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Part 8 of a series discussing C. F. W. Walther’s important treatise Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.

So far, we’ve enumerated five differences between law and gospel.  They are,

  1. Law and Gospel differ as to how they were revealed to us.  The Law was written on our hearts and can indeed be found in other religions, but Christianity is the sole steward of the Gospel.
  2. The contents of the Law and Gospel are different.  The Law demands…the Gospel takes nothing but only gives.
  3. The Law and Gospel give us different promises.  The Law offers us salvation, but doesn’t give us any means to lay hold of it.  The Gospel tells us that Someone has laid hold of that salvation in our place.
  4. The Gospel does not threaten us; indeed it removes the believer’s desire to sin.  The Law, on the other hand, is nothing but threats.
  5. The effects of the Law are threefold.
    • The Law tells us what to do, but gives us no way to carry that out, instead prompting us in an unwillingness to keep the Law.
    • The Law uncovers a person’s sins, but offers the sinner no help to free himself from sin and hurls him into despair.
    • The Law creates feelings of contrition by showing terrors of hell, death and the wrath of God, but it never offers one drop of comfort to that sinner.  If the Law is the only teaching applied to people, then they must all despair, die and perish in their sins.
  • The effects of the Gospel are threefold.
    • What the Gospel demands (namely, faith), it provides.
    • The Gospel does not rebuke sinners.  Instead, it takes all terror away from them, filling them with peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
    • “The Gospel,” as Walther says, “does not require people to furnish anything good–neither a good heart nor a good disposition nor an improvement of their condition, neither piousness nor love–whether toward God of men.  The Gospel issues no orders. Rather, it changes people.  It demands nothing, but gives all.”

The sixth and final difference between Law and Gospel relates to the persons to whom each must be preached.  The Law must be preached to secure sinners and the Gospel to those who are alarmed in their sin.

So...who's gonna get what?

This post has looked more like a college syllabus up to this point, so let me see if I can’t make this a little less dry.  If a man in a congregation goes about his daily life in sin, namely treating his wife with mild contempt…he isn’t beating her, but he tears her down from time to time in conversations with his coworkers and workout buddy…if he feels no conviction, the Law must be preached to him.

If another man comes to church who has done the same thing and yet sees his sin against his wife and feels the conviction of God’s law, this man is to hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven,” which is itself a statement of the Gospel.  Walther comments,

As long as people are at ease in their sins, as long as they are unwilling to quit some particular sin–in this situation you must preach only the Law, which curses and condemns them.  However, the moment they are frightened about their condition, administer the Gospel to them promptly for from that moment on they can no longer be classified as secure sinners.

So far, I’m tracking with Walther.  Then he says something curious:

Conversely, as long as the devil still keeps you in bondage with even one individual sin, you are not yet a proper object upon which the Gospel can operate.  In this situation, as pastors, you should preach only the Law to such a person.

This seems to be a passing point in Walther, but I think it uncovers the first bit of difference between my theology and his.  Each one of us is a sinner until the day we die and we may never have “victory” over a specific sin. But my righteousness, as Luther (and Walther) teach elsewhere, is never my own…it is forever alien.

To be continued.