C. F. W. Walther was a late 19th century Lutheran theologian who is known for his book called The Proper Distinction Between Law And Gospel. This book is actually the written version of evening lectures he gave in 1884/1885 to men preparing for the gospel ministry. Since I’m Reformed, I don’t agree with everything Walther said in these talks. However, there are some helpful Christian truths and admonitions in them that I’ve appreciated. One section I enjoyed was where Walther said that the gospel must have the primary place in the preaching of the Word.
After noting 1 Corinthians 15:3, where Paul wrote that “first of all” Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, Walther explained the primary place of the gospel:
Now, do not merely listen to this statement of the apostle, but think of the time when you will be the pastor of a congregation and make a vow to God that you will adopt the apostle’s method, that you will not stand in your pulpits sad-faced, as if you were bidding men to come to a funeral, but like men that go wooing a bride or announcing a wedding.
If you do not mingle Law with the Gospel you will always mount your pulpit with joy. People will notice that you are filled with joy because you are bringing the blessed message of joy to your congregation. They will furthermore notice that wonderful things are happening among them.
Alas! Many ministers do not meet with those wonderful experiences; their hearers remain sleepy; their misers stay stingy. What is the reason? Not sufficient Gospel has been preached to them…. In accordance with God’s will it should be the preacher’s aim to proclaim the Gospel to his hearers till their hearts are melted, till they give up their resistance and confess that the Lord has been too strong for them, and hence forth they wish to abide with Jesus.
It is not sufficient for you to be conscious of your orthodoxy and your ability to present the pure doctrine correctly. These are, indeed, important matters; however, no one will be benefited by them if you confound Law and Gospel. The very finest form of confounding both occurs when the Gospel is preached along with the Law, but is not the predominating element in the sermon. The preacher may think that he has proclaimed the evangelical truth quite often. His hearers, however, remember on that on some occasions he preached quite comfortingly and told them to believe in Jesus Christ. Without telling them how to attain to faith in Christ, your hearers will be spiritually starved to death if you do not allow the Gospel to predominate in your preaching. They will be spiritually underfed because the bread of life is not the Law, but the Gospel.
As Paul said, “And woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16 HCSB).
The above quote is found on page 406 of Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel.