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Martin Luther and the Ten Commandments in the Large Catechism

An Ought Never Implies a Can

Why does Luther spend half the text of the Large Catechism talking about the commandments? Part of the reason may have to do with the pro-antinomian talk of his former student, John Agricola. However, Luther also provides an even more important answer to that question in the rest of the Large Catechism. The chief function of the law is not to show us an easy way to heaven, which (with a little hard work) we can reach, but to show us our sin – how infinitely far we are from heaven, God, and our neighbor (who is Christ in our midst).

The Christian life, like Baptism, goes from drowning to rising, from death to resurrection, from confession of sin to forgiveness. Thus, Luther writes against those who think the commandments are easy and who therefore think they have time to fulfill God’s counsels.

Whatever else we do with the Ten Commandments, we can do nothing worse than ignore their main function: to put us to death by showing our sin and driving us to the one place where there is help: the gospel. It is in Jesus Christ alone, who is the mirror of the Father’s heart and whom the Holy Spirit reveals to us by faith alone, that we have our hope. This is not a matter of declaring a wrong right or of telling others to buck up and try harder. This is a matter of the gospel alone, that Good News of forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes.
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