Completely Impartial Book Review of Pastor Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna

What does this mean?


Yes, its not impartial. : )

Anyway, as I said in a recent post, about the new book on Law and Gospel now being released by CPH….(see above):

If someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification,” you could bet that every head would turn.

But say “so-called 3rd use of the law” – using the church’s publishing house meant to provide the most excellent Christian doctrine to the laypersons – and many will yawn, talk about the variety of definitions of “so-called,” yada, yada…

Why don’t people with some real clout fight? Do some housecleaning? Say anything?

[this is the cue to unveil my new book review of Jordan Cooper’s Lex Aeterna…]

And for a less intense review of Pastor Cooper’s last book, see here.


[Because] they are afraid. The ideas of Gerhard Forde have infiltrated confessional Lutheran seminaries and colleges in many a local. Dissent may cost you — perhaps not your job, but relationships to be sure. If you criticize at all, make sure you are exceedingly generous with praise as well – and don’t appear like you want any boats rocked.

Jordan Cooper, however, doesn’t belong. He is a convert to Lutheranism who came to the faith largely by reading not 20th century Lutheran theologians, but everyone before that time. As his podcasts show time and again for any with ears to hear – and either the knowledge or research skills to verify – Cooper knows his stuff.

And he knows Gerhard Forde’s theology is trouble. He sees what so many do not want to see. No one in their right mind would deny that Gerhard Forde was a stand-out human being. The trouble, however, is that he is one of the primary forces responsible for letting lose a virus that has given strength, aid, and comfort to Fake Lutheranism everywhere in its most sophisticated forms.

But this is a book by Jordan Cooper, who, in spite of some of what you may have heard, is not only a very loyal confessional Lutheran we are blessed to have on our side, but a warmhearted and ecumenical theologian extraordinaire. If you are looking for fiery and rhetorical-loaded polemics lacking critical nuance, you will be very disappointed with this book.

Cooper does a very nice job of dealing with this topic and breaking it down in a simple way. I never had noticed all the connections he makes, namely how for Gerhard Forde defining absolutely everything by *doing* and not *being* is the rule: “being is defined by act. Everything is defined by what it does, rather than an essence that has independent existence behind that action” (Cooper, 82).

Like the 3rd use of the law? You are with Erasmus. — Forde


In this sense, Forde is completely in line with the pragmatic postmodernist existentialist Hegelian currents which dominate academia and elite circles today. Don’t worry! This doesn’t need to be complicated at all – that is what Forde and those who follow him have done. Cooper will methodically unveil that to you, reducing things to essentials. Like a good butcher, he carves up things where the joints are.

A sample of his getting to the meat:

“[Forde] purports that if the gospel contains specific doctrines about Christ’s life and death as a substitutionary act then it simply becomes another kind of law which one must accept in order to be saved…. Forde argues that theology which concerns itself with propositions, or with things as they are in their essence, is a theology of glory, or a theology ‘about the cross,’ rather than a theology of the cross….

Forde is even bold enough to say that Christ ‘was not doing anything else in his death but dying’” (92).

Yes, you read that right (and there is more where that came from, including Forde’s contention that Adam and Eve’s being “very good” [i.e. “original righteousness”] prior to their fall has no real relevance for theology).

Well, confessional Lutheran – don’t complain that you live in uninteresting times! You live in an age where, in your house, the thoughts of someone like Cooper seems threatening and foreign while many in our academic circles snuggle up closely with Forde.


In spite of the gravity of the threat, I must say that Cooper’s usual irenicism and willingness to assume the best in those he so effectively counters — while giving them an escape hatch for their mistakes — come through. All would not be so generous in the covering of faults, for our ignorance often carries with it great culpability as well.

Don’t believe the bad reviews. They are one-sided views at best, and, I believe, hit sloppy hit pieces at worst. Today, on Pastor Cooper’s Just and Sinner blog, I am putting up this review as well as a short evaluation of what Jack Kilcrease says above.

Get the book for yourself and check it out.

[end review, which will be found at under the title “It Takes an Outsider like Cooper to Really Begin this Sacred Cow Slaying”]

And now, as a bonus, here is an evaluation of Jack Kilcrease’s complaints about Pastor Cooper’s book, also on, simply by using the quotes from Pastor Cooper’s book:

Kilcrease: “First, when I affirm the eternity of the law in my writing, I do not do so only insofar as God eternally wills to punish sin.”

Cooper: “Instead, God’s eternal will is to punish sin, and thus, the law is both eternal and condemnatory.”

Kilcrease: “I affirm that the law that God revealed in nature and Scripture represents an eternal good that in time God wills for his people, irrespective of whether or not it condemns them under sin”

Cooper: “Kilcrease draws upon a distinction made by Theodosius Harnack between the essence and the office of the law … the office of the law differs before and after the fall, as well as in the present and eschatological ages. Forde rejects this distinction by defining the essence of the law by its condemning office.”

Kilcrease: “I do indeed affirm (in accordance with the early Wittenberg Reformation) that habituation to virtue is valid. Nevertheless, my criticism of Biermann is that this does not apply to sanctification, but only to civil righteousness. Sanctification is not something someone develops by repeated practice- that is the position of Thomas Aquinas and not Luther.”

Cooper: “While Bierman argues that Luther only rejected the ideas of habituation and virtue in the context of justification, Kilcrease purports that the Reformer rejected these concepts altogether. To adopt a frame work of virtue ethics is to argue that God gives man some kind of potentiality which he can then use in a process of self-creation or self-actualization.”

Kilcrease: “Thirdly, Cooper suggests that I believe that the law possesses a purely negative role in the Christian life. This is utterly false and slanderous. In the article cited by Cooper, I very clearly state that the law is a necessary channel for human gratitude for the salvation given in Christ. That being said, in our fallen state, the Formula of Concord and the Apology (which I quote!) state that it is impossible to disentangle this use of the law from the law’s condemning and coercive effect. This is simply a byproduct of the simul of Christian existence.”

Cooper: “He approaches the third use of the law in almost exclusively negative terms.”

Kilcrease: ” Lastly, Cooper seems to suggest that Forde and my view of the Christian life is one in which there is no genuine renewal. According to Cooper, I agree with Forde that “sanctification is getting used to justification.” Although I never use this slogan, I would actually agree with its content. That being said, what Cooper and many of his followers imply is that what this means is that one can simply live a life mired in sin and rely on justifying grace as a free pass. This is not merely a caricature of Forde’s (and my) position, it is flatly slanderous.”

Cooper: “While distancing himself from Forde in a number of ways, Kilcrease does not significantly depart from Forde’s perspective on the Christian life. Like Forde, views the Christian life as a process of getting used to the fact that one is wholly justified by faith.”

In sum, the point of controversy seems to be what the proper standard of conduct for the reborn is: Is it their relatedness to Christ or is it the unchanging will of God, the Ten Commandments? From Kilcrease’s own words in the review, it seems that he sides with Forde against the Formula by preferring the former (“relatedness”) over the latter (“law”).

“If you’re more Lutheran that Luther and the Confessions, there’s a problem.” — Christopher Jackson


Here, I point to the introduction to the article on the third use of the Law in the Epitome of the Formula of Concord:

Since the Law was given to men for three reasons: first, that thereby outward discipline might be maintained against wild, disobedient men [and that wild and intractable men might be restrained, as though by certain bars]; secondly, that men thereby may be led to the knowledge of their sins; thirdly, that after they are regenerate and [much of] the flesh notwithstanding cleaves to them, they might on this account have a fixed rule according to which they are to regulate and direct their whole life, a dissension has occurred between some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, namely, whether it is to be urged or not upon regenerate Christians. The one side has said, Yea; the other, Nay.

I don’t know — its just a guess, but I don’t think that the writers of the Formula of Concord were concerned that the Holy Spirit might not want to urge the law on Christians these ways!

“Yea” — in spades.



Posted by on September 12, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Previews of CPH’s New “So-Called Third Use of the Law” Book

“There is a time for everything…,” but here, now, in this way?


Yes, I know that the book is not only about the third use of the law. But we all know that this is where the controversy lies today.

If someone in the Confessional Lutheran house spoke about the “so-called doctrine of justification,” you could bet that every head would turn.

But say “so-called 3rd use of the law” – using the church’s publishing house meant to provide the most excellent Christian doctrine to the laypersons – and many will yawn, talk about the variety of definitions of “so-called,” yada, yada.

I have two sneak previews for you — for this book that anyone who cares about the future of the LC-MS will be reading in the next few days (this is rhetroric by the way, hyperbole deliberately employed to make a point).

The first is from the Thinking Fellows podcast. A couple of these thinking fellows interview James Nestingen and John Pless, two of the authors who in the book’s introduction talk about the “so-called 3rd use”.

