Vol. 6, No. 11
~ Page 13 ~
It is a mystery that the religious world has kept hidden the real teaching of Martin Luther regarding salvation. It has been assumed that he meant by "faith only" that a person was saved the moment he believed in the facts of the Gospel without taking any other action. The sermons and writings of Luther plainly deny that.
Luther had been trained in the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, and had been taught that in addition to accepting and obeying the teachings of Jesus, one had to do various manmade religious works in order to be saved. When he realized that it was by the grace of God that the blood of Christ was a sufficient payment for our sins, and it was only necessary to accept that sacrifice by faith in order to be saved, he expressed those thoughts by the expression "faith only" in contrast to "faith plus various meritorious works" in order to earn salvation.
For those who doubt that this was his meaning, some of the following quotations from his sermons and his Larger Catechism may be helpful. In one of his sermons, he said:
Faith and baptism, as the chief part and foundation of our salvation, must stand first. For we may never dare to boast that we merit the gift of Christ in whom we believe, or that the baptism which we receive in his name is of our own doing or has been instituted by any human being. To prove my statements, consider this: Christ says plainly and clearly; "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" as though he would say: If you would know how you can be saved, then this shall be considered the chief and essential condition -- to believe and be baptized. The question is not whether or not we must do good works. There is no dispute about that. But there is something more important. The point is not what we are doing ourselves, but where shall we seek with the certainty we shall find that by which we can be saved from sin and death, and can obtain life and salvation? Here Christ clearly explains what shall be the chief doctrine of the Gospel. He bases it entirely on faith and baptism, concluding that we shall be saved for the sole reason that we have Christ by faith and baptism. Hence, we have no authority in these for omitting baptism; no reason to hold that because one has faith he needs no baptism.
In another sermon, he was explaining how one is saved through the preaching of the Gospel and said, "Christ intentionally made the statement thus plain: 'He that believeth, and is baptized' etc., in order to set right the delusions and pretensions of the Jews and of all the world regarding salvation by man's own works. On faith and baptism, not on our own but on his works, he bases all." We shall see in another quotation from his Larger Catechism that he did not consider baptism as a work of man, but a work of God, because God commanded it.
He continued in this sermon by saying, "Christ first commands the eleven to go and make disciples of all nations, and to baptize them into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is, they are to preach to them the teaching of the Gospel, how they must be saved -- which, as yet, neither the Jews nor the heathen knew -- and in this knowledge to baptize them, making the people disciples or Christians. These are the first essentials and thereto the words agree: 'He that believeth and is baptized' etc." One can clearly see that he taught that belief and baptism were both essential elements in making one a disciple of Christ.
He continues in the same vein by saying, "Now, in these words of Christ: 'Teach all nations and baptize them' etc.; and 'He that believeth and is baptized' -- it is evident that he holds before us not our unworthy works and the demands of the Law, but his own merits and his gift; these we can accept in no other way than by faith." Surely one can see that he considers baptism a command of God by which we accept the gracious gift of the blood of Christ and not a work of man by which he merits salvation. If this is not what all faithful Gospel preachers have preached throughout my life, then I have been terribly misled. He even makes it clearer, if it can be made clearer, by saying, "For we may never dare to boast that we merit the gift of Christ in whom we believe, or that the baptism which we receive in his name is of our own doing or has been instituted by any human being."
In another sermon, he says essentially the same thing in these words:
God's grace received must be bestowed. First, he has done all that is necessary for our salvation -- conquered and destroyed sin, death and hell, leaving no more there for anyone to do. Secondly, he has conveyed all these blessings unto us in baptism. Take note, God pours out upon us in baptism super-abundant blessings for the purpose of excluding the works whereby men foolishly presume to merit heaven and gain happiness.
Note that he is emphasizing that in accepting salvation by belief and baptism we exclude "the works whereby men foolishly presume to merit heaven." How different this is from practically all Protestant preaching that claims to respect the teaching of Luther about salvation by faith only!
He later is talking about salvation and quotes from Paul, "Through the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit." Then he says, "How beautifully the apostle in these strong words extols the grace of God bestowed in baptism! He refers to baptism as a washing, whereby not our feet only, not our hands, but our whole bodies are cleansed. Baptism perfectly and instantaneously cleanses and saves." Have you ever heard any preaching outside the Lord's church that so clearly teaches what the Bible teaches about the matter? Why the religious world that has the same access to the sermons and teaching of Luther as we do keep that hidden, we do not know.
Continuing his talk about the new birth, he says, "Concerning this birth, Christ also declares (John 3:3): 'Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Here we are taught that works will not answer; the individual must himself die and obtain a different nature. This takes place in baptism when he believes, for faith is this renewing." How it could be made clearer that he conceived of salvation as taking place in baptism when a person has enough faith to accept it on God's terms, we do not know.
To make his point more emphatic, he tries to explain what he means when he talks of faith as he says:
Such is the character of faith that it is not sufficient to salvation for you to believe in God after the manner of the Jews and many others, upon whom, however, he conferred many blessings and temporal advantages; but it is through Jesus Christ you must believe in God. In the first place, you must not doubt that he is your gracious God and Father, that he has forgiven all your sins and has saved you in baptism.
