A Great Fence
Philipp Nicolai, Johann Heermann, and Paul Gerhardt, Hymnwriters
26 October 2016
"Good fences make good neighbors," or so the homey truism goes. When the Lord God came to Mount Sinai to hand down the unalterable law he warned the people not to touch the mountain upon which He revealed Himself saying to holy Moses, "you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, 'Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death" (Ex 19:12). The law was an instrument of death, as the conditions of its giving amply illustrate. If you approach the law, you will die. Nothing has changed since God gave the law. The law remains a deadly threat, which if we transgress, that will kill. What keeps that killing threat from breaking out in wrath and death against us? Why does the law keep to its boundaries? Why aren't we consumed in God's righteous indignation against our transgressions?
What binds the law, spiritually and temporally, is the justification of the sinner through the gospel proclamation of the death and wounds of Christ. He who is the Offspring promised to Abraham four hundred thirty years before the people of Israel received the law at Sinai as the boundary that keeps the law in check. Fences work for both sides of the fence. If we transgress the fence of the law, there will be death. If we are kept within the boundary that is created by the gospel of Christ, then we are kept safe and salvation is ours. When the law pushes the gospel shoves back and secrets us under its wings.
Spiritually the law has no place in the church because it has been held back by the gospel. Spiritually the law can no longer accuse us of our guilt, because our guilt has been taken away by Christ. Spiritually the law can no longer terrify us, because Christ has covered our sin and the law has been made impotent. Within the boundary of the gospel the law has no place, no power, no sway, can make no threat, cannot damn, and does not kill. The gospel's still small voice simply drowns out the law's thunderous roar. The gospel isn't just a good fence but a great fence.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Paul does not make the law permanent; but he says that it was given and added to the promise because of transgressions, that is, to restrain them in society but especially to reveal them theologically; and he says that this was not to be forever but for a certain time. Here it is necessary to know the predicate, 'to what point,' that is, how long the reign or tyranny of the law was to go on revealing sin, showing us what we are like and manifesting the wrath of God. Those who really feel all this would perish instantly if they did not receive comfort. Unless the days of the law were shortened, therefore, no one would be saved (Mt 24:22). And so it is necessary to predetermine the manner and the time of the law, beyond which it is not to prevail. How long, then, is the dominion of the law to last? Until the Offspring comes (Gal 3:19), namely, that Offspring about whom it is written: 'In your Offspring shall all nations be blessed.' Therefore, the law is necessary to the point when the fullness of time (Gal 4:4) and the Offspring of the blessing comes. Not that the law itself brings the Offspring or grants righteousness; but in society it restrains and imprisons the untamed, while theologically it denounces, humbles, and terrifies, and drives those who are humble and terrified to long for the Offspring of the blessing.
"You may understand the duration of the time of the law either literally or spiritually. Literally: The law lasted until Christ. Christ says, 'From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John' (Mt 11:12-13). At that time Christ was baptized and began to preach, when in a literal way the law and the whole Mosaic system of worship came to an end.
"In a spiritual sense: The law must not rule in the conscience any longer than the predetermined time of that Blessed Offspring. Therefore, when the law has disclosed my iniquities to me, has terrified me, and has revealed to me the wrath and judgment of God, so that I begin to blanch and to despair, then the law has reached the prescribed manner, time, and purpose when it must stop exercising its tyranny, because then it has discharged its function by adequately disclosing the wrath of God and creating terror. Here one must say: 'Stop, law! You have caused enough terror and sorrow. You overwhelm me with all Your waves; Your dread assaults destroy me (Ps 88:7, 16). 'O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath' (Ps 6:1). When these terrors and complaints come, it is the time and the hour of the Blessed Offspring. Then let the law withdraw; for it was indeed added for the sake of disclosing and increasing transgressions, but only until the point when the Offspring would come. Once He is present, let the law stop disclosing transgressions and terrifying. Let it surrender its realm to another, that is, to the Blessed Offspring, Christ. He has gracious lips, with which He does not accuse and terrify but speaks better things than the law, namely, grace, peace, forgiveness of sins, and victory over sin and death."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 3.19
Psalm 88

O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!
For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.  Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?  Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you. Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.  They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun my companions have become darkness. (ESV)
Lord Christ, speak the quiet gospel that You are the Offspring who stops the law's rampage through the world, that I might rest under the shadow of Your wing secure under that gospel proclamation by faith. Amen.
For Gerald Tackett, who is undergoing therapy for cancer, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength
For those who are serving the LCMS raising funds for the work of proclaiming the cross of Christ, that they would be strengthened in their leadership roles for the church under the cross
For clement weather, that we would thank God for the beauty of these days
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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