I didn’t need to listen to more than the first ten or so minutes of this podcast to come to Lando Calrissian’s conclusion:


Before we know it, we’ll be learning that Nadia Bolz-Weber also has an essay in the book (even though that is certainly not an endorsement!).

Now the second preview — mine. We do know that the LC-MS was founded with the belief that the Confessional Lutheran Church is the true visible church on earth, right? Crazy? Might that be kind of important to some of us who have come to Lutheranism or, after a struggle, decided to stay? We must be pretty serious then about defending our confessions.

Well….let’s take a look. It says in the book’s preface (download the excerpt I read here):

We have also included “God’s Word Forever Shall Abide: A Guiding Statement on the Character and Proper Use of the Sacred Scriptures” as an appen­dix to this volume. This statement, adopted by the dialogue committee made up of representatives from the NALC, LCC, and LCMS, asserts the necessity of rightly distinguishing the Law from the Gospel for a proper understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

Well, there is no doubt that this is true. That said, being that the book grew out of LC-MS/NALC dialogues I certainly hope that in the book there is some real honesty about the very different understandings those distinct bodies have when it comes to understanding the Scriptures as God’s word… Hmmm. Maybe they will say more about that below.


In our conversations together, we have recognized that the signif­icance of the Law/Gospel distinction is downplayed, questioned, and rejected by some within American Lutheranism. Others have misused the distinction to promote an allegedly more liberated sexual ethic. The place of the so-called “third use of the Law” remains a contentious issue in some circles…

In the Smalcald Articles, Luther notes “that the law was given by God, in the first place, to curb sin by means of the threat and terror of punishment and also by means of the promise and offer of grace and favor” but “the foremost office or power of the law is that it reveals inherited sin and its fruits” (SA III 2).1 These are commonly identified as the first two uses, or functions, of the Law. The Formula of Concord clarified a dispute that had arisen among Lutheran theologians over the place of the Law in the life of the Christian, asserting in Article VI a “third use” that is a guide to the good works that the Christian is obligat­ed to do in his or her vocation. Several of the essays in this volume take up this topic.

The editors of this book are firmly committed to the Lutheran asser­tion that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a necessity if the Scriptures are, indeed, comprehended according to the mind of the Lord who inspired them. (bold mine)

There it is again: “The place of the so-called “third use of the Law” remains a contentious issue in some circles.”[i]

As far as I am concerned, that statement says all you need to know about this book, which yes, I plan to read. I could care less is this statement was made in an Augsburg-Fortress or NALC publication. I expect that kind of language from them. But this kind of statement certainly gives the impression that John T. Pless and Albert B. Collver III, who co-wrote the preface with Jim Nestingen, don’t really think vigorously defending the ‘third use of the law’ is that important.

We’re all good confessional Lutheran brothers though who agree that the law is good and the Scriptures are God’s Word[ii] though, right?

No. Not at all. In sum, my sense is that this book would probably be a Godsend in the hands of many an ELCA laymen, but not so with us and our house.

When Mark Tranvik from Augsburg writes: “This book is a cool drink for those thirsty for new perspectives on the proper relationship between Law and Gospel,” I’m happy for ELCA folks to get that but not for LC-MS folks to get the idea that ELCA views like those of Gerhard Forde have a perspective that does not deserve a vigorous rebuttal and brotherly rebuke within the same book – at least in a book by CPH, which is meant to be an organ for the promulgation of unadulterated truth to the LC-MS and beyond. When WELS professor (!) Wade Johnston writes “[b]oth pastors and laypeople will benefit from the essays contained here,” I read that as saying that Gerhard Forde’s disciples aren’t just content to bring their ideas into LC-MS seminaries —  ideas they no doubt believe can help an LC-MS that they see as overly legalistic. I am not even sure how Robert Bugbee can seriously write, “These authors take Christ, the Scriptures, and our confessions seriously” when we are not talking about the same confessions.

Frankly, in my view, the infections of some of these authors — note I didn’t say these authors themselves — need to go back to Bad Bol, Germany from where they came. We should not be so laissezfaire toward the viruses that have created so much Fake Lutheranism in the ELCA. Luther certainly would have not stood for this nonsense.

Another more conservative ELCA gentleman, Robert Benne says: “All you want to know about the distinctive Lutheran wit­ness to the proper relation of Law and Gospel is in this volume.”

To Robert I say: We shall see. Things aren’t off to a good start however, in the mud that I see on our carpet floor. Why shouldn’t I think myself to be naïve for hoping it will be somehow cleaned up by the rest of the book?

Why don’t people with some real clout fight? Do some housecleaning? Say anything?

Finally, if you are reading me to say that I do not think that we should be talking to persons from the NALC and ELCA about these issues, you have not understood people like myself at all. In fact, we need to have a conversation! No, I would delight to have conversations with people who have honest disagreements over these issues, even if we must agree to disagree.

Lord, in these last days when you said faith would be rare, give us faith. Much faith.




[i] In John Pless’ essay in the book, available for free here, he also says: “Within the last decade or so, there have been significance publica­tions and conferences on Law and Gospel, particularly with reference to the so-called ‘third use.’” “So-called” can refer to how something is publicly known, or, more often nowadays, be used derisively. Why introduce possible confusion here, if not to stir the pot? Well, pot stirred.

Pless also quotes Murray, who indirectly implicates Walther and Peiper: “The theologians who provided articles for The Abiding Word were deeply affected by the orthodoxy they inherited from Walther and Pieper. They emphasized the Law as an objective standard that provides instruction for Christian holiness. Unfortunately, their viewpoint tended to accept a tamed Law” (Murray, Law, Life, and the Living God, 73).

[ii] The editors of this book are firmly committed to the Lutheran asser­tion that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a necessity if the Scriptures are, indeed, comprehended according to the mind of the Lord who inspired them.



Posted by on September 9, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Martin Luther Addresses the Nashville Statement: Does it Reveal or Cause Sin?

Nashville Statement, Denver Statement, Wittenberg Statement….


Do you think that you can love God but not the Christians who penned the Nashville Statement?

Maybe, like St. Augustine who was haunted by the knowledge that he had stolen pears just because they were behind a fence — not even eating them – you are experiencing the utter confusion and divine wrath the law of God brings.

At least, that’s what I venture the Sarcastic Lutheran’s namesake, Martin Luther, would have thought. How can I say that? Keep reading. His view about how speaking God’s eternal law affects sinful human beings is, to say the least, both psychologically and theologically thought-provoking.

(as for my own view on the Nashville Statement, though you might expect a guy like me to sign on, I don’t think it is perfect: I think, especially vis a vis article 13, an acknowledgement that Romans 7 describes Paul as a Christian should have been included)

If you forbid: “Do not watch! Do not listen!” you just make me stronger… – many a pop star

This post simply features an extended excerpt from the Fifth Disputation against the Antinomians, which took place in 1540 in Wittenburg Germany. It is from the English translation by Pastor Holger Sonntag, pages 337-345 in the the bilingual version (Latin included), Solus Decalogus Est Aeternus and pages 182-185 in the English only version, Only the Decalogue is Eternal.

Before jumping into what Martin Luther has to say about whether God’s law causes sin, a note by way of preface:

As you read what follows, you might think, “it sounds like, for all practical purposes, Luther is saying the Law causes sin.” It is true that Luther insists that focusing on laws will, because of the sin that infects us, result in even more sin. For example, he says: “[[S]how[ing] man the magnitude of God’s wrath against sin] is already truly to increase sin by the law, that is, it is rendered better known, more conspicuous, and clearer, so that it, even by its appearance, might lash and agitate the mind.” And then, he says, our sinning gets really bad.

That said, the distinctions Luther makes here are critical. Ultimately, like Paul (see Rom. 3), he aims through this law to prepare us for the Good News of the Gospel by revealing our sin: “the law is given, so that the sin that is already present in our nature would terrify and arouse us, so that it might show us what kind of people we are in our hearts, not into what kind of people it makes us, as if they are falsely accused by the law.” More: “the bad and corrupt nature is the cause, not the law, that [one] is evil” (italics mine).

Hence, the law indeed causes sin to manifest itself, but it is not rightly called the effective cause of sin. That accusation is lodged firmly on us, who sin even without knowing things like the Ten Commandments (which believers will perfectly fulfill, like Christ, in heaven) and suppress such knowledge of our sin.

Like the joke about atheists: 1) God doesn’t exist. 2) I hate him.


But our buried guilt can come back in a moment, like Joseph’s brothers remembering their sin vs. him in Egypt, or King David coming to an awareness of his sins when confronted by Nathan the prophet. While the devil might try to use this knowledge for our death, God means it for our life: aware of our sin, hearing the good news of God’s love and forgiveness through Christ and His work can change everything, even in the most hardened of sinners.

Let’s jump into Luther’s comments, relevant for the Nashville Statement and the reaction to it.


The claim:

[Here, Luther first is repeating Caspar Cruciger’s argument* in his own words.]

The law snuck in, he says (Rom. 5:20), so that sin would abound, so that sin would be sinning beyond measure (Rom. 7:13). When the law was added, it aroused these passions. And certainly, if the law had not come, then sin would have been a good companion and had snored. Without the law, that poor sin would not have been exhibited and revealed. Therefore the law compels to sinning. For just as limestone does not at all burn without water, but where you add water, it begins to burn, thus is also the law, as Augustine said.[i]

Therefore the law is the efficient cause of sin as water poured over the limestone is the effective cause. Now, therefore, whatever does cause a man to be set ablaze and provoked more to sinning, that is not to be taught; indeed, it is to be prohibited. The law is such, as has already been said. Therefore the law is not to be taught.

The question is here, whether the water merely shows that the limestone burns or whether it itself sets it ablaze? Indeed, it itself sets it ablaze.

[Response of Dr. Martin Luther]:

This simile of Dr. Augustine solves the argument. For if this nature or this heat were not in the limestone, even water would by no means set it ablaze, like when it is poured over other things. But because there is in the limestone a certain fiery and ardent nature, water sets it quickly ablaze.

And why is that?


This is also how it is with us, because our nature is evil, secure, and malicious because of the breath of the Serpent in paradise, as we have already often said. Yet when the law comes, that depraved and corrupt nature is provoked more and more, as, because it sees that it cannot deliver what the law demands, it begins to be resentful against God, to be angry, to boil with rage. And it becomes more and more wicked against God. For thus we all are by nature such, that we desire all the more the things forbidden to us, as someone said:

We always strive for the forbidden
and we desire what has been denied.[ii]
They do not want what you want;
what you do not want, they desire all the more.[iii]

This is why the law is not the effective cause of sin, but it shows that nature is sinful, and by prohibiting it, arouses sin. Yet by its power it appears to obtrude natural malice and cause it to act, as it were. For if it were utterly silent, men would live pleasantly, they would not get so angry at God, they would not sin so much, and sin would not be so bountiful. We already said that the law is not the effective cause of sin, but its ostensive cause, not its increasing cause, but the demonstrating cause of this so perverted and corrupted nature of man.

Terrance: They do not want what you want;
what you do not want, they desire all the more


But here it is necessary that that phrase of Paul be explained, what it means “to increase sin” and that “sin abounded by the law” (Rom. 5:20), which are certainly wondrous ways of speaking that are contrary to reason. For laws are given and promulgated by kings for this purpose: To counter sins and so that he can heal. But here he speaks as if the law, which is good and holy, seems to bring death and despair. Not that it brings these about, as has been said above several times, but that, when it comes and accuses, the vicious and evil nature at once begins to become terrified, to resent God’s judgment and wrath—which it already cannot endure—and it begins to despair concerning salvation, to hate God and to blaspheme. In this way the law is the ministry of wrath and death, and increases sin, evidently not outwardly; but inwardly, and in the heart, it stirs up terrors and despair, that is, it arms sin that it may utterly terrify and kill us, as 1 Cor. 15(:56) says: “The sting of death is sin.” Before the law came, we lived idly, securely, not thinking anything evil. But after the law entered, in order to show what kind of people we are, it commanded those things which we, even if we wished to, nonetheless cannot fulfill.

There it is necessary that I despair, that I begin to hate and blaspheme God who seems to deal so unjustly with me. Thus sin becomes bigger and is increased, since, before I heard the law and lived without the law, I here considered myself to be a fine saint. But when the law said (Deut. 6:5; Ex. 20:3): “Love the Lord your God from all your heart” etc.; “you shall have no other gods,” I could not help but despair, because no one ever could, nor can, fulfill the law except Christ. David, after he had committed adultery, did not at all think that sin was so big; later he acknowledged it, having been reproached by Nathan the Prophet (cf. 2 Sam. 12:1ff.). Here the law truly increases sin, that is, it shows him the magnitude of God’s wrath against sin, so that he, utterly terrified, had even despaired, unless Nathan had added (2 Sam. 12:13): “The Lord has removed your sin” etc.

This is already truly to increase sin by the law, that is, it is rendered better known, more conspicuous, and clearer, so that it, even by its appearance, might lash and agitate the mind. It is impossible that there is a man who ever saw how great a sin it is not to fear God, not to believe in God, not to love God, to scorn the word, and not to call on God. Indeed, if he had seen it, he would already be dead. However, so that we might realize some of these things, the law is given, so that the sin that is already present in our nature would terrify and arouse us, so that it might show us what kind of people we are in our hearts, not into what kind of people it makes us, as if they are falsely accused by the law.

Whoa: “It is impossible that there is a man who ever saw how great a sin it is not to fear God, not to believe in God, not to love God, to scorn the word, and not to call on God. Indeed, if he had seen it, he would already be dead.”


I have spoken about the sins of the First Table. Now the same must be said about all the others in order. For just as we are more affected by those when the law is present than when it is absent, and because of the commandment, they frighten and terrify more greatly, so they here too begin to rage against the law and more and more to long for the things the law forbids, as I said above. We desire the forbidden things. We hate the present things. We search out the coming things. And nonetheless, since it is forbidden by the law to covet, we have evil desires. [Since it is forbidden] that somebody else’s wife is granted us, we nonetheless desire to have extramarital sex, to run after prostitutes.

Thus in all other things we wish the things we do not want; and what we ought to do, we do not want. But this is what it means to increase sin in crass and carnal matters. But in internal, that is, spiritual matters, where, if ever the law commands to love and cherish God, and to trust in God, he, when he realizes that he cannot do justice to this law, begins to despair, to hate God, to blaspheme God. For nature is totally corrupt.

The law is therefore the cause of sin, you say, if it has such effects, which, if it were removed, would not occur? I deny this, because the law is not the effective cause of sin, but merely its ostensive one. Yet because nature itself is depraved and corrupted, the good and holy law by itself cannot have a better effect in such a nature. The law only says what must be done, that God must be trusted, feared. This you do not do. And because of this you get angry and blaspheme God so that you wish both God and law removed. Therefore the bad and corrupt nature is the cause, not the law, that the student is evil; he, who, although he was about to do something before, later, when the commandment of the parent or the teacher came along, did not do it, is bad per se. Not that the law of the teacher does this, but because his nature is evil.

So we, when we hear: “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods; I will visit the iniquity of the fathers,” then we despair more than we trust in God. Lyra says that it happens consecutively that sin abounds by the law, not causally (bold and italics mine).[iv]

“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) And yet, without the Gospel, this also can condemn us!




Madonna, chrisweger, CC BY-SA 2.0 ; Terence pic:,_Works.jpg


*The actual argument Luther responds to is here:

First [Twenty-Eighth] Argument, of Dr. Caspar Cruciger

Against thesis 18. [“For death and sin exist on account of the law, as Paul says (2 Cor. 3:6), “The law kills;” and (1 Cor. 15:56), “The strength of sin is the law.””]

The efficient cause of sin is not to be taught. The law is the efficient cause of sin, which not only shows sin but also compels to sinning. Therefore the law is not to be taught.

I prove the major: The passions of sins, which have been through the law, are at work in our members in order to bear the fruit of death (cf. Rom. 7:5). This signifies that the passions are efficacious through the law, since natural unbelief is confirmed by the law and compels us, as it were, to sinning, and I think that Paul wants to say this.

[i] Cf. City of God XXI,4, where the example of the limestone is used. In this chapter, however, Augustine is giving examples from nature for his assertion that human bodies remain in the fires of hell forever, without being consumed by that fire. Reference to Augustine’s example of limestone is also made in the ninth argument of the second disputation.

[ii] Ovid, Amores III, 4, 17.

[iii] Terence, Eunuchus 813.

[iv] Bibliorum sacrorum tomus VI cum glossa ordinaria et Nicolai Lyrani expositionibus (Paris 1545), fol. 17ª on Rom. 7:13.

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Posted by on August 31, 2017 in Uncategorized


Does God Command Impossible Things?

“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


Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 5 (of 5): Welcome “Mr. Sin” Boldly!

Chapter 5 of 5: Sin Boldly or Welcome “Mr. Sin” Boldly? (Luther’s “Thomas Christian”)


Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations

Chapter 2: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?

Chapter 3: If the Law is Abrogated in Jesus Christ How Can the Ten Commandments be Eternal?

