Saturday, December 14, 2013

Some thoughts on Law & Gospel Preaching

Jesus said that "repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name" (Luke 24) among all the nations. That's our job. That's what we preach.

Now what is repentance? It is not merely contrition, though contrition is a necessary part of true repentance. Repentance is action, or if you will, counter-action: the turning away from sin toward God in faith. Not that any man will ever set aside the struggle against sin (Rom 7) - that will be with us always until this sinful flesh receives the wages of sin in death. And yet the Scriptures are clear that one cannot continue in willful, deliberate wickedness and claim faith in Christ. That is not faith, but mere knowledge, a knowledge which even the demons have...and shudder. Luther:

On the other hand, if certain sectarists would arise, some of whom are perhaps already extant, and in the time of the insurrection [of the peasants] came to my own view, holding that all those who had once received the Spirit or the forgiveness of sins, or had become believers, even though they should afterwards sin, would still remain in the faith, and such sin would not harm them, and [hence] crying thus: "Do whatever you please; if you believe, it all amounts to nothing; faith blots out all sins," etc.—they say, besides, that if any one sins after he has received faith and the Spirit, he never truly had the Spirit and faith: I have had before me [seen and heard] many such insane men, and I fear that in some such a devil is still remaining [hiding and dwelling].
43] It is, accordingly, necessary to know and to teach that when holy men, still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it, happen to fall into manifest sins, as David into adultery, murder, and blasphemy, that then faith and the Holy Ghost has departed from them [they cast out faith and the Holy Ghost]. For the Holy Ghost does not permit sin to have dominion, to gain the upper hand so as to be accomplished, but represses and restrains it so that it must not do what it wishes. But if it does what it wishes, the Holy Ghost and faith are [certainly] not present. For St. John says, 1 John 3:9: Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, ... and he cannot sin. And yet it is also the truth when the same St. John says, 1:8: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (SA III.3.42ff. See also Walther's L&G Thesis X.)

And thus with St. John we know that "there is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All lawlessness is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death" (I John 5:16-17). Though we still struggle against sin daily and will not be able to fully overcome in that struggle until death ("still having and feeling original sin, also daily repenting of and striving with it"), we are saved by Christ - and so this sin does not lead to death. Yet there is a sin that leads to death, that drives off faith and the Holy Spirit: sin that is clung to, willfully chosen against better knowledge, etc.

The example that Luther chooses from the Scriptures are instructive. Looking at a woman lustfully is adultery in the heart. It is a rare gift among men to be able to walk down a street full of beautiful women and avoid temptation to this form of adultery. Indeed, most men must struggle against this all their days (and even the pagan Socrates expressed gladness at the coming of old age so that this struggle was somewhat lessened.). Yet Christians struggle against it. They do not embrace the temptation, choose it, and act upon it. When David did that he "cast out faith and the Holy Spirit." He lost his faith. He reverted to pagan status.

I'd say it's likewise with Peter's apostasy. What Christian can claim such an iron clad faith that he never has thoughts of doubt? Who has never wondered in his heart of hearts, "Is all this just so much hogwash?" The temptation to unbelief, to deny Christ, will be with us always in this life in the flesh. Christians struggle against that temptation, even praying as they doubt, "Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!" But when the unbelief is embraced, chosen, acted upon deliberately: "faith and the Holy Spirit have departed." Peter lost his faith. He reverted to pagan status.

As the Apology says, "But since we speak of such faith as is not an idle thought, but of that which liberates from death and produces a new life in hearts, [which is such a new light, life, and force in the heart as to renew our heart, mind, and spirit, makes new men of us and new creatures,] and is the work of the Holy Ghost; this does not coexist with mortal sin [for how can light and darkness coexist?], but as long as it is present, produces good 65] fruits."

[For a much fuller discussion see the Lutheran dogmaticians' discussion of mortal sin under the locus on faith.]

