Does God Command Impossible Things?

27 Aug

“The law does not want you to despair of God…it wills that you despair of yourself, but expect good from God…” — Luther (ODE, 195)


From the seventh argument in the Fifth Disputation Against the Antinomians, ODE 158-159 ; SDEA 291, 293:

Whoever commands impossible things seems to be unjust. God commands impossible things. Therefore God seems to be unjust and unfair.

Response: God does not command man impossible things. But man himself, by sin, falls into impossible things. Thus fallen man himself reaches that state in which he, willy-nilly, cannot fulfill the law, even if he tries mightily. Since, however, man is in such a way gradually corrupted, so that he is unable to see where or in what place he is—having been blinded by the malice or venom of the serpent and of his flesh that yields to the devil—God is forced to give us the law and to show or reveal ourselves to us, who and how we are, so that we, having come to distrust our powers and despairing of salvation, begin to run to him who is able to save our soul. Thus the law came and wished to show us that we are not what we were in Paradise, where Adam was a most beautiful man, great, and with sound powers.

And what are we now, I ask? We are dwarfs and extremely corrupted by that original vice. You ask therefore, what then is the office of the law? I tell you: The law shows that we are not such either as the law requires or as we were before the fall. If someone were therefore so stupid, or rather so insane, as to think that he, even though he dwells among thistles (cf. Gen. 3:18), or wolves’ caves, from where he cannot escape, really lived in paradise or in royal halls (as St. Augustine also argues), but if another person were to point out to him his true situation, so that he would finally think that he is not that blessed, that he has had a wrong opinion, could that second person, I ask, really be accused of having commanded the first impossible things? I do not think so. On the contrary, if the point is not that you, the law being given, provide the things which belong to the law, but rather, that you recognize your misery, and escape by something other than your own powers, by some alien benefit, and seek salvation and liberation, that person is much more to be blamed who complains that he will be burdened beyond his powers. It would be as if a jailer came to an adulterer in jail, who forgot the disgrace he committed, and asked, “What do these fetters or jail mean?” He would reply: “You are the one who has thrown me in here.” Then the jailer would say: “Not I, but your extramarital intercourse, your disgrace have done this. Not I.”

God deals with us in such a way, and so it is certainly a great benefit that sin and disease are pointed out and that it is not permitted that you perish in your sins or in this evil. But after the disease is pointed out, he also adds the remedy, how a person ought to be liberated, namely, that God wills and is able to heal this great evil and disease. A learned and experienced doctor does the same thing as well. For what could he heal, if no one wanted to be sick? God therefore uses the law to show us the disease, not to kill us, not that we pine away under the law, not to cause disease, but so that we, having recognized the disease and in humility, would learn to seek the word of grace.

Update: Also, from the first (!) argument from the First Disputation Against the Antinomians, ODE 36 ; SDEA 47, 49:

We are not obliged to do the impossible. The law is impossible. Therefore we are not obliged to do it.

Response: It is said improperly, that is, not rightly and not fittingly, that we are obliged to do what is impossible by the law. When Adam was first created, the law was for him not only something possible, but even something enjoyable. He rendered the obedience the law required with all his will and with gladness of heart, and did so perfectly. Yet what now, after the fall, is impossible, is so not by fault of the law, but by our fault. It is not the fault of the one binding, but of the one sinning, hence this statement, The law urges us to do what is impossible, needs to be understood fittingly, for if you want to preserve the strict sense of the words, it sounds as if God himself is being accused of burdening us with the impossible law. Yet it is sin and Satan, who made the possible and enjoyable law impossible and terrifying, who are to be accused.

Christ, however, by willingly submitting himself to the law and enduring all its curses, earned for those who believe in him the Spirit, being driven by whom they also in this life begin to fulfill the law; and in the life to come the most joyful and perfect obedience will be within them, so that they will do in body and soul as now do the angels.

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Posted by on August 27, 2017 in Uncategorized


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