Bible class outline discussion sheets on
THE PROPER DISTINCTION BETWEEN LAW AND GOSPEL
Trinity Lutheran Church, Fisher, Minnesota -- September 1982
Compiled and edited by Pastor James Meichsner.
All material taken from
THE PROPER DISTINCTION BETWEEN LAW AND GOSPEL by Dr. C.F.W. Walther
GOD'S NO AND GOD'S YES, The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel by C.F.W. Walther Condensed by Walter C. Pieper
The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.
A. False points of difference between the Law and the Gospel are:
B. True points of difference between the Law and the Gospel are:
1. Regarding the manner of how they were Revealed to man;
Rom. 2:14-15; Rom. 16:25-26
2. Regarding their Contents;
What we are to do - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Says what God is doing
3. Regarding the Promises held out by either doctrine;
Both promise salvation. However the promise of the Law is conditional - perfection. Lev. 18:5.
The promise of the Gospel is unconditional - free grace, Rom. 3:22-24.
4. Regarding their Threatenings;
The Gospel contains no threats at all, but only words of consolation, 1 Tim. 1:15, but this does not mean the Gospel makes men secure because it has no threats to hurl at them. On the contrary, the Gospel removes from believers the desire to sin. On the other hand, the Law is nothing but threats; Deut. 27:26.
5. Regarding the Function and the Effect of either doctrine;
The effect of preaching the Law is threefold.
In the first place it tells us what to do, but does not enable us to do it.
In the second place it uncovers our sins, but offers no help to get out of them, and thus hurls man into despair.
In the third place the Law produces contrition, but it has not one drop of comfort.
(Rom. 7:7-9, Matt. 19:22)
The effects of preaching the Gospel are also threefold.
First - the Gospel, when demanding faith, offers and gives faith in that very demand. (Rom 1:16)
Second - the Gospel does not at all reprove the sinner, but takes all terror, fear, anguish from him and fills him with peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, (Acts 16:25-31),
Third - the Gospel does not require anything good that man must furnish, (Eph. 2:8-10)
6. Regarding the Persons to whom either one or the other doctrine must be preached.
Law to be preached to secure sinners; Gospel to alarmed sinners, 1 Tim. 1:8-10 and Is. 61:1-3.
C. Some practical aspects
Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.
A. This thesis divides into two parts. The first part states a requisite of an orthodox teacher, that he must present all the articles of faith in accordance with Scripture.
B. Only he is an orthodox teacher who, in addition to other requirements, rightly distinguishes Law and Gospel from each other. That is the final test of a proper sermon.
Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.
It is easy—easy enough for children to learn. Every child can comprehend this doctrine. It is contained in every catechism. It is not strong meat, but milk. You know the doctrine. But at present we are studying the application and the use of this doctrine.
A. In the first place, the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a difficult art to the minister in so far as he is a Christian. Ps. 51:10-11, Luke 5:8; 1 John 3:19-20.
B. We now consider that also for theologians as such the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is the highest and most difficult art; and that everything else that a theologian must know is of less value than this art. 2 Tim. 2:15; Luke 12:42-44; 2 Cor. 3:4-6.
The true knowledge of the distinction between Law and Gospel, is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book. .
The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one more easily recognized-—and the grossest. It is 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, anathematized, as is done by the papists.
In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness; when, on the contrary, Gospel elements are mingled with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.
In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.
A wrong division of the Word of God occurs when the various doctrines are not presented in their proper order.
In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.
A. To the brokenhearted not a syllable containing a threat or a rebuke is to be addressed, but only promises conveying consolation and grace, forgiveness of sin and righteousness, life and salvation.
1. That was the practice of our Lord. Luke 7:37. He treated Zacchaeus the same way. The parable of the Prodigal Son is another illustration. This was Jesus’ attitude even on the Cross.
2. The practice of the apostles was identical with that of the Lord. Recall the incident of the jailer at Philippi.
B. The second part of the thesis tells us that the Word of God is not rightly divided if the Gospel is preached to such as live securely in their sins.
