Full Text for Homiletics 2- Volume 3 - Is Walther overstating his case when he says, "The doctrinal content of the entire Holy Scriptures is law and gospel"? (Video)

Homiletics 2 File 3 Professor Carl Fickenscher II Question by: Nick >> NICK: Hello, professors. My name is Nick. Dr. Fickenscher, I have a question about Walther's book. Isn't he overstating his case in it, when he says, "The doctrinal content of the entire holy scriptures is law and gospel"? >> PROF. FICKENSCHER: Thanks, Nick. That's a good question and it's certainly one that bears a lot of discussion. The truth is that Walther would say, "No, I really meant what I said there." And, in fact, later on, if you want to check this out on Page 210 of the book, he makes an even stronger statement than he does in Thesis 1 itself. This is what he says later on. He says, "Law and the gospel are the cardinal doctrines of all the holy scriptures which are made up of these two. Any passage of scripture yea, any historical fact recorded in scripture can be classified as belonging either to the law or to the gospel." He doesn't back off at all, does he. In fact, he intensifies it. He doesn't mean to say in the thesis, for example, that, "Well, the doctrinal content of scripture is law and gospel but there's a lot of scripture that isn't doctrinal." Not at all. He's reinforcing what we say again and again, that all the teachings of scripture are, indeed, the doctrines of scripture. Now he says even every historical fact in scripture is a matter of law and gospel. I had a really very interesting discussion about this with one of my Baptist friends during my doctoral work because he was working with a very different understanding of what law and gospel were. Now, he thought of law, for example, as the Ten Commandments essentially per se and any very specific explanation of the commandments. And he thought of gospel as Christ Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and by faith in him, you have eternal life, okay? But beyond that, he didn't see other elements of scripture really falling into this kind of distinction: Law/gospel. And so I said, "Well, let's take an example. What would you like to try out as a test passage, shall we say?" And he said, "Well, how about Song of Solomon?" And I said, "Okay. Let's work with that. But first, before I tell you what I think, you tell me what you think Song of Solomon is about, okay? Then we'll work with that." Now, he said, "Well, I think that Song of Solomon is basically instruction for marriage. It's about a husband loving his wife and a wife loving her husband." And I said, "Okay. Now, to be honest, I don't think that's what Song of Solomon is all about," I told him, "because, you know, historically the church has seen it as a picture of Christ and his bride, the church. But let's talk about what you're saying there. If, in fact, Song of Solomon is essentially instructions for marriage, how a husband should be dedicated to his wife, a wife to her husband, well, then, Song of Solomon is law. It's telling a woman what she is to do, telling a man what he is to do. When God in scripture tells us what we are to do or not do, that's law." Now, he was surprised. The reason he was surprised was he pictured Song of Solomon as such a beautiful image of the joy that a woman has in her husband and a husband in his wife. He saw it as a beautiful, happy sort of thing which he couldn't picture then as being law. I said, "Well, you know, it's not like law is is mean or law is bad. No. But law is that in which God tells us what we are to do or not to do. And of course the truth of the matter is, anytime God tells us what we are to do or not to do, if we look at it carefully and really understand it fully, we're going to find that we've fallen short. And that tells us that we're sinners. So, yeah, Song of Solomon, if your interpretation of the book was correct, would be law." "Now," I said, "on the other hand, realizing or believing as we do that the Song of Solomon is essentially a picture of Christ and his bride, the church, then it's rich with gospel because it shows how very committed Christ is to us, his people. Now, that's gospel. And it's not just a matter of Jesus dying on the cross to take away your sins so you get to go to heaven, but it's all of the things that God does for us in Christ, to care for us every day, to love us every day, to establish and to maintain a relationship with us in every day and in every way. Now, that's gospel too." Now, after that discussion, he had a new understanding of what we Lutherans were talking about in using these terms "law" and "gospel," and I think with that kind of proper understanding and this, of course, is what Walther has in mind then we would say, I think quite confidently, that not only the entire doctrinal content of the Old and the New Testaments are law and gospel, but, yes, I think every element in scripture, including even every historical fact recorded in scripture, really is a matter of law and gospel. In Thesis 1, since you raised that again I would like to talk about that more anyway Walther helps us understand what the distinction between law and gospel are, and here he gives us a really very lengthy discussion of six differences between law and gospel. If you have your copy