A Laymen’s Commentary on the Large Catechism: Third Article

This is part 16 of 26 in the series A Layman's Commentary on the Large Catechism

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

(Psalm 51)

 

The Third Article.

Of Sanctification.

I believe in the Holy Ghost; one holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

What does this mean?–Answer.

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

(Small Catechism)

 

We all confess the Holy Ghost,
Who, in highest heaven dwelling
With the Father and the Son,
Comforts us beyond all telling;
Who the Church, His own creation,
Keeps in unity of spirit.
Here forgiveness and salvation
Daily come through Jesus’ merit.
All flesh shall rise, and we shall be
In bliss with God eternally.

(LSB 954)

 

Article III.

34] I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.

35] This article (as I have said) I cannot relate better than to Sanctification, that through the same the Holy Ghost, with His office, is declared and depicted, namely, that He makes holy. Therefore we must take our stand upon the word Holy Ghost, because it is so precise and comprehensive that we cannot find another. 36] For there are, besides, many kinds of spirits mentioned in the Holy Scriptures, as, the spirit of man, heavenly spirits, and evil spirits. But the Spirit of God alone is called Holy Ghost, that is, He who has sanctified and still sanctifies us. For as the Father is called Creator, the Son Redeemer, so the Holy Ghost, from His work, must be called Sanctifier, or One that makes holy. 37] But how is such sanctifying done? Answer: Just as the Son obtains dominion, whereby He wins us, through His birth, death, resurrection, etc., so also the Holy Ghost effects our sanctification by the following parts, namely, by the communion of saints or the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting; that is, He first leads us into His holy congregation, and places us in the bosom of the Church, whereby He preaches to us and brings us to Christ.

38] For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost. That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us. 39] Therefore sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain of ourselves.

40] Learn, then, to understand this article most clearly. If you are asked: What do you mean by the words: I believe in the Holy Ghost? you can answer: I believe that the Holy Ghost makes me holy, as His name implies. 41] But whereby does He accomplish this, or what are His method and means to this end? Answer: By the Christian Church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. 42] For, in the first place, He has a peculiar congregation in the world, which is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God, which He reveals and preaches, [and through which] He illumines and enkindles hearts, that they understand, accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.

43] For where He does not cause it to be preached and made alive in the heart, so that it is understood, it is lost, as was the case under the Papacy, where faith was entirely put under the bench, and no one recognized Christ as his Lord or the Holy Ghost as his Sanctifier, that is, no one believed that Christ is our Lord in the sense that He has acquired this treasure for us, without our works and merit, and made us acceptable to the Father. What, then, was lacking? 44] This, that the Holy Ghost was not there to reveal it and cause it to be preached; but men and evil spirits were there, who taught us to obtain grace and be saved by our works. 45] Therefore it is not a Christian Church either; for where Christ is not preached, there is no Holy Ghost who creates, calls, and gathers the Christian Church, without which no one can come to Christ the Lord.

As the first two articles were about Creation and Justification, this last article is about Sanctification.  Sanctification simply means to be made holy, that is to be set apart. The Holy Spirit is the one who sanctifies us, namely makes us holy (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Now there are many spirits in this world.  The spirit of man (soul), the spirits in the heavens (angels), and evil spirits (demons), but only one Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:6-16, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 7:18-35).  Out of all these spirits, only the Holy Spirit is called Holy, as He is God as well.  Being God, He is holy in and of Himself.

The Holy Spirit brings Sanctification to us through the Means of Grace and the Christian Church.  This is the Holy Spirit’s primary work to form the Church by the conversion of the soul and the gathering of the saints.  For the Gospel is foreign to us unless the Holy Spirit sends preachers to us (1 Corinthians 12-14, Galatians 4:1-7).

As with the other parts of the Creed the entire Trinity is involved in our sanctification.  Christ has completed redemption (John 19:28-30, Colossians 1:24-2:5).  God the Father, with the Son, sends His Holy Spirit to deliver to us that which Christ has won.  That great mystery of Christ’s victory is now ours through the work of the Holy Spirit.  Sanctifying is then bringing Christ to us, cleansing us through His work and making us holy.  It is the result of Subjective Justification, for sanctification follows our justification (1 Peter 3:18-22, Galatians 4:21-31, 1 Corinthians 2:12).

Where the Word is not preached, both Justification and Sanctification are lost.  After all the Word is formed by and delivers the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit in His work brings the Word to bear on our hearts.  Where the Word is, there the Holy Spirit is (Matthew 13:18-23).

