Editor’s Note: Rev. Brian L. Kachelmeier serves as pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Los Alamos, NM. He is the host of the Redeemer Theological Academy radio program, frequent guest on Issues, Etc., Old Testament teacher for the Wittenberg Academy, and author of the soon to be released book Reading Isaiah with Luther.
In our discussion of Justification as taught in the Apology, we want to focus on the pastoral care found in this doctrine as it relates to the giving of a clean conscience. We know that Christ has redeemed us from the curse and freed us from the condemnation of the Law. However, in this life, sin still plagues the justified.
Furthermore, because of sin, the conscience becomes troubled and conflicted. As the Law brings the knowledge of sin within our own hearts, we are left with a guilty conscience. Keep in mind that the conscience is an instrument given by God to testify to the actions of an individual. When the conscience is working properly, it alerts the individual of sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. If one does evil, the conscience becomes alarmed and terrified. When the conscience is shaped by the Law of God, it submits to God as the Judge. He alone determines what is right and wrong. The Law brings the knowledge of sin. However, if the conscience is only formed by the Law, then there is no rest. The conscience demands that the Law be satisfied in order to be right with God. The Law cannot justify. The Law does not teach the forgiveness of sins. In this sense, the Law always accuses and produces wrath.
Without Christ the Mediator, there is no peace of conscience. Without Christ, God is seen as the Judge who condemns sin. The wages of sin is death. Thus, such people who try to obtain the Righteousness of the Law never obtain the true knowledge of God. They only see God as a wrathful Judge. For them, the Law always accuses and produces wrath. Apart from Christ, there is no mercy. Without Christ, there is no peace with God.
In the Apology, Melanchthon addresses those who attempt to merit the remission of sins and grace through their own efforts and works. Such people think that they can appease God’s wrath and be accounted righteous in God’s sight by their works. They teach that their works are the propitiation that reconciles them to God. This is the Righteousness of the Law without the work of Christ as Mediator. They do not believe that Christ is the Propitiator nor do they believe that His work is the propitiation for their sins. Melanchthon calls this a godless opinion about works. He writes,
This godless opinion concerning works we condemn. In the first place, because it obscures the glory of Christ when men offer to God these works as a price and propitiation. This honor, due to Christ alone, is ascribed to our works. Secondly, they nevertheless do not find, in these works, peace of conscience, but in true terrors, heaping up works upon works, they at length despair because they find no work sufficiently pure [sufficiently important and precious to propitiate God, to obtain with certainty eternal life, in a word, to tranquilize and pacify the conscience]. The Law always accuses, and produces wrath. Thirdly, such persons never attain the knowledge of God [nor of His will]; for, as in anger they flee from God, who judges and afflicts them, they never believe that they are heard. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 83. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 204).
Again, Melanchthon is addressing the godless opinion concerning works without the work of Christ. Such an opinion obscures the glory of Christ; instead, it glorifies the works of the individual. It sets the works of the individual against the wrath of God. Yet, the conscience is never satisfied. It always requires that more works need to be done. Without the free forgiveness of sins from the Gospel, the conscience is never at rest. Therefore, such an opinion gives no peace to the conscience.
However, the Righteousness of the Gospel gives all honor to Christ the Mediator. Only by the knowledge of Christ, can one be justified in God’s sight. Only in Christ, can one see God as merciful. Only by faith in the work of Christ, can one have peace in the conscience. After Melanchthon critiques the papist doctrine of the Righteousness of the Law, he articulates our teaching on the righteousness of the Gospel. He writes,
…we give to Christ His own honor. We believe and teach that by faith, for Christ’s sake, we are accounted righteous before God, that we are not accounted righteous because of works without Christ as Mediator, that by works we do not merit the remission of sins, grace, and righteousness, that we cannot set our works against the wrath and justice of God, that works cannot overcome the terrors of sin, but that the terrors of sin are overcome by faith alone, that only Christ the Mediator is to be presented by faith against the wrath and judgment of God. If any one think differently, he does not give Christ due honor, who has been set forth that He might be a Propitiator, that through Him we might have access to the Father. We are speaking now of the righteousness through which we treat with God, not with men, but by which we apprehend grace and peace of conscience. Conscience however, cannot be pacified before God, unless by faith alone, which is certain that God for Christ’s sake is reconciled to us, according to Rom. 5:1: Being justified by faith, we have peace, because justification is only a matter freely promised for Christ’s sake, and therefore is always received before God by faith alone. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 93-96. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 214-217).
