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