Part 5 of a series discussing C. F. W. Walther’s important treatise Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.
There is a marked difference between the Law and the Gospel in the aspect of threats: namely, that the Law is nothing but threats and that the Gospel contains no threats of any kind. The Gospel contains only words of consolation: “Your sins are forgiven,” “Christ came to save sinners of whom I am the foremost,” and so on. Should you come across a passage with a threat in Scripture, you can be sure it’s Law.
Let’s not make the mistake of assuming that the Gospel makes people secure just because it does not have threats to hurl at them. No, the Gospel removes believers’ desire to sin. Walther uses 1 Timothy 1:15 to reinforce the idea that sinners are not threatened but hear only the sweet promise of the Gospel: the forgiveness of sins.
The Law, on the other hand, gives only threats. In the theological tradition in which I was reared, there was an emphasis on blue-law righteousness…not drinking, not having premarital sex, etc. I did ok on all of those counts…didn’t even smoke. I imagined I was keeping God’s law. Says Wather, “Only people engulfed by hellish darkness can believe they have a grip on the Law.”
Jesus, on the other hand, came to keep the Law and to do so entirely–since that is indeed the only way it can be truly kept. While reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was saying “I have not come to bring a new Law, but to proclaim the Gospel.”
It is fashionable in our day to discount the study of right doctrine. Far from being spiritual, this is a gross error if not outright apostasy from what we’re exhorted to do as God’s people. The Bereans searched the scriptures and the disciples asked for the interpretation of parables. The Apology to the Augsburg Confession says,
Men of good conscience are crying for the truth and proper instruction from the Word of God. Even death is not as bitter to them as when they find themselves in doubt regarding this matter or that. Accordingly, they must seek where they can find instruction.
Walther then continues, in the same vein:
Striving to obtain truth and divine assurance is a necessary requirement even of an ordinary Christian. However, with a theologian this is even more so the case. A theologian who does not have the greatest interest in Christian doctrines would be unthinkable.
Unfortunately, Dr. Walther, we have found ourselves in exactly this state today. Any number of apostate churches (mainline, evangelical, conservative, liberal) have people from the highest positions to the lowly bench-warmers who are theologians and have no interest in Christian doctrine whatsoever. Instead, their preoccupation with their own inner machinations help them to sell books and lead others astray.
I have within the last year heard everything from Christianity being a sail which catches the wind of the Spirit just as any other religion, though perhaps it catches the Spirit in a more efficient way…to an acceptable sacrifice before God being what we bring Him…relying on our own works before a holy God. False Gospels both, because neither take into account the Scriptural testimony about itself and the person and work of Christ.
Gentlemen, preach the Word. Rightly divide it. The health of your congregation is not measured by whether or not it grows or how many make decisions for Jesus. The health of your church is measured by whether or not you’re preaching Christ and Him crucified.