Whether Those Who Die Without Faith Can Be Saved

Luther, Martin (1483-1546)

Eyn Sendbriff uber die Frage. Ob auch yemant on glauben verstorben selig werden muge. An Er Hanssen von Rechenberg zur Freystadt.

[Erfurt: Stürmer], 1523


Quarto: 20 x 14.5 cm. [8] pp. A4


Modern boards with a stamped Luther rose. With a narrow woodcut title border. A very fresh, clean copy, with an intricate title page border. All printings are rare.

Luther wrote this letter in August 1522 to Hans von Rechenberg, a strong supporter of the Reformation and a man who distinguished himself in battle against the Turks. There is no evidence that Luther knew von Rechenberg personally but the question that Luther addresses in the letter, whether a person who dies without faith may be saved, seems to have been one of personal concern to the addressee.

Luther’s reply is quite direct and to the point: whether men like it or not, Luther says, God saves no one without faith, for to do so would be contrary to his word. Furthermore, faith does not seek to penetrate why God does not save without faith. 

Luther cites four passages of scripture: Mark 16:16, where Jesus says, “Whoever does not believe will be condemned”; Hebrews 11:6 which says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God”; John 3:6, “Whoever is not born anew of the Spirit and water cannot see the kingdom of God”; and John 5:18, “Whoever does not believe is already judged.”

Luther writes: “Now if God were to save someone without faith, he would be acting contrary to his own words and make himself out to be a liar. Yes, he would be denying himself, and that is impossible. For, St. Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:13, “God cannot deny himself.” As impossible as it is for divine truth to lie, it is just as impossible for him to save someone without faith.”

He continues: “It would be a completely different question to ask whether God could grant faith to a few at the moment of their death or after death and thereby save them through faith. Who would doubt that he could do this? But no one can prove that he does do this. For we only read that he has already raised the dead and given them faith. No matter what he does, whether he grants faith or not, it is impossible for anyone to be saved without faith. Otherwise all preaching and the Gospel and faith itself would be futile, false, and deceptive, since the entire Gospel makes faith necessary.”

Benzing 1270