1. Matt. 7:6 - What is meant by "what is holy"? What is meant by "pearls"?
2. Is. 26:10 - It is quite useless to offer mercy to the godless.
3. Whenever Jesus met with secure sinners - and such the self-righteous Pharisees in those days certainly were - he had not a drop of comfort for them. Also example of rich young man who approached Jesus.
4. The apostles observed the same practice as their Lord. They first preached the Law. Example of Peter's Pentecostal sermon. He first fastened the murder of Christ upon his hearers, and that charge went home.
5. We have here an excellent example for a preacher (teacher) to follow. When people begin to engage in all manner of sinful practices with impunity and imagine that everybody will have to regard them as good Christians provided they attend church and go to Communion, the pastor must say to himself: "It is time that I lay down the Law to my people, lest I live in careless ease while my hearers are going to perdition and lest they rise up to accuse me on the Last Day and say: 'You are the cause why we have to suffer eternal torment."
In the fifth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when they are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.
A. In order to obtain a divine assurance regarding the proper way of rightly dividing the Word, so as to meet the errors named in our thesis, let us examine a few pertinent examples in Scripture.
2. Acts 16:26-27, 30. "Men, what must I do to be saved?" If the apostles had been fanatics, they would have said to him: "My dear friend, this is no easy matter. Before a godless, reckless man like you can be saved, an elaborate and extensive cure is necessary, which we shall prescribe to you." Not a word of this. They tell him unqualifiedly: "Believe in the Lord Jesus."
3. Acts 22:14-16. Ananias does not say to Paul: "First you must pray until you have a sensation of inward grace." No, he tells him: Having come to a knowledge of the Lord Jesus, your first step must be to receive Baptism for the washing away of your sins. And then call upon the Lord Jesus.
4. The method of the sects is the very contrary of this. They frequently preach excellent sermons on the Law with its awful threatenings; only they do not bring out its spiritual meaning. They do not reduce their hearers to the condition where they profess themselves poor, lost, and condemned sinners. Instead they put them in a state of mind which makes them say: "Is it not terrible to hear God uttering such awful threatenings on account of sin?"
5. But the incorrect preaching of the Law is not the worst feature of the sects. They do not preach the Gospel to such as are alarmed and in anguish. Instead they give them a long list of efforts that they must make in order, if possible, to be received into grace: i.e. how long they must pray, how strenuously they must fight and wrestle and cry, until they can say that they feel they have received the Holy Ghost and divine grace and can rise from their knees shouting hallelujahs.
This faulty practice is based on three awful errors.
6. No doctrine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is more offensive to the Reformed than the doctrine that the grace of God, the forgiveness of sins, righteousness in the sight of God, and eternal salvation, is obtained in no other way than by the believer's putting his confidence in the written Word, in Baptism, in the Lord's Supper, and in absolution. The Reformed declare that this way of getting into heaven is too mechanical, and on hearing the Lutheran teaching they denounce it.
The Reformed say: "What does baptizing with earthly water profit? The true baptism is baptizing with the Spirit and with fire." Again: "What is the benefit of eating and drinking the natural body and blood of Christ? The true food and drink by which the hunger and thirst of the soul is really stilled is the truth that came down from heaven." Finally, they say: "How can I be helped by a mortal, sinful man, who cannot look into my heart, saying to me: 'Your sins are forgiven you'? No; my sins are not forgiven except when God Himself speaks these words in my heart and makes me feel their force."
7. The Spirit comes to men by means of the Word. A person may imagine that he is full of the Spirit to the bursting point, but it is his own spirit of fanaticism. The true Spirit is obtained only through the Word of God. In every passage of the Holy Scriptures which recounts the conversion of people we see that God wants to deal with men only through the Word and Sacraments.
