery of a doctrine apart from which, and prior to the discovery of which, Luther did not have and could never have had his religious experience. He had been taught another doctrine, a doctrine which had been embodied in a popular maxim, current in his day: Do the best you can, and God will see you through. He had tried to live that doctrine, and could not do it; he could not believe it. He has told us of his despair. He has told us how this despair grew deeper and deeper, until he was raised out of it precisely by his discovery of his new doctrine - that it is God and God alone who in His infinite grace saves us, that He does it all, and that we supply nothing but the sinners to be saved and the subsequent praises which our grateful hearts lift to Him, our sole and only Saviour. This is a radically different doctrine from that; and it produced radically different effects on Luther; Luther the monk and Luther the Reformer are two different men. And it has produced radically different effects in the world; the medieval world and the modern world are two different worlds. The thing that divides them is the new doctrine that Luther found in the monastery at Wittenberg - or was it already at Erfurt? - poring over the great declaration in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans: "The righteous shall live by faith." Émile Doumergue puts the whole story into a sentence: "Two radically different religions give birth to two radically different civilizations."
Luther himself knew perfectly well that what he had done for himself, and what he would fain do for the world, was just to substitute a new doctrine for that old one in which neither he nor the world could find life. So he came forward as a teacher, as a dogmatic teacher, as a dogmatic teacher who gloried in his dogmatism. He was not merely seeking for truth; he had the truth. He did not make tentative suggestions to the world for its consideration; what he dealt in was - so he liked to call them - "assertions." This was naturally a mode of procedure very offensive to a man of polite letters, like Erasmus, say, who knew of nothing that men of culture could not sit around a well-furnished table and discuss together pleasurably with open minds. "I have so little stomach for 'assertions,'" he says, striking directly at Luther, "that I could easily go over to the opinion of the sceptics - wherever," he smugly adds, "it were allowed me by the inviolable authority of the Sacred Scriptures and the decrees of the Church, to which I everywhere submit, whether I follow what is presented or not." For this his Oliver he certainly got more than a Roland from Luther. For Luther takes occasion from this remark to read Erasmus a much-needed lecture on the place of dogma in Christianity. To say you have no pleasure in "assertions," he says, is all one with saying you are not a Christian. Take away "assertions," and you take away Christianity. No Christian could endure to have "assertions" despised, since that would be nothing else than to deny at once all religion and piety, or to declare that religion and piety and every dogma are nothing. Christian doctrines are not to be put on a level with human opinions. They are divinely given to us in Holy Scripture to form the molds in which Christian lives are to run.
We are in the presence here of what is known as the formal principle of the Reformation. The fundamental meaning of it is that the Reformation was primarily, like all great revolutions, a revolution in the realm of ideas. Was it not a wise man who urged us long ago to give especial diligence to keeping our hearts (the heart is the cognitive faculty in Scripture), on the express ground that out of them are the issues of life? The battle of the Reformation was fought out under a banner on which the sole authority of Scripture was inscribed. But the principle of the sole authority of Scripture was not to the Reformation an abstract principle. What it was interested in was what is taught in Scripture; and the sole authority of Scripture meant to it the sole authority of what is taught in Scripture. This of course is dogma; and the dogma which the men of the Reformation found taught in Scripture above every other dogma, so much above every other dogma that in it is summed up all the teaching of Scripture, is the sole efficiency of God in salvation. This is what we call the material principle of the Reformation. It was not at first known by the name of justification by faith alone, but it was from the first passionately embraced as renunciation of all human works and dependence on the grace of God alone for salvation. In it the Reformation lived and moved and had its being; in a high sense of the words, it is the Reformation.
