THE WAY OF SALVATION IN THE LUTHERAN CHURCH.
REV. G.H. GERBERDING, A.M., PASTOR OF ST. MARK'S EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH, FARGO, DAKOTA.
WRITTEN FOR THE COMMON PEOPLE.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY REV. M. RHODES, D.D.
PUBLISHED FOR THE AUTHOR.
ELEVENTH THOUSAND. REVISED AND IMPROVED
LUTHERAN PUBLICATION SOCIETY, PHILADELPHIA, PA.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
THE UNITED ENGLISH LUTHERAN CHURCH OF THE FUTURE; JOINED TOGETHER IN THE BONDS OF ONE FAITH, ACTUATED BY ONE SPIRIT, WORKING HAND IN HAND AND HEART WITH HEART IN ONE GENERAL BODY, THIS BOOK IS HOPEFULLY DEDICATED
PAGE INTRODUCTION ................................................... 9
PREFATORY SCRIPTURE PASSAGES ................................... 11
All are Sinners ................................................ 13
All that is Born of the Flesh must be Born of the Spirit ....... 19
The Present, a Dispensation of Means ........................... 26
Baptism, a Divinely Instituted Means of Grace .................. 33
The Baptismal Covenant can be kept unbroken—Aim and Responsibility of Parents .................................... 41
Home Influence and Training in their Relation to the Keeping of the Baptismal Covenant ....................................... 48
The Sunday School in its Relation to the Baptized Children of Christian Parents ............................................ 55
The Sunday School—Its relation to those in Covenant Relationship with Christ, and also to the Unbaptized and Wandering ................................................ 63
Catechisation .................................................. 69
Contents, Arrangement and Excellence of Luther's Small Catechism .............................................. 75
Manner and Object of Teaching Luther's Catechism ............... 82
Confirmation ................................................... 89
The Lord's Supper—Preliminary Observations .................... 97
The Lord's Supper, Continued ................................... 103
The Lord's Supper, Concluded ................................... 109
The Preparatory Service, Sometimes Called the Confessional Service ......................................... 120
The Word as a Means of Grace ................................... 130
Conversion—Its Nature and Necessity ........................... 138
Conversion—Varied Phenomena or Experiences .................... 145
Conversion—Human Agency ....................................... 154
Justification .................................................. 163
Sanctification ................................................. 174
Revivals ....................................................... 183
Modern Revivals ................................................ 191
Modern Revivals, Continued ..................................... 200
Modern Revivals, Concluded ..................................... 209
True Revivals .................................................. 220
Conclusion ..................................................... 229
My Church! My Church! My dear Old Church! ...................... 238
I take pleasure in commending this unpretentious volume to the prayerful attention of all English-speaking ministers and members of the Lutheran Church. The aim of the author is to present a clear, concise, and yet comprehensive view as possible, of the way of salvation as taught in the Scriptures, and held by the Lutheran Church. That he has accomplished his task so as to make it throughout an illustration of the truth as it is in Jesus, and a correct testimony to the faith of the Church of which he is an honored minister, I believe will appear to all who read with an unbiased mind, and a knowledge of the sources of information from which he has drawn. There is always need for such a candid and considerate statement of fundamental truth as this. The signs of the times clearly indicate that there is no security for the Church save in maintaining the Apostolic faith and spirit—not the one without the other, but the one with the other. The supremacy of the Scriptures needs to be recognized with a mightier emphasis, not only of the intellect, but also of the heart. This vital conjunction is maintained in this book. I am certain that a clear view of the way of salvation as taught by the Scriptures and held by the Church will go far not only toward correcting wrong impressions, but will tend to the relief of much mental perplexity, and to the increase of that much-needed spirit of unity throughout our Church, the want of which is not only the greatest reflection on her noble history and holy faith, but the greatest hindrance to her important mission. A kindly Christ-like spirit pervades this book, which is no small testimony to its worth.
Those who stand up for the truth do not always illustrate its spirit. Not all who might desire greater unity in the Church are qualified to promote it. The author of this little treatise has not only manifested the proper spirit, but he has shown as well the faculty of using it for the increase of harmony, without the least disloyalty to the Scriptures, or to the standards of the Church. The appeal throughout is to the Word of God. The faith of the Church is subjected to this test, and it is maintained because it endures the test.
These chapters present a continuity of thought which should not be lost sight of in the reading. In order to a correct verdict, they should not be read with such discrimination as would accept some and reject others, but from the first to the last in order. That this little book may be owned of God to the establishment of the faith of the Lutheran Church, and for the promotion of a more manifest unity among those who bear her name, is a prayer in which I am sure many will join the author of this work, and the writer of this introductory note.
M. RHODES. ST. LOUIS, MO., March, 1887.
PREFATORY SCRIPTURE PASSAGES.
To the Law and to the Testimony; if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.— Isa. viii. 20.
Thus saith the Lord; Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.—Jer. vi. 16.
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ.—Eph. iv. 14.
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines; for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace.— Heb. xiii. 9.
Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.—1 Tim. iv. 16.
Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.—2 Tim. i. 13.
And be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.—1 Pet. iii. 15.
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints.—Jude 3.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they shall heap to themselves teachers having itching ears; and they shall turn their ears away from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.—2 Tim. iv. 3, 4.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God-speed. For he that biddeth him God-speed is partaker of his evil deeds.—2 John 9. 10, 11.
For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.—Rev. xxii. 18, 19.
THE WAY OF SALVATION.
ALL ARE SINNERS.
Some time ago we overheard from a person who should have known better, remarks something like these: "I wonder how sinners are saved in the Lutheran Church?" "I do not hear of any being converted in the Lutheran Church," and such like. These words called to mind similar sentiments that we heard expressed long ago. More than once was the remark made in our hearing that in certain churches sinners were saved, because converted and sanctified, while it was at least doubtful whether any one could find such blessings in the Lutheran Church. The writer also freely confesses, that in those days, surrounded by such influences, "his feet had well-nigh slipped—his steps were almost gone." Therefore, he can sympathize with those honest questioners, who have not had the privileges of instruction in the doctrines of sin and Grace, and who are consequently in the dark. He has, therefore, concluded to write a series of plain, practical papers on the "Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church." It will be his endeavor to set forth the manner or method through which the Church of the Reformation proposes to reach the sinner, and apply to him the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
The first question that presents itself is: Who are the subjects of salvation? The answer clearly is: All sinners. But, again: Whom does this embrace? The answer to this is not so unanimous. The views already begin to diverge. True, there is quite a substantial harmony on this point, among all the older Protestant Confessions of faith, but the harmony is not so manifest among the professed adherents of these Confessions.
In many of the denominations there is a widespread skepticism as to the reality of original sin, or native depravity. Doubtless on this point the wish is father to the thought. The doctrine that, "after Adam's fall, all men begotten after the common course of nature, are born with sin," is not palatable. It grates harshly on the human ear. It is so humbling to the pride of man's heart, and therefore he tries to persuade himself that it is not true. It has become fashionable to deny it. From the pulpit, from the press, from the pages of our most popular writers, we hear the old-fashioned doctrine denounced as unworthy of this enlightened age. Thus the heresy has spread, and is spreading. On every hand we meet men who stand high in their churches, spurning the idea that their children are sinners, and need to be saved. Their creed is: "I believe in the purity and innocence of childhood, and in its fitness for the kingdom of heaven, without any change or application of divine Grace." Ah! yes, we would all like to have this creed true. But is it true? If not, our believing it will not make it true.
Then let us go "to the law and the testimony;" to the source and fountain of all truth, the inspired Word of God. Listen to its sad but plain statements. Job xv. 14: "What is man that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman that he should be righteous?" Ps. li. 5: "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." John iii. 6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Ephesians ii. 3: "Among whom also we all ... were by nature"—i.e. by birth—"the children of wrath even as others." These are a few of the many clear, plain statements of the divine Word. Nowhere does it teach that children are born pure, righteous and fit for heaven.
The Lutheran church, then, teaches and confesses nothing but the pure truth of God's Word in the Augsburg Confession, Article II., where it says: "Also they teach, that after Adam's fall all men, begotten after the common course of nature, are born with sin," etc. Also Smalcald Articles, Part III., Article I: "Here we must confess, that sin originated from one man Adam, by whose disobedience all were made sinners and subject to death and the devil. This is called original or capital sin.... This hereditary sin is so deep a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture," etc. So also the Formula of Concord, Chapter I., "Of Original Sin," where see a full presentation of our faith and its foundation. Also Luther's Explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed where he says: "Who—Christ—has redeemed me, a poor, lost and condemned creature, secured and delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil."
