Robert Preus on Law and Gospel and The Simul

Scripture does not contradict itself, but it seems to do so to senseless and obstinate hypocrites.  The seeming contradiction which one finds throughout Scripture leads us to Luther’s understanding of the distinction between law and gospel (See LW 26:208). In fact, the law and gospel do not contradict each other, and christian doctrine does not contradict itself at this point. But it seems so. Scripture often presents the paradox (contraria) that a Christian man is “righteous and a sinner at the same time,” that he is “holy and profane, an enemy of God and a child of God.” (See LW 26:232, 208) People who do not understand this paradox are confused because they do not “understand the true meaning of justification [rationem justificandi].” The natural man and even the Christian is inclined to take statement of the law in Scripture as gospel and thus become confused and despair. To Luther the paradox simul justus et peccator is not an ontological description of man as righteous and a sinner, nor a statement about the old and new man, but a simple affirmation of two biblical assertions concerning man, the assertion of the law that man is a sinner and under God’s wrath and the assertion of the gospel that man is righteous and God is at peace. Both assertions are true in fact, ontologically. The second verdict, however, or assertion, takes total preeminence over the first by virtue of the principle of solus Christus. Christ is Lord! He is Lord of the Scriptures, of all doctrine, theology, and “everything.” (See LW 27:156)

Luther stresses the “paradox” (contraria) by stating that the verdict of law and gospel are absolutely contradictory (contradictoria). He says, “These two things are diametrically opposed [ipsa ex diametro pugnant]: that a Christian is righteous and beloved by God, and yet he is a sinner at the same time. For God cannot deny His own nature. That is, He cannot avoid hating sin and sinners; and He does so by necessity, for otherwise He would be unjust and would love sin. Then how can these two contradictory things both be true at the same time, that I am a sinner and deserve divine wrath and hatred and that the Father loves me? Here nothing can intervene except Christ the Mediator.” This last simple sentence explains the paradox. It explains the whole Christian religion. It explains the Scriptures. It is the secret to all exegesis of Scripture and all theologizing. It is the only comfort that a poor sinner has in life and in death. It is “Christ alone.” So we have in the principle of solus Christus not only a hermeneutical rule, not only the basis for all comfort, not only the basis for our union with God and for reconciliation and salvation, but the principle of all human knowledge and understanding.

Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession“, from “Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture“, pages 282-283


One thought on “Robert Preus on Law and Gospel and The Simul

  1. […] Read the whole thing.  Pax […]

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