Every day is an Easter

Daily death and resurrection

As Luther said so well, the Christian life consists entirely in the daily return to baptism: “a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism.” The Large Catechism, one of Luther’s most carefully prepared works, explains this classic Lutheran description of the Christian life:

These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam, and that that which belongs to the new man come forth. But what is the old man? It is that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it. Now, when we are come into the kingdom of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient, more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.

This daily baptism is not merely symbolic but rather an actual death and resurrection, as witnessed  by Article V of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:

. . . there is first terror and anxiety in the conscience. Thus contrition and faith go side by side. One is putting off the body of sins; the other is the rising again through faith. Neither ought these words, mortification, quickening, putting off the body of sins, rising again, to be understood in a Platonic way, concerning a feigned change; but mortification signifies true terrors, such as those of the dying, which nature could not sustain unless it were supported by faith. So he names that as the putting off of the body of sins which we ordinarily call contrition, because in these griefs the natural concupiscence is purged away. And quickening ought not to be understood as a Platonic fancy, but as consolation which truly sustains life that is escaping in contrition. Here, therefore, are two parts: contrition and faith. For as conscience cannot be pacified except by faith, therefore faith alone quickens, according to the declaration, Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17: The just shall live by faith.

Luther’s Large Catechism continues:

This is the true use of Baptism among Christians, as signified by baptizing with water. Where this, therefore, is not practised, but the old man is left unbridled, so as to continually become stronger, that is not using Baptism, but striving against Baptism. For those who are without Christ cannot but daily become worse, according to the proverb which expresses the truth, “Worse and worse–the longer, the worse.” If a year ago one was proud and avaricious, then he is much prouder and more avaricious this year, so that the vice grows and increases with him from his youth up. A young child has no special vice; but when it grows up, it becomes unchaste and impure, and when it reaches maturity, real vices begin to prevail the longer, the more. Therefore the old man goes unrestrained in his nature if he is not checked and suppressed by the power of Baptism. On the other hand, where men have become Christians, he daily decreases until he finally perishes. That is truly to be buried in Baptism, and daily to come forth again. Therefore the external sign is appointed not only for a powerful effect, but also for a signification. Where, therefore, faith flourishes with its fruits, there it has no empty signification, but the work [of mortifying the flesh] accompanies it; but where faith is wanting, it remains a mere unfruitful sign. And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong.

In summary, “Ethical progress is only possible by returning to Baptism” (Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith, Chapter 5, Kindle location 779 of 1207). This spiritual growth or “ethical progress” is received only by faith in the gospel. Baptism and the other means of grace restore God’s image by communicating the gospel.

The gospel written in good works

What did Melanchthon mean when he said a conscience terrified by the law can find comfort in a promise connected to good works (Ap. 3:151-155)? The answer is not immediately obvious. Following David Scaer in seeing a third use of the law that is distinct from its first two uses can help here. Since the same word “law” can mean different things even within the sixth article of the Formula of Concord, let me clarify. By “law,” I here mean the unchanging will of God. I will use the same word in a more narrow sense shortly.

Melanchthon said Christ often attaches promises to good works not only to destroy Epicurean delusions, but also to offer a variety of signs and testimonies for the terrified conscience. A key to seeing how Melanchthon could find comfort for terrified consciences in those promises lies in properly distinguishing the second and third uses of the law, that is, between the law in the narrow sense and the fruit of faith, “against which there is no law.”

The terrified conscience of Luther turned not only to the promise that those who believe and are baptized will be saved, but also to the promise that those who forgive are forgiven:

But there is here attached a necessary, yet consolatory addition: As we forgive. He has promised that we shall be sure that everything is forgiven and pardoned, yet in the manner that we also forgive our neighbor. For just as we daily sin much against God, and yet He forgives everything through grace, so we, too, must ever forgive our neighbor who does us injury, violence, and wrong, shows malice toward us, etc. If, therefore, you do not forgive, then do not think that God forgives you; but if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, for God forgives freely and without condition, out of pure grace, because He has so promised, as the Gospel teaches, but in order that He may set this up for our confirmation and assurance for a sign alongside of the promise which accords with this prayer, Luke 6:37: Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. Therefore Christ also repeats it soon after the Lord’s Prayer, and says, Matt. 6:14: For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, etc. This sign is therefore attached to this petition, that, when we pray, we remember the promise and reflect thus: Dear Father, for this reason I come and pray Thee to forgive me, not that I can make satisfaction, or can merit anything by my works, but because Thou hast promised and attached the seal thereto that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by Thyself. For as much as Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, appointed as external signs, effect, so much also this sign can effect to confirm our consciences and cause them to rejoice. And it is especially given for this purpose, that we might use and practise it every hour, as a thing that we have with us at all times.

This is not Presbyterianism’s uncertain “inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made”, but the very certainty of the gospel: “…if you forgive, you have this consolation and assurance, that you are forgiven in heaven, not on account of your forgiving, … Thou hast promised and attached the seal thereto that I should be as sure as though I had absolution pronounced by Thyself.”

Luther indeed found comfort in the promise of Mark 16. He also found comfort in the promise of Luke 6:37 and Matt. 6:14. He needed manifold consolation. After all, he subscribed to Melanchthon’s statement that “we have need of external signs of so great a promise, because a conscience full of fear has need of manifold consolation. As, therefore, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are signs that continually admonish, cheer, and encourage desponding minds to believe the more firmly that their sins are forgiven, so the same promise is written and portrayed in good works, in order that these works may admonish us to believe the more firmly.”

heure [hour]