This, then is the teaching of our Church, as founded on the Word of God. That this doctrine is true, beyond the possibility of a doubt, we can learn even from reason. It will not be disputed that what is in the child will show itself as it develops. The germs that lie hidden there will unfold and bring forth their proper and natural fruit. By its fruits we can know even the child. And what are these fruits? How long will it be before that helpless and seemingly innocent babe, that slumbers on its mother's breast, will show symptoms of anger, jealousy, stubbornness and disobedience? Let that child alone, and, without a teacher, it will learn to lie, deceive, steal, curse, give pain to others, etc. But, without a teacher, it will not learn to pray, confess wrong, and "fear, love and trust in God above all things." Are these the symptoms and evidences of inward purity, or of inbred sin?
Again, that child is subject to sickness, suffering and death. As soon as it draws its first breath its life is a struggle. It must contend against the inroads of disease. Its little body is attacked by dire maladies. It is weakened by suffering and often racked by pain. And how frequently the feeble life succumbs and the lately-born infant dies.
How can we account for this on the ground of infant sinlessness? Do we not all believe that suffering and death are the results of sin? Is there, can there be suffering and death where there is no sin? No; "the wages of sin is death." But this wages is never exacted where the work of sin has not been done. The conclusion then is irresistible. The child is a sinner. It needs salvation. It must be reached by saving Grace. It must be counted in. It is one of the subjects of salvation, and must be brought into the Way of Salvation.
The Church is the Bride of Christ, the institution through which Christ brings and applies this Grace to the children of men. She must begin with the child. She must reach down to the tender infant and carry the cleansing and life-giving Grace of the Redeemer even into its sin-sick soul.
How is this to be done? How does the Lutheran Church propose to reach that child? This we shall try to answer as we advance.
ALL THAT IS BORN OF THE FLESH MUST BE BORN OF THE SPIRIT.
In the former chapter we have shown, from Scripture and from reason, that our Church teaches only the plain truth, when she confesses that: "After Adam's fall, all men, begotten after the common course of nature, are born with sin."
As a sinful being the new-born infant is not in the Way of Salvation. By its natural birth, from sinful parents, it is not in the kingdom of God, but in the realm and under the dominion of sin, death and the devil. If left to itself—to the undisturbed development of its own nature, it must miserably and hopelessly perish. True, there is a relative innocence. The Apostle exhorts: "Be ye followers of God, as dear children." "In malice be ye children." Our blessed Saviour, on several occasions, rebuked the vain, ambitious spirit of the disciples by contrasting it with the spirit of a little child. He said: "Of such is the kingdom of heaven," and "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."
These passages are generally quoted by those who refuse to believe the doctrine of Original Sin, as though they taught sinlessness and entire fitness for the kingdom. But if we accept this interpretation, then the Scriptures contradict themselves; for we have seen that, in many places, they clearly teach the opposite. These passages can only mean that children are relatively innocent. Compared with the forbidding, haughty, loveless disciples, little children are much better subjects for the kingdom. While the roots of sin are there, that sin has not yet done its hardening work.
They do not wilfully resist the good. They are much more tender, docile, trustful and loving. The Grace of God has less to overcome in them. They are more easily reached, and thus are fit subjects to be brought into the kingdom of God. In this sense only can it be said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," that I may touch them, bless them, impart my Grace to them, and thus make them partakers of my kingdom. "Of such is the kingdom" because I desire and purpose to bring them into the kingdom.
Thus far we can safely go. This much in favor of the child, over against the adult, we freely admit. But this does not say that the child is innocent, pure and holy by nature. The undeveloped roots and germs of sin are still there. Its nature is evil. It must be saved from that moral nature. How?
Here again we meet those who have a very easy solution of the difficulty. They say: "Admitting that the child has sin, this will in no way endanger its salvation, because Christ died to take away sin. They have no conscious sin. Therefore, the atonement of Christ covers their case, and, without anything further, they pass into heaven, if they die in their infancy."
This view seems to satisfy a great many well-meaning people. Without giving the matter any further thought, they dismiss it with this easy solution. Surely, did they stop to consider and examine this theory, they would see it has no foundation.
Christ's atonement alone, and in itself, never saved a soul. It removed the obstacles that were in the way of our salvation, opened the way back to our Father's house, purchased forgiveness and salvation for us. But all this profits the sinner nothing, so long as he is not brought into that way; so long as the salvation is not applied to him personally. Neither can we speak of salvation being applied to an unrenewed, sinful nature. We cannot even conceive of forgiveness for an unregenerate being. This would, indeed, be to take away the guilt of sin, while its power remained. It would be to save the sinner in and with his sin.
The position is utterly groundless. It is even contrary to reason. It assumes that a being who has in his heart, as a very part of his nature, the roots and germs of sin, can, with that heart unchanged, enter into the kingdom of God. It makes God look upon sin with allowance. It does violence to the holiness of His nature. It makes heaven the abode of the unclean.
No, no. It will not do. When men try to avoid what seem to them difficult and unwelcome doctrines of God's Word, they run into far greater difficulties and contradictions. That child is conceived and born in sin. It is a child of wrath, dead in trespasses and in sins. Its nature must be cleansed and renewed. Otherwise, if it can be saved as it is, there are unregenerate souls in heaven!
Better abide by what is written, and believe that every one, infant or adult, who has been born of the flesh, must be born of the Spirit. Listen to the earnest words of Jesus as he emphasizes them with that solemn double affirmation, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." He repeats this sweeping declaration a second time. In the Greek it reads, Except any one be born again. The assertion is intended to embrace every human being. Lest this should be disputed, Jesus further says, "That which is born of the flesh"—i.e., naturally born—"is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Wherever there is a birth of the flesh, there must be a birth of the Spirit. The flesh-born cannot even see the kingdom of God, much less enjoy it, still less possess it. There must be new life, divine life, spiritual life breathed into that fleshly, carnal nature. Thus will there be a new heart; a new spirit, a new creature. Then, and not till then, can there be comprehension, apprehension and appreciation of the things of the kingdom of God. This is the teaching of the whole Word of God. Gal. vi. 15: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature"—i.e., neither Jewish birth nor Gentile birth, without the new birth.
Here also then our Church confesses the pure truth of God's Word, when, in the second Article of the Augsburg Confession, as quoted above, she goes on to say: "And this disease, or original fault, is truly sin, condemning and bringing eternal death upon all that are not born again."
Here then we take our stand. No child can be saved unless it be first reached by renewing Grace. If ever an infant did die, or should die, in that state in which it was born, unchanged by divine Grace, that infant is lost. There are, there can be, no unregenerate souls in heaven. Where there is no infant regeneration, there can be no infant salvation.
Here also we remark, in passing, that this doctrine, of the absolute necessity of infant regeneration, is not held by the Lutheran Church alone. Even the Romish and Greek Churches teach that it is impossible for any human creature, without a change from that condition in which he was born, to enter heaven. All the great historic confessions of the Protestant churches confess the same truth. Even the Calvinistic Baptists confess the necessity of infant regeneration.
In short all churches that have paid much attention to theology, and have been careful to have consistent systems of doctrine, agree on this point. However much those who call themselves by their names may deny it, in their preaching and in their conversation, their own confessions of faith and their greatest and best theologians clearly teach it.
Yes, there must be infant regeneration. But is it possible? Can the Grace of God reach the helpless infant? Will He reach down and make it a new creature in Christ Jesus? Has He made provision for this end? Yes, thanks be to his abounding Grace, we believe He can and will save the child, and has committed to His spouse, the Church, a means of Grace for this purpose. He, of whom it was prophesied long before He came, that He would "gather the lambs in His arms and carry them in His bosom;" who made it the first duty of the reinstated apostle to feed His lambs, must have a special care for them. It is not His or His Father's will "that one of them should perish." He has made provision for these sin-stricken ones, whereby His Grace can reach down to renew and heal them. There is Balm in Gilead. The Great Physician is there. The Church need only apply His divine, life-giving remedy. Of this we will speak in the next chapter.
THE PRESENT, A DISPENSATION OF MEANS.