B. Law and Gospel are grievously commingled by those who assert that assurance of the forgiveness of sins requires praying, struggling, and wrestling until finally a joyful feeling arises in the heart, indicating to the person in a mysterious way that grace is now in his heart and that he can be of good cheer because he has forgiveness of sins.
1. Now, properly speaking, grace is never in man's, but in God's heart. First a person must believe; after that he may feel. Feeling proceeds from faith, not faith from feeling.
2. 1 John 3:19-20: A Christian may feel the accusation of his own heart.
3. John 20:29: The Lord's remarks to Thomas mean that we must first believe and then see and must not desire first to see and then to believe.
4. The sects all have this grievous error in common, that they do not rely solely on Christ and His Word, but chiefly on something that takes place in themselves. As a rule, they imagine that all is well with them because they have turned from their former ways. As if that were a guarantee of reaching heaven! No - we are not to look back to our conversion for assurance, but we must go to our Savior again and again, every day, as though we never had been converted. My former conversion will be of no benefit to me if I become secure. I must return to the mercy seat every day, otherwise I shall make my former conversion my savior, by relying on it. That would be awful; for in the last analysis it would mean that I make myself my savior. (A basic teaching of Reformed theology.)
In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.
A. Luther taught that those who would be saved must have a faith that produces love spontaneously and is fruitful in good works. That does not mean that faith saves on account of the love which springs from it, but that the faith which the Holy Spirit creates and which cannot but do good works justifies because it clings to the gracious promises of Christ and because it lays hold of Christ.
1. Gal. 5:6, The ineffectiveness of a faith that fails to work by love is not due to a lack of love, but to the fact that it is nor real, honest faith.
2. Acts 15:9, A person who claims to have a firm faith which he will never abandon, but who still has an impure heart, must be told that he is in great darkness; for he has no faith at all.
3. John 5:44, An awful verdict is pronounced in these words by the Savior on those who seek honor from men; they have no faith.
4. James 2:1, Preferring the rich, because of their wealth, to the poor means respecting people's person, and that is something which faith will not tolerate.
B. The second part of the tenth thesis states that the Word of God, the Law and Gospel, is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if it makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and a reformation of his mode of living.
1. The renewal of heart, love, and the good works which faith produces are not the justifying and saving element in a person's faith.
2. Rom. 4:16, The very reason why we teach righteousness by faith is because we teach that a person is justified in the sight of God and saved by grace.
3. Phil. 3:8-9, The apostle declares that he is righteous; however, the righteousness which he has obtained by faith is not at all his own righteousness, but the righteousness of Christ.
4. Rom. 4:5, Anyone possessing genuine faith acknowledges that he has been godless and that a divine miracle of grace was performed on him the moment he believed in his Savior.
5. Eph. 2:8-9, This sounds as if the apostle felt that he was not saying enough to keep men from being led astray into self-righteousness.
6. Rom. 11:6, The apostle tries to make the element of grace quite plain. He invites his readers to reflect that, when they admit that their salvation is "by grace," it cannot be by merit, for that would destroy the idea of grace.
7. That is why Luther says that the Christian religion is, in a word, a religion of gratitude. The real good works, therefore, are works to which gratitude toward God prompts us, and not to gain merit by our service.
In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.
A. This thesis describes the methodology of the Roman Catholic Church, fanatics and Pietists within the so-called Protestant Church. They teach:
B. The Biblical/Lutheran teaching plainly teaches:
C. Godly sorrow (genuine contrition)
"For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death." 2 Cor. 7:10.
D. Worldly sorrow
In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.
1. Contrition is an effect solely of the Law. To regard contrition as a cause of the forgiveness of sins is equivalent to turning the Law into a message of grace and the Gospel into Law - a perversion which overthrows the entire Christian religion.
2. Contrition is not even a good work. For the contrition which precedes faith is nothing is nothing but suffering on the part of man. It consists of anguish, pain, torment, a feeling of being crushed; all of which God has wrought in man with the hammer of the Law. It is not an anguish which a person has produced in himself, for he would gladly be rid of it, but cannot, because God has come down on him with the Law, and he sees no way of escape from the ordeal. If a person sits down to meditate with a view to producing contrition in himself, he will never gain his object that way. He cannot produce contrition. Genuine repentance is produced by God only when the Law is preached in all sternness and man does not willfully resist its influence.
