The Historical Significance Of The “Marburg Colloquy” (1529), And Its Bearing Upon The New Departure -- By: Frank Hugh Foster

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 044:174 (Apr 1887)
Article: The Historical Significance Of The “Marburg Colloquy” (1529), And Its Bearing Upon The New Departure
Author: Frank Hugh Foster


The Historical Significance Of The “Marburg Colloquy” (1529), And Its Bearing Upon The New Departure

Frank H. Foster

The Marburg Colloquy, which resulted in the refusal on the part of the Lutherans to fellowship the Swiss, and destroyed the hopes of the Landgrave, Philip of Hesse, for the formation of a Protestant league against Catholicism, is often supposed to have been a mere squabble over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. True, this was the topic under discussion, but the real significance of the Colloquy, as of many another discussion, lay deeper than the topic. This alone could never have separated two great Protestant bodies in the presence of an angry foe, deprived them of mutual help, and precipitated Germany into the gulf of the War of Smalcald. Luther saw more than this in the difference, and he expressed it in the words: “Your spirit is other than ours.” Following this hint of Luther’s, let us see if we cannot gain a clearer view of this most momentous discussion than has commonly been held.

The “spirit” of the Lutheran theology may be variously explained. It was developed out of its “material principle,” as the Germans would say—Justification by Faith. That is, the substance of this doctrine, and the style of thought which the laying of great emphasis on the subjective element of Christian experience must necessarily produce, determine the distinctive features of the system. It views doctrine from the anthropological standpoint, and colors it by reasonings drawn from human analogies.

To illustrate our meaning, and at the same time draw nearer to the central point of our theme, the experiences of Luther in justification determined his view of the means of grace. God found him in sin, interposed and rescued him, and thus the work of salvation was all of God. To this point Luther was fully right. God did this saving work through the Word, coming in the case of Luther himself through the creed, and the preaching of the aged monk who asked him if he believed the creed. God thus worked through means, viz. the Word, in the actual case of which Luther knew the most, his own. And, furthermore, reasoning after human analogies, since men reach men through means, Luther may have thought that God must pursue the same method, or, at least, that he always does. The Scripture argument from such cases as Rom. 10:17, and the doctrine of the Catholic church as to means of grace, from which Luther was never able in all respects to free himself, played, doubtless, an important part in establishing the conclusion. However arrived at, this was his position, as he himself says, Dens interna non dat nisi per externa.

The Word, viewed as a means of grace, is not the ...

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