A Laymen’s Commentary on the Smalcald Articles: The Law

Part III, Article II. Of the Law

1] Here we hold that the Law was given by God, first, to restrain sin by threats and the dread of punishment, and by the promise and offer of grace and benefit. But all this miscarried on account of the wickedness which sin has wrought in man. 2] For thereby a part [some] were rendered worse, those, namely, who are hostile to [hate] the Law, because it forbids what they like to do, and enjoins what they do not like to do. Therefore, wherever they can escape [if they were not restrained by] punishment, they [would] do more against the Law than before. These, then, are the rude and wicked [unbridled and secure] men, who do evil wherever they [notice that they] have the opportunity.

3] The rest become blind and arrogant [are smitten with arrogance and blindness], and [insolently] conceive the opinion that they observe and can observe the Law by their own powers, as has been said above concerning the scholastic theologians; thence come the hypocrites and [self-righteous or] false saints.

4] But the chief office or force of the Law is that it reveal original sin with all its fruits, and show man how very low his nature has fallen, and has become [fundamentally and] utterly corrupted; as the Law must tell man that he has no God nor regards [cares for] God, and worships other gods, a matter which before and without the Law he would not have believed. In this way he becomes terrified, is humbled, desponds, despairs, and anxiously desires aid, but sees no escape; he begins to be an enemy of [enraged at] God, and to murmur, etc. 5] This is what Paul says, Rom. 4:15: The Law worketh wrath. And Rom. 5:20: Sin is increased by the Law. [The Law entered that the offense might abound.]

The Law is the commands and ordinances of God.  It is what God expects us to do and is His good and righteous will for us.  However in our fallen state the Law, which is good, becomes a terror as it shows us our sin and failure (Romans 1-7).

The Law has 3 primary functions: curb, mirror, and guide. The curb is to restrain sin, the mirror is to show us our sin, and the guide is for the Christian to show us God’s perfect will for our lives. While the Law has these 3 uses, its primary work in this life is the mirror.

This mirror of the Law can cause 3 different reactions.  The first is to rebel against the Law and see it as a guide for how to sin.  It is a way to do more evil that one did before. This is not a denial of the Law but rather an embracing of the Law to evil ends.  For if one knows the Law, one can come up with even more perverse and twisted ways to violate it.

The second is to blind oneself or be so arrogant as to think that: you are above the Law, that the Law just does not exist, or that you are actually keeping the law as you have redefined it.  This is as popular today as it has always been. The softening of the Law, or denial of the Law, or even redefinition of the Law is putting oneself in the place of God and declaring morality to be a thing which you decide on your own.  This is the common excuse of postmoderns of all stripes.

Finally you have the proper reaction to the Law, being crushed by it.  We see our sin, how flawed we are. We realize how broken we are and accept the truth.  We are sinners. No self justification, no fighting the man. Despair follows this road, as well as a cry for help.

It is from this final place that the Law has done its full work and no longer needs to be proclaimed in its second use.  This Gospel must follow and show us our salvation. The breaking of our will and recognition of our fallen state, breeds true repentance.

1 The Law of God is good and wise
And sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

2 Its light of holiness imparts
The knowledge of our sinful hearts
That we may see our lost estate
And turn from sin before too late.

3 To those who help in Christ have found
And would in works of love abound
It shows what deeds are His delight
And should be done as good and right.

4 But those who scornfully disdain
God’s Law shall then in sin remain;
Its terror in their ear resounds
And keeps their wickedness in bounds.

5 The Law is good; but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us for our sin to die
And has no pow’r to justify.

6 To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at His throne,
Saved by His grace through faith alone.

(LSB 579)

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