V - Law and Gospel

As the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a special brilliant light, which serves to the end that God’s Word may be rightly divided, and the Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles may be properly explained and understood, we must guard it with especial care, in order that these two doctrines may not be mingled with one another, or a law be made out of the Gospel, whereby the merit of Christ is obscured and troubled consciences are robbed of their comfort, which they otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and in its purity, and by which they can support themselves in their most grievous trials against the terrors of the Law.

Now, here likewise there has occurred a dissent among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession; for the one side asserted that the Gospel is properly not only a preaching of grace, but at the same time also a preaching of repentance, which rebukes the greatest sin, namely, unbelief. But the other side held and contended that the Gospel is not properly a preaching of repentance or of reproof [preaching of repentance, convicting sin], as that properly belongs to God’s Law, which reproves all sins, and therefore unbelief also; but that the Gospel is properly a preaching of the grace and favor of God for Christ’s sake, through which the unbelief of the converted, which previously inhered in them, and which the Law of God reproved, is pardoned and forgiven.

Now, when we consider this dissent aright, it has been caused chiefly by this, that the term Gospel is not always employed and understood in one and the same sense, but in two ways, in the Holy Scriptures, as also by ancient and modern church teachers. For sometimes it is employed so that there is understood by it the entire doctrine of Christ, our Lord, which He proclaimed in His ministry upon earth, and commanded to be proclaimed in the New Testament, and hence comprised in it the explanation of the Law and the proclamation of the favor and grace of God, His heavenly Father, as it is written, Mark 1:1: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And shortly afterwards the chief heads are stated: Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Thus, when Christ after His resurrection commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel in all the world, Mark 16:15, He compressed the sum of this doctrine into a few words, when He said, Luke 24:46,47: Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. So Paul, too, calls his entire doctrine the Gospel, Acts 20:21; but he embraces the sum of this doctrine under the two heads: Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And in this sense the generalis definitio, that is, the description of the word Gospel, when employed in a wide sense and without the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel is correct, when it is said that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and the remission of sins. For John, Christ, and the apostles began their preaching with repentance and explained and urged not only the gracious promise of the forgiveness of sins, but also the Law of God. Furthermore the term Gospel is employed in another, namely, in its proper sense, by which it comprises not the preaching of repentance, but only the preaching of the grace of God, as follows directly afterwards, Mark 1:15, where Christ says: Repent, and believe the Gospel.

Likewise the term repentance also is not employed in the Holy Scriptures in one and the same sense. For in some passages of Holy Scripture it is employed and taken for the entire conversion of man, as Luke 13:5: Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. And in 15:7: Likewise joy shalt be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth. But in this passage, Mark 1:15, as also elsewhere, where repentance and faith in Christ, Acts 20:21, or repentance and remission of sins, Luke 24:46-47, are mentioned as distinct, to repent means nothing else than truly to acknowledge sins, to be heartily sorry for them, and to desist from them. This knowledge comes from the Law, but is not sufficient for saving conversion to God, if faith in Christ be not added, whose merits the comforting preaching of the holy Gospel offers to all penitent sinners who are terrified by the preaching of the Law. For the Gospel proclaims the forgiveness of sins, not to coarse and secure hearts, but to the bruised or penitent, Luke 4:18. And lest repentance or the terrors of the Law turn into despair, the preaching of the Gospel must be added, that it may be a repentance unto salvation, 2 Cor. 7:10.

For since the mere preaching of the Law, without Christ, either makes presumptuous men, who imagine that they can fulfill the Law by outward works, or forces them utterly to despair, Christ takes the Law into His hands, and explains it spiritually, Matt. 5:21ff ; Rom. 7:14 and Rom 1:18, and thus reveals His wrath from heaven upon all sinners, and shows how great it is; whereby they are directed to the Law, and from it first learn to know their sins aright-a knowledge which Moses never could extort from them. For as the apostle testifies, 2 Cor. 3:14f, even though Moses is read, yet the veil which he put over his face is never lifted, so that they cannot understand the Law spiritually, and how great things it requires of us, and how severely it curses and condemns us because we cannot observe or fulfil it. Nevertheless, when it shalt turn to the Lord, the veil shalt be taken away, 2 Cor. 3:16.

