The following quotations, mostly from Luther’s Works (American Edition), comprise an appendix to this piece: “The Gospel frees us to fulfill the Law” is a thoroughly Christian statement. The principal question is this:
Does the Gospel in some sense free us to obey the Law— no longer as slaves, but as sons?
Posed another way:
Is the Law in any way constitutive of man’s chief end?
Blessed Martin Luther:
What advantage is there in knowing how beautiful a creature man is if you are unaware of his purpose, namely, that he was created to worship God and to live eternally with God? Aristotle says something worthwhile when he declares that the goal of man is happiness, which consists in a virtuous life. But in view of the weakness of our nature who can reach this goal? Even those who are the most fortunate encounter discomforts of various kinds, which both misfortune and the ill will and meanness of men bring on. For such happiness peace of mind is necessary. But who can always preserve this amid the great changes of fortune? It is vain, therefore, to point out this goal which no one reaches.
The main goal, then, to which Scripture points is that man is created according to the likeness of God; in eternity, therefore, he is to live with God, and while he is here on earth, he is to preach God, thank Him, and patiently obey His Word. In this life we lay hold of this goal in ever so weak a manner; but in the future life we shall attain it fully.
(Blessed Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis [2:21]; LW 1:131)
[T]his doctrine of the Law is profitable not only for teaching the fear of the Lord; but, as the Lord adds, it also produces this fruit, that those who are frightened in this way by the judgment and wrath of God practice justice and discernment.
(Lectures on Genesis [18:19]; LW 3:224)
Therefore the examples of the wrath of God, such as the one before us, must be dealt with in such a manner that they serve for our instruction and learning. Thus the Lord commands Abraham, who was far saintlier than we are, to relate these events to his children. For you will always find two kinds of human beings. One of these is haughty and obstinate, despises the Word and godly admonitions, and is smug beyond measure. If you treat these people gently and proclaim the mercy of God to them, you will make them worse. This, of course, is the fruit which the error of the antinomians produces. But I warn you to be on your guard against them. For they are not satisfied that they themselves perish; but they want to drag us, too, to destruction with them and to burden us with their sins, since they, like the people of Sodom, do not want them checked.
But God has put the ministry of the Word into this world, not that the ministers should be silent, but that they should reprove, teach, comfort, terrify, and in this manner save whomever they can. The antinomians do away with this ministry entirely when they refuse to tolerate reproofs and order us to acquiesce in their sins, contrary to the statement of Paul, who in Romans 2:1 condemns not only those who commit sins but also those who acquiesce in them. But those who do not reprove sins acquiesce in them. That is what I would be doing if I were to conceal the sins, blasphemies, and tyranny of the cardinals, the pope, and the bishops. But the Lord says in the book of the prophet (Ezek. 3:19): “You will deliver your soul if you reprove the sins of your people.” Even the most wicked human beings must be borne with compassion; but when they want to snatch us with them to destruction, compassion must cease. Neither the authority of parents nor the love for our children must mean so much to us that we are willing to perish with them. Then all compassion must be forgotten, in accordance with the example of Lot, who abandons his wife when, contrary to the Lord’s command, she looks back while she is on the way. Because such people have become hardened and accept no admonition, they must be abandoned.
But toward those who are not so obstinate but can be guided God wants us to show compassion, as the parable about the lost sheep teaches (Luke 15:4ff). For they are not impenitent Sodomites, for whom God’s rock-crushing hammer is appropriate. From these the judgment of the Lord should not be concealed; otherwise it will happen that we pollute ourselves with their sins by acquiescing in them. All Christians have been placed into the world for the purpose of serving their neighbors, not only so far as the Second Table is concerned but rather so far as the First Table is concerned, in order that they all may learn to fear God and to trust in His mercy.
(Lectures on Genesis [19:1]; LW 3:240)
The Ten Commandments, which deal with holy life and conduct toward God and man, cease too, in the sense that they cannot damn us believers in Christ. He became subject to the Law in order to redeem us who were under the Law (Gal. 4:5); yes, He became a curse for us to save us from the curse of the Law (Gal. 3:13). However, the Ten Commandments are still in force and do concern us Christians so far as obedience to them is concerned. For the righteousness demanded by the Law is fulfilled in the believers through the grace and the assistance of the Holy Spirit, whom they receive. Thus all the admonitions of the prophets in the Old Testament, as well as of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament, concerning a godly life, are excellent sermons on, and expositions of, the Ten Commandments.
(Luther, Lectures on St John’s Gospel [1:6]; LW 22:39)
That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today, who are preaching beautifully and (as I cannot but think) with real sincerity about Christ’s grace, about the forgiveness of sin and whatever else can be said about the doctrine of redemption. But they flee as if it were the very devil the consequence that they should tell the people about the third article, of sanctification, that is, of the new life in Christ. They think one should not frighten or trouble the people, but rather always preach comfortingly about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and under no circumstances use these or similar words, “Listen! You want to be a Christian and at the same time remain an adulterer, a whoremonger, a drunken swine, arrogant, covetous, a usurer, envious, vindictive, malicious, etc.!” Instead they say, “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a whoremonger, a miser, or other kind of sinner, if you but believe, you are saved, and you need not fear the law. Christ has fulfilled it all!”