Where this Word is lacking the Holy Spirit is not to be found, only error.  For example, this is what happened in the papacy and continues to this day. The Papacy lost the pure Word and teaches that one is saved by works, which is the ladder of Moralism (Romans 4:1-8).  Thus where Christ is not preached, the Holy Spirit is not there and false doctrine reigns.

46] Let this suffice concerning the sum of this article. But because the parts which are here enumerated are not quite clear to the simple, we shall run over them also.

47] The Creed denominates the holy Christian Church, communionem sanctorum, a communion of saints; for both expressions, taken together, are identical. But formerly the one [the second] expression was not there, and it has been poorly and unintelligibly translated into German eine Gemeinschaft der Heiligen, a communion of saints. If it is to be rendered plainly, it must be expressed quite differently in the German idiom; for the word ecclesia properly means in German eine Versammlung, an assembly. 48] But we are accustomed to the word church, by which the simple do not understand an assembled multitude, but the consecrated house or building, although the house ought not to be called a church, except only for the reason that the multitude assembles there. For we who assemble there make and choose for ourselves a particular place, and give a name to the house according to the assembly.

Thus the word Kirche (church) means really nothing else than a common assembly, and is not German by idiom, but Greek (as is also the word ecclesia); for in their own language they call it kyria, as in Latin it is called curia. Therefore in genuine German, in our mother-tongue, it ought to be called a Christian congregation or assembly (eine christliche Gemeinde oder Sammlung), or, best of all and most clearly, holy Christendom (eine heilige Christenheit).

49] So also the word communio, which is added, ought not to be rendered communion (Gemeinschaft), but congregation (Gemeinde). And it is nothing else than an interpretation or explanation by which some one meant to explain what the Christian Church is. This our people, who understood neither Latin nor German, have rendered Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (communion of saints), although no German language speaks thus, nor understands it thus. But to speak correct German, it ought to be eine Gemeinde der Heiligen (a congregation of saints), that is, a congregation made up purely of saints, or, to speak yet more plainly, eine heilige Gemeinde, a holy congregation. 50] I say this in order that the words Gemeinschaft der Heiligen (communion of saints) may be understood, because the expression has become so established by custom that it cannot well be eradicated, and it is treated almost as heresy if one should attempt to change a word.

51] But this is the meaning and substance of this addition: I believe that there is upon earth a little holy group and congregation of pure saints, under one head, even Christ, called together by the Holy Ghost in one faith, one mind, and understanding, with manifold gifts, yet agreeing in love, without sects or schisms. 52] I am also a part and member of the same, a sharer and joint owner of all the goods it possesses, brought to it and incorporated into it by the Holy Ghost by having heard and continuing to hear the Word of God, which is the beginning of entering it. For formerly, before we had attained to this, we were altogether of the devil, knowing nothing of God and of Christ. 53] Thus, until the last day, the Holy Ghost abides with the holy congregation or Christendom, by means of which He fetches us to Christ and which He employs to teach and preach to us the Word, whereby He works and promotes sanctification, causing it [this community] daily to grow and become strong in the faith and its fruits which He produces.

54] We further believe that in this Christian Church we have forgiveness of sin, which is wrought through the holy Sacraments and Absolution, moreover, through all manner of consolatory promises of the entire Gospel. Therefore, whatever is to be preached concerning the Sacraments belongs here, and, in short, the whole Gospel and all the offices of Christianity, which also must be preached and taught without ceasing. For although the grace of God is secured through Christ, and sanctification is wrought by the Holy Ghost through the Word of God in the unity of the Christian Church, yet on account of our flesh which we bear about with us we are never without sin.

55] Everything, therefore, in the Christian Church is ordered to the end that we shall daily obtain there nothing but the forgiveness of sin through the Word and signs, to comfort and encourage our consciences as long as we live here. Thus, although we have sins, the [grace of the] Holy Ghost does not allow them to injure us, because we are in the Christian Church, where there is nothing but [continuous, uninterrupted] forgiveness of sin, both in that God forgives us, and in that we forgive, bear with, and help each other.

The Communion of Saints is a mistranslation.  It should be a gathering or a congregation.  We are part of the congregation of saints which spans time and space, that is the catholic (i.e. universal) church.  We also believe that we are part of the Holy Church on Earth (Visible Church) (Ephesians 1:15-23, Ephesians 4:1-16, Romans 8:12-17).

