Sin abounded by the Law because through the Law came knowledge of sin and it became harmful for me to know what through my weakness I could not avoid. It is good to know beforehand what one is to avoid, but, if I cannot avoid something, it is harmful to have known about it. Thus was the Law changed to its opposite, yet it became useful to me by the very increase of sin, for I was humbled. And David therefore says: It is good for me that I have been humbled [Psalm 119:71]. By humbling myself I have broken the bonds of that ancient transgression by which Adam and Eve had bound the whole line of their succession. Hence, too, the Lord came as an obedient man to loose the knot of mans disobedience and deception. And as through disobedience sin entered, so through obedience sin was remitted. Therefore, the Apostle says: For just as by the disobedience of one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be constituted just [Romans 5:19].
Here is one reason that the Law was unnecessary and became necessary, unnecessary in that it would not have been needed if we had been able to keep the natural law; but, as we did not keep it, the Law of Moses became needful to teach me obedience and loosen that bond of Adams deception which had ensnared his whole posterity. Yes, guilt grew by the Law, but pride, the source of guilt, was loosed, and this was an advantage to me. Pride discovered the guilt and the guilt brought grace.
Consider another reason. The Law of Moses was not needful; hence, it entered secretly. Its entrance seems not of an ordinary kind, but like something clandestine because it entered secretly into the place of the natural law. Thus, if she had but kept her place, this written law would never have entered it, but, since deception had banished that law and nearly blotted it out of the human breast, pride reigned and disobedience was rampant. Therefore, that other took its place so that by its written expression it might challenge us and shut our mouth, in order to make the whole world subject to God. The world, however, became subject to him through the Law, because all are brought to trial by the prescript of the Law, and no one is justified by the works of the Law; in other words, because the knowledge of sin comes from the Law, but guilt is not remitted, the Law, therefore, which has made all men sinners, seems to have caused harm.
But, when the Lord Jesus came he forgave all men the sin they could not escape, and canceled the decree against us by shedding his blood [Colossians 2:14]. This is what he says: By the Law sin abounded, but grace abounded by Jesus [Romans 5:20], since after the whole world became subject he took away the sins of the whole world, as John bears witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29] Let no one glory, then, in his own works, since no one is justified by his deeds, but one who is just has received a gift, being justified by Baptism. It is faith, therefore, which sets us free by the blood of Christ, for he is blessed whose sin is forgiven and to whom pardon is granted [Psalm 32:1]. Ambrose of Milan (Epistle 73 [to Irenaeus], The Fathers of the Church, Vol. 26 [Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1954], pp. 466-68, and quoted in Apology of the Augsburg Confession IV:103, The Book of Concord, edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000], pp. 137-38 [above text conflated from both sources])
...it is taught that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God through our merit, work, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God out of grace for Christs sake through faith when we believe that Christ has suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness in his sight, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:21-26] and 4[:5]. Augsburg Confession [Philip Melanchthon] (IV:1-3 [Latin], Kolb/Wengert pp. 39,41)
So Paul says [Gal. 2:19]: For through the law I died to the law. The law only accuses and terrifies consciences. In these terrors our opponents say nothing about faith. ... They say that by sorrows and terrors people merit grace, as long as they love God. But how will anyone love God in the midst of such real terrors when they experience the horrible and indescribable wrath of God? What else do they teach than despair, when in the midst of such terrors they present only the law? We therefore add faith in Christ as the second part of repentance, namely, that in the midst of these terrors, the gospel about Christ (which freely promises the forgiveness of sins through Christ) ought to be set forth to consciences. They should therefore believe that on account of Christ their sins are freely forgiven. This faith uplifts, sustains, and gives life to the contrite, according to the passage [Rom. 5:1]: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God. This faith receives the forgiveness of sins. This faith justifies before God, as the same passage testifies, since we are justified by faith. This faith shows the difference between the contrition of Judas and Saul on the one hand, and Peter and David on the other. The contrition of Judas or Saul was useless for the reason that it lacked the faith that grasps the forgiveness of sins granted on account of Christ. Accordingly, the contrition of David and Peter was beneficial because faith was added, which apprehends the forgiveness of sins given on account of Christ. Apology of the Augsburg Confession [Philip Melanchthon] (XII:33-36, Kolb/Wengert pp. 192-93)
Here is the first and chief article: That Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification (Rom. 4[:25]); and he alone is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1[:29]); and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53[:6]); furthermore, All have sinned, and they are now justified without merit by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...by his blood (Rom. 3[:23-25]). Now because this must be believed and may not be obtained or grasped otherwise with any work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says in Romans 3[:28,26]: For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law; and also, that God alone is righteous and justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. Nothing in this article can be conceded or given up, even if heaven and earth or whatever is transitory passed away. As St. Peter says in Acts 4[:12]: There is no other name...given among mortals by which we must be saved. And by his bruises we are healed (Isa. 53[:5]). Smalcald Articles [Martin Luther] (II, I:1-5, Kolb/Wengert p. 301)
Although we have Gods Word and believe, although we obey and submit to his will and are nourished by Gods gift and blessing, nevertheless we are not without sin. We still stumble daily and transgress because we live in the world among people who sorely vex us and give us occasion for impatience, anger, vengeance, etc. Besides, the devil is after us, besieging us on every side and, as we have heard, directing his attacks against all the previous petitions, so that it is not possible always to stand firm in this ceaseless conflict. Here again there is great need to call upon God and pray: Dear Father, forgive us our debts. Not that he does not forgive sins even apart from and before our praying; for before we prayed for it or even thought about it, he gave us the gospel, in which there is nothing but forgiveness. But the point here is for us to recognize and accept this forgiveness. Large Catechism [Martin Luther] (III:86-88, Kolb/Wengert p. 452)
We believe, teach, and confess that the law is, strictly speaking, a divine teaching which gives instruction regarding what is right and God-pleasing and condemns everything that is sin and contrary to Gods will. Therefore, everything that condemns sin is and belongs to the proclamation of the law. However, the gospel is, strictly speaking, the kind of teaching that reveals what the human being, who has not kept the law and has been condemned by it, should believe: that Christ has atoned and paid for all sins and apart from any human merit has obtained and won for people the forgiveness of sins, the righteousness which avails before God [Romans 1:17], and eternal life. Formula of Concord (Epitome V:3-5, Kolb/Wengert p. 500)
...the righteousness that out of sheer grace is reckoned before God to faith or to the believer consists of the obedience, suffering, and resurrection of Christ because he has satisfied the law for us and paid for our sins. For since Christ was not only a human being but both God and a human being in one inseparable person, he was thus as little under the law - since he was Lord of the law - as he was obligated to suffer and die for himself. Therefore, his obedience consists not only in his suffering and death but also in the fact that he freely put himself in our place under the law and fulfilled the law with this obedience and reckoned it to us as righteousness. As a result of his total obedience - which he performed on our behalf for God in his deeds and suffering, in life and death - God forgives our sin, considers us upright and righteous, and grants us eternal salvation. This righteousness is conveyed to us by the Holy Spirit through the gospel and in the sacraments. It is applied to us, appropriated and accepted through faith. Therefore, believers have reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, and Gods grace, and are children and heirs of eternal life. Accordingly, the word justify here means to pronounce righteous and free from sins and to count as freed from the eternal punishment of sin because of Christs righteousness, which is reckoned to faith by God (Phil. 3[:9]). Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration III:14-17, Kolb/Wengert p. 564)
Accordingly, we believe, teach, and confess that the entire obedience of the entire person of Christ, which he rendered to the Father on our behalf unto the most shameful death of the cross [Phil. 2:8], is reckoned to us as righteousness. For the human nature alone, apart from the divine nature, could not satisfy the eternal, almighty God neither through its obedience nor through its suffering for the sins of the whole world. On the other hand, the deity alone, without the humanity, could not mediate between God and us. However, because, as has been stated above, the obedience is that of the entire person, it is a perfect satisfaction and reconciliation of the human race, which satisfied God’s eternal, unchangeable righteousness, revealed in the law. Thus, it is our righteousness before God and is revealed in the gospel. On this righteousness faith relies before God, and God reckons it to faith, as is written in Romans 5[:19; Luther’s translation]: “For just as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience will the many be made righteous,” in 1 John 1[:7]: “The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin,” and in Habakkuk 2[:4]: “The righteous will live by faith.” – Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration III:56-57, Kolb/Wengert p. 572)
...in his intention and counsel God had preordained the following: 1. That the human race has been truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who has merited with his innocent obedience, suffering, and death both the righteousness that avails before God [Rom. 1:17; 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21] and eternal life. 2. That this merit and the benefits of Christ are to be offered, given, and distributed to us through his Word and sacraments. 3. That God wills to be effective and active in us with his Holy Spirit through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and meditated on, to convert our hearts to true repentance, and to enlighten them in true faith. 4. That he wills to make righteous all those who in true repentance accept Christ by faith, and he wills to receive them into grace as children and heirs of eternal life. Formula of Concord (Solid Declaration XI:14-18, Kolb/Wengert pp. 643-44)