of Walther available, turn to Page 7 and you'll find that he lists them there. And in the subsequent pages of this and the following lecture, he develops what these differences actually are. Notice on Page 7, Walther says that, first of all, the first difference between law and gospel is that the two doctrines differ as regards the manner of there being revealed. They are revealed in different ways, the law and the gospel. Walther says that the law is revealed to us in actually multiple ways. It, of course, is revealed in holy scripture. No question about that. But the law is also written on man's heart. Remember in Romans 1 and Romans 2, St. Paul talks about how even people who were abject unbelievers and had no awareness, for example, of the Old Testament scriptures, nevertheless, had the law written on their hearts. In fact, the law would alternately accuse them and then they would find ways to excuse themselves under that law. We might think here, for example, also of the way God reveals himself also in nature. Remember the psalmist says, "The heavens declare the glory of God." When we think about the heavens declaring the glory of God, we are made aware of the fact that somebody out there is big enough and powerful enough to make everything around us. An atheist would deny that. But the fact of the matter is, an atheist is working very hard to to to rationalize away or to deny something that, deep down inside, he still is convicted of. Somebody big enough, powerful enough, wise enough to make this world has got to be out there. And if there is, in fact, somebody out there big enough, powerful enough, wise enough to make all of this, then it stands to reason that somehow we are beholden to that, whoever he is. Someone big enough, powerful enough to create this universe is certainly powerful enough to squish me. And if that's true, then it's necessary that somehow or other there be a way that I be squared up with him. Okay? In other words, just knowing there is somebody out there big enough and powerful enough to make the world tells me that I have to square with somebody, I have to account to somebody. And so as I am aware there's a God out there that I have to square things up with, I know that what he demands of me, I'm going to have to somehow settle up. So Walther is saying that the law is revealed in nature and in the conscience. Now, on the other hand, Walther says that the gospel is quite different as to how it's revealed, because the gospel can be known only by God's revelation to us in his word and sacraments. Why is that? Well, take the example of nature, once again. You know that there's somebody out there big enough, powerful enough, to make the world. And when things are going well, when the the weather is beautiful and serene, when everything is happy at home, we might say to ourselves, "Well, I know there's a good and gracious God out there because things are going so nicely." But then a hurricane comes along and 17 people die. And we would have to ask ourselves, "How can we possibly believe that there's a good and gracious God out there at all when we see such a contradiction?" No. The fact of the matter is, what we simply observe by our senses, simply see in nature, could not show us that there is a God who is gracious to us. What's more, and even more importantly, even when we see things going well, we could never believe, on that basis alone, that they are going well because the God who is giving these things to us has satisfied all the necessary demands. Okay? It just doesn't make any sense that whoever that great God is up there who made everything, made me, then I, as the law reminds me, did not obey him in fact, I rebelled against him, I spit in his face and instead of crushing me, he became a human being like myself, he took the hit for me, and therefore he forgives me and gives me greater blessings than I can ever imagine. Now, that doesn't make any sense! It's completely illogical. And nobody, therefore, could reason the gospel on the basis of what he observes or on the basis of what he deduces. The gospel, therefore, is revealed only by God in his word and the sacraments that, of course, are the visible word. Okay. So Walther says, first of all, there's a distinct difference between the law and the gospel as to how they are revealed. Notice on Page 7, Walther says secondly that law and gospel are different in terms of their contents. This is the one that probably is the most apparent to us because any good Lutheran who went through confirmation class has a little idea about what law and gospel are all about. The contents are simply essentially what they say to us. And we could give simple examples. The contents of the law can, as my Baptist friend would have said, be summarized very nicely in the Ten Commandments. If we were to talk at length about what we just intuitively sense law and gospel to mean or what we have learned them to mean in our confirmation instruction, we would probably go through a lengthy list that would say things like, "The law is what God demands of us. The God is the law is what we are to do and not to do." And so on. Of course the Ten Commandments summarize that very well. The gospel, on the other hand, if we want a shorthand example, we could give John 3:16, couldn't