Thesis Thursday

Last time, we finished off the First Lecture (one down, thirty-eight to go!), but we’re still on

Thesis I

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.

This entry was posted in Gospel, Law/Gospel Distinction, Legalism, Liberty, Lutheranism, Protestant preaching, Quotes, The Protestant Reformation, Thesis Thursday. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. John Harutunian says:

    >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.

    This seems hard to reconcile with Galatians 3:24 ,”For therefore the Law has become out tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.”

  2. RubeRad says:

    I think his point is probably that the Law itself offers no help. I.e. if there were only law, then the only fruit of the law would be despair. Probably this will come out more when we look at the effects of the Gospel next week (or you can read ahead if you want extra credit…)

    Also, how does the law lead us to Christ? Sacrifices, ceremonies, etc. prefigure and typify him. But those elements of The Law of Moses could probably better be classified as Gospel; recall how L&G do not differ:

    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.

    In that sense, “The Law” (of Moses, which contains elements of Gospel) tutors us to Christ. But the Ten Commandments do not.

  3. John Harutunian says:

    I definitely agree with your second point (hadn’t thought of it that way before). The first point raises an issue which is a strong Lutheran distinctive (remember, I’m the guy who spent five years as organist in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church). I think the question would be, “In what sense is the Law to be regarded in and of itself?”

    To put it more concretely, a Lutheran would say, “You have to hear the bad news before you can hear the good news.” OK, but isn’t there a sense in which the bad news is _part of_ the good news? In the end, it’s all one package, isn’t it?

    To put a paradoxical spin on it: Considering our radical alienation from, and natural hostility to, God, just the fact that He should speak to us at all -even in judgment- _might_ be a sign of grace.

  4. tony says:

    Hi John,
    As to the first Walther quote you cite, I think the biblical background for that is Romans 7:7-11, where the Law not only revealed the sinfulness of covetousness to Paul, but “…produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin is dead,” etc.

    Re: your second comment below, Paul usually uses the word “grace” in a redemptive context. Grace is not merely the kindness of God as Creator or even as Law-giver (granted, it is good of God to reveal His will to us, and even to show us the deadly danger of our sin!), but grace is His saving favor through Christ crucified, shown to sinners who deserve His disfavor. “Grace” is more often than not a redemptive, Gospel-word, set in contrast to the condemning Law-word of God, or the works of the Law. So I think it’s confusing to associate “grace” (the redemptive favor of God) with “law” (which reveals our sin and condemns us for it). OTOH, you can’t have one without the other! The Holy Spirit works through the Law of God to show us our sin, and drive us to Christ and His Gospel, to the receive the forgiveness of our sins and His imputed righteousness. In that sense, the Word of God is a “package,” but that package contains two distinct things – Law & Gospel.

  5. John Harutunian says:


    I basically agree with what you say. I think what it all comes down to is a suggestion (and it’s only a suggestion) on my part, that if God were to _totally_ turn His back on humanity, the result would be absolute silence. No Law, no Gospel -no communication of any sort. The one Scriptural support I can think of is that when Jesus cried out to God asking why He had forsaken Him, He didn’t hear “Because you are bearing the sins of humanity” or “Because of my righteous judgment upon sin”. There was nothing but silence.
    I’d be interested to hear from anyone else as to whether I’m onto
    something here.

  6. Pingback: Thesis Thursday | The Confessional Outhouse

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