I am accustomed, my Brentius, for the better understanding of this point, to conceive this idea, that there is no quality in my heart at all, call it either faith or charity; but instead of these I set Christ Himself, and I say, There is my righteousness. He is my quality and my formal righteousness, as they call it, so as to free me from looking into Law or works; nay, from looking at Christ Himself as a teacher or a giver. But I look at Him as gift and as doctrine to me, in Himself, so that in Him I have all things. He says, I am the way, and the truth, and the life; He says not, I give thee the way and the truth and the life, as if He were working on me from without. All these things He must be in me; abiding, living and speaking in me, not through me or to me; that we may be the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21); not in love, nor in the gifts and graces which follow. Martin Luther (Letter to Johannes Brenz , quoted in Henry Eyster Jacobs, Elements of Religion [Philadelphia: The United Lutheran Publication House, 1894], p. 285)
But the doctrine of justification is this, that we are pronounced righteous and are saved solely by faith in Christ, and without works. If this is the true meaning of justification - as it certainly is, or it will be necessary to get rid of all Scripture - then it immediately follows that we are pronounced righteous neither through monasticism nor through vows nor through Masses nor through any other works. Martin Luther (Lectures on Galatians , Luthers Works, Vol. 26 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1963], p. 223)
Therefore this is a marvelous definition of Christian righteousness: it is a divine imputation or reckoning as righteousness or to righteousness, for the sake of our faith in Christ or for the sake of Christ. When the sophists hear this definition, they laugh; for they suppose that righteousness is a certain quality that is first infused into the soul and then distributed through all the members. They cannot strip off the thoughts of reason, which declares that righteousness is a right judgment and a right will. Therefore this inestimable gift excels all reason, that without any works God reckons and acknowledges as righteous the man who takes hold by faith of His Son, who was sent into the world, who was born, who suffered, and who was crucified for us. So far as the words are concerned, this fact is easy, namely, that righteousness is not in us in a formal sense, as Aristotle maintains, but is outside us, solely in the grace of God and in His imputation. In us there is nothing of the form or of the righteousness except that weak faith or the first fruits of faith by which we have begun to take hold of Christ. Martin Luther (Lectures on Galatians , Luthers Works, Vol. 26, pp. 233-34)
[Gal. 3:]13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us - for it is written: Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree. ...
Paul guarded his words carefully and spoke precisely. And here again a distinction must be made; Pauls words clearly show this. For he does not say that Christ became a curse on His own account, but that He became a curse for us. Thus the whole emphasis is on the phrase for us. For Christ is innocent so far as His own Person is concerned; therefore He should not have been hanged from the tree. But because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged, therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ Himself should have been hanged; for He bore the person of a sinner and a thief - and not of one but of all sinners and thieves. For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon Himself, and for them He died on the cross. Therefore it was appropriate for Him to become a thief and, as Isaiah says (53:12), to be numbered among the thieves. ...
And this is our highest comfort, to clothe and wrap Christ this way in my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, and in this way to behold Him bearing all our sins. When He is beheld this way, He easily removes all the fanatical opinions of our opponents about justification by works. For the papists dream about a kind of faith formed by love. Through this they want to remove sins and be justified. This is clearly to unwrap Christ and to unclothe Him from our sins, to make Him innocent, to burden and overwhelm ourselves with our own sins, and to behold them, not in Christ but in ourselves. This is to abolish Christ and make Him useless. For if it is true that we abolish sins by the works of the Law and by love, then Christ does not take them away, but we do. But if He is truly the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who became a curse for us, and who was wrapped in our sins, it necessarily follows that we cannot be justified and take away sins through love. For God has laid our sins, not upon us but upon Christ, His Son. If they are taken away by Him, then they cannot be taken away by us. All Scripture says this, and we confess and pray the same thing in the Creed when we say: I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who suffered, was crucified, and died for us.
This is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God. When the merciful Father saw that we were being oppressed through the Law, that we were being held under a curse, and that we could not be liberated from it by anything, He sent His Son into the world, heaped all the sins of all men upon Him, and said to Him: Be Peter the denier; Paul the persecutor, blasphemer, and assaulter; David the adulterer; the sinner who ate the apple in Paradise; the thief on the cross. In short, be the person of all men, the one who has committed the sins of all men. And see to it that You pay and make satisfaction for them. Now the Law comes and says: I find Him a sinner, who takes upon Himself the sins of all men. I do not see any other sins than those in Him. Therefore let Him die on the cross! And so it attacks Him and kills Him. By this deed the whole world is purged and expiated from all sins, and thus it is set free from death and from every evil. But when sin and death have been abolished by this one man, God does not want to see anything else in the whole world, especially if it were to believe, except sheer cleansing and righteousness. And if any remnants of sin were to remain, still for the sake of Christ, the shining Sun, God would not notice them.
This is how we must magnify the doctrine of Christian righteousness in opposition to the righteousness of the Law and of works, even though there is no voice or eloquence that can properly understand, much less express, its greatness. Therefore the argument that Paul presents here is the most powerful and the highest of all against all the righteousness of the flesh; for it contains this invincible and irrefutable antithesis: If the sins of the entire world are on that one man, Jesus Christ, then they are not on the world. But if they are not on Him, then they are still on the world. Again, if Christ Himself is made guilty of all the sins that we have all committed, then we are absolved from all sins, not through ourselves or through our own works or merits but through Him. But if He is innocent and does not carry our sins, then we carry them and shall die and be damned in them. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (1 Cor. 15:57.)
Now let us see how two such extremely contrary things come together in this Person. Not only my sins and yours, but the sins of the entire world, past, present, and future, attack Him, try to damn Him, and do in fact damn Him. But because in the same Person, who is the highest, the greatest, and the only sinner, there is also eternal and invincible righteousness, therefore these two converge: the highest, the greatest, and the only sin; and the highest, the greatest, and the only righteousness. Here one of them must yield and be conquered, since they come together and collide with such a powerful impact. Thus the sin of the entire world attacks righteousness with the greatest possible impact and fury. What happens? Righteousness is eternal, immortal, and invincible. Sin, too, is a very powerful and cruel tyrant, dominating and ruling over the whole world, capturing and enslaving all men. In short, sin is a great and powerful god who devours the whole human race, all the learned, holy, powerful, wise, and unlearned men. He, I say, attacks Christ and wants to devour Him as he has devoured all the rest. But he does not see that He is a Person of invincible and eternal righteousness. In this duel, therefore, it is necessary for sin to be conquered and killed, and for righteousness to prevail and live. Thus in Christ all sin is conquered, killed, and buried; and righteousness remains the victor and the ruler eternally. Martin Luther (Lectures on Galatians , Luthers Works, Vol. 26, pp. 276-77, 279-81)
...we are justified by faith alone, because faith alone grasps this victory of Christ. To the extent that you believe this, to that extent you have it. If you believe that sin, death, and the curse have been abolished, they have been abolished, because Christ conquered and overcame them in Himself; and He wants us to believe that just as in His Person there is no longer the mask of the sinner or any vestige of death, so this is no longer in our person, since He has done everything for us.
Therefore if sin makes you anxious, and if death terrifies you, just think that this is an empty specter and an illusion of the devil - which is what it surely is. For in fact there is no sin any longer, no curse, no death, and no devil, because Christ has conquered and abolished all these. Accordingly, the victory of Christ is utterly certain; the defects lie not in the fact itself, which is completely true, but in our incredulity. It is difficult for reason to believe such inestimable blessings. In addition, the devil and the sectarians - the former with his flaming darts (Eph. 6:16), the latter with their perverse and wicked doctrine - are bent on this one thing: to obscure this doctrine and take it away from us. It is above all for this doctrine, on which we insist so diligently, that we bear the hate and persecution of Satan and of the world. For Satan feels the power and the results of this doctrine.
Now that Christ reigns, there is in fact no more sin, death, or curse - this we confess every day in the Apostles Creed when we say: I believe in the holy church. This is plainly nothing else than if we were to say: I believe that there is no sin and no death in the church. For believers in Christ are not sinners and are not sentenced to death but are altogether holy and righteous, lords over sin and death who live eternally. But it is faith alone that discerns this, because we say: I believe in the holy church. If you consult your reason and your eyes, you will judge differently. For in devout people you will see many things that offend you; you will see them fall now and again, see them sin, or be weak in faith, or be troubled by a bad temper, envy, or other evil emotions. Therefore the church is not holy. I deny the conclusion that you draw. If I look at my own person or at that of my neighbor, the church will never be holy. But if I look at Christ, who is the Propitiator and Cleanser of the church, then it is completely holy; for He bore the sins of the entire world.
