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Monergist Reformer: Martin Luther


I sometimes like to irritate my Lutheran friends with the assertion that Luther was a Calvinist, pointing to passages in Luther’s writings in which he clearly teaches those doctrines so misnamed. Although this fun assertion is wrong for a few reasons, it is true that Luther was far more Reformed than the churches that bear his name, holding soteriological views that, if not precisely the same, are very similar to those of Calvin.* As Lawson demonstrates, Luther was a thorough-going monergist.

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In this work, Luther asserted the captivity of the human will in spiritual matters, which makes fallen man entirely dependent on sovereign grace. Luther adamantly defended the doctrines of original sin, total depravity, sovereign election, and irresistible grace, both in The Bondage of the Will and other works. He declared that although man is entirely responsible to obey the gospel, he is unable to do so apart from sovereign grace.

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Luther summarizes the full effects of radical corruption in this manner: “Scripture . . . represents man as one who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick, and dead, but in addition to his other miseries is afflicted, through the agency of Satan his prince, with this misery of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, unfettered, able, well, and alive.” Man is so depraved that he cannot even know the depths of his defilement.

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Paul’s epistle to the Romans was Luther’s lecture focus early in his teaching career, and it was in that book that he discovered the truth of justification by faith alone. Not surprisingly, he turned often to this highly doctrinal book to argue the case for sovereign election. In teaching on Romans 8:28, Luther explains, “The term ‘purpose’ in this passage means God’s predestination or free election and deliberation, or counsel.” This, he says, is illustrated “in the following chapter on the basis of the two stories of Isaac and Ishmael, and likewise of Jacob and Esau, [in which] the apostle shows that nothing except election distinguished the men, as he expressly says (Rom. 9:8ff).

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Luther contended that the one who believes in Christ does so because he is eternally predestined and personally called by God to do so. He states, “If you believe, you are called; if you are called, you surely are also predestinated.

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Luther was adamant on this impotency of the will. In explaining John 6:44, he says: “When Christ says in John 6: ‘No man can come to Me, except My Father which hath sent Me draw him’ (v. 44), what does He leave to ‘freewill’? . . . Here, indeed, He declares, not only that the works and efforts of ‘free-will’ are unavailing, but that even the very word of the gospel (of which He is here speaking) is heard in vain, unless the Father Himself speaks within, and teaches, and draws. ‘No man, no man can come,’ He says, and what He is talking about is your ‘power whereby man can make some endeavour towards Christ.’ In things that pertain to salvation, He asserts that power to be null.

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Despite living amid many dangers in this world, the elect are held secure by God. Luther notes: “He saves us . . . and exposes His elect to as many rapacious forces as are mentioned here, all of which are striving to pull the elect down into damnation so that they might be lost, in order to show that He saves us not by our own merits, but purely by His own election and immutable will, in the very face of so many rapacious and terrifying adversaries who try in vain to harm us.” The key words here are “in vain”—nothing can separate God and His children. Expanding on this idea elsewhere, Luther writes: “God exposes His saints to so many evils, which are all like grasping hands, and yet He does not lose His saints. In this way He shows sufficiently clearly the firmness of His election, that it cannot be hindered by any creature, although He leads every creature up against it.

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Luther ardently upheld God’s sovereign choice in salvation as well as its biblical corollary—reprobation. . . . Against the objection that such a view turns God into an arbitrary ogre, Luther answered—with Paul—that “God wills it so, and in so willing He is not evil. For all things are of Him, as the clay is the potter’s. Therefore He gives commands that the elect might fulfill them and the reprobate be enmeshed in them, so that He might show both His anger and His mercy. Then ‘the prudence of the flesh’ says: ‘It is harsh and wretched that God should seek His glory in my misery.’ Note how the voice of the flesh is always saying ‘my,’ ‘my’; get rid of this ‘my’ and rather say: ‘Glory to Thee, O Lord!’ And then you will be saved.

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Luther was the divinely appointed man who set all of Germany—and, eventually, Europe and the world—ablaze for the glory of God. To be sure, his legacy was far-reaching and his influence long-lasting. This German Reformer was the unquestioned leader of the Protestant movement, and it was upon his broad shoulders that men such as Zwingli, Tyndale, Bullinger, and Calvin stood. With Luther’s groundwork laid, these noble men, armed with the Word of God, contended for the biblical truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone!

—Steven J. Lawson, Pillars of Grace (Reformation Trust, 2011), 407, 411–412, 416–419.

Click here for one view of the difference between Lutheranism and Calvinism.



Posted 2018·10·01 by David Kjos
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