“We have not yet convinced ourselves that the Law is beautiful…”

Some thoughts from a close friend, offered without comment:

“I tend to agree with the statement that is made in these articles*, that the preaching of the Law is meant to produce an actual result, and not merely to convict. However, I have noticed something (this is not an accusation, just an observation): Many Lutherans who would like to reintroduce the practice of exhortation into the life of the Church seem incessantly to base their argument upon the fact that St. Paul preaches the law in such a way as to encourage a goodly result.

“The argument is based on the particular example set by St. Paul and is an extrapolation from his style. This is not bad. However, I think I would find a better argument in the work of King David:

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night… For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish (Psalm i, 2 & 6).

“I perceive that some of these theologians do not rightly comprehend the problem. The problem is not so much that we are limiting the Law to one use, or that we are failing to lead our people into good works for our neighbor. I find the problem to be this: that we have not yet convinced ourselves that the Law is beautiful, and should in every way be our delight, simultaneously the object of our meditation, the joy of our contemplation, and ultimately (though not necessarily most importantly) the true work of our hands; for God is the Law, just as God is Love. If we say the Law only accuses, then we say that God only accuses. But it is the Love of God, that is, the Law of God, which effected our salvation. Therefore, we should rejoice in the Law always, for the Law is not something separate from God, a list of requirements; it is the essence of God made comprehensible to a created mind. It is for this reason that Luther can say ‘Only the Decalogue is Eternal’ for it is one with the Divinity.

“As long as we believe the Law to be something external to God, we will always fail to preach the Law properly.”


admin note:

* The articles in question:




  1. That is excellent. And you know, St. Paul comes from that direction sometimes too, not so much in outright professions of love for the Law, but in the way his exhortations flow from his explanations of the objective change that has happened in us. We have moved from death to life, so live! We have been liberated, so don’t act like a slave! He’s not just scolding or lecturing. He describes something wonderful, holy and powerful, that you are a part of, before he urges you to act accordingly. E.g. Rom. 6-8, Gal. 3-5, Col. 2-3.

  2. We have not yet convinced ourselves that the Law is beautiful. That is very good. I don’t know that I could have written Psalm 119, and that is no reference to my poetic capabilities. (In that sense, too, I could not have written Psalm 119, I’m sure.)

    I have lately spoken with too many Christians who joke about how worthless the book of Leviticus is. It’s a beautiful book. Bit weird at times, but too many people outright reject it because of its strangeness. Let us grant that it is strange to our culture, but it is not strange to our faith, and it still gives us a window into the glorious nature of our Lord.

    That said, Leviticus is weird.

    • Ha! I know what you mean. I will say this, though — I have heard absolutely marvelous things about Dr. John Kleinig’s commentary on Leviticus, published through CPH. Like, everyone I know who’s read it says things like this:

      For my part, Leviticus was a closed book to me until I read his commentary. I am not exaggerating in saying that that commentary greatly deepened, if not quite completely changed, my perspective on Our Lord and His Temple in a way that few other things have.

      That’s Pr. Petersen, whose work I’ve recently published here on the site. Here’s the original post. Save your pennies and check out some of Kleinig’s work! The Festschrift might be a good place to start. It and Kleinig’s commentary are both on my wishlist.

  3. Actually I think we have moments of clarity where we do realize that it is beautiful, or at least that parts of it are. The problem is that we are sinners, and so true beauty is not always what we want.

  4. Epitome of the Formula of Concord
    V. Law and Gospel
    The Principal Question In This Controversy.
    3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess that the Law is properly a divine doctrine, which teaches what is right and pleasing to God, and reproves everything that is sin and contrary to God’s will.
    4] 3. For this reason, then, everything that reproves sin is, and belongs to, the preaching of the Law.
    That is what we Lutherans have believed since the Reformation. The problem is that Scripture knows of no such definition of “the Law”. Therefore, every time we quote Scripture that contains the word “Law”, in defense of our position, we do violence to the Scriptures.
    There are about 10 different words in the Old Testament (depending on whether you count the Aramaic version as the same word as the Hebrew one) which are translated into English as “Law”. The one most gentiles know best is “Torah”, but there are other Hebrew words that are more common in Scripture, that are translated as “Law”. “Torah” never means “Law” as defined by our Confessions. In its narrowest sense it means “the Pentateuch”, containing both Law and Gospel. It can also mean all of the Old Testament Scripture, or, in its widest sense it means “the mind of God” or “the complete will of God”.
    It is the word “Torah” (actually btohrat, or in the Law), that is used in Psalm 2:2. The same word is used in that wonderful prophecy in Jeremiah 31:33, “..I will put my Law (Torah) within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
    When we define “Law” as “Torah”, then it is much easier to convince ourselves that the Law is indeed beautiful; in fact it takes no convincing at all. Then we can delight in the Law and meditate on it day and night.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  5. I love it that St. paul refers to the Law (the 10 Commandments) as “the ministry of death.”

    For that is exactly what it is. It’s not designed to make us better, or more righteous, or more holy…but to kill us off.


  6. It’s intended to kill the sinner. yes. That’s one reason why, being sinners, we have a hard time appreciating its beauty. But it is also designed to guide and encourage the saint.

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