Thesis Thursday

Lecture 7 includes a number of bold criticisms of church fathers, who Walther found guilty of violating…


Thesis III

Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Fourteen days ago I communicated to you Luther’s statement that without illumination by the Holy Spirit no person can properly distinguish the Law from the Gospel; and that Luther had declared himself to be nothing but a feeble novice in this exalted and glorious art. My intention was not at all to cast you down and to discourage you. On the one hand, I wanted to cure those among you of their egregious self-conceit who have hitherto imagined that distinguishing the Law and Gospel is quite an easy accomplishment. On the other hand, I wanted to relieve the pusillanimous among you and encourage those who may be reasoning thus: “Well, if it was such a difficult task for Luther to acquire this art, I shall be much less capable of acquiring it.”

…Chrysostom, you remember, was a great scholar and an excellent orator. His original name was John, but because of his oratorical gifts he was called “the Golden-mouthed” (“Chrysostom”). He seemed to have the gift to do with his audience anything he pleased. He was equally able to make them glad or sad, to exult or to wail, weep, and sob, according to his pleasure. And yet the good man, upon the whole, accomplished little because he was poor in distinguishing the Law from the Gospel, habitually mingling the one doctrine with the other.

Andrew Osiander furnishes another instance. He was a scholar with a keen intellect and an orator without a peer. At first he divided Law and Gospel in a very excellent manner. The draft which he sketched for the Augsburg Confession shows this. That was his status as long as he was pleased to be Luther’s pupil. However, he became proud of his splendid gifts and great knowledge, and at length was utterly blinded in his judgment of himself. The consequence was that he got to commingle Law and Gospel in the most horrible fashion. He taught that a person becomes righteous in the sight of God, not by the righteousness which Christ, by His bitter suffering and death, has acquired for him, but by the indwelling of Christ with His essential divine righteousness in a person. Ah, do heed these warning examples!

…Ministers who may be classed among the poorest intellectually not infrequently are found to be the best preachers. There is no doubt that in the past ages many a simple poor presbyter of no renown, in a small rural parish, divided Law and Gospel better than Chrysostom, the great orator in the metropolis of Constantinople, better than the philosophically trained Clement of Alexandria, better than that universal scholar Origen.

We observe the same phenomenon at the time of the Reformation. A simple parson like Cordatus, the intimate friend of Luther, unquestionably divided Law and Gospel a thousand times better than Melanchthon, called Preceptor of All Germany. This view will not be altered by the fact that Melanchthon tried to ridicule Cordatus by calling him Quadratus, a clumsy quadruped, because he had unmasked Melanchthon when the latter had begun to err in the doctrine regarding man’s free will.

…Luther treated learned men with great respect. He called Erasmus a valuable man because he had caused the study of the languages to flourish; but he did not call him a doctor of Holy Writ. Why not? Because this one art Erasmus did not understand. A person may be most highly gifted and may have been trained fifty years for the sacred office of the ministry, and still he will not properly distinguish between the Law and the Gospel if he has not received the Holy Spirit. Here is where the theologian meets his Scylla and Charybdis. In either direction he can lead souls to perdition and become guilty of a grievous offense to poor Christians.

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22 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. Zrim says:

    So it will turn the philosopher’s and orator’s faces to alabaster when they find that law and gospel are their master?

  2. RubeRad says:

    Z, neither you nor I are a poet.

    So if somebody suggests you quit your day job, don’t doet.

  3. RubeRad says:

    However, you should take every opportunity to use the word “pusillanimous”

  4. Pooka says:

    That hurts my eyes. I can’t quit glaring at the doet.

    It’s encouraging, and worth consideration that loquacious, glib, or highly-educated orators are directly contrasted with the “simple parson” or intellectually poor.

    And a poet ain’t gonna get too far preaching, I suspect.

  5. RubeRad says:

    Haha, I totally forgot that we have an actual poet (or at least somebody who writes poetry) as a reader! That “poet/doet” rhyme was a conscious hat-tip to Ogden Nash, (who is probably more of a doggerelist than a poet). Nash did that kind of thing all the time. See for instance “Belinda/winda” in one of my favorites, The Tale of Custard the Dragon, or the final punchline rhyme of Curl Up and Diet.

  6. Pooka says:

    HAHA! That’s funny now! And my head is reeling.

  7. John Yeazel says:

    I enjoyed the story of Cordatus and Melanchthon. I have never heard of Cordatus. I would like to have seen Luther’s reaction to Cordatus when he put the highly intelligent Melanchthon in his place about free will and Melanchthon’s tendency to mingle the Law and the Gospel. Of course Calvinists are never prone to mingle Law and Gospel. I wonder about Melanchthon’s reaction too. And, I suppose, one wonders if the story is really true.