we. By no means would we reduce the gospel to be nothing more than that, or have no other applications than John 3:16, but that says very nicely in a shorthand form what the gospel is all about: God cared for us so much that he paid the price for us to have infinite blessings. If we were to express the contents of the gospel a little more fully, we'd say perhaps something like the gospel is everything which God has done, is doing, will do for us in Christ Jesus. And you notice there's a tremendous distinction here between the contents of the law and the gospel because we said, again, didn't we, that the law is everything that we are to do or not to do, whereas the gospel is what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. If it's something for us to do, it's always going to be law. If it's something that God is doing graciously for us in Christ, it's always going to be gospel. Sometimes I touch base with my confirmation students on this, or my adult instruction class members as well. Once we've talked through what law and gospel are, I give this little reality check. I say something like, "Okay, how about this one? Is this law or gospel? Love your neighbor." You say it with a nice big smile. And you'll get an awful lot of members of your class, whether they be seventh and eighth graders or 40 or 50 years old, to say, "Oh, that's gospel, that's gospel." Because we say it with a smile. Because loving our neighbor is a wonderful thing to do. But of course the truth of the matter is, to say "Love your neighbor" is a command from God for us to do. In fact, you may remember that the Ten Commandments are summarized as love God, love your neighbor, right? Anytime the ball's in our court, something we are to do, that's always going to be law, right? And if it's gospel, it's always got to be God at work. The fact that God loved us, in Christ Jesus, now, that's gospel. Okay? Page 7 again. Walther says the third distinction between law and gospel is the different promises between the two. Walther makes the point that the law definitely does have promises, as does the gospel, but they're different in this respect: Think about the law and take, for example, the fourth commandment, when we are told to honor our father and mother, right? And in the elaboration, St. Paul says in Ephesians that if we honor our father and mother, it will go well with us and we may live long on the earth, right? What we have there is a command, something we are to do, with a promise attached. And actually, there are a lot of such promises in scripture. There's even the promise that as Jesus expressed it in one of his discussions, that if we love the Lord, our God, with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, all our mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves, this do and thou shalt live. See? There's even the promise that if we keep the law perfectly, we will have eternal life. But you notice what's common to each one of those law promises? It's the word "if." Right? Law promises are always conditional. If we fulfill some demand of the law, then some blessing will accrue. But of course there's a downside of that, too, right? We don't fulfill our end of the game, all bets are off. No promise at all. On the other hand, as you might infer by now, the promises of the gospel are unconditional, right? And this is a remarkable thing and has tremendous implications for our preaching. To say that the promises of the gospel are unconditional is to say that God has done everything for us to receive all of the good things that he has in mind. To say that it is unconditional means there's no requirement of us whatsoever to receive this or that promised blessing. And as I said, this is a very important realization for us in our preaching. Let me give you an example. Let's say we're preaching a sermon where we have very effectively preached the law, okay? We've made it very clear to our hearers that they have not obeyed God's commandments perfectly, that instead they deserve eternal punishment, okay? Now we come to the point in the sermon where our intention is to give them gospel, to give them the forgiveness of those sins, to give them the assurance of salvation in place of the damnation that they have deserved. And so let's say we say this: "But if you believe in Christ Jesus, then you will have eternal life, forgiveness of all of those sins." Now, understood properly, that could be received by our hearers as gospel. But you stop and think about what you really just said. What you really said was, there remains a certain condition that has to be fulfilled in order for you to have forgiveness and eternal life. Okay. I know that's true. I know that a person who doesn't believe in Christ Jesus does not have forgiveness and eternal life personally, subjectively, okay? But this isn't the point in the sermon where that distinction is to be made. What you've already done earlier in the sermon, in preaching the law, is make it very clear his state apart from faith. What your hearer needs to be assured of at this point is not that he must do something further, even if it's simply believe. He needs to be assured that Christ Jesus died on the cross for those very sins of yours. And because Christ Jesus has died for you, you are forgiven. Christ Jesus