3. One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fail to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith. Daily repentance is described in Ps. 51. David calls it a sacrifice which he brings before God and with which God is pleased.
In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help toward that end, instead of preaching faith into a person's heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.
The error against which this thesis is directed is that man can produce faith in himself. Such a demand would be an order of the Law and turn faith into a work of man. That would plainly be mingling Law and Gospel. A preacher must be able to preach a sermon on faith without ever using the term faith. It is not important that he din the word faith into the ears of his audience, but it is necessary for him to frame his address so as to arouse in every poor sinner the desire to lay the burden of his sins at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ and say to Him: "You are mine, and I am Yours."
In the tenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.
What God's Word really means when it says that man is justified and saved by faith alone is nothing else than this: Man is not saved by his own acts, but solely by the doing and dying of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the whole world. Over against this teaching modern theologians assert that in the salvation of man two kinds of activity must be noted: in the first place, there is something that God must do. His part is the most difficult, for He must accomplish the task of redeeming men.
But in the second place, something is required that man must do. For it will not do to admit persons to heaven, after they have been redeemed, without further parley. Man must do something really great--he has to believe. This teaching overthrows the Gospel completely, (basically Reformed theology)
Rom. 3:24 - We are justified gratuitously without anything being required of us.
Acts 4:12 - In view of this statement you must regard it as an awful perversion of the Gospel to treat
the command to believe as a condition of man's justification and salvation.
In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance.
In the Holy Scriptures the term "repentance" is used in a wide and in a narrow sense.
A. In the wide sense it signifies conversion viewed in its entirety, embracing knowledge of sin, contrition, and faith. Acts 2:38.
B. "Repentance" is used in a narrow sense to signify the knowledge of sin and heartfelt sorrow and contrition. Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21.
C. There is a similar usage as regards the term "Gospel"; sometimes it is used in a wide, then again in a narrow meaning. The narrow meaning is its proper sense; in its wide meaning it is used merely by way of synecdoche (a part is put for the whole), signifying anything that Jesus preached, for instance, the Sermon on the Mount. (Basically the Sermon on the Mount is Law – telling Christians how to live.)
Rom. 2:16, (Gospel in its wide sense)
Rom. 1:16, (Gospel in its narrow sense)
D. It is not only extremely dangerous, but actually harmful to the souls of men for a minister to preach in such a manner as to lead men to believe that he regards the Gospel in its narrow and proper sense as a preaching of the Law and of the anger of God against sinners, calling them to repentance.
In the twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practices.
A. The great importance of this thesis becomes apparent when you reflect that a worse commingling of Law and Gospel than that which is censured in this thesis is not possible. Woe to the minister who leads his hearers to imagine that they are good Christians if they stopped stealing, gossiping, etc.
B. The essence of Reformed theology is to teach men that they become different beings by putting away their vices and leading a virtuous life; while the Word of God teaches us that we must become different men first, and then we shall put away our particular sins and begin to exercise ourselves in good works.
C The correct teaching of "repentance" is the meaning: "change your mind." A change of the innermost self must take place. What the Lord requires is a new mind, a new heart, and a new spirit; not quitting vice and doing good works. John 3:3, we must become spiritual before spiritual fruits show in our life.
Matt. 12:33 - Unless we have been born anew, all our doings will be corrupt.
Matt. 15:13 - Only those works which God has wrought are good.
1 Cor. 13:3 -What is all-important are not the works themselves, but the love from which they proceed.
In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it; that does not fit all believers at all times.
A. You must be very careful not to say, "Anyone who does this or that is not a Christian," unless he is quite sure of his ground. Frequently a Christian may act in a very unchristian manner.
