Thursday, 2 September 2010

Walther on the Proper and Improper Regard of Religious Feelings

I've had the following extract from CFW Walther's Law & Gospel on my computer desktop for some time awaiting publication here. I happened to see it quoted in the comments section of Gene Veith's blog recently, which prompted me to finally post it.

As often happens, in reaction to the over-emphasis on feelings in popular Christianity today (e.g. Pentecostalism and liberalism going all the way back to Schleiermacher), some Lutheran pastors are denigrating the role of feelings in the Christian life altogether. Walther gives us the good oil (Australian colloquialism meaning 'the truth of the matter'): while we do not base our salvation or assurance of being in a state of grace on our feelings, yet without feelings - e.g. terror and anguish before the Law, joy and refreshment upon receiving Gospel absolution - have their legitimate place in the Christian life, indeed, the absence of such religious feelings might be an indicative of a defective or merely intellectual faith (even devils believe that God exists!)

What can we say about Walther? Like Luther he was not exactly a handsome chap, but what a champion for the Gospel! Just look at those dark eyes "aglow with praise of God" (see the quote), looking through us as his mind reflects on some eternal verity. Walther's "Law & Gospel" has recently been revised, reformatted and republished by Concordia Publishing House. I received an old copy of this book from a retired pastor a couple of months before I went to seminary and spent my spare time in my first year marking it up with notes. To my regret, we didn't study it at sem.

“… we shall have to warn against a misunderstanding of the doctrine that a person must not base his salvation and his state of grace on his feeling. For this doctrine is abused by many.”
“There are people who regard themselves as good Christians although they are spiritually dead. They have never felt a real anguish on account of their sins; they have never been filled with terror on account of them, have never been appalled by the thought of the hell which they have deserved, have never been on their knees before God, bewailing with bitter tears their awful, damnable condition under sin. Much less have they wept sweet tears of joy and glorified God for His mercy. They read and hear the Word of God without being specially impressed by it. They go to church and receive absolution without feeling refreshed; they attend Holy Communion without any inward sensation and remain as cold as ice. Occasionally, when they become inwardly agitated because of their Indifference in matters concerning their salvation and because of their lack of appreciation of God’s Word, they try to quiet their heart with the reflection that the Lutheran Church teaches that the lack of spiritual feeling is of no moment. They reason that this lack cannot harm them and that they can be good Christians notwithstanding, because they consider themselves believers.”
“However, they labor under a grievous self-delusion. People in that condition have nothing but the dead faith of the intellect, a specious faith, or, to express it still more drastically, a lip faith. They may say with their mouths, ‘I believe,’ but their heart is not conscious of it. No, indeed; a person who cannot say, in accordance with Ps. 34, 8, that he has tasted and seen that the Lord is good must not regard himself as being in a state of true faith. More over, the Apostle Paul says, Rom. 8, 16, ‘The Spirit indeed beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.’ Can the Holy Spirit bear this witness in us without our feeling it? The witness in court must speak loud enough for the judge to hear. The same is necessary in this case. According to God’s Word any person who has never felt the testimony of the Spirit that he is the child of God is spiritually dead. He can offer no testimony in his favor and does wrong by considering himself a Christian nevertheless.”
“Again, the apostle says, Rom. 5, 1 ‘Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Objective peace, established through the shedding of Christ’s blood, exists prior to our justification. Accordingly, the apostle must be speaking of a peace that is sensed, felt, and experienced.”
“Furthermore, the Apostle Paul writes, Rom. 14, 17 ‘The kingdom of God is … righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.’ The joy of which the apostle speaks is not worldly, or carnal, joy, but spiritual Joy. A person that has tasted all the other joys except the last, is spiritually dead.”
“The examples of the saints recorded in the Bible corroborate this point. We behold them continually aglow with the praise of God because of what He has done for them. That presupposes that their hearts were conscious of the mercy which the Lord had shown them. Could David, without an inward experience, have exclaimed: ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases’? He certainly had a very lively feeling of these matters when he spoke those words.”
“Lastly, ask any person who has all the criteria of a true, living Christian whether he has experienced all the things of which he speaks, and he will answer in the affirmative, telling you that, after experiencing the terror which God sends to a sinner whom He wants to rescue, he had an experience of the sweetness of God’s grace in Christ. He will tell you that his heart is melting within him at every remembrance of his Savior’s love. Again, he will also tell you that, spite of the fact that he knows he has obtained grace, he is frequently seized with fright and anguish at the sight of the Law.”
“Note, then, that our statement that no one must base his salvation and his state of grace on his feeling does not mean that he can be a good Christian without having experienced any feeling in regard to religious matters. That is not what we teach.”

From CFW Walther, Law & Gospel, 19th Evening Lecture.

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