A person may pretend to be a Christian while in reality he is not. As long as he is in this condition, he is quite content with his knowledge of the mere outlines of the Christian doctrines. Everything beyond that, he says, is for pastors and theologians.

To perceive as clearly as possible everything that God has revealed is something in which a non-Christian has no interest. However, the moment a person becomes a Christian there arises in him a keen desire for the doctrine of Christ.

Even the most uncultured peasant who is still unconverted is suddenly roused in the moment of his conversion and begins to reflect on God and heaven, salvation and damnation, etc. He becomes occupied with the highest problems of human life. An instance of this kind is afforded by those Jews who flocked to Christ and also by the apostles.

Those multitudes heard Christ with great joy and were astonished because He preached with authority and not as the scribes. But the majority of these hearers never advanced beyond a certain feeling of delight and admiration. The apostles, too, were uneducated people, but they acted differently. They did not stop where the rest stopped, but posed all manner of questions to Christ.

After hearing one of His parables, they said in Matthew 13:16, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” Similar to this was the conduct of the Bereans in Acts 17:11 who searched the Scriptures daily. It is, therefore, quite true what the Apology says, “Men of good conscience are crying for the truth and proper instruction from the Word of God. Even death is not as bitter to them as when they find themselves in doubt regarding this matter or that.

Accordingly, they must seek where they can find instruction.” (Mueller, page 191; Triglot Concordia, page 290). Striving to obtain the truth and divine assurance is a necessary criterion already of an ordinary Christian, but is still of a higher degree, however, in the case of a theologian. A theologian who has not the greatest interest in the Christian doctrines is unthinkable. Even where there is but the beginning of faith in the heart, a person regards no point of doctrine as trifling, and every doctrine is to him as precious as gold, silver, and rubies.

God grant that this may be your case! If it is, you will not come in a self-satisfied manner to these lectures, but will ask again and again, “What is truth?” You will ask not in the spirit of Pilate, but of Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened raptly to every word He spoke. Then, too, every one of these lectures will be of great blessing to you, even though the instrument through which the truth is to be conveyed to you is inferior.

Now, the first matter that you are to consider is the points of difference between these two doctrines, the Law and the Gospel. We have heard that there are six points of difference, four of which we have reviewed. Let us now move on to the fifth point. The fifth point of difference between the Law and the Gospel concerns the effects of these two doctrines. What is the effect of the preaching of the Law? It is threefold. In the first place the Law tells us what to do, but does not enable us to comply with its commands.

Rather, it causes us to become more unwilling to keep the Law. True, some treat the Law as if it were a rule in arithmetic. However, let the Law force its way into a person’s heart, and that heart will strain with all its force against God. The person will become furious at God for asking such impossible things of him. Yes, he will curse God in his heart. He would kill God if he could. He would push God from His throne if that were possible. The effect of preaching the Law, then, is to increase the lust for sinning.

In the second place, the Law shows man his sins, but offers him no help to get out of them and thus hurls man into despair. In the third place, the Law does indeed produce repentance. It conjures up the terrors of hell, of death, and of the wrath of God. But it has not a drop of comfort to offer the sinner. If no additional teaching, besides the Law, is applied to man he must despair, die, and perish in his sins. Ever since the Fall the Law can produce no other effects in man. Let us ponder this well.

Romans 7:7–9 shows us the truth of this fact when Paul relates his personal experience under the Law when he writes, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.”

No heathen knows that even evil lust in the heart is sin. The greatest moralists have said, “It is not my fault that I sin. I cannot help it. I cannot prevent myself from sinning.” But the Law shouts, “You shall not covet! You shall not lust!” Yes, we are told that we must be free even from inherited lust. While a person gives no thought to the Law, sin goes in and out of his heart, and he is not conscious of sinning. Ask a worldly person about this matter, and he will be surprised and say, “I have done no evil. I have killed no one. I have not committed adultery. I have not been a thief,” etc.

He is not noticing at all that sin is a constant guest with him. But when the Law strikes him like a bolt of lightning he perceives how great a sinner he is and what horribly, ungodly thoughts he is cherishing. That is what the apostle means when he says, “Sin revived,” when the Law came. The Law uncovers sin but offers us no comfort. If we only had the Law, as we have it now, and nothing besides, we should have to perish forever and go to hell. The harsh effects and the curse of the divine Law will first be felt in hell, for the Law must be fulfilled.

It must preserve its divine authority. Take 2 Corinthians 3:6 where we read, “The letter kills.” The apostle calls the Law “the letter” because God has inscribed it in the form of letters upon tables of stone. Even pagans have observed that the Law produces an effect opposite to that which it commands. The statement of the wildly immoral poet Ovid is well known: Nitimur in vetitum, semper cupimusque negata (“We strive after the forbidden thing and always lust after those things which are denied us”).

Ovid himself was a swine, and he says bluntly, “See, this is what I do. I always do those things which others regard as forbidden.” When the Israelites, at Mount Sinai, were given the Ten Commandments they were all trembling. Their natural behavior revealed the condition of their hearts. Behold, that is the effect of the Law! Accordingly, when the rich young man came to Christ asking how he might be saved, and was so utterly blind that he did not at all perceive his sinful corruption, we are told in Matthew 19:22 that, “He went away sorrowful.”

Christ could not yet apply the Gospel to this young man. He first had to convince him that he was utterly incapable of fulfilling the Law. Again, when Paul preached to Felix, the governor, concerning righteousness, temperance, and the Judgment to come, we read that in Acts 24:25 that, “Felix trembled and answered, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” But he never called for Paul again. He wanted to be rid of the thunder and lightning of the Law.

Again, when Peter, on the first Christian festival of Pentecost had preached the Law to his hearers, we are told in Acts 2:37-38 that “When they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

The effects of the Gospel are of an entirely different nature. They consist in this, that, in the first place, the Gospel, when demanding faith, offers and gives us faith in that very demand. When we preach to people, “Do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” God gives them faith through our preaching. We preach faith, and any person not willfully resisting, obtains faith. It is, indeed, not the mere physical sound of the spoken Word that produces this effect, but the contents of the Word.

C.F.W. Walther

End notes:

[1] C.F.W. Walther (2011-12-29T05:00:00+00:00). The Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel (Kindle Locations 252-317). Pirate Christian Media. Kindle Edition.

See also: