Bio: Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther (1811-87), the father of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, served as its first president from 1847 to 1850 and then again from 1864 to 1878. In 1839 he emigrated from Saxony, Germany, with other Lutherans, who settled in Missouri. He served as pastor of several congregations in St. Louis, founded Concordia Seminary, and in 1847 was instrumental in the formation of the LCMS (then called the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States). Walther worked tirelessly to promote confessional Lutheran teaching and doctrinal agreement among all Lutherans in the United States. He was a prolific writer and speaker. Among his most influential works are Church and Ministry and The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel.
Reflection: Walther’s most influential book is The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel , the series of 39 evening lectures of his 25 Theses regarding this crucial Biblical understanding to his seminarians between Friday, September 12, 1884 and Friday, November 6, 1885 and it was published posthumously . The lectures were based upon great Reformation insight confessed in The Apology of the Augsburg Confession:
“All Scriptures should be divided into these two chief doctrines, the law and the promises.For in some places it presents the Law, and in others the promise concerning Christ, namely, either when [in the Old Testament] it promises that Christ will come, and offers, for His sake, the remission of sins justification, and life eternal, or when, in the Gospel [in the New Testament], Christ Himself, since He has appeared, promises the remission of sins, justification, and life eternal. Moreover, in this discussion, by Law we designate the Ten Commandments, wherever they are read in the Scriptures. ” (Article IV. Justification)
Law and Promise (Gospel) do two different things: the Law shows us our sin and the Gospel points us to our Savior. If we mix up Law and Promise we have what goes for much of Christian religion summed up by the ditty, “Do your best, and God will do the rest”. This does not square with the Lord’s just judgment that since sin is death, then it would be like telling Lazarus: do your best, you’re so lazy being dead, and I’ll do the rest! No! Jesus Christ called him out of the tomb by His Word…and you and I! He calls us by His Word and Holy Baptism from the tomb of our sins and on the Day, out of our tombs, as He is risen. Luther called distinguishing Law and Promise a great, difficult and high art. Walther contributed to this art mightily. The kind of “Reader’s Digest” paraphrase of Proper Distinction is entitled: God’s No and God’s Yes. No and Yes can not be confused: ask a parent, a teacher, a pastor, an elected official. God’s No is His Law, His Yes is Jesus Christ and the joyous repentance turns to our Savior…day by day. His lectures have been called “uncreative”. I thank God for Walther’s uncreativity. He was no hero but he was faithful to the Scripture and their true exposition in The Book of Concord which was immensely unpopular in 19th Century Protestant America.
I think the quote below is a masterpiece of the proper distinction as Pastor Walther applied the balm of the Gospel for the sorrowful:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
The Christian must spend many days of his life fighting this battle. Often, there are long periods when he feels almost nothing other than his unbelief and sinfulness; and this is so painful to him that his heart is almost always full of sighing. The remembrance of his past, the present condition of his heart and life, and his bleak thoughts of the future fill him with sorrow.
Whoever does not experience this on a daily basis can see evidence that his faith is only an empty, powerless delusion. As sad as this is for lukewarm Christians who do not engage in the battle, those who confess that they are almost never entirely free from the trial, care, and sorrow of the heart are in a happy condition. For if they squarely recognize their incurable corruption and regard any good they think, speak, or do as being entirely from God, it is well with them. Without misery about sin and sorrow of their heart, they would never remain in Christ. Instead, they would soon become secure, proud, and self-righteous. The sorrow with which they are continually visited is the means God employs to keep them with Christ.
Oh, blessed is he who is kept with Christ. By this he remains on the certain path to eternal joy. As Christ says: “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of Me.” Let us, then, gladly follow the way of godly sorrow on which the Lord leads us. His goal for us is peace in both time and eternity. While we reside on earth, our weak heart and the distress of our soul sometimes prompt us to ask,”O Lord, why?” But on that day when we behold God and the harvest of joy is gathered from our sowing of tears, we will ask nothing more. Then we will have nothing bu praise for the One who has guidedus throughsorrow to eternal glory, through trouble and toil to eternal rest.” (God Grant It: Daily Devotions by Carl Ferdinand Wilhelm Walther)