I’ve just finished re-reading The Hammer of God by Bo Giertz, who was the Swedish Lutheran Bishop of Gothenburg. It is a novel about three curates who come to grips with God’s grace through tremendous failure, and needless to say, I highly recommend it.

The second story may be my favorite, about a young curate named Fridfeldt who, after being converted by a pietistic revival, is sent to a small country church to serve under a very old, Reformational rector. From the beginning of the story, we see that Fridfeldt is into “holy living”; he is the type of guy who craves accountability. On his first evening at the new parish, after dinner, Fridfeldt and the rector retire to the rector’s study where the rector enjoys a nightcap and a smoke. This shocks Fridfeldt and prompts a powerful conversation, which I’ve quoted below, where the two forms of Christianity are laid out, one rooted in the law and the other rooted in grace. The quotation begins after Fridfeldt has just finished sternly telling the rector that he is a believer, and that he has given his heart to Jesus:

The older man’s face became suddenly as solemn as the grave.

“Do you consider that something to give Him?”

By this time, Fridfeldt was almost in tears.

“But sir, if you do not give your heart to Jesus, you cannot be saved.”

“You are right, my boy. And it is just as true that, if you think you are saved because you give Jesus your heart, you will not be saved. You see, my boy,” he continued reassuringly, as he continued to look at the young pastor’s face, in which uncertainty and resentment were shown in a struggle for the upper hand, “it is one thing to choose Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, to give Him one’s heart and commit oneself to Him, and that he now accepts one into His little flock; it is a very different thing to believe on Him as a Redeemer of sinners, of whom one is chief. One does not choose a Redeemer for oneself, you understand, nor gives one’s heart to Him. The heart is a rusty old can on a junk heap. A fine birthday gift, indeed! But a wonderful Lord passes by, and has mercy on the wretched tin can, sticks his walking cane through it and rescues it from the junk pile and takes it home with Him. That is how it is.”

The rector astutely continues: And now you must understand that these two ways of believing are like to different religions, they have nothing whatever to do with each other.”
“And yet,” he added thoughtfully, “one might say that there is a path that leads from the lesser to the greater. First one believes in repentance, and then in grace.

Wow, two religions, something to think about this summer when you are on the beach, maybe traveling to see friends and family, or stuck indoors because of a massive heat wave.