The confusion would be ludicrous, if it were not rather pathetic, by which the correction of abuses in the life whether of the Church or of society at-large, is confounded with the Reformation. Luther knew perfectly well from the beginning where the center of his Reformation lay, and did not for a moment confound its peripheral effects with it. Here, indeed, lay the precise difference between him and the other reformers of the time - those other reformers who could not reform. Erasmus, for example, was as clear of eye as Luther to see, and as outspoken as Luther to condemn, the crying abuses of the day. But he conceived the task of reform as a purely negative one. The note of his reform was simplicity; he wished to return to the "simplicity of the Christian life," and, as a means to that, to the "simplicity of doctrine." He was content
with a process of stripping off, and he expected to reach the kernel of true Christianity merely by thoroughly removing the husk which at the moment covered and concealed it. The assumption being that true Christianity lay behind and beneath the corruptions of the day, no restoration was needed, only uncovering. When he came to do the stripping, it is true, Erasmus found no stopping-place; he stripped not only to the bone but through the bone, and nothing was left in his hand but a "philosophy of Christ," which was a mere moralism. Peter Canisius, looking at it formally, calls it not inaptly, "the theology of Pyrrhus." Luther, judging it from the material standpoint, says Erasmus has made "a gospel of Pelagius." Thus at all events Erasmus at once demonstrated that beneath the immense fabric of medieval Christianity there lay as its sustaining core nothing but a bald moralism; and by dragging this moralism out and labeling it "simple Christianity," has made himself the father of that great multitude in our day who, crying: Back to Christ! have reduced Christianity to the simple precept: Be good and it will be well with you.
In sharp contrast with these negative reformers Luther came forward with a positive gospel in his hands; "a new religion" his adversaries called it then, as their descendants call it now, and they call it so truly. He was not particularly interested in the correction of abuses, though he hewed at them manfully when they stood in his way. To speak the whole truth, this necessary work bored him a little. He saw no pure gospel beneath them which their removal would uncover and release. He knew that his new gospel, once launched, had power of itself to abolish them. What his heart was aflame with was the desire to launch this new gospel; to substitute it, the gospel of grace, for the gospel of works, on which alone men were being fed. In that substitution consisted his whole Reformation.
In his detailed answer to the Bull of Excommunication, published against him in 1520, in which forty-one propositions from his writings were condemned, Luther shows plainly enough where the center of controversy lay for him. It was in the article in which he asserts the sole efficiency of grace in salvation. He makes his real appeal to Scripture, of course, but he does not neglect to point out also that he has Augustine with him and also experience. He scoffs at his opponents' pretensions to separate themselves from the Pelagians by wire-drawn distinctions between works of congruity and works of condignity. If we may secure grace by works, he says, it means nothing that we carefully name these works works of congruity and refrain from calling them works of condignity. "For what is the difference," he cries, "if you deny that grace is from our works and yet teach that it is through our works? The impious sense remains that grace is held to be given not gratis but on account of our works. For the Pelagians did not teach and do any other works on account of which they expected grace to be given than you teach and do. They are the works of the same free will and the same members, although you and they give them different names. They are the same fasting and prayers and almsgiving - but you call them works congruous to grace, they works condign to grace. The same Pelagians remain victors in both cases."
What Luther is zealous for, it will be seen, is the absolute exclusion of works from salvation, and the casting of the soul wholly upon the grace of God. He rises to full eloquence as he approaches the end of his argument, pushing his adversaries fairly to the ropes. "For when they could not deny that we must be saved by the grace of God," he exclaims, "and could not elude this truth, then impiety sought out another way of escape - pretending that, although we cannot save ourselves, we can nevertheless prepare for being saved by God's grace. What glory remains to God, I ask, if we are able to procure that we shall be saved by His grace? Does this seem a small ability - that he who has no grace shall nevertheless have power enough to obtain grace when he wishes? What is the difference between that, and saying with the Pelagians that we are saved without grace - since you place the grace of God within the power of man's will? You seem to me to be worse than Pelagius, since you put in the power of man the necessary grace of God, the necessity of which he simply denied. I say, it seems less impious wholly to deny grace than to represent it as secured by our zeal and effort, and to put it thus in our power."
