While on vicarage, many years ago in southern Florida, I was visiting with some of the
preschoolers of the congregation. One of them told me that “Jesus died to take away our money.” When I asked why he thought that, the child responded “because you told us Jesus died to take away our cents.” Little ears heard the word cents rather than the word sins. Humorous as that may be it emphasized to me the necessity of preaching and teaching with clarity. This is always true especially when it comes to preaching the section of the text concerning the law. Good preaching includes clarity concerning the malady of all mankind and the need for a Savior.
Luther on Preaching the Law
Preaching the law is no easy task but it must be done. In the Smalcald Articles Part II, Article II Luther wrote “the chief function or power of the law is to make original sin manifest and show man to what utter depths his nature has fallen and how corrupt it has become. So the law must tell him that he neither has nor cares for God or that he worships strange gods… Thus he is terror stricken and humbled, becomes despondent and despairing, anxiously desires help but does not know where to find it…”
Forgoing the Law in a sermon leaves for no purpose of the Gospel. In the Formula of Concord Solid Declaration, Article V, the Lutheran Fathers quote Luther when he said “everything that preaches about our sin and the wrath of God no matter how or when it happens, is the proclamation of the law. On the other hand, the Gospel is a proclamation that shows and gives nothing but grace and forgiveness in Christ. At the same time it is true and right that the apostles and the preachers of the Gospel, just as Christ himself did, confirm the proclamation of the law and begin with the law in the case of those who as yet neither know their sins nor are terrified by the wrath of God.”
As hard and sometimes unpleasant as preaching the law is, doing so with textual clarity makes preaching the Gospel ever more perspicuous. When a haughty heart has been stricken by the stinging point of identifying sin, it moves to the edge of its pew longing for a rescue from their malady. As Luther points out, the law is to identify the fact of a fallen nature that entraps everyone. True as that is, it doesn’t always strike home. General statements about general sins that the general population generally commits is easily passed off from ear to brain to oblivion. When the text offers examples of the issue being confronted, it is appropriate to make a textual application to the lives of the hearers. The prophets did as much for Israel and the malady of Israel is the struggle we have today and every day.
Preaching The Law from the Scripture Texts
Each Sunday there are three scripture lessons that form the theme of the day. In at least one of them if not in all three the law is used to kill the Old Adam in the hearer. There need not be any more than one or once in a while maybe two textual examples that are meant for that purpose. Stay within the texts used for the Sunday if possible. When the general becomes specific to the hearer the ears are opened and the heart hungers for relief.
The Gospel – Christ and Him Crucified
Now the preacher has the wonderful and joyous privilege to preach Christ and Him crucified for the sake of forgiveness of our sins. The Gospel comes to rescue the lost, it raises the dead. For every malady confronting the hearer throughout the church year there is Christ taking the punishment for that sin upon Himself and bleeding His holy blood to wash the hearer clean. Clear and applicable law, even if only one application makes for clear and distinct application of the never ending flood of the Gospel. When the hearer desires the Good News they will hear it.
We credit the Law/Gospel paradigm to C.F.W. Walther and rightly so with his publication of a book by the same name. At the same time Walther was simply an excellent student of Luther who has handed to us a marvelous treasure of good and proper preaching.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 Professional Packet