Luther On The First Use

Now if even the Moral Law of God, the Decalogue, gives birth only to slaves—that is, does not justify but only terrifies, accuses, condemns, and brings consciences to the point of despair—how, I ask you, could the laws of the pope or human traditions justify? Therefore anyone who teaches or urges either the Law of God or human traditions as something necessary for righteousness in the sight of God does nothing other than give birth to slaves. And yet such theologians are regarded as the best; they earn the applause of the world and are the most prolific mothers, that is, have an infinite number of disciples. Since reason does not understand what faith and true godliness are, it neglects and despises them. Naturally, it is impressed by superstition and hypocrisy, that is, by the righteousness of works, which is so brilliant and successful that it is the mighty empress of the universe. Therefore those who teach the righteousness of works on the basis of the Law give birth to many sons, but all of these are slaves who will be thrown out of the house and condemned.

Sarah, the free woman, on the other hand, that is, the true church, seems to be barren; for the Gospel, the Word of the cross, which the church preaches, is not as brilliant as is the teaching about the Law and works, and therefore it has few pupils who cling to it. Besides, it has the reputation of forbidding good works, making men idle and faint, stirring up heresies and sedition, and being the cause of every evil. Therefore it does not seem to have any success or prosperity; but everything seems to be filled with barrenness, waste, and despair. Hence the wicked are fully persuaded that the church will soon perish along with its doctrine. The Jews were altogether sure that the church established by the apostles would soon be deserted. To it they gave the hateful name “sect”; for so they spoke to Paul in Acts 28:22: “With regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Similarly today, how often, I ask you, have our opponents rejoiced in a false hope that we would surely be crushed at this or that time? Christ and the apostles were crushed; but when they were dead, the teaching of the Gospel was spread more widely than when they were alive. Thus our opponents can crush us, but “the Word of the Lord will abide forever” (1 Peter 1:25). Regardless of how barren and deserted the church of Christ seems, therefore, or of how much it is said to teach heretical and seditious doctrine, it alone gives birth to children and heirs, through the ministry of the Word.

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), 443–44.


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    Post authored by:

  • Tony Phelps
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    Tony grew up in Rhode Island. He was educated at BA (University of Rhode Island) and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He worked in the insurance industry for ten years. He planted a PCA church in Wakefield, RI where he served for eleven years. In 2015–18 he pastored Covenant Reformed Church (URCNA) in Colorado Springs. He is currently pastor of Living Hope (OPC). Tony is married to Donna and together they have three children.

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