We have seen that the carnal, sinful nature of the child unfits it for the kingdom of heaven; that, therefore, there must be a change in that nature, even the birth of a new life, and the life of a new creature, before there can be either part or lot in the kingdom of God. We have also expressed our firm conviction that it is the good and gracious will of God in Christ to bestow upon the poor sin-sick and unholy child the Grace needed to so change it as to make it a partaker of His great salvation. We do not deem it necessary to stop to multiply scripture passages and arguments to prove this.
From beginning to end, the divine Word everywhere represents our God as a most loving, gracious, compassionate and tender Being. The tenor of the whole record is, that He delights in showing mercy, forgiving iniquity, and bestowing the Grace that bringeth salvation. He only punishes when justice absolutely demands it, and then reluctantly. It is not His will that any should perish.
Beyond controversy, God is willing to save the little helpless sufferers from sin, by making them subjects of His kingdom of Grace here, and thus of His kingdom of glory hereafter.
But can He? Is He able to reach down to that unconscious little child, apply to it the benefits of the atonement, impart to it the Grace of the new life, subdue the power of sin, and remove entirely its guilt? We are almost ashamed to ask such questions. And yet the humiliating fact is, that day by day, in every village and on every highway of our land, we can hear men and women, professing to be Christians and calling themselves members of Christ's Church, gravely asserting that their Redeemer cannot so bless a little child as to change its sinful nature! If hard pressed, these persons, so wise in their own conceits, may admit that He can change a child's nature if He so wills, but they still feel certain that he cannot do so through His own sacrament, instituted for that very purpose! Thus would they limit the Holy One of Israel, and say to Omnipotence: "Hitherto canst Thou come, but no farther."
With such people, wise above what is written, knowing better than Christ, practically, even if not intentionally, charging the Son of God with folly, we desire no controversy. Let them overthrow the very foundations of redemption if they will. Let them argue that all things are not possible with God if they dare. We still prefer to believe that the Spirit of God can change, renew and regenerate the new-born child. In Matt. iii. 9, we read; "For I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham," i.e., as the connection shows, spiritual children of Abraham, true children of God.
We may not be able to understand the process by which God could change the rough, hard stones of the field into true children of God, but we believe it, because the Word says so. And believing that, it is not hard for us to believe that He can impart His own divine life to the heart of the child, and thus make it a new creature in Christ Jesus.
He could, if it so pleased Him, do it without any means. By a mere act of His will, God could recreate the human soul. He could do so by a word, as He created the universe. Without the contact of any outward means, without the bringing of His word to them in any way, Christ healed the ruler's son and the daughter of the Syro-Phenician woman. But if He can do this without means, who will say that He cannot do the same thing through means? Since, then, He can accomplish his own purposes of Grace either with or without means, it only remains for us to inquire, in what way has it pleased God to work? Does He in the present dispensation work mediately or immediately? It will scarcely be disputed that the present is a dispensation of means—that even in the domain of nature, and much more in the realm of Grace, He ordinarily carries out His purposes through means. He chooses His own means. They may sometimes seem foolishness to man, especially in the operations of His Grace.
Our Saviour, in working miracles, used some means that must have struck those interested as very unsuitable. When He healed the man blind from his birth, He mixed spittle and clay, and with this strange ointment, anointed and opened his eyes. Well might the blind man have said: "What good can a little earth mixed with spittle do?" Yet it pleased our Lord to use it as a means, in working that stupendous miracle. When Jesus asked for the five barley loaves and two small fishes, to feed the five thousand, even an apostle said: "What are these among so many?" Yes, what are they? In the hands of a mere man, nothing—nay, worse than nothing; only enough to taunt the hungry thousands and become a cause of strife and riot. But in the hands of the Son of God, with His blessing on them, taken from His hands, and distributed according to His Word, they became a feast in the wilderness.
A poor woman, a sufferer for twelve years, craves healing from our Lord. With a woman's faith, timid though strong, she presses through the crowd close to Jesus, and with her trembling bony fingers touches the hem of His garment. Jesus perceives that virtue is gone out of Him. The woman perceives that virtue, healing and life are come into her. There was a transfer from Christ's blessed life-giving body, into the diseased suffering body of the woman. And what was the medium of the transfer? The fringe of His garment—a piece of cloth. Yes, if it so pleases the mighty God, the everlasting Saviour, He can use a piece of cloth as a means to transfer healing and life from Himself to a suffering one.
The same divine Saviour now works through means. He has founded a Church, ordained a ministry, and instituted the preaching of the Word and the administration of His own sacraments. Christ now works in and through His Church. Through her ministry, preaching the Word, and administering the sacraments, the Holy Spirit is given. (Augsburg Confession, Article 5.) When Christ sent forth His apostles to make disciples of all nations, He instructed them how they were to do it. The commission correctly translated, as we have it in the Revised New Testament reads thus: "Go ye, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Here then is the Saviour's explicit instruction. The Apostles are to make disciples. This is the object of their mission. How are they to do it? By baptizing them into the name of the triune God, and teaching them to observe all Christ's commands. This is Christ's own appointed way of applying His Grace to sinful men, and bringing them out of a state of sin into a state of grace.
And this is the Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church. We begin with the child, who needs Grace. We begin by baptizing that child into Christ. We, therefore, lay much stress on baptism. We teach our people that it is sinful, if not perilous, to neglect the baptism of their children. The Lutheran Church attaches more importance to this divine ordinance than any other Protestant denomination. While all around us there has been a weakening and yielding on this point; while the spirit of our age and country scorns the idea of a child receiving divine Grace through baptism; while it has become offensive to the popular ear to speak of baptismal Grace, our Church, wherever she has been and is true to herself, stands to-day where Martin Luther and his co-workers stood, where the confessors of Augsburg stood, and where the framers of the Book of Concord stood.
The world still asks: "What good can a little water do?" We answer, first of all: "Baptism is not simply water, but it is the water comprehended in God's command, and connected with God's Word." (Luther's Small Catechism.) The Lutheran Church knows of no baptism that is only "a little water." We cannot speak of such a baptism. Let it be clearly understood that when we speak of baptism, we speak of it as defined above, by Luther. We cannot separate the water from the Word. We would not dare to baptize with water without the Word. In the words of Luther, that would be "simply water, and no baptism." Let it be kept constantly in mind that whatever benefits and effects we ascribe to baptism, in the further forcible words of Luther's Catechism: "It is not the water, indeed, that produces these effects, but the Word of God which accompanies and is connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the Word of God connected with the water." If now the question is further asked: What good can baptism as thus defined do? we will try to answer, or, rather, we will let God's Word answer. "What saith the Scripture?"
BAPTISM, A DIVINELY APPOINTED MEANS OF GRACE.
When we inquire into the benefits and blessings which the Word of God connects with baptism, we must be careful to obtain the true sense and necessary meaning of its declarations. It is not enough to pick out an isolated passage or two, give them a sense of our own, and forthwith build on them a theory or doctrine. In this way the Holy Scriptures have been made to teach and support the gravest errors and most dangerous heresies. In this way, many persons "wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction." On this important point our Church has laid down certain plain, practical, safe and sound principles. By keeping in mind, and following these fundamental directions, in the interpretation of the divine Word, the plainest searcher of the Scriptures can save himself from great confusion, perplexity and doubt.
One of the first and most important principle, insisted on by our theologians and the framers of our Confessions, is that a passage of Scripture is always to be taken in its natural, plain and literal sense, unless there is something in the text itself, or in the context, that clearly indicates that it is intended to convey a figurative sense.
Again: A passage is never to be torn from its connection, but is to be studied in connection with what goes before and follows after.
Again—and this is of the greatest importance—Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture. As Quenstedt says: "Passages which need explanation can and should be explained by other passages that are more clear, and thus the Scripture itself furnishes an interpretation of obscure expressions, when a comparison of these is made with those that are more clear. So that Scripture is explained by Scripture."
According to these principles, we ought never to be fully certain that any doctrine is scriptural, until we have examined all that the divine Word says on the subject. In this manner then we wish to answer the question with which we started this chapter: What is written as to the benefits and blessings conferred in baptism?
We have already referred to the commission given to the Apostles in Matt, xxviii. 19. We have seen that in that commission our Lord makes baptism one of the means through which the Holy Spirit operates in making men His disciples. In Mark xvi. 16, he says: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." In John iii. 5, he says: "Except a man"—i.e., any one—"be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." In Acts ii. 38, the Apostle says: "Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of your sins." Acts xxii. 16: "Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Romans vi. 3: "Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into His death." Gal. iii. 27: "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ." Eph. v. 25-26: "Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word." Col. ii. 12: "Buried with Him in baptism, wherein ye are also risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God." Tit. iii. 5: "According to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." 1 Pet. iii. 21: "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us; not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
These are the principal passages which treat of the subject of baptism. There are a few other passages in which baptism is merely mentioned, but not explained. There is not one passage that teaches any thing different from those quoted.
