Thursday, January 05, 2006

Luther Did Not Believe in Limited Atonement

This issue just keeps on coming up: were Luther's views on divine sovereignty in salvation really more in harmony with the (Calvinist) Westminster Standards than with the Lutheran confessions? Calvinists say this to show that Luther was at heart one of them. Tim and David Bayly have asserted that Luther and the (Calvinist) Westminster Standards are both fully Biblical on divine sovereignty, but the Lutheran confessions are not. The Pontificator has on a number of occasions stated his belief that Luther was basically wrong in his view of free will and salvation, but modern Lutherans have perhaps altered his theology to be more acceptable to the catholic faith, but less authentically Luther's (e.g. here; although here he acknowledges not being to familiar with the issues.)

Since the Pontificator specifically brought up the issue of limited atonement, I'd like to kill this meme off right now. Please turn to page 175-177 in your Bondage of the Will, and read along with me, as we see how a rejection of limited atonement is the bedrock of Luther's theology:

Erasmus raised Matt. 23:37 against Luther, where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem:

'O Jeruslaem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together and thou wouldst not.'

Erasmus then asks Luther rhetorically:

'If all comes to pass by necessity,' says the Diatribe [of Erasmus], 'could not Jerusalem have justly answered the Lord, "Why dost thou weary thyself with useless tears? If thou didst not wish us to hearken to the prophets, why didst thou send them? Why dost thou lay to our charge that which came to pass at Thy will, and so by necessity in us?"'

Luther first makes the incidental point that this contention, far from establishing the orthodox non-Pelagian position that Erasmus supposedly sets out to defend, establish simple Pelagianism. Erasmus argues that the moral agency implied in Christ's weeping only makes sense if we have the free will to achieve what he weeped over us not achieving. But what Christ was weeping over was salvation, and so . . . . Presumably Erasmus would have to argue that we have the free will to achieve salvation. Which is rank Pelagianism.

Anyway, flogging Erasmus's fundamentally unserious work is easy. The harder issue is the one of theodicy, which in regard to Calvinism's "TULIP" issues can be stated as "If we are all equally incapable of saving ourselves and God wishes to save all, why are not all saved?" This position is raised regularly and Luther gives different versions of the answer, circling around this particularly difficult issue. In the passage I will cite he accentuates the difference between the secret will of the Divine Majesty and the Incarnate God:

I say, as I said before, that we may not debate the secret will of the Divine Majesty, and that the recklessness of man, who shows unabated perversity in leaving necessary matters for an attempted assault on that will, should be withheld and restrained from employing itself in searching out those secrets of Divine Majesty; for man cannot attain unto them, seeing that, as Paul tells us (cf. 1 Tim. 6:16), they dwell in inaccessible light. But let man occupy himself with God Incarnate, that is, with Jesus crucified, in whom, as Paul says (cf. Col. 2:3), are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (though hidden); for by Him man has abundant instruction both in what he should and what he should not know.

Here, God Incarnate says [to unrepentant Jerusalem]: 'I would, and the thou wouldst not.' God Incarnate, I repeat, was sent for this purpose, to will, say, do, suffer, and offer to all men, all that is necessary for salvation; albeit He offends many who, being abandoned or hardened by God's secret will of Majesty, do not receive Him thus willing, speaking, doing, and offering. As John says: 'The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not' (John 1:5). And again: 'He came unto His own, and His own received Him not' (v. 11). It belongs to the same God Incarnate to weep, lament, and groan over the perdition of the ungodly, though that will of Majesty purposely leaves and reprobates some to perish. Nor is it for us to ask why He does so, but to stand in awe of God, Who can do, and wills to do such thing [emphasis added].

Luther then goes on to answer the objection that maybe before God was incarnate, Jerusalem had been hardened and killed the prophets, and so at that time, she could not have looked to God Incarnate. He replies that of course all of God's dealings with men have been in the name of the coming God Incarnate and hence in all of them God wills alike the salvation of all: Thus all that has been offered to men through the ministry of the Word from the beginning of the world may rightly be called the will of Christ.

But here Reason, in her knowing and talkative way, will say: 'This is a nice way out that you have invented -- that, whenever we are hard pressed by force of arguments [that seem to impute injustice to God], we run back to that dreadful will of Majesty, and reduce our adversary to silence when he becomes troublesome . . . I reply: This is not my invention, but a command grounded on the Divine Scriptures. In Rom. 11, Paul says, "Why then does God find fault? Who shall resist His will? O man, who are thou that contendest with God? Hath not the potter power?' and so on (Rom. 9:19, 21). . . . I think these words make it clear enough that it is not lawful for men to search into the will of Majesty.

And I think these words are clear enough to show that Luther based his whole theology on the will of God Incarnate being for the salvation of all Adam's children. And since he also indignantly rejected Perserverance of the Saints, and clearly thought the means of grace of God Incarnate resistible by unrepentant sinners, Luther was at best a 2.5 point Calvinist, which is not much of a Calvinist at all.

Now Augsburg Evangelicals may well be uncomfortable that Luther did indeed seem to accept double predestination, and certainly he acknowledged that when we look into the will of Majesty and the facts of the world, we cannot avoid this conclusion. But his response is always not to try to argue that we should accept and love such a God (as the Reformed did), but instead to turn away from such inquiries and instead rest in faith that somehow it is the Incarnate God who more really and more truly reveals God's true nature. (There's more on the topic here.)

This may be wrong, it may be nuts, it may illustrate the backsliding of the LCMS (as per the Bayly brothers) or the arrant absurdities of Protestantism (as per the Pontificator), but please, let's not hear anything more about Bondage of the Will proving that was Luther really a Calvinist.