Lutheran Book Review: Gerhard, Walther, and Sasse


Gerhard, Johann. Translated by Richard J. Dinda. Edited by Benjamin T. G. Mayes and Heath R. Curtis. On Sin and Free Choice (Theological Commonplaces XII-XIV). St. Louis: Concordia, 2014. 367 Pages. Cloth. $54.99. (P)

Walther, C. F. W. Church Fellowship (Walther's Works). St. Louis: Concordia, 2015. 417 Pages. Cloth. $39.99 (LHP)

Sasse, Hermann. Edited by Matthew C. Harrison. Translated by Matthew C. Harrison and Andrew Smith. Foreword by Ronald R. Feuerhahn. Additional Translations by Ralph Gehrke, Fred Kramer, E. Reim, and Norman Nagel. Letters to Lutheran Pastors Volume II 1951-1956. St. Louis: Concordia, 2014. 511 Pages. Cloth. $34.99. (LHP)

Sasse, Hermann. Edited and Translated by Matthew C. Harrison. Foreword by Ronald R. Feuerhahn. Additional Translations by Charles Evanson, Norman Nagel, Peter Petzling, J. Michael Reu, David P. Scaer, Charles Schaum, Holgar Sonntag, and Paul Strawn. Letters to Lutheran Pastors Volume III 1957-1969. St. Louis: Concordia, 2015. 557 Pages. Cloth. $36.99. (LHP)

LCMS readers appreciate our Lutheran church fathers. Gerhard and Walther are obvious ones. I also commend to you Hermann Sasse.

One of my elders recently told me, "My wife really loves me." He shared that he could tell because she bought him the latest volume of Gerhard, On Sin and Free Choice:

About this Volume
On Sin and Free Choice consists of three commonplaces. First, “On Original Sin” addresses the first sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) and the terrible results of this primeval sin: the fact that all of Adam’s and Eve’s natural descendants lack original righteousness, are corrupted in their natures, and therefore stand guilty of God’s just judgment. The original sin is handed down from parents to children via the procreation. The healing from original sin, merited by Jesus Christ, begins to be applied in Holy Baptism.

Second, “On Actual Sins” deals with human statements, deeds, and desires that are against God’s moral law. Gerhard examines many categories of sins, and especially shows that even the wrongful desires within people are truly sins. The distinction between “mortal” and “venial” sin is shown to be biblical, but must be guarded from misunderstanding.

Third, “On Free Choice” speaks of how fallen human beings have some freedom of choice, but not the kind of freedom that could turn them towards God. The fallen human will freely chooses only things that are contrary to God, until the Holy Spirit converts a person to faith in Christ.

About the Series

The Theological Commonplaces series is the first-ever English translation of Johann Gerhard's monumental Loci Theologici. Gerhard was the premier Lutheran theologian of the early seventeenth century. Combining his profound understanding of evangelical Lutheran theology with a broad interest in ethics and culture, he produced significant works on biblical, doctrinal, pastoral, and devotional theology. Gerhard interacts with the writings of the church fathers, Luther and his contemporaries, and the Catholic and Calvinist theologians of his day. His 17-volume Loci is regarded as the standard compendium of Lutheran orthodoxy, with topics ranging from the proper understanding and interpretation of Scripture to eschatology.

Useful for research on Lutheran doctrine, Gerhard's accessible style makes this a must-have on the bookshelf of pastors and professional church workers.

Each embossed hardback volume includes:

·the translation of Gerhard's Loci (originally published from 1610 to 1625)

·a glossary of key theological, rhetorical, and philosophical terms

·a name index

·a Scripture index

·a carefully researched works cited list that presents guidance for deciphering the numerous abbreviations of the other titles from which Gerhard quotes.

Call 1-800-325-3040 or subscribe to the series online. Save 30% off the retail price!