Chapter 4: Should the Preacher Reduce the Force of God’s Law?


“Sin boldly” means in no way boldly to sin. But enough about that. Let’s talk about those baptized into Christ welcoming “Mr. Sin” boldly. 

“we have… Christ, through whom we are pure & unleavened. And nonetheless [Paul] commands us to cast out the old leaven.” – Luther, SDEA 103

You see, it’s not just about what some call “the simul”. Many are familiar with Martin Luther’s point that Christians are simultaneously saint and sinner, which correlates with the idea of the new man and the old man, the spirit and the flesh, or sinful nature.

As one stands before God, one always must remain totally a sinner and totally a saint (100% each). The Christian’s primary identify is saint, and yet in order to be a saint one must, on earth, be willing to see one’s self as a sinner.

On earth, after all, the healthy, or righteous, do not need the doctor (or so they think!). They do not need the friend of sinners (or so they think!). If these do claim Christ as their own, they then have a false Christ. Only those who are Christians are those who are sinners and saints at the same time.


“[W]hat exercise of faith will be left….when the battle between spirit and flesh will be taken away?….” (SDEA, 261)

But few know that Martin Luther also thought that another idea was needed to really explicate the Christian’s day-by-day experience. This concept, the “Thomist Thomas or twin,” describes how the Christian is also triumphant and militant at the same time.

So what does this all mean? Luther explains in his response to the third argument of the fifth Antinomian Disputation.

First, the triumphant aspect:

“Insofar as he is triumphant, and dwells under the shadow of the wings of his Lord (cf. Psa. 36:7), as it is said (Psa. 32:1-2), “Blessed are those whose sins are covered and whom the Lord did not impute their sins” so far there is nothing about law. Here let Moses depart, let him go away to the ravens with his stuttering tongue, here I do not hear anything, neither heaven nor earth….  Insofar as the Christian is a Christian, leave him in peace and unconfused. For being accused and convicted, and being—or be­ing regarded—righteous, cannot stand at the same time. Yet the Christian is righteous by faith in Christ. In himself, however, he still has inherent sin” (ODE 150, 151).

Again, the justifiied say “Silent law!”: “He died for us, bore the curses and punishments of the law, and gave us his innocent righteousness… where I shall have Christ by faith, there I have what the law requires and demands from me. (SDEA 63, 189)


This seems a lot like the “saint” part of the sinner-saint formulation. But now, with the militant aspect of the Thomas Christian, things get really interesting – and colorful, as is Luther’s custom:

“…now I come to another area, which is widely different from that above, to the militant Christian, who still lives in the flesh, and I come to me and my person. Alas, how much wretchedness I see here! Here I, and you, insofar as we as such, would do all shameful acts in our power, if only they could be done secretly, without the knowledge of people, so that we daily and truly ought to experience how true it is, what Paul says about himself (Rom. 7:23): “I see another law in my members” etc. Yet as soon as these things take place, and as soon as this law or this carnal nature infected by the venom of Satan in Paradise rears its head and incites the poor Christian to lust, to greed, to despair, or to hatred of God, there, I say, the Christian stirs himself up and says, as if in wonder: “Look! And you are still here! Welcome, Mr. Sin. Where were you? Where did you spend your time so long? Are you still alive now? From where do you come to us? Away with you to the cross! It will absolutely not be so! I will protect my virgin and will do what is just, even against your will. And the more you torture me, even challenge and incite me to dishonor, lust, despair, the more I will laugh at you with a spirit that is both confident and strong! Trusting in the help of my Christ I will scorn you and crush your head (cf. Gen. 3:15). What do I have to do with you? I have another Lord in whose camp I am now a soldier. Here I will stay, here I will die.” This one is that glorious soldier and strong George who makes a great massacre in the army of the devil and wins gloriously, as Paul says (Rom. 8:37): “In all these things we overcome through Jesus Christ,” and he does not permit sin to devour in his flesh.

Indeed we, each in his age and situation, cannot but encounter a great number of sins and evil desires. But with God’s help, we will nevertheless not permit them to rule. I witness my flesh having a taste for the same things as the Turk, the pope, and the entire world, but don’t assent! Let him not allow the lice to build nests in the coat. Thus Paul has sin, but conquered and faint. The impious have living, ruling, triumphant sin” (SDEA 275, 277; ODE, 151, 152, italics and bold mine).[i]

Look at these passages again, paying close attention!

When it comes to the sinner-saint aspect of our Christian life, the saint identity is the primary one. So what identity do we think is primary here? Is it, as we might think, the victorious Christian aspect?

“[I]s it then here really appropriate for us; I wonder, to sleep or to be secure, to be inattentive or to snore giving the raging of an utterly vigilant and violent enemy?” (SDEA, 261)

Not in the context that Luther is here concerned with! He is clear:

“…we do not hope for peace, since we are under the Lords of Hosts, under Sabaoth, not of sleepers and snorers, but of the fighters under the Lord, who is Christ Jesus. This is why the Church living in this life is called militant, not trium­phant. Certainly, after this life, when all our enemies will be destroyed and when also death, our last enemy, will be subdued and destroyed, then we will triumph.” (SDEA, 263 ; ODE, 145)

And he is not shy about how ugly and difficult it is to “obey[] the Spirit, [and] avert[] by prayer[ii] the evil [we] feel[]… (SDEA, 271). Speaking of Christians, the pious, he goes so far as to say that disgrace and punishment may well be primary motivators for us (SDEA, 269): “…I, and you… would do all shameful acts in our power if only they could be done secretly, without the knowledge of people….” (SDEA 275, ODE 151). Again, “the law is still given to the holy and righteous Paul, not insofar as he is righteous and holy, but insofar as he is flesh, and he ought to be convicted by the law… (SDEA, 269).

Unless we watch extremely carefully in prayer—[the devil, the world, and our flesh] finally overthrow us at some time, and we will not be able to escape without huge and extremely great danger.” – Luther, SDEA 297

Note what is not being said here.

First, Luther is not denying, but is rather upholding, the distinction between venial and mortal sins. Simply put, venial sins are done vs. the renewed will of the Christian, while mortal sins are done with his full consent and pleasure (and yes, venial sins become mortal when considered insignificant — if you are confused by this, see this short post which makes things more concrete).

Second, Luther is not saying that there is nothing in the Christian that wants to conform to God’s law. He said as much earlier in the disputations, when he, for instance, states: “…insofar as there is Spirit in us, so far is there also delight in the law” (SDEA, 47, 61, 63). The point is simply that sometimes fear of punishment and disgrace is – and until death must continue to be! – a part of the Christian’s complex of motivations, which are never fully pure, but which can certainly be more or less so.[iii]

Third, while Luther is saying that motivations like this might play a part in the believer’s behavior, he is not saying that preachers, for instance, necessarily need to encourage this kind of behavior, this kind of ongoing repentance, through threats of punishment. There may be occasions where this is what they do, but at the same time, as we saw in the last post, there is also a kind of admonishment without the intention of threat that is based on appealing to believers “by the mercies of God….”

In sum, it is not difficult to imagine Luther making appeals, based on Christ’s mercy, like “stir yourself up!”, “protect your virgin!”, “Laugh at Mr. Sin!”, and the like.

One only needs to look at his sermons to see that this is the case. To see the similarities he shares with the Apostle Paul.

“Get behind me, Satan (cf. Mat. 16:23)! Shut up! No, don’t rule, flesh! Be completely silent!….These and such words are not man’s, but Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s…” (SDEA 271)


And he has a very definite judgment about the antinomians of his day:

“Our Antinomians are so blind that they cannot recognize the doctrine of the law in Paul, e.g., in these obvious words (Phil. 4:8): “Whatever things are chaste, just, etc., these pursue.” Yet they do all things for that reason that they might render us secure and that the window might be opened for the devil in order to overthrow us unexpectedly” (ODE 156, SDEA 287, italics mine).

No patience:

“Yet Christ,” they say, “has removed your sin. Why are you sad?” This is why they continue to do what they do in an utterly secure manner. They translate the merit of the passion of Christ and of the remission of sins into luxuriousness….

Christ fulfilled the law, but it needs to be added: “Later see to it that you lead a holy, pious, and irreproachable life, as it is fit­ting for a Christian. This is what you have heard so far: Be forgiven. But lest you complain that you are utterly forsaken, I will give you my Holy Spirit, who makes you a soldier; he will even produce mighty and unspeakable cries against sin in your heart, so that you thus finally do what you wish.” But am I not unable? “Pray that I may hear you, and I will make you able…” (SDEA 303, 305, italics mine)

And if that gives you pause, remember also that this is the man who highlighted the doctrine of justification in the Church’s time of need – when it was needed the most! He, and those who follow in his train, are more than eager to give you, the penitent, absolution in Christ.

