Full Text for Luther on Law, Gospel, and the Third Use of the Law (Text)

THE SPRINGFIELDER April 1974 Volume 38, Number 2 Luther on Law, Gospel, and the Third Use of the Law 0 NE OF THE STRANGE ::ilNOhlAL,IF,S k11id the ironic tragedies of our day is that within conscr\:;~ti\:c l,utlierai~ ~lleolog!. there should be a str~igglc over the subject of the La\\: and Gospel, and, more specifically, ovcr the third use of the Law. Strange and ironicl we say, because tlie Confessions, especially the Forniula of Coiicord (Articles IV, 17, and VI), have really spolien tllc definitive word 011 the subject. 13ecnuse these weye 111atters of scrious contention in the tro~iblcd period after 1.-uther's dcath, the fran~ers of the For~nula of Co~lcorcl spelled ~LIL ver! carefull!. the Refo~:iiintio~~ position, \\!hat: it meant to be 3 SII~ISCI-~~)CI- of tlic I,~ithc~:an positio~l on Law a1.1(1 Gosl)el according to the Augsburg Confcssion. Thus wc inight j:ightl!; expect that the tlleological. dust \sould have remained settled, especially lor 3'Jissouri. ilftc~: all it nas shc that gave the wol:l(l C. F. TY. TL'althcr, thc 19th centur!; genius tvho lwoduced tlie famous lecture series, Iiiter piiblislietl in booli fo~ni, 011 3'12.c Proper Distirrctio~r 13ct1reelr L(711: nlirl Gospc'l. I'd(: spol,c out of i~ riel-1 l~~cl<~round of teacl.ling ant1 pnst-or:~l cspcricncc!; b~it ahovc all lie hnd beliefitcd on 1-his subject- from his assicll~ous st~id~ of T-ut'lier's writings. not;-\bly thc (.;rrlntin~r Col~r/iret~tc~r!.. Jt Ivas LValthcr' wl~o empllasizctl anew on t'hc America11 sccnc: thougll his voice was heascl, in Europe, too, that Lniv i111t1 Gospel stand at ol>posil~g lxlIes, iliametricall!/ ol~l)osite, mi~tui~lly cxcl~isivc. on the lnnttcr of. a man's justificatiol~ 1)efore God. Hcre tlicrc was 1x1 mean, or ~niddle groul~tl, as Lutliel: p~~t .it 111 his Colntiari Cow- riler~inry.' Tlicre could be no co~np~:oiiiisc bet\vcen active r.igllti:ous- ]less, ~vliich is by thc I,nw, nntl passive rigl~tcousncss, \vl.~icli is 11); faith through thr Gospel. This Christian righteousness, as 1.utller also calls the latter, is thcre for faith's acceptance, for imputation to oul' acco~~nt before God in hcavcn, bccausc Christ nailed our trans- ~lressions against the Law of God to the tree of the cross (Col. 2, 1 5). l'onards, or for, this rjghtcousness k2.e con tribute "11otl11og at all," says I,uther, for Christ "has been nladc for us \vistlanl, riu,lltco~~sncss, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Car. 1, 30); and, thcrcfore, "here one notices no sin and feels no terror or remorse of' coi~sciencc," sinrc "sin cannot happen in this Cliristian righteousness; for \rhel.e tliel-e is no Law, there cannot be anv transgression (Ron]. 4, 151."" This article is the hallmark of ~llristianit~, puts Sat-all :~nd his accusations down, alone comforts troubled and aRicted consciences, cnal~ling then1 "to tale hold of the 1,romise of grace nifcrcd in Christ, that is, this righteousness of faith, this passive or Lhristiao righte0~1~-- ness, . . . this righteousness of Christ and of the Holy Sl3irit ~vliich we (10 not perform but receive, which we do not 11avc but accept, 117hel1 Cod the Father grants it to ~1s throli~h Jcsos Christ.".' This is so totally vital in the life of the believer indiviilually and of the cl~urch corporately that, says Luther, if this "doctrine of-' justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost."" 