In 1528—only a decade after the posting of the Ninety-five Theses—Erasmus asserted that “the Lutherans seek two things only—wealth and wives (censum et uxorem)” and that to them the Gospel meant “the right to live as they please” (letter of March 20, 1528, to W. Pirkheimer, a fellow humanist). From that day to this Protestants have been suspected of antinomianism, and their Gospel of “salvation by grace through faith, apart from the works of the Law” has again and again been understood as a spiritual insurance policy which removes the fear of hell and allows a man to “live as he pleases.”

Sanctification Twice Desanctified

The claim that Protestantism is essentially antinomian seemed to have an especially strong basis in fact in the nineteenth century. Industrialization and urbanization brought about social evils which were overlooked and rationalized by many professing Protestants. Inevitably a reaction occurred, and in the social-gospel movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries one encounters a textbook illustration of what Hegel called the antithesis. In its fear that Protestantism had become ethically indifferent, the social-gospel movement of Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch identified the Christian message with social ethics. From an apparent justification without sanctification, the pendulum swung to a “sanctification” which swallowed up justification. In their eagerness to bring in the kingdom of God through social action and the amelioration of the ills of the industrial proletariat, the social gospelers generally lost track of the central insight of the Reformation: that the love of Christ must constrain the Christian, and that we can experience and manifest this love only if we have ...

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