One more:

“[I]t is necessary to admonish, to stir up, and to call as if to battle, so that they may remember in what danger they live. Don’t sleep, don’t sleep and don’t snore! Awake!” (SDEA, 263)

“I walk in danger all the way…” (Hymn # 716)


We Christians can boldly face Mr. Sin because our old nature, our old Adam, is being put to death in Christ. It’s not that we were baptized, for we currently belong to him (it’s not I was married, but I am).

We are baptized. There is no condemnation for we who are found in Him.

Those who let God be God, cling to Him, and have no other hope.


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)





[i] Other passages that leap out to me in the Antinomian Disputations (SDEA page numbers):

To be dead and to die to sin is a Pauline phrase for battling against sin and not allowing it to rule in us. And this happens not only in one member, but in all, so that now the heart, eyes, hands, tongue, and feet do something else than before, and serve Christ the Lord, not sin, and thus become from day to the next constantly holier and better. But because this nature is totally infected by the devil, we do not hope to be fully free from sins before the body is covered by the ground and is consumed by worms. There is therefore a twofold death in Paul: To die to sin or world, and to die to nature. The impious also dies to nature, no matter how great he is. But the pious dies also in this life to sins, that is, to the world with all its evil lusts, which Paul calls elsewhere mortifying and crucifying his flesh, as he says to the Ephesians (4:28): “Who was stealing, let him steal no more.“

But such death of Christians is not seen. For it is hidden in Christ, where there is neither male nor female (cf. Gal. 3:28). But meanwhile, as long as this life lasts, we must constantly fight against the sins that remain in the flesh, which, since they cannot be totally taken away, needs to retain the law that keeps the flesh in service. (335)


Truly saints, pure, and righteous, just as even Gabriel himself in heaven, by faith; and we are truly set in the heavens with Christ (cf. Eph. 2:6). But as for myself and my flesh, I am a sinner. Yet as I there become lord of all things now and in the kingdom with Christ, over law, death, and devil, so I here become a servant of all things and a soldier of Christ against sin and all evil lusts,(i) as Christ says (John 5:14): Go, sin no more, lest something worse happen to you. (337)


Insofar as they are Christians they are rightly called righteous and are not under the law, since no law is given to the righteous (1 Tim. 1:9), insofar as he is righteous. And the greatest care needs to be taken lest Groom and bride disagree. For the forgiveness of sins ought to rule preeminently the conscience with Christ, and it ought not to be allowed that it be vexed by the law. For this bed is narrower than that it could further receive or allow the law or any tradition. Here the Groom alone lies down with the bride, after all onlookers are thrown out.

It is true, because we still carry around with us the flesh and the body of sin, the law must be added and urged; the yoke must be added, lest we begin to be lascivious, because the flesh is usually the largest part. One ought to place its feed higher and restrain it, lest it advance beyond its limits. And for the unbridled the law needs to be emphasized more than the Gospel preached. To the others I respond: Insofar as they are right, they are called righteous and not under law, since for the righteous there is no law given. (361)

[ii] See theses 17-30 from the 3rd set of theses in ODE 126-127 (SDEA 231). Here, Luther talks about the Lord’s prayer as a prayer of repentance, a powerful weapon of the Holy Spirit. “If you are a saint, why do you cry? Because I feel the sin clinging to me, and this is why I pray: “Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come.” “O Lord, be merciful to me.” But you are a saint. But you are a saint? In this way, insofar as I am a Christian, because to that extent I am righteous, pious and belonging to Christ, but insofar as I look at me and my sin, I am wretched and a very great sinner. Thus, in Christ there is no sin, and in our flesh there is no peace and quiet, but perpetual battle as long as this old Adam and this corrupt nature last. They are destroyed only by death itself” (ODE 153, SDEA 281).

[iii] Note what Luther says in this sermon excerpt. While it might initially seem to contradict the sentence this footnote is attached to, note and reflect on the words in italics:

What will your repentance profit you, if you fail to do it gladly or willingly, but are constrained by the commandment or by fear of shame, otherwise you would rather not do it? But what is the reason? Because it is a repentance in the devil’s name or in your own name. Hence you go on and do worse things, and wish there were no confession and sacrament, so that you might not be constrained to attend them. This is repentance in our own name, and proceeds from our own strength.

But when I begin to believe in Christ, lay hold of the Gospel, and do not doubt that he has taken away my sin and blotted it out, and comforts me with his resurrection; my heart is filled with such gladness that I myself take hold willingly, not through persuasion, nor of necessity, I gladly do what I ought and say: Because my Lord has done this for me, I will also do his will in this, that I may amend my ways and repent out of love to him and to his glory. In this way, a true reformation begins that proceeds from the innermost heart, and that is brought forth by the joy that flows from faith, when I apprehend the greatness of the love Christ has bestowed upon me.


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Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Uncategorized


Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 4 (of 5): Preaching the Law not to Condemn?

Chapter 4 of 5: Should the Preacher Reduce the Force of God’s Law?


Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations

Chapter 2: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?

Chapter 3: If the Law is Abrogated in Jesus Christ How Can the Ten Commandments be Eternal?


Lutherans, as anyone who knows about Martin Luther might expect, are famous for talking about how the law of God even accuses the most mature of Christian believers: lex semper accusat.

“Augustine [says]: ‘Since you were a fugitive from the heart.’ The law is revealed to me because of original sin; it is also to be taught. For we always sleep, given the opportunity. Therefore we are to be woken up by the law which shows us our sins” (SDEA, 383).


And it is right that we do. As Luther said of pious believers, perhaps to the surprise of some (SDEA 289),

“[they]… still have sin left in their flesh,”… [they should be] “admonished and convicted, lest they become secure and complacent; so that they can be stirred up for a battle and military service against remaining sins and temptations… the law is to be taught and inculcated… lest we become idle and sluggish, lest we perish” (SDEA, 269, 283)[i]

At the same time, there is a danger here that such a focus, if we are not sufficiently aware, might contribute to us to missing the bigger picture. In the Garden of Eden, when God gave law in the form of the command to not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, this command did not accuse, but simply informed. And in this sense, of course, it warned of danger.

As Luther put it in his Genesis commentary (AE:1), regarding the passage “On whatever day you eat from this tree, you will die by death”:

“..if they should transgress His command, God announces the punishment… as though He said: ‘Adam and Eve, now you are living without fear; death you have not experienced, nor have you seen it. This is My image, by which you are living, just as God lives. But if you sin, you will lose this image, and you will die’” (AE:1, 62).

In spite of this, we might think, fearful warning[ii], one thing that immediately stands out about Luther’s commentary is that Luther gives the impression that man, created in the image of God[iii], was perfectly at ease with his Creator.[iv]

For example, Luther writes that prior to the fall, man’s “intellect was clearest, his memory was the best, and his will was the most straightforward – all in the beautiful tranquility of mind, without any fear of death and without any anxiety” (AE:1, 62), and also asks “who [now] could understand what it means to be in a life free from fear, without terrors and dangers, and to be wise, upright, good, and free from all disasters, spiritual as well as physical?” (AE:1, 65, italics mine).[v]

“God does not command man impossible things. But man himself, by sin, falls into impossible things… God is forced to give us the law and show or reveal ourselves to us…” – Luther, SDEA 291


Luther says more about Adam and Eve’s original state:

“You can remain in the life for which I have created you. And yet you will not be immortal in the same way as the angels. Your life is, as it were, placed in the middle: you can remain in it and afterwards be carried to an immortality that cannot be lost; contrariwise, if you do not obey, you will become a victim of death and lose your immortality…[this is] the deathless life in which there would be no further opportunity of sinning” (AE:1, 111).[vi]

With the Fall however, everything changes. As Luther points out, the new situation demands a new word from the Lord: “[W]e have a different Word, which Adam did not have when his nature was perfect…”[vii] “The Law given to the unrighteous is not the same Law that was given to righteous Adam” (AE:1, 109).

God’s commands – His Law – begins to accuse us. And rightly so. Even now, for we who have begun to know the amazing grace found in Jesus Christ.

Elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations, Luther makes this abundantly clear:

“[The Antinomians] cast aside [this terrifying and convicting use of the law] when they damn as sacrilege the terrifying of the pious by the law…. The law is still given to the holy and righteous Paul, not insofar as he is righteous and holy, but insofar as he is flesh, and he ought to be convicted of the law.” (SDEA, 265, 269)

At this point we are very far from the intent of the original command in the Garden! No one can doubt that Luther believes that the pious should, in some sense, remain terrified by the law of God. This was also seen from the quotations from the Antinomian Disputations in the second chapter of our series (Does the Law cease for the Christian) …. Lutherans would typically associate this kind of thing with the “second use of the law,” (the law as mirror, given to convict) and not see this as qualifying as a separate “third use” (the law as a guide to what pleases the Lord).