All we now ask of the reader is to examine these passages carefully, to compare them one with the other and to ask himself: What do they teach? What is the meaning which a plain, unprejudiced reader, who has implicit confidence in the Word and power of God, would derive from them? Can he say, "There is nothing in baptism?" "It is of no consequence." "It is only a Church ceremony, without any particular blessing in it." Or do the words clearly teach it is nothing more than a sign—an outward sign—of an invisible grace?
Look again at the expressions of these passages. We desire to be clear here, because this is one of the points on which the Lutheran Church to-day differs from so many others. Jesus mentions water as well as Spirit, when speaking of the new birth. "Make disciples, (by) baptizing them." "Be baptized for the remission of your sins." "Be baptized and wash away thy sin." "Baptized into Christ." By baptism "put on Christ." Christ designs to sanctify and cleanse the Church with "the washing of water by the Word." "Washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost." "Baptism doth also now save us." The language is certainly strong and plain. Any principle of interpretation, by which baptismal Grace and regeneration can be explained out of these passages, will overthrow every doctrine of our holy Christian faith.
Our Catechism here also teaches nothing but the pure truth of the Word, when it asserts that baptism "worketh forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and confers everlasting life and salvation on all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare." Our solid and impregnable Augsburg Confession, also, when in Article II. it confesses that the new birth by baptism and the Holy Spirit delivers from the power and penalty of original sin. Also in Article IX., "of baptism they teach that it is necessary to salvation, and that by baptism the Grace of God is offered, and that children are to be baptized, who by baptism being offered to God, are received into God's favor." And so with all our other confessional writings.
The question might here be asked: Is baptism so absolutely essential to salvation, that unbaptized children are lost? To this we would briefly reply, that the very men who drew up our Confessions deny emphatically that it is thus absolutely necessary. Luther, Melanchthon, Bugenhagen and others, repudiate the idea that an unbaptized infant is lost. No single acknowledged theologian of the Lutheran Church ever taught this repulsive doctrine. Why then does our Confession say baptism is necessary to salvation? It is necessary in the same sense in which it is necessary to use all Christ's ordinances. The necessity is ordinary, not absolute. Ordinarily Christ bestows His Grace on the child through baptism, as the means or channel through which the Holy Spirit is conferred. But when, through no fault of its own, this is not applied, He can reach it in some other way.
As we have seen above, He is not so limited to certain means, that His Grace cannot operate without them. The only thing on which our Church insists in the case of a child as absolutely necessary, is the new birth. Ordinarily this is effected, by the Holy Spirit, through baptism, as the means of Grace. When the means, however, cannot be applied, the Spirit of God can effect this new birth in some other way. He is not bound to means. And from what we have learned above of the will of God, toward these little ones, we have every reason to believe that He does so reach and change every infant that dies unbaptized. The position of our Church, as held by all her great theologians, is tersely and clearly expressed in the words, "Not the absence but the contempt of the sacrament condemns."
While the Lutheran Church, therefore, has confidence enough in her dear heavenly Father and loving Saviour, to believe that her Lord will never let a little one perish, but will always regenerate and fit it for His blessed Kingdom ere he takes it hence, she still strenuously insists on having the children of all her households baptized into Christ.
Others may come and say: You have no authority in the Bible for baptizing infants. Without entering fully on this point we will briefly say: It is enough for a Lutheran to know that the divine commission is to "baptize the nations"—there never was a nation without infants. The children need Grace: baptism confers Grace. It is specially adapted to impart spiritual blessings to these little ones. We cannot take the preached Word, but we can take the sacramental Word and apply it to them. God established infant membership in his Church. He alone has a right to revoke it. He has never done so. Therefore it stands. If the Old Testament covenant of Grace embraced infants, the New is not narrower, but wider.
The pious Baptist mother's heart is much more scripturally correct than her head. She presses her babe to her bosom, and prays earnestly to Jesus to bless that babe. Her heart knows and believes that that dear child needs the blessing of Jesus, and that He can bestow the needed blessing. And yet she will deny that He can bless it through His own sacrament.—"the washing of water by the Word."
The devout Lutheran mother presses her baptized child to her bosom, looks into its eyes, and thanks her Saviour from the depth of her heart, that He has blessed her child; that He has breathed into it His divine life, washed it, sealed it, and adopted it as His son or daughter. How sweet the consolation to know that her precious little one is a lamb of Christ's flock, "bearing on its body the marks of the Lord Jesus."
But Christian parents have not fulfilled their whole duty in having children baptized into Christ. The children are indeed in covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. But it is their bounden duty and blessed privilege to keep their little ones in that covenant of Grace. Of this more in the next chapter.
THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT CAN BE KEPT UNBROKEN. AIM AND RESPONSIBILITY OF PARENTS.
We have gone "to the Law and to the Testimony" to find out what the nature and benefits of Baptism are. We have gathered out of the Word all the principal passages bearing on this subject. We have grouped them together, and studied them side by side. We have noticed that their sense is uniform, clear, and strong. Unless we are willing to throw aside all sound principles of interpretation, we can extract from the words of inspiration only one meaning, and that is that the baptized child is, by virtue of that divine ordinance, a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Here let us be careful, however, to bear in mind and keep before us that we claim for the child only the birth of a new life. It has been born of water and the Spirit. A birth we know is but a very feeble beginning of life. So faint are the flickerings of the natural life at birth, that it is often doubtful at first whether any life is present. The result of a birth is not a full-grown man, but a very weak and helpless babe. The little life needs the most tender, watchful and intelligent fostering and care.
So it is also in the Kingdom of Grace. The divine life is there. But it is life in its first beginnings. As yet only the seeds and germs of the new life. And this young spiritual life also needs gentle fostering and careful nourishing. Like the natural life of the child, so its spiritual life is beset with perils. While the germs of the new life are there, we must not forget that the roots of sin are also still there. Our Church does not teach with Rome that "sin (original) is destroyed in baptism, so that it no longer exists." Hollazius says: "The guilt and dominion of sin is taken away by baptism, but not the root or tinder of sin." Luther also writes that "Baptism takes away the guilt of sin, although the material, called concupiscence, remains."
Unfortunately for the child these roots of sin will grow of their own accord, like the weeds in our gardens. They need no fostering care. Not so with the germs of the new life. They, like the most precious plants of the gardens, must be watched and guarded and tended continually. Solomon says: Prov. xxix. 15, "A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame." And this may be true even of a baptized child.
The Christian parent, therefore, has not fulfilled his whole duty to the child by having it baptized. It is now the parents' duty; or rather it should be considered the parents' most blessed privilege to keep that child in covenant relationship with the blessed Redeemer. This also belongs to the teaching of the Church of the Reformation. This point, however, many parents seem to forget. Many who are sound on the question of baptismal Grace, are very unsound as to a parent's duty to the baptized child.
Hunnius, a recognized standard theologian of our Church, in speaking of the responsibility of those who present children for baptism says it is expected of them First, to answer, in behalf of the child, as to the faith in which it is baptized, and in which it is to be brought up. Second, to instruct the child when it comes to years of discretion, that it has been truly baptized, as Christ has commanded. Third, to pray for the child, that God may keep it in that Covenant of Grace, bless it in body and spirit, and finally save it with all true believers, and Fourth, to use all diligence that the child may grow up in that faith, which they have confessed in the child's name, and thus be preserved from dangerous error and false doctrine.
That most delightful Lutheran theologian, Luthardt, says: "Infant baptism is a comfort beyond any other, but it is also a responsibility beyond any other." Again: "As Christians we know that God has bestowed upon our children not only natural, but spiritual gifts. For our children have been baptized and received by baptism into the Covenant of Grace. To preserve them in this baptismal Grace, to develop in them the life of God's spirit, this is one side of Christian education. To contend against sin in the child is the other." Dr. Schmid, in his Christian Ethics, also teaches that it is possible to continue in the uninterrupted enjoyment of baptismal Grace. Dr. Pontoppidan, in his explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, asks the question: "Is it possible to keep one's baptismal covenant?" He answers; "Yes, by the Grace of God it is possible."
