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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

With Luther all theology is really Christology


Luther accepted, honestly and joyfully, the old theology about God and the Person of Christ, he put a new and richer meaning into it. Luther lets us see over and over again that he believed that the only thing worth considering in theology was the divine work of Christ and the experience that we have of it through faith. He did not believe that we have any real knowledge of God outside these limits. Beyond them there is the unknown God of philosophical paganism, the God whom Jews, Turks, pagans, and nominal Christians ignorantly worship. In order to know God it is necessary to know Him through the Jesus Christ of history. Hence with Luther, Christ fills the whole sphere of God: "He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father," and conversely: "He that hath not seen Me hath not seen the Father." The historical Jesus Christ is for Luther the revealer and the only revealer of the Father. The revelation is given in the wonderful experience of faith in which Jesus compels us to see God in Him--the whole of God, Who has kept nothing back which He could have given us. It is very doubtful whether the framers of the old creeds ever grasped this thought. The great expounder of the old theology, Augustine, certainly did not. The failure to enter into it showed itself not merely in the doctrine of God, but also in the theories of grace. With Luther all theology is really Christology; he knew no other God than the God Who had manifested Himself in the historical Christ, and made us see in the miracle
of faith that He is our salvation. This at once simplifies all Christian theology and cuts it clearly away from that Scholastic which Luther called "sophistry." Why need Christians puzzle themselves over the Eternal Something which is not the world when they have the Father? On the old theology the work of Christ was practically limited to procuring the forgiveness of sins. There it ended and other gracious operations of God began--operations of grace. So there grew the complex system of expiations, and satisfactions, of magical sacraments and saints' intercessions. These were all at once swept away when the whole God was seen revealed in Christ in the vision of faith and nowhere else.

Like Athanasius, Luther found his salvation in the Deity of Christ.

"We must have a Saviour Who is more than a saint or an angel; for if He were no more, better and greater than these, there were no helping us. But if he be God, then the treasure is so ponderous that it outweighs and lifts away sin and death; and not only so, but also gives eternal life. This is our Christian faith, and therefore we rightly confess: 'I believe in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord, Who was born of Mary, suffered and died.' By this faith hold fast, and though heathen and heretic are ever so wise thou shalt be blessed."(427)

He repeats this over and over again. If we cannot say God died for us, if it was only a man who suffered on the cross, then we are lost, was Luther's firmest conviction; and the thought of the Divinity of Christ meant more to Luther than it did to previous theologians. The old theology had described the two Natures in the One Person of the God-man in such a way as to suggest that the only function of the Divine was to give to the human work of Christ the importance necessary to effect salvation. Luther always refused to adopt this limited way of regarding the Divinity of the Saviour. He did not refuse to adopt and use the _phraseology_ of his predecessors. Like them, he spoke of the two Natures in the One Person of Christ. But it is plain from his expositions of the Creed, and from his criticisms of the current theological terminology, that he did not like the expression. He thought that it suggested an idea that was wrong, and that had to be guarded against. He says that we must beware of thinking as if the deity and humanity in Christ are so externally united that we may look at the one apart from the other.

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