THE TWO SOURCES (PRINCIPIA COGNOSCENDI) OF THE EXISTING RELIGIONS.
As we have seen, there are but two essentially different religions, the religion of faith, or of the Gospel, and the religion of works, or of the Law. So also there are but two actual sources (principia cognoscendi, principles of knowledge) from which these two divergent religions are taken. The religion of works is of human origin; it is a man-made religion, having its source and origin in the human heart, in which God has inscribed His divine Law, so that also the heathen, who have not the Word of God as set forth in Holy Scripture, Rom. 2, 14, “know the judgment of God” (the norm of right), Rom. 1, 32, and “show the work of the Law written in their hearts,” Rom. 2, 15. On the basis of the divine Law, inscribed in the human heart, conscience accuses and condemns man whenever he does wrong, and so he is burdened with the consciousness of guilt, “they are without excuse,” Rom. 1, 20, “their conscience also bearing witness and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another,” Rom. 2, 15.
Thus condemned by his conscience, man seeks to reconcile the Deity by “good works,” such as worship, sacrifices, etc. The Apology rightly says: “But works become conspicuous among men. Human reason naturally admires these, and because it sees only works and does not understand or consider faith, it dreams accordingly that these works merit remission of sins and justify. This opinion of the Law (opinio legis) inheres by nature in men’s minds; neither can it be expelled, unless when we are divinely taught. But the mind must be recalled (revocanda mens est) from such carnal opinions of the Word of God.” (Art. III, 197.)
The “opinion of the Law” of which the Apology here speaks, namely, the erroneous view that works merit remission of sins and justify the sinner, St. Paul calls “the religion of the flesh.” So he writes to the Galatians, who sought justification on the ground of their merits: “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” Gal. 3, 3. Luther correctly explains this passage as follows : “Here flesh is nothing else than the righteousness, the wisdom, of the flesh and the thoughts of reason, which endeavors to be justified by the Law.” (St. L. Ed., IX, 288 ff.) That this is indeed the meaning of the word flesh in this passage the context clearly proves. The passage thus teaches the truth that every religion which seeks to acquire divine grace and remission of sins through human endeavors is not of God, but of man. Its source is the perverted, unregenerate heart.
The religion of the Gospel, or of faith, on the contrary, is not of man, but of God, who has revealed it by His inspired prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture. 1 Cor. 2, 6-10: “We speak wisdom among them that are perfect; yet not the wisdom of this world; … but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the princes of this world knew. . . . But as it is written, Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit,” etc.
The religion of faith is therefore in the strictest sense of the term “wisdom of God,” 1 Cor. 1, 24. It is “God-made,” and its only source is God’s Book, the inspired Scriptures, John 5, 39; Rom. 16, 25. 26; Eph. 2, 20; 1 John 1, 4. Quenstedt writes (I, 33): “The sole, proper, adequate, and ordinary source of theology and of the Christian religion is the divine revelation contained in the Holy Scriptures; or, what is the same, the canonical Scriptures alone are the absolute source of theology, so that out of them alone the articles of faith are to be deduced and proved.”
Again, I, 36: “Divine revelation is the first and last source of sacred theology, beyond which theological discussion among Christians dare not proceed.” (Doctr. Theol., p. 127 ff.) This Scriptural truth must be maintained against every form of rationalism, by which at all times false teachers have sought to pervert the divine truth. Rationalistic doctrine (Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagi-anism, synergism, etc.) is not of God, but carnal, anti-Scriptural opposition to God. Essentially it is paganism, which destroys divine truth wherever it is accepted and allowed to hold sway in theology. Quenstedt is right when he writes (I, 38): ”Human or natural reason is not the source of theology and supernatural things.” (Doctr. Theol., p. 28.)
But neither is tradition a source of the Christian faith. Calov is fully in accord with Holy Scripture when he declares: “We contend that over and above the written Word of God there is at present no unwritten Word of God concerning any doctrine necessary to Christian faith and life, not comprehended in the Scriptures, that ever came forth from the apostles, was handed down by tradition, was preserved by the Church, and is to be received with equal reverence.” ( Doctr. Theol., p. 28.) This is truly Lutheran and Scriptural doctrine. We are to seek God’s Word only in God’s Book, never anywhere else, as also Quenstedt emphatically states when he writes (I, 44): “The consent of the primitive Church or of the Fathers of the first centuries after Christ is not a source of Christian faith, neither primary nor secondary, nor does it produce a divine, but merely a human or probable belief.” (Doctr. Theol., p. 28.)
Lastly we must reject also the so-called private revelations as sources of faith; for, as Hollaz rightly points out, “after the completion of the canon of Scripture no new and immediate divine revelation was given to be a fundamental source of doctrine, 1 Cor. 4, 6; Heb. 1, 1.” ( Doctr. Theol., p. 28.) The doctrine of a fixed revelation, that is, of a divine revelation given us only in the Word of Christ and His prophets and apostles, is plainly the doctrine of Scripture. Eph. 2, 20: ”And [ye] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone.” For this reason Christian theology on the basis of Holy Scripture, can acknowledge only one source and standard of true religion, namely, the inspired, infallible written Word of God, or Holy Scripture.
The religion of faith dates back to the beginning of the Old Testament, since it was revealed to Adam and Eve immediately after the Fall, Gen. 3, 15. It was afterwards proclaimed continually by the holy prophets and was truly believed by all the Old Testament saints. Gen. 15, 6: “And he [Abram] believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness.” In the New Testament both Christ and His apostles constantly point back to the promises of faith revealed in the Old Testament. Luke 24, 27: “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” Acts 10, 43: “To Him give all the prophets witness that through His name, whosoever believeth in Him, shall receive remission of sins.” Rom. 3, 21: “But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” Rom. 4, 3: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” All these passages confirm the truth that also in the Old Testament men were saved solely through the true religion of faith in Christ.
The divine Law never had the function to save sinners; its chief purpose is to convince sinners of their sin and guilt. Gal. 3, 24: “Wherefore the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Rom. 3, 20; 7, 7.