Therefore where sins are noticed and felt, there they really are not present. For, according to the theology of Paul, there is no more sin, no more death, and no more curse in the world, but only in Christ, who is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and who became a curse in order to set us free from the curse. On the other hand, according to philosophy and reason, sin, death, etc., are not present anywhere except in the world, in the flesh, and in sinners. ... But the true theology teaches that there is no more sin in the world, because Christ, on whom, according to Is. 53:6, the Father has laid the sins of the entire world, has conquered, destroyed, and killed it in His own body. Having died to sin once, He has truly been raised from the dead and will not die any more (Rom. 6:9). Therefore wherever there is faith in Christ, there sin has in fact been abolished, put to death, and buried. But where there is no faith in Christ, there sin remains. And although there are still remnants of sin in the saints because they do not believe perfectly, nevertheless these remnants are dead; for on account of faith in Christ they are not imputed. Martin Luther (Lectures on Galatians , Luthers Works, Vol. 26, pp. 284-86)
Isaiah here [53:11] uses the word many for the word all, after the manner of Paul in Rom. 5:15. The thought there is: One has sinned (Adam), One is righteous (Christ), and many are made righteous. There is no difference between many and all. The righteousness of Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, our Lord and Savior, is so great that it could justify innumerable worlds. He shall justify many, says he, that is to say, all. It should, therefore, be understood of all, because He offers his righteousness to all, and all who believe in Christ obtain it. Martin Luther (Explanation of Isaiah 53, quoted in What Luther Says [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959], p. 608)
...Paul says in Rom. 8[:2], For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. Why does he not say that, It has set me free from sin and death? Has not Christ set us free from sin and death once and for all? Paul, however, is speaking of the proper operation of the law of the Spirit, which does what Christ has merited. Indeed, Christ once and for all absolved and freed everyone from sin and death when He merited for us the law of the Spirit of the Life. But what did that Spirit of Life do? He has not yet freed us from death and sin, for we still must die, we still must labor under sin; but in the end He will free us. Yet He has already liberated us from the law of sin and death, that is, from the kingdom and tyranny of sin and death. Sin is indeed present, but having lost its tyrannic power, it can do nothing; death indeed impends, but having lost its sting, it can neither harm nor terrify. Martin Luther (Against Latomus, Luthers Works, Vol. 32 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958], p. 207)
...I want to remind each one of the ground on which our faith and all our preaching rests. I shall repeat it briefly. But I preach now only to those who accept the gospel as the Word of God and nothing else, for those who still do not know that or are in doubt about it will not accept this ground of our faith. Well, you have heard in the gospel and learned from it that the problem of our salvation from sin, death, the devil, and an evil conscience, the problem of attaining true righteousness before God and eternal life, is by no means solved or helped with works or laws, no matter what they may be or may be called. For God will accept no other mediation and no other mediator than his only Son, whom the Father sent into the world and whom he caused to shed his blood for the sole purpose that he might thereby obtain for us the treasure of faith.
That, briefly, is the sum total of the gospel that we preach. And if anyone seeks another way to be freed from his sins and stand before God, he blasphemes and insults God and accuses him of lying, as if he had let his Son shed his blood in vain and his death had accomplished nothing and was of no importance. For this is what God insists on and nothing else, that no one shall stand before him except by that innocent blood alone. And if anyone undertakes some other method, such as his works or order or station in life, he shall belong to the devil much more than anyone else. For it is a very serious matter with God and he will have no jest made of it, because for this purpose he gave his Son to die. For that reason we know and have no other sacrifice than that which he made on the cross, on which he died once for all as the Epistle to the Hebrews [9:12,26] says, and thereby put away the sins of all men and also made us holy for eternity.
That, I say, is our gospel, that Christ has made us righteous and holy through that sacrifice and has redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil and has brought us into his heavenly kingdom. We have to grasp this and hold it fast through faith alone. We have preached this and reiterated it so often that everyone can know it well and can conclude from it that all our own works undertaken to expiate sin and escape from death are necessarily blasphemous. They deny God and insult the sacrifice that Christ has made and disgrace his blood, because they try thereby to do what only Christs blood can do. Martin Luther (The Abomination of the Secret Mass, Luthers Works, Vol. 36 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1959], pp. 312-13)
It is a faithful saying that Christ has accomplished everything, has removed sin and overcome every enemy, so that through him we are lords over all things. But the treasure lies yet in one pile; it is not yet distributed nor invested. Consequently, if we are to possess it, the Holy Spirit must come and teach our hearts to believe and say: I, too, am one of those who are to have this treasure. Martin Luther (Sermon for Pentecost Sunday, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2000], Vol. 2.1, p. 279)
...we should preach also forgiveness of sins in his name. This signifies nothing else than that the Gospel should be preached, which declares unto all the world that in Christ the sins of all the world are swallowed up, and that he suffered death to put away sin from us, and arose to devour it, and blot it out. All this he did, that whoever believeth, should have the comfort and assurance that it is reckoned unto him, even as if he himself had done it; that his work is mine and thine and all men’s; yea that he gives himself to us with all his gifts to be our own personal property. Hence, as he is without sin and never dies by virtue of his resurrection even so I also am if I believe in him... – Martin Luther (Sermon for Easter Tuesday, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 1.2, p. 316)
...Christ’s intention is not that repentance shall be so preached as to leave the conscience in its terror-stricken state but that those who have been brought to a knowledge of their sins and are contrite in heart shall again be comforted and lifted up. For this reason he straightway adds the other part and commands us to preach not only repentance but also the forgiveness of sins [Luke 24:47]. This, then, as he also says, is preaching in his name.
Therefore, when your conscience has become terrified by the preaching of repentance, whether it be through the spoken word or otherwise within your heart, you must remember that you are also to hear and grasp the other part Christ commanded to be preached to you, to wit: that, although you have merited eternal wrath and are deserving of hell-fire, yet God in his boundless goodness and mercy does not desire to leave you and see you perish in perdition, but he desires to forgive your sins, so that his wrath and your condemnation may be removed from you.
This is the comforting message of the Gospel, which a man cannot, of himself, understand as he of himself understands the preaching of the law (which was at the beginning implanted in his nature) when his heart is thereby smitten; but it is a special revelation and Christ’s own peculiar voice. For human nature and reason cannot rise above the judgment of the law, which concludes and says: He that is a sinner is condemned of God. Wherefore all men would have to remain forever objects of wrath and condemnation if another and a new teaching had not been given from heaven. This teaching, in which God offers his grace and mercy to those who feel their sins and God’s wrath, God’s own Son himself must institute and command to be spread abroad in the world.
But in order that it may be apprehended and faithfully believed, this preaching must be done, as he here says, in his name; that is, not only in pursuance of his command, but also with the proclamation that sins are to be forgiven on his account and by reason of his merits. Hence we must acknowledge neither I nor any other man, with the exception of Christ, have accomplished or merited this, nor could have merited it in eternity. For how should I be able to merit it when I and all my life and whatever I may be able to do, is, according to the first part of this sermon, condemned before God?
But now, if God’s wrath is to be taken away from me and I am to obtain grace and forgiveness, some one must merit this; for God cannot be a friend of sin nor gracious to it, nor can he remit the punishment and wrath, unless payment and satisfaction be made. Now, no one, not even an angel of heaven, could make restitution for the infinite and irreparable injury and appease the eternal wrath of God which we had merited by our sins; except that eternal person, the Son of God himself, and he could do it only by taking our place, assuming our sins, and answering for them as though he himself were guilty of them. This our dear Lord and only Savior and Mediator before God, Jesus Christ, did for us by his blood and death, in which he became a sacrifice for us; and with his purity, innocence, and righteousness, which was divine and eternal, he outweighed all sin and wrath he was compelled to bear on our account; yea, he entirely engulfed and swallowed it up, and his merit is so great that God is now satisfied and says, If he wills thereby to save, then there shall be a salvation. As Christ also says of his Father’s will, John 6:40: “This is the will of my Father, that every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life.” Also Matthew 28:18: “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” And in his prayer in John 17:1-2 he says: “Father, glorify thy Son, that the Son may glorify thee; even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him he should give eternal life.”