Again, for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation. The Law cannot accuse or condemn them. The Gospel gives peace to the conscience. Christ is the one Mediator who has made complete satisfaction for sin. He grants us access to the Father. He continues to pour out the remission of sins. He continues to give us peace. When the conscience is shaped by the Law, it sees God as the Judge of sin. When the conscience feels the accusing and condemning voice of the Law, it needs to be shaped by the Gospel. Then it sees God as merciful. Jesus is the Mediator who bears our sin. If Jesus bears our sin, then the conscience does not. Since the conscience cannot testify to the work of another, it needs to hear the Gospel message over and over again.
In addition, notice how Melanchthon draws our attention to Romans 5. With these words from the Apostle Paul, we clearly see the connection between Christ the Mediator who gives us access to the Father, justification by faith which gives us peace in the conscience, and the gift of the Holy Spirit who renews our minds. Paul writes,
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1–5, ESV)
Without Christ, without faith, and without the Holy Spirit, we would fall into despair and conclude that the suffering in the life of a Christian is a sign of God’s wrath. The conscience would always be troubled and terrified. There would be no peace or comfort. The Law would always accuse and condemn. For this reason, Melanchthon doubles down on the accusation and condemnation found in the Righteousness of the Law without Christ the Mediator. He states that for those who want to be justified by the Law they must understand that the Law only accuses. Melanchthon writes,
For it is evident that we are not justified by the Law. Otherwise, why would there be need of Christ or the Gospel, if the preaching of the Law alone would be sufficient? Thus in the preaching of repentance, the preaching of the Law, or the Word convicting of sin, is not sufficient, because the Law works wrath, and only accuses, only terrifies consciences, because consciences never are at rest, unless they hear the voice of God in which the remission of sins is clearly promised. Accordingly, the Gospel must be added, that for Christ’s sake sins are remitted, and that we obtain remission of sins by faith in Christ. If the adversaries exclude the Gospel of Christ from the preaching of repentance, they are judged aright to be blasphemers against Christ. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 136. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 257).
The papists promote a teaching of the Law without the Gospel. Thus, the hearts of their hearers yearn for ways to satisfy the guilt of the conscience. If only the Law is preached, the conscience will only be terrified. The Law will only accuse and work the wrath of God. Only the Gospel gives peace to the conscience promising the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ the Mediator. Melanchthon continues his rejection of the papist teaching of the righteousness of the Law. He writes,
…the adversaries give the worst advice to godly consciences when they teach that by works the remission of sins is merited, because conscience, in acquiring remission through works, cannot be confident that the work will satisfy God. Accordingly, it is always tormented, and continually devises other works and other acts of worship, until it altogether despairs. This course is described by Paul, Rom. 4:5, where he proves that the promise of righteousness is not obtained because of our works, because we could never affirm that we had a reconciled God. For the Law always accuses. Thus the promise would be in vain and uncertain. He accordingly concludes that this promise of the remission of sins and of righteousness is received by faith, not on account of works. This is the true, simple, and genuine meaning of Paul, in which the greatest consolation is offered godly consciences, and the glory of Christ is shown forth, who certainly was given to us for this purpose, namely, that through Him we might have grace, righteousness, and peace. (Triglotta Apology Art. IV On Justification [Article III: Love and the Fulfilling of the Law], para. 164. NOTE: Kolb/Tappert Apology Art. IV, 285).
Notice that when Melanchthon says that “the Law always accuses” it is in the context of saying that the conscience “is always tormented.” If a conscience is being taught that the remission of sins is merited by works, the conscience will never know if enough works have been done. In other words, the conscience will always testify to the failure of perfectly fulfilling the demands of the Law. The conscience will always feel guilty. In this way, the Law will always accuse, and the conscience will always be tormented. Only the external message of the Gospel can give comfort and peace to the restless conscience. The Gospel gives consolation and certainty that for the sake of Christ the Mediator, the guilt of sin has been atoned for.
In Part 5 of our conversation, we will examine the constant need to hear the Gospel. Thus, even in the teaching of the Law for the justified, the Gospel must be continuously proclaimed.