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Commemorating Philip Melanchthon

loci 1521Today we commemorate the birth of Philip Melanchthon (born on February 16 in 1497)—author, humanist, reformer, theologian, and educator.  In 1521, Melanchthon published the Loci Communes, of which Martin Luther once said: “Philip Melanchthon’s invincible little book on Loci Theologici in my judgment is worthy not only of immortality but even of the Church’s canon.” Loci Communes 1521 was the first Lutheran work of systematic theology and arguably Philip Melanchthon’s most important work. Below you will find an excerpt from Christian Preus’s excellent translation of this book.

What Is the Gospel?

Just as the Law is that by which correct living is commanded and sin is revealed, so the Gospel is the promise of God’s grace or mercy, that is, the forgiveness of sin and the testimony of God’s kindness toward us. By this testimony our souls are assured of God’s kindness. By it, we believe that all our guilt has been pardoned, we are strengthened to love and praise God, to be happy and to rejoice in him, as we will explain below in discussing the power of the Gospel. Moreover, Christ is the guarantee of all these promises, and for this reason we should refer all the promises of Scripture to him. For Christ was revealed obscurely at first, but afterwards he was made known more and more clearly. . . .

You see the plan of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, how he teaches the pious so sweetly and persuasively and acts for no other reason than to save us. All of Scripture is either Law or Gospel. The Books of Moses sometimes teach the Law and sometimes the Gospel. In fact, the Gospel is sometimes even hidden in the Law itself. For what can you find more evangelical than the promise that the Spirit of God adds as an explanation (αἰτιολογίᾳ) to the First Commandment: “Having mercy on thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” [Deuteronomy 5:10]? And look how Moses the lawgiver suddenly becomes an evangelist, that is, a herald of grace and mercy, when he says in Exodus 34:[6–7], “Lord God, you who are merciful and gracious, patient and full of much compassion and true, you who guard your mercy for thousands, you who forgive iniquity and crimes and sins, although there is nobody who is innocent of himself before you.” Try to provide a more evangelical pronouncement in all the writings of the New Testament! In this way, the Books of Moses sometimes teach the Law and sometimes the Gospel.

I am not now discussing figures, but only those passages that are clearly to be taken literally. For these are the passages that should be sought first and foremost. The sacred histories are examples sometimes of laws and sometimes of the Gospel. For clearly the terrible case of Saul pertains to the laws. But the case of David pertains to the Gospel, since although he had forced himself on another man’s wife, yet he obtained grace. The pronouncement of the prophet was clearly the voice of the Gospel: “The Lord has taken your sin away. You will not die” (2 Samuel 12:[13]). One should evaluate similar examples in the same way. The prophets are teaching the Law when they condemn hypocrisy, godlessness, false security, and other such vices. For they denounce hidden vices and hypocrisy above all. They also proclaim the Gospel as often as they comfort, uplift, and assure weak consciences with their promises about Christ, which are so full of life that the apostle’s question can ring out clearly: “Who will separate us from the love of God?” [Romans 8:35].

In the same way, the apostolic writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John teach sometimes the Law and sometimes the promises, and in them there are examples of both the grace and the wrath of God. The examples of Zacchaeus, the centurion, and the Syrophoenician woman testify to God’s mercy. The blindness and madness of the Pharisees are an example of God’s wrath. The apostolic histories do differ from those of the Old Testament in that they bear witness to a Christ who has already been sent, whom the Old Testament had only promised. They also explain the promises about grace, righteousness, and eternal life more clearly than either Moses’ or the prophets’ writings. The apostle Paul instructively (διδακτικῶς) contrasts the Gospel with the Law and sin with grace. He does this especially in his Letter to the Romans, which I consider a kind of index καὶ κάνονα[1] for all of Scripture. The other epistles, since they are generally hortatory (παραινετικαὶ) in nature, pertain to the Law, though every single one of them touches on the message of the Gospel at some point. And this the diligent reader may observe for himself.

We have pointed these things out primarily to overturn the commonly held error about Law and Gospel and the Old and New Testament that the godless, sophistic professors of theology have promulgated. They teach that Christ has replaced Moses and has given a new law called the Gospel, that it is contained in Matthew 5 and 6, and that the difference between the Law of Moses and that of Christ is that Moses’ Law requires only external works, whereas Christ’s Law also demands the affections. As if the Mosaic Law teaches some hypocritical and pharisaic righteousness! What, after all, is the false appearance of external works other than pharisaism? Let the prophets also bear witness that Mosaic Law requires the affections, for they continually command people to acknowledge God, fear God, and live justly and righteously. Maybe the sophists will even concede to me that the prophets taught the men of their times these things before the incarnation of Christ. Honestly, what could be more obvious than that passage from Jeremiah that, whether the sophists like it or not, has to refer to the Law of Moses? He says in chapter 7:[22–23], “I did not speak with your fathers and I did not command them a word in the day when I led them out of the land of Egypt about burnt offering and sacrifices. But this word I commanded them, saying: ‘Listen to my voice, and I will be your God and you will be my people.’ ” Tell me, Thomas, what entered into your mind that you would teach that nothing is required in the Mosaic Law except pharisaism, that is, external works, and this when even Moses so often and clearly demands the affections? To pass by many passages, does he not forbid desiring our neighbor’s property and such in Exodus 20? He has already condemned the work when he prohibits stealing and adultery. Therefore, you will concede that he is guarding against the affection with these words, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, nor shall you desire his wife, nor his slave,” etc. [Exodus 20:17]. And in Deuteronomy he adds, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God seek from you, except that you fear the Lord your God and walk in his ways and love him and serve the Lord your God with your whole heart and your whole mind, and that you keep the commandments of the Lord and his ceremonies, which I today am commanding you, so that it may go well with you” [10:12–13]. And again, “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and do not be stubborn,” etc. [10:16]. You could find six hundred passages of this kind in Moses.[2] So it is not unclear that Moses commands both affections and works.

[1] English: “and guide.”

[2] The number 600 was commonly used in classical Latin to designate an innumerable amount. It seems, though, that the number 600 is used deliberately here to correspond to the alleged 613 commands found in the Jewish law. Cf. Gabriel Biel In sent. III, dist. 40, q. ult., art. 1; Erasmus, Diatribe on Free Will (AS 4:116).

Some footnotes have been omitted.

From Commonplaces: Loci Communes 1521, pages 92, 94–97 © 2014 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

To order Commonplaces: Loci Communes 1521, please contact CPH at 800-325-3040 or visit www.cph.org.

Written by

Sarah Steiner

At CPH since 2009, Sarah Steiner was a production editor for the professional and academic book team. She worked on many academic titles, including coordinating the peer review books, and also helped out with Bible resource projects.


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