Holden M. Olsen
1920 Synod Convention Essay
In answer to the question: “How does God show men the way to salvation?” we have been instructed to say: “By His Word.” That is a correct answer according to the Scriptures. That agrees with the teaching of Jesus, who refers the brothers of Dives and all of their contemporaries to the Old Testament Scriptures: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” Luke 16,29. That is the teaching of the prophets. Isaiah 34, 16: “Seek ye out of the book of the Lord, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his Spirit it hath gathered them.” Psalm 119,195: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Psalm 19,8: “The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” That is also the teaching of the apostles. 2 Timothy 3,14–17: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; and that from a d1ild thou hast known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2 Peter 1,19–21: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
It is of the utmost importance that we uphold this truth. In all things pertaining to our faith and life there is but one authority to which we dare bow, and that is the infallible Word of God. All other writings, such as the public confessions, theological works, collections of sermons and devotional books, may be of great help and importance, but they must all be subordinated to the Holy Scriptures. That has been the position of the Lutheran Church, and that, by the grace of God, is still our position. In the Formula of Concord, Part I, Paragraph 1, we confess: “We believe, teach and confess that the only rule and standard according to which at once all dogmas and teachers should be esteemed and judged are nothing else than the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and of the New Testament, as it is written Ps. 119,105 ‘Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” And St. Paul (Gal. 1:8): “Though an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you, let him be accursed.” Other writings, of ancient or modern teachers, whatever reputation they may have, should not be regarded as of equal authority with the Holy Scriptures, but should altogether be subordinated to them, and should not be received other or further than as witnesses, in what manner and what places. since the time of the apostles, the doctrine of the prophets and apostles was preserved.”
This is clear and self-evident. And yet there are only a comparative few who accept the Scriptures as the sole and sufficient authority in religion. The Papists place the opinions, declarations and decrees of the church fathers, councils and popes on the same level with, if not above, the Word of God. The Reformed churches recognize the human reason as a rule and standard of faith along with the Word of God. And even the Lutheran Church does not stand unitedly upon this important doctrine. Also there the inspiration of the Scriptures is at times repudiated, and the moral consciousness set up as a coordinate rule and standard.
That has always been and is today an unmistakable sign of decadence. Whenever the church recognizes other rules and standards besides the Word of God, it opens the way for error, corruption, and demoralization in doctrine as well as in life. That is what happened under the papacy and at the time when rationalism held sway in the church, and that, it seems, is about to happen again in our day. There is no lack of churchly interest of a certain sort. There is much enthusiasm for the external affairs of the church; much speaking, writing and conferring about the great world aims, tasks and policies of the church; must zeal for the outward union of all churches. But notwithstanding all this restless zeal and activity, there is no real interest in and concern for the one thing needful — the glory of God, the preservation of His revealed truth, the rightful and diligent use of the means of grace, and temporal and eternal salvation of immortal souls. Christian faith is set aside as unimportant and unnecessary. Unitarians, Universalists, Jews and “friendly citizens” of no faith are welcomed with open arms. Faith in the life hereafter, in other words, the doctrine of heaven and hell, is openly scouted. It is no longer the mission of the church to preach the Gospel to every creature. “The first stress of the socially aroused Church,” declare the leaders, “falls naturally on the economic life and the abolishment of poverty.” “Its object should be to promote applied religion, not a theoretical religion. This would involve its sympathetic interest in all of the great problems of human life, in social and moral problems. The Church should throw herself into the modern crusade for health, and make it an expression of reverence for personality. The moral and spiritual power of the Church involves responsibility to help fashion the State after the divine ideal.” (Lehre and Wehre, April, 1920). With one word, the Church should be, and is being, secularized, or transformed into a kingdom of this world.
Who will deny that we are living in an age of apostacy? Dr. F. Pieper characterizes the “Interchurch World Movement” as a “Protestant mystery of iniquity” (Prostantantisches Geheimnis der Bosheit). And a Reformed church leader expresses himself in precisely the same way: “Another Babylon, more portentous, more mysteriously potent for evil, more daring in blasphemy, more impotent of power to reach up into heaven, is looming large on the horizon, and the Church moves on to its predicted apostacy.” (Lehre und Wehre, same issue).
We are reminded of the solemn question of Jesus: “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” Assuredly, it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. The admonition of Jesus comes to us at this time with added emphasis: “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 3,11).
“Hold fast the form of sound words!” 2 Tim. 1,13. “Contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints!” 1 Cor. 16,13. These admonitions were heeded by our sainted fathers in the Norwegian Synod. They earnestly sought to put them into practice. Therefore our Synod was for a time like “a city that is set on a hill.” That we are still in possession of the pure Word and unadulterated sacraments we owe, under God, to the loyal adherence of our fathers to the Scriptures as the only rule and standard of their faith. And that is also what we must by the grace of God do, if we are to preserve our own Christianity and help to make our Church a light and a city of refuge for our generation and the generations to come.
But that is not all. We must adhere to the revealed Word as the sole and sufficient authority in all matters of Christian faith and life. We must cling tenaciously to every scriptural truth, the smallest as well as the greatest; we must honestly and without reservation accept, defend, preach and teach the entire, unshorn, unadulterated truth of God’s Word. But more is required of us, we must distinguish correctly between the two chief doctrines of Scripture, the Law and the Gospel; we must teach and preach both the Law and the Gospel aright. Where that is not done, the Bible is a closed book, the way of salvation is blocked and made inaccessible, and bars are let down for all manner of errors and evils in doctrine, life and church polity. If we will take the trouble to go through the history of the Church, we shall find that here we have the beginning of every controversy and the root or source of every false doctrine and unscriptural tendency. Name, if you can, a single false teacher from the Judaizing Galatians down to the newest religious enthusiast or fakir of our day, who has distinguished rightly between the Law and the Gospel. The misuse or intermixture of the Law and the Gospel has been the chief cause of all great departures from the truth of the Scriptures, by whatever name they have become known: Arianism, Pelagianism, Catholicism, Antinomism, Calvinism, Armenianism, Rationalism, Pietism, or Synergism. This was the chief cause of the controversy on the doctrine of Election in our own Lutheran Church. And this without a doubt, is the chief cause of all the indifferentism, unionism and worldliness which are menacing the Church of Christ today. The bane of Christian faith and life in the Church and in the individual soul is this fatal confusion or mixture of the Law and the Gospel, whereby these salutary doctrines of God are vitiated and rendered useless, if not actually harmful and destructive.
