To have the Law preached correctly, we must have it as from the Ten Commandments. The reason for this derives from the forgetfulness of human theology, which thinks it has moved beyond the Decalogue into other truly momentous, pious statutes. Indeed, by ignoring the elephant in the room (our failures with regard to the Decalogue) the Law doesn’t seem so threatening. Let us take a glance at how Luther decries the silly claims to piety that arise when the focus of Law switches away from these commandments.
Thus we have the Ten Commandments, a compend of divine doctrine, as to what we are to do in order that our whole life may be pleasing to God, and the true fountain and channel from and in which everything must arise and flow that is to be a good work, so that outside of the Ten Commandments no work or thing can be good or pleasing to God, however great or precious it be in the eyes of the world. Let us see now what our great saints can boast of their spiritual orders and their great and grievous works which they have invented and set up, while they let these pass, as though they were far too insignificant, or had long ago been perfectly fulfilled.
I am of opinion, indeed, that here one will find his hands full, [and will have enough] to do to observe these, namely, meekness, patience, and love towards enemies, chastity, kindness, etc., and what such virtues imply. But such works are not of value and make no display in the eyes of the world; for they are not peculiar and conceited works, and restricted to particular times, places, rites, and customs, but are common, every-day domestic works which one neighbor can practise toward another; therefore they are not of high esteem.
But the other works cause people to open their eyes and ears wide, and men aid to this effect by the great display, expense, and magnificent buildings with which they adorn them, so that everything shines and glitters. There they waft incense, they sing and ring bells, they light tapers and candles, so that nothing else can be seen or heard. For when a priest stands there in a surplice embroidered with gilt, or a layman continues all day upon his knees in church, that is regarded as a most precious work which no one can sufficiently praise. But when a poor girl tends a little child and faithfully does what she is told, that is considered nothing; for else what should monks and nuns seek in their cloisters?
I have emphasized portions that struck me as often overlooked in Confessional streams that can overtly direct us to value not just the Word of God but the bells and smells of the liturgy. Of what use will these adornments be against the Decalogue? They may be of use against someone who doesn’t seem dedicated enough in their worship or something of that humanistic way of thinking. But against God’s Law, will we rely on these?
I wanted to reiterate what Luther seems to argue: that we get to this point of valuing such external things when the LAW is no longer preached as from the Ten Commandments. For there is no spiritual harm in a high liturgy, that I am aware of, except that is abuses the Word of God and grace by constantly demanding more. If it is an arms race versus low church, then we are assuredly great fools. (To be sure, I do not know that Luther had to deal with every tendency that has emerged by now, but he had his share.)
Instead of drawing from the fountain of the Decalogue, obedience to the Law from the inner heart (which, though no man but Christ could provide is still demanded by the Law), we give glint to the human nature and senses, to demand the external act of performance, such as the Papacy invented and superimposed over the divine gift, so as to make a pontifical work out of God’s grace. This is why the preaching of the Law has become so unvoiced, so curiously traped as un-Lutheran, because in the hard roots of the Decalogue we have ceased to be Roman Catholic enough. We have supported something external, as instead-of-Christ and what makes a man unclean is within, it is what comes from outside is clean. For Christ externally bore that sinfulness and guilt that is within us.
This too explains a sometimes glaring negligence of the topic of faith, which should never be far off our radar if we are to remain faithful Christians and diligent Lutherans. Faith is not of much use when we have exalted the external performance. Faith is not of much use where there is no guilt. Guilt has to be an inner property. Socialistic ways of thinking try to externalize guilt, but that is again saying that what is unclean is only apparent and only manifest because of some general misfortune. There is a whole side to sin that may have been forgotten, a whole meaning to original sin which is being cleaned up and shoved under a bed, so that the room might look clean. But the mess is still there, no matter how ugly it gets underneath the bed.
Let me speak clearly. If someone has failed to realize the significance of grace, if someone treats the grace of God with disdain, if someone has a proud and stubborn heart, if someone, viz., resists God, then it is certain that they need to hear the sheer edge of the Law, cutting through them. Nor is this Law harmful to Christians, unless we preach it as something that must be added in addition to grace. Otherwise, the psalmist and the Holy Spirit made a great oversight, you see, when they wished to begin their book of Pslams and said, “Blessed” where the should have (in this case) called him cursed who meditated on the Law day and night. Ah, for such an oversight should not have happened. Instead, however, he is cursed who trusts in the external performance of the work (which can only be described as a means of grace). For that there are pastors, sacraments, and forgiveness of sins is a effect of the Word of God and work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, there is not room for human boasting; it is excluded.
Consequently, he who wants to preach the Law correctly needs to ask, in addition to processing through a certain distinction whether the congregation will be confused by his words, into thinking righteousness can come from it, also this: am I preaching Law from the Decalogue or simply from a human standard of elegance. I will maintain that what we have commonly is very good preaching of the Law. Most preaching seems to me to fasten upon these 10 words and strike at the heart, convicting, and then regularly following-up with the balm of the Gospel. This process has resulted in a great and thriving denomination, despite a world of challenges. Nevertheless, I would implore that we detract from the impulse to judge on external standards and see how the Decalogue makes us all equally sinful, equally needy, and equally slain. This happens, as I see it, when we confuse God’s will as being a matter of human tastes and preferences, in order to subvert the knowledge of sin in our hearts and our guilty consciences with the unclean sacrifice of an external work. This is why the Law says, enough with your sacrifices, do you righteousness and justice! If you want to hear the very Law, then hear it from the void within your heart, which you discover from hearing the Decalogue. Then, if you wish, you can note your lack, rather than abundance, of piety.