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Walther on Trinity 19 – Matthew 9:1-8

by pastorjuhl ~ October 6th, 2010

C.F.W. Walther focuses on the connection between Jesus forgiving the palsied man’s sins and private absolution. Here is a quote.
Private absolution has a very special comfort for us sinners. It is true that private absolution is not the only means whereby God announces forgiveness. God already does this by the general preaching of the Gospel, by Holy Baptism, by the feeding and giving us to drink of the Body and Blood of His Son in Holy Communion; it is true that whoever in faith firmly relies on these three evidences of God’s grace toward all repentant sinners has forgiveness of sins. He can that way be certain of it.
Walther then lays out five reasons why people oppose private absolution:

1. Partly it’s something new, partly it’s a return to papal usages. Walther says private confession was already in use long before the rise of the papacy and continued in all Lutheran congregations of all lands up to the 18th century. Only when the rationalists got the upper hand in the Lutheran churches was private confession abolished and the general confession introduced in its place.

2. So many people no longer believe that the Christian Church has the power on earth to forgive sins. The servants of the Church can remit and retain sins in God’s and Christ’s name, for Christ Himself has commanded them to do it. See 2 Cor. 5:20 and 2 Cor. 2:10.

3. People do not really feel their sins. They do not need private absolution. They can comfort themselves with the general absolution. Walther says: “Do not men just these days lack a strong faith more than anything else? Oh, certainly everyone who wants to be easily satisfied in respect to his comfort should examine himself whether this contentedness actually arises from strength of faith or whether he does not really think this because he can easily disregard his sins! That thoughtless Christians desire no private absolution is, of course, no wonder. Their wounds do not smart, therefore they do not especially desire soothing balm. But supposing a Christian actually were so strong that he does not need the particular assurance of the forgiveness of his sins. Should he not for the sake of those who do need it use it at times, so that they would be enticed by his example to hurry to this gift of grace?”

4. Private absolution was not introduced correctly into the church the first time. Some might say, is not each Christian free to use or not to use man’s arrangements which were made in the Lutheran Church for seeking private absolution before partaking of Holy Communion? Walther: “But a different question is whether that which one has the power to use or not is also of benefit.”

5. People suppose a detailed confession of their sins must always precede private absolution. Christ did not ask the man sick of palsy in Matthew 9 to make a detailed confession. It was enough that the palsied man was brought to Christ as a poor sinner with a believing heart. Walther: “A servant of Christ will never demand a single confession of sins, for we read in the 25th Article of the Augsburg Confession: ‘But of confession they teach that an enumeration of sins is not necessary.'”

Finally, this from Walther:
Many eyes are turned upon us, who have the reputation of pursuing the goal of a true Lutheran congregation more earnestly than others. Our responsibility is therefore great. Perhaps thousands will imitate us. Whatever we today let fall of the old salutary usages of our fathers, that our children will search for again even less.

2 Responses to Walther on Trinity 19 – Matthew 9:1-8

  1. Brian

    Read a translation of this sermon at http://www.cfwwalther.com/heck/walther14.htm

  2. pastorjuhl

    Thank you for the link!

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