We are almost done with:
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.
Finally, there is a sixth point of difference between the Law and the Gospel: it relates to the persons to whom either doctrine is to be preached. In other words, there is a difference in the subjects to whom they must be applied. The persons on whom either doctrine is to operate, and the end for which it is to operate, are utterly different. The Law is to be preached to secure sinners and the Gospel to alarmed sinners.
1 Tim. 1, 8–10 Paul writes: 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 whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. To all persons of this description, then, the Law only is to be preached, and they are not to have a drop of Gospel. As long as a person is at ease in his sins, as long as he is unwilling to quit some particular sin, so long only the Law, which curses and condemns him, is to be preached to him. However, the moment he becomes frightened at his condition, the Gospel is to be promptly administered to him; for from that moment on he no longer can be classified with secure sinners. Accordingly, while the devil holds you in a single sin, you are not yet a proper subject for the Gospel to operate upon; only the Law must be preached to you.
A prophetic utterance of our Lord prior to His incarnation was cited by Him afterwards in the days of His flesh. Luke 4, 16–21. It is found Is. 61, 1–3: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 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 ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. The “day of vengeance of our God” in this test is the judgment which God is to execute upon hell and the devil. Can there be a more glorious message than this? The devil has horribly disfigured the human race and hurled men into deep distress. Christ has avenged this. He has proclaimed to the devil: “I have conquered thee, and men, created after the image of God, shall not be lost. I have procured salvation for them.” Only those perish who absolutely refuse to be saved; for God coerces no one in this matter.
Now, to such poor, sad-hearted sinners — I repeat it — not a word of the Law must be preached. Woe to the preacher who would continue to preach the Law to a famished sinner! On the contrary, to such a person the preacher must say: “Do but come! There is still room! No matter how great a sinner you are, there is still room for you. Even if you were a Judas or a Cain, there is still room. Oh, do, do come to Jesus!” Persons of this kind are proper subjects on whom the Gospel is to operate.
I close with the two final statements of the second lecture; one amusing, one cryptic (surely note-taking rather than full transcription!)
We note that Luther does not develop this doctrine in scientific fashion, but he proclaims it like a prophet. That is why he makes such a great impression. If he had written a scientific treatise in Latin on this subject with systematic divisions and subdivisions marked A, a, a, א, b, a, א, c, a, א, B, a, etc., the people would have marveled and said, “That man is a great scholar,” but he would not by this method have made the impression which he did make.
In the writings of the Church Fathers we find hardly anything concerning the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.