So what is the point of preaching? To change the behavior of men in will, thought, and action. The point of preaching is to turn the will from unbelief to belief, to change thoughts from what is impure to what is pure, to change actions from sins to righteousness. This change is effected only by the power of the Holy Spirit "when and where He pleases" utilizing the Word and Sacraments as means, which are distributed through the Holy Ministry (AC V).  So the point of preaching is "repentance and the forgiveness of sins." The latter is only received with the former. The former is not true repentance (but merely a "sorrow of the world that worketh death," I Cor 7:10) unless faith is added to receive the latter.

That might be called "preaching for conversion." I suppose we could also speak of "preaching to prevent reversion:" to warn against the dangers of acting as David and Peter did, to encourage a living and active faith, to strengthen the smoldering wick, etc. But I would still call this preaching "repentance and the forgiveness of sins;" the point is still to encourage faith in the will, purity in thoughts, godliness in actions. And it still all happens by the power of the Spirit operating through the Word and Sacraments. And the Sunday sermon will probably always be a mixture of this preaching for conversion and preaching to prevent reversion.

So, on this Gaudete Sunday, let us preachers of the Word rejoice, going forth in confidence, knowing that the Holy Spirit means to change men by the power of the Word which He has placed in the mouths of us jars of clay.

+HRC






48 comments:

  1. Thank you, Pr. Curtis,

    I think the following is relevant:

    "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you."

    Paul to Titus, 2:11-15

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  2. So... We preach to turn naughty people into nice people! How very seasonal! ;)

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  3. I don't think that's what he was saying, Pr. Borghardt. The word creates a clean heart, and changes us. I was reminded also of the passage from Psalm 85, "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly."

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  4. Mark,

    I'm quite aware of what he's saying, Mark. Don't you wish he'd say it with some mention of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ? I'd take some nod to the Cross. Maybe a tip of the hat. Calvary? Easter?

    Who doesn't want naughty people to be nice? I do! But, I need more Augustana IV in there before I hear Augustana VI. Don't you?

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    1. I assume that our readers understand synecdoche - so that when I say that we are saved by "faith in Christ," "by Christ," and that salvation is lost outside of Christ...well, I think that covers it. In a sermon more must be said, of course, and in some detail - but this blog isn't a sermon. It's talking shop with brothers in Office.

      Aside from this nitpick, I'm glad to see you agree with the overall thrust of the post.

      +HRC

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    2. "Never assume the Gospel.." (Dr. Norman Nagel)

      I'm not nitpicking you when I ask you to confess the Gospel clearly and boldly.

      And this I say knowing that you were trying to be controversial in your post! I also know that you are trying to correct what you believe is lacking in your preaching (maybe mine too). But, be advised, the laity who read this and are disturbed by posts like these aren't catching your nuances. They are simply seeing a trend in Lutheranism from Gospel back to Law.

      That's going to land us all on the naughty list! :)

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    3. George,

      Certainly in a sermon the Gospel assumed is the Gospel denied.

      In a blog post directed at preachers of the Word (see last line)...I think you are nit picking. Does any reader of this blog not know what "we are saved by Christ" means? How many times do I need to repeat that phrase in a post before it counts? In every post on GO when we mention Christ do we need to do a Bethlehem to Empty Tomb summation?

      But I will not belabor the point further. Thanks for the reminder to keep Christ and Him crucified the focus in sermons. Every preacher should keep that foremost in thought.

      And, actually, I don't think anything I wrote here is remotely controversial. Can you pick out a controversial line? It's peppered with quotations from the Confessions and Scriptures. This is bread and butter stuff right in the wheelhouse of any Lutheran preacher.

      +HRC

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    4. Laity are disturbed by posts like these?

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    5. Rev. Borghardt,

      From the vantage point of one in the audience, I must say, "The [cleric] doth protest too much, methinks."

      Pr. Micah Gaunt
      Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Ravenna, NE
      Zion, North Shelton, NE

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    6. "But, be advised, the laity who read this and are disturbed by posts like these aren't catching your nuances. They are simply seeing a trend in Lutheranism from Gospel back to Law."

      Straw man?

