Luther on Salvation By Grace Alone

It should be obvious, but I will give my usual Reformed alert here. Not meant for sensitive readers, those with high blood pressure, or those who may be pregnant, and not Reformed.

I like how this is explained by Luther, who is being quoted by Warfield.

“As a man, before he is created, to be a man, does nothing and makes no effort to be a creature; and then, after he has been made and created, does nothing and makes no effort to continue a creature; but both these things alike are done solely by the will of the omnipotent power and goodness of God who without our aid creates and preserves us – but He does not operate in us without our cooperation, seeing that He created and preserved us for this very purpose, that He might operate in us and we cooperate with Him, whether this is done outside His kingdom by general omnipotence, or within His kingdom by the singular power of His Spirit: So then we say that a man before he is renovated into a new creature of the kingdom of the Spirit, does nothing and makes no effort to prepare himself for that renovation and kingdom; and then, after he has been renovated, does nothing, makes no effort to continue in that kingdom; but the Spirit alone does both alike in us, recreating us without our aid, and preserving us when recreated, as also James says, ‘Of His own will begat He us by the word of His power, that we should be the beginning of His creation’ (he is speaking of the renewed creature), but He does not operate apart from us, seeing that He has recreated and preserved us for this very purpose that He might operate in us and we cooperate with Him. Thus through us He preaches, has pity on the poor, consoles the afflicted. But what, then, is attributed to free will? Or rather what is left to it except nothing? Assuredly just nothing.”

What this parallel teaches is that the whole saving work is from God, in the beginning and middle and end; it is a supernatural work throughout. But we are saved that we may live in God; and, in the powers of our new life, do His will in the world. It is the Pauline, Not out of works, but unto good works, which God has afore prepared that we should live in them.

B.B. Warfield, The Theology of the Reformation, quoting Luther

Monergism’s newsletter said, “This is a must-read essay by Warfield. If you have never read this, I would encourage you to take the time to do so”; so I’m reading it! Although if we read everything that’s a ‘must-read’, we couldn’t finish in many lifetimes. But I took their word for it, and it’s very good. I thought it was time I read something by him.

5 Responses to “Luther on Salvation By Grace Alone”


  1. 1 Eric

    Heck, I braced myself for nothing – that wasn’t too bad – I’d call that Reformed “lite.” (insert smiley here) Loved the first paragraph disclaimer. The quote makes me think of the Scripture, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” It also reminds of when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about the wind (Spirit) blowing “where it wishes.” It’s His work in us, not our own. Very thought-provoking. Hope you’re doing well. Eric

  2. 2 Thomas Provost

    Excellent post Jeff. I am not sure that very many Lutheran scholars would agree with Luther today. He sounds too “Reformed” for them.

  3. 3 Scripture Zealot

    Eric, I’m glad you liked it. Reformed lite wouldn’t be my thing, but it’s a funny term. I’ve been doing just OK, which is better than doing worse. Hope you are too, at least.

    Tom, that always confounds me. I was looking to see if this quote is from ‘The Bondage of the Will’ (I don’t think so, unless this is an unusual translation), and found a blog that discussed how really no scholars from any of the synods would agree with it, and how soon after Luther the theology changed. It’s just strange.
    Jeff

  4. 4 Peter Schmidt

    Two scripture verses come to mind;

    Acts 17:38 – For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

    Rom. 11:36 – For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

    God initiates, and works through us, that we might serve Him, all to His glory.

  5. 5 Scripture Zealot

    ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Acts 17:38

    That’s a fantastic connection for this quote and theology.

    I was just thinking today about how God always initiates.
    Jeff

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