This now he has not only actually fulfilled, but he has done and accomplished it for the very purpose of having it preached and proclaimed to us; otherwise we would know nothing of it, nor would we be able to attain to it. Therefore it is absolutely unmerited on our part and is given to us entirely free and out of pure grace, and just for the reason that we may be assured of such grace and have no cause for doubt in regard to it; for indeed, we must remain forever in doubt if we were required to look for merit of our own and to seek worthiness inhering in us, till our attainments were such that God would consider them and be gracious to us on their account. But now Christ commands that forgiveness of sins be preached in his name, so that I may know that they are undoubtedly remitted unto me on account of that which he has merited, and this he reveals and communicates to me through the Word.
And moreover I and everyone else for his own personal good may take comfort in this, and besides no one has any cause to be troubled and worried as to whether he dare appropriate this great mercy unto himself, for it is natural for man’s heart to doubt and to argue thus with itself: Yes, I can easily believe that God has elected certain great men thereto, as, for instance, St. Peter, Paul, and others, but who knows whether I too am one of those to whom he is willing to grant grace? Perhaps I have not been ordained thereto – therefore Christ wills and herewith commands that this doctrine be spread not in a corner nor to certain individuals only, yea, not even solely to the Jews, or to a few other nations at most, but throughout the whole wide world, or, as he says, to all nations; yes, as he says in Mark 16:15, to the whole creation. This Christ spoke in order that we may know that it is not his will that anybody anywhere should be cut off or barred out from the blessings of this preaching if he is only willing to accept them and does not bar himself out, For, as the preaching of repentance is to be a general preaching and to extend over all people so that all may perceive that they are sinners, just so general shall also this preaching of forgiveness be, and it shall be accepted by all, even as all men have stood in need of it from the beginning, and will continue so until the end of the world. – Martin Luther (Second Sermon for Easter Tuesday, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 1.2, pp. 342-45)
“Behold, the Lamb of God!” [John 1:29]. ...
This is an extraordinarily free and comforting sermon on Christ, our Savior. Neither our thoughts nor our words can do the subject full justice, but in the life beyond it will redound to our eternal joy and bliss that the Son of God abased Himself so and burdened Himself with my sins. Yes, He assumes not only my sins but also those of the whole world, from Adam down to the very last mortal. These sins He takes upon Himself; for these He is willing to suffer and die that our sins may be expunged and we may attain eternal life and blessedness. But who can ever give adequate thought or expression to this theme? The entire world with all its holiness, rectitude, power, and glory is under the dominion of sin and completely discredited before God. Anyone who wishes to be saved must know that all his sins have been placed on the back of this Lamb! Therefore John points this Lamb out to his disciples, saying: “Do you want to know where the sins of the world are placed for forgiveness? Then don’t resort to the Law of Moses or betake yourselves to the devil; there, to be sure, you will find sins, but sins to terrify you and damn you. But if you really want to find a place where the sins of the world are exterminated and deleted, then cast your gaze upon the cross. The Lord placed all our sins on the back of this Lamb. As the prophet Isaiah declares (53:6): ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way,’ the one hither, the other yon. One sought God in this manner, another in a different way; there were countless modes of looking for God.” ...which is the right way, the way that guards against going astray? ... Isaiah says that the right way is this: “God placed all our sins upon Him and smote Him for the sins of the people; when we all went astray, God put all our sins on the back of His Lamb, and upon no other. He ordained the Lamb to bear the sins of the entire world.”
Therefore a Christian must cling simply to this verse and let no one rob him of it. For there is no other comfort either in heaven or on earth to fortify us against all attacks and temptations, especially in the agony of death. And whoever believes that this Lamb bears the sins of all the world must regard pope and Turk as the Antichrist. For the pope has taught that the Christian must be concerned with bearing his own sin, atoning for it with alms and the like. This is his shameless lie even to the present day. But if what he teaches is true, then I, not Christ, am yoked and burdened with my sin. And then I would necessarily be lost and damned. But Christ does bear the sin – not only mine and yours or that of any other individual, or only of one kingdom or country, but the sin of the entire world. And you, too, are a part of the world. – Martin Luther (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1957], pp. 161-64)
It is extremely important that we know where our sins have been disposed of. The Law deposits them on our conscience and shoves them into our bosom. But God takes them from us and places them on the shoulders of the Lamb. If sin rested on me and on the world, we would be lost; for it is too strong and burdensome. God says: “I know that your sin is unbearable for you; therefore behold, I will lay it upon My Lamb and relieve you of it. Believe this! If you do, you are delivered of sin.” There are only two abodes for sin: it either resides with you, weighing you down; or it lies on Christ, the Lamb of God. If it is loaded on your back, you are lost; but if it rests on Christ, you are free and saved. Now make your choice! According to the Law, to be sure, sin should remain on you; but by grace sin was cast on Christ, the Lamb. – Martin Luther (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Luther’s Works, Vol. 22, pp. 169-70)
For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world [John 3:17a]. As if He were to say: The whole world, when it is pious and at its best, fears God and flees from Him. For it is aware of Gods wrath and of the reality of hell, divine judgment, and eternal damnation. We see proof of this in sickness, pestilence, fever, war, famine, and other distress and misery in the world, all of which are penalties and plagues of God by means of which He shows His anger and judgment against the ungodly. And anyone with a little piety in his heart realizes that God is angry and punishes; he fears Gods judgments as he fears the devil. Coarse and ungodly people are not frightened by war and pestilence. On the contrary, they grow ever more impatient because of wars, pestilence, and venereal disease.
The consciousness that God is angry and that He is an irate Judge of sin is innate in the human heart. His wrath is evident in the world; we see Him punishing one here, another there. In such circumstances it is impossible for man to be happy. He is in constant fear that God is standing behind him, cudgel in hand, ready to strike him down. Now the Lord Christ says here: We will put an end to such thoughts; God does not want us to entertain them any longer. No matter how God may act in the future - even if He sends forth His four plagues into the world, sickness, war, famine, and wild beasts (Rev. 6:8) - this is not to be construed as Gods wrath. For the judgment has been done away with, all external signs to the contrary notwithstanding. God often feigns wrath and impatience with His saints. We think, for instance, of the times when He afflicted Job, Jeremiah, David, and others. This, however, was not to be a judgment for their ruin and destruction; rather it was to be a trial, as 1 Cor. 11:19 and Psalm 30 declare. Thus Christ also declares here: The judgment is past. The Father and I condemn no one. God is not angry; for I am the Pledge and the certain Token, yes, the Gift and the Present to show you that God is not angry with us. For I was not sent to judge the world, to make you run from Me, or to repel you as a stern judge. The negative is always more impressive than the affirmative. As though Christ were to say: It is not My purpose to judge you, nor is it the Fathers purpose to judge you. For if He wished to judge and condemn you, why, then, did He send Me into the world? No, the wrath is gone, and now He is filled with sheer love. He also sent Me, not to judge the world but to save it.
These are glorious and consoling words. Pious Christians should enshrine them in their hearts, for they assure us that God does not judge us. These words should comfort us - too bad we are such despairing rogues! - and assure us that God will not slay us or throw us into hell: The ungodly should fear God, flee from Him, and not approach Him joyfully. But you who believe in Me shall not be judged or run from Me as from a relentless judge. For through the medium of faith the judgment has been abolished; the mission to which I was delegated has put an end to judgment. Therefore the thoughts of your heart are wrong; for whoever accepts Me in faith banishes those awful words about Gods wrath, hell, and eternal damnation. Martin Luther (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Luthers Works, Vol. 22, pp. 375-76)
...we heard the Lord proclaim to Nicodemus and to the whole world that God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world but to save it [cf. John 3:17]. We also heard that such salvation comes from faith, for whoever believes in Christ does not enter into judgment [cf. John 3:18]. Such a message should really dissolve all discord and unite us in thanks to God night and day. The whole world should jump and dance for joy. But, as it happens, the world cannot endure this message. If a man will not bear the proclamation of good news, how could he endure the announcement of misfortune, that is, of the fact that he is damned and lost?
Now the joyful message follows that the judgment is over; this means that the wrath of God, hell, and damnation are no more. For the Son of God came that we might be saved and delivered from death and hell. Then what is still lacking? Faith. People refuse to believe this. God gives His Son to save the world; but the world says: It is not true that the world is steeped in sin and is damned. This is a pity. Therefore the text continues:
[John 3:]19. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light. As though Christ wished to say: Whoever believes, does not go to hell; whoever does not believe, already has the sentence of death pronounced on him. Why? Well, because he does not believe in Christ. This is the judgment: that such an ineffably comforting doctrine of Gods grace, procured for the world through Christ, is proclaimed, but that the world still wants to believe the devil rather than God and His beloved Son. And this despite the fact that God assures us: Sin, hell, judgment, and Gods wrath have all been terminated by the Son. We wretched people might well bewail the sin into which we fell through Adam, the death which resulted, and all the attendant misery, also the judgment of God which we must bear. All this often makes it appear that God is angry with us, that God is too harsh and stern, like an unfair judge. But God wants to inform us in this text: Good and well. Through My Son I shall cancel My charge against you so that you need lament no more. To be sure, you have sinned, and with this sin you have deserved the judgment of God. But your sin shall be pardoned, death shall be abolished; I shall no longer remember mans sin, in which he is born and in which he lived. The accounts are to be considered settled. God will not again call a single sin to mind. Just believe in My Son.
