Terrifying Law, Comforting Gospel
Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr
17 October 2016
Comfort of souls troubled by sin is at the center of Christianity. The teaching or doctrine of the church is first and foremost to free Christian consciences from the terrors of the law. Doctrine is not esoterica meant to keep outsiders in the dark. Through its light the gospel doctrine saves. This is why the gospel must have the predominance in Christian preaching and teaching. Only the gospel can comfort Christian souls and give rest to those who are troubled by the terrors of the law. If we do not feel that terror perhaps our pastors have not preached the law of God with its full ferocity. They have not brought us to stand before the cloud-covered mountain trembling from the presence of the God who demands. The voice of God that caused the Children of Israel to quail and cower still sounds from the Ten Commandments when they are proclaimed.
Only those who have heard that voice of God truly appreciate and relish the peace of God that comes through the gospel preaching. The gospel will be lost when the law is not preached in its full power and divine wrath. Please ask your pastor to proclaim the law to you; not the law that confronts those other sinners and their sins, but your own sin, you who are a sinner before God. Then and only then will you recognize and relish the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
The distinction between the law and the gospel was hidden to the early church and only appears in the shadows for true teachers like Augustine and others. Yet, the distinction is an especially clear light that distinguishes salvation from damnation, heaven from hell, God from the devil, and works from faith. That distinction, when taken seriously, will preserve the doctrine of justification in the church and see to it that only the gospel is at the center of the church's preaching and teaching. Then we will know Christ aright, not as judge, but as Savior who saves the lost and a Lord who serves His servants. Let the law and the gospel both do what God sends them to do, then God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"It is a matter of no small moment to believe correctly about what the law is and what its use and function are. Thus it is evident that we do not reject the law and works, as our opponents falsely accuse us. But we do everything to establish the law, and we require works. We say that the law is good and useful, but in its proper use, namely, first, as we have said earlier, to restrain civic transgressions; and secondly, to reveal spiritual transgressions. Therefore, the law is a light that illumines and shows, not the grace of God or righteousness and life but the wrath of God, sin, death, our damnation in the sight of God, and hell. For just as on Mt. Sinai the lightning, the thunder, the dark cloud, the smoking and burning mountain, and the whole horrendous sight did not make the children of Israel happy or alive but terrified them, made them almost helpless, and disclosed a presence of God speaking from the cloud that they could not bear for all their sanctity and purity, so when the law is being used correctly, it does nothing but reveal sin, work wrath, accuse, terrify, and reduce the minds of men to the point of despair. And that is as far as the law goes.
"On the other hand, the gospel is a light that illumines hearts and makes them alive. It discloses what grace and the mercy of God are; what the forgiveness of sins, blessing, righteousness, life, and eternal salvation are; and how we are to attain to these. When we distinguish the law from the gospel this way, we attribute to each its proper use and function. You will not find anything about this distinction between the law and the gospel in the books of the monks, the canonists, and the recent and ancient theologians. Augustine (354-430) taught and expressed it to some extent. Jerome (347-420) and others like him knew nothing at all about it. In other words, for many centuries there has been a remarkable silence about this in all the schools and churches. This situation has produced a very dangerous condition for consciences. For unless the gospel is clearly distinguished from the law, Christian doctrine cannot be kept sound. But when this distinction is recognized, the true meaning of justification is recognized. Then it is easy to distinguish faith from works, and Christ from Moses, as well as from the magistrate and all civil laws. For everything apart from Christ is a ministry of death for the punishment of the wicked."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 3.19
Galatians 3:19-29

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. 
Lord God, You confront me at Sinai with your thunderous law that causes me to quake as the very ground shifts beneath my feet. I am no better than the Children of Israel who claimed that they would do all the things written in the book of the law, and who then forgot not just the law but You. Send Your Holy Spirit that I might not make an idol of the law by taming it and making it my friend, easily mastered by me. Instead let me listen to the law's full threat that I might know the richness of Your grace in the gospel that rescues from the law's threatening tones. Bless my pastor that he might preach the full threat of the law and the sweet comfort of the gospel, through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.
For Gerald Tackett, who is undergoing chemotherapy, that the Lord would grant him strength and courage
For Bill Heine, that the Lord Jesus would be His help and strength
For all persecuted Christians, that the Holy Spirit would lead them to confess Christ as Lord
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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