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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Law Givers Promote Sin and Despair: Martin Luther

It is impossible for human nature to fulfill the law . . .   Martin Luther


Does that mean that Christ promotes sin? This is a Hebraism that Paul also uses in 2 Corinthians 3. To promote sin is to be a lawgiver or someone who leads us to the law, which teaches good works and love and that we must suffer afflictions and follow the example of Christ and the saints. Someone who teaches and requires this is promoting the law, sin, wrath, and death, for by teaching this he is only terrifying and afflicting people’s consciences and giving them over to sin. It is impossible for human nature to fulfill the law; indeed, in those who are justified and have the Holy Spirit, the law at work in the members of their body fights against the law of their mind (Romans 7:23). What will it not do in wicked people, then, who do not have the Holy Spirit? Therefore, a person who teaches that righteousness comes through the law does not understand what he is saying, and much less does he keep the law; rather, he is deceiving himself and others and laying on them a burden they cannot bear, requiring and teaching impossible things, and in the end he brings himself and his disciples to despair.


The real point of the law is to accuse and condemn those who live in complacency, so that they see themselves to be in danger of sin, wrath, and eternal death and may be terrified and brought to the brink of despair. Being like that, they are under the law, for the law requires perfect obedience to God and condemns all those who do not achieve this. It is certain that there is no one living who is able to do this. The law therefore does not justify but condemns (see Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10).


Paul has good reason in 2 Corinthians 3 to call the ministry of the law the ministry of sin, for the law accuses consciences and reveals sin, which without the law is dead. Now the knowledge of sin terrifies the heart, drives us to despair, kills, and destroys (Romans 7:11). (I am speaking here not about the speculative knowledge of hypocrites but about true knowledge, by which we see God’s wrath against sin and feel a true taste of death.) That is why Scripture calls these teachers of the law and works oppressors and tyrants. Just as the slave drivers in Egypt oppressed the Israelites with physical servitude (Exodus 5), so these lawgivers drive people into wretched spiritual bondage of soul and in the end bring them to despair and utter destruction. They know neither themselves nor the force of the law. Nor is it possible for them to have a quiet conscience during great internal terror and the agony of death even if they have observed the law, loved their neighbors, done many good works, and suffered great affliction, for the law always terrifies and accuses, telling us we never did all that the law commands and that those who have not done everything contained in the law are cursed. So the conscience still has these terrors, which get worse and worse. If such teachers of the law are not raised up by faith and the righteousness of Christ, they are driven to despair.

This was also notably indicated when the law was given, as we can see in Exodus 19–20. Moses brought the people out of the tents to meet the Lord, so that they might hear him speak to them out of the dark cloud. A little earlier the people had promised to do all that God had commanded, but now they were afraid and fell back, saying to Moses, “Who can bear to see the fire and hear the thunder and the sound of the trumpet? If you talk to us, we will listen; but do not let God speak to us or we will die.” So the right place of the law is to lead us out of our tents—that is, out of the complacency in which we live—and stop us from trusting in ourselves and bring us into God’s presence, to reveal his wrath to us and to set our sins before us. Here the conscience feels that it has not satisfied the law, nor is it able to satisfy it, nor to bear the wrath of God, which the law reveals when it brings us into God’s presence like this—that is, when it makes us afraid, accuses us, and sets our sins before us. Here it is impossible for us to stand; and being thoroughly afraid, we flee and cry out with the Israelites, “We will die, we will die! Do not let the Lord speak to us! You speak to us!”



To teach that faith in Christ does not justify us unless we observe the law is to make Christ a minister of sin—that is, a teacher of the law, teaching the very same doctrine that Moses did. Thus Christ is no Saviour, no giver of grace, but a cruel tyrant who, like Moses, requires things that none of us can do. But the Gospel is a preaching of Christ who forgives sins, gives grace, and justifies and saves sinners. There are commandments in the Gospel, but they are not the Gospel but expositions of the law, and they depend on the Gospel.


Luther, M. (1998). Galatians. The Crossway classic commentaries (94–95). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.




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Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be : world without end. Amen.

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