At the same time, when it comes to this convicting function of the law, there are concerns thoughtful Christians should have.

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: to not preach the third use of the law is break the bruised reed and snuff out the smoldering wick


For example, after one of the greatest Lutheran theologians of the 20th century had given a talk defending the 3rd use of the law, (I speak about this presentation more briefly in this post) he was questioned by another popular teacher and seminary professor in the following way (this text is at the end of the linked post):

Questioner 3: Thank you. The Gospel cannot be preached without preaching the Law—

Dr. Marquart: Yes.

Questioner 3: —calling to repentance, God working contrition. Does not the Law that brings about contrition and repentance also serve the function of admonishing the Christians to what is good? Or [does] the Law need to be separated in its application in terms of second and third use? In other words, if the Law has been preached to work repentance, does it then need to be repeated again in some sort of way that—different sense, after the Gospel has been proclaimed and comforts and is the means by which the Holy Spirit quickens?

Dr. Marquart: There’s a very important question, and in answer I should like to say that we should beware of all legalisms that want to confine preaching to some particular formula, like this “goal, malady, means,” which is pure manipulation. Rather, the Christian preacher ought to present that in freedom, so that his sermons are basically unpredictable. People should not be able to see—look at their watch and say, “OK, he’s had ten minutes of Law, now he must be going to say—the next ten minutes, Gospel.” That’s too predictable, too mechanical. Rather, Law and Gospel ought to be intertwined. They ought to be in dialogue constantly. And the second use of the Law basically will concentrate on our evil and our sins. But the third use of the Law should concentrate on the good things which are pleasing to God. So that’s how these ought to be handled differently. But, of course, the Holy Spirit will, in the preaching of the Law, will do both things at the same time. But yes, pastors ought deliberately to have in mind to support the new creation in its struggles against the world, the devil, and the flesh. But there’s no particular formula, in other words, and, for example, some say, “Never end with an admonition.” Why not? What’s wrong with, after a rich Gospel sermon, saying, “And so the Lord gave us these riches; let us go and do likewise.” Nothing wrong with that. So—

Questioner 3: So, just to clarify, the Law is doing both when it is proclaimed—second or third use—

Dr. Marquart: It can.

Questioner 3: —first, second, third—

Dr. Marquart: It can do both.

Questioner 3: But the “uses” are more descriptions of how the Law functions—

Dr. Marquart: Right.

Questioner 3: —as opposed to being able to be—

Dr. Marquart: But the preacher needs to make the distinction, because otherwise, the recipient will feel that he is just an unconverted sinner and needs converting every Sunday.

Note the last line. What is fascinating about this exchange between Dr. Marquart and this other theologian is that Martin Luther shows a similar sensitivity when it comes to the law’s condemning function and the person who is already a Christian.

“You are a saint and pray because of sin. You make sense of it” – Luther, SDEA 291


In the quotation which follows, take note of what Luther says — presumably to someone who was sympathetic to the Antinomians — during the twenty-first question in the second of the Antinomian Disputations. Also, please take note that this is not even a concession that Luther makes to the Antinomians, but simply a concise re-stating of themes that he had already sounded earlier:

The law is already mitigated greatly by the justification which we have because of Christ; and it thus ought not to terrify the justified. Yet meanwhile Satan himself comes along and makes it often overly harsh among the justified. This is why it happens that those are often terrified who ought not to be, by the fault of the devil.

Yet the law is nonetheless not to be removed from the temples; and it is indeed to be taught, since even the saints have sin left in their flesh which is to be purged by the law, until it is utterly driven out. For this wrestling match remains for the saints as long as they live here. Here they fight by day and night. There they finally overcome through Christ.

Before justification the law ruled and terrified all whom it touched. But the law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to ac­cuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good. For I ought not to say or preach: You are not under the remission of sins. Likewise: You will be condemned; God hates you etc. For these sayings do not pertain to those who have received Christ, but address the ruthless and wild. The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation: Once you were gentiles; now, however, you are sprinkled and washed by the blood of Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11, 13; 1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore now offer you bodies to obey righteousness, putting away the desires of the flesh, lest you become like this world (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 6:13; Eph. 4:22). Be imitators of the righteousness of good works (cf. Tit. 2:14) and do not be unrighteous, condemned like Cain etc.; you have Christ” (ODE 116, SDEA 211, 212, italics mine)

“The law is not to be taught in such a way among the pious, so as to ac­cuse and condemn, but so as to admonish to good… The law then is to be attenuated for them and is to be taught them by way of exhortation.” Here, in the Antinomian Disputations we see Luther talking about what the later Lutherans would recognize as and call the “third use of the law,” even if he himself did not call it this. While Christians, unlike Christ, cannot receive the law completely without threat, they nevertheless do begin to delight in it (see SDEA 61). This, of course, would help explain why the Apostle Paul preaches differently in Romans 1-3 and Romans 12ff, for example.

Yes, but not in the way described by Luther himself?


To re-iterate once again, because of the fall this use of the law is not the primary or “proper one” — for our great sin must be exposed – continually – that we might continually see our need for our great Savior. With this proper use of the law established as foundational in our minds, this “third” use of the law can then help us to remember and recall the purpose of the original laws and commands given to Adam and Eve.

In other words, these are things given not to accuse (even as, insofar as we are sinners, we will be), but again, to keep us safe, to guide and invite.

To be encouraged by and to delight in… because of the mercies of God! (check out Romans, chapter 12)

“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)





[i] Here, Luther warns of the possibility of losing faith. Elsewhere though, he is very positive about this fight of faith, essentially speaking about how losing faith should never happen. The Lord “can lead into battle, but he himself wants to console the conscience, having given for this purpose the Holy Spirit who sufficiently arms those who are his” (SDEA 267, italics mine). Referring to Micah 6:8, “Walk attentively with your God,” he says “…the Christians indeed are taught the law, but with a certain prerogative, because they triumph in these matters and do not succumb, neither to sins – even if they are sometimes opposed – nor to the law” (SDEA 287).

[ii] Luther’s translation of God’s warning is a far cry from even St. Augustine’s: “I will kill you.” See AE 1: 62-65, 111. Luther appears to steer away from this kind of Augustinian interpretation.

[iii] Related to this concept, Luther forthrightly lays out the teleological-related truths one may gather from divine revelation, stating that “man is a unique creature and that he [alone] is suited to be a partaker of divinity and immortality” (AE 1: 115).[iii] Related to this goal, Luther elsewhere says the following:

“It is revealed in the Word of God, which alone, as I said, imparts true information about the two main causes, the effective and the final; knowledge of these, if available, is considered to be of the greatest importance also in matters pertaining to nature. What advantage is there in knowing how beautiful a creature is man if you are unaware of his purpose, namely, that he was created to worship God and to live eternally with God?” (131)

He goes on to say:

“The main goal, then, to which Scripture points is that man is created according to the likeness of God; in eternity, therefore, he is to live with God, and while he is here on earth, he is to preach God, thank Him, and patiently obey His Word. In this life we lay hold of this goal in ever so weak a manner; but in the future life we shall attain it fully. This the philosophers do not know. Therefore the world with its greatest wisdom is most ignorant when it does not take advantage of Holy Scripture or of theology. Human beings know neither their beginning nor their end when they are without the Word. I say nothing about the remaining creatures” (131).

[iv] “[This tree] was forbidden; and… in this respect they should obey so gracious a Creator… In this way Adam and Eve, resplendent with innocence and original righteousness, and abounding in peace of mind because of their trust in God, who was so kind, walked about naked while they discoursed on the Word and command of God and praised God, just as should be done on the Sabbath. But the, alas, Satan interfered and within a few hours ruined all this, as we shall hear” (AE 1: 144, italics mine).

One is reminded of what Luther writes in his Small Catechism, about the first article of the Apostle’s Creed: “… and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true. (SC II.1)”

[v] Of course, by way of contrast, in Reformed theology, there is the notion of a covenant of works, whereby man was to earn his final salvation through his deeds, but in Luther’s Genesis commentary, one looks in vain for such a concept. See Pastor Jordan Cooper’s blog post on the topic here:

[vi] Elsewhere he writes: “It is not our business to determine or to investigate too inquisitively why God wanted to create man in this middle condition, or why man was so created that all people are brought into being from one through procreation [unlike the angels]…” (AE: 1, 112).