But this also points the way to meet the danger and remove the evil. How has God through all these centuries preserved His truth for us? By raising up witnesses for His truth, who have had a clear and correct understanding of the differences and correspondences between the Law and the Gospel. Foremost among these we would place Anthanasius, Augustine and Luther; and in more recent times, we would also include especially the name of Dr. C.F.W. Walther and the names of the truth-loving pioneer preachers and theologians of our own Norwegian Synod. A clear and firm grasp of the character, use and purpose of the Law and the Gospel, and faithfulness and efficiency in the practical Christian application of these fundamental doctrines was the special equipment or qualification of these men. That made them mighty warriors in the kingdom of God. Thus it is that the truth has been preserved and error rejected in the confessions of the true church. And in the same way God will preserve the Church from the inroads of error and corruption in our generation. The admonition to Timothy (2 Tim. 2,1.5): “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth,” is intended also for us who now fill the ranks of the Christian ministry. And to all of us, laymen and ministers, Christ speaks the encouraging words: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” Joh. 5,39.
But the Spirit of God himself must enlighten and qualify us for this task. Even the apostles had to confess, 2 Cor. 3,5.6: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit.” How much more we! To distinguish correctly between the Law and the Gospel and rightly divide the Word of truth is a task that far exceeds our powers. Acknowledging therefore the great difficulty of our problem and our own inability to solve it, but imploring at the same time the gracious aid of God and relying upon the enlightenment of His Spirit, we will now enter upon the discussion of this important and timely subject: Differences and Correspondences between the Law and the Gospel.
- The Holy Scriptures may be divided into two fundamentally different and yet not incompatible doctrines, the Law and the Gospel.
- The purpose of God is attained only when we as Christians and as ministers of the Gospel learn to distinguish rightly between these two doctrines.
- The purpose of God is hindered:
- when Christ is made out to be a law-giver, and the Gospel in this way is changed into a law;
- when the Law is weakened or corrupted by the admixture of the Gospel; or the Gospel is impaired and corrupted by the admixture of the Law.
- when terrified sinners are threatened with the Law, or secure and impenitent sinners offered the comfort of the Gospel:
- when the Gospel is not given the first place in the preaching and instruction of the church.
The Holy Scriptures may be divided into two fundamentally different though not incompatible doctrines, the Law and the Gospel.
To the unenlightened mind the Bible is a sealed book. No other book seems so dark, perplexing and self-contradictory. On all sides there is apparent disagreement, not only in matters of secondary importance, but in the all-important question as to how a sinner may be saved. Here all men are declared free from the guilt and punishment of sin; there they are all held to be subject to the guilt and punishment of sin. Here man is said to be justified by faith alone; there the deeds of the law are represented as necessary. Here all men are offered life and salvation by grace alone; there they are required to do something for their own salvation. No wonder that the natural unenlightened man ridicules the idea that the Bible is inspired by God. And yet we know that all Scripture is inspired by God;. that “the holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” And so we know too that there can be no real disagreement between the different parts or doctrines of the Bible. All apparent self-contradictions disappear as soon as we learn of the Spirit of truth to distinguish aright between the two chief doctrines ofScripture, the Law and the Gospel.
“The Law teaches us how we are to be, what we ought to do, and what we ought not to do.” “The Gospel teaches us what God of His grace in Jesus Christ has done, and still does to save us.” Explanation of Luther’s Small Catechism, questions 14 and 15.
At first glance it appears as though these two doctrines had nothing in common; but upon closer inspection we find that there are certain respects in which they are alike,
- They are both a part of God’s Word; both doctrines arc divine. Deut. 10,4. 1 Thes. 2,13.
- They are both equally necessary: without the law we could not understand or accept the Gospel; and without the Gospel the law would not help us, hut would only condemn us. Gal. 3,21–24.
- They are both of universal application: both concern all men. Rom. 3,22b–24.
- They are both holy and perfect: both are for this life and the life to come: both aim to promote the salvation of sinners here and hereafter, with this difference only, that no man can be saved by the law, but every man must be made ready for the saving Gospel by the law, and every believer must derive strength from the Gospel to obey the law, insofar as this is possible. Rom. 7,12. Gal. 3,21.22. Phil. 4,13.
These are the most important points of similarity between the law and the Gospel. And now, what are the differences? Let me point them out in accordance with the plan worked out by Dr. Walther in his excellent lectures on the Law and the Gospel:
The Law and the Gospel are different: 1. with regard to the manner in which God has revealed them to men; 2. with regard to their content; 3. with regard to the promises they make; 4. with regard to the threats of the one; and the absence of threats in the other; 5. with regard to their effects; and 6. with regard to the persons to whom they should be preached.
In the first place; then, the law and the Gospel are different with respect to the manner in which God has revealed them. Man knows the law by nature, for already at creation God inscribed the law in his heart. This inscription of the law in the human heart has by reason of sin lost some of its original clearness and legibility, but is not altogether effaced. For this reason even the ungodliest man is startled in his conscience by the preaching of the law, and must acknowledge God to be right when He judgeth. Ps. 51,4.
It is different with the Gospel. The Gospel is a message, tidings, a revelation, a proclamation of God’s plan of salvation, conceived by Him in eternity, and carried into effect by Him in time. The Gospel is a mystery of God, which no man can know by his unaided reason, but only by supernatural divine revelation. Therefore the Gospel is not only foreign, but it is down-right foolishness to the natural man. 1 Cor. 1,18.
Romans 2,14.15 may be taken as a proof-text for what has been said about the law: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” The moral law is stamped upon the heart and conscience. It is not, like the Gospel, a product of supernatural revelation. God gave the law a second time on the two tables of stone, only for the purpose of restoring the obscure inscription in the heart.
Romans 16,25.26 confirms what we have said about the Gospel: “Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: to God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever.” The Gospel is called a “mystery”, “kept secret”, “but now made manifest”, “for the obedience of faith.”
This is an important difference. All religions have the moral law, but only the Christian religion has the Gospel. If men did not have the moral law engraved upon their hearts, they would not listen to the preaching of the law. But now we can convict them of sin. Therefore we must confidently and cheerfully preach the law. It is thus, and thus only, that the sinner may by the grace of God repent and believe the Gospel.
In the next place, the law and the Gospel differ with regard to their content. The law tells us what we should do and not do, and what the condition of our hearts should be. The Gospel says not a word about these things, but tells us only what God has done and still does for us. The law speaks of our deeds; the Gospel only of the deeds of God. Ten times the Decalog warns: “Thou shalt, thou shalt not!” The Gospel, on the other hand, demands nothing of us. It merely announces: “All is ready; the table is set; come, eat and drink, and still your hunger without money and without price. The Gospel does not command: it only offers and invites.