This tremendous onslaught prepares the way for a notable declaration in which Luther makes perfectly clear how he thought of his work as a reformer and the relative importance which he attached to the several matters in controversy. Rome taught, with whatever finessing, salvation by works; he knew and would know nothing but salvation by grace, or, as he phrases it here, nothing but Christ and Him crucified. It was the cross that Rome condemned in him; for it was the cross and it alone in which he put his trust. "In all the other articles," he says - that is to say, all the others of the forty-one propositions which had been condemned in the Bull - "those concerning the Papacy, Councils, Indulgences, and other nonnecessary trifles (nugae!)" - this is the way in which he enumerates them - "the levity and folly of the Pope and his
followers may be endured. But in this article," - that is, the one on free will and grace - "which is the best of all and the sum of our matter, we must grieve and weep over the insanity of these miserable men." It is on this article, then, that for him the whole conflict turns as on its hinge. He wishes he could write more largely upon it. For more than three hundred years none, or next to none, have written in favor of grace; and there is no subject which is in so great need of treatment as this. "And I have often wished," he adds, "passing by these frivolous Papist trifles and brawls (nugis et negotiis), which have nothing to do with the Church but to destroy it - to deal with this."
His opportunity to do so came when, four years afterward (1524), Erasmus, egged on by his patrons and friends, and taking his start from this very discussion, published his charmingly written book, "On Free Will." It is the great humanist's greatest book, elegant in style, suave in tone, delicate in suggestion, winning in its appeal; and it presents with consummate skill the case for the Romish teaching against which Luther had thrown himself. Separating himself as decisively if not as fundamentally on the one side from Pelagius and Scotus - in another place he speaks with distaste of "Scotus his bristling and prickly soul" - as on the other from the reformers - he has Carlstadt and Luther especially in mind - Erasmus attaches himself to what he calls, in accordance with the point of view of his time, the Augustinian doctrine; that is to say, to the synergism of the scholastics, perhaps most nearly in the form in which it had been taught by Alexander of Hales, and at all events practically as it was soon to be authoritatively defined as the doctrine of the Church by the Council of Trent. To this subtle doctrine he gives its most attractive statement and weaves around it the charm of his literary grace. Luther was not insensible to the beauty of the book. He says the voice of Erasmus in it sounded to him like the song of a nightingale. But he was in search of substance, not form, and he felt bound to confess that his experience in reading the book was much that of the wolf in the fable, who, ravished by the song of a nightingale, could not rest till he had caught and greedily devoured it - only to remark disgustedly afterward: "Vox, et praeterea nihil."
The refinements of Erasmus' statements were lost on Luther. What he wished - and nothing else would content him - was a clear and definite acknowledgment that the work of salvation is of the grace of God alone, and man contributes nothing whatever to it. This acknowledgment Erasmus could not make. The very purpose for which he was writing was to vindicate for man a part, and that the decisive part, in his own salvation. He might magnify the grace of God in the highest terms. He might protest that he too held that without the grace of God no good thing could be done by man, so that grace is the beginning and the middle and the end of salvation. But when pressed to the wall he was forced to allow that, somewhere in "the middle," an action of man came in, and that this action of man was the decisive thing that determined his salvation. He might minimize this action of man to the utmost. He might point out that it was a very, very little thing which he retained to human powers - only, as one might say, that man must push the button and grace had to do the rest. This did not satisfy Luther. Nothing would satisfy him but that all of salvation - every bit of it - should be attributed to the grace of God alone.
