Fussy Certainty

The interview with Brad Gregory about his latest book on Martin Luther revealed a fundamental difference between Roman Catholics and magisterial Protestants. Around the twenty-minute mark, Gregory starts to challenge Luther’s quest for certainty of salvation in ways that would make you think the Notre Dame professor had been reading Scott Clark’s, Recovering the Reformed Confession. According to Gregory, Luther was on an illegitimate quest for certainty or freedom from doubt, especially considering all the ways (acts of devotion) the church had for helping Christians along the path of salvation.

But here’s the thing, Luther wanted to know that he could stand before the judgment seat of God as a righteous man. The best Rome could do was get Luther to purgatory. He had no assurance he would go to heaven (this was a time when all Roman Catholics worried about sin and damnation). And so, the idea that a sinner could be righteous through faith, having Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, was not part of some illegitimate quest for certainty. It was what every single person should want who knows God is holy and humans are sinful. Who will stand on that great day? Not how do I get through this life so that I can endure millennia of purging my remaining sin?

Which leaves us with two rival certainties. On the one hand, Roman Catholics have the certainty that comes through trust in the church:

the Catholic Church enjoys some Divine guarantees, but they are not numerous. Christ promised to be with the Church to the end of time, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. This means essentially that the Holy Spirit will not permit the Church’s Divine constitution to be lost (such as the disappearance of the Catholic hierarchy), that the fullness of all the means of salvation will always be available in the Church, that the Church’s sacraments will always be powerful sources of grace, that the Church’s Magisterial teachings will be completely free from error, and that the Church will remain the mystical body of Christ under the headship of Our Lord Himself, as represented here on earth by His Vicar, the successor of Peter.

A Roman Catholic knows that the institutional church won’t fail even if he or she doesn’t have assurance about the eternal destiny of their body and soul.

On the other hand, Protestants who affirm justification by faith, have certainty that their sins are and will be forgiven thanks to the work of Christ. Here is how Luther put it in his commentary on Galatians (excerpted here):

This I say, to confute that pernicious doctrine of the sophisters and monks, which taught that no man can certainly know (although his life be never so upright and blameless) whether he be in the favor of God or no. And this sentence, commonly received, was a special principle and article of faith in the whole Papacy, whereby they utterly defaced the doctrine of faith, tormented men’s consciences, banished Christ out of the Church, darkened and denied all the benefits and gifts of the Holy Ghost, abolished the true worship of God, set up idolatry, contempt of God, and blasphemy against God in men’s hearts. For he that doubteth of the will of God towards him, and hath no assurance that he is in grace, cannot believe that he hath remission of sins, that God careth for him, and that he can be saved.

Augustine saith very well and godly, that every man seeth most certainly his own faith, if he have faith. This do they deny. God forbid (say they) that I should assure myself that I am under grace, that I am holy, and that I have the Holy Ghost, yea, although I live godly, and do all works. Ye which are young, and are not infected with this pernicious opinion (whereupon the whole kingdom of the Pope is grounded), take heed and fly from it, as from a most horrible plague. We that are old men have been trained up in this error even from our youth, and have been so nusled therein, that it hath taken deep root in our hearts. Therefore it is to us no less labor to unlearn and forget the same, than to learn and lay hold upon true faith. But we must be assured and out of doubt that we are under grace, that we please God for Christ’s sake, and that we have the Holy Ghost. ‘For if any man have not the spirit of Christ, the same is none of his’ (Romans 8:9).

I don’t know why anyone would choose to lose Luther’s version of certainty to gain Gregory’s confidence in an institution that has not always been so worthy of trust.

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The Blessings of Protestant Christianity

Reading Luther this morning I came across this from his commentary on Romans:

Yes, certainly, we are the Lord’s, and this is our greatest joy and comfort, that we have as a Lord Him unto whom the Father has given all power in heaven and on earth, and into whose hands He has given all things. Who, then, can and will harm us? The devil may well rage with wrath, but he cannot tear us out of His hands. Further, are not we who believe in Jesus Christ our Lord, and live under His protection, also in Him and through Him, ourselves made lords over the devil, sin, and death? For He was made man for our sake (that He might win for us such lordship). For our sake He entreated the Father, and so loved us that He became a curse for us and gave himself a sacrifice for us. With His dear blood He bought us and washed us clean from sin. And again He has given us in our hearts the pledge of our inheritance and salvation, the Holy Spirit, and has made us kings and priests before God. In short, He has made us children and heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Himself. Yes, truly, this is a faithful saying. . . .

Can non-Protestants claim this? Why wouldn’t they want to?

Forensic Friday: Calvin on Osiander

Osiander objects that is would be insulting to God and contrary to this nature that he should justify those who actually remain wicked. Yet we must bear in mind what I have already said, that the grace of justification is not separated from regeneration, although they are things distinct. But because it is very well known by experience that the traces of sin always remain in the righteous, their justification must be very different from reformation into newness of life (cf.. Rom. 6:4). For God so begins this second point in his elect, and progresses in it gradually, and sometimes slowly, throughout life, that they are always liable to the judgment of death before his tribunal. But he does not justify in part but liberally, so that they may appear in heaven as if endowed with the purity of Christ. No portion of righteousness sets our consciences at peace until it has been determined that we are pleasing to God, because we are entirely righteous before him. From this it follows that the doctrine of justification is perverted and utterly overthrown when doubt is thrust into men’s minds, when the assurance of salvation is shaken and the free and fearless calling upon God suffers hindrance – nay, when peace and tranquility with spiritual joy are not established. Thence Paul argues from contraries that the inheritance does not come from the law (Gal. 3:18), for this way “faith would be nullified” (Rom. 4:14, cf. Vg.). For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely. (Institutes, III.xi.11)

Looks like Calvin also teaches the priority of justification (i.e. first grace) to sanctification (i.e., “second”). And for that matter, if union is drawing attention to good works because it is always calling attention to the simultaneity of legal and moral benefits, why would you want to emphasize the importance or controlling perspective of union on soteriology? In other words, Calvin sure seems to be saying that justification needs to be the controlling paradigm for understanding salvation. Otherwise, faith totters.

Forensic Friday: Justification and Assurance

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 5:1)

On this verse Calvin writes:

Here indeed is the chief hinge on which faith turns: that we do not regard the promises of mercy that God offers as true only outside ourselves, but not at all in us; rather that we make them ours by inwardly embracing them. Hence, at last is born that confidence which Paul elsewhere calls “peace” [Rom. 5:1], unless someone may prefer to derive peace from it. Now it is an assurance that renders the conscience calm and peaceful before God’s judgment. Without it the conscience must be harried by disturbed alarm, and almost torn to pieces; unless perhaps, forgetting God and self, for the moment sleeps. And truly for the moment, for it does not long enjoy that miserable forgetfulness without the memory of divine judgment repeatedly coming back and very violently rending it. Briefly, he alone is truly a believer who, convinced by a firm conviction that God is a kindly and well-disposed Father toward him, promises himself all things on the basis of his generosity; who, relying upon the promises of divine benevolence toward him, lays hold on an undoubted expectation of salvation . . . . the apostle does not consider the eyes of our minds well illumined, except as we discern what the hope of the eternal inheritance is to which we have been called [Eph. 1:18]. And everywhere he so teaches as to intimate that we cannot otherwise well comprehend the goodness of God unless we gather from it the fruit of great assurance. (Institutes, 3.2.16)