Now what is still lacking? Why the judgment if all sin has been removed by the Son? The answer is that the judgment is incurred by mans refusal to accept Christ, the Son of God. Of course, mans sin, both that inherited from Adam and that committed by man himself, is deserving of death. But this judgment results from mans unwillingness to hear, to tolerate, and to accept the Savior, who removed sin, bore it on His shoulders, and locked up the portals of hell. ...
It is expressly stated here that Christ came and removed the sin of the world so completely that it is entirely deleted, entirely forgiven [alternate translation: Christ has come and has taken away the world’s sin, that it should be completely removed and wiped out, entirely forgotten]. But to refuse the Helper, to refuse to hear the Man who abolishes sin, and, more than this, to want to kill Him and to persevere in sin - that is vile and base. It is terrible to hear this proclamation, which brings remission of sin and release from death, maligned as heresy and to see this Helper persecuted. We preach this every day, and that is what goes on. I did not suck these words out of my finger; no, you hear that this is spoken by Christ Himself. Nevertheless, it is decried as heresy. Should our God not become angry? Should He not dispatch pestilence, famine, pope, Turk, Tartars, Sacramentarians, Anabaptists, and all sorts of sectaries to plague us? Our refusal to accept the Son surely deserves such punishment. It is terrible to proclaim that one should not accept and love a Helper and Savior who remits sin. Whoever acts this way and becomes ungrateful to God has a right to expect God to punish him with Turks, Tartars, and Anabaptists, and that schismatic spirits, sectaries, and false brethren will rain and snow down on him.
Now this is not a harmful message; it is one that helps and saves. Still it is despised by nearly all, particularly by the pope, who tramples it underfoot. The malicious attitude of noblemen, burghers, and peasants toward it knows no bounds. And the preachers also wrangle with one another over it, whereas they should do nothing but praise and thank God, rejoice in Christ, and say: God be praised in eternity that judgment has been abolished! We shall rejoice for evermore. But this does not happen. To be sure, the judgment has been removed, and hell and Gods wrath have been removed. Security and peace between God and us have also been established through the Son, who did not come to condemn the world - the world was already condemned before His coming - but to save the world. All that is still lacking is the acceptance of the Son. ...
This is what Christ means when He asserts here: This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world. As if He were to say: It is a grand and blessed light which shines into your hearts and says: Fear not the wrath of God, for God is gracious to you. Even if your sin and your conscience plague and oppress you and you stand in awe of Gods judgment, you must realize that all has been changed and that judgment has been abolished. Instead of harboring fear of the Final Judgment you must yearn and long for it, since it does not denote your judgment at all but your redemption. At that time we shall be delivered from the last enemy, death (1 Cor. 15:26); our bodies will rise again from the grave. Devil, death, and worms will cease; and Gods disfavor will end. This judgment will draw you from the grave and deliver you from all evil. Therefore the Day of Judgment will be a time of rejoicing for you, far more so than the wedding day is for the bride; for this terrible Day has been converted into a happy and desirable Day for you. Thus all is well if you believe. But those who love darkness more than light will experience the reverse. They must live in dread of the Last Day. For the believer, the thought of this Day is comforting, since condemnation and the terrible judgment are gone. Martin Luther (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John, Luthers Works, Vol. 22, pp. 381-85)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life [John 3, 16]. ...
...he [Christ] portrays the recipient, who is, in a word, the world. This is indeed a wonderful and peculiar case of loving and giving. Here the one loved is in strange contrast to the one loving. How can this love of God for the world be explained? What does he see in the world, that he is so ready to unbosom himself toward her? If it had been that he loved the angels, they are at least glorious and noble creatures, worthy of his love. But what, on the contrary, is the world but a great mass of people who neither fear nor love nor praise nor thank God, who misuse every creature, blaspheme Gods name and despise his Word, and are, furthermore, disobedient, murderers, adulterers, thieves, knaves, liars, betrayers, full of treachery and all malice; in short, transgressors of every commandment, and in every particular refractory and obstinate, adhering to Gods arch-enemy, the abominable devil? Behold, this delicious and gracious fruit! He bestows, as if upon a beautiful and beloved bride and daughter, his dear Son, and with him all things, whereas he would have had more than sufficient reason, at the very mention of the world, instantly to crush her with thunder and lightning to powder, and cast her into the abyss of hell. The word world is a sound hateful to God beyond expression; and this is a most strange paradox: God loves the world. Here two things that are in the highest degree antagonistic are combined. It is almost like saying: God loves death and hell, and is the friend of his most bitter eternal enemy, the accursed devil.
That is indeed a boundless proof of love, and makes the gift inexpressibly great, when the Giver and he to whom it is given are placed side by side, and God is represented as pouring out his whole heart to his hateful, hostile image, whereas he should have visited him only with anger, vengeance and damnation, and when he pays no attention to the fact that the world is full of contempt, blasphemy, disobedience toward God, and stupendous ingratitude for all the gifts he bestowed upon it heretofore, but swallows up all its vices and sins. Though the Giver be ever so great and beneficent, the wickedness and viciousness of the world, which is excessive and immeasurably great, ought to deter and repel him. For what man can even mark and sufficiently realize his own sin and disobedience? And yet this great love so overcomes God that he take away from the world all and every sin and transgression, and remembers them no more against it forever, so that they are dead and gone, and instead he gives his Son, and with him all things.
By this, the truths for which Paul and the articles of faith contend, have now been sufficiently and irrefutably demonstrated and proven; namely: That we have forgiveness of sins and eternal life, without merit or worthiness on our part, out of pure grace (gratis), and alone for the sake of his beloved Son, in whom God so loved us that this love has taken away and blotted out all our sins and the sins of the whole world; for there was nothing but sin in us, instead of which he has bestowed his love and forgiveness upon us, even as the prophet Isaiah (40, 2) says concerning Jerusalem, and as we ought to preach in the Gospel: Her iniquity is pardoned. that she hath received of Jehovahs hand double for all her sins.
Therefore, this gift - all of grace - is much greater, transcends and is mightier, than all the sins on earth, so that the unworthiness of any man, yes of all men together, aye the eternal wrath and condemnation which they have deserved, cannot be so great that the greatness of this love and grace, or forgiveness, does not in every particular outweigh, yes, engulf them; as Paul says, Rom 5, 20: But where sin abounded, grace abounded more exceedingly; and Psalm 103, 11,12: For as the heavens are high above the earth....so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. For what else can that be than forgiveness of sin, when he loves the world while it yet lies in sin, abomination and blasphemy? If he could so love the world, his enemy and blasphemer, as to give so much, even himself, for it, how could he be angry with you and not be willing to forgive your sins, if you desire and seek his grace? ...
...we have the final cause why and for what purpose he does all this, and what his intention is. Of course he has not bestowed it that I may have meat and drink from it, or inferior temporal benefit, riches, honor, power; nor has he given it that it may harm and poison; he has not given his Word, baptism, and the Lord's Supper as poison, but that they might be of the greatest benefit to us. As he says, they are given that man may not be lost, but may have everlasting life. It is not for the purpose of giving me many golden crowns and kingdoms, for then I would still remain in sin and death: but that I might be free from hell and eternal death, and not be lost eternally. That is what this gift is to effect; for me hell is wiped out, and the devil cast under my feet, and out of a fearful, sad and humiliated heart a joyful and living one comes forth. In short, God has done all this that I might have an eternal, imperishable life in exchange for eternal destruction and death.
It must follow upon the reception of such a great and imperishable gift that, when the Son of God is rightly known and embraced with the whole heart, we have the victory over and are rescued from all evil, and enjoy eternal freedom, glory and happiness; for where he is, there everything must be good. Not that we have earned this, but in his great and eternal love God took pity on us in our misery and helplessness, and gave us his Son that we might be helped; otherwise we would have been lost and would have had to remain eternally lost, and notwithstanding all our work-righteousness and divine services, and never attained to eternal life. ...
...in what manner may we lay hold of such a treasure and gift, or what is the purse or safe in which it may be kept? It is faith alone, as Christ here says: That whosoever believeth on him, should not perish etc. Faith holds out its hands and opens the sack, and allows itself to be presented with good things. As God, the Giver, in love bestows this gift, so we are the recipients by faith, which faith does nothing more than receive the gift. For it is not our doing, and it cannot be merited through our work. It has already been bestowed and presented. All you need to do is to open your mouth, or rather your heart, hold still, and allow it to be entirely filled. Psalm 81, 10. This can be done in no other way than by believing these words; for you observe that he here requires faith, and faith fully and perfectly appropriates this treasure.
