Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Cranmer on Law & Gospel
"To know how we obtain our justification, it is expedient to consider, first, how naughty and sinful we are all, that be of Adam's kindred; and contrariwise, what mercifulness is in God, which to all faithful and penitent sinners pardoneth all their offences for Christ's sake. Of these two things no man is lightly ignorant that ever hath heard of the fall of Adam, which was to the infection of all his posterity; and again, of the inexplicable mercy of our heavenly Father, which sent his only begotten Son to suffer his most grievous passion for us, and shed his most precious blood, the price of our redemption.
...The commandments of God lay our faults before our eyes, which putteth us in fear and dread, and maketh us see the wrath of God against our sins, as St. Paul saith, Per legem agnitio peccati, et, Lex iram operatur, and maketh us sorry and repentant, that ever we should come into the displeasure of God, and the captivity of the Devil. The gracious promises of God by the mediation of Christ showeth us, (and that to our great relief and comfort,) whensoever we be repentant...we have forgiveness of our sins, [are] reconciled to God, and accepted, and reputed just and righteous in his sight, only by his grace and mercy, which he doth grant and give unto us for his dearly beloved Son's sake, Jesus Christ; who paid a sufficient ransom for our sins; whose blood doth wash away the same; whose bitter and grievous passion is the only pacifying oblation, that putteth away from us the wrath of God his Father; whose sanctified body offered on the cross is the only sacrifice of sweet and pleasant savour, as St. Paul saith: that is to say, of such sweetness and pleasantness to the Father, that for the same he accepteth and reputeth of like sweetness all them that the same offering doth serve for."
This is an extract from Cranmer's annotations to The King's Book, the popular title for "A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man; Set Forth by the King's Majesty of England," (1538). This can be found in the Parker Society volume of Cranmer's writings (Cambridge University Press, 1840). It has been said by at least one scholar that Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer is the highest liturgical expression ever given to the doctrine of Law and Gospel.
Note: Our erstwhile Lutheran cum Roman Catholic interlocutor has conceded that the Law-Gospel hermeneutic is also known outside the Lutheran confession, although he believes this is due to Lutheran influence. I agree, of course, that Lutheran influence accounts for much of the knowledge of this doctrine in the Reformed, Anglican and Baptist confessions; after all, Martin Luther was God's instrument to restore the clear knowledge of Law and Gospel to the church. But, it seems to me that this factor alone does not account for the widespread acceptance of this doctrine. After all, a Presbyterian, an Anglican or a Baptist would not accept a doctrine merely on the basis of 'what Luther said'; in accordance with the foundational principles of their own confessions they would test this doctrine against the scriptures, and only if it passed that test would it be received.
And then, there is also a tradition of the Law-Gospel hermeneutic in these confessions themselves which does not need Lutheran influence to sustain it.
And further, there are the relatively unlearned and unread proponents of the Law-Gospel doctrine, such as John Bunyan, from whom we shall quote in due course.