Category Archives: Law

Adam, the Garden, and God’s Law

If, according to Lutheran teaching, the law is not made for a righteous person, if it has reference only to sin, then it had no place in the state of created, original righteousness. Man in the holy divine image was without the law. His condition is thought of as the perfect unio mystica, the gracious indwelling of the most holy Trinity. The command not to eat is therefore only something negative and does not come under the concept of law. It was only a pedagogic measure in the interest of confirming the state of innocence. It also gave man opportunity, however, to enter into sin and so into the position of being under the law.

According to the Reformed, on the other hand, the first man was under the law just like the believer. For the former, too, the objective, divine will existed as a norm outside himself, according to which he was obligated to live and conduct himself. After all, the necessity of a progressive development into perfection was facing him. Such perfection he had not yet received with the divine image, but it was intended for him. Even as a bearer of the divine image Adam was subject to the prescriptive dictates of the law in the form of a commanding conscience, which in this form constitutes an essential motivating element of human nature. For human nature is simply the finite, which can get to know the divine will as the absolute only in this form. The purely finite sees the infinite opposite it and sees itself only as different from and dependent on it.

Lutherans, by way of contrast, see Adam as the final product of God’s creation, who did not need any real development but only to persevere and be confirmed in holiness. Enjoying the most intimate unity with God by virtue of the indwelling of the Trinity, he was the perfect human model. Because he was created with perfect righteousness, the difference between what one should do and what one wants to do, between God’s will and his own will, did not even exist. God’s will was expressed only as that which was identical with man’s will. Man’s will was in full conformity with God’s. That a separation occurred between the two and the consciousness of the divine will became a reality as a demanding conscience is already the result of sin.

The imperative form of the divine will in the conscience became a reality only then when God had to call man to account and condemn him. It is, however, no more essential than the form whereby God called man to account and condemned him and is only a testimony to the already degenerate quality of human nature. Rather, only that original holy impulse which was at the bottom of that divine commanding is shown to be essential; this is not law, not duty, but willingness, love. And this is restored from the categorical imperative form through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by faith. It was only when the Reformed idea of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace was adopted that Lutheran teaching began to abandon this view, which originated from exegetical considerations.

Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper. All italicized print appears in Pieper’s essay.


Crushing Law and Soothing Gospel from 1888

C.J. Otto Hanser was the long-time pastor at Trinity congregation in the Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. Part of the time he served alongside C.F.W. Walther. He was a prolific submitter of outlines (Dispositionen) to the homiletics magazine of the Missouri Synod. Here is a portion of my translation of his outline for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Any errors of translation are mine. DMJ+

Ask yourself: “Who are you actually?” Answer: a man. Excellent, do you believe also what a man is according to God’s Word, namely a sinner, an enemy of God, under the curse of the law, a child of the devil, a victim of hell and damnation? For we have all turned aside, all men are liars, filled with all unrighteousness. Is your heart scared, do you speak in truth: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”? Blessed are you, you are properly prepared.

Ask yourself again: “Who are you?” and answer: “A Christian.” Excellent, if it is true. What kind of Christian are you? Are you truly converted, born again, are you in the true faith? Are you ruled by the Holy Spirit or by the flesh? Do you aspire for higher things, or for what is on earth? Do you crucify your flesh, do you renounce the world? Do you surely hope to be saved or are you frightened at the thought of death? Blessed are you if you can answer humbly with John the Baptist: “I am not worthy that I should untie the sandal strap of my Jesus, that I am called according to the name of Christ, because I am such a poor, miserable Christian that I am ashamed of myself. Then you are properly prepared.

Ask yourself further: “Who are you?” Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, manservant, maidservant? What are you all in your station in life? Christian parents, do you lead a Christian household, do you have prayer and God’s Word in the family? Are your Christian children and servants according to the Fourth Commandment obedient or rebellious, humble or arrogant and headstrong? Blessed are you when you answer: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” “One could not answer him once in a thousand times.”

John testifies about Christ that He is man, but also God (“preferred before me”); for this purpose He became man, that He Who is the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world; the testimony of Christmas confirms it. You should faithfully embrace this and say: I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior, for He is God, I fear nothing; I am a weak Christian, but God Himself says:Rejoice,the Savior brings salvation every day, new grace that abundantly, daily, forgives my sins. I deserve death and hell;but on Christmas the heavens over the sinful world have opened up, therefore I shall not die, but live. “Welcome to earth, O noble Guest!” etc. In other words, prepare the way for the Lord.

– Otto Hanser (1832-1910), Outline for a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (John 1:19-28)

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Law, Gospel, What Next?

But let the Law do its work, and let the Gospel follow; then we face another strategic question – what should come next? A popular answer, offered by some of the really big names in LCMS history, is that you go back to the Law! “Sanctification,” some call it! “Evangelical admonition,” others say! Still others refer to “Gospel imperatives,” and yet more point to the “Third Use of the Law.” And all of the above are ready to label as “antinomian” those of us who say “no!” to these answers, however worded. Be assured that I believe in the third use of the Law, precisely and especially in the sense that it is discussed in FC VI, namely, that the third use is one of the ways in which God uses the Law….

Two things need to be noted, as we discern what should come after the Gospel. First, what many people want, and what many pastors deliver, is NOT the third use of the Law, which is purely informative in nature, indicative and not imperative. Rather, many people want and many pastors deliver the first use of the Law! What they desire is the law which modifies behavior, by curbing the continuance of anything that does not comport to what ought to be in the lives of Christians. That is the first use, not the third!

Moreover, whatever else the Law is doing, it is always accusing! Lex semper accusat! This is because, as the Formula says while discussing the third use, “to reprove is the real function of the law.” Now, if proclamation is what Lutheran preaching is about, and if identification of my  new being as a child of God is what the Gospel gives me, and if “good works are bound to flow from faith,” as our confessions assert, why would we want to put our hearers back under accusation and the terrors of conscience once again at the end of the sermon?

Instead, let me propose that Lutheran preachers consider “Gospel application.” Gospel application is where one goes beyond the statement of Gospel facts, such as “Jesus died for you,” or “in Holy Baptism, people are reborn into the kingdom of grace.” Gospel application occurs when, on the basis of the Gospel facts, the preacher actually forgives sins, when he actually declares, “you are God’s child!” “You are forgiven!” “No one will pluck you out of My hand!” Such Gospel application is simply relieving reflective reasoning of a necessary role in proclamation. We ought not to leave the hearer to draw the immediate application from the general principle. Instead, make Gospel application the summation of your sermon.

– Rev. Robert Schaibley, “Lutheran Preaching: Proclamation, Not Communication”


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