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Outward is greater than Inward

Posted by Pastor Christopher Hull on

In his treatise, Against the Heavenly Prophets, Luther asserted that it is essential to know that God comes to us both outwardly and inwardly. Outwardly God comes to us in the proclaimed Gospel and the blessed sacrament. Inwardly He comes to us through the Holy Spirit and faith. Both are given to us by God, without any merit or worthiness in us. However, Luther says, "But whatever their measure or order the outward factors should and must precede. The inward experience follows and is effected by the outward." Luther was arguing against a group called the Anabaptists or Enthusiasts, who put more stock in the inner experience of faith over and against the Gospel proclaimed and the justifying work of the sacraments. Luther was emphasizing the reality that we should not place our confidence in our personal spiritual experience, but in the unchanging and external work of Jesus in the means of grace.

Is Luther against personal faith, or having a good experience when you meditate on God's goodness and mercy? Is Luther against being emotional in your faith life? No. Luther is not opposed to emotions or the inward experience of faith, but rather he is against placing this above the external means by which Jesus deems to make Himself present in His Church for the forgiveness of sinners sins. As Luther concluded this little section saying, "Observe carefully, my brother, this order, for everything depends on it." Luther isn't saying that we can't have a personal faith life and emotional experience, but rather that it cannot be the foundation of our justification and our confidence in our salvation. Our confidence and comfort does not generate from within, but flows from outside of us, from the means of grace. Our hearts and our conscience are fickle things that are up one day and down the other, but Jesus is unchanging and so is His means by which He forgives us and saves us. Our comfort then is not in our ever changing emotions and personal strength, but rather in the immutable or unchanging will of Jesus to forgive us where He promises to be found.

SO, my friends, this week, may your emotions and inward experience of faith nether puff you up or drag you into despair, but rather may the outward means of grace be your constant rock upon which you may stand and have confidence that you are a beloved child of your Heavenly Father. May you know that, in the outward means of absolution, the gospel preached, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and the mutual consolation of the brethren, you have the assurance of your justification before God in heaven. In the means of grace you have the assurance that you are forgiven and loved by God. In the means of grace you have the concrete reality that right here you have the fullness of Jesus, the bright Jewel of the Father's crown, who gives to you all the salvation that only He can give to you. In the outward means of grace you have the assurance that the inward gift of the Holy Spirit is given to you, not because you have made a decision to accept Him, nor because you are better than others, but because your God is the God of grace Who mercifully comes to you in the forgiveness of your sins. You can count of Jesus, that He comes to you and reveals Himself as your merciful Lord who desires nothing more than to forgive you and welcome you into Paradise forever. How do you know this? Because He gives His means of grace to deliver this very reality to you whenever you are in need of them.

Peace be with you. May the devil be silenced, the world be hushed, and the Old Adam be drowned anew so that you hear only the voice of your Savior Jesus who says, "I forgive you. I baptize you. Take, Eat, This Is My Body. Take, Drink, This Is My Blood for the forgiveness of your sins," Amen.

Jesus' Sheepdog,

Pastor Hull

Tags: external, inward, justification, luther, outward