Gal. 3,12: “The law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” The law knows nothing of repentance and forgiveness of sins. The law does not say: “Repent. be converted, mend your ways, and you shall receive pardon, life and salvation.” No, not a word of it. The law commands and demands only: grace, mercy, love, reconciliation, pardon, are words not found in the vocabulary of the law. The Gospel, on the contrary, never commands or demands, but always offers, gives and confers.
Joh. 1,17: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 5.19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” The Gospel consists of nothing but grace and truth. It is a “Word of reconciliation”; it offers us peace with God.
In the third place, the law and the Gospel differ with regard to their respective promises. The law promises the very same thing as the Gospel, namely, eternal life. But there is an important difference, the law promises conditionally; the Gospel unconditionally. The law says: “Do this and that; love God with all thy soul, heart, and mind and strength, and thy neighbor as thyself; be pure, holy, perfect, without sin, and thou shalt live.” The promise of the law is therefore not a matter of congratulation, but of utter discouragement; for no one is able to fulfill the condition, and hence, according to the law, no one is able to attain life and salvation. — How comforting, on the other hand, is the promise of the Gospel! It is unconditional. The Gospel promises us life and salvation by grace alone, without any merit or worthiness in us. The Gospel exacts nothing: it offers and invites only, saying: “Come, accept life and salvation as a pure and simple gift of God’s grace!”
Leviticus 18,5: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgements: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.”
Luke 10,26f. To the lawyer’s question: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered: “What is written in the law? How readest thou?” And when the lawyer replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself,” Jesus said: “Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live!” Jesus declares here that he who really keeps the law shall thereby attain eternal life. But this is a condition which can not but plunge every honestly seeking soul into the darkest despair.
The Gospel, on the other hand, offers life and salvation without any condition whatever. Mark 16,15.16: “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Here nothing is said about what we must do or not do. We are merely invited to accept, to believe the Gospel.
Rom. 3,23.24: “There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Eph. 2,8.9: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Again, a wide difference between the law and the Gospel. The former says: “Earn your salvation, and you shall have it.” The latter says: “Jesus has already purchased life and salvation for you; believe this, accept this and put your trust in this, and you shall have eternal life. A precious difference! It is the knowledge of this difference that gives the Christian the courage to sing: “Who shall the Lord’s elect condemn? ’Tis God who justifies their souls; And mercy, like a mighty stream, O’er all their sins divinely rolls.”
In the fourth place, the law and the Gospel differ with regard to the threats of the one and the absence of threats in the other. The law menaces all men with the wrath of God, temporal and eternal punishment, because they are all sinners. The Gospel has never a word of threat to utter.
Deut. 27,26: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.” The law pronounces a curse not only upon him who grossly sins against several or all of the commandments, but also against him who offends in one point only. Therefore St. Paul draws the significant conclusion from this passage: “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Gal. 3,19.
Such threats are entirely foreign to the Gospel. Jesus Himself tells us wherein His Gospel consists: “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it is written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’ And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Jesus wishes to say: “Behold, that is my doctrine; I bring no new law, and no threats, but glad tidings with comfort and help for all.” This is also St. Paul’s conception of the Gospel, 1 Tim. 1,15: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” No menace, no threats; only glorious assurances and promises, even for the greatest sinner!
In the fifth place, the law and the Gospel differ with respect to their effects.
The effects of the law are:
- that it, indeed, points out, what we must do to please God, but leaves us powerless to do this, only stimulating the more our natural desire to do evil and disinclination to do good;
- that it, indeed, lays bare, the guilt and distress of sin; but offers no escape therefrom;
- that it, indeed, works contrition and repentance for sin, and fear of God’s wrath, death and the judgement; but gives no comfort, and only leaves the unhappy creature to perish in his sms.
Rom. 3,20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Rom. 7,7–9: “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Lust is sin, though the world does not regard it as sin. “I can’t help it,”’ says the worldly man; “I am so constituted.” He seeks to justify himself: “I have committed no sin; I have not committed theft, murder, or adultery.” He does not realize that his heart is totally depraved and turned away from God. But let the law come with its stern prohibitions and threats against hatred, lust, envy, impurity and covetousness, and sin is immediately revived; the worldly man begins to realize the great power, guilt, and damnableness of sin. But that is all. The law brings no comfort, no ray of hope. It merely says: “Do this, and thou shalt live.” With the law, therefore, as our only refuge, we should all miserably perish. 2 Cor. 3,6: “The letter killeth”.
The effects of the law are seen from the impression made upon Israel, when God spoke the commandments from Mt. Sinai. Exodus 20,19: “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” The effects are seen in the attitude of the rich young man, Luke 18,22.23. He wanted to stand or fall by the law. Then Jesus said to him·: “Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.” What was the effect? “And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.” The statement Christ makes in the next two verses about the great difficulty with which the rich are saved shows how futile it is to seek salvation in the law.
The effects of the Gospel, on the other hand, are:
- that it, indeed, requires faith, but itself produces this faith;
- that it does not punish sin; but takes away the remorse and terror of sin, and fills the heart of the sinner with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost;
- that it demands nothing, neither a good and pure heart, nor it changed life, nor good works; but by its own inherent power changes the heart, imparts to the sinner the desire and power to love God above all things and his neighbors as himself, and thoroughly furnishes him unto all good works.
Rom. 1,16: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that beieveth.”
Eph. 2,8–10: “By grace are ye saved through faith; and 1hat not of yourselves: it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works,” Saved by grace through faith. Faith is necessary, but faith contributes ·nothing toward our salvation, else we should not be saved through grace. It is right and scriptural to pray as we do in our confessional prayer: “Through the faith which is given and increased in my heart by the Holy Spirit, forgive me all my sins.”
Gal. 3,2: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” The new life was wrought in the Galatians only by the “hearing of faith”, the Gospel.
Acts 16.23–34: To the question of the terrified and trembling prisonkeeper: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul replied: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” And in the same moment faith was granted him; for we read: “And he was baptized; he and all his, straightway, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his House.”
Rom. 8,2–4: “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Here the law and the Gospel are contrasted, so far as their effects are concerned, and a clearer, briefer, and more complete statement of the difference could not be given.
The law and the Gospel are different, in the sixth place, with reference to the persons to whom they should be preached. The law, and nothing but the law, should be preached to secure and impenitent sinners, on the other hand, the Gospel, and the Gospel alone, should he preached to terrified and penitent sinners.
