(An After-School Lesson for Virginia)
It was the last thesis in The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel that C.F.W. Walther declared that the Gospel must predominate the preaching and teaching of Servants of the Word. What did he mean by that, Virginia? He meant that the Gospel must predominate instead of the Law. What would that look and sound like? Well, as they say, it all depends.
When Servants are teaching the Word of God, we might expect more time or space would be spent teaching articles of faith in the Gospel than elements of Divine Law. For example, in Luther’s Large Catechism, most of the chief parts are devoted to teaching about aspects of the Gospel. Only the first chief part (the Ten Commandments) teaches the demands of the Law that reveal sin and describe good works. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to conclude that in preaching the Word of God, more time must be spent on the Gospel than the Law. While the content is the same, there is an important difference between preaching and teaching the Gospel.
There are two different modes of discourse that convey the Gospel. The first is a didactic or informational mode that informs about Christ's saving work and that God forgives sinners for His sake. Here, we receive teaching about the Gospel usually with Him-you language.
Secondly, there is a prophetic mode or personal address of God that proclaims and bestows the saving gifts of Christ. This voice usually employs I-you language. As revealed information, the Gospel teaches and informs about God's forgiveness of sinners. With prophetic language, God personally addresses the sinner: “I forgive you all your sins.” And, what you hear is what you get!* When preached, the Gospel does not predominate by spending more time on it. The Gospel predominates when hearers receive the saving gifts of Christ as God’s FINAL WORD to them.
We all know when we have received the last word. It is followed by silence. The saving gifts of the Gospel need to be delivered to sinners as God’s last word. We could also think of the last word as the bottom line. When you get to the bottom line, you have come to the most important thing that provides right perspective on everything that has come before. It is the bottom line or last word that dominates in the proclamation of God’s Word precisely because it is… the last word.
Therefore, what needs to come first—what needs to be preliminary, provisional, and preparatory is God’s address of Law. The Law is to serve the Gospel, never the reverse. The purpose of the Law is to prepare the heart of sinners to receive the liberating saving gifts of the Gospel.
What’s that Virginia? What if the preacher spends more time on the Law?
It is no problem should more time be devoted to the Law to clarify and admonish the life of faith and works and convict of sin. Sometimes more on the Law is needed. However, convicted sinners get God’s bottom line in what follows as the Lord’s gracious Word of forgiveness. When proclaimed, the Word of God that brings death to sin (Law), is always to be followed with the Saving Word (Gospel) that restores and brings life with God.
Only when the Gospel concludes with an Amen and delicious silence, can its life-giving freedom fully impact the heart of sinner. This is how the Gospel predominates when it is preached, and this is terribly important.
What if the Servant of the Word does not shut up after delivering the Lord’s forgiveness to sinners? What if he returns to the Law out of mistaken zeal to promote more or better good works (Law/Gospel/Law)? What if his bottom line presents God admonishing good works as His last Word? When the Gospel’s saving gifts are not presented as God’s final word, then good works are falsely construed as the bottom line of God’s dealing with sinners. The forgiveness of the Gospel can easily be misconstrued as more chances to clean up your spiritual life for more good works.
The goal of the Gospel is the sinner, not what the sinner can do for God. God so loved the world [sinners like you] that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:18). You are the big deal to God, not what you can do for Him. So, Virginia, understand, listen, and thank God for Servants of the Word who let the Gospel predominate: who deliver the saving gift of the Gospel to you as God’s Last Word. Because it is!
*Christian Life: Cross or Glory?, p. 63