Rom. 7:18 - Describes a Christian as a double being. (A sinner and saint at the same time.)
Phil. 3:12 - In this life we follow after, but we do not apprehend.
Gal. 5:17 - We have no right to denounce a person as an unchristian because he is not doing all that he should, as long as the person maintains that he does not will his imperfections.
James 3:2 - A Christian sins not only in thoughts, desires, gestures, and words, but also in his actions.
Heb. 12:1 - A Christian is always putting away sin, which besets him always.
B. It cannot be said to be a criterion of a Christian that he never commits a gross sin.
C. Many times the Christian is pictured as a person who does not fear death. That is a serious misrepresentation.
D. Again, it is incorrect and false to picture the Christian as being always fervent in prayer, and as if praying was his most cherished occupation.
E. Christians are even tempted with the desire to grow rich.
F. In judging any person, it is of decisive importance to know whether he loves the Word of God and his Savior, or whether he is hardened and leads a shameful life.
In the fourteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins, and are sinning purposely.
A. When referring to a Christian congregation we have to be very careful not to speak as if also all Christians were living in shame and vice. It was a harmful and dangerous attempt on the part of the Pietists (Reformed) to divide mankind into so many classes that nobody was able to tell in which class he belonged, (i.e. "born again" Christian; "committed" Christian, etc.)
There are only two classifications in Scripture: godly and ungodly, believers and unbelievers.
Mark 16:16; Matt. 5:45; 9:13; 13:38.
B. There are but two goals at the end of this life - heaven and hell. There will be only two sentences - damnation or eternal life. Accordingly, there are only two classes of people in the present life. To confound these two classes of people is an abominable mingling of Law and Gospel.
1. Rom. 6:14; Sin will not be able to dominate Christians.
2. 1 Cor. 6:7-11; No one then, who falls into the aforementioned sins and fails to repent of them shall inherit the kingdom of God.
3. 2 Peter 2:20-22; Here the apostle speaks of persons who had been in a state of grace.
4. Rom. 8:13-14; Those not led by the Spirit of God, but by their flesh, are servants of Satan.
In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if they are not of a damnable, but of a venial nature.
A. A distinction must be made between mortal and venial sins.
Mortal sins are sins which expel the Holy Ghost and bring on spiritual death.
Venial sins are those a Christian commits without forfeiting the indwelling of the Holy Ghost,
i.e. sins of weakness or rashness; frequently called the daily sins of the Christians.
B. It happens only too often that the impression is created that Christians do not have to worry about venial sins.
Matt. 5:18-19, it is bad enough when a person for his own part disregards some law and leads a careless life; but it is much worse when he teaches his lax views and leads men to perdition.
Matt. 12:36, we are here shown how abominable it is to speak of venial sins in a way that God does not regard them as great evil.
James 2:10, if a person had kept 999 out of 1,000 commandments, he would be guilty of the whole law. This applies to every one of the so-called venial sins.
1 John 1:7, "from all sin," therefore Christ's blood was required also for canceling the so-called venial sins. Therefore venial sin in themselves must also be mortal sins.
In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person's salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith.
A. It seems strange that men should have hit upon the erroneous doctrine that the visible Lutheran Church is the church outside of which there is no salvation.
1. Jesus says Matt.16:18.
2. Eph. 2:19-22: No one is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets who does not believingly cling to their word.
3. Again, Christ is called the Head of the church. Hence only he can be a member of the church into whom there flows from Christ, the Head; light, life, strength, and grace.
4. The apostle Paul calls the church the body of Christ. The point of comparison is that, instead of being composed of many dead instruments, the church is a vital organism of members in whom one faith and one energy of faith is pulsating.
5. Again, Christ calls the church His flock. Hence no one is a member of the church who does not belong to the flock of Christ.
B. The worst feature of the erroneous doctrine referred to in section A above is undeniably this: Making a person's salvation depend on this membership in, and communion with, the visible orthodox church means to overthrow the doctrine of justification by faith.