Luther even made Erasmus' efforts to reduce man's part in salvation to as little as possible, while yet retaining it at the decisive point, the occasion of scoffing. Instead of escaping Pelagianism by such expedients, he says, Erasmus and his fellow sophists cast themselves more deeply into the vat and come out double-dyed Pelagians. The Pelagians are at least honest with themselves and us. They do not palter, in a double sense, with empty distinctions between works of condignity and works of congruity. They call a spade a spade and say candidly that merit is merit. And they do not belittle our salvation by belittling the works by which we merit it. We do not hear from them that we merit saving grace by something "very little, almost nothing." They hold salvation precious; and warn us that if we are to gain it, it can be at the cost only of great effort - "tota, plena, perfecta, magna et multa studia et opera." If we will fall into error in such a matter, says Luther, at least let us not cheapen the grace of God, and treat it as something vile and contemptible. What he means is that the attempted compromise, while remaining Pelagian in principle, yet loses the high ethical position of Pelagianism. Seeking some middle-place between grace and works, and fondly congratulating itself that it retains both, it merely falls between the stools and retains neither. It depends as truly as Pelagianism on works, but reduces these works on which it nevertheless depends to a vanishing-point. In thus suspending salvation on "some little thing, almost nothing," says Luther, it "denies the Lord Christ who has bought us, more than the Pelagians ever denied Him, or any heretics."
To the book in which Luther replied to Erasmus' "On Free Will," matching Erasmus' title, he gives the name of "On the Enslaved Will." Naturally, the flowing purity of the great humanist's Latinity and the flexible grace of his style are not to be found here. But the book is
written in sufficiently good Latin - plain and strong and straightforward. Luther evidently took unusual pains with it, and it more than makes up for any lack of literary charm it may show by the fertility of its thought and the amazing vigor of its language. A. Freitag, its latest editor, characterizes it briefly, in one great word, as an "exploit" (Grosstat), and Sodeur does not scruple to describe it roundly as "a dialectic and polemic masterpiece"; its words have hands and feet. Its real distinction, however, is to be sought in a higher region than these things. It is the embodiment of Luther's reformation conceptions, the nearest to a systematic statement of them he ever made. It is the first exposition of the fundamental ideas of the Reformation in comprehensive presentation, and it is therefore in a true sense the manifesto of the Reformation. It was so that Luther himself looked upon it. It was not because he admired it as a piece of "mere literature" that he always thought of it as an achievement. It was because it contained the doctrinae evangelicae caput - the very head and principle of the evangelical teaching. He could well spare all that he had ever written, he wrote to Capito in 1537, let them all go, except the "On the Enslaved Will" and the "Catechism"; they only are right (justum). He is reported in the "Table Talk" (Lauterbach-Aurifaber) to have referred once to Erasmus' rejoinder to the book. He did not admit that Erasmus had confuted it; he did not admit that Erasmus ever could confute it, no, not to all eternity. "That I know full well," he said, "and I defy the devil and all his wiles to confute it. For I am certain that it is the unchangeable truth of God." He who touches this doctrine, he says again, touches the apple of his eye.
We may be sure that Luther wrote this book con amore. It was not easy for him to write it when he wrote it. That was the year (1525) of the Peasants' Revolt; and what that was in the way of distraction and care, anguish of mind and soul, all know. It was also the year of his marriage, and has he not told us with his engaging frankness that, during the first year of his married life, Katie always sat by him as he worked, trying to think up questions to ask him? But what he was writing down in this book he was not thinking out as he wrote. He was pouring out upon the page the heart of the heart of his gospel, and he was doing it in the exulting confidence that it was not his gospel merely but the gospel of God. He thanks Erasmus for giving him, by selecting this theme to attack him upon, a respite from the wearing, petty strifes that were being thrust continually upon him, and thus enabling him to speak for once directly to the point. "I exceedingly praise and laud this in you," he writes at the end of his book, "that you alone, in contrast with all others, have attacked the thing itself, that is, the top of the question (summam caussae), and have not fatigued me with those irrelevant questions about the papacy, purgatory, indulgences and such like trumperies (nugae) rather than questions - in which hitherto all have vainly sought to pursue me. You and you alone have seen the hinge of things and have aimed at the throat; and for this I thank you heartily."
