Why Are Some Saved and Others Lost?

The Testimony of the Strassburg Formula of Concord, Moerlin, Chemnitz,
the Apology of the Book of Concord, Selnecker, and Kirchner

(From Conversion and Election by F. Pieper [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1913], pp. 57-60.)

In the Strassburg Form of Concord, of 1563, we read: “However, why this grace, or this gift of faith, is not bestowed on all by God, while He calls all to Himself, and, according to His infinite goodness, calls them with serious intent, this is a mystery that is hidden from us and known to God alone. It cannot be searched out by any man’s reason, and must be reverently contemplated and worshiped, as is written: ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ Rom. 11. And Christ thanks God the Father because He has hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes, Matt. 11. Still we are not to become offended at these hidden ways of the divine will when we are troubled in conscience, but we must look at the will of God that has been revealed in Christ, who calls all sinners to Himself.” (See Loescher, Hist. Mot., II, p. 288.)
Joachim Moerlin: “It has been revealed to us that God will save only those who believe in Christ, and that unbelief is of our own doing. However, the judgments of God, viz., why He converts Paul, but does not convert Caiaphas, why He restores fallen Peter while He leaves Judas to despair, are hidden from us.” (See Schluesselburg, Catalogus Haereticorum, V, p. 228.)
[Martin] Chemnitz: “What is the reason why Judas is not received, and does not obtain forgiveness of sin when he repents of what he has done? What is there lacking in his contrition and repentance that shuts him out from grace? He had not faith in Christ, he did not believe that God is gracious and forgives sin. That is the damaging fault in him. For where there is no faith, there is no grace of God nor forgiveness of sin. Now, our Catechism says in the Third Article of our Christian Creed that no man can by his own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, but the Holy Ghost must induce him to believe; for faith is a gift of God. How, then, does it come that God does not implant such faith in the heart of Judas, so as to enable him also to believe that Christ could help him? At this pont we must turn back with our questioning and say (Rom. 11): ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!’ We cannot and may not search out this matter, and we must not stray too far in such musings, but engage in all these matters in such a way as not to rush headlong into the sin of tempting God, lest God withdraw His hand from us and suffer us to sink and perish. For if we do this, we shall fall into sin upon sin, and shall become merged in sin so deeply, that it becomes impossible for us to return, and we cannot regain our former standing, as happened to Judas.” (Sermons on the Lord’s Passion, IV, pp. 17 f.)
Apology of the Book of Concord (Chemnitz, Selnecker, Kirchner): “Nor does the Christian Book of Concord deny that there is in God reprobation, or that God casts some away. Hence the Book of Concord does not go counter to the dictum of Luther, in his treatise De Servo Arbitrio against Erasmus, that this is the acme of faith, to believe that this same God who saves so few persons is nevertheless the most gracious God, and to be careful not to ascribe to God the real cause of such casting away and condemnation of men, which is the purport of the teaching of our adversaries, and to hold that, when this question is mooted, all men must put their finger on their lips, and, first, say with the Apostle Paul (Rom. 11): Propter incredulitatem defracti sunt; and, Rom. 6: ‘The wages of sin is death.’ In the second place, when this question is raised, why our Lord God does not convert all men by His Holy Spirit, and make them believers, which He could easily do, we must again say with the Apostle: Quam incomprehensibilia sunt judica ejus et impervestigabiles viae ejus! But we must by no means charge God with having willfully and really caused the casting away and damnation of those who do not repent. However, if they urge this point, viz.: If you accept the choosing of the elect, you must also accept this other fact, viz., that in God Himself there is from eternity a cause why men are cast away, even regardless of their sin, etc., we reply that we are in no wise minded to make God the cause of reprobation (which really has its origin, not in God, but in sin), nor shall we ascribe to God the real cause of the damnation of the wicked, but we shall take our stand on the saying of the Prophet Hosea, chap. 13, where God says: ‘O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thine help.’ Nor shall we try – as we heard Luther saying above – to search out our heavenly Father as far as He is a hidden God and has not revealed Himself. For, though we try, the matter exceeds our ability, and we cannot comprehend it; the more we engage in such questioning, the further we get away from God, and the more we begin to doubt His gracious will regarding ourselves. Thus, the Book of Concord does not deny either that God does not operate in all men alike; for in all ages there have been many whom He did not call publicly through the office of the ministry. But our adversaries shall never succeed in convincing us that for this reason we must conclude, as they do, that God is the real cause of the casting away of these people, and that in His bare counsel He has decreed to reprobate and cast them away eternally, even regardless of sin. For when we approach this depth of the mysteries of God, it is sufficient if with the Apostle Paul in Rom. 11 we say: ‘His judgments are unsearchable,’ and, I Cor. 15: ‘Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ All that is beyond this will be revealed to us by our Savior Christ Himself in the life everlasting.” (Apol. of the Book of Conc. Dresden, 1584, fol. 206 f.)
[Nicolaus] Selnecker: Though God could make willing all who are unwilling, yet He does not do this; and He has the most righteous and wise reasons why He does not do this, which reasons it does not behoove us to search out. We rather owe Him most cordial thanks because by the preaching of the Gospel He has called us to the communion of the life everlasting, and has enlightened our hearts by faith.” (In omnes Epp. D. Pauli apost. Commentar. Leipzig, 1595, fol. 213.)
Timotheus Kirchner: “Since faith in Christ, now, is a special gift of God, why does He not bestow it on all? We reply: We should reserve the discussion of this question until life eternal, and should meanwhile rest satisfied that God will not have us seek out His secret judgments (Rom. 11): ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments!’” (Enchiridion, p. 143.)


If it is said that God elected those of whom He foresaw that they would finally believe, that is correct. However, as soon as one says: He elected them, because He foresaw that they would finally believe, that is false. (C. F. W. Walther, Minutes, 1880 Special Synodical Conference Pastors’ Conference in Chicago, p. 501; quoted in Review of Prof. R. A. Yoder’s “Situation in North Carolina,” by a committee [1894], pp. 27-28. Emphases in original.)

Of course, if I want to enjoy my election contained in the doctrine of the special decree, I must step in through the door of God’s gracious will towards all mankind. We do not want to set aside God’s general decree. The expression, that the general decree is the basis of the special, is acceptable when rightly understood, but I do not accept that expression when used to signify that the special and the general decree are one and the same. Scripture speaks, besides the general will of God, of the predestination of individuals in nineteen passages. But God does the same work on the lost that He does on the elect; He makes no difference. Between the general and the special will there is no chasm. (Adolph Hoenecke, comments made at the Milwaukee Free Conference in 1903; quoted in J. L. Neve, A History of Lutheranism in America, edited by John M. Drickamer and C. George Fry [Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1979], p. 152. Emphasis in original.)

Joachim Moerlin and Martin Chemnitz

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