Law And Gospel In A Pastoral Context

DATHENUS: Just as this is very comforting, so it also is certain and true. For this is what Paul is teaching us with these similar words, namely, that “by the deeds of the law no flesh shall justified in his sight: for by the law is knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Also, “Nay, I had not know sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7; Exod. 20:17).
As summation, Paul points out that the law is our disciplinarian, or what which leads us to Christ, to be justified by faith. However, once we have come to faith, we are no longer under the disciplinarian guide.

 ELIZABETH: That is comforting and true. But accommodate yourself to my ignorance, and explain it to me even more.

DATHENUS: I will gladly do that. You did understand what we discussed earlier about the blindness, alienation and depravity of the natural man, in which he is spiritually dead before God, did you not?

ELIZABETH: I did hear you say that, but I did not understand it very well.

DATHENUS: In spite of what the real state of man is before God, he likes to see himself as being pious, holy and righteous. This we can see by the example of the rich young ruler who boasted that he had kept all the commandments of God from his youth (Mat. 19:20). When the penitent woman who was a sinner touched Jesus, Simon the Pharisee regarded himself as if he were not likewise a sinner (Luke 18:11).

 ELIZABETH: Indeed, that is the case all too often with unbelievers.

 DATHENUS: Oh Elizabeth, God grant that it does not happen with those who think themselves to be the best of Christians, who see the splinter in another’s eye, but do not notice the beam in their own eye.

 ELIZABETH: But can this also happen with those who truly know God?

 DATHENUS: Alas, yes, far too often. I have to complain that I come across it many times, and I do not doubt that you sometimes have discovered it in yourself. Spiritual pride, self-love and self-centeredness have not died in the children of God. You can see this very plainly in the example of Loadicea, where the say themselves as rich and enriched and having lack of nothing. But the Lord testifies to the contrary, that they were poor, miserable, blind and naked (Rev. 3:17).

 ELIZABETH: That, indeed, is true.

 DATHENUS: Because we are so blinded by spiritual pride that we do not feel our miserable state, the law of God serves as an eye salve (Rev. 3:11), to clear up our dim vision, as a mirror (James 2:5), in which we can see and acknowledge how far we fall short. He does this in order that we will be displeased with ourselves (Ps. 19:13) and become ashamed like the poor publican who did not even dare to lift up his eyes to heaven, and say with him, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

ELIZABETH: I also need that eye salve and that mirror.

 DATHENUS: Not only you, dear Elizabeth, but also the holiest of people. Therefore also the more experienced of God’s elect see themselves mirrored faithfully when they have made a sincere confession (Ps. 19:13; 38:5; Job 13:23; 14:4; Isa. 38:17; 64:6; 1 John 1:9).
The highest perfection of people, as long as they live on earth, lies in a sincere confession of imperfections.

 ELIZABETH: This cannot be denied, for who does not have to say and confess with David, “Who can understand his errors? Cleanse though me from secret faults” (Ps. 19:12).
Please, also teach me something of the gospel which, as you taught me earlier, is the other part of God’s Word. I now pretty well understand what the law is about.

DATHENUS: This I would wish you from the heart, but I fear that you still have quite deficiency in the knowledge of the law; but we can always make up that deficiency later. So not let us talk about the gospel.
Tell me, Elizabeth, what definition would you give me of the gospel?

ELIZABETH: All that Christ and His apostles have taught us and handed down to us in writing in the New Testament.

 DATHENUS: Here you are again making quite a big mistake. Have you forgotten so soon that which I point out earlier– that Christ and His apostles (Rom. 8:3) also proclaim and enforce the law? Don’t you remember that they exhort all people to keep the commandments of God, which we are not able to do (Acts 15:10)?

ELIZABETH: Yes, that is true, but I had almost forgotten that. So please instruct me. What is the true gospel?

 DATHENUS: The Greek word for gospel denotes joyful good news which causes people to speak and sing joyfully and be glad in heart, just like the good news that came to Israel that David triumphed over the arrogant Goliath and slain him (1 Sam. 18:6).
Such also is the good news of the gospel that proclaims to us and tells us that God will be gracious to a poor sinner, and will forgive and forget our sins (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12). Yes, for Christ’s sake (1 Tim. 1:15) God will regard us as holy and righteous (2 Cor. 5:21), out of pure grace, by faith alone, without adding any works (1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 3:28).

—Petrus Dathenus (1531–88), The Pearl of Christian Comfort by Petrus Dathenus (HT: Jack Miller/Iustitia Aliena)

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  1. Nice touch to over-hear a 16th century conversation on law and gospel. More please, and thanks, Prof! Many blessings!

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