WALTHER’S LAW AND GOSPEL
One of the hallmarks of the Lutheran Church is its proper understanding and application of the
Bible’s two main teachings—Law and Gospel. Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s seminal work, The Proper
Distinction Between Law and Gospel, is the basis for this two-year series. Note: page numbers given are accurate for the 1929 and 1986 editions of the book.
“Thesis X—In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.
In men’s eight rowing, there are two phases to each stroke: drive and recovery. The tension and strain of the catch into the water, followed by the powerful glide with each release. With each member balancing his 12.5-foot oar precariously off either side of the boat, precision was essential.
Thus, we needed our ninth team member, the coxswain. Typically smaller in stature and tucked into the stern, his voice calling out across the shell kept everyone in sync.
The beauty of colonial architecture along the Charles River and the power of propelling through the water were breathtaking. But if either benefit became a distraction, the ensuing turbulence could lead to a dislocated joint or a plunge into Boston Harbor.
The Spirit of God produces tremendous benefits in the believer’s heart and mind. Pure scriptural doctrine is far more beautiful than any New England fall day, and there is great spiritual power in Christian love of God and neighbor. These two, knowledge and love, flow naturally from living faith, just as the sun “need not be told to shine” (p. 211).
Since no work of the heart can save, though, to focus on either of these benefits would lead to a shipwreck of faith.
There was no more perfect human knowledge and love than Adam and Eve’s in Eden. Yet neither faculty prevented their fall into sin.
The Law sternly warns how faith can be lost, but the Gospel is God’s commitment to restore you to faith. Law and Gospel are not rightly divided when faith becomes confused with the benefits of knowledge or love. Faith’s sole object is faith’s sole source: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17 KJV)
Yoked together with a motley crew of teammates, all out of synch concerning the righteousness God requires, we sinners should be jettisoned into eternal death. But the Savior who calmed Galilee’s waters has made peace between you and your God through His cross and empty tomb.
By grace alone, the pulpits and schools of our fellowship yet resound with a concerted effort to keep this Law and Gospel in proper balance, lest one soul be lost. Pray the Spirit keep us steady toward that goal.
So, when you find yourself tossed about, refocus on that voice calling out from the stern: drive and recovery! “The Law shows me my sin . . . the Gospel shows me my Savior.” Marvel at how divine wisdom can be both so basic, yet at the same time so advanced.
Timothy Daub is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hecla, South Dakota.
[To read Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel for free on-line, and to access related Bible class materials, go to www.ilc.edu/Walther]