Category Archives: Robert D. Preus

Gospel and Scripture

“It is, I believe, the failure to grasp and face up to the confessional doctrine of Biblical authority which has given rise to much of the confusion in the Lutheran church today regarding the relation of the Gospel to Scripture, of the material principle, so-called, and the formal principle of theology. Scripture is the principium cognoscendi, the source of our knowledge of theology; the Gospel is the source of our faith itself. Scripture is the source of our doctrine (fides quae creditur), also the doctrine of the Gospel; the Gospel creates personal faith (fides qua creditur). Scripture is properly called the authority, norm, source, judge; the Gospel in Scripture, or wherever it obtains, is power, God’s own power unto salvation to all who believe. The unity of faith in the Gospel is the foundation of our fellowship in the church universal (AC VII); unity in the articles of faith drawn from the Scriptures is the foundation for external fellowship among particular churches and synods (FC SD, Rule and Norm, 1; SD, X, 16, 31). The sola gratia and sola fide of the Gospel are the source and means of my salvation; the sola scriptura is the source of my preaching and teaching. Recognition of the formal principle (sola Scriptura) and loyalty to it are the fruits of faith in the Gospel; faith in the Gospel is the result of a Word and preachment drawn from and normed by the Scriptures.”

Robert Preus, “Biblical Authority in the Lutheran Confessions” (1977)

Robert Preus


Christ Alone is Perfect Doctrine

If all doctrine is one, if all the articles of doctrine are one and one is all, if doctrine is like a perfect golden ring, then Christ as the center is the whole essence of Christian doctrine just as he is the center and heart of the Scriptures. The solus Christus is not an abstraction but a reality embracing everything that Christ has done to save fallen mankind. The solus Christus embraces the entire work of God from creation to Christ’s return. It is the total opus ad extra of the Trinity. The solus Christus embraces not merely the work of Christ and the Father who sends Him, but also the work of the Spirit who sanctifies us. In fact, it is Christ who is our sanctification as well as our righteousness. The unity of doctrine is both christological and doctrinal, for the doctrine is Christ’s and Christ is the center of all the doctrine, perfecta doctrina. To Luther, then, the solus Christus dominates every article of faith, whether it is creation, redemption, the sacrament of the altar, baptism, worship, or whatever. It also dominates the third article. Christ is not only our righteousness, He is our holiness. Luther says, “The church is indeed holy, but it is a sinner at the same time.” Here simul justus et peccator becomes simul sanctus et peccator. Luther goes on in this way, “Therefore it believes in the forgiveness of sins and prays, ‘forgive us our debts’ (Matthew 6:12)… Therefore we are not said to be holy formally as a wall is said to be white because of its inherent whiteness. Our inherent holiness is not enough. But Christ is the perfect and total holiness of the church [perfecta et tota sanctitas ipsius]. When our inherent holiness is not enough, Christ is enough [satis est Christus].”

Robert D. Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine, Confession”, from Doctrine is Life: Essays on Scripture, pages 284-285.

Robert Preus on Law and Gospel and The Simul

Scripture does not contradict itself, but it seems to do so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites.  The seeming contradiction which one finds throughout Scripture leads us to Luther’s understanding of the distinction between law and gospel (See LW 26:208). In fact, the law and gospel do not contradict each other, and christian doctrine does not contradict itself at this point. But it seems so. Scripture often presents the paradox (contraria) that a Christian man is “righteous and a sinner at the same time,” that he is “holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God.” (See LW 26:232, 208) People who do not understand this paradox are confused because they do not “understand the true meaning of justification [rationem justificandi].” The natural man and even the Christian is inclined to take statement of the law in Scripture as gospel and thus become confused and despair. To Luther the paradox simul justus et peccator is not an ontological description of man as righteous and a sinner, nor a statement about the old and new man, but a simple affirmation of two biblical assertions concerning man, the assertion of the law that man is a sinner and under God’s wrath and the assertion of the gospel that man is righteous and God is at peace. Both assertions are true in fact, ontologically. The second verdict, however, or assertion, takes total preeminence over the first by virtue of the principle of solus Christus. Christ is Lord! He is Lord of the Scriptures, of all doctrine, theology, and “everything.” (See LW 27:156)

Luther stresses the “paradox” (contraria) by stating that the verdict of law and gospel are absolutely contradictory (contradictoria). He says, “These two things are diametrically opposed [ipsa ex diametro pugnant]: that a Christian is righteous and beloved by God, and yet he is a sinner at the same time. For God cannot deny His own nature. That is, He cannot avoid hating sin and sinners; and He does so by necessity, for otherwise He would be unjust and would love sin. Then how can these two contradictory things both be true at the same time, that I am a sinner and deserve divine wrath and hatred and that the Father loves me? Here nothing can intervene except Christ the Mediator.” This last simple sentence explains the paradox. It explains the whole Christian religion. It explains the Scriptures. It is the secret to all exegesis of Scripture and all theologizing. It is the only comfort that a poor sinner has in life and in death. It is “Christ alone.” So we have in the principle of solus Christus not only a hermeneutical rule, not only the basis for all comfort, not only the basis for our union with God and for reconciliation and salvation, but the principle of all human knowledge and understanding.

Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession“, from “Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture“, pages 282-283