Here you may see, also, what faith is and is called. Not simply an empty thought concerning Christ, that he was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, was crucified, arose, ascended into heaven, but a heart that grasps and embraces the Son of God, as expressed in these words, and positively holds that God gave his only begotten Son for us into death, and loved us so that, for his sake, we should not be lost, but have eternal life. Therefore, he plainly says: That whosoever believeth on him. It must be a faith which does not look upon its own works, nor upon its own strength and worthiness, that is, its own quality or the inwrought and infused virtue of the heart, of which the blind sophists dream and imagine, but without dependence on itself, holds to Christ, embracing him as its own bestowed treasure, being assured that on account of him God was moved to love us, but not on account of ones own work, worthiness and merit; for these things are not the treasure that God gave, that is, Christ, Gods Son, in whom we must believe.
Of what benefit is the gift of faith if it is nothing more than such an empty vessel? Of what value unless one looks upon and comforts ones self in the thought of what is comprehended in it, and what alone makes it precious, so that one may say: Faith may be but a little and insignificant monstrance or pyx or box, but in it, nevertheless, there is so precious a gem that heaven and earth cannot contain it.
Therefore we so teach from the Scriptures concerning faith - that through it alone we are justified and acceptable before God; because it is faith alone that grasps and retains this treasure, the Son of God. If I weigh this gift and my works in the same balance, the contrast and preponderance is so overwhelmingly great that the holiness of all men is nothing compared with the smallest drop of blood Christ gave and shed for us, to say nothing of all he did and suffered; therefore I can, in no respect, depend upon my virtue and worthiness. ...
However great and unutterable all this is, that is still greater and more wonderful in comparison, that the human heart has been enabled to believe it all. That must indeed be a great heart which can embrace more than heaven and earth can hold. Hence it must be evident what a great, sublime and divine power and work faith is, which can do that which it is impossible for nature and all the world to do, and it is therefore no less a wonder than all the other miracles and works of God. It is even more wonderful than that God became man, born of a virgin, as St. Bernhard says. Martin Luther (Sermon for Pentecost Monday, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 2.1, pp. 352, 356-62)
Here we have the true significance of the keys. They are an office, a power or command given by God through Christ to all of Christendom for the retaining and remitting of the sins of men. ... Rely on the words of Christ and be assured that God has no other way to forgive sins than through the spoken Word, as he has commanded us. If you do not look for forgiveness through the Word, you will gape toward heaven in vain for grace, or (as they say), for a sense of inner forgiveness. But if you speak as the factious spirits and sophists do: After all, many hear of the binding and loosing of the keys, yet it makes no impression on them and they remain unbound and without being loosed. Hence, there must exist something else beside the Word and the keys. It is the spirit, the spirit, yes, the spirit that does it! Do you believe he is not bound who does not believe in the key which binds? Indeed, he shall learn, in due time, that his unbelief did not make the binding vain, nor did it fail in its purpose. Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it. St. Paul says in Rom. 3[:3]: Their faithlessness [does not] nullify the faithfulness of God. We are not talking here either about peoples belief or disbelief regarding the efficacy of the keys. We realize that few believe. We are speaking of what the keys accomplish and give. He who does not accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But this is not the keys fault. Many do not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the kings fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it. Martin Luther (The Keys, Luthers Works, Vol. 40 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1958], pp. 366-67)
The preaching of the holy gospel itself is principally and actually an absolution in which forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in general and in public to many persons, or publicly or privately to one person alone. Therefore absolution may be used in public and in general, and in special cases also in private, just as the sermon may take place publicly or privately, and as one might comfort many people in public or someone individually in private. Even if not all believe [the word of absolution], that is no reason to reject [public] absolution, for each absolution, whether administered publicly or privately, has to be understood as demanding faith and as being an aid to those who believe in it, just as the gospel itself also proclaims forgiveness to all men in the whole world and exempts no one from this universal context. Nevertheless the gospel certainly demands our faith and does not aid those who do not believe it; and yet the universal context of the gospel has to remain [valid]. Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon (Letter to the Council of the City of Nürnberg [April 18, 1533], Luthers Works, Vol. 50 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975], pp. 76-77)
In the first place one must know that the Word of God does not speak only of the outward existence and appearances, but it takes hold of the heart and the depths of the soul. Accordingly it does not judge man as to his outward appearance and action, but according to the depths of his conscience. ...if you go through all the commandments, from the first to the last, you will find that there is no one who keeps Gods commandments from the bottom of his heart.
Now, against this evil God found a remedy and determined to send Christ, his Son, into this world, that he should shed his blood and die, in order to make satisfaction for sin and take it away, and that the Holy Spirit then should enter the hearts of such people, who go about with the works of the Law, being unwilling and forced to it, and make them willing, in order that without force and with joyous heart they keep Gods commandments. Otherwise there might be no means of removing the misery; for neither human reason and power, nor even an angel could rescue us from it. Thus, God has done away with the sins of all men who believe on the Christ, so that henceforth it is impossible for one to remain in sin who has this Saviour, who has taken all sins upon himself and blotted them out.
Inasmuch as Christ has now come and commanded to preach that everything we may do, however great and beautiful it may appear, is sin, because we do nothing that is good with pleasure and willingly, and that for this reason he has stepped forward and has taken away all sin, in order that we may receive the Holy Spirit, through whom we obtain love and pleasure to do what God wants us to do, in order that we do not attempt to come before God through our own works, but through Christ and his merits, therefore it cannot be called any longer sin committed against the Law, for the Law did nothing to assist us in becoming pious, since we are not able to do anything good.
What sort of sin then remains upon earth? No other than that one does not receive this Saviour and refuses to accept him who has taken away sin. For if he were present, there would be no sin, since he, as I have said, brings the Holy Spirit with him, who kindles the heart and makes it willing to do good. Therefore the world is no longer punished and condemned on account of other sins, because Christ blots them all out; only this remains sin in the New Testament, that one will not acknowledge nor receive him. Therefore he likewise says in this Gospel: “When the Holy Spirit is come, he will convict the world in respect of sin, because they believe not on me” [cf. John 16:8-9].
