The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.
I offer two testimonies to show that the papists are doing what the thesis charges. Two months before Luther’s death, as you know, the Council of Trent was opened. It was to heal the mortal wounds that had been dealt the Papacy by the Reformation of Luther and rebuild the Papacy.
In its fourth session, in a preamble to a decree, the Council says: “The most holy, ecumenical, and universal Council of Trent, lawfully convened in the Holy Spirit, … always bearing in mind to remove errors and to preserve in the Church the purity of the Gospel, viz., that which was first promised by the holy prophets in their writings, then preached with His own mouth by the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and then commanded to be preached to all creatures by His apostles, both as the source of all saving truth and a moral norm,” etc.
This preamble does not sound so awful. We hear this vermin of antichristian iniquity speaking of the Gospel as containing the doctrines of salvation. However, they add immediately that the Gospel also prescribes morals. That is the interpretation they put on the intention of Christ when He said: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Mark 16:15. They evidently do not intend to accept the Gospel in the true sense of the word. In the meaning in which they understand it, it is, at best, a law such as Moses proclaimed. Nor do they urge upon people only the commandments of God, but much more the commandments of the Church. They do not trouble a person who has transgressed the commandments of God; but if any one transgresses the commandments of their Church, for instance, if he has eaten meat on Friday, he is tortured until he acknowledges that he has committed a mortal sin.
In Canon 21, adopted at its sixth session, this synagog of Satan decrees: “If any one says that Christ Jesus has been given by God to men that He should be their Redeemer, in whom they are to trust, and not also their Lawgiver, whom they are to obey, let him be anathema.” This decree overthrows the Christian religion completely. If Christ came into the world to publish new laws to us, we should feel like saying that He might as well have stayed in heaven. Moses had already given us so perfect a Law that we could not fulfil it. Now, if Christ had given us additional laws, that would have had to drive us to despair.
The very term Gospel contradicts this view of the papists. We know that Christ Himself has called His Word Gospel; for He saysi n Mark 16:15: “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” In order that the meaning which He connected with the word Gospel might be understood, He states the contents of the Gospel in these concrete terms: “He that believeth and is baptized,” etc. If the teaching of Christ were a law, it would not be an euangelion, a glad tiding, but a sad tiding.