Taken from, Luther’s Table Talk
Written by Martin Luther
Edited for thought and sense
It is no small matter that we should rightly understand what the law is, what it serves, and what is its proper work and office.
We do not reject the law and the works thereof, but we confirm and erect the same, and do teach that we ought to do good works; and we also affirm that the law is very good and profitable, yet so far, that we give him his right, and suffer him to remain within his bounds, that is, by his own proper work and office; namely,
First, that thereby outward sins be withstood and hindered.
Secondly, that inward and spiritual sins may be discovered, confessed, and acknowledged.
Therefore the law is a light which lights everything, it opens and makes everything visible, –but not God’s grace and mercy, nor does it display unto us the imputed righteousness whereby we obtain everlasting life and salvation: oh, no! In no wise: but the law opens and displays unto us our sins, our weakness, death, God’s wrath and judgment.
But the light of the Gospel is far another manner of light; the same enlightens the affrighted, broken, sorrowful, and contrite hearts; it revives, comforts, and refreshes them. For it declares, that God is merciful to unworthy condemned sinners for the sake of Christ, and that a blessing thereby is presented unto them that believe; that is, grace, remission of sins, righteousness, and everlasting life. When seen in this way we distinguish the law and the Gospel, and then we attribute and give to each his right work and offices.
Therefore, I pray and truly admonish all the lovers of godliness and pure religion (especially those who in time are to be teachers of others), that with highest diligence they would learn this message, which I much fear, after our time, ‘will be darkened again, if not altogether extinguished.
We must also respond with the Ten Commandments in due time and place. The ungodly out of the Gospel do suck only carnal freedom, and become worse thereby; therefore not the Gospel, but the law belongs to them. Even as when my little son Hans offends, if then I should not whip him, but call him to the table, and give him sugar and plums; thereby indeed I should make him worse, yea, should quite spoil him.
The Gospel is like a fresh, mild, and cool air in the extreme heat of summer, that is, it is a solace. But we must also realize that as the heat proceeds from the rays of the sun, so likewise a terrified conscience must proceed from the preaching of the law, so that we may understand and know that we have offended against the laws of God.
And when our minds are refreshed again by the cool air of the Gospel, do not be idle, do not lie down and spiritually sleep; even though our consciences are settled in peace, and are quieted and comforted through God’s Spirit, no, this is the time that we must show and prove our faith by such good works as to that which God has commanded.