Part 3 of a series discussing C. F. W. Walther’s important treatise Law and Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible.
So what’s the difference? Law or Gospel, it’s all God’s word, right? Isn’t it hard enough to find pastors who will just preach the WORD?
Yes, it certainly is all God’s Word. And it is tough to find pastors who will open a text and preach it instead of their own opinions. It’s even tougher to find pastors who can tell the difference between the text and their opinions to start with! Law and Gospel are, however, fundamentally different in terms of their content. Says Walther:
The Law tells us what to do. No such instruction is contained in the Gospel. Rather, the Gospel reveals to us only what God is doing. The Law speaks about our works, whereas the Gospel speaks about the great works of God. In the Law we hear the ten-fold summons [that is, the Ten Commandments]: “You shall.” Beyond that, the Law has nothing to say to us. The Gospel, on the other hand, makes no demands whatsoever. (pg. 14)
Some of you out there are reading this and saying, “Dave, this a really neat little category that your Lutheran friends have to make every sermon have two ingredients. But the Gospel demands faith!” The “demand” of faith, if one wants to call it that, is met by the Gospel itself. If you’d like a quote from a Calvinist on the matter, try Ken Jones, formerly of Greater Union Baptist Church and regular panel member on the White Horse Inn Podcast. He gave a quick summary which has been repeated often on the WHI, but I think it’s helpful here: “What the Law demands, the Gospel gives.”
So the command to “Repent” is fulfilled by the Gospel…the preaching of which grants faith to the hearers. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ,” right? The Gospel is an invitation. Certainly, the only ones who take that invitation are those who are, in the mercies of Christ, drawn into that heavenly feast. I’m reminded of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “How Sweet and Aweful Is the Place”:
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly forced us in
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin.
Regardless of whether or not Walther would’ve approved of that hymn, I think it points out the fact that it’s an invitation…and that our acceptance of that invitation is solely a work of grace in our lives. The Law, on the other hand, issues only commands and demands. The Gospel does not take anything…it only gives. Walther ends this section by saying,
Accordingly, we read in John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The Gospel contains nothing but grace and truth. How important this is! When we read the Law, when we think about it, when we measure our conduct against its teaching, we are terrified by the multitude of demands it makes upon us. If that were all we ever heard, we would be hurled into despair and would be lost. But God be praised! there is still another doctrine: the Gospel. And to that we cling.
Without both Law and Gospel, rightly distinguished and firmly proclaimed, soft people are manufactured who don’t understand their sin, or a frustrated people emerge who either abandon ship or become Pharisees, thinking they are keeping God’s expectations just fine, thank you.
Want to really help your church? Preach Law and Gospel.