'I'llis is the liberty, Paul teaches so eloquently in his Galatian r,etter, in which we stand. None ~~nclerstoocl this better and shared it illore convincingly with the \vorlcl than Luthcr, who hail struggled through the deadening load of Romanist, nronastic, legalistic burdens. It was this song whlch he sang wit11 such delight and such light heart for Leo X, in 1520, to whom he dedicated his famous treatise 011 Th.c Freedom of thc Christin~~." The proposition that "a Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none," was grounded on God's promjsed forgiveness in Christ, the passive or imputecl right- eousness to faith, rvhikh brings pardon, endows with the riches of Cllrist, linlosc servecl I)\, the Law in this its civil function. Rut in 1:o wa); doc.s it fol1o1.i. &at, l~ccaosc the Law successfull>- rcstruins sin, it can also rnaltc men rigl-itco1.1s. Just the opposite is the case. By the \:cry fact that it must restrain evil, the Law demonstrates not nlan's goodness I~ut the Oeptli ant1 extent of his unrighteousness. The Law's primary function now, ho.ivc\~er, is spiritual, or theological, as Luther states, "to re1:cal to man his sin, blindness, ~l~isery, nlickcdncss, ignorance, hate and contempt of God, death, hell, jiidgmen t, and the well-dcservecl \,vrath of God."" This is its proper :mtl principal function, in vie\%: of ~narl's sinfulness, for Got1 needs to crush and llrlnl~ner to pieces the opinion or pretensioll of right- eousness which natural ma11 always has within him. There is no other way of getting at this "monster" than bv the Law. It is tlie "hammer of death, the th~lnder of hell, 2nd the lightning of divine wrath," that can crush the rebellious, stubborl~, self-righteous, sn7ol- len heart to the point of clcsl)air." That has al.cva\ls been its proper and first function since the Fall. That was its primary purpose already in the Old Testament, a!: R4t. Sinai, too, Luther points out. There the Israelites stood all "washed, righteous, purified and chaste," but they hntl to scc that none of their domestic, active righteousness or "purity hclped them then." In fact, "their sense of impurity, uni~orthiness, sin, jodgment, and wrath of God was so great that 'the51 fled from the prcsencc of thc TJord and were not abIc to hear His ~oice."" So, the existential truth is that unless the hard, r-~itan~ant wall of prcsunlption and pretension of ri8hteo~1sness be demolished, therc is 110 chalice that the yreaching oi the free remission of sins for CllristYs sake can enter the human heart. \,\!hat: 11appencc'I to the IsracIites "is what finally happens to all. self-rigl~teous people who are tlrun]< wit11 thc presumption of their ow1.i t-igl~teousness;""~ God's Law it ~OIVII and to pieces, and they are driven to the point of clespair. The 1,aw still llas this function properly and peculiarly which it had at Sinai. It lays a man's sin rind sinful condition rigpt before his cycs and drives him to see, lvilling or not, the wrath and judginent of God untlcr ~vhich he stands. I:,utl~er fears that this true and proper use of thc Law will after his time "hc obscured again and be completely wiped out.'"It is not thc sects and the heretical liberals, the Neo-Arians, that worry him, 'l,uther says, but "thosc ~vho want to seen1 'evangelical' and lvho rtcknowledgc the Gospel with us" right at this present tiine, even Ilefore we are gone."' I-s be troubled by such as "boast and s\vc;lr that the): arc intent on nothing except the glory of Got1 and ~11c s;tlv:ttion of the brethren, and that they teach the Mrord of God I~LIJ.C~\:; Ixtt ill fact they disto.rt the LVorcl of God and twist it into an alic.11 r~lcani~~g, so that it. is forced to tell them whr~t they themselves imagine," that is, "thejr own dreams," malar,v arc apart, as far as thc 1,aw fro111 tll~ Gospel. 