02 April 2006

God's Mercy in the Law & Commandments

Several times in the Gospel, Our Lord Jesus urges us to keep His word. To this urging He often attaches a sure promise. Here is one of those instances:
I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.” (Jn 8.51)
This correspondes to what the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths of Joshua & David. Joshua tells the children of Israel to take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Josh 22)

And David commands his son, Solomon, to walk in His [the Lord's] ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses. Then David adds this promise:
that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn; that the LORD may fulfill His word which He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons take heed to their way, to walk before Me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul,’ He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’
How are we to understand these words? How are we to understand these commands?

The Law and commandments flow from the mercy of God. For they are handed down not as a test, not to threaten, but so that we might be safe-guarded from our own self-destructive ways and so that, through them, we may safely attain the kingdom of heaven.

Now should we refuse to walk in the way of the Law and in the works of the commandments, then they accuse us of going our self-chosen way--that is, against the Lord's way. But it appears that the primary use of the Lord's Law is merciful; so that we might remain in the way which is Christ Jesus our Lord.


William Weedon said...

You are tracking with St. Maximos here:

"Because He wishes to unite us in nature and will with one another, and in His goodness urges all humanity to this goal, God in His love entrusted His saving commandments to us, ordaining simply that we should show mercy and receive mercy." *First Century of Various Texts* par. 45

Anonymous said...

I believe the Lutheran hermeneutic of Law/Gospel to be a much more valuable in pastoral settings in order to ease the consceince rather than to be used as a hard and fast rule for biblical exegesis. Doing the later just seemes a bit too contrived and puts dogmatic theology before exegetical theology (if I may use those modern and admittedly not-very-helpful categories).

As I wonder aloud, has this Law/Gospel hermenuetic (or even the "two-kingdom theory") helped breed an anti-nomianism within the Lutheran Church(es)? Am I wrong to say that the "theology is the pastors job" mindset or the "concern for social justice/personal sanctification is law driven" mindset results from a Law/Gospel dichotomy gone mad?

cheryl said...

As I wonder aloud, has this Law/Gospel hermenuetic (or even the "two-kingdom theory") helped breed an anti-nomianism within the Lutheran Church(es)?

Perhaps there is no one answer to this. More than likely it varies from situation to situation. There will always be individuals who distort the Gospel using it as a license to sin (Paul addressed this quite thoroughly).

Personally, my experience within lutheranism has not lead to anti-nomianism. Ever since my confirmation days, I've struggled with salvic assurity. And I haven't encountered too many lutherans where this has ever been a problem. This seems to be more of an issue in calvinistic circles (and by that I don't mean bad behavior, but the expressed idea that it doesn't matter what we do or do not do) and it seems to be tied to OSAS (although I wouldn't go so far as to say that it is inherent in OSAS).

In regards to "Law and Gospel" specifically, it's not something unique to Lutheranism. It's a christian doctrine, and present to some extent in all the churches. (I have even encountered roman catholics, who have a better grasp on the doctrine, than some lutherans I know). The difference I think is that in Lutheranism, (perhaps by becoming a formal theological study in and of itself), it is applied the most consistently.