Therefore the Spirit of Christ must not only comfort, but also through the office of the Law reprove the world of sin, John 16:8, and thus must do in the New Testament, as the prophet says, Is. 28:21, opus alienum, ut faciat opus proprium, that is, He must do the work of another (reprove), in order that He may [afterwards] do His own work, which is to comfort and preach of grace. For to this end He was earned [from the Father] and sent to us by Christ, and for this reason, too, He is called the Comforter, as Dr. Luther has explained in his exposition of the Gospel for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity, in the following words:

Anything that preaches concerning our sins and God’s wrath, let it be done how or when it will, that is all a preaching of the Law. Again, the Gospel is such a preaching as shows and gives nothing else than grace and forgiveness in Christ, although it is true and right that the apostles and preachers of the Gospel (as Christ Himself also did) confirm the preaching of the Law, and begin it with those who do not yet acknowledge their sins nor are terrified at [by the sense of] God’s wrath; as He says, John 16:8: “The Holy Ghost will reprove the world of sin because they believe not on Me.” Yea, what more forcible, more terrible declaration and preaching of God’s wrath against sin is there than just the suffering and death of Christ, His Son? But as long as all this preaches God’s wrath and terrifies men, it is not yet the preaching of the Gospel nor Christ’s own preaching, but that of Moses and the Law against the impenitent. For the Gospel and Christ were never ordained and given for the purpose of terrifying and condemning, but of comforting and cheering those who are terrified and timid. And again: Christ says, John 16:8: “The Holy Ghost will reprove the world of sin”; which cannot be done except through the explanation of the Law. Jena, Tom. 2, fol. 455.

So, too, the Smalcald Articles say: The New Testament retains and urges the office of the Law, which reveals sins and God’s wrath; but to this office it immediately adds the promise of grace through the Gospel.

And the Apology says: To a true and salutary repentance the preaching of the Law alone is not sufficient, but the Gospel should be added thereto. Therefore the two doctrines belong together, and should also be urged by the side of each other, but in a definite order and with a proper distinction; and the Antinomians or assailants of the Law are justly condemned, who abolish the preaching of the Law from the Church, and wish sins to be reproved, and repentance and sorrow to be taught, not from the Law, but from the Gospel.

But in order that every one may see that in the dissent of which we are treating we conceal nothing, but present the matter to the eyes of the Christian reader plainly and clearly:

Therefore [we shall set forth our meaning:] we unanimously believe, teach, and confess that the Law is properly a divine doctrine, in which the righteous, immutable will of God is revealed, what is to be the quality of man in his nature, thoughts, words, and works, in order that he may be pleasing and acceptable to God; and it threatens its transgressors with God’s wrath and temporal and eternal punishments. For as Luther writes against the law-stormers [Antinomians]: Everything that reproves sin is and belongs to the Law, whose peculiar office it is to reprove sin and to lead to the knowledge of sins, Rom. 3:20,7:7; and as unbelief is the root and well-spring of all reprehensible sins [all sins that must be censured and reproved], the Law reproves unbelief also.

However, this is true likewise that the Law with its doctrine is illustrated and explained by the Gospel; and nevertheless it remains the peculiar office of the Law to reprove sins and teach concerning good works.

Thus, the Law reproves unbelief, [namely,] when men do not believe the Word of God. Now, since the Gospel, which alone properly teaches and commands to believe in Christ, is God’s Word, the Holy Ghost, through the office of the Law, also reproves unbelief, that men do not believe in Christ, although it is properly the Gospel alone which teaches concerning saving faith in Christ.

However, now that man has not kept the Law of God, but transgressed it, his corrupt nature, thoughts, words, and works fighting against it, for which reason he is under God’s wrath, death, all temporal calamities, and the punishment of hell-fire, the Gospel is properly a doctrine which teaches what man should believe, that he may obtain forgiveness of sins with God, namely, that the Son of God, our Lord Christ, has taken upon Himself and borne the curse of the Law, has expiated and paid for all our sins, through whom alone we again enter into favor with God, obtain forgiveness of sins by faith, are delivered from death and all the punishments of sins, and eternally saved.

