Pietism in Law and Gospel

As promised months ago, here are things I think ought not to be said or reflect incipient pietism in Walther’s Law and Gospel. This is not to say that the book ought not to be read.  I have read it five times in the last 33 years. When I brought these concerns before Professor “Hammering” Hank Eggold and later Professor Marquart I was told it was a matter of poor translating.  So I waited till this new (and improved?) version came out.  Two caveats to all this:  Walther himself never saw this book in print. Had he, I cannot but think he would have amended some of these. Second, I’m not trying to make fun of Walther. The latest movie Concordia Seminary released about his life does a fine job of that.

“People can be deprived of their soul’s salvation by a single false comfort or a single false rebuke administered to them” (Law & Gospel, 24). PRH – If he means at that very moment they are so deprived, this is true.  I regularly have this happen to me when I read The Lutheran Witness or The Reporter.

“It is by mere coincidence if someone is awakened from sin and converted by a preacher who is himself unconverted” (27). PRH – Donatism would agree.

“Let this be your slogan: ‘Fight to the death on behalf of the truth, and the Lord will fight for you’” (34)! PRH – This is the medieval understanding of justification.  God helps those who do their best.

“Faith is not merely thinking, ‘I believe.’ Your whole heart must be seized by the Gospel and come to rest in it” (44). PRH – How do I know if/when my whole heart is seized?

“Accordingly, a pastor must be able to distinguish whether he is facing a hypocrite or a true Christian; whether this is a person still spiritually dead or one who has already been awakened from his sleep of sin; whether this is a person tempted by the devil and his own flesh or a person who has been given over to the rule of the devil because of his evil intent.  As such, an inexperienced pastor would readily think a hypocrite to be a true Christian, etc” (60). PRH – By definition you can’t know who a hypocrite is; you can only accuse someone of being hypocritical.

“True, God is so patient, kind, and gracious that He forgives Christians their sins of weakness and frailty every single day – and richly too.  But He does this only for those who are really serious about being Christians.  If this earnestness is lacking, a person is not a true Christian” (87). PRH – Is not this the “monster of uncertainty” that Luther railed so much about?

“When you rebuke a person and he become angry with you, that shows he is not a true Christian.  For a Christian receives rebukes meekly, even if the rebuke is uncalled for” (134). PRH – AA would agree; they say the first sign that you’re an alcoholic is when you become defensive about your drinking.

“There are people who regard themselves as good Christians, even though they are spiritually dead.  They have never felt real anguish and have never been filled with terror on account of their sins.  They have never been horrified by the thought of hell, even though they are worthy of hell.  They have never been on their knees before God, wailing with bitter tears about their awful and damnable condition under sin.  Much less have they wept sweet tears of joy and glorified God for His mercy.” (212) PRH – Gulp.

“A person who claims to have a firm faith that he will never abandon – but who still has an impure heart – must be told that he is in great darkness. For, in reality, he has no faith at all.” (231) PRH – Now compare this to 232: “…all of us are haughty, proud, ambitious.  And only the Holy Spirit can drive this harmful vice from our heart.  But we can never get rid of it entirely.”

“But the young man went away.  Without a doubt, if he had become a believer, Scripture would have recorded that fact” (248). PRH – Without a doubt?

“Accordingly, a genuine sermon comes about only after all the spiritual and intellectual energy of a truly believing preacher has been applied to the utmost, after passionate prayer, after all earthly cares have been chased from his mind, and after the preacher has been freed from all vain desires” (272). PRH – How many genuine sermons have you written?

“Believers are ready to serve anybody, wherever they can.  They cannot help but profess the Gospel before other people; in fact they bet their life on the Gospel” (325).  PRH – With most of these the problem is that Walther describes a Christian in terms that are not true of all let alone most Christians in violation of his own thesis about rightly dividing Law and Gospel.

“Rather, he must speak in such a way that the people will not misunderstand his words” (329). PRH – FC, SD, II, 44 mentions how Luther “to the best of his ability” guarded against his words being misunderstood, and yet we know they were.

“It is so important to know whether someone loves the Word of God and his Savior, or whether his heart is hardened and he is leading a shameful life” (350). PRH – This could be understood rightly in that you can know if someone is leading a shameful life, such as David in his adultery and murder, and rightly conclude that his heart is heartened and he no longer loves his savior or the Word.  But the sentence starts with you being able to know another person’s heart.  Furthermore, if you explain it the way I did, you could reach the false conclusion that a person leading a praiseworthy life must necessarily not have a hard heart and must also love the Savior and God’s Word.

Rather than “buyer beware” here the reader ought to be.









About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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