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    7. I don't think it's protesting too much to wish for a solid confession of justification! That's called being a Lutheran. You are asking for a solid confession of "works" and "the third use of the law." Give it for the Gospel!

      The Gospel is never, ever, something that we can check off on our way to other things. There have been multiple posts here (and elsewhere) calling for a solid confession of works, reward, and the third use of the law.

      Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls. You can't get to AC VI without the foundation of the articles before it (IV). These articles all go together. Let's keep them together! Let’s not assume that everyone knows we are preaching the Gospel when we don’t talk about it.

      I actually smiled when the passing thought occurred to me after the Divine Service tonight that if I could be remembered for anything as a pastor, I would love to be remembered for always emphasizing the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and comfort for troubled consciences. I don't wanna be remembered for how joyful I am or have been. "He always smiles." That's great, but it fades over time. "Our pastor always pointed us to the Cross." I want to be that guy.

      If that makes me nitpicking or not fun to be around during discussions on works or preaching to change lives, I can own that flaw (grin).

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    8. I know I can't speak for all laity (although some pastors believe they can!?!), but I can speak for myself, as a layman: I am not disturbed by Pr. Curtis' article. In fact, I have found it enlightening, intriguing, and comforting, especially during this blessed season of Advent.

      What I, as a layman, do find disturbing are pastors that deal in false options, in defensive behavior, and in childish accusation. The constant condescension doesn't help, either.

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    9. Layman here, I don't find this post nearly as disturbing as the notion that in order to make any point ever, the blogging pair has to jump through a never ending course of theological hoops. Good grief. The most disturbing thing I've seen here is Rev. Borghardt's endless condescension.

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    10. As a layman, I too am greatly pleased by Pr. Curtis' words. I recently finished reading Dr. Scott Murray's, "The Law, Life, and The Living God," a text that deals specifically with these issues in American Lutheranism. Much of the conversation on the Third Use of the Law has been an illuminating demonstration of the issues covered in Murray's book.

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  5. Pr. Curtis,

    I appreciate this post, because the temptation is always to think that maybe the word of faith which we preach (Acts 10:8) is disconnected from the Holy Spirit. We are tempted to think that maybe the Holy Spirit is this independent agent, acting on His own behalf, apart from the word of Christ that is being preached, by the flesh and blood men who are called and sent to preach that word. But the Holy Spirit is doing something...namely, the will of God. As you said, and Mark also alluded to, the Holy Spirit changes us through this preaching.

    I guess that's why the opening sentence of Augustana V is also so vital to understanding the connection between the word of faith that is preached, and the Holy Spirit: "That we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the gospel and administering the sacraments was instituted." Yes, the Holy Spirit is actually given through these, and brings about change. Thanks be to God.

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  6. We have had repeated examples of pastors insisting that we/they should never conclude a sermon with an exhortation to good works, which is something we find Jesus, His Apostles, all orthodox church fathers doing.

    Why?

    Why do we notice such a passionate opposition to including Christian parenesis in the sermon as we have it modeled for us by our Lord Christ Himself and His apostles throughout Sacred Scripture and as is the case as a matter of course in all our orthodox Lutheran fathers' preaching.

    Why is this?

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    1. Of course, hymns are not sermons. But I do find it interesting that many of our traditional hymns don't shy away from exhortation, evenin the final stanza.

      The first two hymns in the Justification section in LSB do that very thing, 555 Salvation Unto Us Has Come (see stanza 9) and 556 Dear Christians One and All, Rejoice (see stanza 10).

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    2. The hymnody of classic orthodox Lutheranism simply mirrors the preaching of the times.

      Which again raises in my mind the question of why, precisely, some pastors among us are so opposed to including Christian parenesis in their sermons as we find it modeled by our Lord Christ and His apostles themselves throughout Sacred Scripture and by all orthodox Lutheran fathers?