It was in no light, however buoyant, spirit, however, that Luther entered upon the discussion. In a very moving context he writes: "I tell you and I beg you to let it sink into the depths of your mind - I am seeking in this matter something that is solemn, and necessary, and eternal to me, of such sort and so great that it must be asserted and defended at the cost of death itself - yea, if the whole world should not only be cast into strife and tumult, but even should be reduced to chaos and dissolved into nothingness. For by God's grace I am not so foolish and mad that I could be willing for the sake of money (which I neither have nor wish), or of glory (a thing I could not obtain if I wished it, in a world so incensed against me), or of the life of the body (of which I cannot be sure for a moment), to carry on and sustain this matter so long, with so much fortitude and so much constancy (you call it obstinacy), through so many perils to my life, through so much hatred, through so many snares - in short through the fury of men and devils. Do you think that you alone have a heart disturbed by these tumults? I am not made of stone either, nor was I either born of the Marpesian rocks. But since it cannot be done otherwise, I prefer to be battered in this tumult, joyful in the grace of God, for the sake of the word of God which must be asserted with invincible and incorruptible courage, rather than in eternal tumult to be ground to powder in intolerable torment under the wrath of God." This was the spirit in which Luther sustained his thesis of "the enslaved will." It is the spirit of "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel." It is the gospel which he has in his hands, the gospel for the world's salvation, and necessity is laid upon him to preach it.
The gospel which Luther had it thus in his heart to preach was, to put it shortly, the gospel of salvation through the grace of God alone. There are two foci around which this gospel revolves: the absolute helplessness of man in his sin; the sole efficiency of grace in salvation. These complementary propositions are given expression theologically in the doctrines of the inability of sinful man to good, and of the creative operation of saving grace. It is the inability of sinful man to good that Luther means by his phrase "the enslaved will." Neither he nor Erasmus was particularly interested in the psychology of the will. We may learn incidentally that he held to the view which has come to be
called philosophical determinism, or moral necessity. But we learn that only incidentally. Neither he nor Erasmus was concerned with the mechanism of the will's activity, if we may be allowed this mode of speech. They were absorbed in the great problem of the power of sinful man to good. Erasmus had it in mind to show that sinful man has the power to do good things, things so good that they have merit in the sight of God, and that man's salvation depends on his doing them. Luther had it in his heart to show that sinful man, just because he is sinful and sin is no light evil but destroys all goodness, has no power to do anything that is good in God's sight, and therefore is dependent utterly on God's grace alone for salvation. This is to say, Luther was determined to deal seriously with sin, with original sin, with the fall, with the deep corruption of heart which comes from the fall, with the inability to good which is the result of this corruption of heart. He branded the teaching that man can save himself, or do anything looking to his own salvation, as a hideous lie, and "he launched point-blank his dart at the head of this lie - taught original sin, the corruption of man's heart."
Erasmus, of course, does not fail to put his finger on the precise point of Luther's contention. He complains of the new teachers that they "immensely exaggerate original sin, representing even the noblest powers of human nature as so corrupt that of itself it can do nothing but ignore and hate God, and not even one who has been justified by the grace of faith can effect any work which is not sin; they make that tendency to sin in us, which has been transmitted to us from our first parents to be itself sin, and that so invincibly sin that there is no commandment of God which even a man who has been justified by faith can keep, but all the commandments of God serve no other end than to enhance the grace of God, which bestows salvation without regard to merits." It outraged him, as it has outraged all who feel with him up to to-day - as, for example, Hartmann Grisar - that Luther so grossly overdraws the evil of "concupiscence," and thus does despite to that human nature which God created in His own image. Luther was compelled to point out over and over again that he was not talking about human nature and its powers, but about sin and grace. We have not had to wait for Erasmus to tell us, he says, "that a man has eyes and nose, and ears, and bones, and hands - and a mind and a will and a reason," and that it is because he has these things that he is a man; he would not be a man without them. We could not talk of sin with reference to him, had he not these things; nor of grace either - for does not even the proverb say: "God did not make heaven for geese"? Let us leave human nature and its powers to one side then; they are all presupposed. The point of importance is that man is now a sinner. And the point in dispute is whether sinful man can be, at will, not sinful; whether he can do by nature what it requires grace to do. Luther does not depreciate human nature; his opponents depreciate the baleful power of sin, the necessity for a creative operation of grace; and because they depreciate both sin and grace they expect man in his own powers to do what God alone, the Almighty Worker, can do.
