I ran across this interesting Luther quote while looking for something else. It shows that Lutherans have always been concerned with those society has cast away (as, indeed, all Christians should be.) Our Lord’s words in Matthew 25 still ring in our ears: “I was in prison and you came to visit Me.”
Perhaps even more revealing for us in modern-day Arminianized America is Luther’s insistence that he doesn’t pay any attention to the personal faith of the prisoner. Today many insist that someone needs to make a decision for Christ before they can be assured of forgiveness, but Luther puts his foot down quite firmly that God’s Word is objectively true. Take the penitent at his or her word, and let God’s Word be taken at face value as well. Sins are forgiven when God says they are! When someone confesses and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness, they are forgiven! Concerning oneself with the personal faith in the heart of the penitent, rather than their outward confession and the power of God’s Word and absolution, is a subtle trap of which all pastors need to beware. Our job as pastors is dispense God’s Word and Sacrament; we leave the judging of hearts to Him who knows what is in them, and to whom all creation will give account.
When a certain Bohemian said that the sacrament ought not to be given to those who have been convicted of a public crime and have been condemned in a public trial because there is danger that they might not believe, Luther responded, “This doesn’t concern the one who administers. His only concern should be that he offer the true Word and the true sacrament. I don’t worry about whether he [the communicant] has true faith. I give the sacrament on account of the confession which I have heard, the condition of his heart be what it may. I wager a thousand souls that the absolution and the sacrament are right. I must believe him when he says he is penitent. If he deceives me, he deceives himself. Nevertheless, the sacrament is true and the absolution is true. It is as if I were to give somebody ten pieces of gold and he took them to be only ten coppers. The gold is right in front of his eyes. If he doesn’t know what he’s taking, the fault is his and the loss is his.”
–from Luther’s Table Talk, No. 325: Administration of the Lord’s Supper to Convicts(Summer or Fall, 1532)