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    4. I think it is, or can be, a genuine concern that the last thing people hear will often be what stands as the culmination and conclusion of what is being preached. And I think it can be a genuine concern that the Gospel shines clearly as the culmination and conclusion - particularly knowing how prone human nature is to hear Law even in the clearest proclamation of the Gospel, and how much it takes to counter this natural disposition of the flesh.

      On the other hand, I also think it would be a misunderstanding to make this a discussion of into exactly which stereotypical structure each and every sermon should be forced. There are many ways of saying things. There are many ways to structure even the individual sentence. And there are ways to proclaim the Law as exhortation while making it clear that this exhortation, as well as the life to which it points, is motivated by the Gospel rather than a contradiction of it - just as there are ways to proclaim the Law as exhortation in a such manner that the absolution which has been, or should have been, announced previously, is in effect cancelled and nullified in the minds of the hearers.

      It is so easy, when looking at the big picture, to paint with brushes that are way to broad.

      That is why a discussion of principles, such as this, require a brotherly spirit - often much more so in terms of what one chooses to hear than in what someone chooses to say.

      Sometimes taking offence is no less an active and deliberate choice than giving offence might be. Particularly when one has personal agendas and presuppositions, but not the serenity to realise that not everybody else shares one's personal agendas and presuppositions - and that it might not be these personal agendas and presuppositions others have in mind, and they might just as well be talking about somebody else, or nobody else in particular.

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  7. As Mark Surburg pointed out so well in his post on these issues:

    "I think that most observers will conclude that if a theological system precludes the use of Scripture's own language, it is a sure sign that the theological system is warped and incorrect."

    Source: http://surburg.blogspot.com/2013/12/marks-thoughts-i-am-antinomian.html?showComment=1386859683666#c6518421936551061463


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  8. And by way of follow up, Mark was referring to the fact that I asked a few pastors commenting on his blog if they would every end a sermon with these words. One chose to deflect from answering with a silly passive-agressive remark, another simply ignored the question and refused to answer:

    Would you end a sermon with these words? Why? Why not?

    Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
    (Colossians 3:12-15 ESV).

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  9. Well, I am one layman who is encouraged by posts like this. Ought not urging Christ to go hand in hand with the kinds of exhortations and warnings we see in the New Testament? I am discouraged when people insist otherwise. Thank you Pastor Curtis.

    +Nathan

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  10. There is nothing really too new about this issue. Just over ten years ago, Kurt Marquart wrote a little article for the CTQ, titled, "Antinomian Aversion to Sanctification" in which he said:

    "I really have no idea where the anti-sanctification bias comes from. Perhaps it is a knee-jerk over-reaction to "Evangelicalism": since they stress practical guidance for daily living, we should not! Should we not rather give even more and better practical guidance, just because we distinguish clearly between Law and Gospel? Especially given our anti-sacramental environment, it is of course highly necessary to stress the holy means of grace in our preaching. But we must beware of creating a kind of clericalist caricature that gives the impression that the whole point of the Christian life is to be constantly taking in preaching, absolution and Holy Communion-while ordinary daily life and callings are just humdrum time-fillers in between! That would be like saying that we live to eat, rather than eating to live. The real point of our constant feeding by faith, on the Bread of Life, is that we might gain an ever-firmer hold of Heaven-and meanwhile become ever more useful on earth! We have, after all, been "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). Cars, too, are not made to be fueled and oiled forever at service-stations. Rather, they are serviced in order that they might yield useful mileage in getting us where we need to go. Real good works before God are not showy, sanctimonious pomp and circumstance, or liturgical falderal in church, but, for example, "when a poor servant girl takes care of a little child or faithfully does what she is told" (Large Catechism, Ten Commandments, par. 314, Kolb-Wengert, pg. 428)."

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    1. This is a great quote. I should reread that article.