The teaching of our Church, therefore, is that the baptized child can grow up, a child of Grace from infancy, and that under God, it rests principally with the parents or guardians whether it shall be so. And this Lutheran idea, like all others, is grounded in the Word of God.
We note a few examples: Samuel was a child of prayer, given to his pious mother in answer to prayer. She called him Samuel, i.e., asked of God. Before his birth even, she dedicated him to God. As soon as he was weaned she carried him to the Tabernacle and there publicly consecrated him to the service of the Most High. From this time forth, according to the sacred record, he dwelt in God's Tabernacle and "ministered unto the Lord before Eli". As a mere child God used him as a prophet. Of the prophet Jeremiah it is written: (Jer. i. 5) "Before thou earnest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee." Of John the Baptist it is written: (Luke i. 15) "He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb". To Timothy, Paul says: "From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation," and in speaking of Timothy's faith Paul says, that faith "dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice." Psalms lxxi. 5-6: "Thou art my trust from my youth. By thee have I been holden up from the womb."
It is therefore possible for God, not only to give His Grace to a child, but to keep that child in His Grace all its days. To dispute this is, simply, to dispute the record that God gave.
Lest some one should still say, however, that the examples above noted are isolated and exceptional, we note further, that the tenor of the whole Word is in harmony with this idea. Nowhere in the whole Bible is it even intimated that it is God's desire or plan that children must remain outside of the covenant of Grace, and have no part or lot in the benefits of Christ's redeeming work until they come to years of discretion and can choose for themselves. This modern idea is utterly foreign and contradictory to all we know of God, of His scheme of redemption, and of His dealings with His people, either in the old or new dispensation. He ordained that infants at eight days old should be brought into His covenant. He recognized infant children as partakers of the blessings of His covenant. "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise;" "Suffer them to come unto Me." Everywhere it is taken for granted that the children who have received either the Old or New Testament sacrament of initiation are His. Nowhere are parents exhorted to use their endeavors to have such children converted, as though they had never been touched by divine Grace. But everywhere they are exhorted to keep them in that relation to their Lord, into which His own ordinance has brought them. Gen. xviii. 19, "I know that he will command his household after him, and that they shall keep the way of the Lord." Psalm lxxviii. 6, 7, "That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, which should arise and declare them to their children, that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments." Prov. xxii. 6, "Train up a child in the way he should go; when he is old he will not depart from it." Eph. vi. 4, "Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
Let the baptized child then be looked upon as already belonging to Christ. Let the parents not worry as though it could not be His until it experiences a change of heart. That heart has been changed. The germs of faith and love are there. If the parent appreciates this fact and does his part, there will be developed, very early, the truest confidence and trust in Christ, and the purest love to God. From the germs will grow the beautiful plant of child-trust and child-love. The graces of the new life may be thus early drawn out, so that the child, in after years, will never know of a time when it did not trust and love, and as a result of this love, hate sin. This is the ideal of God's Word. It is the ideal which every Christian parent should strive to realize in the children given by God, and given to God in His own ordinance. How can it be done? Of this, more in the next chapter.
HOME INFLUENCE AND TRAINING IN THEIR RELATION TO THE KEEPING OF THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT.
According to the last chapter, it is indeed a high and holy ideal that every Christian parent should set before him in regard to his children. Every child that God gives to a Christian parent is to be so treated that, from the hour of its baptism, it is to be a son or daughter of God. It is to be so fostered and nurtured and trained that, from its earliest self-consciousness, it is to grow day by day in knowledge and in Grace. As it increases in stature, so it is to increase in wisdom and in favor with God and man.
In order that this may be realized, it is first of all necessary that there be the proper surroundings. We cannot expect that parent to draw out these graces of the new life in the child, who is not himself imbued with a spirit of living faith and fervent love to Christ. In the beautiful words of Luthardt: "Religion must first approach the child in the form of life, and afterward in the form of instruction. Let religion be the atmosphere by which the child is surrounded, the air which it breathes. The whole spirit of the home, its order, its practice—that world in which the child finds himself so soon as he knows himself—this it is which must make religion appear to him a thing natural and self-evident."
And this is especially important for the mother. It is while resting on the mother's bosom and playing at the mother's knee, that the child is receiving impressions that are stones for character building. The father, of course, is not released from responsibility. He too is to set a holy example, to make impressions for good and to use all his influence to direct the thoughts and inclinations of the child upward. The man who does not help in the religious training of his own children is not fit to be a father. But it is after all with the mother that the little child spends most of its time and receives most of its impressions. Oh, that every mother were a Hannah, an Elizabeth, an Eunice. Then would there be more Samuels, Johns and Timothys. Let us have more of the spirit of Christ in the heart of the mother and father, and in the home. Let the child learn, with the first dawnings of self-consciousness, that Jesus is known and loved and honored in the home, and there will be no trouble about the future.
But the child must be instructed. Begin early. Let it learn to pray as soon as it can speak. Let it use its first lispings and stammerings in speaking words of prayer. We quote again from Luthardt: "Let it not be objected that the child cannot understand the prayer. The way of education is by practice to understanding, not by understanding to practice. And the child will have a feeling and a presentiment of what it cannot understand. The world of heavenly things is not an incomprehensible region to the child, but the home of its spirit. The child will speak to his Father in Heaven without needing much instruction as to who that Father is. It seems as though God were a well-known friend of his heart. The child will love to pray. If mother forgets it, the child will not."
Therefore, oh, ye parents! pray for your child. Pray with your child. Teach that child to pray. The writer knows of a little girl who came home from Sunday-school and said: "Mamma, why don't you ever pray?" What a rebuke!
The child must be taught the truth of God's Word. It also must be sanctified, i.e., made more and more holy "through the truth." As a child it needs first the "milk of the Word." It is not desirable, neither is it necessary, to try to teach the very young child doctrines and abstract truths. Neither ought the child to be required to learn by rote long passages from the Scriptures. In this way some well-meaning, but mistaken parents make the Word a burden to their children, and it becomes odious in their eyes. There are other and better ways. Begin by showing the child Bible pictures, even if it should soil the book a little. Better a thousand times have its lessons of life and love graven on the heart of the child, than to have its fine engravings as a parlor ornament for strangers. In our day there is also an abundant supply of Bible pictures and story books for children. Those parents who have never tried it will be surprised to see the interest the little ones take. With the pictures connect the stories of the Bible. And where are the stories better calculated to interest a child than these same old stories, that have edified a hundred generations? When will children ever weary of hearing of Joseph, and Moses, and David, and Daniel, and especially of Him who is the special Friend of children? It will be easy to so connect the teachings of the Word with these pictures and stories that very young children will be able to distinguish right from wrong, to know and hate sin, and to be drawn ever nearer to the blessed Jesus.
As they become able to study, to think and to comprehend it, the judicious parent will be glad to avail himself of the help of Luther's Catechism. Here the more important teachings of the Word are summarized and systemized.
Most parents indeed are glad to shirk this duty, and flatter themselves that if they send their children to catechetical class, when they grow old enough, they have performed their whole duty. Such parents do not perhaps know, that Martin Luther wrote his Small Catechism especially for family use. Let them take their Church books and turn to the Catechism, and they will find that Luther heads the Ten Commandments with the words: "In the plain form in which they are to be taught by the head of the family."
So also with the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Sacraments. This is Luther's idea.
It is the true idea. It belongs to the Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church. It is the custom, still practiced in our older Lutheran churches. The pastor, as we shall see hereafter, is only to help the parents, and not to do it all for them. In teaching the Catechism at home, it will give parents an opportunity to speak of and explain what sin is, what faith is, what prayer is, and what the sacraments are.
We would impress also the importance of instructing the child concerning its own baptism. Let it understand not only the fact of its baptism, but the nature, benefits and obligations of the same. It certainly has a most salutary effect to impress the thought on the child frequently that it was given to Christ and belongs to Him—that He has received it as His own, and adopted it into the family of the redeemed.
Here also there is a sad neglect on the part of parents. Many never say a word to their children about their baptism. Many children even grow up and know not whether they are baptized or not. This is certainly un-Scriptural and un-Lutheran. "Know ye not," says Paul, as if he said, have you forgotten it? "that as many of us as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?" Doubtless if we appreciated our own baptism as we should, it would be a constant source of comfort, a never-failing fountain of Grace to us, and to our children.
