Zeal for Good Works
I’ve had some further thoughts about the subject of preaching about good works and what has been described by Professor Kurt Marquart as a disturbing "aversion to sanctification" that is at work in some of the preaching we hear these days. Some Lutherans are great on Hebrews 12:2, but act as if Hebrews 12:1 was not there. When and how did any of us begin to think that exhorting the regenerate to do good works in a sermon is somehow inappropriate, or must never come after the Gospel is preached, or is "covered" as we preach against sin? I’ve been pondering this and have some more thoughts.
Where these entirely erroneous opinions come from, I’m not sure, but
I am sure of this. I can find no orthodox Lutheran preacher in the
16th, 17th, 18th or 19th century who ever said such a thing. I strongly
suspect the influence of Werner Elert, perhaps misunderstood or misapplied by
his American students, may well be to blame here. The suggestion that
using the Law in our rhetoric along the lines of
its second use will automatically result in our preaching
sanctification, or that preaching justification in Christ will also
result, automatically, in preaching sanctification simply has no
support in classic Lutheran theology or practice.
Further, I believe that the very valid concern that we keep
Law and Gospel properly distinguished and very clearly keep
justification and sanctification (renewal) distinct have led to the
errors out there now. Perhaps folks have forgotten that Scripture and
our Confessions and Lutheran fathers use the term "sanctification" in
both a broad sense (to refer to salvation) and in a narrow sense (to
refer to the renewal that follows justification, but is never a part of
it, or cause of it). I suspect there is at work here a simple matter of ignorance that the term "sanctification" is used in two ways like this.
And finally, I have observed that ex-Evangelicals have properly
warned Lutheranism against the errors of Evangelicalism, but in their
zeal to avoid those errors, they too have gone too far and some are
making their negative experiences with good works, wrongly taught,
normative for how we are to properly teach about good works. In the
process the baby of faithful teaching and preaching about the new life
in Christ is being tossed out with the bath water of false teachings
about these things. It boggles my mind that any Lutheran would go as
far as some are going in trying to avoid preaching sanctification and
life of good works among the regenerate.
And further baffling is that anytime anyone even begins to try to
talk about this problem we are having people immediately want to avoid
the conversation by running right away to: "But the Law doesn’t cause
us to do good works!" No, it doesn’t. "But faith must come first!" Yes,
that is true. "We are not saved at all by our works, only by grace!"
Yes, of course. "Sanctification is not about good works!" No, not when
the word is used in its wider sense. "The Law doesn’t motivate anyone
to do good works." Correct, again. "We are always sinners in this life!" Yes, that is true. "All our works as are filthy rags!" Yes, according to the old man, true. "The Law always accuses us! Just preach against sin and people will hear third use too!" Well, that might be a logical thing to say, but it doesn’t hold up to Scripture and the Confessions and finally all it amounts to is a de facto denial of the third use of the law. It almost seems to me that some have embraced a sort of "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy when it comes to good works!
Granting most of these points, most of which are perfectly true, we need to get back to the issue! The issue is how we do properly preach about
the life of Christian renewal (sanctification in narrow sense)?
Avoiding preaching about good works in a Romans 12 way is certainly no
solution at all, but this is what I hear some of us suggesting.
Here is what Chemnitz says:
The testimonies of Scripture are clear, that the renewal
of the new man, as also the mortification of the old, is not perfect
and complete in this life but that it grows and is increased day by day
until it is perfected in the next life, when this corruptible will have
put on incorruption. Profitable also and necessary in the church are
exhortations that the regenerate should not neglect, extinguish, or
cast away the gifts of the Spirit which they have received but that
they stir them up with true and earnest exercises, calling on the help
of the Holy Spirit, that He may give an increase of faith, hope, love,
and of the other spiritual gifts; for what the punishment of spiritual
negligence is the parable of the talents shows. There is also no doubt
that faith is effectual through love, that it is the mother of good
works, and that good works please God through faith for the sake of
Christ. And in this sense the statement in James 2:21–24 can be
understood and accepted appropriately and rightly, that through the
numerous good works that followed Abraham is declared to have been
truly justified by faith, and it is shown that faith is not empty and
dead, but true and living.
Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the Council of Trent,
Translation of Examen Concilii Tridentini., electronic ed., 1:538 (St.
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1971).
And, again Chemnitz:
I have, however, cited the chief testimonies of Scripture to show that we exhort the regenerate to zeal for good works
from the sources and foundations themselves, as they are given in the
Scripture, and that I might show that the doctrine of good works is
being taught much more correctly in our churches than among the
papalists, who boast that they alone have good works. For we not
only clearly teach from the Word of God that good works are to be done,
but we also explain the true reasons why they should be done. We also
teach of what kind the good works of the regenerate ought to be, that
there may be a distinction between philosophical virtues and
Pharisaical works and the new obedience of the regenerate, and how
in this infirmity good works can be done, namely, by a person who has
been reconciled by faith and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
Martin Chemnitz and Fred Kramer, Examination of the
Council of Trent, Translation of Examen Concilii Tridentini.,
electronic ed., 1:624 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999,
Here is what Walther said in Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.
is to be effected by preaching? Bear in mind that the preacher is to
arouse secure souls from their sleep in sin; next, to lead those who
have been aroused to faith; next, to give believers assurance of their
state of grace and salvation; next, to lead those who have become
assured of this to sanctification of their lives; and lastly, to
confirm the sanctified and to keep them in their holy and blessed state
unto the end. What a task!
Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther, William Herman Theodore Dau and Ernest
Eckhardt, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel : 39 Evening
Lectures, Forward by Jaroslav Pelikan. Includes index., electronic ed.,
248 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2000, c1929, c1986).