The file on the WELS website for this Q and A was titled: Forgiven Sinners in Hell!
Q. Hi, I have a question regarding a recent question and answer regarding limited atonement. WELS states that even a person that has died and in hell had his sins atoned and had his sins forgiven. Atonement, no problem, but I really disagree that a person in hell had his sins forgiven. How can a forgiven sinner possibly be in hell when there is no forgiveness without repentance? It absolutely makes no sense. Please comment, Thank you
A: The statement you are criticizing is what the Bible says. These are not statements that WELS has come up with. In 2 Corinthians 5:19 the Bible says God has reconciled the world to himself by not counting their sins against them. Not charging sins is the same as forgiving them. The Bible says Christ is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10). It is not WELS but the Bible that says that God has declared the sins of everyone forgiven in Christ.
What you are saying in your comment is that what Scripture says makes no sense to you. However, there really is no problem here. It's just that you are not letting everything that Scripture says stand together. Scripture says that God has declared the sins of the whole world forgiven and that Christ is the Savior of everyone. It also says that that to benefit from this declaration one has to accept it in faith. We let both of these statement stand together. Luther did also. It was Luther who said
Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it ... He who does not accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But that is not the key’s fault. Many do not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it. (LW 40, 366f)
WELS has simply echoed this.
GJ - Note this statement, which is perilously close to Baptist decision theology and certainly is not Lutheran Means of Grace theology:
It also says that that to benefit from this declaration one has to accept it in faith.
I must not have the newest feminist NIV, because my Bible does not say there are guilt-free saints in Hell. Let me Wawautosi a little and quote the Word of God rather than a random volume of Luther and dog notes from J. P. Meyer (yellowed and cracked with age).
KJV John 3:36 He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
KJV John 16:8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me;
KJV Romans 4:23 Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.
KJV Ephesians 5:6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
WELS declared in an evangelism campaign: "I am saved, just like you." Enthusiasm is defined as abandoning the Means of Grace, separating the work of God the Holy Spirit from His appointed instruments, the Word and Sacraments. As Luther pointed out, foul errors will follow any form of Enthusiasm. In the Wisconsin sect, Universalism is being taught in the guise of UOJ and Luther!
Luther is just a rabbit's foot for the former members of the Synodical conference. No leader takes Luther's doctrine seriously today.
A reader sent me material from Luther's Works, vol. 40. The context is the Office of the Keys. Note this significant section:
Even he who does not believe that he is free and his sins forgiven shall also learn, in due time, how assuredly his sins were forgiven, even though he did not believe it. St. Paul says in Rom. 3[:3]: “Their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God.” We are not talking here either about people’s belief or disbelief regarding the efficacy of the keys. We realize that few believe. We are speaking of what the keys accomplish and give. He who does not accept what the keys give receives, of course, nothing. But this is not the key’s fault. Many do not believe the gospel, but this does not mean that the gospel is not true or effective. A king gives you a castle. If you do not accept it, then it is not the king’s fault, nor is he guilty of a lie. But you have deceived yourself and the fault is yours. The king certainly gave it.
Luther, M. (1999, c1958). Vol. 40: Luther's works, vol. 40 : Church and Ministry II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.