1. Anyone who believes in Jesus Christ and is a member of His spiritual body is a member of the church. This church, moreover, is never divided;although its members are separated from one another by space and time, the church is ever one. (The Holy Christian Church - The Communion of Saints)
2. The Lutheran Church too, as a visible community, is called a "church" in a sense, (synecdoche - a part for the whole, or the whole for a part, i.e. 50 head of cattle)
Therefore it is an awful mistake to claim that men can only be saved in the Lutheran Church.
3. We have this promise in Is. 55:11...
Wherever the Word of God is proclaimed and confessed or even recited during the service, the Lord is gathering a people for Himself.
C. "However, I belong to the Lutheran Church for the sole reason that I want to side with the truth. I quit the church to which I belong when I find that it harbors errors with which I do not wish to be contaminated." Dr. C. F. W. Walther
1. For Jesus says. Matt. 10:32-33,
2. Paul writes, 2 Tim. 1:8...
3. But it is true, and the reason is that we are saved by faith, which some members of the sectarian churches may have. However, if I perceive the error of my heretical community and do not forsake it, I shall be lost because, though seeing the error, I would not abandon it,
4. The Lutheran Church is the true visible church only in this sense, that it has the pure, unadulterated truth. When you add the qualification "alone-saving," you detract from the justification by grace through faith in Jesus and confound Law and Gospel.
In the seventeenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act.
A. The grave error which is scored by this thesis is held by the papists, who teach men that they will derive some benefit by merely submitting to the act of being baptized, despite the fact that they are still unbelievers, provided they are not actually living in mortal sins. That mere act is said to bring them God's favor or make God gracious to them. They teach the same regarding the Mass and the Lord's Supper, i.e., that grace is obtained by the mere act of attending these rites.
1. Rom. 3:28: If I am justified, if I obtain grace by my act of submitting to baptizing or by my act of going to Communion, I am justified by works.
2. The truth is that Baptism and Holy Communion place any person under condemnation who does not approach them with faith in his heart. They are the means of grace only for the reason that a divine promise has been attached to an external symbol. It is of paramount importance that I believe, that I regard, not the water in Baptism nor the bread and wine in communion, but the promise which Christ has attached to the water and the bread and wine. The mere act of eating the bread with the body of Christ and drinking the wine with the blood of Christ produces no good effect in us. Grace does not operate in a chemical or in a mechanical manner, but only by the Word of God, by virtue of God's saying continually: "Your sins are forgiven you."
B. False teachers admit that preaching, unless it is received by faith, does not benefit the hearers, but rather increases their responsibility. However, they claim, the situation is different as regards the sacraments, since, they say, God operates with His grace through them whenever men merely use them.
1. The idea that God is highly pleased when a person offers his head to have water sprinkled on it is an abominable misuse of the visible Word. As the Word does not benefit a person who does not believe, even so the sacraments help only those who embrace them by faith.
2. Mark 15:16: He does not say, "He who is baptized and believes," but the reverse. Faith is the primary necessity; Baptism is something to which faith holds. Moreover, the Lord continues: "But he who does not believe will be condemned."
3. Acts 8:36-37: The only thing that Philip required was faith.
4. Gal. 3:26-27: Christ is put on in Baptism only if a person believes.
5. At the institution of the Holy Supper the Lord says, "Take eat; this is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me." The chief point of importance is that you believe that this body was given for you and that this blood was shed for the remission of your sins.
As often as you go to Communion have these words shine before your eyes:
"Given for you - Shed for you for the remission of sins." If you fail to do this; if you imagine that by going to Communion you have once more done your duty, and that God will regard your performance, your going to Communion is a damnable act.
6. Many Lutherans determine by the calendar whether it's time for them to go to Communion again, because they imagine going to Communion is a work which a Christian must perform, which he
cannot afford to neglect.
In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person's being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person's INABILITY to believe is mistaken for his not BEING PERMITTED to believe.