The Apostles frequently speak of the "Church that is in the house." By this they mean such a household as we have tried to portray—a home where the religion of our blessed Saviour permeates the whole atmosphere; where the Word of God dwells richly; where there are altars of prayer and closets for prayer—a home where Jesus is a daily, a well-known Guest; where the children, baptized into Christ, are nourished with the milk of the Word, so that they grow thereby, increasing more and more, growing up unto Him who is the Head, even Christ. In such a home the Church is in the house, and the household in the Church. Blessed home! Blessed children, who have such parents! Blessed parents, who have thus learned God's ways of Grace! No anxious, restless parents there, hoping and praying that their children may be converted. No confused, repelled children there, crying because Jesus will not love them till they "get religion." On the contrary, parents and children, kneeling at one altar, children of one Father, with the same trust, the same hope, the same Lord—hand in hand they go from the church in the house to the house of God's Church.
Says Dr. Cuyler, an eminent Presbyterian, "The children of Christian parents ought never to need conversion."
THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL IN ITS RELATION TO THE BAPTIZED CHILDREN OF CHRISTIAN PARENTS.
We have tried to set forth the Lutheran idea of a Christian home. In such a home, called, "a Church in the House," all ought to be Christians. The children having been given and consecrated to Christ in holy baptism, and having had His renewing and life-giving Grace imparted to them through that Sacrament, are to be kept in that relationship with Him.
The popular idea that they must of necessity, during the most impressible and important period of their existence, belong to the world, the flesh and the devil, is utterly foreign to the Lutheran, or Scriptural view. That the child is fated, for a number of years, to be under the influence of evil, and to be permitted to "sow wild oats" before divine Grace can reach it, is certainly a principle that is contradictory to the whole scheme of salvation. Yet this seems to be the idea of those parents who will not believe that God can reach and change the nature of a child, and bring it out of the state of nature into the state of Grace, and keep it in that Grace. These people treat their children much as a farmer does his colts, letting them run wild for a while, and then violently breaking them in.
This pernicious idea has also obtained sway to an alarming extent in the Sunday-school system of our land. The children in the Sunday-school, whether baptized or not, whether from Christian or Christless homes, are looked upon as outsiders, impenitent sinners, utter strangers to Christ and His Grace, until they experience such a marked change that they can tell exactly where and when and how they were converted. Hence the popular idea that it is the object of the Sunday-school to convert the children. This seems to be the underlying principle of both the American Sunday-school Union and American Tract Society; institutions otherwise so excellent that we are loth to say aught against either. This idea pervades also the undenominational helps and comments of the International Lesson System. This is the undertone of the great mass of undenominational Sunday-school hymnology. It is the key-note of the County, State, National and International Sunday-school Conventions and Institutes. So popular and wide-spread is this idea that many Lutheran pastors, Sunday-school teachers and workers have unconsciously imbibed it. Even our Church papers, professing to be strictly confessional, often publish articles setting forth the idea that it is the object of the Sunday-school to Christianize the children. As though the baptized children of the Church, the children of devout Christian parents, had been heathen, until Christianized by the Sunday-school! Many of our Sunday-school constitutions also set it down as the object of the school to "lead the children to Christ," or to "labor for their conversion."
Now we believe that this idea is un-Scriptural and therefore un-Lutheran. If what we have written in the preceding chapters on baptismal Grace, the baptismal covenant, and the possibility of keeping that covenant, is true, then this popular idea, set forth above, is false. And vice versa, if this popular view is correct, then the whole Lutheran system of baptism, baptismal Grace, and the baptismal covenant, falls to the ground.
But notwithstanding the immense array of opposition, we still believe that the Lutheran doctrine is nothing else than the pure teaching of God's word. Where we have the "Church in the House," there we have lambs of Christ's flock. Ah, how many more we could have, how many more we would have, if the fathers and mothers in the Church understood this precious article of our faith, and prayerfully built their home life thereon! Then would there be a more regular and healthful growth of the Church, and the necessity for fitful, spasmodic revival efforts would cease. But we digress.
From our Christian homes the baptized children of the Church come to the Sunday-school. How is the school to treat them?—We speak now of the baptized children from Christian homes; we will speak of the unbaptized and untrained further on.
These children, with all their childish waywardness and restlessness, do generally love Jesus. They do trust in Him, and are unhappy when they know they have committed a sin against Him. They do, when taught, pray to Him, believe that He hears their prayers and loves them. Shall the teacher now begin to impress upon the minds and hearts of these little ones the idea that they are not yet Christ's, and that Christ has nothing to do with them, except to seek and call them, until they are converted? And shall they go home from Sunday-school with the impression that all their prayers have been empty and useless, because their hearts have not been changed? Dare the Sunday-school thus confuse the child, raise doubts as to Christ's forgiveness and love, and "quench the Spirit?" Oh how sad, that thus thousands of children have their first love, their first trust, quenched by those who have more zeal than knowledge!
No, no, these are Christ's lambs. They come with His marks upon them. Let the Sunday-school teacher work in harmony with the mother who gave these children to Christ. Let the whole atmosphere of the school impress on that child the precious truth that it is Jesus' little lamb. Feed that lamb, feed it with the sincere milk of the Word. Lead that lamb gently; teach it to understand its relation to the Great Shepherd, to know Him, to rejoice in His love, to love His voice, to follow His leadings more and more closely.
Instead of singing doubtfully and dolefully:
"I am young, but I must die, In my grave I soon shall lie. Am I ready now to go, If the will of God be so?"
"Child of sin and sorrow Filled with dismay, Wait not for to-morrow; Yield thee to-day:" etc.
"Depth of mercy, can there be Mercy still reserved for me?" etc.
"Hasten, sinner, to be wise, Stay not for to-morrow's sun," etc
"I can but perish if I go, I am resolved to try, For, if I stay away, I know I shall forever die."
"When saints gather round Thee, dear Saviour above, And hasten to crown Thee with jewels of love, Amid those bright mansions of glory so fair— Oh, tell me, dear Saviour, if I shall be there!"
Some of these sentiments are unscriptural. Some may do for penitent prodigals. But all are out of place on the lips of baptized children of the Church. Let such rather joyfully sing:
"I am Jesus' little lamb, Therefore glad and gay I am; Jesus loves me, Jesus knows me, All that's good and fair He shows me, Tends me every day the same, Even calls me by my name,"
and such other cheerful and healthy hymns as breathe the spirit of the Church of the Reformation.
This we believe to be the object of our Sunday-schools, as far as the baptized children of Christian parents are concerned. They are to be helps, to keep the children true to their baptismal covenant, and to enable them to grow strong and stronger against sin and in holiness. Jesus did not tell Peter to convert, but feed His lambs.
From these considerations we see how important it is for Lutheran Sunday-schools to have teachers who "know of the doctrine, whether it be true;" who are "rooted and grounded in the faith;" who are "ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh them a reason of the hope that is in them;" who are "apt to teach."
A teacher who does not understand and appreciate the Lutheran doctrine of baptism is out of place in a Lutheran Sunday-school. It is certainly not desirable to have the child instructed at home that it was given to Christ in baptism, received and owned by Him and belongs to Him, and then have the Sunday-school teacher teach it that until it experiences some remarkable change, which the teacher cannot at all explain, it belongs not to Christ, but to the unconverted world. The teaching of the pulpit, the catechetical class, the home and the Sunday-school, ought certainly to be in perfect harmony—especially so on the vital point of the personal relation of the child to the Saviour and His salvation. To have clashing and contradictory instruction is a sure way to sow the seeds of doubt and skepticism.
We must have sound instruction and influence in the Sunday-school, and to this end we must have sound and clear helps and equipments for teacher and pupil. The worship of the school, the singing, the opening and closing exercises, must all be in harmony with this great fundamental idea of feeding those who are already Christ's lambs.
THE SUNDAY-SCHOOL—ITS RELATION TO THOSE IN COVENANT RELATIONSHIP WITH CHRIST, AND ALSO TO THE UNBAPTIZED AND WANDERING.
We are still speaking of the dealing of the Sunday-school with the baptized children of Christian parents. We have seen how important it is that the Sunday-school work in harmony with the pastor and the parent. We have seen that, to this end, it is especially important that the instruction of the teacher be in harmony with the doctrine of our Church on baptismal Grace, and the keeping of the baptismal covenant.
