The final lecture, number 39.
Let us take up the final thesis in this series, which treats of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel and of the confounding of these two doctrines. In studying this thesis, we shall ponder the chief and primary requisite of a true teacher of the Christian religion.
In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.
It is an exceedingly important subject that we are taking up in this our concluding study. For we are told in this thesis that Law and Gospel are confounded and perverted for the hearers of the Word, not only when the Law predominates in the preaching, but also when Law and Gospel, as a rule, are equally balanced and the gospel is not predominant in the preaching. In view of the precious character of this subject I am seized with fear lest I spoil it by my manner of presentation. The longer I have meditated this subject, the more inadequate does the expression that I can give it; so precious is this matter.
2 Cor 3, 5–6 Paul writes: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God, who also hath made us able ministers of the New Testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.The apostle speaks of this apostolic activity. Preachers of this Christian era must bear in mind that they are preachers, not of the Old Covenant, but of the New. That is the reason why the apostle refers to the letter, that is, the Law, which kills, and to the spirit, this is, the Gospel, which gives life. A New Testament preacher as such has to preach nothing less than the Gospel. He is really discharging an alien function when he preaches the law. It is due to the horrible blindness that papists assert that in the Scriptures two doctrines must be distinguished, the old Law and the evangelical law. The latter term is self-contradiction. How can there be glad tidings in a law? Add to this that the Antichrist goes so far as to contend that the evangelical law is the more grievous of the two: for the Mosaic Law had been satisfied with external obedience, while the evangelical law lays its injunctions on men’s innermost heart.
1 Cor 2, 2 Paul writes: For I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is remarkable that during his sojourn at Corinth, Paul was day and night wrestling with the problem how to bring Christ into people’s heart and how to lay a solid foundation for their faith in Christ and their joy in Him. Jesus Christ was the marrow and substance of all his preaching, the golden thread that ran though all his sermons. He wrote this fact down for our benefit. When saying farewell to our congregations, we can do so with a good conscience only if we can repeat the statement of Paul that has just been cited. Woe to the preacher that preaches other things! Woe to him if, in order to make men godly, he has preached the law because he imagined that the pure, unadulterated grace of God would not save men. If he has done that, he has been an unfaithful servant.
2 Cor 1, 24 we read: Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy; for by faith ye stand. This is a fine text for your initial sermon. Remember this word of the apostle well: when you become ministers, you become helpers of the Christians’ joy. Do not become ministers who vex and torture the people, filling them with uncertainty and causing them to go home from church heavy-hearted. Write your sermons so that you can say: “If anyone hears this sermon and is not converted, it is his own fault if he goes home from church unconverted and hardened.” Do not worry when you hear fanatics say that you are not truly converted, otherwise you would come down on your people with the Law much more forcefully and that you are preaching your people into hell, etc. Let fanatics say about you what they please. You may rest assured that your method is the correct one because you are to be helpers of joy to Christians; you are not to put them on the rack of the Law. The longer you preach to your people after this method, the more they will praise God for having given them such a pastor. You may believe me when I say that in the entire course of history of the Church there will be found few communions that have such achievements to show as our Synod spite of its weaknesses and defects. That is not due to our prudence, our hard work our self-denial. The true reason is that we have really preached the genuine Gospel to the people.