A. The so-called Pietists made a false distinction between spiritual awakening and conversion; for they declared that, as regards the way of obtaining salvation, all men must be divided into three classes:
1. Those still unconverted; 2. Those who have been awakened, but are not yet converted;
3. Those who have been converted.
1. You must divide men into only two classes. Passages to show that by awakening Scripture means conversion: Eph. 5:14; 2:4-6; Col. 2:12.
2. However, Pietists object that a person who has not experienced a genuine, thorough contrition in his heart is not yet converted, but merely awakened.
3. As regards the sealing with the Holy Spirit, we read in Eph 1:13, "In Him you also, who have believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit." The sealing presupposes faith, although it may be a very weak faith, a faith that is constantly struggling with anxieties and doubts.
Examples - the first Pentecostal audience; the Ethiopian treasurer; the jailer at Philippi.
4. Prophets and apostles always preached in a manner to terrify their hearers, and as soon as their hearers realized that there was no refuge for them, and cried, "Is there no help for us?" they told them: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and all will be well with you."
5. Fanatics declare that this is not the proper order of conversion. It is not the order of fanatics indeed, but it is God's order.
6. Consider that according to the Scriptures it is not at all difficult to be converted, but to remain in a converted state is difficult.
7. We must only apply to ourselves the Word of God, and we have the first part of repentance. After that, an application of the unqualified Gospel will produce faith in us.
8. But this is immediately followed by an inward conflict. The error of false teachers in regard to this matter is that they place this conflict before conversion.
9. After a person has been converted, he must be told that henceforth he will have to be engaged in daily struggles and must think of making spiritual progress day by day, exercising himself in love, patience, and meekness and wrestling with sin.
10. Where there is a spark of longing for mercy, there is faith; for faith is nothing else than longing for mercy. (An excellent definition of faith.)
B. The so-called Pietists of former times and the preachers of the fanatical sects in our time not only made a false distinction between awakening and conversion and refused to regard those who were awakened as Christians, but they also mistook the inability to believe for not being permitted to believe.
1. The truth is, we are not to be converted first and after that believe; we are not first to have a sensation that we are in possession of grace; but without any feeling we are first to believe that we have received mercy, and after that will come the feeling of mercy, which God apportions to each according to His grace.
2. John 5:44: These words are unquestionably directed chiefly against the Pharisees.
3. 1 John 2:1-2: To tell a person that he may not believe is contrary to the perfect redemption of Christ from all sins and to the perfect reconciliation He has accomplished.
4. 2 Cor. 5:14: Since Christ dies, it is the same as if all men had suffered death for their sins, namely, the death which Christ died.
5. Furthermore, this doctrine is contrary to the Gospel. After finishing the task of redemption and reconciliation, Christ said to His disciples:
"Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation." Mark 16:15.
6. Furthermore, this teaching is contrary to the doctrine of absolution.
7. It is, likewise, great folly to appeal to one's good intention. Pietists and many preachers among the fanatics have reasoned that, to make the conversion of their hearers thorough, they must not allow them to appropriate what does not yet belong to them because it would prove a false comfort to them.
8. We are cheerfully to proclaim the universal grace of God freely and leave it to God whether people will believe it or misapply it.
9. Mistaking inability to believe for not being permitted to believe is contrary to the practice of the apostles. Whenever a person showed the mark of a poor sinner, they told him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ; they never asked him to wait until his condition had more fully developed.
In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made, by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law, to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.
The attempt to make men godly by means of the Law and to induce even those who are already believers in Christ to do good by holding up the Law and issuing commands to them, is a very gross confounding of Law and Gospel. This is altogether contrary to the purpose which the Law is to serve after the Fall.
A. Jer. 31:31-34, While the Law was written into the hearts of men even before the Fall, it did not serve the purpose of making men godly.