1 Tim. 1,8–10: “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully: knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whore-mongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for men-stealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” Hence the law and not the Gospel should be preached to impenitent sinners.
Isa. 61,1–3: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good things unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for aches, and oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Here we are told in equally clear language that only the Gospel and not the law should be preached to bruised, broken-hearted and penitent sinners.
The purpose of God is attained only when we as Christians and ministers of the Gospel learn to distinguish rightly between the law and the Gospel.
It we have now seen wherein the differences and correspondences of the law and the Gospel consist, it behooves us to learn how to distinguish correctly between them, so that we do not misuse, misapply, or corrupt them, and thus hinder God in the work which He desires to perform through them.
According to the Scriptures, then, it is God’s purpose with the law to punish sin, work repentance, prepare the heart to receive the Gospel in faith, and, finally, to show the children of God how they must manifest their faith in a new and holy life. God’s purpose with the Gospel, according to the Scriptures, is not to punish sin, but to comfort the sinner, create and preserve the new life in his heart, impart peace and joy to him and the desire and power to love and serve God and his neighbor according to the precepts of the law, and, at least, to grant him eternal salvation through faith in Christ.
But God’s purpose with the law and the Gospel can and will be attained only when we both as Christians and as pastors learn to distinguish rightly between them and to use and apply them in the manner prescribed by God. That this is a duty which rests not only on pastors, but on every Christian, is self-evident; but it may also be inferred from the many exhortations addressed in the word of God to all Christians. Christ says; Joh. 5,29: “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me.” Of the Christians at Berea we are told, Acts 17,11 : “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” And to the Galatians St. Paul writes, Gal. 3,1–3: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” As ministers cannot preach and teach rightly, without distinguishing correctly between the law and the Gospel, so lay-Christians cannot believe rightly, without distinguishing properly between these two fundamental doctrines. By misapplying or corrupting the law and the Gospel many a Christian has suffered the shipwreck of his faith.
But it is still more urgent for pastors to learn to distinguish properly between the law and the Gospel; for with them it is not only a question of saving their own souls, but they watch over the souls committed to their care, “as they that must give account.” Hebr. 13,17. On this point the Scriptures bear no uncertain testimony. In his second pastoral letter to Timothy St. Paul writes (2 Tim. 2,15): “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. rightly dividing the Word of truth.” The apostle describes a true minister of the Gospel. He must he a man who is able rightly to divide the word of truth. It is not enough that he knows and expounds every doctrine correctly according to the Scriptures. He must also preach every doctrine at the right time and place, to the right persons, and in the proper relation to every other doctrine He does not rightly divide the word of truth, if he preaches the law exclusively, or the Gospel exclusively. Neither does he divide the word of truth rightly, if he intermingles the law and the Gospel. In this way he would offer his hearers deadly poison instead of pure, nourishing food.
The same truth is taught by the Savior, Matt. 13,52: “Therefore every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is a householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” In scriptural usage the term “new” often denotes the new Covenant, or the Gospel, and the “old”, the Old Covenant, or the law. (Comp: Isi. 42,9; 181.42,9 and Solomons Song 7,13). That is also Luther’s view. The “treasure” is the word of God, the law and the Gospel. “For in these twain is embodied the entire divine wisdom.” He only is a true scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven who brings forth out of his treasure both the law and the Gospel, but as something totally different, just as the new is different from the old.
A similar statement is found in Luke 12,40,43: “And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom the Lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his Lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” Another characterization of a true minister of the Gospel. As a wise and faithful head of a family gives the right food at the right time to each member of his household, so a faithful pastor sees to it that each of his hearers is given the proper food at the right time: careless, indifferent, secure and hardened sinners the harsh demands, threats and punishment of the law; terrified and penitent sinners the friendly assurance and help of the Gospel.
Ezek. 13,18–22: “And say, Woe to them that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and will ye save the souls alive that come unto you? And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies? Wherefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against your pillows, wherewith ye there hunt the souls to make them fly; and I will tear them from your arms, and will let the souls go, even the souls that hunt to make them fly. Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life.” This is an earnest word to all pastors and teachers of the church, that they should rightly divide the Word of truth preach the law, and nothing but the law, to all impenitent, rebellious, self-righteous sinners; but, on the other hand, comfort, heal, and raise up all anxious, sad and heart-broken sinners by the preaching of the blessed Gospel. Here nothing less than the life of the soul is at our hearers’ and our own, for God will require from our hands the souls of those that perish through our negligence or unfaithfulness in the preaching of the law and the Gospel
Zeck. 11,7: “And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you, O poor of the flock. And I took unto me two staves: the one I called Beauty, and the other I called Bands; and I fed the flock.” It is the Messiah who speaks. He describes his flock. There are two kinds of sheep: “the flock of slaughter” and the “poor of the flock”; disobedient, impenitent, rebellious sinners, and frightened, crushed and penitent sinners. The two staves, “Beauty” and “Bands” are the Gospel and the law. The Lord does not use these indiscriminately, but each in its proper place; the staff “Beauty” for “the poor of the flock”, and the staff “Bands” for “the flock of the slaughter”. When He called us to watch and feed His lambs and sheep, He placed in our keeping the same shepherd staves; and now we must use them in the same way as He. When we do, we shall be true ministers, “approved unto the Lord, workmen that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
But there we shall not get far with our own wisdom. “Who is sufficient for these things?” exclaims the apostle Paul, 2 Cor. 2,16. And Luther makes the same confession. In his Tabletalks, W. xxll, 655, he says: “There is no man on earth who can distinguish correctly between the law and the Gospel. We imagine that we can, but lack much; only the Holy Ghost knows the art. Also I supposed that I could do it, because I had written so long and so much; but, in truth, when I am put to the test, I see how far I fall short.” And in another place, W. 1, 415, he writes: “He who knows this art, the art of dividing aright the law and the Gospel, let him take the seat of honor and be called a doctor of the Holy Scriptures. For without the Holy Ghost it is impossible to strike the difference. I discover it in myself, see it also every day in others, how difficult it is to keep the teachings of the law and the Gospel apart. The Holy Ghost must be the master and teacher here, otherwise no man on earth would be able to understand or teach.”
This we too must know and acknowledge. The Holy Ghost must be our master and teacher. He must teach us the sublime and difficult art to distinguish aright between the law and the Gospel, first as Christians and next as ministers of the Gospel.
