The Plan of Salvation

by Charles Hodge

charles hodge

Part V: The Lutheran Doctrine as to the Plan of Salvation.

It is not easy to give the Lutheran doctrine on this subject, because it is stated in one way in the early symbolical books of that Church, and in a somewhat different way in the “Form of Concord,” and in the writings of the standard Lutheran theologians. Luther himself taught the strict Augustinian doctrine, as did also Melancthon in the first edition of his “Loci Communes.” In the later editions of that work Melancthon taught that men cooperate with the grace of God in conversion, and that the reason why one man is regener-ated and another not is to be found in that cooperation. This gave rise to the protracted and vehement synergistic controversy, which for a long time seri-ously disturbed the peace of the Lutheran Church. This controversy was for a time authoritatively settled by the “Form of Concord,” which was adopted and enjoined as a standard of orthodoxy by the Lutherans. In this document both the doctrine of cooperation and that of absolute predestination were rejected. It taught the entire inability of the natural man for anything spiritually good; and therefore denied that he could either prepare himself for regeneration or coop-erate with the grace of God in that work. It refers the regeneration of the sinner exclusively to the supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of God, and in no sense or degree the work of man. But it teaches that the grace of God may be effectually resisted, and that the reason why all who hear the gospel are not saved is that some do thus resist the influence which is brought to bear upon them, and others do not. While, therefore, regeneration is exclusively the work of the Spirit, the failure of salvation is to be referred to the voluntary resistance of offered grace. As this system was illogical and con-trary to the clear declarations of Scripture, it did not long maintain its ground. Non-resistance to the grace of God, passively yielding to its power, is some-thing good. It is something by which one class is favourably distinguished from another; and therefore the reason why they, rather than others, are saved, is to be referred to themselves and not to God, who gives the same grace to all. The later Lutheran theologians, therefore, have abandoned the ground of the “Form of Concord,” and teach that the objects of election are those whom God foresaw would believe and persevere in faith unto the end.

According to this scheme, God, (1.) From general benevolence or love to the fallen race of man, wills their salvation by a sincere purpose and intention. “Benevolentia Dei universalis,” says Hollaz, “non est inane votum, non sterilis velleitas, non otiosa complacentia, qua quis rem, quae sibi placet, et quam in se amat, non cupit efficere aut consequi adcoque mediis ad hunt finem ducen-tibus non vult uti; sed est voluntas efficax, qua Deus salutem hominum, ardentissime amatam, etiam efficere atque per media suflicientia et efficacia conse-qui serio intendit.”4 (2.) To give effect to this general purpose of benevolence and mercy towards men indiscriminately, God determined to send his Son to make a full satisfaction for their sins. (3.) To this follows (in the order of thought) the purpose to give to all men the means of salvation and the power to avail themselves of the offered mercy. This is described as a “destinatio mediorum, quibus tum aeterna salus satisfactione Christi parta, tum vires cre-dendi omnibus hominibus offeruntur, ut satisfactionem Christi ad salutem ac-ceptare et sibi applicare queant.”5 (4.) Besides this, voluntas generalis (as re-lating to all men) and antecedens, as going before any contemplated action of men, there is a voluntas specialis, as relating to certain individual men, and consequens, as following the foresight of their action. This voluntas specialis is defined as that “quae peccatores oblata salutis media amplectentes aeterna salute donare constituit.”6 So Hutter7 says, “Quia (Deus) praevidit ac pr aescivit maximam mundi partem mediis salutis locum minime relicturam ac proinde in Christum non credituram, ideo Deus de illis tantum salvandis fecit decretum, quos actu in Chris tum credituros praevidit.” Hollaz expresses the same view:8 “Electio hominem, peccato corruptorum, ad vitam aeternam a Deo misericordissimo facta est intuitu fidei in Christum ad finem usque vitae perseverantis.” Again: “Simpliciter quippe et categorice decrevit Deus hunt, illum, istum hominem salvare, quia perseveranter ipsius in Christum fidem certo praevidit.”9

The Lutheran doctrine, therefore, answers the question, Why one man is saved and another not? by saying, Because the one believes and the other does not. The question, Why God elects some and not others, and predestinates them to eternal life? is answered by saying, Because He foresees that some will believe unto the end, and others will not. If asked, Why one believes and another not? the answer is, Not that one cooperates with the grace of God and the other does not; but that some resist and reject the grace offered to all, and others do not. The difficulty arising from the Lutheran doctrine of the entire corruption of our fallen nature, and the entire inability of the sinner to do any-thing spiritually good, is met by saying, that the sinner has power to use the means of grace, he can hear the word and receive the sacraments, and as these means of grace are imbued with a divine supernatural power, they produce a saving effect upon all who do not voluntarily and persistently resist their in-fluence. Baptism, in the case of infants, is attended by the regeneration of the soul; and therefore all who are baptized in infancy have a principle of grace implanted in them, which, if cherished, or, if not voluntarily quenched, secures their salvation. Predestination in the Lutheran system is confined to the elect. God predestinates those whom He foresees will persevere in faith unto salva-tion. There is no predestination of unbelievers unto death.

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