As if he wished to say: Had they believed on me, everything would already have been forgiven them, whatever sin they might have committed, for I know that they by nature cannot do otherwise. But because they will not receive me, neither believe that I can help them, this it is that will condemn them. Therefore, God will at the final judgment pass a sentence like this on them: Behold, thou wast in sin and couldst not free thyself from it, still I did not on this account wish to condemn thee, for I sent my only begotten Son to thee and intended to give thee a Saviour, in order that he might take the sin from thee. Him thou didst not receive. Therefore, on this account alone, thou wilt be condemned, because thou hast not Christ. Martin Luther (Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Easter, Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, Vol. 2.1, pp. 113-15)
This reasoning of the apostle is worthy of serious consideration. If justification were through the Law, etc. [Gal. 2:21] Confidently he declares that either Christ died for nothing - which is the height of blasphemy against God - or that through the Law one has nothing but sin. For those men should be kept far away from Holy Writ who, with distinctions drawn from their own brains, bring into theology various kinds of righteousness and say that one is ethical, that another is the righteousness of faith, and speak of I know not what other kinds. By all means let the state have its own righteousness, the philosophers their own, and everyone his own. But here one must take righteousness in the Scriptural sense; and the apostle says plainly that this righteousness does not exist except through faith in Jesus Christ and that all other works, even those of Gods most holy Law, far from affording righteousness, are actually sins and make a man worse in the sight of God. Indeed, they are such great sins and so far away from righteousness that it was necessary for the Son of God to die in order that righteousness might be given to us. In theology, therefore, do not use the term righteousness for that which is outside faith in Christ. Moreover, if it is certain that it is not righteousness, it is equally certain that it is sin, and sin that is damnable. Martin Luther (Lectures on Galatians , Luthers Works, Vol. 27 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964], p. 240)
...you must make thorough preparations not only for the time of temptation but also for the time and struggle of death. Then your conscience will be terrified by the recollection of your past sins. The devil will attack you vigorously and will try to swamp you with piles, floods, and whole oceans of sins, in order to frighten you, draw you away from Christ, and plunge you into despair. Then you must be able to say with confident assurance: Christ, the Son of God, was given, not for righteousness and for saints but for unrighteousness and for sinners. If I were righteous and without sin, I would have no need of Christ as my Propitiator. Satan, you cantankerous saint, why do you try to make me feel holy and look for righteousness in myself, when in fact there is nothing in me but sins, and real and serious sins at that? These are not counterfeit or trivial sins; they are sins against the First Table, namely, infidelity, doubt, despair, contempt for God, hatred, ignorance, blasphemy, ingratitude, the abuse of the name of God, neglect, loathing, and contempt for the Word of God, and the like. In addition, there are sins of the flesh against the Second Table: failure to honor my parents, disobedience to rulers, coveting another mans property, wife, etc., although these vices are less grave than those against the First Table. Of course, I have not been guilty of murder, adultery, theft, and other sins like those against the Second Table. Nevertheless, I have committed them in my heart; therefore I have broken every one of Gods Commandments, and the number of my sins is so great that an oxs hide would not hold them; they are innumerable. For the sins I have committed are more in number than the sands of the sea (Pr. of Man. 9 [1:9]). The devil is such a clever trickster that he can make great sins out of my righteousness and good works. Because my sins are so grave, so real, so great, so infinite, so horrible, and so invincible that my righteousness does me no good but rather puts me at a disadvantage before God, therefore Christ, the Son of God, was given into death for my sins, to abolish them and thus to save all men who believe. Martin Luther (Lectures on Galatians , Luthers Works, Vol. 26, pp. 35-36)
When He made purification for sins, [He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high] [Hebrews 1:3c]. With this brief word he makes useless absolutely all the righteousnesses and deeds of penitence of men. But he praises the exceedingly great mercy of God, namely, that “He made purification for sins,” not through us but through Himself, not for the sins of others but for our sins. Therefore we should despair of our penitence, of our purification from sins; for before we repent, our sins have already been forgiven. Indeed, first His very purification, on the contrary, also produces penitence in us, just as His righteousness produces our righteousness. This is what Is. 53:6 says: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Martin Luther (Lectures on Hebrews, Luther’s Works, Vol. 29 [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968], pp. 112-13)
...Simeon states [Luke 2:34] that Christ is set up for the fall and rising of many in Israel. ... Even as at the time of Christ many in Israel rose in him, so it will continue until the end of the world; nobody can rise through works or through the teachings of men, but solely through Christ. This comes to pass through faith, as has often been stated, without any works and merit; works must of necessity come after we have risen. You see how the entire Bible speaks only of faith and rejects works as useless, indeed as offensive and as an obstacle to righteousness and our own rising. Christ alone wants to be set up for the rising of many; otherwise he becomes the reason for their fall. He does not permit anything to be set next to him to bring about our rising. Martin Luther (Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas, Luthers Works, Vol. 52 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974], pp. 111,113-14)
Many things are necessary which are not a cause and do not justify, as for instance the earth is necessary, and yet it does not justify. If man the sinner wants to be saved, he must necessarily be present, just as he asserts that I must also be present. What Augustine says is true, He who has created you without you will not save you without you. Works are necessary to salvation, but they do not cause salvation, because faith alone gives life [Opera sunt necessaria ad salutem, sed non causant salutem, quia fides sola dat vitam]. On account of the hypocrites we must say that good works are necessary to salvation [Propter hypocritas dicendum est, quod bona opera sint etiam necessaria ad salutem]. It is necessary to work. Nevertheless, it does not follow that works save on that account, unless we understand necessity very clearly as the necessity that there must be an inward and outward salvation or righteousness. Works save outwardly, that is, they show evidence that we are righteous and that there is faith in a man which saves inwardly, as Paul says, Man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved [Rom. 10:10]. Outward salvation shows faith to be present, just as fruit shows a tree to be good. Martin Luther (The Disputation concerning Justification, Luthers Works, Vol. 34 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960], p. 165)
His [Christ’s] resurrection from the dead is our justification by faith alone [Resurrectio eius a mortuis est nostri iustificatio per solam fidem]. Martin Luther (a disputation of April 24, 1543 [WA 39:2,237,25]; quoted in Tom G. A. Hardt, “Justification and Easter: A Study in Subjective and Objective Justification in Lutheran Theology,” in A Lively Legacy: Essays in Honor of Robert Preus [Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary, 1985], p. 56)
...the Gospel reveals to us that God in His secret council and surpassing mercy has found such a way and method that both the righteousness of God revealed in the Law might be satisfied and that man might be justified to life eternal gratis by the grace of God, through faith, without the works of the Law, namely, that the Son of God should be sent into the world and come into the flesh to deliver, justify, and save the human race. But how was this our Mediator made our Righteousness, our Deliverer and Savior? Was it by dissolving and destroying the sentence of the divine will revealed in the Law? The Son of God Himself certainly says that this opinion and persuasion is false, because this is impossible, according to Matt. 5:17-18; Luke 16:16-17. But He was for this reason made under the Law, not for Himself nor in His own name, but that He might redeem those who were under the Law (Gal. 4:4-5). Therefore He took on Himself in the place and in the name of us all the satisfaction for sins, the suffering of the penalties, and the fulfillment of the Law by means of the most perfect obedience. And for this reason He assumed our nature, that in that nature, which was under the Law, satisfaction and fulfillment might be made. However, because it had to be a satisfaction and fulfillment that would be adequate and sufficient for the sins and for the righteousness of the whole world, therefore it was necessary that the person of the Mediator should be both God and man, in order that the power and efficacy of the satisfaction and fulfillment might be infinite and sufficient for the whole world. ...the Gospel reveals and declares this mystery, which was hidden for long ages, that since the human race could not make satisfaction to the Law and the Law could in no way be dissolved and destroyed, God made a transfer of the Law to another person (a matter which belongs to the article of justification) who should fulfill the Law both by satisfaction and obedience for the whole human race. And because that person is both God and man, therefore His satisfaction is the expiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2), and hence Christ is the end of the Law for the salvation of everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4). And Him God sets before us through the ministry, that through His redemption, by faith in His blood, we may be justified gratis by the grace of God. (Rom. 3:25) Martin Chemnitz (Examination of the Council of Trent, Part I [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971], pp. 498-500)
Whensoever we say that one is justified before God by faith alone in Christ, we wish to make this clear: that through faith alone we receive our Savior Christ in order that we might receive forgiveness of sins and life eternal through His most perfect act. For we take faith alone in Christ to be that hand, whereby we received whatever our redeemer Christ has wrought for us. We do not even debate whether we should do good works or not, or whether good works follow true faith or not. For according to [John] the Baptizer, we teach: every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire [Mt 3:10]. Nor do we say that dead faith, which is merely knowledge of history and which, according to James, even the demons have [cf. Jas 2:26], produces righteousness; but, [we are speaking of] that faith about which Paul speaks: faith working through love [Gal. 5:6]. Neither do we claim that those who have not repented are justified, that is, that they obtain forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Obviously, these are condemned. And thus, this is sufficient for what is mentioned above. Nevertheless, we are not saying that our good works should be included in the article of justification by God where the following is involved: through whom and by what means are we reconciled to God and are numbered among the children and heirs of God. Why? Because by as much as is ascribed in this matter to our works and righteousness, by that much do we judge that the worth of Christs work is diminished.
The Holy Scriptures ascribe righteousness before God and everlasting salvation not to our virtues and works, but alone to the superior merit of Christ, which we can acquire only through faith. Paul says: Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood to be received by faith [Rom 3:23-25]. And shortly thereafter the same Apostle says: For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law [Rom 3:28]. Here the blessed Apostle excludes our works from justification. And by excluding the works of the Law, he means not only the ceremonial or civil works, but also the Decalogue, that most exalted part of the Law, the Ten Commandments. For the Ten Commandments seek the most excellent and most holy works of all. Since, then, no one in this mortal life is able to keep these perfectly, for this reason the Apostle discards justification before God through the works of the Law. For whatever is to stand before the just and honest court of God, it is necessary that it be completely perfect. This, then, leaves nothing else to be found except the completely perfect work of Christ, which work is reckoned as their own to those who believe through faith in Him. And even our good works are excluded in such a matter of justification, so that we are by no means justified by them (we here use this word in this sense, that is, in the instance in which the sinner appears before the judgment seat of God), but our entire justification takes place freely and by grace alone. The Tübingen Theologians [including Jacob Andreae] (The First Reply to the First Answer of Patriarch Jeremiah , in George Mastrantonis, Augsburg and Constantinople [Brookline, Massachusetts: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1982], pp. 123-24)
The sacrifice of Christ is the action whereby the High Priest of the church, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of God, in transferring to Himself Gods terrible wrath against all the sins of all mankind and obeying God in the bitterest torments of soul and the death of the body, offers Himself to the eternal Father on the altar of the cross; and by this offering or act of obedience in His passion and death makes satisfaction for the sins of men, placates Gods ever so just wrath, propitiates Him, and gains for men the remission of sins, freedom from sin and death, justification, and life eternal. This definition is confirmed by clear testimonies in Hebrews 9; 10; 5; 7; and elsewhere. David Chytraeus (On Sacrifice [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962], p. 80)
How is a person justified before God? This occurs solely by faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ; that is, freely, not because of any works or merits of ones own but only because of the one Mediator, Jesus Christ, who became the sacrificial victim and propitiation on our behalf. By this sacrifice, man obtained forgiveness of sins and became righteous; that is, God-pleasing and acceptable. His righteousness was imputed to man for Christs sake, and man becomes an heir of eternal life when he believes with certainty that God gives him these blessings for the sake of His Son. David Chytraeus (A Summary of the Christian Faith [Decatur, Illinois: Repristination Press, 1997], p. 105)
The manner in which our justification is proceeded with, is as follows. The righteousness is: 1. offered by God unto man; and 2. received and accepted by man. Thus God offers his righteousness unto man by means of His Gospel, and by the holy Sacraments... From the last mentioned springs the faith by which the justification is accepted... If man has the justification offered unto him, then he accepts of it by faith, which is, as it were, the spiritual hand, by which the grace of God, the merits of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness, life and salvation are accepted and laid hold of. (Nicolaus Hunnius, Epitome Credendorum  [translated by Paul Edward Gottheil] [Nuremberg: U. E. Sebald, 1847], p. 144. Translation slightly revised.)
