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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Words Too Common

Here quoting from a section in Luther’s sermon on John from 1532, pulled from Christian Freedom: Faith Working Through Love, A Readers Edition. Luther  is condemning what he calls carnal liberty, or a freedom which proves to be license for the flesh to do as it desires, using the Gospel to sin. But true Christian freedom, and the want of all pious Christians, is to be set from our bondage and enslavement to sin. Only the Son sets us free, and we will be free indeed. Alleluia!

Note well that the real freedom is freedom from sin. Without this the temple at Jerusalem will not help you: neither will the pope with his whole train, whether it be indulgences, papal bulls, fasting, rosaries, prayers, or anything else. Neither Jews nor the pope will make us free; only the Son can do this. How does it come about?  When we hear His Word-for instance, that Christ was born of Mary, suffered, was crucified, died, was buried, rose from the dead on the third day, etc. “Oh,” it is said, “I know all this very well! It is an old story. The pope, cardinals, and bishops are also familiar with it.” Indeed, they do know it. But learn this lesson of the children, for these words tell us how we are redeemed and set free. “Yes,” they say, “these sayings and words are so common that they do not do the work.” The children are to be highly commended for praying these words and also for understanding them sooner; for the more learned and the smarter we old fools claim to be, the less we know and understand about this subject.

To become free implies that you fix your thoughts on something else than that which lies in you, in the papacy, in the saints, or in Moses. You must direct your thoughts to something more exalted than all this, namely, the Son of God. Who is He? In the Creed we say: “Conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of Mary, died, etc.” Note well that you will really be pious and free from sin if you believe that Christ makes you free by dying for you, shedding His blood, rising from the dead, and sitting at the right hand of God.”

From Psalm 19:12-13

“Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

The cross marks…

The cross marks the spot where the disciples failed, and it marks the spot where we all, we theologians, too, must fail. The cross marks the spot where the exegete ceases to be proud of his sincerity , and cries out for his life in terms of the first Beatitude. The cross marks the spot where the systematician sees his system as the instrument which focuses his failure; where the practical theologian realizes that there is only one practical thing to do, and that is to repent and abhor himself in dust and ashes; where the historian leaves his long and sanely balanced view of things and goes desperately mad. The cross marks the spot where we all become beggars – and God becomes King. Amen.

Excerpted From Ha! Ha! Among the Trumpets by Martin Franzmann’s sermon The Disciples Confession. Concordia Publishing House. 1996.

Liturgy as Means of Cultural Transformation

Instead of constantly asking “What’s wrong with the liturgy?” we should be asking “What’s wrong with the culture?”- concentrating our attention on the renewal of the culture through liturgy, not vice versa. The goal of good liturgy is always to transform the lives of people [the transforming of culture] by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is hardly accomplished if the liturgy is subjected to the whimsies of culture. Culture, untransformed by liturgy, in effect destroys that liturgy. The church becomes indistinguishable from the culture and the Gospel is lost. This is the real secularization and destruction of the Gospel.

From Lutheran Worship: History and Practice

Arthur A. Just
Professor and Chairman of Exegetical Theology