Thank you for Dr Frank Mobbs' article 'Sola Fide' (AD2000, September 2009).
I have not read Luther and Calvin as extensively as perhaps Dr Mobbs has, but I would like to offer some comments. I am not going to defend everything that was said and done by the Reformers for theological and spiritual considerations were often muddied by national, cultural, and even personal factors.
Writing in the 18th century Wesley lamented Luther's 'rough intractable' nature which may be linked to the harsh and even cruel discipline of those times.
Salvation by Faith can be an elusive doctrine - even for Protestants. It is so natural to want to gain salvation by one's own efforts. I remember going through a period of darkness and uncertainty and I would catch myself thinking, 'Oh I have done this and I have done that', instead of looking to the fullness and sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross.
For simplicity's sake I think there are two main classes of people. There are those like St Augustine and Luther who in a very painful way discover their spiritual bankruptcy and can only cast themselves on the mercy of God. And then there are those in the second group who feel they have lived fairly well and may just need a little help 'over the line'.
It does seem to me that the former are those who are able to give us the greatest insights as to who we are and the greatness of Christ's redemption.
Why do we need to look to our works when no lesser person than the Second Person of the Trinity - the God-Man - takes upon Himself our sins in a shameful death, a death that was planned before time began!
Faith is like a pane of glass or a window. We do not focus on the window but look through it at what we need to see. The less aware of the window we are so much the better.
Dr Mobbs is right when he refers to the diffuse state of Protestantism. Once at a dinner I found myself seated near a Lutheran pastor. In the course of our conversation I commented how much I appreciated that saying of Luther's, 'Christ did not die for our righteousness - He died for our sins'.
I was quite unprepared for the coolness of his response. It seemed that his Lutheranism may have been largely cultural and he was not interested that one of Luther's insights would bring some relief and enrichment to someone.
Predestination is a difficult one. With our finite minds we must either believe in God's choosing or our choosing, but not the two together. Yet in one sentence our Lord does put the two together as if it is quite 'natural' (John 6:37).
St Paul does something similar in Romans. In chapter nine it is about God's choosing but then in chapter 10 it is about our choosing. If we are looking for a human source for Calvin's teaching on predestination then it would have to be Augustine.
Of course the doctrine is open to abuse as any doctrine is. Calvin rebuked some of his followers who refused intercessory prayer because they reasoned what is the good of praying for something when everything is 'fixed'.
A hymn of Newman's puts redemption very well when he says: 'O loving wisdom of our God/ When all was sin and shame/A second Adam to the fight/And to the rescue came.'
We had better have an answer to the spiritually bankrupt, or people will turn to such things as Scientology which denies there is a sin problem.