Luther on the Gospel-grace of the Law...

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(Tim) At times, it seems best to promote a discussion to the main page. Readers lose track of discussions in the comments under old posts. Here's one such discussion that I'm promoting for reasons I hope are obvious.

It's my conviction that the endless mantra of grace that permeates our Evangelical/Redeemer/Westminster/Campus Crusade/R2K/Covenant world leads to us knowing little of grace because we despise God's Law and repentance.

In the midst of a discussion bearing on this matter, the historian Darryl Hart asked me to clarify what I meant when I spoke of the grace of the Law--that to preach the Law is Gospel preaching and that the Law is our Gospel schoomaster or tutor? Here I respond:

Scripture says:

Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith" (Galatians 3:24).

This is the great failure of Gospel preaching in our time, and the reason for the absence of fruit within our churches. We fail to preach the Law, instead trying to save unregenerate sinners from the indignities of repentance. We preach grace without leading souls there through the Law. We repudiate the Schoolmaster. It's the habit of pastors only to address the regenerate within the Covenant Community while outside that Community we gag preachers, leaving Gospel proclamation and conversion to Campus Crusade...

Then, back inside the Covenant Community, we demonstrate we are opposed to the first of Luther's 95 Theses, that our Lord declared the life of the Christian to be a life of repentance.

"Repentance? What's that? And why? Look to your Baptism! Don't let those piety/holiness ignoramuses scare you. You're saved by grace through faith, and this not of repentance lest any many should tremble. It's all of grace, my fine friend--all of grace!"

And Luther's Law for the flesh?

Nonexistent. Hated, even.

"What flesh? Where? Who? Flesh? Forget your flesh, dude. It's all of grace! Look to your Baptism!"

We skip directly to justification and regeneration, bypassing the Tutor given us by God to lead us there. Then, after what we take to be the fruit of regeneration (which is judged by a soul's ability to use the words 'sovereignty' and 'providence' and 'grace' coherently), we skip directly back to justification, bypassing the sanctification without which no man will see God. Willfully conflating regeneration and sanctification, we don't get either right because of our hatred for God's Law and our refusal to use it any way at all--pick any one of the three.

Even Calvin's second use of the Law is effectively strangulated: "Keep the preacher in the church, among the Covenant People. That's His calling--to preach and teach and administer the Sacraments among God's Covenant People who look to their Baptism and the Table of our Lord. What on earth are you doing taking the second use of the law over to the Areopagus? Get your compartments straight! The Apostle Paul was an apostle, don't you know? That's not your calling!"

Truth is, the difference between R2K and Wheaton Evangelicalism is not that Wheaton is antinomian and R2K embraces the three uses of the Law, but that R2K holds to a truncated law that knows little beyond the Sabbath and vows, and R2K has a much more sophisticated explanation for gagging God's Law (everywhere else) than any explanations given by Wheaton Evangelicals.

Over and over, I post this from Luther, believing it provides the perfect diagnosis of the Evangelical/R2K/Covenant Theological Seminary/Westminster/Redeemer/Lutheran grace mantra world of our time. Here Luther speaks of preachers who gag the Law, producing congregations of souls who all alike are "without compunction of conscience."

This, then, for those who want to know how I could speak of the Gospel and the grace of God's Law. Since we're Reformed, I could quote Calvin, but I think presenting this rebuke from the mouth of Luther, instead, carries a delicious irony, and therefore a much greater potency:

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In regard to doctrine we observe especially this defect that, while some preach about the faith by which we are to be justified, It is still not clearly enough explained how one shall attain to this faith, and almost all omit one aspect of the Christian faith without which no one can understand what faith is or means. For Christ says in the last chapter of Luke [24:47] that we are to preach in his name repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance. There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood with out repentance. It follows that If we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people Imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience. This would be a greater error and sin than all the errors hitherto prevailing. Surely we need to be concerned lest, as Christ says In Matt. 12 [:45] the last state becomes worse than the first.

Therefore we have instructed and admonished pastors that it is their duty to preach the whole gospel and not one portion without the other. For God says in Deut. 4 [:2]: “You shall not add to the word. . . nor take from it." There are preachers who now attack the pope because of what he has added to the Scriptures, which unfortunately is all too true. But when these do not preach repentance, they tear out a great part of Scripture. They have very little good to say about the eating of meat and the like, though they should not keep silent when they have an opportunity to defend Christian liberty against tyranny. What else is this than what Christ says in Mall. 23 [:24]: “Straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel?

