Posted on: December 17th, 2009 Luther on Predestination

I have been trying to relocate this Luther quotation for years, ever since my dad originally showed it to me from a service leaflet from his church, The Falls Church (Episcopal). It is vintage Luther.

When a man begins to discuss predestination, the temptation is like an inextinguishable fire; the more he disputes, the more he despairs. Our God is opposed to this disputation, and accordingly he has provided against it in baptism, the Word, the sacraments, and various signs. In these we should trust and say: “I am baptized; I believe in Jesus Christ; what does it concern me, whether or not I am predestined?” He has given us ground to stand on, that is, Jesus Christ, and through him we may climb to heaven. He is the one way and the gate to the Father. But when we begin in the devil’s name to build first on the roof above, scorning the ground, then we fall!…. I forget all that Christ and God are, when I get to thinking about this matter, and come to believe that God is a villain. We ought to remain by the Word, in which God is revealed to us and salvation offered, if we believe it. Moreover, in trying to understand predestination, we forget God, we cease to praise and we begin to blaspheme. In Christ, however, are hid all treasures; without him none may be had. Therefore we should give no place whatever to this argument concerning predestination.

A couple of thoughts about this:

1. The part about Christ, through whom we may climb to heaven, being the one way and the gate to the Father reminds me of a quotation I read recently by Hugh of St. Victor: “We travel to God along the road of God.”

2. For me this quotation of Luther’s vindicates the attempts of the “Federal Vision” folks in my former church, the PCA, in their attempts to develop a theology and practice which emphasizes visible means (evoked by the word “covenant”) over an undue stress on God’s election.

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Filed under: History / Genealogy

5 Responses to “Luther on Predestination”

  1. Collins Aki Says:
    December 21st, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    I agree with you and Luther on this (but why did you have to do your boy Douglas Wilson, like that? lol). The doctrine of predestination is subordinate to the promise of salvation by grace through faith alone (this is why Luther is far more vocal about justification by faith alone, than predestination, although JI Packer would disagree, vide Bonadage of the Will intro). But before I take that to mean, a simple “confession of faith”, Luther, in this text, astutely describes what we may think of an act of “faith alone” as: baptism, the Word, the sacraments and various signs (he kind of contradicted himself there by adding “various signs”, but we love Luther, we”ll let him slide on that :-)). But indeed, the doctrine of predestination should simply be understand as a reflection of the power of God’s promise to save, and not so much the warrant for the believer’s assurance of his salvation. This is no contradiction, because when the focus is on God’s promise to save rather than the believes warrant to be secure, the focus seems to Christ completely. And thus the sacraments seem to me, more of an “end” rather than “means” (I’m just thinking out loud, here). That is, the sacraments, (baptism and the Eucharist) are a celebration of being (participating?) in the Body and thus an act of grattitude and “being” in the Body, rather than an utiliterian act of validation (if it is seen as a means) which we as humans are so quick to turn into a practice of idolatry or a political manuever for power. But anyway, the doctrine of predestination is good to know, but faith in God’s grace, hope in his mercy, and love for his world are far greater! (and my spell check isn’t on, and I am typing this inbetween work–so give me a break on the spelling, lol)

  2. Juanita Scheer Says:
    February 17th, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Hmm. I have all sorts of questions on this topic, but before I can ask, I feel I need a better grasp of “the doctrine of predestination” to begin with. Where do you recommend I turn? I know it’s Calvin, but what’s a good place to start? (I’m really trying to resist the temptation to wikipedia it…)

    For now, it seems what you’re saying is that it doesn’t really matter because, either way, “it’s going to turn out ok” because Christ is our ultimate destiny…like, who cares about the rest? Am I getting this? Let me know where I can get a better understanding of the doctrine of predestination so I can formulate my questions properly. Thank you!


  3. Freverett Says:
    February 17th, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I think the church has done a poor job talking about God’s will and God’s sovereignty. I think we tend to either say is in complete control (I have no free will) or God has no power. Both are unfulfilling. Matt, other than Tanner who has done a good job addressing this tension?

  4. Daniel Rosales Says:
    February 17th, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Awesome post!

  5. matt Says:
    February 19th, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Juanita, Daniel, and Everett, thanks for your comments! I wish I had more time to respond at this particular moment, but alas….

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