Fagerberg, Holsten, and Eugene Lund. A New Look at the Lutheran Confessions (1529-1537). St. Louis: Concordia, 1988. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 3, “Law and Gospel.” Loc. 1347-2524
Fagerberg has illustrated the importance of Law and Gospel. “To be able to distinguish properly between these two was looked upon as the most difficult art in the field of theology” (Fagerberg 1988, Loc. 1347).Yet the framework of Law and Gospel is not the overall means of understanding the Bible “but only to the significant question concerning man’s justification before God” (Ibid., Loc. 1363). Fagerberg considers it important to consider the meaning of Law and Gospel as used in the Lutheran Confessions.
Law is not defined in the Confessions. It is used in various ways, including specific commands. Sometimes the term is used for “an accusing power which can be overcome only by the promise of the Gospel” (Ibid., Loc. 1372). Melanchthon divides law into natural, divine, and human. This is consistent with the way Law is described in the Confessions (Ibid., Loc. 1384). Ultimately, all lives conform to some sort of Law. The Reformers asserted a desire that lives conform to God’s Law in the Bible (Ibid., Loc. 1407). Fagerberg goes into considerable detail to describe Luther’s view of natural law and to compare and contrast it with the views of other contemporaries. His overall conclusion is that while Luther and Melanchthon had very nuanced views of Law, in general the Confessions treat “Law” essentially as the Ten Commandments (Ibid., Loc. 145). However, the Confessions do also consider “that the Law is not a collection of statements which must be strictly applied; it is an expression of the will of God” (Ibid., Loc. 1500).
Fagerberg moves on to discuss the function of the Law. “If one recognizes the positive nature of God’s will, and presupposes its constancy, the Law operates as a norm for men’s actions and interpersonal relationships. But if one looks upon the Law as a Word of judgment, it becomes an accusing power” (Ibid., Loc. 1549). Both views live on in the Lutheran Confessions. Fagerberg moves on to discuss the implications of God’s Law as accusing. He then addresses the Law as God’s norm (Ibid., Loc. 1631). The Law shows what God expects of his creation. “The Gospel is preached in order to empower the faithful to do what they are responsible for according to the Ten Commandments” (Ibid., Loc. 1659). The term “use of the Law” ial meaning. In early discussions Luther and Melanchthon classified two basic uses, though in 1535 Melanchthon articulated a third. The pattern of three remained (Ibid., Loc. 1692). Though different traditions number them differently the uses are to restrain sin (Ibid., Loc. 1719), to convict of sin (Ibid., Loc. 1730), and to reveal what is pleasing to God (Ibid., Loc. 1741). It is important to see that while the Law does not justify one before God it remains a good gift of God (Ibid., Loc. 1772).
Fagerberg moves on next to discuss the Gospel, a complicated matter due to its multifaceted nature (Ibid., Loc. 1776). The term is used to refer to the New Testament, to the content of the New Testament, and to God’s words of promise recorded in the New Testament. This third meaning was the one which the Reformers used a great deal (Ibid., Loc. 1791). Fagerberg discusses the first two meanings together. The term Gospel is very frequently used for the entire biblical content of a message.
After this discussion, Fagerberg moves on to the usage of “Gospel” which the Reformers were particularly interested in, used over against “Law.” “The term is used also in another, narrower sense as the promise of the forgiveness of sins, which is a reality in the life of the church and is therefore an expression of God’s ceaseless work of salvation” (Ibid., Loc. 1883). This is the work of Christ promised throughout the Bible. It is divine activity which operates in the present time (Ibid., Loc. 1926). These promises, especially as manifested in baptism and communion, are delivered to those with suffering consciences (Ibid., Loc. 1957).
The Gospel also has a teaching function. As discussed earlier, the Gospel, referring to the content of the New Testament, teaches about right order within the Church and the world (Ibid., Loc. 1997). Central to the task is right preaching, “to make the Christ of the Gospel come alive partly as Savior and partly as Example” (Ibid., Loc. 2019). Fagerberg moves on to draw a distinction between civil and spiritual righteousness (Ibid., Loc. 2048). In the civil realm we are, of ourselves, able to do good. In the spiritual realm the only good we have is by faith as the Lord works righteousness in us (Ibid., Loc. 2052). Civil righteousness can be derived by consciousness and reason (Ibid., Loc. 2081). This is not righteousness which earns God’s favor. “In the First Table of the Law, God requires much more than man can accomplish alone; He expects the undivided loyalty of the human heart” (Ibid., Loc. 2121). This must be given by God and appropriated by faith (Ibid., Loc. 2136). Fagerberg observes that Luther tends to be very dependent on Augustine for his understanding of righteousness (Ibid., Loc. 2168). Here the Reformers did so not because of the antiquity of Augustine, but because they were convinced his arguments were consistent with the Bible (Ibid., Loc. 2191).