Here, however, we meet with a practical difficulty. Too many of our teachers are not clear themselves on this subject. Their own early instruction may have been imperfect. Their whole environment has been unfavorable to rooting and grounding them in this faith, once delivered to the saints. This old-fashioned faith, as we have seen, has become unpopular with the masses even of professing Christians. The whole current of the religionism of the day is against it. In many localities and circles, to profess this faith is to invite ridicule and opposition. The Lutheran Church in this matter, as in others, is behind the age, because the age is away ahead of Christ and the Apostles, the Church Fathers and Reformers.
What wonder then that in many places, our members, on whom we must depend for teachers, have unconsciously drifted away from the old landmarks, and are altogether at sea as to God's means and methods of Grace, especially with the children?
It is, therefore, a matter of the gravest importance that our Church place in the hands of her willing but inexperienced teachers such plain, practical and full helps and equipments as will enable them to be safe and successful instructors in our Sunday-schools. Our good teachers are always willing to learn. They need to be and want to be first taught. They need clear, sound exposition, illustration and application of every lesson for themselves, before they can successfully teach others. They need to be shown in every lesson, how the divine Word everywhere sets forth the precious doctrines of our Church. They need to be shown over and over again, how these doctrines are to be impressed and applied to the heart, conscience, and life of the pupil; and how the truth is to be so instilled that it may, by means of every lesson, awaken and deepen a sense of sinfulness, and repentance therefor, and beget and increase faith and love for the dear Saviour. Every lesson that does not make sin more hateful and Christ more precious, is in so far, a failure.
From what we have learned in the last chapter, a Lutheran Sunday-school cannot safely use the literature, whether lesson leaves, lesson helps, or hymns, of others. And this simply because their sentiment is not only at variance with, but openly hostile to our faith. It is therefore even more important for our Church than for any other, to furnish all the necessary equipments for good, sound, live Sunday-schools. Our equipments ought to aim to become more and more superior to all others. The Church should strive to constantly improve them until they become so desirable and attractive that no Lutheran school would think of exchanging them for any others.
We hope to see the day when our Church will lead in all these practical enterprises, even as she has led and still leads in the sphere of sound doctrine. But we digress.
In these two chapters on Sunday-school work, we have thus far spoken only of the relation of the school, to the baptized children of Christian parents. A Sunday-school has, however, by no means fulfilled its mission by looking only after those who are already lambs of the flock. A Sunday-school, like a congregation, to be true to itself and its divine Master, must be a missionary institution. In every community there are lambs who have never been in the flock of the Good Shepherd, or have already wandered astray. There are children who have never been either baptized, or instructed in heavenly things at home. Or, if baptized, they have been permitted to grow up afterwards as wild as heathen children. Yes, even in the homes of members of our Church, there are children, whether baptized or not, who are thus growing up utterly neglected. If baptized, they don't even know it. Much less do they know the significance of their baptism.
It is the mission of the Sunday-school to gather in these destitute ones, from the street, and from their Christless homes. The Sunday-school must become a spiritual home for them. The earnest teacher can and ought to find out who of his pupils belong to this class, and apply to such the needed instruction and exhortation. In their case it is truly the object of the Sunday-school to lead them to Jesus, to labor for their conversion, to Christianize them. This, as a matter of course, also applies to those, even from Christian homes, who were baptized, and perhaps also, to some extent, instructed in divine things, but who have gone astray, and thus fallen from their baptismal covenant. All such, who are not at present in covenant relationship with Christ, who are turned away from Christ, must be turned back, i.e., converted.
Now this difficult work, this great change, can be accomplished only through the power of God's Word. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." "The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation." The words of Christ, "they are spirit and they are life." If sinners, whether young or old, are to be reclaimed for Christ, it must be through that Word which "is quick"—i.e., full of life—"and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword."
Let the Sunday-school teacher depend on nothing else than this Word of God. It is always accompanied by the Spirit of God. It is the living seed of the new life. Let it be used prayerfully. Let it be taught carefully. Let it be taught clearly. Let it be impressed and applied to heart, and conscience, and life. Drive it home personally and individually to the impenitent pupil. See him by himself, visit him in his home, teach him in his class. Cease not your prayers and your efforts till the Word so lodge and fasten itself in the mind and conscience that it makes him realize his own sinfulness and need of a Saviour, and also that Saviour's readiness to save. This is God's way of salvation. This is the Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church. The Sunday-school teacher who follows this way will win souls. The impenitent sinners of his class will be brought to repentance toward God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ: or in one word, they will be converted; whilst those who are already Christ's will grow in Grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
We have spoken of the importance and benefits of home training and instruction. We endeavored to show that Christian parents are under the most solemn obligation to instruct their children in the truth of God's Word. We also endeavored to show that, in order to give their children a clear understanding of the saving truths of the Bible, they could do no better than to diligently teach them Luther's Small Catechism; that this was really Luther's idea and purpose when he wrote that excellent little religious manual; that the first catechetical class ought indeed to be in the family, with father and mother as teachers;—that this home class ought to be carried on so long and so persistently, that in it the children would become perfectly familiar with the contents of the book; so familiar indeed, that they would know all the parts that Luther wrote perfectly by heart. Luther's Small Cathechism, i.e., the parts that Luther wrote himself, is really quite a small book. By giving only a little time and attention to it each week, the parents could easily, in a few years, have all their children know it as perfectly as they know their multiplication table. And such ought to be the case.
After these beginnings have thus been made, and while the home instruction is still going on, the work of the Sunday-school teacher comes in as a help to the home class. In every Sunday-school class there ought to be, with each lesson, some instruction in the Catechism. To this end each teacher, in a Lutheran Sunday-school, ought to be familiarly at home in this most important text-book. The teacher should endeavor so to teach these lessons, that the pupil would learn to love and appreciate the Catechism more and more. Thus, the school ought to be a helper to the home. And thus, home and school together, working in harmony for the same end, would prepare the children for the pastor's catechetical class.
If this good old-fashioned custom were kept up in all our households and schools, then would the pastor's catechetical class be more of a pleasure and a profit to himself and his catechumens. It would then be the pastor's part, as it should be, to review the contents with his class, and thus to find how well the preparatory work had been done. Then could he devote his time and energy to what is really the pastor's part of the work, viz., to explain and set forth clearly the meaning of the Catechism, and show how it all applies to the heart and life of every one.
It is not at all the pastor's place, and it should never be expected of him, to act the school-master, to see to and oversee the memorizing of the answers. It is his office to expound and apply the truth, to make the doctrines clear to the minds of the learners, and to show how they are all related to the individual life.
But, alas, how little is this understood or practiced! How many parents, who call themselves Christians, and Lutherans, seem to think that they have nothing to do in this whole matter! They seem to think that if they send their children once a week, for a few months, to the pastor's class, they have done their whole duty. They do not so much as help and encourage the children to learn the lessons that the pastor assigns. And thus does this part of the pastor's work, which ought to be among the most delightful of all his duties, become wearisome to the flesh and vexatious to the spirit. Scarcely anywhere else in all his duties does a pastor feel so helpless and hopeless and discouraged, as when standing week after week before a class of young people who have such poor instructors at home.
Christian parents, if you desire your sons and your daughters to become steadfast and useful members of the Church of Christ, see to it that you do your part in their religious instruction. Insist on it, and even use your parental authority, if necessary, that your children learn the Catechism and regularly attend the pastor's instructions.
We believe that the trouble in this matter lies largely in the fact that catechisation has become unpopular in our fast age. It is looked upon as a mark of old-fogyism, if not as an evidence of the absence of "spiritual religion!" The new measures and methods of modern revivals are more acceptable to the fickle multitude. They seem to point out a shorter route and quicker time to heaven. As a boy once said to the writer: "I don't want to belong to your church, because I would have to study the Catechism all winter, and down at the other church I can 'get through' in one night." That boy expressed about as clearly and tersely as could well be done, the popular sentiment of the day.
Yielding to this popular sentiment, many churches, that once adhered strictly and firmly to the catechetical method, having either dropped it entirely or are gradually giving it up. And in order to clothe their spiritual cowardliness and laziness in a pious garb, they say: "The Bible is enough for us." "We don't need any man-made Catechisms." "It is all wrong anyhow to place a human book on a level with or above the Bible." "We and our children want our religion from the Spirit of God, and not from a Church Catechism," etc., etc.
Do such people know what they are talking about, or do they sometimes use these pious phrases to quiet a guilty conscience? Do they know what a Catechism is?