So we have admonished them to exhort the people diligently and frequently to repent and grieve over their sins and to fear the judgment of God. Nor are they to neglect the greatest and most important element of repentance, for both John and Christ con demned the Pharisees more severely for their hypocritical holiness than for ordinary sins. The preachers are to condemn the gross sins of the common man, but more rigorously demand repentance where there is false holiness.

...The preachers are to proclaim and explain the Ten Command ments often and earnestly, yet not only the commandments but also how God will punish those who do not keep them and how he often has inflicted temporal punishment. For such examples are written In order to forewarn people, for instance, bow the angels spoke to Abraham in Gen. 19 [:12f.], and told how God would punish Sodom and destroy it with the fire of hell. For they knew that he would tell it to his descendants so that they would learn to fear God.

So too they are to point out and condemn various specific vices. as adultery, drunkenness, envy, and hate, and how God has punished these, indicating that without doubt after this life he will punish still more severely if there is not improvement here.

The people are thus to be urged and exhorted to fear God, to repent and show contrition, lest their ease and life of false security be punished. Therefore Paul says In Rom. 3 [:20]: “Through the law comes (only) knowledge of sin.” True repentance is nothing but an acknowledgment of sin.

Then it is important that faith be preached. Whoever experi ences grief and contrition over his sins should believe that his sins are forgiven, not on account of his merits, but on account of Christ.

When the contrite and fearful conscience experiences peace, com fort, and joy on hearing that his sins are forgiven because of Christ, then faith Is present—the faith that makes him righteous before God. We are to teach the people diligently that this faith cannot exist without earnest and true contrition and fear of God, as It is written in Psalm 110 [Ps. 111:10] and Prov. 1 [:7], “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” And Isaiah says in the last chapter: "On whom does God look except on the trembling and contrite heart?"11

This shall be proclaimed repeatedly, so that the people do not entertain false notions and think they have faith when they are far from having it. It shall be made clear that only If they have faith can they truly repent and grieve over their sins. Without repentance theirs is an imagined faith. True faith brings comfort and joy in God, and we do not feel such comfort and joy where there is no repentance or fearfulness, as Christ says in Matt. 11 [:5]: “The poor have good news preached to them.”

These two are the first elements of Christian life: Repentance or contrition and grief, and faith through which we receive the forgiveness of sins and are righteous before God. Both should grow and increase in us. The third element of Christian life is the doing of good works: To be chaste, to love and help the neighbor, to refrain from lying, from deceit, from stealing, from murder, from vengefulness, and avenging oneself, etc.

Therefore again and again the Ten Commandments are to be assiduously taught, for all good works are therein comprehended.

They are called good works not only because they are done for the welfare of our neighbors, but because God has commanded them, and so they also are well pleasing to God. God has no delight in those who do not obey the commandments, as is stated in Mic. 6 [:8]: “0 man, I will show you what is good and what God requires of you, namely, to do justice. Yea, do justice, delight to do good to your neighbor, and walk humbly before God.”

...Now we have already shown that it is necessary to preach penance, and to punish fearless behavior which is now in the world and has its origin, at least in part, in a wrong understanding of the Faith. For many who hear that they should believe, so that all their sins will be forgiven, fashion their own faith and think they are pure. Thus they become secure and arrogant. Such carnal security is worse than all the errors hitherto prevailing Therefore in preaching the gospel it is necessary in every way to instruct the people where faith may be found and how one attains it. For true faith cannot exist where there is not true contrition and true fear and terror before God.

This is most important in teaching the people. For where there is not contrition and sorrow for sin, there also is no true faith. Thus we read in Ps. 147 1.111. “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” God himself also says in Ezek. 3 [ 18] that if the preacher does not condemn the error and sin of those whom he teaches, God will lay the loss of their souls to his account. Such a verdict God pronounced upon that kind of preacher who comforts the people and says much about faith and the forgiveness of sins but nothing about penitence or the fear and judgment of God. Jeremiah, too, condemns such preachers in the seventh chapter [Jer. 6.14]: One should not believe those who cry, Peace, Peace, when God is angry and there is no peace.

We need to fear that God will severely punish these preachers and pupils because of such security. For that is the sin which Is decried in Jer. 6 [.15], “They did not know how to blush." And St. Paul in Eph. 5 [ .5], condemning those who live securely in their perverse ways without sting of conscience, says, “Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolator) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them."

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Luther threatens those "many" pastors (and by extension, those elders complicit in this sin of their pastors) who preach forgiveness without repentance, grace without Law. He says "God will severely punish these preachers and pupils because of such (false) security."

God lead us to repent and turn again to faithfulness in our callings.