Tell me, my dear man, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? It is, indeed, taking away Christ and bringing him to nought at the same time he is most beautifully proclaimed! And it is saying yes and no to the same thing. For there is no such Christ that died for sinners who do not, after the forgiveness of sins, desist from sins and lead a new life. Thus they preach Christ nicely with Nestorian and Eutychian logic that Christ is and yet is not Christ. They may be fine Easter preachers, but they are very poor Pentecost preachers, for they do not preach de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, “about the sanctification by the Holy Spirit,” but solely about the redemption of Jesus Christ, although Christ (whom they extoll so highly, and rightly so) is Christ, that is, he has purchased redemption from sin and death so that the Holy Spirit might transform us out of the old Adam into new men—we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, beginning and growing here on earth and perfecting it beyond, as St. Paul teaches. Christ did not earn only gratia, “grace,” for us, but also donum, “the gift of the Holy Spirit,” so that we might have not only forgiveness of, but also cessation of, sin. Now he who does not abstain from sin, but persists in his evil life, must have a different Christ, that of the Antinomians; the real Christ is not there, even if all the angels would cry, “Christi! Christi!” He must be damned with this, his new Christ.
Now see what evil logicians we are in sublime matters that are so far beyond or remote from us that we simultaneously believe and disbelieve something. But in lowly matters we are exceedingly keen logicians. No matter how stupid a peasant is, he soon understands and figures out this: he who gives me a groschen is not giving me a gulden. This follows as a matter of course, and he sees the logic of it clearly. But our Antinomians fail to see that they are preaching Christ without and against the Holy Spirit because they propose to let the people continue in their old ways and still pronounce them saved. And yet logic, too, implies that a Christian should either have the Holy Spirit and lead a new life, or know that he has no Christ. Nevertheless, these asses presume to be better logicians than Master Philip and Aristotle—I must not mention Luther because the pope was made to feel only their logic—they soar far too high for me! Well, then, the logic of Nestorius and Eutyches is a common plague, especially with reference to Holy Scripture; but in other matters it acquits itself better, although it plagues jurists and rulers enough in subtle matters, where they have to hear a yes and no at the same time and have difficulty in distinguishing the two.
(Luther, On The Councils And The Church; LW 41:114-116)
After this conversation Master Jobst showed him [Martin Luther] statements which declared that the law should not be preached in the church because it does not justify. Deeply moved, he [Martin Luther] said,
To think that this should be said by our own people even in our lifetime! This is the opinion of Agricola, who is driven by hatred and ambition. Would that we might pay heed to Master Philip! Philip teaches clearly and eloquently about the function of the law. I am inferior to him, although I have also treated this topic clearly in my Galatians.
The prophecy that was written to me by Count Albrecht is being fulfilled, namely, that there’s something of a Münzer behind this. For anybody who abolishes the teaching of the law in a political context abolishes government and domestic life, and anybody who abolishes the law in an ecclesiastical context ceases to have a knowledge of sin. The gospel doesn’t expose sin except through the law, which is spiritual and which defines sin as opposition to God’s will. Away with him who claims that transgressors don’t sin against the law but only dishonor the Son of God! Such speculative theologians are the bane of the churches. Without a conscience, without knowledge, and without logical discrimination they teach everything confusedly and say things like this, “Love is the fulfillment of the law, and therefore we have no need of the law.” But those wretched fellows neglect the minor premise: that this fulfillment (namely, love) is weak in our flesh, that we must struggle daily against the flesh with the help of the Spirit, and this belongs under the law.
(Table Talk No. 3554: “A Blast Against Agricola’s Antinomianism, March 21, 1537″; LW 54:233)
How painful it is to lose a good friend, one who is cherished with a great love! I’ve had him [Agricola] at my table, he has laughed with me, and yet he opposes me behind my back. I won’t stand for it. Nor can he maintain his position, for it’s the crassest error to reject the law. It would be more tolerable if only it were other errors and offenses that were at issue. But to reject the law, without which neither church nor civil authority nor home nor any individual can exist, is to kick the bottom out of the barrel. It’s time to resist. I can’t and I won’t stand for it.
Then he [Martin Luther] related with what gentleness he had rebuked him and with what cunning he [Agricola] responded.
(Table Talk No. 3650a: “A Public Disputation on Antinomianism Between November 1 and December 21, 1537″; LW 54:249)
The Law certainly requires and points out what is to be done. But where is the will that obeys and does what the Law requires? Who gives it? Christ, Who comes to fulfill the Law, He gives the will that you might fulfill the Law; imperfectly, to be sure, in this life because of the remnants of sin dwelling in the flesh; yet above, perfectly.
(Only the Decalogue is Eternal: Martin Luther’s Complete Antinomian Theses and Disputations, 42-43)
Under Christ, therefore, the Law is in the state of being done, not in that of having been done. Here believers need to be admonished by the Law. In heaven there will be no debt or any demand, but the finished work of the Law and the highest love. Thus, the demand of the Law is sad, burdensome, and impossible for those who are outside of Christ. Contrariwise, among those who are under Christ, it begins to be done as something enjoyable, possible in the first fruits, albeit not in the tithes. And therefore it must necessarily be taught among Christians. Not, to be sure, because of faith which has the spirit subject to the Law, but because of the flesh which resists the spirit in the saints (Galatians 5:17).
[T]he Law itself ceases formally when what the law demands is done in us, and we render it freely and willingly, not because the Law demands it, but out of love of righteousness and of goodness and of God Himself. The Law is empty because it does not have anything to demand or accuse of, since “they do by their nature what the law requires” (cf. Romans 2:14). In the same way, the law “Yield fruit!” is empty to the fertile and fruitbearing tree, since it yields fruit by its own nature. Here the Law has no greater efficacy than wax or ciphers made of chalk in paying the debt. Such is the Law for the angels.