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  11. The most encouraging thing to me in this whole discussion is that we're talking about preaching. When I was first called to my current position, I received a phone call from that dear saint of God, Dr. Karl Barth, who was president of the Seminary when I attended. We chatted a bit and he was absolutely delighted when I said that what we face, in my opinion, is not primarily a crisis of liturgy, but a crisis of preaching. If the preaching is remedied, the liturgy swings into place as it ought. This has been the experience of the Lutheran Church across the centuries. Let us preach what we are given and commanded to proclaim and all will be well in liturgy in due time. So I'm glad we're talking about this whole area. Now, if we could lose a bit of the hysteria and actually listen to one another, and ponder the preaching of our spiritual forebears (Luther, Gerhard, Walther, Loehe, Kretzmann, et al.) we might truly make some headway. The first requirement is to lay aside the defensiveness and auto-attack mode and give a listen to the way our fathers in the faith unfolded the Scriptures. Dr. Nagel, I believe, pointed to preaching as PRIMARY theology (note the contrast with most liturgiologists) - Luther said in the pulpit that which he held to be "word of God certain" and so his sermons ought never be dismissed out of hand.

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  12. As part of Thesis XII, Walther wrote, “One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith. Daily repentance is described in Ps. 51. David calls it a sacrifice which he brings before God and with which God is pleased. He does not speak of repentance which precedes faith, but of that which follows it. The great majority of sincere Christians who have the pure doctrine have a keener experience of repentance after faith than of repentance prior to faith.”
    When you write, “Jesus said that "repentance and the forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name" (Luke 24) among all the nations. That's our job. That's what we preach”, you make the mistake Walther points out. Our Lord was speaking of the repentance that leads to conversion, just as Peter did in Acts 2:38, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that you may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” If you preach this repentance to the people of God, you are not doing your job.
    As to the Holy Spirit, Sasse, in 1960, wrote, “If indeed the true doctrine of the Holy Spirit has lost its citizenship in church and congregation, then it cannot be long before the reality of the Holy Spirit is also lost to us, just as Chris ceases to be present when He is not truly taught …”. Where does Scripture say (I know where the Confessions say it), as you write, “When David did that he ‘cast out faith and the Holy Spirit’"? The superscript to Psalm 51 reads, “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Verse 11 of that Psalm reads, “and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Did David lose the Holy Spirit after Nathan told him “Now the Lord has put away your sin …”?
    As to Peter losing the Holy Spirit because of his apostasy, this is not true, because Peter did not have the Holy Spirit at this point. Just before His passion, our Lord told the Apostles, John 14: 16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Note the precision of the words, “abides with you, and He will be in you.” Peter received the Holy Spirit together with the other Apostles in the morning of our Lord’s resurrection. I do not know where this notion about the Holy Spirit flitting in and out of people comes from. Scripture does not support it.
    With the fundamentals of both repentance and the Holy Spirit missing from this posting, an uninformed layman is likely to be confused and to doubt that he actually belongs in the Kingdom into which he has been baptized.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

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    1. So you disagree with Luther's assessment of David and Peter and how faith and the Holy Spirit are lost in the teeth of willful, mortal sin. I agree with Luther and the Lutheran fathers.

      As to your first point about Christian repentance, I deal with that at the end of the post in speaking of "preventing reversion."

      +HRC

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    2. Oh, and since you mention Walther...please review Thesis X in L&G where Walther talks at some length about Christians losing their faith and being reconverted.

