Walther's Law and Gospel Theses

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Casey

Puritan Board Junior
These theses are taken from Walther's book, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel. This book is still in print and was his most influential book. He was the first president of the LCMS (a moderately conservative Lutheran denomination in the Midwest).

Which of these theses are upheld by historic Reformed theology, and which of these theses are denied by historic Reformed theology?
Thesis I.

The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis II.

Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis III.

Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Thesis IV.

The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is an remains a sealed book.

Thesis V.

The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists, and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.

Thesis VI.

In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness, when, on the contrary, Gospel elements are mingled with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.

Thesis VII.

In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

Thesis VIII.

In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

Thesis IX.

In the fifth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when thy are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.

Thesis X.

In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.

Thesis XI.

In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.

Thesis XII.

In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.

Thesis XIII.

In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.

Thesis XIV.

In the tenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.

Thesis XV.

In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance.

Thesis XVI.

In twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practises.

Thesis XVII.

In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times.

Thesis XVIII.

In the fourteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.

Thesis XIX.

In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if there were not of a damnable, but of a venial nature.

Thesis XX.

In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person’s salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox Church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith.

Thesis XXI.

In the seventeenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act.

Thesis XXII.

In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.

Thesis XXIII.

In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

Thesis XXIV.

In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgiven sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.

Thesis XXV.

In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.
[source]
 

Staphlobob

Puritan Board Sophomore
Walther is well-known and loved by many confessional Lutherans (usually LCMS, but others as well). I'm not sure if any of the law-gospel distinctions are explicitly denied by Reformed theology, but I thinking covenant theology is more predominant instead.

I still use much of the law-gospel distinctives in my own ministry. E.g., should I encounter someone (usually an addict in rehab at the mission where I work) who claims to be Christian, then I will be more apt to rely upon the law as a means of their ongoing sanctification. OTOH, should they explicitly claim not to be a Christian, I will try and err on the other side.

Anyway, I'd highly recommend Walther.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I have it but haven't read much of it yet. He's suppose to be a good example of conservative Luther-type Lutheranism, along with men like Hengstenberg. He's probably a profitable read. :2cents:
 

Casey

Puritan Board Junior
So, these theses are derived from Scripture? I mean, Thesis 15 reads, "the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance." This one alone seems contrary to Scripture and the WCF. :scratch:
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
So, these theses are derived from Scripture? I mean, Thesis 15 reads, "the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance." This one alone seems contrary to Scripture and the WCF. :scratch:

The fact that we preach the necessity of repentance does not make it a part of the gospel. Law and gospel always accompany one another, but we do not confuse them. Gospel is promise; law is duty.


http://www.puritanboard.com/f31/what-reformed-view-law-gospel-33247/

Is Faith a Work? « Heidelblog
 

Casey

Puritan Board Junior
Mark 1:14-15:

Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

WCF 15.1:

Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I would say that the theses represent the specifically Lutheran law-gospel dynamic, as developed through historic Lutheranism.

I have much appreciated the recovery of a Reformed law-gospel reckoning of the Bible's moods. I think it shows that we share a particular heritage with the Lutherans. At the same time, I don't really think we can simply import Walther's theses into a Reformed context, and declare our allegiance to them.

For one thing, if we do so we have failed to understand them first as a Lutheran does. It is harder than we suppose to understand and then represent fairly alien formulations from the outside. Only then should we try to bring them alongside our own views to see where they parallel and where they differ.

All I'm saying is: do not reject what you haven't understood as of from a sympathetic viewpoint, AND do not receive of which you have not discerned the differences with your primary sympathies.

Real world application: how many of us have heard much Lutheran preaching of any stripe? Or, the self-conscious implementation of these principles, from one who has been trained and practiced in them? Not many of us, I bet. I have now heard a few Lutheran exemplars--[-]sermons[/-] homilies, really--on the Issues Etc. radio program over the last few months.

From this (very) limited sample, I'm not convinced that the practical implementation of Walther's theses produces effective expositional preaching. That may not even be the fault of Walther.

Now, as for T.XV, if I understand the particular point against which the point is asserted, I think it is a helpful distinction. To preach the gospel is not reducible to calling for repentance. In fact, the "gospel" as such is news, and itself elicits reactions--whether repentance & faith, or hate and opposition.

The gospel preacher 1) proclaims the gospel, and 2) calls for repentance from sin. But simply to preach, say, the LAW; followed by calls for REPENTANCE may very well bypass the gospel entirely. And this, I think, is exactly what Walther is opposing.
 
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