He draws out his doctrine here in a long parallel. "As a man, before he is created, to be a man, does nothing and makes no effort to be a creature; and then, after he has been made and created, does nothing and makes no effort to continue a creature; but both these things alike are done solely by the will of the omnipotent power and goodness of God who without our aid creates and preserves us - but He does not operate in us without our cooperation, seeing that He created and preserved us for this very purpose, that He might operate in us and we cooperate with Him, whether this is done outside His kingdom by general omnipotence, or within His kingdom by the singular power of His Spirit: So then we say that a man before he is renovated into a new creature of the kingdom of the Spirit, does nothing and makes no effort to prepare himself for that renovation and kingdom; and then, after he has been renovated, does nothing, makes no effort to continue in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone does both alike in us, recreating us without our aid, and preserving us when recreated, as also James says, 'Of His own will begat He us by the word of His power, that we should be the beginning of His creation' (he is speaking of the renewed creature), but He does not operate apart from us, seeing that He has recreated and preserved us for this very purpose that He might operate in us and we cooperate with Him. Thus through us He preaches, has pity on the poor, consoles the afflicted. But what, then, is attributed to free will? Or rather what is left to it except nothing? Assuredly just nothing." What this parallel teaches is that the whole saving work is from God, in the beginning and middle and end; it is a supernatural work throughout. But we are saved that we may live in God; and, in the powers of our new life, do His will in the world. It is the Pauline, Not out of works, but unto good works, which God has afore prepared that we should live in them.
It is obvious that the whole substance of Luther's fundamental theology was summed up in the antithesis of sin and grace: sin conceived as absolutely disabling to good; grace as absolutely recreative in effect. Of course he taught also all that is necessarily bound up in one bundle
of thought with this great doctrine of sin and grace. He taught, for instance, as a matter of course, the doctrine of "irresistible grace," and also with great purity and decision the doctrine of predestination - for how can salvation be of pure grace alone apart from all merit, save by the sovereign and effective gift of God? A great part of "The Enslaved Will" is given to insistence upon and elucidation of this doctrine of absolute predestination, and Luther did not shrink from raising it into the cosmical region or from elaborating it in its every detail. What it is important for us at the moment to insist upon, however, is that what we have said of Luther we might just as well, mutatis mutandis, have said of every other of the great Reformers. Luther's doctrine of sin and grace was not peculiar to him. It was the common property of the whole body of the Reformers. It was taught with equal clarity and force by Zwingli as by Luther, and by Martin Bucer and by John Calvin. It was taught even, in his earlier and happier period, by that "Protestant Erasmus," the weak and unreliable Melanchthon, who was saved from betraying the whole Protestant cause at Augsburg by no staunchness in himself, but only by the fatuity of the Catholics, and who later did betray it in its heart of hearts by going over to that very synergism which Luther declared to be the very marrow of the Pope's teaching. In one word, this doctrine was Protestantism itself. All else that Protestantism stood for, in comparison with this, must be relegated to the second rank.
There are some interesting paragraphs in the earlier pages of Alexander Schweizer's "Central Doctrines of Protestantism," in which he speaks of the watchwords of Protestantism, and points out the distinction between them and the so-called formal and material principles of Protestantism, which are, in point of fact, their more considered elaboration. Every reformatory movement in history, he says, has its watchwords, which serve as the symbol by which its adherents encourage one another, and as the banner about which they gather. They penetrate to the very essence of the matter, and give, if popular, yet compressed and vivid, expression to the precise pivot on which the movement turns. In the case of the Protestant revolution the antithesis, Not tradition but Scripture, emerged as one of these watchwords, but not as the ultimate one, but only as subordinate to another in which was expressed the contrast between the parties at strife with respect to the chief matter, how shall sinful man be saved? This ultimate watchword, says Schweizer, ran somewhat like this: Not works, but faith; not our merit, but God's grace in Christ; not our own penances and satisfactions, but the merit of Christ only. When we hear these cries we are hearing the very pulse-beats of the Reformation as a force among men. In their presence we are in the presence of the Reformation in its purity.