[vii] What he goes on to say connects all of this with the need even Adam and Eve had to actively and consciously fight temptation, consenting to the work of God’s Spirit, through His word, within them:

“….this tree in the middle of the garden would have been like a temple in which this Word would be preached: that all the other trees were wholesome, but that this one was destructive. Therefore they should have learned to obey God and to render Him the service of refraining from eating of it, since God had forbidden it.

In this way uncorrupted nature, which had the true knowledge of God, nevertheless had a Word of command which was beyond Adam’s understanding and had to be believed. Moreover, this command was given to Adam’s innocent nature that he might have a directive or form for worshipping God, for giving thanks to God, and for instructing his children. Since the devil sees this and knows that this command is beyond the understanding of the human being he tempts Eve so that she herself may not proceed to ponder whether this is God’s command and will or not. This is the beginning and the main part of every temptation, when reason tries to reach a decision about the Word and God on its own without the Word” (AE:1, 154).

Luther also explains elsewhere that the tree had this “death-dealing” power because of the Word of God coupled with it, much like the serpent that was raised up in the wilderness had “life-giving” power to save. (AE:1, 227)


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Posted by on August 14, 2017 in Uncategorized


Luther’s Antinomian Disputations for Dummies 3 (of 5): the Law Abrogated?

Chapter 3 of 5: If the Law is Abrogated in Jesus Christ How Can the Ten Commandments be Eternal?


Chapter 1: Natural Law in Martin Luther’s Antinomian Disputations

Chapter 2: Does the Christian Cease to be Under the Law of God?


Is the law abrogated[i] in Jesus Christ, and if so, how can the Ten Commandments be eternal? This post addresses this question in some detail.

In the twelfth argument in the first disputation of the Antinomian Disputations of 1537, a student asks:

“Isn’t the New Testament called “new” because it differs from the Old?…. The Old Testament is removed and the New is chosen as a substitute instead. The law pertains to the Old Testament. Therefore the law is not to be taught….”


Luther responds:

We have talked earlier about the abrogation of the law [note: see below!] The law and the prophets last till Christ. When he is present, they cease, since he fulfills the law. And then, since the law condemned him as an innocent, he removed the entire power of the law, which consists in requiring, accusing, and terrifying. This requiring ceased in Christ, but only through the forgiveness of sins and divine imputation; for it is God’s will to consider the law fulfilled as long as we believe in the Fulfiller of the law. Additionally, he gives the Holy Spirit so that we begin to fulfill it here. In the future life we will be like the Fulfiller, Christ (I John 3:2)

Therefore, to the extent the law is fulfilled, it is removed. In Christ it is fulfilled perfectly. In us, it is not, because we do not believe this with a firm faith” (SDEA 71, 73, italics mine).

The really significant word above for our purposes in this chapter is “requiring”. The Law makes specific requirements, and backs them up with the threat of punishment from God. When Christ comes however, this “requiring” ceases in Him.

And evidently, some Christians, presumably those with a “firm faith,” are not going to feel the accusation and terror of the law as much as others. Not necessarily because sin has decreased so much in them in particular – though this may certainly have some impact on their disposition as well – but, above all, because they really do firmly believe in and bank on God’s grace and mercy in the Lord Jesus Christ. “Lord, I am not worthy… but only say the word and I will be healed.”

In other words, before God, they know they are in His “good graces” and at peace with Him! Therefore, when they reflect and meditate on the law, the “requirement” aspect fades… it is, in a very real sense, now largely about looking forward to the righteousness found in, with, and through Jesus Christ that will be fully theirs’ in heaven and which is only experience piecemeal in this life…[ii]

Still, one might wonder if this means that the law will be no more in heaven – when we are perfect in Him? Are the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, perhaps not eternal after all?

Luther’s Antinomian opponent, Agricola. Luther: “These true disciples of Satan seem to think that the law is something temporal that has ceased under Christ, like circumcision” (SDEA 141, italics mine).


Here, it is helpful to see what Luther wrote in response to an earlier argument, the seventh one, on that same day. To a student who said….:

Whatever is annulled is not effective. The law is annulled. Therefore, it is not to be taught. Paul proves to the Romans, that it is annulled, 6(:14): “you are not under law but under grace.” The sermons of Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and others in Acts prove the same thing.”

Luther responded with one of the most theologically rich passages in the First Disputation which is worth quoting in full:

Circumcision and other ceremonies were meant for a certain people and time; after its completion, they ceased. Yet the Decalogue still dwells in the conscience. For if God had never given the law by Moses, the human mind nonetheless by nature would have had the idea that God is to be worshiped and the neighbor is to be loved. The Decalogue also has its predetermined time; that is to say, when Christ appeared in the flesh and submitted himself to the law, he took away its right and restrained its sen­tence, so that it may not be able to drive into despair and condemn.

In the future life, however, it will be totally removed. In heaven it will not be necessary to admonish to love God. But then we will truly and perfectly do what Christ did here. At that time you will not say: “I should love the Father,” but: “I love the Father,” and “as he has given me command, thus I do.”

Under Christ, therefore, the law is in the state of being done, not in that of having been done. Here believers need to be admonished by the law. In heaven there will be no debt or any demand, but the finished work of the law and the highest love. Thus, the demand of the law is sad, burdensome, and impossible for those who are outside of Christ. Contrariwise, among those who are under Christ, it begins to be done as something enjoyable, possible in the first fruits, albeit not in the tithes.[iii] And therefore it must necessarily be taught among Christians. Not, to be sure, because of faith which has the spirit subject to the law, but because of the flesh which resists the spirit in the saints, Gal. 5(:17). To the extent it (the flesh) lives, the law is not abrogated; but it (the flesh) does not rule, but is forced to be subject to the spirit in servitude.

The law, therefore, is necessary, first, for the ruthless and the foolish who need to be coerced; second, for the faithful who are still dealing with the remainders of sin. For as sin and death never rest, but repeatedly perturb and sadden the pious as long as they live, so the law repeatedly returns to the consciences of the pious and utterly terrifies them. Yet when we are raised, it will simply be abolished; it will neither teach us nor exact anything from us.

Thus it is the office of Christ also in this life to reinstate the human race in that lost innocence and joyful obedience to the law, which existed in Paradise in the positive. This he did when he died for us, bore the curses and punishments of the law, and gave us his innocent righteousness. In this way the law obedience becomes joyful to us in some other way; we will render it in the superlative in heaven.[iv] . Since, therefore, most are hardened and impenitent, and since the saints in this life do not entirely leave the old man and feel the law in their members rebelling against the law of their mind and bringing it into captivity (cf. Rom. 7:23), the law must not be removed from the Church, but must be retained and faithfully driven home (SDEA 61, 63, italics mine).[v]

“But watch meanwhile, lest you make Christ into some lawgiver like Mo­hamed, because this is not his proper office. But rather that you look at him and accept him as much as Mediator and as Savior who came to fulfill the law, but not to remove it….” (SDEA 315).


Some core things to notice.

First, here we again see that the “requirement,” or “exacting” aspect of the law fades… “[Christ] took away [the law’s] right and restrained its sentence, so that it may not be able to drive into despair and condemn.”

Second, right after saying this, Luther notes that in the future life “[the Decalogue] will be totally removed.” Does He mean to say that everything that might pertain to the Ten Commandments will be totally removed? This might seem to be the case, because he says, for example, that in heaven “it will not be necessary to admonish to love God,” and “when we are raised, [the law] will simply be abolished; it will neither teach us nor exact anything from us.” Elsewhere in the disputations, he says “The believer…is dead to the law and does not serve the law, insofar as he is such a one in the bosom of grace and in divine consideration” (SDEA 301)

On the other hand, might the phrase “it will be totally be removed” be zeroing in on “its right” and “its sentence,” meaning it’s just accusation and punishment? In other words the “requirement,” or “exact[ing]” aspect of the law noted above will be no more? Put another way, that the thing which treats us like slaves who must be forced to do good, bringing with it the looming threat of punishment, will be no more? After all, right after talking about how the believer does not “serve the law,” in one sense, he goes right on to quote the Apostle Paul: “With the mind, I serve the law of God, but with the flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25)! (SDEA 301)

The word “admonish,” as SDEA translator Holger Sonntag points out, is not necessarily the law preached with the specific intent to kill and condemn but can also be used in contexts where the concern is to rather to guide the Christian on earth (as will be seen in a future post in this series). Even so though, while on earth sin remains with us which means the “teeth” of the law, with its “requirement” aspect, also remains.

“The world is evil and daily becomes worse, and it does not let itself be taught and admonished, as you will also experience in the future when we[, the reformers,] are dead” (SDEA 319).


But not so in heaven! For “Old Adam” will be no more and there will be no one to accuse!