For everything that comforts, that offers the favor and grace of God to transgressors of the Law, is, and is properly called, the Gospel, a good and joyful message that God will not punish sins, but forgive them for Christ’s sake.

Therefore every penitent sinner ought to believe, that is, place his confidence in the Lord Christ alone, that He was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification, Rom. 4:25, that He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, 2 Cor. 5:21, who of God is made unto us Wisdom, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption, 1 Cor. 1:30, whose obedience is counted to us for righteousness before God’s strict tribunal, so that the Law, as above set forth, is a ministration that kills through the letter and preaches condemnation, 2 Cor. 3:7, but the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth, Rom. 1:16, that preaches righteousness and gives the Spirit, 1 Cor. 1:18; Gal. 3:2. As Dr. Luther has urged this distinction with especial diligence in nearly all his writings, and has properly shown that the knowledge of God derived from the Gospel is far different from that which is taught and learned from the Law, because even the heathen to a certain extent had a knowledge of God from the natural law, although they neither knew Him aright nor glorified Him aright, Rom. 1:20f.

From the beginning of the world these two proclamations [kinds of doctrines] have been ever and ever inculcated alongside of each other in the Church of God, with a proper distinction. For the descendants of the venerated patriarchs, as also the patriarchs themselves, not only called to mind constantly how in the beginning man had been created righteous and holy by God, and through the fraud of the Serpent had transgressed God’s command, had become a sinner, and had corrupted and precipitated himself with all his posterity into death and eternal condemnation, but also encouraged and comforted themselves again by the preaching concerning the Seed of the Woman, who would bruise the Serpent’s head, Gen. 3:15; likewise, concerning the Seed of Abraham, in whom all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, Gen. 22:18; likewise, concerning David’s Son, who should restore again the kingdom of Israel and be a light to the heathen, Ps. 110:1; Is. 49:6; Luke 2:32, who was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, by whose stripes we are healed, Is. 53:5.

These two doctrines, we believe and confess, should ever and ever be diligently inculcated in the Church of God even to the end of the world, although with the proper distinction of which we have heard, in order that, through the preaching of the Law and its threats in the ministry of the New Testament the hearts of impenitent men may be terrified, and brought to a knowledge of their sins and to repentance; but not in such a way that they lose heart and despair in this process, but that (since the Law is a schoolmaster unto Christ that we might be justified by faith, Gal. 3:24, and thus points and leads us not from Christ, but to Christ, who is the end of the Law, Rom. 10:4) they be comforted and strengthened again by the preaching of the holy Gospel concerning Christ, our Lord, namely, that to those who believe the Gospel, God forgives all their sins through Christ, adopts them as children for His sake, and out of pure grace, without any merit on their part, justifies and saves them, however, not in such a way that they may abuse the grace of God, and sin hoping for grace, as Paul, 2 Cor. 3:7ff , thoroughly and forcibly shows the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.

Now, in order that both doctrines, that of the Law and that of the Gospel, be not mingled and confounded with one another, and what belongs to the one may not be ascribed to the other, whereby the merit and benefits of Christ are easily obscured and the Gospel is again turned into a doctrine of the Law, as has occurred in the Papacy, and thus Christians are deprived of the true comfort which they have in the Gospel against the terrors of the Law, and the door is again opened in the Church of God to the Papacy, therefore the true and proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel must with all diligence be inculcated and preserved, and whatever gives occasion for confusion inter legem et evangelium (between the Law and the Gospel), that is, whereby the two doctrines, Law and Gospel, may be confounded and mingled into one doctrine, should be diligently prevented. It is, therefore, dangerous and wrong to convert the Gospel, properly so called, as distinguished from the Law, into a preaching of repentance or reproof [a preaching of repentance, reproving sin]. For otherwise, if understood in a general sense of the entire doctrine, also the Apology says several times that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Meanwhile, however, the Apology also shows that the Gospel is properly the promise of the forgiveness of sins and of justification through Christ, but that the Law is a doctrine which reproves sins and condemns.

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