has earned eternal life for you. Notice the distinction here. By making our previous statement conditional, "if you believe," we've raised the frightening specter that instead of hearing comfort in Christ Jesus, the hearer will look at himself and say, "Do I believe or do I not believe?" And having been reminded of how sinful he is, he may reach the conclusion, "But those good words don't apply to me because I'm so wicked. I must not really be a believer." This is difficult for us, because we know it's true that salvation is only for those who believe, and we live with a fear that cheap grace might be received, that our hearers might think, "Oh, great, I heard all those things I wasn't supposed to do but now since I believe in Jesus, blow that off, now I go forward and do them anyway, and I'll have eternal life." We're afraid to let salvation be that free, that certain. But this is precisely the art, if I may call it that, of dividing law and gospel: To know that already, earlier in the sermon, when you intended law, it was so clear, so binding, that there was no hope for your hearers apart from Christ, there is no possibility of cheap grace, because they know they truly deserve damnation. And having preached the law in that manner, now with confidence you step forward and speak the objective truth of what Christ earned on the cross, yes, for everyone. In Christ Jesus' death on the cross, you have eternal life. Let that stand as your final word of gospel. You see the point? How important it is to let the promises of the gospel be absolutely unconditional? Okay? The fourth difference that Walther cites again there on Page 7, and elaborates on the subsequent pages, would be the different threats of the law and the gospel. This, I tell my students, is almost a trick question, because on the side of the law, obviously there are all kinds of threats, up to and including eternal damnation. All kinds of threats. But on the gospel side, Walther says, "Well, what's the difference? What are the different threats of the gospel? There aren't any. None." And that's so true when we understand that the promises of the gospel are unconditional. There is no downside to the gospel. Everything which is promised in the gospel is available, is free, is ours, and, thus, there is no risk of failure when we speak of the gospel. There are no threats at all. The fifth difference that Walther points out are the different functions and effects of the law and the gospel. This is an interesting one, and it's actually a little different than we might think initially. Walther says that both law and gospel have three functions or effects. As soon as we speak of the different functions or effects of the law, we may find ourselves thinking of the three uses of the law that we speak about in confirmation class. First, the curb, then the mirror, and then the rule or the guide. And those are certainly valid. But Walther actually has something different in mind, and he finds these three different functions or effects of the law in Romans 7:7 9. That's worth turning with me, if you'll do that. Romans 7:7 9. And I'll read from the New American Standard Bible, and you can follow along in your translation, whichever that might be. St. Paul writes this: "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? May it never be. On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the law, and I would not have known about coveting if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind, because apart from the law, sin is dead." Verse 9: "And I was once alive apart from the law but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died." Interesting there, Verse 7, St. Paul, first of all, speaks of the perhaps most familiar use of the law, the second use of the law, the mirror, where he says, "I wouldn't have known what coveting was if the scriptures had not told me that." The second use of the law, we remember very well, that the law shows us our sin. But Verse 8 is interesting. This isn't necessarily something we think of as a function or effect of the law, where Paul says, "Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind." What St. Paul's telling us there, and what Walther picks up on, is that the law also has the effect of increasing sin. Now, how can that be? Paul goes on in Romans 7 to say the law isn't bad. Not at all. It's holy. But the law actually does increase sin in this way. The law tells us that God is in charge. Essentially tells me I'm not God. I am accountable to him. And as soon as I'm told that I'm accountable to somebody else, the old sinful nature in me rebels. I hate that idea. Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, that first sin? You'll be like God, knowing good and evil. The sinful man or woman in us, to this day, even in believers, desires to be his or her own God. I think, for example, of how parents might notice this. If your teenage daughter brings home a guy that you don't think is so appropriate, and you tell your daughter, "I don't want you ever to see him again," not that my daughter would ever do this, but some might be led to want to sneak out or at least think more and more about that guy just because you made him forbidden fruit, right? The parent laying down that particular law, which may be appropriate, of course, nevertheless, causes a reaction or rebellion by the child. Well, that's the way every one of us is, as God speaks to us his law. So, first of all, the differences in the functions and effects of the law and the gospel are that the law shows sin, and secondly that it actually increases sin. But then look also at Verse 9, in Romans 7. Paul says, "I once was alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died." What does Paul mean when he says, "I died"? Well, essentially there he means that we were made contrite, that our spirit was broken by the law. We think, for example, of a stallion roped off the range. You know, the first thing you got to do is break that horse. Let him know that the guy who's going to ride him is going to be the boss. So Paul says here and this is crucial that the law does create in us sorrow over sin. After it shows us that we are sinful, it then also shows us that we are guilty under sin, that we deserve to suffer for sin, that we deserve punishment for sin. It makes us sorrow for sin. Therefore, it does make us contrite. The functions of the law, as Walther points them out, are to show us our sin, to increase sin, and then finally to make us also contrite. When Walther talks, on the other hand, about the three functions or effects of the gospel, he says, first of all, that the gospel is that which God uses to create faith. A person doesn't come to faith simply by imagining that God is gracious to him. We've already said that's quite impossible. It's so illogical. Instead, when God declares to us what he has done for us in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit uses that very word to bring us to believe that word. Secondly and this is why the gospel powerfully creates faith is that those very words of the gospel also deliver what they promise. We should talk a great deal more about this later on, under one of Walther's other theses, but let's say at this point that when the gospel announces to us that we have forgiveness and eternal life, it is at the very same moment actually giving us that forgiveness, that eternal life. We talked before about how it's important to be unconditional in declaring the gospel, and we would say here it's so important because when the gospel is announced you are forgiven, you have eternal life the reality is, you are even now, as we speak, forgiven. You have eternal life given to you. This is why the gospel is powerful to create faith, because the certainty of what we have, rather than just dangling out the possibility of what might be, gives us something that we can grasp, gives us something that we can believe in. That's how the gospel creates faith. And finally, the third function or effect of the gospel that Walther points out is that it enables good works. Walther will talk about this a great deal more in detail in Thesis 23, but let's say at this point that while we may think the way to move Christians to obey God's law more perfectly, to be more generous givers, to be more loving lovers, is to tell them, "Love your neighbor," "Give more generously," and so on, the law telling us what we are to do can only inform us as to what a good work looks like. Only the gospel enables us to do those good works. Why? Because a truly good work is always something that comes from a pure heart, a heart which knows it cannot possibly gain anything for itself that it has not already been given. If we're motivated by the law, we're always going to be somehow seeking to gain something for ourselves, approval from God or approval from our fellow man or whatever. The gospel, on the other hand, the assurance that in Christ Jesus we already have the infinite blessings of eternal life, frees us up to give generously of our love to God and to our fellow man. So for this moment, let's let it suffice to say the gospel is that which enables us to do good works. Then the sixth and final difference that Walther cites between the law and the gospel would be those to whom the law or the gospel are to be preached. The last 21 theses in Walther's series are essentially developments of this one, so we won't spend a great deal of time on it. But for now, let's simply say that the law is to be preached to those sinners who are hardened or impenitent, to a person who does not yet realize that he is in need of salvation, that he needs forgiveness. We could say to the hardened or impenitent sinner. Whereas the gospel is to be preached to the sinner who is aware of his sin, who is terrified, who is afraid, who has been made contrite already by the law. We could say the terrified sinner. The one note to make at this point is that both the law and the gospel are to be preached to sinners. It's not as if the law is for those who are sinful, bad, and the gospel is for those who are good. No. We're all sinners, and at different moments in each of our lives, we need to hear the law, and other moments the gospel. And, in fact, this is an interaction that is continuous throughout our lives as long as the sinful nature remains in us. That is to say, as long as we remain this side of heaven. So Walther says that, yes, the entire doctrinal content, and yes, even every historical event in scripture is either law or gospel, and these then summarize the six differences that he identifies.