The first question that presents itself is: Who are the subjects of salvation? The answer clearly is: All sinners. But, again: Whom does this embrace? The answer to this is not so unanimous. The views already begin to diverge. True, there is quite a substantial harmony on this point, among all the older Protestant Confessions of faith, but the harmony is not so manifest among the professed adherents of these Confessions.
In many of the denominations there is a widespread skepticism as to the reality of original sin, or native depravity. Doubtless on this point the wish is father to the thought. The doctrine that, "after Adam's fall, all men begotten after the common course of nature, are born with sin," is not palatable. It grates harshly on the human ear. It is so humbling to the pride of man's heart, and therefore he tries to persuade himself that it is not true. It has become fashionable to deny it. From the pulpit, from the press, from the pages of our most popular writers, we hear the old-fashioned doctrine denounced as unworthy of this enlightened age. Thus the heresy has spread, and is spreading. On every hand we meet men who stand high in their churches, spurning the idea that their children are sinners, and need to be saved. Their creed is: "I believe in the purity and innocence of childhood, and in its fitness for the kingdom of heaven, without any change or application of divine Grace." Ah! yes, we would all like to have this creed true. But is it true? If not, our believing it will not make it true.
Then let us go "to the law and the testimony;" to the source and fountain of all truth, the inspired Word of God. Listen to its sad but plain statements. Job xv.14: "What is man that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman that he should be righteous?" Ps. li.5: "Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." John iii.6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." Ephesians ii.3: "Among whom also we all ... were by nature" -- i.e. by birth -- "the children of wrath even as others." These are a few of the many clear, plain statements of the divine Word. Nowhere does it teach that children are born pure, righteous and fit for heaven.
The Lutheran church, then, teaches and confesses nothing but the pure truth of God's Word in the Augsburg Confession, Article II., where it says: "Also they teach, that after Adam's fall all men, begotten after the common course of nature, are born with sin," etc. Also Smalcald Articles, Part III., Article I: "Here we must confess, that sin originated from one man Adam, by whose disobedience all were made sinners and subject to death and the devil. This is called original or capital sin.... This hereditary sin is so deep a corruption of nature that no reason can understand it, but it must be believed from the revelation of Scripture," etc. So also the Formula of Concord, Chapter I., "Of Original Sin," where see a full presentation of our faith and its foundation. Also Luther's Explanation of the Second Article of the Apostles' Creed where he says: "Who -- Christ -- has redeemed me, a poor, lost and condemned creature, secured and delivered me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil."
This, then is the teaching of our Church, as founded on the Word of God. That this doctrine is true, beyond the possibility of a doubt, we can learn even from reason. It will not be disputed that what is in the child will show itself as it develops. The germs that lie hidden there will unfold and bring forth their proper and natural fruit. By its fruits we can know even the child. And what are these fruits? How long will it be before that helpless and seemingly innocent babe, that slumbers on its mother's breast, will show symptoms of anger, jealousy, stubbornness and disobedience? Let that child alone, and, without a teacher, it will learn to lie, deceive, steal, curse, give pain to others, etc. But, without a teacher, it will not learn to pray, confess wrong, and "fear, love and trust in God above all things." Are these the symptoms and evidences of inward purity, or of inbred sin?
Again, that child is subject to sickness, suffering and death. As soon as it draws its first breath its life is a struggle. It must contend against the inroads of disease. Its little body is attacked by dire maladies. It is weakened by suffering and often racked by pain. And how frequently the feeble life succumbs and the lately-born infant dies.
How can we account for this on the ground of infant sinlessness? Do we not all believe that suffering and death are the results of sin? Is there, can there be suffering and death where there is no sin? No; "the wages of sin is death." But this wages is never exacted where the work of sin has not been done. The conclusion then is irresistible. The child is a sinner. It needs salvation. It must be reached by saving Grace. It must be counted in. It is one of the subjects of salvation, and must be brought into the Way of Salvation.
The Church is the Bride of Christ, the institution through which Christ brings and applies this Grace to the children of men. She must begin with the child. She must reach down to the tender infant and carry the cleansing and life-giving Grace of the Redeemer even into its sin-sick soul.
How is this to be done? How does the Lutheran Church propose to reach that child? This we shall try to answer as we advance.