Melanchthon on Abrogation of the Law

From Melanchthon’s Loci Communes of 1519,

Therefore when we discuss the abrogation of the Law, we must concern ourselves with the question to what extent the Gospel has abrogated the Decalogue, rather than with the fact that ceremonies and judicial laws have been abolished. For from the abrogation of the Decalogue the fullness of grace can be known most intimately, since it proves that those who believe are saved apart from the Law’s demands and with no regard for our works. Therefore, the Law has been abolished, not so that it may not be kept, but so that it may not condemn when it is not kept, and also so that it can be kept.

Here Philip Melanchthon is discussing the differences between the old and new testaments, taking  Romans and Jeremiah 31 as the basic texts. The Law given to the Israelites consisted of the traditional three parts: judicial, ceremonial, and moral (Decalogue). When discussing Christian freedom during the time of the Reformation, Roman Catholic writers only spoke of the judicial and the ceremonial aspects. Melanchthon here differs, citing evidence from Peter in Acts 15 as well, “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” Peter is speaking of the moral law as well, because those simple ceremonies of sacrifice were no yoke and burden, they were in fact incredibly easy to do. But willingly doing those ceremonies from the heart, along with perfect love of God and neighbor, was the impossible thing. In the New Testament, only the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus saves us. Through Baptism in his saving death and resurrection we are given His Holy Spirit so that we can willingly do from the heart all that is pleasing to God.

The Law serves to show the will of God, but the Spirit gives the power to walk in it, not with concern to threats, but from a willing heart out of thanksgiving to God. Yet we are sinners, and in so far as we do not believe the Gospel, we do things begrudgingly desiring others to admire and praise us. Focusing on our own selves is never the goal of good works.  Hence Paul in Romans 7, “Wretched man that I am who will deliver from this body of death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” The Spirit is at work through the Word of the Gospel to restore our corrupted humanity that we would fear, love and trust in God and willingly do good we ought, all the while crucifying the old man in us through daily repentance and faith.

Translated by Christian Preus. CPH 2014

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