      +HRC

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    3. Apparently I am disagreeing with Luther about David, but not about Peter, although I must wonder how Luther (and Walther in Thesis X) knew all of the specifics of the process Peter went through. With regard to David, I adhere to the Scripture, which clearly says that David had the Holy Spirit throughout this tragic event. Otherwise David would surely thank God that He has given Him the Holy Spirit again; instead he asks that the Holy Spirit not be taken away at a time when his sin was already forgiven.
      I certainly do not deny that anyone can lose the Holy Spirit. But please give me an example from Scripture (not counting David) where this has ever happened and the person has received the Holy Spirit again.
      There is no single word in Scripture about anyone losing the Holy Spirit, and then receiving Him again. I received the Holy Spirit in Baptism. If anyone wants to deny that, they are not a Christian. If I should lose the Holy Spirit, I would then have to be baptized again, because that is, according to Peter, how we receive the Holy Spirit.
      But Hebrews 6:4ff seems to categorically exclude receiving the Holy Spirit more than once. Those verses do not appear in the Confessions. One lesson here is that we should not use the threat of the Sin against the Holy Spirit routinely, as if all of God’s children are constantly on the verge of becoming children of the Evil One.
      By the time you have mentioned “preventing reversion” at the end of your post, you had already called Christians to the repentance meant for non- Christians.
      I read Thesis X as you suggested. With regard to multiple conversions of one and the same person, I found him unconvincing. Mostly rationalizing and no Scripture. When I came to this sentence, “The light of faith can be extinguished not only by gross sins, but by any wilful, intentional sin,” I knew Walther was wrong. Have you ever exceeded the speed limit knowingly? No more faith! We trivialize the profound nature of sin, when we make all those human regulations about it. It took no more effort for our Lord to take away David’s sin than it took to take away yours when you were speeding.
      When Walther writes, “A week ago we were told that faith is not a dead, inert affair, but something that transforms and renews the heart, regenerates a person, and brings the Holy Spirit into his soul,” do you sense something wrong there? Faith brings the Holy Spirit into our souls? I always thought that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit has lost its citizenship in the Lutheran Church.
      Peace and Joy!
      George A. Marquart

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  13. HRC,
    I see where Luther assessed David as falling into willful sin and thus losing the Holy Spirit and faith, but is the likewise assessment of Peter from Luther, or HRC?

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  14. David is mentioned here in the SA....I'll try to track down the Peter reference. I have them together in my head for some reason....but it might be a comment from Chemnitz or Gerhard that adds Peter to the discussion.

    +HRC

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  15. Here is what I can find of Luther's assessment of Peter's denial.:

    "In sum, whoever is clinging to Christ possesses sheer grace and cannot be lost, even if out of weakness he should fall like St. Peter, so long as he does not despise the Word like the crude spirits who boast of the Gospel yet pay no attention to it. For no one may apply this comfort to himself except poor, distressed, tempted hearts that desire to be reconciled with God, and hold Christ dear, and do not willfully set themselves against His Word but are sorry that it is blasphemed or
    persecuted."

    David, on the other hand, did lose the Holy Spirit. Not necessarily when he fell into adultery, but certainly by the time he planned and carried out Uriah's murder. He was thinking he could deny his sin - make it go away on his own. It was God's Word, through Nathan that restored David and "renewed a right spirit within him".
    Peter, however, denies Christ in a bout of weakness and his still present faith drives him immediately to repentance.

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    1. Thanks for the quote! It must be conflating Luther's comments with somebody else's when it comes to Peter.

      Faith and the Holy Spirit can be lost, driven away - that is the theological truth. Whether Peter did or not in this episode I would consider an open question.

      +HRC

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    2. Ha! Yes: my take is that Peter did in fact lose his faith and willfully, deliberately, repeatedly choose sin in that episode. I think he is reconverted at the end of the episode and finds repentance and faith again. But that's a matter of exegetical opinion.

      Likewise with David - even though Luther says that David loses his faith her, we are not bound to each and every exegetical decision of Luther or even the Confessions. But we are bound to the theology of the Confessions: Christians can lose their faith and drive the Holy Spirit away with willful deliberate sin (i.e., mortal sin, "the sin that leads to death.").

      +HRC

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    3. PS: I'll update the post to make that clearer - thanks!

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    4. Our Lord uses (re) conversion language to St. Peter in Luke 22:32.

      Bishop Bo Giertz calls this to mind when Peter, the peasant, suggests the curate Savonius read this verse.

      Page 51:

      "'Luke 22:32,' he mumbled. So that was it. The Savior's words to Peter on the way to Gethsemane: 'But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.'

      "Two waves of feeling alternated within him. From one direction, came resentment. Did this peasant mean to imply that he was not converted? From the other came a mighty surge drowning every other feeling and filling his consciousness to the brim. This was not the word of a man - it was the Word of God, a sternly clear statement about his condition.

      "Not converted, supported by the prayer of Another, and yet called to strengthen his brethren! He saw it with almost supernatural clarity..."

      KJV translates ἐπιστρέψας as "converted." ESV says: "turned again." The Vulgate uses the word: "conversus."

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    5. So you too disagree with Luther's assessment of Peter and how faith and the Holy Spirit are still present even as he sinned. I agree with Luther and the Lutheran fathers.
      Scripture tells us that Peter repented. This repentance could only be by faith.

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    7. "The consolation from Peter's fall. In the second place, the history of Pe ter's fall serves also as a consolation to us, not only that we find in Peter an excellent example of the grace and mercy of God, but we also learn when we have fallen into sin, how we can again be restored to favor. Yes, you say, but how fares it with poor Judas? Answer: Judas pursues his sin designedly, but Peter falls into his sin accidentally."

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    8. Dear Dave, I'm just telling you what the Bible says. The exact nature of Peter's conversion isn't laid out exactly, but I would not take such language (ἐπιστρέψας) coming from our Lord lightly. It's pretty intense. I think we tend to soften the edges too much at times. Luther's own German rendering of the word ἐπιστρέψας is"bekehrst" (bekehren).

      Moreover, our Lutheran confessions most certainly draw a distinction (as do the scriptures) between the sin that leads to death (mortal sins) vs. those that do not (venial sins).

      It seems like the niggling question here is whether or not Peter committed a mortal sin in denying Christ. I think Christ's own promise and warning about denying him makes a pretty strong case for doubting Peter's state of grace at the time. Ultimately, it's all speculation, but it should lead us to ponder the blessed apostle's own exhortation in 1 Peter 5:8.

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  16. Pr. H.R.
    I totally agree with you that the Holy Spirit and faith can be lost. And I agree that pastors should preach the entire counsel of God's Word, including exhortations to good works. I believe you are right in that.
    What I have trouble with, (and this is possibly George's point also) is when a sin is identified as being "mortal" or "venial". All sins can be mortal. We cannot judge a person's heart. The only reason I believe, as Luther, that David had lost the Holy Spirit is that this is what Scripture indicates.

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  17. So you disagree with Luther's assessment of Peter and how faith and the Holy Spirit are still present even as he sinned. I agree with Luther and the Lutheran fathers.
    Scripture tells us that Peter repented. This repentance could only be by faith.

    I don't think that we can categorize sins as "mortal" or "venial", as in "if you commit such and such then you have committed a mortal sin and are no longer in a state of grace". What exactly are the "mortal" sins? It seems that you believe denying Christ, as Peter did, is definitely one. Sounds too Roman for me.
    And speaking of Rome, what of our RC friends, if this is true? RC doctrine does no less than to deny Christ. Is there no faith at all to be found there?

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    1. I disagree with Luther's assessment of Peter...even while admitting that Luther's assessment could be right. This is so because it is precisely as you say: since any sin can be mortal. It's not the size of the sin, but the clinging to it in unfaith that is mortal.

      And this is why I see a repeatedly denial of Christ as probably mortal. That Peter repented is not in doubt. That this repentance was joined with saving faith (unlike the repenting of Judas) is not in doubt. What is in doubt is whether or not Peter between the Supper in the Upper Room and his repentance Peter actually lost his faith. It's an open question. The answer one gives to that question has nothing to do with the point at hand which we both readily agree to: faith can be lost.

      Mortal sins are sins that are clung to willingly, deliberately, against better knowledge...well, I really don't need to add more as I quoted the definition from the SA above. Fuller discussions can be found in all the usual sources: Pieper, Walther, Gerhard, etc.

      +HRC

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    2. We might even add a Bible verse for Peter's case..."He who denies me before men..."

      Again, only God knows whether Peter really and truly lost his faith by that charcoal fire. And that should put the fear of God into all of us.

      +HRC

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  18. Pr. HRC,
    Thanks for the great discussion.
    Dave

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