Thursday, January 05, 2012

Where’s the Law?

Today I received a surprise from an old friend. He made a statement regarding my sermons that was surprising to hear, especially from him.

Thanks for the sermons. But where is the Law? I know that you may seem surprised to hear me say that but I didn't see much about us being poor, miserable sinners and stand in need of God's forgiveness. The soul that sinneth shall die.

My friend has long teased me by calling me the “Sherriff” and “John Law.” This began in our seminary days together as I was known for asking the question of certain professors: “But where’s the Law?”

In some of our classes, especially those that were counted as the “practical” areas of study, some of the professors rarely if ever spoke of the application of the Law. They usually only spoke of the application of the Gospel, and that application was a weakened and general application that was quite non-specific, rarely if ever actually speaking of the cross and the reason for it. As a student, I sensed what was wrong and cried out. My own understanding of clear and effective preaching of the Law and Gospel together had a long way to go, but I recognized the false preaching of those professors who had forgotten the interconnectedness of the two.

As I have become more experienced I have learned more and more the importance that both be preached, but that the Gospel predominate in the sermons. While we sinners most assuredly need to hear our lost condition so that we despair of our own efforts at worthiness and trust the Gospel as the power by which we are brought back into God’s communion of everlasting life and blessedness, this hearing and receiving of this blessed Gospel is the object of the preaching. As I have grown as a preacher, I have learned that I need to preach so as to send people from the divine service with the glorious good news of restoration and reconciliation through God’s means of grace as what fills their hearts and minds.

This is a continual concern in my preparations. I remain continually mindful of the necessity of the prevalence of the Gospel over the Law in my preaching.

I take the concern of my friend very seriously. I take any criticism of my preaching very seriously. In the past I have had very dear friends who had turned to a different gospel blast me very harshly over the Law that they heard in my sermons. The Gospel did prevail in those sermons, but because of the altered perspective of my friends, the Law was all that they heard. This was on account of the fact that their understanding of what the Gospel really is had changed and so the entire message was received from their perspective as condemnation. They began to attack until finally denouncing me as a friend. But I was not the one who had changed, except that my preaching of the Law and Gospel message became more clearly defined.

This repeated experience from friends who migrated from the confession in which we previously stood together has been painful for me. So today, it was really quite surprising to hear from this friend that he did not perceive the Law slapping him in face. I have examined a couple of the sermons and found that of the two, the Christmas Day sermon was much less in-your-face with the Law than the Advent sermon, but that it was indeed proclaimed.

My conclusion on the matter is that first of all, I need to be ever mindful of the necessity that both the Law and the Gospel be proclaimed, and that it be proclaimed so that the person can hear both as applicable in that person’s life. Secondly, I conclude that my dear friend is indeed a dear friend for sharing this with me. Thirdly, since my dear friend seems to have heard the Gospel applied to himself, that indeed both the Law and Gospel were heard, but at least from his perspective that the Gospel came through so clearly that in the end the Law was hardly even remembered as hitting him.

I could be wrong about this last part, but if so, I am sure that he will tell me so. Moreover, he has done me a great favor by reminding me of the absolute necessity that the Gospel not be preached apart from the awareness of the pronouncement of the Law.

One final note: In my own daily walk my own brokenness and extreme need for the healing and comfort of the Gospel is felt so keenly, so sharply and powerfully, and my wife’s expression of her awareness of this in her life, most assuredly must impact my preaching. As Luther wrote to Melanchthon, before one can become a great preacher, he must first become a great sinner.

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