1. They (Adam & Eve) simply willed whatever was God-pleasing; their will was in perfect harmony with the will of God.
2. He speaks to them prophetically of a time when He will make an arrangement entirely different.
3. We are by nature carnal, and manifestations of the spirit are not forced from us by the Law.
4. Now, then, what are those doing who make such a perverse use of the Law in the time of the New Testament? They turn Christians into Jews.
5. Rom. 3:20 - The Law has no other purpose than to reveal men's sins, not to remove them.
6. How foolish, then, is a preacher who thinks that conditions in his congregation will improve if he thunders at his people with the Law and paints hell and damnation for them.
7. Gal. 3:2- The Galatians had allowed themselves to be misled into regarding Paul's preaching of salvation by faith, through the grace of Christ alone, as imperfect.
The apostle wants them to tell him whether they had received this new, heavenly peace in their
hearts, this spiritual joy, this exceedingly great confidence, through the false teachers who had dragged them back into bondage under the Law.
8. This confounding of Law and Gospel, in the first place, is done by such as have arrived at the assurance of their state of grace only after much struggling and great anguish.
B. In the second place, this confounding of Law and Gospel occurs when ministers become aware that all their Gospel-preaching is useless because gross sins of the flesh still occur among their hearers.
1. Preachers who have succeeded in abolishing certain evils by the preaching of the Law must not think that they have achieved something great.
2. Let no minister think that he cannot induce the unwilling to do God's will by preaching the Gospel to them and must rather preach the Law.
3. Rather than act the policeman in his congregation, he ought to change the hearts of his members in order that they may without constraint do what is pleasing to God with a cheerful heart.
In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.
Only the Law condemns sin, the Gospel absolves the sinner from all sins without an exception. The prophet writes: "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool" (Is. 1:18). The apostle Paul writes Rom. 5:20: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."
1. Matt. 12:30-32 states to begin with, that all blasphemy against the Father and the Son shall be forgiven; only the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven.
The blasphemy to which our text refers is directed against the office, or operation, of the Holy Ghost; whoever spurns the office of the Holy Spirit, his sin cannot be forgiven. What is the office or work of the Holy Spirit?
2. The person committing this sin "speaks against the Holy Ghost."
3. Mark 3:28-30 is the record of an actual blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
4. To declare a work of the Holy Ghost a work of the devil when one is convinced that it is a work of the Holy Ghost is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.
5. Unless the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, we shall never attain it. Whoever rejects the Holy Spirit is beyond help, even by God.
6. Heb. 6:4-8: It is a characteristic of the sin against the Holy Ghost that the person who has committed it cannot be restored to repentance.
7. 1 John 5:16 contains important information for us, but we cannot act upon it. For we can say of no person before his death that he has committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.
8. The sin is not unpardonable because of its magnitude—for the apostle, as we heard, has distinctly declared: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" - but because the person committing this sin rejects the only means by which he can be brought to repentance, faith, and steadfastness in faith.
9. As regards people who are distressed because they think they have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, they would not feel distressed if they really had committed that sin and were in that awful condition of heart, but they would find their constant delight in blaspheming the Gospel.
10. A person who has committed the sin against the Holy Ghost is condemned not so much on account of this sin as rather on account of his unbelief. Unbelief is the general cause and malicious and constant vilification of the truth the particular cause of his damnation.
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.
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 the Law and Gospel, as a rule, are equally balanced and the Gospel is not predominant in the preaching.
1. Luke 2 14: The heavenly preacher gave us an illustration of how we are to preach and teach.
2. Mark 16:15-16: Christ tells His apostles to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.
3. 1 Cor. 15:3-4: What is the apostle's method of presentation? Why is it that hearers remain sleepy; misers remain stingy; wonderful things are not happening among people?
4. The Gospel should be proclaimed till the hearers' hearts are melted, till they give up their resistance and confess that the Lord has been too strong for them, and from now on they wish to abide with Jesus.
5. The very finest form of confounding Law and Gospel occurs when the Gospel is preached along with the Law, but is not the predominating element. We must feed on the bread of life, which is not the Law, but the Gospel.
Soli Deo Gloria