We have already seen how comparatively easy it is for the law to speak to men, because God has engraved it upon their hearts. When the law says: “This you must do; this you must not do; thus you must be at heart, pure, holy, without evil lusts, hatred, envy, greed, the natural, unconverted man replies: “Yes, that is right: thus I should conduct myself; thus I should be in heart, mind, and character.” But there the matter ends. The law gives man no desire or power to fulfill the law. The law only works wrath, Rom. 4,15. The law revives, awakens sin, Rom. 7,8. The law does not take away the hardness of the heart or the rebelliousness of the will. “The carnal mind is”, and continues to be, “enmity toward God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Rom. 8,7. The law saves and delivers no one from sin. It leaves man to perish in his sins; either hardening his heart, so that he gives himself up to a still more abandoned life of sin, or loses himself as completely in self-righteousness and pharisaism, or it plunges him headlong into misbelief, dejection and dispair. The law will never attain its divine purpose, work repentance in the heart, and prepare it for the Gospel of salvation, unless the Holy Ghost performs his work through the law upon the sinner’s heart.
But it is far more difficult for the Gospel to speak to men, because the Gospel is not, like the law, written in their hearts, but is a divine revelation. Yes. so foreign and unintelligible is the Gospel to the natural man, that it is a stumblingblock and foolishness to him. 1 Cor. 1,23. And not that alone; even the children of God at times are greatly distressed and afflicted, because they are not able to grasp and appropriate the full comfort and help of the Gospel. This was true of David. We see how hard it was for him to gain peace for his soul after his conversion and restoration, from his many penitential psalms, in which he pours out his distress to God and implores His forgiveness. David’s experience has been the experience of countless Christians. It was also Luther’s experience. Every one who is acquainted with the life of Luther, knows how long and hard he had to battle before he was able by the grace of God to make the comfort of the Gospel his own. For this reason there is no one since the days of the apostles who can speak of these things with such deep understanding as Luther. He says, W. VIII, 1792: “In affliction you will discover that the Gospel is a rare guest in the conscience, while the law is a daily companion. For by nature reason knows the law. Therefore, when your conscience is terrified at sin, revealed and made exceeding great by the law, you should say: There is a time for dying and a time for dying, a time to hear the law, and a time to ignore the law, a time to hear the Gospel, and a time not to hear and not to give heed to the Gospel. Now let the law be gone and the Gospel be ushered in; for it is time to hear the Gospel and not the law. But you have done no good, but grossly sinned. That I acknowledge, but I have forgiveness through Christ, for whose sake all my sins are forgiven.’ — But when the conscience is not at war, and the duties of your calling must be performed, then, whether you are a minister of the Gospel, or a magistrate, or a husband, or a teacher or a pupil, it is time not to hear the Gospel, but the law, for you must he faithful in your calling.” Luther writes further in his exposition of Psalm 131, W. IV, 2881,: “Some imagine that they understand these things perfectly well, but you must beware of such presumption, and reflect that you are the disciples of the Word. For Satan is such a master, that he is easily able to conceal the difference and impose upon us the law in the place of the Gospel, or the Gospel in the place of the law. How often goes it not happen to people who are in the death-struggle, that their conscience seizes upon certain Scripture-passages, which in reality belong to the law, and thus miss altogether the comfort of the Gospel. As, for example, Matt. 19,17: “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” Likewise Matt. 7,21: “Not every,that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter in to the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” Through these and similar passages of Scripture the heart is often so confused. that it does not see anything except what it has done or should have done; in other words, what God forbids and demands. When the heart looks at this it forgets everything that Christ has done, and all that God promises to do through Christ. Therefore let no one be so presumptuous as to believe that he has attained perfection in these matters.”
It is a most difficult matter to distinguish correctly between the law and the Gospel; so difficult in fact, that none can do it, unless he learns it of the Holy Ghost. “No man can say that “Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost”, 1 Cor. 12,3. But by the aid of Hie Holy Ghost it is possible. “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” 1 Joh. 3,19.20. Our own heart condemns us. That is natural, for the law speaks a language which is easy to understand, and our conscience is on the side of the law. And the more we are in earnest the more our hearts will condemn us. But the Spirit of God has opened to us the truth of the Gospel. He has taught us that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”, Rom. 10,4. And we cling to this truth, even though it be with a weak and faltering faith, so that we must say: “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!” The Spirit has taught us the difference between the law and the Gospel. And this difference we turn to our own advantage. With the apostle John we say: “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things; He has pronounced another sentence: He has befriended and acquitted us in His own dear Son, Christ Jesus” But it is a difficult art. We shall never master it as long as we live. There will be moments when we do not see clearly the difference between the law and the Gospel, moments when the law will crowd out the Gospel — moments of distress and affliction. But at such times when law tries to terrorize us, we must straightway seek refuge in the Gospel.
It is this art, then, the art of distinguishing aright between the law and the Gospel, that we must all learn, both laity and clergy. Gods purpose with us as individuals is not attained before we have learned this art in the School of the Holy Spirit. Only in this way can we become the children of God and be saved. And the children of God we must all be, also we ministers; for how can we instruct others in this difference, if we do not know it ourselves; and how can we make the proper use of the law and the Gospel and cause them to do their God-appointed work in the hearts of our hearers, if we have not experienced their divine effects in our own hearts? We ministers need to be regenerated Christians. Our hearts must be the workshop of the Holy Ghost. In this way, and in this way only, shall we become approved workmen of God, that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth.
