Luther Quotations on Faith

The following are five quotations from Martin Luther on the subject of faith.  They are taken from What Luther Says, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, Volume I, pages 477-479, paragraphs 1412-1415, and 1420.

Luther contended that salvation is the free gift of God, and therefore could be received only though faith, and that faith itself is a gift of God.  Says Plass regarding paragraph 1412: Faith is “a work performed in us rather than by us.”  Faith is a divine work that produces all the other works below it.

Paragraph 1412:

Faith is full of life and power.  It is not an idle thought.  It does not float on the surface of the heart, as a goose does on water; but it is as water that has been warmed by fire.  Although such water remains water, it is no longer cold but warm and, therefore, an entirely different sort of water.  So faith, which is the work of the Holy Spirit, makes the mind and the thinking of a person different and thereby makes an entirely new man of him.  Faith, then, is an active, independent (difficilis), and powerful thing; and if we want truly to evaluate it, we should call it an influence (passio) on us rather than an act (actio) performed by us.  For it changes our souls and our views.

Paragraph 1413:

Do not think lightly of faith.  It is a work that is of all works the most excellent and the most difficult.  Through it alone you will be saved, even though you were obliged to do without all other works.  For it is the work of God, not of man, as Paul teaches (Ephesians 1:19).  The other works He performs with our co-operation and through us; this alone He works within us and without our co-operation (sine nobis).

Paragraph 1414:

Faith is a divine work which God requires of us; but He Himself must give us the strength to do it.

Paragraph 1415:

It is a mistake to place faith and its work alongside other virtues and works.  Faith should be elevated above all and regarded, as it were, as a sort of constant and general influence above all works, through the movement and activity of which everything that is in man is sent into motion, works, is vigorous and pleasing.

Paragraph 1420:

A Christian modestly says to God: Dear Lord, although I am sure of my position, I am unable to sustain it without Thee.  Help Thou me, or I am lost. — He is indeed certain of his position, as Peter was on the water (Matthew 14:29).  Peter could not be more certain than he was.  The water was supporting him.  He saw no obstacle in his way.  But when the wind came rushing on, he saw what was lacking in him.  This must be taken well to heart.  For although we are sure of our position, have Scripture, and are covered and armed with clear passages in the very best way, yet our security depends on the power, the will, and the might of God, who protects us and defends us against the devil, our adversary and greatest enemy.

But this happens that God may make us determined and yet keep us fearful, so that we are always filled with concern and cry to Him: O Lord, help us, and increase our faith (Luke 17:5); for without Thee we are undone.  At heart we should always feel as if we were just beginning to believe today, and every day we should feel as if we had never heard the Gospel before.  We must believe anew every day.

Shepherds, Hear the Word of the Lord

Ezekiel 33:1-9:

When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head.  Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head.  If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself.  But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.

Pastors and all those who see the truth, but do not speak a word of warning, will be accountable for the blood of the lost.  Paul said in Acts 20:22-31:

I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.  Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.  Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.  So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

Paul’s warning applies to all congregations, all churches, and all synods.  Be on your guard!  Open your eyes!  Wake up!  Any group of believers that acts like it is immune from false doctrine is not holding to the above words of Scripture.  To the Scriptures!  Alarm!

Hear the word of the Lord:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who take care of only themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill.  They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.  [Ezekiel 34:1-6].

When a pastor does not strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bind up the injured, it means that that shepherd does not administer the Gospel.  The sheep do not need a cowboy or a self-help shepherd who thinks it is his prerogative to live off the sheep and treat them like his chattel.  Because they did not hear the Gospel, and because they were driven instead of led, the flock has become spiritually scattered.  Instead of feeding at Calvary, they feed on every other high hill of false spirits and false doctrine.

The shepherds were lazy.  Not only did they not guide the flock with the true Law, they did not administer the healing balm of the Gospel.  They were too lazy to study the word of God, and too deceitful to even write their own sermons.

The unfaithful shepherds chased after false prophets, followed them to their conferences, sat at their feet, and lusted for their earthly success.  They said, “The wolves are successful:  We can learn from them, and ourselves become fat at the expense of the flock.”

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD:  This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.  [Ezekiel 34:7-10].


In John 10:11-21, Jesus said:

I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

If a shepherd is not willing to lay down his life for the sheep, or if he thinks the flock exists for his benefit; then he is not a good shepherd.  Instead, he is the hireling who runs away.  Or even worse, he is the wolf who, instead of living for the flock, lives off the flock.

Who said it would be easy to be a good shepherd?  How many heroes of faith lived to an old age and died in peace?  How many shepherds fought with wolves and came away unscathed?  (1 Corinthians 15:32).  Not very many.

They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.  They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  [Hebrews 11:37-38].

“Remember the words I spoke to you:  ‘No servant is greater than his master.'”  (John 15:20).  “Father, forgive them …”  (Luke 23:34).  “Forgive us …”  (Luke 11:4).


Notes:  Emphasis added to all quotes.

“Rome Sweet Home” vs. Sola Fide

Scott Hahn is a popular apologist who converted to Roman Catholicism from Presbyterianism.  He is very popular on the speaking circuit and has numerous books in print and CDs in circulation.  One of his more popular books has been Rome Sweet Home, a recounting of his family’s journey home to the Roman Catholic Church.  Mr. Hahn writes in a folksy disarming way, and is often hailed as a leader in the Protestant return to Rome.

A number of years ago, I was invited to read Rome Sweet Home, and I did.  About three months ago, I decided to read it again, but the waiting list at the library was quite long.  It finally arrived at the tail end of July, and I wanted to review Mr. Hahn’s writing on justification and sola fide.