Look at it for a moment. What is the nature and object of Luther's Small Catechism? Is it in the nature of a substitute for the Bible? Does it purpose to set aside the Bible? We can scarcely muster patience enough to write such questions. No! No!
Any child that can read this little book knows better. The plainest reader cannot fail to see that it is intended as a help to understand the Bible. Its purpose clearly is to awaken and develop in the reader or learner a more intelligent appreciation and love for the Bible. It contains nothing but Bible truths. Its design is simply this: To summarize and systematize the most important truths and doctrines of the divine Word. To so arrange and group them that even a child may learn what the Bible teaches as to creation, sin, salvation, and the means whereby it may be attained.
We have the assurance, also—and we believe that history and observation will bear out the statement—that those who appreciate and have studied a sound scriptural Catechism most thoroughly, appreciate, understand, love and live their Bibles most.
Of the contents, arrangement and intrinsic value of Luther's Small Catechism, we will speak in the next chapter.
CONTENTS, ARRANGEMENT AND EXCELLENCE OF LUTHER'S SMALL CATECHISM.
We have spoken of Luther's Small Catechism as a help with which to lay hold of and understand the most important truths of the Bible. These fundamental truths are taken from the Scriptures, and are so grouped, arranged and explained that the learner can easily grasp and understand them. That some of the truths contained in the Bible are of greater importance than others will scarcely be denied.
It is certainly more important that the child should know and understand the Ten Commandments, than that it should be familiar with all the details of the ceremonial law. Certainly better to be familiar with the Apostles' Creed, than to know all about the building of the Temple. Better be able to repeat and understand the Lord's Prayer, than to have a clear knowledge of the elaborate ritual of the Temple service. Better understand the meaning of Christ's two Sacraments than to be able to tell all about the great feasts of the Jews.
If any one can know all these other matters also, so much the better. The Catechism will certainly be a help instead of a hindrance to this end. But if all cannot be learned—at least not at once—let the most important be taught first. And for this we have a Catechism.
Look at its contents. It is divided into five parts. Each division treats of a separate subject. The first contains the Ten Commandments, with a brief yet full explanation of each Commandment. The second part has the three articles of the Apostles' Creed, with a clear and most beautiful explanation of each one. The third is the Lord's Prayer, its introduction, the seven petitions, and the conclusion; with a terse, though comprehensive explanation of each sentence. The fourth and fifth parts treat similarly of the two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
Here then we have, in a brief space, the most important teachings of the whole Bible systematically arranged and clearly explained. Of these contents and their arrangement, Luther himself says:
"This Catechism is truly the Bible of the laity (or common people), wherein is contained the entire doctrine necessary to be known by every Christian for salvation. Here we have first the Ten Commandments of God, the doctrine of doctrines, by which the will of God is known, what God would have us to do and what is wanting in us.
"Secondly: The Apostles' Creed, the history of histories, or the highest history, wherein are delivered to us the wonderful works of God from the beginning, how we and all creatures are created by God, how all are redeemed by the Son of God, how we are also received and sanctified by the Holy Ghost, and collected together to a people of God, and have the remission of sins and everlasting salvation.
"Thirdly: The Lord's Prayer, the prayer of prayers, the highest prayer which the highest Master taught, wherein are included all temporal and spiritual blessings, and the strongest comforts in all temptations and troubles, and in the hour of death.
"Fourthly: The blessed Sacraments, the ceremonies of ceremonies, which God himself has instituted and ordained, and therein assured us of his Grace."
John Arndt, in a sermon on the Catechism, says: "The Catechism is a brief instruction in the Christian religion, and includes in itself the doctrine of the Law of God, Christian Faith, the Lord's Prayer, the institutions of Holy Baptism and of the Lord's Supper, which five parts are an epitome and kernel of the entire Holy Scriptures, for which reason it is called a 'Little Bible.'"
Dr. Seiss, in his Ecclesia Lutherana, says: "It is the completest summary of the contents of the Bible ever given in the same number of words. It gave to the reviving Church a text-book for the presentation of the truth as it is in Jesus to the school, lecture-room and pulpit."
The sainted Dr. Krauth says: "The Catechism is a thread through the labyrinth of divine wonders. Persons often get confused, but if they will hold on to this Catechism it will lead them through without being lost. It is often called the 'Little Bible' and 'the Bible of the laity' because it presents the plain and simple doctrines of the Holy Book in its own words. Pearls strung are easily carried, unstrung they are easily lost. The Catechism is a string of Bible Pearls. The order of arrangement is the historical—the Law, Faith, Prayer, Sacrament of Baptism, and all crowned with the Lord's Supper—just as God worked them out and fixed them in history."
Thus we might go on quoting page after page of words of admiration and praise, from the greatest minds in our and other Churches, of the contents and arrangement of this little book. Neither can we charge these writers with extravagance in their utterances. For the more we examine and study the pages of this little book, the more we are convinced that it is unique and most admirable in its matter and plan.
Let each one look for a moment at himself, and then from himself into this little book.
I come into this world ignorant, yet full of presentiments and questions. I learn my first vague lesson about myself and God. I naturally ask: For what purpose has God put me here? What does He wish me to do? The Catechism answers: To do His will, to keep His commandments. Here they are, and this is what they mean. I study them, and the more I study them, the more am I convinced that I never did and never can perfectly keep this law.
I ask again: What shall I do? My Catechism tells me I must have faith. I must believe. But what shall I believe? Answer: This summary of truth called the Apostles' Creed. It tells me of my Creator—His work and providence, and His gift of a Redeemer. It tells me of that Redeemer and His redemption; of the gift of the Spirit, and His application of redemption. It not only tells me what to believe, but in the very telling it offers me help to believe.
But I am still weak and more or less perplexed. Whither shall I go for more strength and Grace? My Catechism furnishes the answer: Go to the great Triune God. Ask Him in prayer. Here is a model. It will teach you how to pray.
I learn what it is to pray. But again I ask: How do I know that God will hear my prayer? Is He interested in me personally? Has He any other means besides His written Word to assure me of His love and to give me, in answer to my prayers, more strength to believe Him and love Him?
My Catechism points me to my baptism. It teaches me what it means, and how that in it I have God's own pledge that He is my Father, and that I am His child. Here then is a fountain to which I can return again and again when weak and perplexed.
Further, my Catechism teaches me concerning my Saviour's last legacy of love before His death for me, His Holy Supper. In it He holds out to me and gives to me, personally and individually, Himself and all His heavenly Grace.
Thus does this little Catechism meet me in my perplexity, take me by the hand, and lead me through the labyrinth of the wonders of Grace. Thus does it tell me what I am, what I need, and where and how to get what I need. It takes me to the wells of salvation. It draws from them living water. It holds it to my parched lips. It gathers the precious manna of the Word, and feeds me when I am faint and weary.
Such is Luther's Small Catechism. Is it any wonder that we love it? Is it any wonder that we count the study of it a part of the Way of Salvation in the Lutheran Church?
We have something yet to say on the manner of teaching it and the results of faithful teaching and learning.
MANNER AND OBJECT OF TEACHING LUTHER'S CATECHISM
We have spoken of the importance of catechisation. We have seen that Luther's Small Catechism is indeed a priceless Bible manual. It sets before us, in matchless order, God's plan of salvation. It is so full and yet so brief, so doctrinal and yet so warm and hearty. "The only Catechism," says Dr. Loehe, "that can be prayed." "It may be bought for sixpence," says Dr. Jonas, "but six thousand worlds could not pay for it."
No wonder that no book outside of the Bible has been translated into so many languages, or circulated so widely. Thirty-seven years after its publication one hundred thousand copies were in circulation. The first book translated into any of the dialects of the American Indian, it was from its pages that the red man read his first lessons concerning the true God, and his own relations to that God. At the present day it is taught in ten different languages in our own land.
And yet how sadly neglected and abused, even by those who bear its author's name! It is neglected, if not entirely ignored, in countless Lutheran homes and Sunday-schools. It is even neglected by many so-called Lutheran pastors. They set at naught the testimony of nearly four centuries. They set their own opinions above the testimony of the wisest, as well as the most deeply spiritual and consecrated witnesses of their own Church. They prefer the baseless, shallow, short-cut methods of this superficial age. Some of them have even joined in the cry of the fanatic, and called all catechisation in the Church dead formalism! Fortunately, their number is growing rapidly less, and many, who were for a while carried away with the tide of new measures, are asking for and returning to the good and tried old ways.