10 August 2012

Old Lutheran Quote of the Day

If you who are now firm in the faith do not watch and daily seek to strengthen yourself in the way of righteousness, you can certainly become offended and fall away into the idolatry of false doctrine, enthusiasm, and unbelief. Remember Aaron, and apply his example to yourself. If even he could fall, how much less secure is your own footing, no matter how highly enlightened you think yourself to be.—C. F. W. Walther, God Grant It!, p. 631.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

Now who would argue against strengthening oneself in the way of righteousness? Especially if the words come from such a great theologian and teacher as C.F.W. Walther?

More than 50 years ago I was a student at a synodical institution, preparing for the ministry. I had a problem – an inability to study. It was not a matter of not being able to understand, but, as I found out many years later, I had a physiological condition that made studying extremely difficult. As I watched all of my friends sitting at their studies and absorbing what we were all supposed to absorb, it occurred to me that maybe I was simply unwilling to pay the cost of discipleship; maybe I was not even one of God’s children. My professors thought I was just being lazy, and that did not help me when I sat down and the words in the book began to disassociate from their meaning. C.F.W. Walther was one of the few people who came to my rescue with his “Law and Gospel”. It confirmed that, in spite of my shortcomings, the love of God revealed in the Gospel is objective, apart from my own failures, “apart” from the works of the Law. I cannot fully express how much comfort he brought me at that time.

Time passed. Although I did not become a pastor, I continued to read and listen to the Word of God in all of its forms. And lo and behold, the suspicion entered my mind that, as great as C.F.W. Walther was, there were things he didn’t get quite right. The long and the short of it is that, at times, he discards his own teaching about the Gospel, to hint at a righteousness by works. Take this matter of “Aaron and how great he was.” Did Aaron work his way up to greatness? Was he not the master builder of the Golden Calf? His sons, Nadab and Abihu, died for what would appear to be a much less significant breach of the commandments, but Aaron did not even get a bad note in his personnel record. St. Paul asks the question of us, which we have to ask about Aaron, “Did he have anything that he did not receive?”

But Walther seems then to make entry into the Kingdom of God almost impossible for “ordinary” people when he asks, “If even he could fall, how much less secure is your own footing, no matter how highly enlightened you think yourself to be.” If I had read this 50 years ago, it would have been devastating.

But there is more behind this. If the life of the Christian revolves about “daily seek(ing) to strengthen yourself in the way of righteousness”, so as not to fall “way into the idolatry of false doctrine, enthusiasm, and unbelief”, then our life in the Kingdom becomes focused solely on our own future in eternity. Does it leave any room for being concerned about the needs of our neighbors? Is it not for this reason that Scripture time and time reassures us that our own failures are irrelevant to our status as citizens of God’s Kingdom. Our Lord assured His disciples, Luke 12: 32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” What he says after that has to do with others.

No, there is nothing wrong with praying, meditating, studying the Word of God, listening to our teachers and Pastors, attending services and taking part in the Sacrament of the Altar; in fact, they are all very good things. But if we do them solely because we think that otherwise God will be angry with us, or that we might be lost forever, then we miss the point, and we also miss the joy. Our Lord promised us that evening, on the day before He began His suffering of mind-bending pain and unimaginable temptation, John 16: 22, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

I still admire and continue to learn from Walther, Luther, Augustine, David, Moses, Aaron, and Abraham, but all of them “fell away” in some way or another, but not out of the grasp of our merciful Father.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Andrew said...

Walther's words seem to me to echo St Paul's in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.

'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.'

Unknown said...

Andrew, I think that you are absolutely right. But the difference between St. Paul and Walther, in this case, is that St. Paul warns of gross sinning that may cause one to fall. Walther says that if we “do not watch and daily seek to strengthen yourself in the way of righteousness,” this can lead to our falling. Two great differences, as my friends from Odessa say. By the way, Luther preached a wonderful sermon on this section of 1 Corinthians. You can read it here: http://ichabodthegloryhasdeparted.blogspot.com/2012/04/luthers-sermons-1-corinthians-106-13.html
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Andrew said...

Mr Marquart,

But the difference between St. Paul and Walther, in this case, is that St. Paul warns of gross sinning that may cause one to fall.

Only gross sin? By gross sin do you mean mortal sin? Does not Walther also teach that in their inherent nature all sins are mortal, in that all sins, no matter how 'small' or 'insignificant', can drive out faith, prayer, and the Holy Ghost if not expunged by turning to the Lord in repentance and confession?

It's also important to note that in the catalog of sins St Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 10, alongside lusting after evil things, idolatry, fornication, and tempting Christ, murmering is mentioned. Murmering, grumbling, complaining — not exactly the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of gross sins. And yet it too is mentioned with the grave warning: 'Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.'

Walther says that if we “do not watch and daily seek to strengthen yourself in the way of righteousness,” this can lead to our falling.

Who among us does not know this to be true? Speaking from my own experience, when I neglect the path of righteousness in my own life — when I neglect daily prayer, daily reading of the scriptures, when I skip church, when I forsake vigilance over my thoughts — it leads inevitably into gross sin. And I suspect I am not alone in this.

Andrew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Dear Andrew, the question of degrees of sin is another matter. My point is that St. Paul warns against apostasy that may result from idolatry, sexual immorality, and complaining. Even then it is not clear that what St. Paul means by “fall” is actual apostasy, rather than sins which can be forgiven. Walther, on the other hand, makes the same threat for neglecting daily “strengthening in the way of righteousness”, and there is no doubt that he means apostasy; that is, unbelief, the Sin against the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in Scripture will you find anyone writing that failure to “strengthen righteousness” daily will put you in danger of hell. The way of the Kingdom is admonition, not threats, as St. Paul does in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God…” and I think St. Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 10 are in the same spirit. I am not sure that we are justified in believing that all of those people, who St. Paul says were killed by God in the desert, were condemned for eternity.

In no way do I mean to belittle sin, but if we cannot come to grips with the idea that we are sinners, will be sinners until we reach the heavenly Kingdom, and that sinners sin, we will have difficulty rejoicing in the Gospel, which tells us that God loves sinners, that our Lord died for sinners, and that our Lord has given us an inheritance in spite of our sins. In fact, if you take the Gospel seriously, you will understand that God forgives the sins of His children as soon as they are committed. If it were not so, we could not ever be righteous in His sight because of the blood of the Lamb, as we are. Repentance and confession are good and to be encouraged, but it is God Himself, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, Who guards His sheep within the Kingdom - not what we do.

With regard to degrees of sin, Walther and all of us Lutherans have a little problem, because of the way we treat David’s sin with Bathsheba. Our Confessions say that David lost both faith and the Holy Spirit. From this come all kinds of aberrations, such as Walther’s statement which began this discussion. The idea that we can pop in and out of the Kingdom of God, and that the Holy Spirit will leave and come back (actually, leave when a person needs Him the most) is not one which you will find in Scripture, and is contrary to the very idea that the Good Shepherd will not abandon His sheep when they have their greatest need. Actually, before our Lord spoke of the Sin Against the Holy Spirit, He said, “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, …” So our Lord distinguished between only two kinds of sins, those that can be forgiven, and the one, apostasy, the willful rejection of His grace. I think that if we make all of God’s children think that they are constantly on the verge of committing the Sin Against the Holy Spirit, we do not distinguish properly between Law and Gospel, something about which Walther had many good things to say.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart