The Holy Gospel tells us the Spirit’s work, which is not only the Law and repentance, but also, most especially, to direct our eyes to Christ our Lord.
The Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, says, “Christ’s Spirit must not only comfort, but also through the working of the Law ‘convict the world concerning sin.’ In the New Testament, as the prophet says, He must … reprove, in order that He may afterward do His own work, which is to comfort and to preach grace.”
Here the Formula talks about “His own work”, which is His proper work as opposed to His alien work. This means that God the Holy Spirit would much rather be doing works of love than works of judgment. As God, He is love. The actions that are closest to His heart and most a part of His nature are to show mercy, kindness, and grace. As a just God, He must punish sinners. But that is not what He would rather do. He loves to love, but He punishes only if He must.
The Formula of Concord goes on: “[In order to show mercy and love] the Spirit was obtained for us through Christ and sent. For this reason He is also called the Comforter, as Doctor Luther has explained … :
Anything that preaches about our sins and God’s wrath ... that is all a preaching of the Law. Again, the Gospel is such a preaching as shows and gives nothing else than grace and forgiveness in Christ. Yet it is true and right that the apostles and preachers of the Gospel also preach the Law (as Christ did). They begin the Law with those who do not yet acknowledge their sins nor are terrified at God’s wrath; as Jesus says, ‘When [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin … because they do not believe in Me.’ Yes, what more forceful, more terrible declaration and preaching of God’s wrath against sin is there than the suffering and death of Christ, His Son? But as long as all this preaches God’s wrath and terrifies people, it is not yet the preaching of the Gospel nor Christ’s own preaching, but that of Moses and the Law against the impenitent. For the Gospel and Christ were never ordained and given for the purpose of terrifying and condemning, but for comforting and cheering those who are terrified and timid.
“And again, Luther wrote: Christ says, ‘[The Holy Spirit] will convict the world concerning sin,’ which cannot be done except through the explanation of the Law.”
So the Holy Spirit must work not only with the Gospel to comfort us, but also through the Law to drive us to repentance. As the Smalcald Articles say: “The New Testament keeps and urges the working of the Law, as Saint Paul does when he says, ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’ Paul also says, ‘... No human being will be justified in His sight.’ And Christ says, the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin.
“This is God’s thunderbolt. By the Law He strikes down both obvious sinners and false saints. He declares no one to be in the right, but drives them all together to terror and despair. This is the hammer. As Jeremiah says, ‘Is not My word like … a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’ [What a person should experience before this Law] is not ... manufactured repentance [as if our sadness over sin is something we come up with on our own]. It is passive contrition [that is created by God’s Spirit], true sorrow of heart, suffering, and the sensation of death.”
Will we always feel such terrors of conscience before the Law? No, for various reasons. But if we never feel the severity of God’s Law at all, then we should rethink how we are listening to God’s Law, and let it accuse us as the sinners we are:
“This is what true repentance means. Here a person needs to hear something like this, ‘You are all of no account, whether you are obvious sinners or saints (in your own opinions) … whether you are as great, wise, powerful, and holy as you can be. Here no one is godly.’
“But to this office of the Law, the New Testament immediately adds the consoling promise of grace through the Gospel. This must be believed. As Christ declares, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel.’ That is, become different, act differently, and believe My promise. [It is not enough just to feel sorry, but we should have the intention and desire to change our sinful life.] John the Baptist (before Christ) is called a preacher of repentance, but this is for the forgiveness of sins. That is, John was to accuse all and convict them of being sinners. This is so they can know what they are before God and acknowledge that they are lost. So they can be prepared for the Lord to receive grace and to expect and accept from Him the forgiveness of sins. This is what Christ says, ‘Repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in [My] name to all nations.’
“Whenever the Law alone exercises its office, without the Gospel being added, there is nothing but death and hell, and one must despair, as Saul and Judas did. Paul says that through sin the Law kills. On the other hand, the Gospel brings consolation and forgiveness. It does not just do this in one way, but through the Word and Sacraments and the like. … As Psalm 130 says … ‘with the Lord is ... plentiful redemption.’”
So the Spirit’s work of the Law drives us to the comfort of the Gospel. We hear this comfort in the Solid Declaration: “For the apostle Paul testifies that, ‘In Christ, He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world,’ as it is written, ‘He has blessed us in the Beloved.’ This choosing, or election, is revealed from heaven through the preaching of His Word, when the Father says, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’ Christ says, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Concerning the Holy Spirit, Christ says, ‘He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.’ So the entire Holy Trinity – God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – directs all people to Christ, as to the Book of Life, in whom they should seek the Father’s eternal election. [This eternal election means that the Father has decided from before the foundation of the world that he would save us through Christ, and only through Christ.] As Christ says, ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ And again, ‘I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.’
“Christ, as God’s only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has announced the Father’s will to us. In this way He has also announced our eternal election to eternal life. He says, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’ Likewise He says, ‘For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life.’ And again, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.’
“The Father wants all people to hear this proclamation. He desires that all people come to Christ. Christ does not drive people from Him, as it is written, ‘whoever comes to Me I will never cast out.’”
Once the Spirit has given us saving faith in this Gospel, He begins to renew us in our lives as saints. He turns our attention to the Law again, to guide us Christians in good works that we willingly do by the His help.
As the Solid Declaration says, “The Law indeed says it is God’s will and command that we should walk in a new life. But it does not give the power and ability to begin and to do it. The Holy Spirit renews the heart. He is given and received, not through the Law, but through the preaching of the Gospel. Thereafter, the Holy Spirit uses the Law in order to teach newborn Christians from it and to point out and show them in the Ten Commandments what is the ‘will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’. He shows them those ‘good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ He encourages them to this. When they are idle, negligent, and rebellious in this matter because of the flesh, He rebukes them through the Law. So the Spirit carries out both offices together: He slays and makes alive. He leads into hell and brings up again. For His office is not only to comfort, but also to rebuke. For it is written, ‘when [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.’ … Saint Paul says, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,’ and to rebuke is the Law’s special work. Therefore, as often as believers stumble, they are rebuked by the Holy Spirit from the Law. By the same Spirit they are raised up and comforted again with the preaching of the Holy Gospel.”
The Lord keep us in this Gospel, in faith and life, by His grace. Amen.
You may quote from my sermons freely, but please quote accurately if you attribute anything to me.
Send Rev. Andrew Eckert an email.