View All Gerhard Titles >
(Publisher's website)
Gerhard is deep. He's practical and rigorously theological. He knows the questions on the human heart and mind, appreciates emotion, but always presents God's Word. Learn his theological "dialect." Consider page 93: "Chapter IX: Which Explains How Liberation from This Sin Takes Place." The sin we're talking about is original sin. "What can wash away my sin?" a song asks. It answers, "Nothin' but the blood of Jesus. Gerhard answers in a winsome, eloquent, and thoroughly Biblical way paired with insight from a Church Father:
[Section] 128. It remains to be explained how we are cleansed from that original stain. This happens in Baptism, which is 'the washing of regeneration and renewal' (Titus 3:5). Regeneration includes the remission of sins through the blood of Christ, which washes us of every sin. Renewal includes the mortification of the flesh and the beginning of true obedience, which is not completely perfect in every detail in this life because 'the inner man is renewed day by day' (2 Cor. 4:16). But it will be perfected at some time in the future life when we will be whole, like the angels, and completely sinless. Thus the apostles teaches that the guilt of sin has been removed from the reborn (Rom. 8.21). Meanwhile, as far as depravity is concerned, original sin nevertheless remains (Rom. 7:17), and the devout mortify its deeds (Rom. 8:13) until they are restored into the full freedom of eternal life (v. 21).
Augustine (De peccat. merit. et remiss., bk 2, ch. 7): 'If perfect newness in the very soul, which is the interior man, happened in Baptism, the apostle would not say, "The inner man is being renewed day by day" [2 Cor. 4:16]. Therefore he is not completely renewed, and to the extent that he is not yet renewed, he is under the old.' Again (on John, tractate 42): " 'Let sin not reign." He does not say, "Let sin not exist," but "Let it not reign." For as long as you live, it is necessary that sin exist in your members. At least let reigning be taken away from it; let what it orders not occur.'

This is a very timely and timeless volume that I will be able to use regularly and practically when I encounter those who deny Original Sin, like some famous and influential American Evangelicals, when I teach on what "counts" as sin for us, the sins we actually commit, as opposed to the "little white lies," skeletons in our closets, "dirty laundry," and things people "sweep under the rug." English has quite the repertoire of handy euphemisms that deny the "actuality" of actual sins. Brother pastors, equip yourself for questions about the sin against the Holy Spirit with p. 216ff. 

Finally, the third part of the volume will remind you how unique Luther's Bondage of the Will is in a theological context with neighbors like Calvinists, Roman Catholics, and Wesleyans. We need this kind of comprehensive, disciplined review and training in Biblical Truth. In particular, study p. 310ff, "Chapter IX: On the Freedom of Choice Left after the Fall.

Yes, Gerhard is always well worth your money, time, and shelf space. 

My favorite volume of Walther to date is the following:

 From 1857 to 1884, C.F.W. Walther wrote numerous articles and speeches dealing with Lutheran identity and unity in doctrine and practice on the basis of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. For the first time, these previously scattered, inaccessible, and forgotten writings are being brought together in one volume.

This volume helps clarify not only what Lutheran identity was in the nineteenth century, but also what it means to confess the Christian faith in the twenty-first century, in harmony with the Church of all ages.

View all of Walther’s Works >

About C.F.W. Walther
C. F. W. Walther (1811–87) served as pastor in Perry County and St. Louis, Mo.; the first president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod; first president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference (including the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods, and other American Lutheran church bodies); co-founder, professor, and president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis; an editor of theological journals; and author of many books. (Publisher's Website)
Why is this my favorite volume of Walther's Works released to date? Simply put, it is the medicine we need now in the LCMS. Walther, speaking and writing to his contemporaries, also needs to be "overheard" by his theological and nominal heirs in the Missouri Synod. This is the content we need to discuss in Koinonia rather than "context." 

Start with #11, "Communion Fellowship," an essay delivered beginning on 15 June 1870 to the Fifteenth Western District Convention. If you want "practical," and be able to comprehensively and winsomely defend and explain Closed Communion, read on!

Here is motivation to take the Confessions seriously, to subscribe unconditionally to the Lutheran Confessions, to deliberately and consciously examine why we draw the lines of fellowship the way we do, and why we do visitation. On that latter topic, read #14, "Duties of an Evangelical Lutheran Synod" second. This 1879 essay was recommended/required reading for a recent LCMS convention. Walther is to be thanked for quoting Luther at length regarding a situation where some folks wanted to get rid of their pastor for an improper reason (302-4).