Dr. Walther says on this subject in his excellent book, “Gesetz und Evangelium”, pp. 49 and 50,: “If any one desires to be a true “dokimus”, (a tried and approved workman before God) he must first be a Christian. He may perhaps be able to discourse correctly on all dogmas, but that is not enough. He must also know how to portion out to all the souls in his congregation just what each of them needs. That is possible when the pastor is able to discern accurately the condition of every soul. But that is extremely difficult, just as diagnosis is one of the most difficult tasks of the physician. It is not enough that you use the living, keen-cutting Word of God. You may easily kill the soul with this sharp sword, if you do not give what is required. Therefore a pastor must be able to determine whether he is dealing with a hypocrite, or a true Christian; one who is spiritually dead, or one who is awakened out of spiritual sleep; one who is afflicted by the devil and his own flesh, or one who through his own wickedness is caught in the toils of satan. For this reason a pastor who knows no experience may so easily mistake a hypocrite for a true Christian. Our preaching must be of such kind that our hearers are at once ready to say: “That is intended for you! He has described the hypocrite precisely as you are.” Or the pastor has described the afflicted in such a way that the latter must say: “That is my condition.” Also the penitent must soon conclude: “That comfort is for me; I must make it my own.” The terrified sinner must he ready to exclaim: “O, what sweet comfort! That is for me.” Yes, also the impenitent must feel constrained to sa within himself: “There is no denying it: that is an exact picture of me.” The pastor must know the art of painting the inner life of his hearers. It is not enough simply to present the abstract truths. One may be orthodox; one may be fully instructed in Scriptural truth, but if he does not himself hold the right relation toward God, has not settled his own account with God, has not himself arrived at certainty as to whether his own sins are forgiven, how can he preach a truly Christian sermon? The heathen maxim: ‘Pectus disertum facit’, ‘the heart makes eloquent’, is applicable also here. Indeed, only in the school of the Spirit, only in affliction, is it possible to distinguish rightly between the law and the Gospel. Therefore the people are so eager to read the sermons of Luther. — It is also indeed a joy to read Luther’s sermons. You find yourself on every page. At first he frightens you terribly, so that you are on the point of losing both sight and hearing; at first he hurls you down into the abyss, but hardly has he done that before he is saying: ‘Do you believe that?’ ‘Yes!’ ‘Good, then come up to a place of safety again!’ There are crashes of thunder and flashes of lightning; but immediately thereafter, the soft sighing of the Gospel breezes. It is impossible to resist; one must say: ‘That is good, nourishing daily bread; that is the proper food for my soul!’ Luther does not direct one to take a long roundabout way; he does not give many lessons as to how to find the way out; but when he has brought his hearers to the point where they see that they are poor sinners, he says to them: ‘Listen, the grace of Christ is greater than all the sin of the world!’ He preaches the law and the Gospel side by side, so that the law, illuminated by the Gospel, becomes far more terrible, and the Gospel, illuminated by the law, becomes far sweeter and more comforting. This we must learn from our dear father Luther. Then people will hear also us. It will interest them. They will know that at this time the pastor seeks to help them ant of their trouble and distress, so that they may leave the church with peace and joy in their hearts.”
This art of preaching Luther certainly learned in the school of the Holy Spirit; and we must learn the same art there. Like him we must throw ourselves with heart and soul into the study of the Scriptures and learn all of its precious truths. Like him we must not shrink back from a little exertion; we must not insist too much upon an eight hour day. Like him we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Like him we must battle our way to greater knowledge, understanding and efficiency through earnest and untiring prayer to God. And it will not be in vain. In this way also we shall become better Christians and better preachers; for, as the apostle Paul says: “Such trust have we though Christ to God-ward; not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything os of ourselves; but our efficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, hut of the Spirit.”
The purpose of God is hindered:
- when Christ is made out to be a new law-giver, and the Gospel in this way is changed into a law;
- when the law is weakened or corrupted by the admixture of the Gospel; or the Gospel is impaired and corrupted by the admixture of the law;
- when terrified and penitent sinners are threatened with the law, or secure and impenitent sinners are offered the comfort of the Gospel;
- when the Gospel is not given the first place in the preaching and instruction of the church.
“The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”, Luke 19,10. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” 1 Tim. 1,15. If that was his purpose in coming to the world, Christ could never be a new law-giver. Moses could save no one by the law. St. Paul teaches, Rom. 3,20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin;” and Gal. 3,10: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Neither has Christ saved any one by the law. In fact, that would be a downright contradiction; for if any one were saved by the law he would be his own savior and would owe nothing to Christ.
But is there any one, then, who holds that Christ is a law-giver? Yes, this position is held by the pope and, alas, also by many in the Reformed Churches. Christ preached the law. The Sermon on the Mount is the most powerful of all law-sermons. Christ reinterpreted the law and purged it from the leaven of the Pharisees, formalism and perversion. Therefore the papises and others regard Him as a law-giver. They hold that Christ added something new to the law, whenever He pointed out the searching demands and true inwardness of the law. But they are in error; for when Moses says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”, Deut. 6,5. and “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”, Lev. 19,18., he includes everything that Christ taught under the law.
In session 6, canon 21 of the Council of Trent, the Church of Rome went on record as saying: “If any one says that Christ has been by God to men as a savior, in whom they must believe, not as a lawmaker, whom they must obey, let him be accursed!” And in the same document, session 4, the Gospel of Christ is designated as a “moral teaching,” which should be preached to every creature. As such the Gospel of Christ has been preached in the Roman Catholic Church also long before Luther’s time. Luther confesses that as a sincere Catholic monk he was never able to surrender himself to Christ as his Savior, but always stood in great awe of Him as a stern and implacable judge. The following declarations, taken from the same source, session 6, furnish additional proof: “If any one holds that man is justified, either by the imputation to him of Christ’s righteousness alone, or by the forgiveness of sins alone, without the cooperation of that grace and love which is imparted to him by the Holy Spirit and dwells in his heart, or, that the grace by which we are justified is nothing but the grace or favor of God: let him be accursed! If any one holds that justifying grace is nothing else than trust in the divine mercy, which forgives sin for Jesus’ sake, or that this trust alone justifies us; let him be accursed! If any one holds that the person justified does not in truth earn eternal life by his good deeds: let him be accursed!”
The rationalists and all moralists in the church represent Christ purely and simply as a lawgiver, in fact, as a weak and indulgent lawgiver. They blue-pencil or rule out the First Table of the law, and declare that Jesus came to proclaim the Golden Rule, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so unto them.” To them the Gospel of Christ is nothing but the doctrine that God is the dear Father of all men, and that all men are His dear Children. If we therefore follow in the foot-steps of Jesus and live as blamelessly as we can, we shall surely enter life by our virtues, good deeds, and holiness. There is, in fact, no danger for any one, unless it might be for the slaves of vice, or the worst criminals; for hell is after all only a myth, and God is not so cruel as to plunge any person into eternal perdition. Their creed has always been God, virtue and importality. Not long ago I heard a pastor of the Congregational Church say: “Our religion in this twentieth century must be love to God (not the Triune God), self-control, and social service.” That is their religion, and we may truthfully say, that it contains neither the law, nor the Gospel, for both have been annulled or banished.
Now what does the Word of God teach concerning Christ and his doctrine? We read, Luke 4,17–21: “And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it is written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book and he gave it to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened upon him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Here Jesus speaks of His office and His doctrine, but not once does He mention the law, or make any reference to the law. He came only to proclaim the Gospel.
