We, on the other hand, declare with Paul that no law, whether it is human or divine, justifies or makes alive. Therefore we distinguish the Law from righteousness as sharply as death from life or hell from heaven. We are prompted to declare this by the clear statement of Paul: “The Law was not given in order to justify, make live, or save, but merely in order to condemn, kill, and destroy, contrary to the opinion of all men, who naturally suppose that the Law was given in order to obtain righteousness, life, and salvation.” Such a proper distinction between the function of the Law and that of the Gospel keeps all genuine theology in its correct use. It also establishes us believers in a position as judges over all styles of life and over all the laws and dogmas of men. Finally it provides us with a faculty for testing all the spirits (1 John 4:1). By contrast, because the papists have completely intermingled and confused the doctrine of the Law and that of the Gospel, they have been unable to teach anything certain either about faith or about works or about styles of life or about judging the spirits. And the same thing is happening to the sectarians today. After these refutations and arguments, therefore, Paul teaches, at some length and with considerable beauty, that if you consider the true and best use of the Law, it is nothing but some sort of discipline toward righteousness. It humbles men and makes them ready for the righteousness of Christ, if it performs its proper function, that is, if it makes them guilty, terrifies them, makes them conscious of sin, wrath, death, and hell. When this has happened, the presumption of their own righteousness and holiness disappears, and Christ, with His blessings, begins to become sweet. Therefore the Law is not against the promises of God; it is for them. Although it does not fulfill the promise and does not grant righteousness, still, in its use and function, it humbles us and thus makes us ready for the grace and blessing of Christ.
Martin Luther | Luther’s Works, Vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 26 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 331.
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