By raising Christ from the dead God absolved him for our sins which had been imputed to him, and consequently he also absolved us in him. In the resurrection of Christ we are absolved from our sins, so that they are not able to condemn us any more before God. (Excitando Christum a mortuis absolvit eum Deus a peccatis nostris ipsi imputatis, ac proinde etiam nos in ipso absolvit. - In Christi resurrectione a peccatis nostris sumus absoluti, ut non amplius coram Dei iudicio nos condemnare possint.) Johann Gerhard (quoted in John P. Meyer, Objective Justification, in Our Great Heritage [Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1991], Vol. 3, p. 42)
By raising [Christ] from the dead, [God] absolved him from our sins which had been imputed to him, and therefore he also absolved us in him that Christs resurrection might thus be the cause and the proof and the completion of our justification. Johann Gerhard (Annotationes in Epist. ad Rom. [Jena, 1666], p. 156; quoted in Siegbert W. Becker, Universal Justification, in Our Great Heritage, p. 56)
Christ’s resurrection took place as an actual absolution from sin (respectu actualis a peccato absolutionis). As God punished our sins in Christ, upon whom He laid them and to whom He imputed them, as our Bondsman, so He also, by the very act of raising Him from the dead, absolved Him from our sins imputed to Him, and so He absolved also us in Him. Abraham Calov (Bibl. Illust., ad Rom. 4:25; quoted in Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol. III [Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1951], p. 321).
The word justification and reconciliation is used in a twofold manner: 1) in respect of the acquired merit, 2) in respect of the appropriated merit. Thus all are justified and some are justified. All, in respect of the acquired merit; some, in respect of the appropriated merit. John Quistorp (Quoted in F. A. Schmidt, Justification: Subjective and Objective, [Fort Wayne, Indiana: Concordia Theological Seminary Press, 1982], p. 21)
The results of Adams fall, and of Christs mediation, are represented as entirely parallel in the range of their subjects; the one embraces exactly the same persons as the other. If Christ died for all, then were all dead. As in Adam all died, so in Christ shall all be made alive, (in the resurrection). Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the grace of God, tasted death for every man. By the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one mans disobedience many (oi polloi, the many, mankind,) were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many, (the many, mankind,) be made righteous.
The reply might be made, however, that not all men are actually justified through Christ, and that hence the parallel is to be restricted, and that not all men are necessarily actually involved in the death of sin. But in fact this limitation only makes the parallel more perfect. Not all embraced in the ideal of Christs work are actually saved, because the work is arrested in its tendency either negatively by lack of the means appointed for its application, or positively by the natural will of those who have the means, but resist their power. So, on the other hand, not all embraced in the ideal of sins work are actually lost, because that work is arrested on Gods side by the means appointed as its antidote, and on mans side by the divinely enlightened will of those who, having these means, do not resist their power. Nature, so to speak, undoes Christs work in the one case, as grace undoes sins work in the other. Gods work in grace in the one case, if unarrested, is ample for the salvation of every human creature, as sins work, in the other case, if unarrested, is ample for the loss of every human creature. Thus the all-embracing work of love on the one hand, freely giving life, and the all-pervading power of sin on the other, meriting death, rest in the same generic mode of Divine dealing. Take away Christ, and every human creature dies in Adam; take away Adam, and every human creature lives in Christ. But though the range of Adams work and of Christs work be the same, the power of Christs work transcends that of Adams. Gods love in Christ outweighs all. Not as the offence, so also is the free gift. (The Apostle takes a new point of view: he had shown wherein the offence is as the free gift, to wit, in its range; now he looks at a point in which the free gift transcends the offence.) For if through the offence of one, many (the many, mankind,) be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Charles Porterfield Krauth (The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology [Philadelphia: General Council Publication Board, 1871], pp. 413-15)
The Plan of Redemption...which was executed in time, was in God’s purpose from all eternity. Christ was thus the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; i.e., because His sacrifice for man’s sin was eternally foreknown, and eternally taken into the account in God’s estimate of man. But this plan, as devised from Eternity, was occupied not simply with the procural of Redemption, but also with the application of it. Even then, while God was reconciled to all men in Christ, He was reconciled to none outside of Christ. All were forgiven in Christ; none were forgiven outside of Christ. That Redemption should be realized, those for whom it was intended had to be brought to such relation to Christ, that they could be said to be “in Christ.” A series of agencies for applying Redemption, or bringing Christ to men, and men to Christ, is, therefore, also devised. The gift of the Holy Spirit, the efficiency of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace, the various stages of His applying work, until Redemption would reach its goal in life eternal, all were comprehended in the plan. – Henry Eyster Jacobs (Elements of Religion [Philadelphia: The Board of Publication of the General Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America, 1913], pp. 75-77)
To appreciate the nature of Justification we must review all that has been said concerning the work of Christ. Justification is the application of that work in the strictest sense. By Justification, all that Christ has suffered and done actually becomes the property of the individual believer. It has been his by right before; now it becomes his by actual possession. In Christ, God looks with favor upon the entire human race; outside of Christ, He looks with favor upon none of our race. In Christ, He has actually forgiven all men; out of Christ, He has forgiven none. Justification is, therefore, that act by which God, finding an individual in Christ, accounts, as though they were his, all that Christ has done and suffered. The one thus regarded, is made, in God’s account, the righteous one that Christ was...
That this is the meaning of Justification is clear from the entire teaching of Holy Scripture. ... The question here has to do exclusively with the ground upon which sinful man is forgiven and declared worthy of everlasting life. This is entirely what Christ is to him, and not what he is in Christ. – Henry Eyster Jacobs (Elements of Religion, pp. 199-200)
If there is one doctrine on which the Lutheran Church may be said to be a unit and on which it presents a united front, it is the doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, a doctrine which was the material principle of the Reformation. And yet many writers ignore or overlook a feature which constitutes the foundation of this doctrine and which is necessary for its right understanding, viz., Objective Justification.
Objective Justification may be defined as Gods declaration of amnesty to the whole world of sinners on the basis of the vicarious obedience of Christ, by which He secured a perfect righteousness for all mankind, which God accepted as a reconciliation of the world to Himself, imputing to mankind the merit of the Redeemer.
While this form of Justification is not what is usually understood by the term, it has abundant testimony from Scripture, as the following quotations will show:
Therefore as by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men unto condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one mans disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Rom. 5:18-19).
Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification. (Rom. 4:25).
To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:19).
For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21).
And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2).
Subjective, or Personal or Individual Justification, or the act of God by which, out of pure mercy and grace for Christs sake, He pronounces the believers free from guilt and punishment and actually clothed with the imputed righteousness of Christ while he is in a state of faith, is the actual acceptance by faith of the Objective Justification.
In the Gospel God announces to all men His grace and mercy in Christ, offers to all who hear it the forgiveness of sins and the merit of Christ, and actually operates these affects wherever they are not rendered void by obstinate resistance. (Cf. 2 Thess. 2:10,13; Rom. 1:16; Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41-42).
If personal or subjective Justification is the acceptance by faith of objective Justification it is manifest that it does not take place in view of faith. Thus a synergistic view of Justification is avoided. This is the chief advantage in treating the subject under these two forms. C. H. Little (Disputed Doctrines [Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933], pp. 60-61)
Return to the Lutheran Theology Web Site Home Page
alternate URL for this web page: