Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Logic of the Antinomians of Luther's Day

 From On the Councils and the Church (1539)
That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee as if it were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of the new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstances use these or similar words, “Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!” Instead they say, “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!”
Tell me, my dear man, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? It is, indeed, taking away Christ and bringing him to nought at the same time he is most beautifully proclaimed! And it is saying yes and no to the same thing. For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life. Thus they preach Christ nicely with Nestorian and Eutychian logic that Christ is and yet is not Christ. They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extoll so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, he has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men—we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, beginning and growing here on earth and perfecting it beyond, as St. Paul teaches. Christ did not earn only gratia, “grace,” for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, “Christi Christi” He must be damned with this, his new Christ. (Luther's Works 41:

Who hasn't fallen prey to this fallacy? This is why Dr. Luther said, "Hence, whoever knows well this art of distinguishing between Law and Gospel, him place at the head and call him a doctor of Holy Scripture." And why Dr. Walther taught, "To rightly distinguish Law and Gospel is the most difficult and highest Christian art—and for theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in combination with experience" (Law and Gospel, Thesis III, [St. Louis, MO: CPH, 2006], 49). 

HT: Fr. Weslie Odom.


  1. Indeed! The law can never make us better. But, as St. Paul tells us, it only "makes us worse."

    Law to kill (not to improve)…and gospel to raise again.

    1. Later in On the Councils and the Church (41:166), and after listing a litany of those "signs whereby the Holy Spirit sanctifies us according to the second table of Moses...all of which St. Paul teaches abundantly in more than one place," Luther writes the following:

      "We need the Decalogue not only to apprise us of our lawful obligations, but we also need it to discern how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal, lest we become secure and imagine that we have now done all that is required. Thus we must constantly grow in sanctification and always become new creatures in Christ. This means 'grow' and 'do so more and more' [II Pet. 3:18].

  2. Great quote, Paul, thanks. There is absolutely no doubt that Martin Luther clearly did teach a third use of the law, as so powerfully documented in the book by Ed Engelbrecht:



  3. A thing that I think is worth observing about the quopte from On the Councils and the Church (not that there is anything really new or sensational to the observation, really, but nonetheless) is that the growth in sanctification (third use) flows right out of the discernment of "how far the Holy Spirit has advanced us in his work of sanctification and by how much we still fall short of the goal" (second use).

    The Lord works throug the Law what He works - and any attempts on our part to set up walls to separate His uses of the Law, let alone prohibit any of His uses of the Law - is futile. And clearly enough, Luther was aware of this. Again, no surprise, there; but worth observing, nonetheless ...


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