by Rev. Michael Schuermann
The heart of the Scriptures, the heart of Luther’s preaching and teaching, and the heart of Lutheran theology, is the Gospel. As the theme of the LCMS Reformation 500 celebration puts it, “It’s still all about Jesus.” It always has been and always will be, too. This time we read Part III, Article 4 of the Smalcald Articles, which brings us back to this heart.
1. Read all of Article 4, The Gospel (it’s not long!). This is a bit of a summary article, smack dab in the middle of the Smalcald Articles. The Articles following (especially 5-8) will find Luther fleshing out each of the statements that Luther makes in Article 4.
2. Reread the first sentence of Article 4. Luther writes that we’re returning to the Gospel. It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t state the Gospel fully in this article. Instead, Luther has already defined the Gospel in detail earlier in the Smalcald Articles. Turn back to Part II, Article 1 and reread it to be reminded of Luther’s full definition of the Gospel.
3. In the second sentence, Luther writes that God is “superabundantly generous” or “superabundantly rich” in His grace. Read Psalm 30 for an example of this stated in Holy Scripture.
4. What is Luther’s point by stating of God’s superabundant richness with His grace? That there’s more than enough to go around? While this is true, it’s not Luther’s point. Note that Luther now lists 4 or 5 ways in which God’s graceful gift of the Gospel is given to us. That’s the point: there’s not merely one way that God ensures the forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus is delivered unto us; instead, He provides it to us in plentiful ways, through abundant (superabundant!) means.
5. The first means by which God gives the Gospel is through the spoken Word; that is, the preaching of the forgiveness of sins. Read Luke 24:45-47. Based on these words of Jesus, what is the basic message of the preaching of the Gospel?
6. The second means listed is Baptism. Read Titus 3:4-7.
7. The third means listed is the Sacrament of the Altar. Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:26-29.
8. The fourth means listed is the Power of the Keys. Read John 20:21-23; Matthew 16:13-19.
9. Finally, Luther adds what may be a fifth means or merely an expansion/addition to the fourth means. He writes of the “mutual conversation and consolation of the brethren.” Notably, Matthew 18 is explicitly cited here in the article. Read Matthew 18:15-20. Note that the goal of the preaching of the law is always to gain your brother; that is, to be able to speak to them the Gospel which relieves the conscience of guilt and imputes the righteousness of Christ to those who hear and believe. Finally, though, if repentance and faith are not to be found, the truth must be stated that your brother in Christ is no longer your brother in Christ, having removed himself through his sin and refusal to repent.
The Rev. Michael Schuermann is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sherman, Ill.