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.
Walther introduces this second lecture thusly:
A person may pretend to be a Christian while in reality he is not. As long as he is in this condition, he is quite content with his knowledge of the mere outlines of the Christian doctrines. Everything beyond that, he says, is for pastors and theologians. To perceive as clearly as possible everything that God has revealed, that is something in which a non-Christian has no interest. However, the moment a person becomes a Christian, there arises in him a keen desire for the doctrine of Christ. Even the most uncultured peasant who is still unconverted is suddenly roused in the moment of his conversion and begins to reflect on God and heaven, salvation and damnation, etc. He becomes occupied with the highest problems of human life.
Striving to obtain the truth and divine assurance is a necessary criterion already of an ordinary Christian, in a still higher degree, however, in the case of a theologian. A theologian who has not the greatest interest in the Christian doctrines is unthinkable. Even where there is but the beginning of faith in the heart, a person regards no point of doctrine as trifling, and every doctrine is to him as precious as gold, silver, and rubies. God grant that this may be your case!
This touch of conversionism is all the more odd coming from a Lutheran! Diving back in where he left off…
Now, the first matter that you are to consider is the points of difference between these two doctrines, the Law and the Gospel. We have heard that there are six points of difference, four of which we have reviewed. Let us pass on to the fifth point.
The fifth point of difference between the Law and the Gospel concerns the effects of these two doctrines. What is the effect of the preaching of the Law? It is threefold. In the first place, the Law tells us what to do, but does not enable us to comply with its commands; it rather causes us to become more unwilling to keep the Law. True, some treat the Law as if it were a rule in arithmetic. However, let the Law once force its way into a person’s heart, and that heart will strain with all its force against God. The person will become furious at God for asking such impossible things of him. Yea, he will curse God in his heart. He would slay God if he could. He would thrust God from His throne if that were possible. The effect of preaching the Law, then, is to increase the lust for sinning.
In the second place, the Law uncovers to man his sins, but offers him no help to get out of them and thus hurls man into despair.
In the third place, the Law does indeed produce contrition. It conjures up the terrors of hell, of death, of the wrath of God. But it has not a drop of comfort to offer the sinner. If no additional teaching, besides the Law, is applied to man, he must despair, die, and perish in his sins. Ever since the Fall the Law can produce no other effects in man. Let us ponder this well.
While a person gives no thought to the Law, sin goes in and out at his heart, and he is not conscious of sinning. Ask a worldly person about this matter, and he will be surprised and say: “I have done no evil. I have slain no one; I have not committed adultery; I have not been a thief”; etc. He is not noticing at all that sin is a constant guest with him. But when the Law strikes him like a bolt of lightning, he perceives how great a sinner he is, what horribly ungodly thoughts he is cherishing.
Next time, we’ll look at the back half of this 5th difference by examining the effects of the Gospel.