13i1t all things arc new for the man in, ~vhonl the Spirit: of Got1 dwclls and' ~vorks. The IZpitonle of the Fol-mula of Co~~cord put it this way: Fruits of tllc Spirit, l~owcver, arc tllc \vorlich the Spirit of God who d~vells in the belic.crers \\~0~1is through the regencrate, anil ~vhich arc done bv believers so far as the): are rcgei~cratc, as tho~rgh tllev ltncw no command, threat, or re- ward; for in this manner the children of Gocl li-ve in the La\v and ~~~;llk akcortling to the law of God.';' Necdlcss to say, whcn J,i~ther and the Confessions speak of tJic spiritual use of the Law by believers, they always repent the conlicction l~etwec'n justjfication and sanctif-ication as an inevitable ~.clat.ionshil), and that \vhat thc rcgencratc marl docs in confonr~ity ~vitli the TJoly Law of God flows out of the power of the Gospel. In ili~ct., tlic.1-c ~voultl be no talking of the third use of the Law at all \wrc it not for tllc Gospel and the siilrler's justification througll Cltrist.. Ihpon~c~:ecl bv faith and thc Gospel, thc regenerate sinner \\:;~ll;s in the I',anl of Cot1 not as nn cnd in itself, as thoug1.i under tllrcat ancl cocrcio~i, or in quest for re.it.ard, but out of Iovi for God ancl, siit~ult~~~~eousl!:, out of love for his neighbor, I>oth bei11g 1'ruits ol' fi.litl1 \.c~ortliy of repentance. "These arc thc exhortations," 'T2uther slates, ~vl~icl~. arc so frctlucntlv fount1 in tltc Netv Testament, "and tl~cy arc i~~tcndecl to stir up those who hnvc obtained mercv and have bccrl justificcl a1reatl!., to be energetic ill bringing fol-th tl~c fruits of thc Spirit- and of tllc righteousness givc~i thcm, to cxe~.cise theniselr~es i 12 lovcl ant1 gootl \.c~o~.l(s."'~~ -l'l~c third use of the Ca\v, I~oth as taugllt in the Iutheran C;olifcssjons ancl in Luther, h:~s cxlxrienced serious ~nisllant'lling in modern thcolog!;, illso by Lutheran theology's erstwhile friends. Notable scllolars like Werner IIlert :~nd Gerhard Ebcling have argued that thc third LISC of the Law is foreign to and out of character with Lutllcr's thinking and writing: Eheling insists that the Law in its twofold sense, r!ulllex I.LSZLS 7egzs, is as far as Luther goes or allows.G2 Elert has tlcvoted a separate monograph to thc matter, Jmv nwd Gos~)elfi:', hcsidcs touchil~g upon the same key points in his larger ~vorli, The Chl-istinlr Ethos."" 'rhc tern-I "third 11sc of the Law" must be attributed to Wlel- anchton; :Luther never used it, Elert argues. With consiclerable vchel.ne11ce hc contends that the words attributed to Luther, "Thirdlv, the law is to bc retained so that the saints inav know which worlts God requires," were intcrl>olated into the conclusion of T~ther's Secmnrl Dislmt~fitio~r Agni~lst the A~ztinomians, January 13, 15 3 8. G6 Elert's basic contention is that for Luther, ns for Paul, "the moment never arrives in the life of the Christiar~ when the law has nothing more tllan an informatory signifcancc for him," and that, if under- stood on that basis, "we shall have to agree wit11 the Scandinavian Finnish theologians 'cvho have pronounced the doctrine of n third use incompatible with thc I-uthcran understanding of the law alld gosl'"l .""; ElertJs is that theologicallv he is involved in the rvronp ball game when he claims that ~uther never tatlgllt tile I.,.TI,Ls triplex legis, and, moreover, without even Itnowing it, he is not ellen in the right ball park, when he implies that orthodox J,l~tl~eran