The Heidelberg Disputation-Part 5

Today, we continue our discussion of the Heidelberg Disputation, looking at Thesis 7.

Thesis 7

The works of the righteous would be mortal sins if they would not be feared as mortal sins by the righteous themselves out of pious fear of God.

Proof

This is clear from Thesis 4. To trust in works, which one ought to do in fear, is equivalent to giving oneself the honor and taking it from God, to whom fear is due in connection with every work. But this is completely wrong, namely to please oneself, to enjoy oneself in one’s works, and to adore oneself as an idol. He who is self-confident and without fear of God, however, acts entirely in this manner. For if he had fear he would not be self-confident, and for this reason he would not be pleased with himself, but he would be pleased with God.

In the second place, it is clear from the words of the Psalmist [Ps. 143:2], “Enter not into judgment with thy servant,” and Ps. 32[:5], “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’” etc. But that these are not venial sins is clear because these passages state that confession and repentance are not necessary for venial sins. If, therefore, they are mortal sins and all the saints intercede for them, as it is stated in the same place, then the works of the saints are mortal sins. But the works of the saints are good works, wherefore they are meritorious for them only through the fear of their humble confession.

In the third place, it is clear from the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses” [Matt. 6:12]. This is a prayer of the saints, therefore those trespasses are good works for which they pray. But that these are mortal sins is clear from the following verse, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” [Matt. 6:15]. Note that these trespasses are such that, if unforgiven, they would condemn them, unless they pray this prayer sincerely and forgive others.

In the fourth place, it is clear from Rev. 21[:27], “Nothing unclean shall enter into it” [the kingdom of heaven]. But everything that hinders entrance into the kingdom of heaven is mortal sin (or it would be necessary to interpret the concept of mortal sin in another way). Venial sin, however, hinders because it makes the soul unclean and has no place in the kingdom of heaven. Consequently, etc.

Fear of God determines if a good work is a deadly sin.  Where there is no fear of God, the good work is a deadly (mortal) sin.  These works stand between us and God, even when we think that are done in grace and righteousness.

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3 thoughts on “The Heidelberg Disputation-Part 5

  1. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your father forgive your trespasses” [Matt. 6:15]. Note that these trespasses are such that, if unforgiven, they would condemn them, unless they pray this prayer sincerely and forgive others.”

    This is very interesting to me. Luther goes out of his way to say this verse does NOT mean what he just said here when he writes of it in the Large Cat. 6th petition. Perhaps I am reading him wrongly here……

    • The way I interpret this is that Luther is using Matthew 6:15 to discuss two separate issues. Here, Luther is discussing good works, more specifically the problem of good works. One could take Matthew 6:15 to mean “I forgave my neighbor, therefore I deserve God’s forgiveness” instead of “Because God forgives me, I will forgive my neighbor.”

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