Reflecting on his time in a Presbyterian seminary, Mr. Hahn writes:

Saint Paul (whom I had thought of as the first Luther) taught in Romans, Galatians and elsewhere that justification was more than a legal decree; it established us in Christ as God’s children by grace alone.  In fact, I discovered that nowhere did Saint Paul ever teach that we were justified by faith aloneSola fide was unscriptural!

I was so excited about this discovery.  I shared it with some friends, who were amazed at how much sense it made…

I remembered how one of my favorite theologians, Dr. Gerstner, once said in class that if Protestants were wrong on sola fide — and the Catholic Church was right that justification is by faith and works — “I’d be on my knees tomorrow morning outside of the Vatican doing penance.”  We all knew, of course, that he said that for rhetorical effect, but it made a real impact.  In fact, the whole Reformation flowed from this one difference.

[Rome Sweet Home: Our Journey to Catholicism, Ignatius Press, 1993, page 31].

First an observation: before he became Roman Catholic and while he was in a Presbyterian seminary, Hahn thought of St. Paul as “the first Luther”?  That’s a strange thing to say.  In fact, Mr. Hahn has strange statements about his Protestant experience interspersed throughout his book.  For example, just one page later Hahn writes that Luther was his “main source of inspiration and powerful proclamation of the Word.”

I grew up Lutheran.  Luther is revered, and I could imagine a zealous nine-year-old claiming that Luther was the second Paul, but not Paul the first Luther.

Anyway, even though Hahn claims Luther as his “main source of inspiration,” Hahn wasn’t Lutheran, he was a Presbyterian.  Here is a very mild example of what Luther said about people like the Presbyterians:

We earnestly believe that … all … who deny that the body and blood of Christ are taken with the bodily mouth in the venerable Eucharist are heretics and estranged from the church of God.

[“Against the Thirty-Two Articles of the Louvain Theologists,” Luther’s Works, vol. 34].

Second, Hahn has a propensity to say that Protestant doctrine doesn’t encompass even the most basic tenets of Christianity, such as the concept of God as Father.  Hahn claims that the concept of God as Father was foreign to Luther and Calvin.  In his journey to Rome, says Hahn, “I was beginning to see that … God was our Father.”  (Page 30).  However, every Christian who prays the Lord’s Prayer knows that God is our Father.  This is not unique to Rome.

Hahn ties the concept of God as Father into the doctrine of justification “by faith and works,” after all, children are expected to behave.  According to Hahn, we are saved “by faith and works.”  (Page 31).  Fine.  He is bound by his conscience here.  However, he also claims that justification through faith alone is unscriptural, and “that nowhere did Saint Paul ever teach that we were justified by faith alone!”  (Page 31).

Nonetheless in Romans 1:17, Paul declares that the righteousness of God “is by faith from first to last.”  And again he declares that those who do not “know the righteousness that comes from God,” and instead seek to establish their own, do not attain righteousness.  They stumble.  (Romans 9:30-10:3).

One very bothersome aspect of Rome Sweet Home is the almost complete lack of serious theological discussion.  Hahn takes a difficult issue like justification, and flippantly declares that Paul never taught that we are saved by faith and not by works.  Case closed, according to Hahn, and he moves on to the next topic.  Justification is not an easy issue, but in Rome Sweet Home the conclusion that “justification is by faith and works” comes across as all too easy.  (Page 31).

I believe that God wants us to struggle to reconcile James with Paul.  Only by struggling through this difficult issue can we even begin to properly understand it.  Only by wrestling with the Word of God do we show that we are Israel, the man who struggles with God, and not Jacob, the deceiver.  (Genesis 32:22-30).

Here is a small excerpt of what I consider to be a serious wrestling with the issue of faith and works taken from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (one of the authoritative Lutheran Confessions):

[True] faith is not an easy thing, as our opponents imagine; nor is it a human power, but a divine power that makes us alive and enables us to overcome death and the devil…  Since this faith is a new life, it necessarily produces new impulses and new works.  Accordingly, James is correct in denying that we are justified by a faith without works.   When he says we are justified by faith and works, he certainly does not mean that we are regenerated by works.  Nor does he say that our propitiation is due in part to Christ and in part to our works.  Nor does he describe the manner of justification, but only the nature of the just who have already been justified and reborn.

“To be justified” here does not mean that a wicked man is made righteous but that he is pronounced righteous in a forensic way, just as in the passage (Romans 2:13), “the doers of the law will be justified.”

[The Book of Concord : The Confessions of the evangelical Lutheran church, Tappert (143).  Philadelphia: Fortress Press].

Here is another example of good theology from Saint Augustine:

But the statement that “the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13) must be so understood, as that we may know that they are not otherwise doers of the law, unless they be justified, so that justification does not subsequently accrue to them as doers of the law, but justification precedes them as doers of the law.

[St. Augustine; On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 45].

Rome Sweet Home is about a family’s journey into the Roman Catholic Church, but on the most important issue of justification, it stumbles.  It stumbles badly.  Dr. Hahn believes that we are saved “by faith and works,” and that is why he made his journey.  Everyone should join the denomination that they believe confesses the most truth.

Jesus builds his Church on the Rock of Truth, and that Truth is the confession of Jesus as Christ.  (Matthew 16:16-18).  Where we find the truth, there we find the Church.  (John 4:23).  However, the difference between salvation through faith alone and salvation “by faith and works” is the difference between salvation with Jesus as Christ and salvation with Jesus as Helper.

The Church can be seen where She makes a clear pure profession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  (Matthew 16:16-18).  Those titles “Christ” and “Son of the living God” have eternal significance.  They do not mean mere “helper for those seeking to establish their own righteousness,” but rather they do mean “Savior,” and they encompass every possible meaning of that word “Savior.”  Jesus is Savior.  Jesus alone is Savior.

Works are the evidence of our salvation, not the cause.  We are saved by Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, and not by works.