Reference for Luther's Snow-Covered Dunghill?

From: RT Richard
Sent: Saturday, March 23, 2002


One of your pages refers to Luther's "snow-covered dunghill" picture of redeemed man. Do you have the reference for that?




Dear Thomas,

I asked a friend who is a Lutheran pastor and he gave this reply:

I hold you all and the Holy Father in my prayers, especially with regards to the current scandal. Luther once said that where God builds a church, the devil builds a chapel next door. (In other words, you must be doing something right to warrant such a vicious attack from the evil one.)

I'm pretty sure the quotation from Luther (about the dung and snow) is genuine, but it's important to remember that it is only an illustration. It vividly expresses the Christian's experience - in a certain context - of being simultaneously sinner and saint. However, it won't do if it is taken to mean that the sinner is not changed by being united to Christ. Luther's doctrine of justification is both "forensic" and "transformationist" (unlike certain later Lutherans). For Luther, being "declared" righteous "makes" the sinner "righteous."

What is central for Luther is the "joyful exchange" of the Christian and Christ. Christ takes away my sin, guilt, powerlessness, death, and godlessness and, in exchange, gives me his holiness, righteousness, innocence, life, etc. , as well as his Father and the Holy Spirit.

This "joyful exchange" is a lifelong process. It happens by the Spirit's work in the Word and Sacraments of the church - in which Christ is really present - and is received by faith (alone) and is lived in holy obedience and love.

So Luther's illustration has limits, as most illustrations do. The illustration is helpful if we're talking about the opposition of "the flesh" and "the Spirit" (in a Pauline sense). Paul says the body "awaits" redemption and "nothing good" dwells in the flesh. On the other hand, the purity of Christ is truly ours, and we are already redeemed "in the Spirit." Luther's illustration is fine, as long as it doesn't suggest a peaceful coexistence between the flesh and the Spirit.

John Henry Newman suggests that we use the term "adherent" righteousness (rather than "inherent") for the manner is which the Christian participates in Christ's righteousness. I think Luther would agree.

The Lord is risen!

Jonathan Jenkins