Notice that none of this is done by our will but rather by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:1-9, 5:16-26, Romans 3:9-20, John 14:14-31).  Prior to the Holy Spirit acting our will is dead.  It is the Holy Spirit who converts us.  This is contrary to the heresy of Arminianism which confesses that one can choose to follow God.  This so-called Decision Theology (Arminianism) is rife throughout nondenominational American Evangelicalism.

In the Church which the Holy Spirit forms the forgiveness of sins is found. This forgiveness of sins is delivered to us by the Word and Sacrament, which are sustained by the working of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 1:1-11, John 20:19-23). A discussion of the Sacraments and the Office of the Keys rightly belong here, but we will discuss them more thoroughly later.  Suffice it to say they are the work of the Holy Spirit and the Church (John 1:17, Romans 7:7-25).  The Holy Spirit forms the Church’s one and only goal: The forgiveness of sins (Galatians 6:1-5).

56] But outside of this Christian Church, where the Gospel is not, there is no forgiveness, as also there can be no holiness [sanctification]. Therefore all who seek and wish to merit holiness [sanctification], not through the Gospel and forgiveness of sin, but by their works, have expelled and severed themselves [from this Church].

57] Meanwhile, however, while sanctification has begun and is growing daily, we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness, and will come forth gloriously, and arise to entire and perfect holiness in a new eternal life. 58] For now we are only half pure and holy, so that the Holy Ghost has ever [some reason why] to continue His work in us through the Word, and daily to dispense forgiveness, until we attain to that life where there will be no more forgiveness, but only perfectly pure and holy people, full of godliness and righteousness, removed and free from sin, death, and all evil, in a new, immortal, and glorified body.

59] Behold, all this is to be the office and work of the Holy Ghost, that He begin and daily increase holiness upon earth by means of these two things, the Christian Church and the forgiveness of sin. But in our dissolution He will accomplish it altogether in an instant, and will forever preserve us therein by the last two parts.

60] But the term Auferstehung des Fleisches (resurrection of the flesh) here employed is not according to good German idiom. For when we Germans hear the word Fleisch (flesh), we think no farther than of the shambles. But in good German idiom we would say Auferstehung des Leibes, or Leichnams (resurrection of the body). However, it is not a matter of much moment, if we only understand the words aright.

61] This, now, is the article which must ever be and remain in operation. For creation we have received; redemption, too, is finished But the Holy Ghost carries on His work without ceasing to the last day. And for that purpose He has appointed a congregation upon earth by which He speaks and does everything. 62] For He has not yet brought together all His Christian Church nor dispensed forgiveness. Therefore we believe in Him who through the Word daily brings us into the fellowship of this Christian Church, and through the same Word and the forgiveness of sins bestows, increases, and strengthens faith, in order that when He has accomplished it all, and we abide therein, and die to the world and to all evil, He may finally make us perfectly and forever holy; which now we expect in faith through the Word.

Salvation is not found outside the Church.  There is no forgiveness of sins to be found.  Those who wish to have salvation outside of the Church have damned themselves (Galatians 5:1-15).

In the Church, though, the Holy Spirit works in us to produce fruits.  These fruits are good works which we grow in throughout our life of faith.  We do not ever reach perfection in this life but our good works do grow as our faith grows and we follow the Law (Romans 6:1-14).  This is what is called progressive sanctification (2 Thessalonians 1:1-4).

The Holy Spirit’s work of Sanctification, via the Church and the forgiveness of sins, is never complete in this life.  But it is completed in the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 13, 15). Thus, the work of Creation is completed and so is the work of Justification, but the work of the Third Article (Sanctification) continues on to the end of the world (John 10:1-21).

63] Behold, here you have the entire divine essence, will, and work depicted most exquisitely in quite short and yet rich words, wherein consists all our wisdom, which surpasses and exceeds the wisdom, mind, and reason of all men. For although the whole world with all diligence has endeavored to ascertain what God is, what He has in mind and does, yet has she never been able to attain to [the knowledge and understanding of] any of these things. 64] But here we have everything in richest measure; for here in all three articles He has Himself revealed and opened the deepest abyss of his paternal heart and of His pure unutterable love. For He has created us for this very object, that He might redeem and sanctify us; and in addition to giving and imparting to us everything in heaven and upon earth, He has given to us even His Son and the Holy Ghost, by whom to bring us to Himself. 65] For (as explained above) we could never attain to the knowledge of the grace and favor of the Father except through the Lord Christ, who is a mirror of the paternal heart, outside of whom we see nothing but an angry and terrible Judge. But of Christ we could know nothing either, unless it had been revealed by the Holy Ghost.

