books, C. F. W. Walther, Law, Lutheranism, preaching, theology
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,
- 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.
- The contents of the Law and Gospel are different. The Law demands…the Gospel takes nothing but only gives.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
I have to wonder if “the Devil keeping someone in bondage” is keeping them in indifference about their sin, or a sign of double-mindedness about the person where they are torn between choosing between two masters.
It probably does. My point in highlighting that statement was to demonstrate that by that criterion, no one is EVER the proper object in which the Gospel works. I agree that the Devil generally seems to keep people tied up as it were by either blinding them to their own sin or by causing double-mindedness. So I’m tracking with you…I just find his statement inconsistent, given his stated theology elsewhere.
Dawn K said:
Yeah, I find that statement somewhat puzzling too. I have the book now but haven’t started reading it yet. I *have* heard from various Lutherans that Walther came from a semi-Pietistic background so that might explain some of the inconsistencies.
Yeah, I have heard the same things. He, by and large, does a marvelous job of overcoming his pietism, but I think it does show through every now and again. I’d be interested to read any reflections you have along the way since you (as a Lutheran) will probably focus on different things Walther says than I do (as a Calvinist). 😀