Speaking of the covenant which He intends to establish with His people, the Messiah expressly declares that it shall not be a covenant of law, but a covenant of grace. Jeremiah 31,31–34: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of “Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord. I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
In the fifteenth chapter of St. Luke we have the three precious parables of the lost sheep, the lost penny, and the prodigal son. When we remember that Jesus told these parables to defend his association with publicans and sinners, we perceive very clearly that He did not come to preach the law, but to preach the Gospel. And this becomes still more plain, when He rebukes the Pharisees, saying to them: “Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.”
One of the clearest testimonies from the Savior’s own lips we find in the Gospel of John, 3,17: “God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world: but that the world through him might be saved.” Had Jesus been sent as a lawgiver, He would have condemned the world; but He was sent for a totally different purpose, for the purpose, namely, of saving the world.
The combined testimony of the apostles is to the same effect. Joh. 1,17: “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Rom. 1,16.17: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” 1 Tim. 1,15: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” 1 Joh. 4,10: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Jesus is no new lawgiver. He preached the law as no other man has preached it, not even Moses; but this He did only that He might pave a way to the hearts of men for His saving Gospel. He came not to destroy the law; neither did He come to add anything to the law. “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill,” Matt. 5,17. His purpose in coming was not to give new laws, but to fulfill the old law in our stead, to be “the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
The purpose of God is hindered, when the law is weakened or corrupted by the admixture of the Gospel, or when the Gospel is impaired and corrupted by the admixture of the law.
The aim of the law is to reveal and punish sin, awaken true penitence, to be a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ,” and, finally, to show believers how they should walk before God as His obedient children, The Gospel aims to save lost and condemned sinners, comfort and heal them, create and preserve the new life in their hearts, impart to them the desire and power to love and serve God and man, and at last grant them eternal life through faith in the Savior. These high aims will be realized only when both the law and the Gospel are taught and preached in their full truth and vigor, and without confounding and corrupting the one with the other. The law must be preached in such a way that “every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” There must be left no ray of hope for these who would he justified by the deeds of the law. And the Gospel must be preached so winningly and persuasively that every crushed and terrified sinner may find comfort and salvation therein.
Gal. 3,11.12: “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident; for, the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” Rom. 4,16: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.” Gal. 3,10: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Rom 7,14: “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.” — The law must be brought home so forcibly to the hearts and consciences of our hearers, that they can no longer hide themselves under the cover of outward piety and holiness, but must confess their complete sinfulness, lost and helpless condition, and sue for mercy. Rom. 3,20: “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” The law does not regenerate; it only convicts. This we must remember. People might like us better as preachers, if we flattered them and gave them credit for being able to do something to ward their own salvation. But that would be faithless and unprincipled. Thereby we should only lead them into certain perdition. No, our preaching of the law must be so clear and positive that every hearer will be compelled to say in his heart: “If that preacher speaks the truth, I am hopelessly lost.” That is the way an evangelical preacher presents the law; for he knows that only in this way will the Gospel be given a chance to do its blessed work. “First Moses, then Christ; first the Forerunner, then the Savior!” Our hearers may feel at first that our preaching is hard and cruel; but when we thereupon bring them the Glad Tidings of repentance and forgiveness of sin in Jesus’ name, they will realize that the preacher is after all their best friend.
It is a gross confusion of the law and the Gospel to seek to make unconverted men good only by means of the law, or to exhort Christians to good works and a holy life by means of the law. This does not come under the aim and operation of the law after sin has corrupted the heart and will of man.
Rom. 3,20: “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The law lays bare, but does not take away sin; it does not subdue sin, but makes sin alive.
Rom. 7,7–13: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid! Nay I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Than shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid! But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
Under the new covenant the Gospel, not the law, is the active principle and impelling force in a believer’s life. Jer. 31,31–34: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; — for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
2 Cor. 3,6: “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” The “letter”, as we have already seen, is the law; the “spirit” is the Gospel. Do not attempt to create life by the death-dealing letter of the law!
Gal. 3,2: “This only would I learn of you. Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”
It is likewise a gross intermixture of the law and the Gospel and a serious enfeeblement of both, to represent contrition, repentance, or even faith, as requisites for, or contributory causes toward the forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. It is true, contrition, repentance and faith are present whenever God grants the sinner pardon, life and salvation. But these have not produced the forgiving grace of God, but they are themselves the product of the grace of God, and so the sinner is rendered capable of receiving that which God offers and grants him in His dear Son.
Eph. 2,8–10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, least any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
Eph. 2,4: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace are ye saved.”
1 Peter 1,2: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”
2 Tim. 1,9: “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
Hebr. 12,2: “Looking unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith.”
Eph. 1,11: “Predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
Phil. 2, 13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Hence here again there must be a sharp separation between the law and the Gospel; no intrusion of the law into the Gospel, no threats, no demands, such as: “You must repent, you must believe, or you cannot be saved!” No, that is wrong, unevangelical; but: “Have you now learned from the law that you are a poor, lost and condemned sinner? Are you bewildered, helpless, terrified and unhappy? Then listen! God loves you. God has had mercy upon you. Christ Jesus, His beloved Son, has satisfied and atoned for your sins by his holy life and innocent suffering and death. Believe this, and God will forgive you all your sins, accept you as His child, and save you in time and in eternity.”
Lastly, it is a fatal intermixture and a gross abuse of the law and the Gospel to teach, either, that faith justifies before God, though it be dead and unfruitful, or, that faith justifies because of the good works which it produces. We Lutherans are often denounced because we teach that faith alone is necessary to salvation, and not good works. Now it is true, that is what we teach; but thereby we do not teach that good works are not necessary. They are necessary, but not to salvation. Good works are necessary, because we must have a true and living faith, a faith “which worketh by love”, a faith which manifests itself through good works. Only such a faith makes us partakers of the redemption of Christ. We need good works, because faith without works is dead. But remember, it is faith, not good works, that saves.
Gal. 5,6: “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith which worketh by love.”
Acts 15,9: “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.”
1 Joh. 5,4: “But whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”
1 Joh. 3,9.1O: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.”
But the Scriptures teach very plainly, not only that justifying faith is a faith that is fruitful in good works; but they teach just as plainly that it is faith alone which justifies, and not the fruits of faith, love and good deeds.
Rom. 4,16: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not only to that which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all.”
Rom. 4,5: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”
Eph. 2,8.9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Rom. 11,6: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of grace, then 1s it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
The purpose of God is hindered, when terrified sinners are threatened with the law, or secure and impenitent sinners offered the comfort of the Gospel.