theology by its contending for the thircl use of the 1,alv llns in fact cvcr denied or separated the second, accusatory Eunctioll of the Law, fro111 consitlcration in t11c Chrislian's Life. Elcrt is right wllen hc accuses rationalisnl, Schleierinacher, ant1 ]lis theological clesce~~tlants, includil~g his antipode, Iuthcr's writings in support of thc thircl usc of the T,a.iv. /\pparently llc does so, in order to lay :I charge against conscrvnti\rc, Confessional Lutheran thcologv of being more In 1lnc with hlclancl~tlioninn and Calvinist thinking on tllc third ~isc of thc r2a\v than with Luther. ilis accusation has moi-c. liolcs than a sieve. 11: docs not really lie within the province of this cssav to tr!: to ~xobc J'LI~~~IcI- thro~~gll Elert's thinking anti motives, nor of' thosc - - ivho follow in his train.',' Nor is that necessary. It is a blintl spot ~.i>Iiicl.l siml>lv occupictl his attention. Other notable Luther scholars - - like Helnlut "~l~iclicke,'~~)~i~l Altha~s,~~ ;~ntl FI. H. Ili.i~j~t~,. Scn~inc~'~ "C;"[fiI," ~01% 1. &o. 1. )\11g. 19'74, js ;-i case in l~oillt. "Is thc La\\. a G~~idc for Good Works?" thC ])ilot. article ;IS~\S. It a pilgc OLI~ of 1:lcrt's l~c,uli. setting Lllther ;1g;tilIst h/lcl;incht-llon, thc 170~mul n of Concol-tl rcally ;iq;~inst jtsplf ( ilntl ;,gainst h:lissou~-i's and Walthcr's thcolog)l>? ;111d. \\:hat is nlor(: tjmclY, "lnodcr;ttcs" in hilisso~~ri ;\gainst co.ns~r\.ati.c-cs. 011 the last sc01:c: thc ;ir-iclc is prohab]!. right. l'hel-c is a ~~roLlcn~ in Xlissortri. This essay presents ;I str;t~.~gc., j~icristic. itlc;~lisric I1if~~cali011 01' tlic (:li~isti:l~i. ;IS t110~1g11 lIe \\-trc not sin11c.r and si~int in t11c salnc sliin at tll~ saille tilll~. ;I p(\rson \\.hC) fintls thr. olcl i~nd lie\\. nlilll \\jtlii~i hill1 j11 constant (c,nsion. It f;~ils to oLsc!rvc. \\rllat 12uthcr il~lcl ~IIC COI~~CSS~OI~S llliili~ \.cry plain. rhnt t11c Christian man, l>cc;~usc of tllc COII[~IILIC~ inl~crc~~cc of ~IIC olcl i\di~~.ii, rcquircs thc ji~~itlan~~ of 1.11~ La\\ in sanctific;~tio~l nlltl yooti \\:orl\s, lcst 11c folio\\: aftcr ;I sell‘- ;~ppoi~ltcc.l ~~l-ogr:im of llolillcss. .;\ccordirigly. the i~rtjclc siin~?ly concludes on tltc. note hat !]I(: 1)~itl st;~t.enlcnt tlii~t tllc I,ni\ sc~:\.cs ;IS ;I guiilc ol.nl f'or tlic ~ood \\.orl\s of the Chl.isti;ln strilic:.q ;I llotct !hilt i< no1 in II;II.II~OI~!, \\it11 17C \'I' ;ln(l \!it11 J_uthcl.'s ot.1101- (sic?) \\.ritinps." (12. 9j '3-0 in,l?l!., as tl?? ;11.1iclc tlocq, thilt colisc~~~\,~ti\-c.s ;1r(! IcgaJjsts ips0 fttct,! l)cc;l~rsc r.l)c!. s~ippo~t tlic thir(l 11sc 01' tlic ]'.;I\\- .is ;I pi~lp;ll)lc doclgr. Thc c111c.stio~l ;I~~:(:;II-s to I)(: r;\tllcl. \\-Iictl~cr the \.;I~IIIIC(I "~'~CC~OIII of t11c C;osl>cl" is not ;I c:o\-c'1.-\111 Sol: ;~nti~iolllianis~i>. \\'hich h;~s ;~l\\,ii,.s ri~ox.cd \\-it11 ;I s~ll,jccti\.c, ~~ictislic frcctlom from thc o1)jcctivc \Vord of God ns gl\cn in ljol!. \V~,it. rl~~~r~t's thc st-(>I:!. i\.llicl~ hislor\ \v~..itcs so pl;\inI),, nncl i\/lisso[~ri's conc~cl.1). csl~rc'srcd at he\\. Orlcatis. is thitt thc. cocoon 01' ;~ntiiiom.i;~nis~~i \\..ill opcli I.IF 10 i~~~tigoil~ciisll~. '?.l~col~,gicfii liil1ic.s. \ol. I. I~or~rt:ss,, l'l~il;~~~c~~l~i~~~ 1966, 1 q4f. 711c llzoolog? of ;\lrrltill Li~tllc).. SO~.~J.CSS? L'l~~iI~idcl~~lii;~~ 1966, 272. ~\ltl>il~rs is ~lc,t ;rl\\.iiys cnl1sistc:nt. In his 711c Ili~.inc ~nwltt~(i~rii 11c stilt^^: "\\;c fintl it imposiil)lc to 1.ct;iin tliic concc,1>1.." (1). 45 > 7-11? 'Fl~~o/o:!. of fi l(~r!i,~ J.,~ttl1~1~. 1;11ncs (:1;1~1;(! (.:o., l-,o~~cIo~i~ I 94 7> 61 .