A Survey of Luther’s Theology Part II: Luther’s Doctrine of the Application of Salvation -- By: John Theodore Mueller

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 113:451 (Jul 1956)
Article: A Survey of Luther’s Theology Part II: Luther’s Doctrine of the Application of Salvation
Author: John Theodore Mueller


A Survey of Luther’s Theology
Part II:
Luther’s Doctrine of the Application of Salvation

John Theodore Mueller

[John Theodore Mueller is Professor Emeritus of Dogmatics and Exegesis at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. This article concludes his survey of Luther’s theology.]

Against Roman Catholic religious mechanism, which teaches that the sacraments infuse divine grace or sanctifying power, mechanically or ex opere operato, and spiritualistic enthusiasm, asserting the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit in the human heart without means of grace, Luther untiringly taught not only how our redemption was effected but also how it is applied to sinful man; in other words, he taught, as he likes to call it, the “bridge and way,” that is, the means of grace by which the Holy Spirit works faith, regeneration, and sanctification in the hearts of men. Because of lack of space we can here treat the doctrine only in an elementary way.

The law and the gospel. If man is to trust in Christ for salvation, he, according to Luther, must first be taught the law of God, in order that through the work of the Holy Spirit by the law he may become truly and fully contrite, recognize his sin and the wrath of God, despair of being his own savior, and by faith, wrought by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, receive as a free gift forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. Against Antinomianism, within and without the Lutheran Church, Luther with great vigor stressed the preaching of the divine law. He writes: “Repentance [contrition] is the work of the Holy Ghost who effects this in us through the Word of God [the divine law], which first discloses sin and then shows the punishment of sin, namely, eternal death”

(W 52, 667, 710. Seeberg, 260).

But while the law demands and condemns, reveals sin and convicts of sin, terrifies and casts the sinner into despair, the gospel of God’s gracious salvation in Christ Jesus must be preached side by side with the law, for it is through the gospel that the Holy Spirit works faith in the human heart and turns the believer to Christ to trust in Him as His personal and only Savior. Luther at times uses the terms “Law” and “Gospel” in a wider sense in which they denote the whole Christian doctrine, but when speaking of how the sinner is to be brought to Christ he employs these words in a stricter sense and sharply distinguishes between them as “two messages that are more than contradictory.” The law, in this sense, is “the divine Word which tells us of our sins and the wrath of God,” while the gospel is “the divine Word which shows and imparts to us the grace and forgiveness of God in Chr...

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