    I’m not sure how the illumination by the Holy Spirit works in regards to the Law and the Gospel. It still seems it takes a lot of mental effort to get good at distinguishing the Law and Gospel. What is the difference between illumination and mental effort, and hard work in this regard?

  8. John Yeazel says:

    Illumination seems to be a bit doggerel and pusillanimous to me.

  9. John Yeazel says:

    “Andrew Osiander furnishes another instance. He was a scholar with a keen intellect and an orator without a peer. At first he divided Law and Gospel in a very excellent manner. The draft which he sketched for the Augsburg Confession shows this. That was his status as long as he was pleased to be Luther’s pupil. However, he became proud of his splendid gifts and great knowledge, and at length was utterly blinded in his judgment of himself. The consequence was that he got to commingle Law and Gospel in the most horrible fashion. He taught that a person becomes righteous in th sight of God, not by the righteousness which Christ, by His bitter suffering and death, has acquired for him, but by the indwelling of Christ with His essential divine righteousness in a person. Ah, do heed these warning examples!”

    I’m not sure what Osiander was teaching here- is this similar to the union priority debate going on these days? It is not real clear what Walther is getting at in that statement. I think he is stating that we actually become righteous within ourselves rather than trusting Christ to fulfill that for us. There is a lot of teaching like this going on these days.

  10. RubeRad says:

    I’ve heard from the Table Talk Radio LCMS guys that Melancthon “went off the rails”, I’ve been curious what that was all about. Is that just their sour grapes that he went Calvinist? Or did he head off in some direction that Calvinists and Lutherans would both agree is crazy?

  11. RubeRad says:

    Yah, I don’t know either. I don’t have that kind of church history under my belt.

  12. John Yeazel says:

    I did find out more about the Osiander error but do not have time right now to expand on it. If anyone is interested I will explain what I found out; if not, I guess I won’t.

    I think there is an answer to when illumination is necessary and when we have to expend mental effort and hard work to understand the scriptures. I have found that can be confusing at times. So, when is illumination (by the Holy Spirit) necessary in our understanding of the scriptures?

  13. John Yeazel says:

    In an often debated issue at Old life- does the Holy Spirit’s illumination raise someone’s IQ?

  14. todd says:

    In an often debated issue at Old life- does the Holy Spirit’s illumination raise someone’s IQ?

    John,

    Only during your quiet times.

  15. John Yeazel says:

    Thanks Todd for enlightening me!!

  16. John Yeazel says:

    I hope my comments were taken in jest- I was being ridiculous on purpose.

  17. RubeRad says:

    You mean illuminating you?

  18. RubeRad says:

    Did you find an especially useful link?

  19. John Yeazel says:

    I find one of the more interesting things about reading church history is the dynamics involved in how the leadership of any “movement,” reformation, or whatever you want to call it, tend to divide from one another and then trying to determine who is one who “went off the rails” and why they did so. Was it merely an ego thing, a real (not perceived) doctrinal error, or some other factors?

    Luther and Melanchthon seem to have had a rather complex relationship with one another. From what I have read Luther was a faithful friend to Melanchthon until Luthers death and Melanchthon did have some problems with Luther’s doctrine which manifested itself more severly after Luther’s death when Melanchthon was forced into a leadership role he might not have been suited for. He divided the Lutheran ranks and might have caused some of the more severe doctrinal differences between the Lutherans and Calvinists. That would be an interesting topic to do some research on. Melanchthon may have been the one who caused a lot of distrust between Lutherans and Calvinists. It seems he was looked upon as one who betrayed Luther who was so faithful a friend to him his whole life. I’m sure there was a lot more involved which I get bits and pieces of during my haphazard and unorganized reading of the issues between the two groups.

  20. John Yeazel says:

    Here is link found in the Book of Concord under the section “Controversies and the Formula of Concord: http://www.bookofconcord.org/historical-16.php

  21. RubeRad says:

    Very interesting, thanks!

    For one thing, it’s good that I now know that Osiander was not an early father. Sometimes those latinish names trip me up (Tertullian vs. Turretin, Origen vs. Osiander vs. Olevianus, vs. Oeceloclampadius, …)

    But interesting historical info as well; after that lion/fox/hare statement (assuming he really said that), I can see why he would be hated. That sounds as villanous as any Disney movie bad guy.

  22. John Yeazel says:

    “That sounds as villanous as any Disney movie bad guy.”

    That’s pretty bad Rube but I think I could think of much worse (ha, ha). I thought that little essay on Osiander was interesting too. It would steer me away from any kind of union doctrine- especially if it ate up justification priority. I thought the section on the image of God was revealing and interesting too.

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