So this brings us to these final, more specific, questions: if there is a sense in which the law “will totally be removed,” what will be the law, if anything, in heaven? Will it simply cease to exist entirely? Can we then say that it is not eternal in any sense? Does this mean that the word “law” is now a completely “empty” term, having no content at all?

Not at all. Elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations, when one disputant says the law is an “abolished word,” therefore not to be taught, Luther says it is abolished in that it does not condemn – and that faith confirms the law (SDEA, 385). Indeed, he also contrasts the law “taken simply” with the law that accuses us: for the angels and saints in heaven, “[t]he law is empty speech, because they do with joy the things of the law” (SDEA, 161). To say that Luther can say these things while not saying that the law has a form or way of life in mind that conforms to God’s will now and forever is simply not credible. Note also what Luther says about the life to come in the longer quote above: “At that time you will not say: ‘I should love the Father, but: ‘I love the Father,’ and ‘as he has given me command thus I do.’” (61, italics mine).

Here we see a hint of what the commandments of God are (see Rom. 7, for the explicit connecting of the Decalogue’s commands and the law), and were meant to be. From the beginning, God’s commandments were never meant to accuse, but to protect (warning us!), guide, and invite. Minus its accusation, the law simply gives us another picture of the eternal will of God for man on earth and in heaven. This, of course – the fact that reality is ultimately, as I like to philosophically put it, “an ontology of harmony for eternity” – is seen most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“[Christ came] to liberate all who believed in him from the curse of the law… its [terrifying and condemning] yoke is to be removed from the necks of the believers… and Christ’s yoke is to be imposed on them” (SDEA 73).


Or again, as my pastor put it (see chapter 2):

“….when we speak of the law being fulfilled in eternity, it is not that it is like a bucket that has now been filled and we can move on to something else, but a stream that continues to flow throughout eternity, for love and the fulfilling of the law, i.e. the Decalogue, are in effect, the exact same thing” (italics mine).[vi]

In sum, the will of God – which includes Jesus Christ as the law’s end, goal, or telos – is not devoid of commands[vii], even as, because of His perfect life and innocent death for us, these commands have no power to accuse. They only, from a place of total peace with God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, reveal to us all we were made to gladly be and do.

And to gladly be and do without any hesitation we indeed will – in the life to come. And now, it is not that love can only be present where the law is absent.[viii] After all, Paul invites us – admonishes us – to “[o]we no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” And as Luther reminds us, “under Christ, it begins to be done as something enjoyable” (SDEA 47, 61, 63). Looking even further ahead to the future life, the real key is revealed: “in heaven there will be no debt or any demand, but the finished work of the law and the highest love” (SDEA 61).

The law fulfilled in love to the highest degree, in all glad willingness! And in full accordance with the commands of the Decalogue, the eternal will of God.

Luther sums up matters beautifully in the thirteenth argument of this same disputation:

Peter explains in Acts 15 how it is to be understood that neither the ceremonial law—with which he deals there chiefly—nor the moral law, is to be imposed on the neck of the brethren; ob­viously because Christ has come in order to fulfill the law, which neither the fathers nor their offspring were able to bear; and to liberate all who believed in him from the curse of the law. Since, therefore, its office is to terrify and condemn, its yoke is to be removed from the necks of the believers, Gentiles as well as Jews, and Christ’s yoke is to be imposed on them, so that they may live under him in peace who rendered the owed obedience required by the law and gave it to those who believe in him. It is nonetheless to be fulfilled by the pious also, to mortify the works of the flesh by the Spirit, in order to purge out the old leaven (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 5:7). Thus, the law remains, but its burden or yoke does not weigh down the necks of those upon whom Christ’s burden is imposed, because it is easy and light (Matt. 11:30)” (SDEA 73)


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)




[i] As regards what happens to the law in the Christian life, there are other words besides “abrogate” that are used throughout the Antinomian Disputations, and it is interesting to see how Luther uses them. To the statement, “An abolished word is not to be taught. The law is an abolished word. Therefore it is not to be taught,” Luther responds very briefly: “The law is abolished for the Christians, so that it does not con­demn, but it is confirmed nonetheless, as Paul says: We do not destroy the law by faith, but we confirm it (Rom. 3:31). For after I have accepted righteous­ness the law thinks like me and affirms that I have true righteousness” (SDEA 385, italics mine). Note the “so that is does not condemn,” as elsewhere Luther states, for example, that “Christ did not abolish the law, but because of Pharisaical delusions explained the law perfectly and spiritually” (SDEA 187). To the statement, “We are not under the law. Therefore it does not condemn,” Luther responds: “It is a good argument. We are not under the law, but with the law. The law does not condemn us but nonetheless the law is needed for the remainders of sin” (SDEA 383). See the previous post as well.

[ii] In the 18th argument of the First Disputation, Luther says the following:

“[W]e die to sin through Christ who was made a sacrifice to sin and thereby killed sin, so that it is no longer able to dominate us. Therefore, to the extent we have died to law and sin by faith in Christ and are buried with him, to that extent sins are dead to us, that is, they are unable to rage and exercise their tyranny against us. This is not a pernicious but a salutary death.

Yet it does not follow from this that the law is removed or is to be removed, or that sin is removed in such a way that it is no longer felt by the pious. Rather, because of Christ, the law’s Fulfiller, the believers are not driven into despair by the accusation and terror of the law, but are lifted up by his word. Then, because of this Christ, the Victor over sin, they are as dead to sin as sin is to them. To the extent they have flesh, however, to that extent the law and sin rule in them” (p. 93).

[iii] Footnote from SDEA: “Before you can give the tithe, there is the firstfruits. However, Eze. 20:40, according to the Vulgate, says this: “In monte sancto meo in monte excelso Israhel ait Dominus Deus ibi serviet mihi omnis domus Israhel omnes inquam in terra in qua placebunt mihi et ibi quaeram primitias vestras et initium decimarum vestrarum in omnibus sanctificationibus vestris.” That is: “On my holy mountain, on the exalted mountain of Israel, says the Lord God, there the whole house of Israel will serve me, all of them, I say, in the land in which they will please me; and there I will seek your firstfruits and the beginning of your tithes in all your sanctifications (sacrifices).”

[iv] Footnote from SDEA: “In Paradise, man’s obedience was joyful in the lowest, the positive degree of comparison. In heaven, there will be most joyful obedience—joyful obedience in the highest, the su­perlative degree of comparison.”

[v] There is another point in the Antinomian Disputations where Luther talks about the law’s abrogation in some colorful detail and in the context of the Christian’s struggle vs. sin:

“But isn’t the law abrogated? Well said, insofar as the mercy is concerned that overshadows you and considers you righteous. But show me one person who does not still feel in his flesh his very many afflictions and evils. Show me the adolescent who, when he is alone with a beautiful girl, would not say: “O my beloved! Here, when we are by ourselves, we ought to pray, I think, lest we fall into temptation” (cf. Mat. 6:13; 26:41). Yes, I think, they ought to pray, that it lasts over a year.

These and such things the pious person feels and battles against as much as he can, believes in Christ who fulfilled the law for him; and later on, he battles sin and may not be so idle and secure as if he were already sailing in the harbor. And I do not believe at all that these Antinomians are so holy that I would dare to give them my wife Katy or my daughter. I will not do that. I do not fight the Antinomians out of hatred or envy, but out of the greatest necessity, because I see what will come and what will one day follow out of their teachings, namely, those last times, concerning which Christ and the divine Peter lament” (305).

[vi] Paul Strawn, email correspondence, Aug. 2, 2017.

[vii] In his response to the second argument in the first disputation, Luther says “After sin has been taken away, the law has no right to accuse us, so that he now ‘is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes’” (Rom. 10:4). It is critical to note here the way that Christ is the end of the law – namely that now, in Him, it “has no right to accuse us.”

Elsewhere, as regards Christ as the law’s end, he writes: “Christ fulfilled the whole law. For he is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4), not only of the ceremonial laws or the judicial laws, but also of the Decalogue itself; in this life through the remission of sins which the Gospel offers to all who believe in him; in the life eternal, however, also formally. Yet the end of the Mosaic law is in that text, Deuteronomy 18(:18-19): ‘I will raise up for them a Prophet from among the brethren etc. Whoever will not listen to him, whose avenger I will become.” There he demotes Moses, since he says: “You, O Israel, have heard this Moses and have done well in doing so. But at some time he will come to an end, and I will send you another one whose avenger I will be if you do not listen to him’” (SDEA 187).

[viii] Elsewhere in the Antinomian Disputations, when one disputant says believers are not under the law, and therefore its condemnation, Luther replies by saying that the Christian is not under the law but with the law (SDEA 383). Insofar as we are sinners, we are still under this law.  See the previous post as well.


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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

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