66] These articles of the Creed, therefore, divide and separate us Christians from all other people upon earth. For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. For they have not the Lord Christ, and, besides, are not illumined and favored by any gifts of the Holy Ghost.

67] From this you perceive that the Creed is a doctrine quite different from the Ten Commandments; for the latter teaches indeed what we ought to do, but the former tells what God does for us and gives to us. Moreover, apart from this, the Ten Commandments are written in the hearts of all men; the Creed, however, no human wisdom can comprehend, but it must be taught by the Holy Ghost alone. 68] The latter doctrine [of the Law], therefore, makes no Christian, for the wrath and displeasure of God abide upon us still, because we cannot keep what God demands of us; but this [namely, the doctrine of faith] brings pure grace, and makes us godly and acceptable to God. 69] For by this knowledge we obtain love and delight in all the commandments of God, because here we see that God gives Himself entire to us, with all that He has and is able to do, to aid and direct us in keeping the Ten Commandments-the Father, all creatures; the Son, His entire work; and the Holy Ghost, all His gifts.

70] Let this suffice concerning the Creed to lay a foundation for the simple, that they may not be burdened, so that, if they understand the substance of it, they themselves may afterwards strive to acquire more, and to refer to these parts whatever they learn in the Scriptures, and may ever grow and increase in richer understanding. For as long as we live here, we shall daily have enough to do to preach and to learn this.

The Creed is a summary of all that we know about God (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  We cannot know the mind of God aside from His external Word. To say otherwise is to be an enthusiast (Ephesians 3:14-21).

From His Word, we know that God created us so that He could love us (Romans 8:14, 31-30).  We would not know about His love in Christ except for the Holy Spirit (John 14:1-11, Colossians 1:15-23).  He reveals God to us via His Word (Hebrews 1).

It is here that a point of clarification should be made about what Luther says in paragraph 66.  Note that Luther is not saying that those outside the Christian Church believe in the right God.  They do not.  He is proposing a hypothetical which goes as follows.  Even if we granted that everyone outside the Church worshiped the true God (which we know they do not) they would not know His will toward them unless He revealed it.  Thus their worship of the true God would be in vain as they do not know who He is or what He has done (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Hebrews 6:1-12).  For more on this see One True God: Understanding the Large Catechism: II 66.

The Ten Commandments are written on everyone’s heart (Romans 2:12-16). However, the Ten Commandments make us no Christian.  The Creed makes us Christians as it tells us what God has done for us in order to save us.

The faith confessed in the Creed gives us the power to keep the Ten Commandments (creation) by making us recognize we do not need to keep the Law for our Justification, that Christ has done that for us. We also recognize that we will never keep the Law without the Holy Spirit’s work of Sanctification.  As such we need to listen to the pure Word of God which is the Holy Spirit’s voice (2 Peter 3:14-18).

1 Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest,
And make our hearts Your place of rest;
Come with Your grace and heav’nly aid
And fill the hearts which You have made.

2 To You, the Counselor, we cry,
To You, the gift of God Most High;
The fount of life, the fire of love,
The soul’s anointing from above.

3 In You, with graces sevenfold,
We God’s almighty hand behold
While You with tongues of fire proclaim
To all the world His holy name.

4 Your light to ev’ry thought impart,
And shed Your love in ev’ry heart;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

5 Drive far away our wily foe,
And Your abiding peace bestow;
With You as our protecting guide,
No evil can with us abide.

6 Teach us to know the Father, Son,
And You, from both, as Three in One
That we Your name may ever bless
And in our lives the truth confess.

7 Praise we the Father and Son,
And Holy Spirit, with them One,
And may the Son on us bestow
The gifts that from the Spirit flow!

(LSB 498/499)

About Dr. Paul Edmon

Dr. Paul Edmon is from Seattle, Washington and now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. He has his B.S. in Physics from the University of Washington in 2004 and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Minnesota in 2010. He is professional staff at Harvard University and acts as liaison between Center for Astrophysics and Research Computing. A life long Lutheran, he is formerly a member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Seattle and University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis. He now attends First Lutheran Church (FLC) of Boston where he teaches Lutheran Essentials. He sings bass in the FLC choir and Canto Armonico. He was elected to the Concordia Seminary St. Louis Board of Regents in 2016. He is single and among his manifold interests are scotch, football, anime, board games, mythology, history, philosophy, and general nerdiness. The views expressed here are his own and do not represent Harvard University or Concordia Seminary. Twitter: @pauledmon

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