One of the great things about Table Talk Radio (and Lutherans in general, whom we like), is their emphasis on Law and Gospel. Table Talk Radio turned me on to C. F. W. Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. As far as I can tell, Walther was the Machen of the Missouri Synod. In this work, Walther provides and expounds on 25 theses (them Lutherans sure love their theses!); 4 positive, and the rest negative.
For Thursdays going forward, I plan to leisurely blog through Walther’s theses, not necessarily a whole thesis every time, just as much interesting stuff will fit in a decent-sized post.
So let’s just dive right in then for our first installment!
Now, of all doctrines the foremost and most important is the doctrine of justification. However, immediately following upon it, as second in importance, is this, how Law and Gospel are to be divided. …
Comparing Holy Scripture with other writings, we observe that no book is apparently so full of contradictions as the Bible, and that, not only in minor points, but in the principal matter, in the doctrine how we may come to God and be saved. In one place the Bible offers forgiveness to all sinners; in another place forgiveness of sins is withheld from all sinners. In one passage a free offer of life everlasting is made to all men; in another, men are directed to do something themselves towards being saved. This riddle is solved when we reflect that there are in the Scriptures two entirely different doctrines, the doctrine of the Law and the doctrine of the Gospel!
The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.
It is not my intention to give a systematic treatment of the doctrine of the Law and the Gospel in these lectures. My aim is rather to show you how easy it is to work a great damage upon your hearers by confounding Law and Gospel site of their fundamental difference and thus to frustrate the aim of both doctrines. You will not begin to be interested in this point until you place yourselves in clear outlines the points in which the Law and the Gospel differ.
The point of difference between the Law and the Gospel is not this, that the Gospel is a divine and the Law a human doctrine, resting on the reason of man. Not at all; whatever of either doctrine is contained in the Scriptures is the Word of the living God Himself.
Nor is the difference, that only the Gospel is necessary, not the Law, as if the latter were a mere addition that could be dispensed with in a strait. No, both are equally necessary. Without the Law the Gospel is not understood; without the Gospel the Law benefits us nothing.
Nor can this naïve, yet quite current, distinction be admitted, that the Law is the teaching of the Old while the Gospel is the teaching of the New Testament. By no means; there are Gospel contents in the Old and Law contents in the New Testament. Moreover, in the New Testament the Lord has broken the seal of the Law by purging it from Jewish ordinances.
Nor do the Law and the Gospel differ as regards their final aim, as though the Gospel aimed at men’s salvation, the Law at men’s condemnation. No, both have for their final aim man’s salvation; only the Law, ever since the Fall, cannot lead us to salvation; it can only prepare us for the Gospel. Furthermore, it is through the Gospel that we obtain the ability to fulfil the Law to a certain extent.
Nor can we establish a difference by claiming that the Law and the Gospel contradict each other. There are no contradictions in Scripture. Each is distinct from the other, but both are in the most perfect harmony with one another.
Finally, the difference is not this, that only one of these doctrines is meant for Christians. Even for the Christian the Law still retains its significance. Indeed, when a person ceases to employ either of these two doctrines, he is no longer a true Christian.
Next week, we’ll continue looking at Thesis 1, learning some ways that Law and Gospel do differ. Meanwhile, discuss…