These two essays are well worth the price of the book. 

Dear Wyoming and Atlantic District brothers, this is my suggestion for us for common further reading!

We reviewed Volume I of Herman Sasse's Letters to Lutheran Pastors a while ago:

The three volume set is now complete.

For nearly thirty years, Hermann Sasse corresponded with Lutheran pastors in Australia, the United States, and around the world on topics as varied as the nature of the Sacraments or of the Church, as well as ecumenical issues. Each letter in Letters to Lutheran Pastors - Volume 2 reflects Sasse’s passionate commitment to the building up of the Church of Christ on earth and to the Lutheran Confessions.


  • Foreword by Ronald R. Feuerhahn
  • Many of these letters are available in English for the first time!

About the Author
Hermann Sasse (1895–1976) was trained at the University of Berlin under such well-known theologians as Harnack and Deissmann. During a study year in the United States, Sasse discovered the writings of Wilhelm Löhe and returned to Europe a convinced confessional Lutheran. In this faith he persisted, despite great difficulties, as a professor of theology at the University of Erlangen and at Immanuel Seminary (later renamed Luther Seminary), North Adelaide, Australia.

(Publisher's website)

Volume III (1957-1969) has a striking yellow cover!

Let's talk about both volumes together. With Volume I, they comprise a complete work anyway, a letter series that requires and deserves careful, thoughtful reading. One cannot and should not read an entire volume all at once. Take one essay, consider its historical context and do a mental dialog with Sasse. 

Agree with him on his retraction of Essay 14 (cf. #29, II: 205). Hear his heartache as the LWF and ecumenical movement (II:418) deteriorate into liberalism. Pay a little closer attention when he turns his focus on the Missouri Synod (II:5, passim). Better understand Here We Stand and Luther at Marburg with #23. Hear him interact with history, Bible translation (III:196), liturgy (II:363; III:437), psalmody (III:196) and hymnody, the Roman Church, the Reformed, and the Sacraments. Hear Sasse's voice, yet nuances in translation of his students and admirers: Nagel (e.g. II: 425ff), Harrison, et al, and Feuerhahn's Foreword.

Sasse's usefulness is in his long view of history, a heavenly view that takes the Scriptures and Confessions at face value. Like Gerhard, Sasse writes in a timely way that has us wondering how he knew what was happening in church and world today, and in a timeless way that imitates the Scriptures themselves with profound insights being applicable well beyond the time they were first written down. In particular, Sasse is helpful in apologetic for defending the Word of God (excepting #14), the Sacraments of Christ (passim), the Confessions of the Lutheran Church (cf. III:351, n. 12), Closed Communion (III:422, n. 28), for resisting the siren call of the Reformed and Rome (III:224) Canterbury (III:114), and even the LWF (III:20). Here is an ally for the battle against the ordination of women (III:143 n. 11; III:316 n. 16), and an advocate for the preservation of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America (III:166) even as he worked for the responsible union of Lutherans in Australia based on a common confession.

The Letters ended with #62, "An Open Letter to a German Lutheran Bishop," dated 22 September 1969 (III:457ff). Hermann Otto Erich Sasse died on 9 August 1976, a calendar day that would latter be my wedding day. Each August 9th I thank the Lord for my bride and also for St. Hermann Sasse.

Remember: Church fellowship is altar fellowship and altar fellowship is church fellowship. Sasse, Walther, and Gerhard would agree.

We have more reviews in the works for our readers and book lovers. Look for one on Luther soon, a future Author Spotlight on William Weinrich, and a forthcoming review of Chemnitz' own Church Order.

Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School and Immanuel Academy, a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, District Education Chairman and Editor of Lutheran Book Review. A graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Rev. Cain is a contributor to Lutheran Service Book, Lutheranism 101, the forthcoming LSB Hymnal Companion, and is the author of 5 Things You Can Do to Make Our Congregation a Caring Church. He has previously served Emmanuel, Green River, WY and Trinity, Morrill, NE. He is married to Ann and loves reading and listening to, composing, and making music.

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