From Luther's Larger Catechism:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. In these words you must note, in the first place, that here stand God's commandment and institution, lest we doubt that Baptism is divine, not devised nor invented by men. For as truly as I can say, No man has spun the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer out of his head, but they are revealed and given by God Himself, so also I can boast that Baptism is no human trifle, but instituted by God Himself, moreover, that it is most solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we cannot be saved, lest any one regard it as a trifling matter, like putting on a new red coat. For it is of the greatest importance that we esteem Baptism excellent, glorious, and exalted, for which we contend and fight chiefly, because the world is now so full of sects clamoring that Baptism is an external thing, and that external things are of no benefit. For to be baptized in the name of God is to be baptized not by men, but by God Himself. Therefore although it is performed by human hands, it is nevertheless truly God's own work. From this fact every one may himself readily infer that it is a far higher work than any work performed by a man or a saint. For what work greater than the work of God can we do? But here the devil is busy to delude us with false appearances, and lead us away from the work of God to our own works. For there is a much more splendid appearance when a Carthusian does many great and difficult works and we all think much more of that which we do and merit ourselves. But the Scriptures teach thus: Even though we collect in one mass the works of all the monks, however splendidly they may shine, they would not be as noble and good as if God should pick up a straw. Why? Because the person is nobler and better. Here, then, we must not estimate the person according to the works, but the works according to the person, from whom they must derive their nobility. But insane reason will not regard this, and because Baptism does not shine like the works which we do, it is to be esteemed as nothing.
From this now learn a proper understanding of the subject, and how to answer the question what Baptism is, namely thus, that it is not mere ordinary water, but water comprehended in God's Word and command, and sanctified thereby, so that it is nothing else than a divine water; not that the water in itself is nobler than other water, but that God's Word and command are added. Therefore it is pure wickedness and blasphemy of the devil that now our new spirits, to mock at Baptism, omit from it God's Word and institution, and look upon it in no other way than as water which is taken from the well, and then blather and say: How is a handful of water to help the soul? Aye, my friend, who does not know that water is water if tearing things asunder is what we are after? But how dare you thus interfere with God's order, and tear away the most precious treasure with which God has connected and enclosed it, and which He will not have separated? For the kernel in the water is God's Word or command and the name of God which is a treasure greater and nobler than heaven and earth. In the second place, since we know now what Baptism is, and how it is to be regarded, we must also learn why and for what purpose it is instituted; that is, what it profits, gives and works. And this also we cannot discern better than from the words of Christ above quoted: He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. Therefore state it most simply thus, that the power, work, profit, fruit, and end of Baptism is this, namely, to save.
He says much more along the same line, but one other quotation from the same Larger Catechism surely should be of interest:
But as our would-be wise, new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in us is of any avail but faith, as we shall hear still further. But these blind guides are unwilling to see this, namely, that faith must have something which it believes, that is, of which it takes hold, and upon which it stands and rests. Thus faith clings to the water, and believes that it is Baptism, in which there is pure salvation and life; not through the water (as we have sufficiently stated), but through the fact that it is embodied in the Word and institution of God, and the name of God inheres in it.
He emphasizes it over and over and then says:
Hence it follows that whoever rejects Baptism rejects the Word of God, faith, and Christ, who directs us thither and binds us to Baptism. But if they say, as they are accustomed: Still Baptism is itself a work, and you say works are of no avail for salvation; what then, becomes of faith? Answer: Yes, our works, indeed, avail nothing for salvation; Baptism, however, is not our work, but God's (for, as was stated, you must put Christ-baptism far away from a bath-keeper's baptism). God's works, however, are saving and necessary for salvation, and do not exclude, but demand, faith; for without faith they could not be apprehended.
There is much more that he said about the matter, and he had some wrong concepts about who should be baptized, etc., but we are not now dealing with his errors, but the fact that he taught what the Bible teaches about the necessity of baptism for salvation and did not mean that we are saved at the point of faith, as practically all the Protestant world now teaches.
It is true that his opinion was that a person who truly believed, and was intending to be baptized but died before he did it would be saved anyway, as an exception to what God decreed. However, one may note that he did not try to prove this by any Scripture, nor make it a part of the Gospel, as he clearly did about the necessity of baptism for salvation for all mankind.
As we stated in the beginning of this article, why anyone who can read what Luther said and claims to teach what he taught would so adamantly oppose a person simply relying on what the Lord said and obeying the Gospel is one of the greatest mysteries of the age. We have not quoted Luther to prove anything about the necessity of baptism for the remission of sins, but to simply let those who are interested know that for some reason he has been terribly misrepresented. Why, we do not know.
We do know that almost everyone who can comprehend anything realizes that in no area of life does faith by itself accomplish anything. If a person hands you a check for one million dollars, and you believe in the person to the point where you would die attesting to his integrity, you still must cash the check to get any value from it. You may have the best doctor in the world and all the faith in him that it is possible to have, but if you are sick and he prescribes a medicine for you, all the faith you may have will do nothing until it leads you to take his medicine. In the Bible it is clearly seen in dozens of cases. The walls of Jericho fell down by faith (Hebrews 11:30), but only when that faith caused them to act. There is no exception to this in all the cases in Hebrews 11 or any other place. Again, why the religious world refuses to admit what all persons know is one of the greatest mysteries of the age.