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The Son of God is “the true Light, which lights every man that cometh into the world.” Therefore whoever does not acknowledge Christ and believe in Him, and does not make Him his own, is and remains a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3) and of damnation, no matter what he is called or what he is. But if man is to find mercy, Christ alone must be the means. He alone makes us paupers rich with His superabundance, expunges our sins with His righteousness, devours our death with His life, and transforms us from children of wrath, tainted with sin, hypocrisy, lies, and deceit, into children of grace and truth. Whoever does not possess this Man possesses nothing.

—Martin Luther
“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4” in Works, 22:130–131.

The grace of Christ alone provides true satisfaction for sin and peace to the conscience.

Christ has provided full satisfaction. But such is their perversity, they say that both forgiveness of sins and reconciliation take place once for all when in Baptism we are received through Christ into the grace of God; that after Baptism we must rise up again through satisfactions; that the blood of Christ is of no avail, except in so far as it is dispensed through the keys of the church. And I am not speaking of a doubtful matter, since not one or another, but all the Schoolmen, have, in very clear writings, betrayed their own taint. For their master, after he confessed that Christ on the tree paid the penalty of our sins, according to Peter’s teaching [1 Peter 2:24], corrected that statement by adding the exception that in Baptism all temporal penalties of sins are relaxed, but after Baptism they are lessened by the help of penance, so that the cross of Christ and our penance may work together. But John speaks far differently: “If anyone has sinned, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ …; and he is the propitiation for our sins” [1 John 2:1–2]. “I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven in his name.” [1 John 2:12] Surely he is addressing believers, to whom, while he sets forth Christ as the propitiation of sins, he shows that there is no other satisfaction whereby offended God can be propitiated or appeased. He does not say: “God was once for all reconciled to you through Christ; now seek for yourselves another means.” But he makes him a perpetual advocate in order that by his intercession he may always restore us to the Father’s favor; an everlasting propitiation by which sins may be expiated. For what the other John said is ever true: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” [John 1:29; cf. John 1:36]. He, I say, not another, takes them away; that is, since he alone is the Lamb of God, he also is the sole offering for sins, the sole expiation, the sole satisfaction. For while the right and power of forgiving sins properly belong to the Father, in which respect he is distinguished from the Son, as we have already seen, Christ is here placed on another level because, taking upon himself the penalty that we owe, he has wiped out our guilt before God’s judgment. From this it follows that we shall share in the expiation made by Christ only if that honor rest with him which those who try to appease God by their own recompense seize for themselves.

—John Calvin
Institutes, 3.4.26.

We must place our trust solely on Him as our only Savior, and on no other, not on ourselves or our own opinions, however good they may be. Do not trust yourself to your own opinions, but take them to Christ and see whether they are in conformity with the faith (Romans 12:2) and the Word of the holy Gospel. I, too, occasionally have beautiful and splendid thoughts, and I believe that the Holy Spirit inspired them. But when I judge them in the light of faith, I realize that they are sheer filth, sinful and impure. Therefore it is essential for the heart of a Christian to be firmly convinced that Christ’s innocent life, His holy blood, and precious death are our salvation, that we, together with all the saints, must cling to Christ alone, and that no saint in heaven ever relied on himself and his own righteousness.

—Martin Luther
“Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4” in Works, 22:272.

The Word of God cannot be received and cherished by any works whatever but only by faith. Therefore it is clear that, as the soul needs only the Word of God for its life and righteousness, so it is justified by faith alone and not any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word, and consequently it would not need faith.

This faith cannot exist in connection with works—that is to say, if you at the same time claim to be justified by works, whatever their character—for that would be the same as “limping with two different opinions” [I Kings 18:21], as worshiping Baal and kissing one’s own hand [Job 31:27–28], which, as Job says, is a very great iniquity. Therefore the moment you begin to have faith you learn that all things in you are altogether blameworthy, sinful, and damnable, as the Apostle says in Rom. 3[:23], “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and, “None is righteous, no, not one; … all have turned aside, together they have gone wrong” (Rom. 3:10–12). When you have learned this you will know that you need Christ, who suffered and rose again for you so that, if you believe in him, you may through this faith become a new man in so far as your sins are forgiven and you are justified by the merits of another, namely, of Christ alone.

Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inner man, as Rom. 10[:10] says, “For man believes with his heart and so is justified,” and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inner man cannot be justified, freed, or saved by any outer work or action at all, and that these works, whatever their character, have nothing to do with this inner man. On the other hand, only ungodliness and unbelief of heart, and no outer work, make him guilty and a damnable servant of sin. Wherefore it ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him, as Peter teaches in the last chapter of his first Epistle (I Pet. 5:10). No other work makes a Christian. Thus when the Jews asked Christ, as related in John 6[:28], what they must do “to be doing the work of God,” he brushed aside the multitude of works which he saw they did in great profusion and suggested one work, saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” [John 6:29].

—Martin Luther
“Freedom of a Christian,” Works, 31:346–347.

The foundation upon which our faith rests is this, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” The great fact on which genuine faith relies is, that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” and that “Christ also hath suffered for sin, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God”; “Who himself bare our sins in his own body on the tree”; “For the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.”

In one word, the great pillar of the Christian’s hope is substitution.

The vicarious sacrifice of Christ for the guilty, Christ being made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him, Christ offering up a true and proper expiatory and substitutionary sacrifice in the room, place, and stead of as many as the Father gave him, who are known to God by name, and are recognized in their own hearts by their trusting in Jesus—this is the cardinal fact of the gospel. If this foundation were removed, what could we do? But it standeth firm as the throne of God. We know it; we rest on it; we rejoice in it; and our delight is to hold it, to meditate upon it, and to proclaim it, while we desire to be actuated and moved by gratitude for it in every part of our life and conversation. In these days a direct attack is made upon the doctrine of the atonement. Men cannot bear substitution. They gnash their teeth at the thought of the Lamb of God bearing the sin of man. But we, who know by experience the preciousness of this truth, will proclaim it in defiance of them confidently and unceasingly. We will neither dilute it nor change it, nor fritter it away in any shape or fashion. It shall still be Christ, a positive substitute, bearing human guilt and suffering in the stead of men. We cannot, dare not, give it up, for it is our life, and despite every controversy we feel that “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure.”

—Charles H. Spurgeon
Morning and Evening: Daily Readings, Evening, June 21.

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