It scarcely requires explicit mention that what we are, then, face to face with in the Reformation is simply a revival of Augustinianism. The fundamental Augustinian antithesis of sin and grace is the soul of the whole Reformation movement. If we wish to characterize the movement on its theological side in one word, therefore, it is adequately done by declaring it a great revival of Augustinianism. Of course, if we study exactness of statement, there are qualifications to be made. But these qualifications serve not to modify the characterization but only to bring it to its utmost precision. We are bidden to remember that the Reformation was not the only movement back toward Augustinianism of the later Middle Ages or of its own day. The times were marked by a deep dissatisfaction with current modes of treating and speaking of divine things; and a movement away from the dominant nominalism, so far back toward Augustinianism as at least to Thomism, was widespread and powerful. And we are bidden to remember that Augustinianism is too broad a term to apply undefined to the doctrinal basis of the Reformation. In its complete connotation it included not only tendencies but elements of explicit teaching which were abhorrent to the Reformers, and by virtue of which the Romanists have an equal right with the Protestants to be called the true children of Augustine. It is suggested therefore that all that can properly be said is that the Reformation, conceived as a movement of its time, represented that part of the general revulsion from the corruptions of the day - the whole of which looked back toward Augustine for guidance and strength - which, because it was distinctively religious in its motives and aspirations, laid hold purely of the Augustinian doctrines of sin and grace, and built exclusively on them in its readjustments to life.
We may content ourselves with such a statement. It is quite true that the Reformation, when looked at purely in itself, presents itself to our view as, in the words of Fr. Loofs, "the rediscovery of Christianity as religion." And it is quite true that purely Augustinian as the Reformation is in its conception of religion, it is not the whole of Augustine that it takes over but only "the Augustine of sin and grace," so that when we speak of it as a revival of Augustinianism we must have in mind only the Augustinianism of grace. But the Augustinianism of grace in the truest sense represents "the real Augustine"; no injustice is done to historical verity in the essence of the matter when we speak
of him as "a post-Pauline Paul and a pre-Lutheran Luther." We have only in such a phrase uncovered the true succession. Paul, Augustine, Luther; for substance of doctrine these three are one, and the Reformation is perceived to be, on its doctrinal side, mere Paulinism given back to the world.
To realize how completely this is true we have only to look into the pages of those lecture notes on Romans which Luther wrote down in 1515-1516, and the manuscript of which was still lying in 1903 unregarded in a showcase of the Berlin Library. Luther himself, of course, fully understood it all. He is reported to have said in his table talk in 1538 (Lauterbach): "There was a certain cardinal in the beginning of the Gospel plotting many things against me in Rome. A court fool, looking on, is said to have remarked: 'My Lord, take my advice and first depose Paul from the company of the Apostles; it is he who is giving us all this trouble.'" It was Paul whom Luther was consciously resurrecting, Paul with the constant cry on his lips - so Luther puts it - of "Grace! Grace! Grace!" Luther characteristically adds: "In spite of the devil" - "grace, in spite of the devil"; and perhaps it will not be without its value for us to observe that Luther did his whole work of reestablishing the doctrine of salvation by pure grace in the world, in the clear conviction that he was doing it in the teeth of the devil. It was against principalities and powers and spiritual wickednesses in high places that he felt himself to be fighting; and he depended for victory on no human arm. Has he not expressed it all in his great hymn - the Reformation hymn by way of eminence? -
A trusty stronghold is our God . . .
Yea, were the world with devils filled.
From Sermons and Essays from the Works of B. B. Warfield (eBook)