GOD'S WILL FOR MEN
THE TITLE of this section could also be “The Law of God.” It is preferable, however, to reserve this title for our discussion of the relationship between law and gospel in view of sin. God's will for men, although expressed in the commandments, bridges the distinction between law and gospel. As a summons to salvation, it is at one and the same time gospel and law.
God's will confronts men in the commandments. The most important and decisive is the First Commandment. Luther considered the First Commandment one of the forms in which the gospel comes. He thought it very significant that the gospel immediately also confronts us in the form of a commandment of God. “I am the Lord your God,” expresses the essence of the gospel. These words summon us to faith. “Let me alone be your God.”1 This summons has all the seriousness of a command. Luther understood and recognized that the statement of the gospel in the form of a commandment helps faith in every time of doubt and despair; and he used it in this way both for himself and for others. At the time of his inner spiritual struggles in the monastery, his confessor could give Luther's conscience no rest either through the absolution or through other comforts. Then his “teacher” replied to Luther's complaints about temptation by saying, “My son, what are you doing? Do you know that the Lord himself has commanded us to hope?” These words were the turning point. Luther reports, “I was so strengthened through this one word 'commanded' that I now knew I must believe the absolution.”2 The form of the commandment in which the gospel here confronted him helped him to believe. This experience remained determinative for his pastoral relationships to others. He constantly directs the doubting and the despairing to the First Commandment: God has commanded you
1WA 301, 133; BC, 365.
2WA 4011, 412; LW 12, 370.