This paragraph designates: the persons to whom the law and the Gospel should be preached. If we are dealing with crushed and terrified sinners, we do not any longer need to use the law. The law has already done its work. We must now let it rest. The heart is already prepared. We now need to preach the Gospel; and nothing but the Gospel. It is now our task to comfort the sinner, to assure him of his state of grace, to tell him how God is minded toward him, what God has done for him, and now offers him through Christ, with one word, say to him: “Thy sins are forgiven! Believe this, and thou shall be saved. And be baptized and wash away thy sins. if thou art not already baptized.” That this is the right procedure we learn from Christ and the apostles.
Acts 9,1–18. Here we have the account of Paul’s conversion. On the way to Damascus, whither he was journeying to persecute the Christians, he was suddenly surrounded by an intense light from heaven. He fell to the ground, and he heard a voice which said: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” And when he enquired who it was, the answer came: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.” And terrified and trembling Saul answered: “What shall I do Lord?” And the Lord said to him: “Arise, and go to Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.” Saul, who was now blind, obeyed. And Ananias, sent of the Lord, came to him, and said to him: “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And at the same moment he received his sight, and was baptized. — What then did Jesus preach to the terrified and trembling Saul? Not the law, but the Gospel. And His messenger Ananias announced: “The Lord hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” It was done, and he was baptized. The young Pharisee, the enemy and persecuter of Jesus, was converted, born again, by the divine power of the Gospel.
The same methods was followed by the disciples of Jesus. In the second chapter of the Acts of the apostles we are told how Peter dealt with those who but a few days before had cried: “Let him be crucified!” When these men, pricked in their heart by what they had seen and heard, earnestly enquired: “Men and brethern, what shall we do?” Peter did not continue preaching the law to them, but he said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” He did not terrify them still more by enlarging on their great sin. They were penitent, crushed, by a sense of their great guilt and that was enough. Now they were prepared to hear and believe the Gospel of grace and forgiveness. Therefore the apostle told them to repent, that is, to receive a different spirit, forsake their unbelief, believe on Jesus, and be baptized in His name for the remission of sins. And their conversion was no sham conversion; for they received the Holy Ghost; they were born again; they were true children of God.
The account of the conversion of the prison-keeper at Philippi is given in the sixteenth chapter of Acts. The very same method was followed by the apostle Paul. When the jailer, awakened from sleep by the earthquake, saw the doors of the prison open and all the prisoners freed, he drew his sword to take his own life. But Paul hindered him. Then it was that he threw himself down trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas, and said: ”Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The apostle answered: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!” “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord”, that is, the Gospel, “and to all that were in his house, and he was baptized, he and all his straightway. And he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”
That is the right, apostolic, evangelical procedure. And thereby the final judgment is pronounced upon all methods of conversion, which aim to keep terrified and penitent sinners in uncertainty, to prescribe to them all manner of rules, as to how they are to conduct themselves, what they must do, how long and earnestly they must sigh, pray and battle, before they at last hear a voice from within, saying: “Now your sins are forgiven! Now you are saved! Now you are a child of God!” Not so, but: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”
On the other hand we must be just as careful not to confirm secure sinners and hypocrites in their unbelief and impenitence by offering them the comfort of the Gospel. The Old Adam still lives in the hearts of believers. The tempter still lies in wait, to see if he cannot lull them into a sense of security, or lead them into sin, shame and unbelief. Therefore we must continue preaching the law also in the assemblies of believers; and we must preach it pure and unadulterated, ·without any admixture of the Gospel, and yet always in such a way that it is brought home, not to the timid and penitent, hut to the secure and impenitent sinners.
Rom. 6,14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
1 Cor. 6,9–11: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of yon; but ye are washed, hut ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
2 Peter 2,20–22: “For if after they have escaped the polutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in her mire.”
Rom. 8,13.14: “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the needs of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.”
The purpose of God is hindered, when the Gospel is not given the first and foremost place in the preaching and instruction of the Church.
This is something that we may infer from the very difference between the law and the Gospel. The letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive. The law punishes sin and augments it; the Gospel removes the guilt and punishment of sin and delivers from its tyranny. Therefore the Gospel should be given the first and foremost place in our preaching and teaching. We must indeed also preach the law; but only as a preparation for the Gospel. The conscious goal, end and aim of all law preaching must be the proclamation of the Gospel. He alone who proceeds in this manner is an approved workman of God, who rightly divides the Word of truth. Ample scripture proof is furnished in the following passages:
Mark 16,15.16: “And He said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
2 Tim. 4,5: “But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
2 Cor. 3,5.6: “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; who hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the Spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”
1 Cor, 2,2: “For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
1 Cor. 15,3: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.”
2 Cor. 1,24: “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.”
That the Gospel holds the first place also in the public confession of our Lutheran Church may be seen from the following quotations:
The Augsburg Confession, art. 4, Of Justification:
“Also they teach that men cannot be justified (obtain forgiveness of sins and righteousness) before God by their own powers, merits or works: but are justified freely (of grace) for Christ’s sake through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and their sins forgiven for Christ’s sake, who by His death hath satisfied for our sins. This faith doth God impute for righteousness before Him, Rom. 3 and 4.”
The Smalcald Articles, Part Second, Art. 1:
“The first and chief article is this, that Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4,25.
And He alone is the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world, John 1,29; and God has laid on Him the iniquities of us all, Isa. 53,6.
Like: All have sinned and are justified without merit (freely, and without their own works or merits) by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood, Rom. 3, 23f.
Since it is necessary to believe this, and it can be acquired or apprehended otherwise by no work, law, or merit, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us, as St. Paul says (Rom. 3,28): For we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” Likewise (v. 26): “That he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Christ.”
Of this article nothing can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and all things should sink to ruin. “For there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved,” says Peter, Acts 4,12. “And with his stripes we are healed,” Isa. 53,5. And upon this article all things depend, which, against the Pope, the devil, and the whole world, we teach and practice. Therefore we must be sure concerning this doctrine, and not doubt; for otherwise all is lost, and the Pope, and devil, and all things against us gain the victory and suit.”
Finally, let us hear the testimony of Luther, Introduction to Galatians, W. VIII, 1524: “In my hear reigns supreme, and shall reign, this one article, namely, faith in my dear Lord Christ, who alone is the beginning, middle, and end of all my spiritual reflections by day and by night.” This too must be our confession and the testimonial which we now and ever must be able to give ourselves, our Synod, our lay-people, and our ministers. Then God will surely bless us and preserve us both as a Synod and as individual Christians.