The Devil’s Work in the Church: Keeping People from Seeing Christ
Jesus says regarding Himself: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me.” John 14, 6 Peter confirms this statement by his declaration before the Jewish Sanhedrin, saying: “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4, 12 Paul adds his testimony by telling his Corinthians: “ I determined not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” I Cor 2, 2. Verily, then, it is a great and awful sin not to draw any soul that has been entrusted to us for instruction to Jesus and not to tell that soul again and again what a treasure it has in the Lord Jesus, its Savior. To keep some one from believing in Christ is such an awful sin that words cannot express it. A preacher who restrains a soul from confidently laying hold of Christ — no matter whether he does it consciously or unconsciously, purposely or from blindness, through malice or as the result of a perverted zeal for the salvation of souls — deprives that soul, as far as he is concerned, of everlasting life. Instead of being a shepherd to that soul, he becomes a ravening wolf to it; instead of being its physician, he becomes its murderer; yea, instead of being an angel of God, he becomes a devil to that person. Alas, ever so many preachers have not realized until their dying day how many souls they have kept away from Christ by their unevangelical preaching and by their own fault have cause the souls entrusted to them to die of spiritual starvation. The result was that these unhappy preachers shortly before their death have had a severe soul-battle to fight with self-accusations and despair, and not a few of them have departed this life without consolation, in anguish, misery, and despair.
The worst offenders in this respect are the so-called rationalistic preachers, who with diabolical audacity mount Christian pulpits and instead of preaching Christ, the Savior, to all sinners, recite their miserable moral precepts for a virtuous life and fill the ears of the people with their empty bombast. To these rationalistic mercenaries, “whose God is their belly,” Phil 3, 19 the terrible woe is addressed, even in our day, which the Lord denounced, saying: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” Matt 23, 13. What terror shall seize these preachers who used to call themselves friends and adorers of Jeus Christ when they must appear before His judgement-seat and hear Him address them in words of flaming anger: “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt 7, 23.
However, equally grievous is the offense of papists in this respect. They, too, do not draw men to Christ, the Savior and Friend of sinners, but represent Christ as a more rigorous lawgiver even than Moses because he has laid on men many more and much more rigorous commandments than Moses. A poor sinner coming to a priest in his anguish for advice is not directed to Christ, but to Mary, the so-called “Mother of Mercy”. They have taught men to be afraid of Christ, telling them that Mary must take them under her sheltering cloak. Or they direct them to some tutelary saint. For this horrible sin of directing poor souls away from Christ they will have to suffer the wrath of God, which will consign them to the place where “the smoke of their torment ascends up forever and ever.” Rev 14, 11 For failing to teach and proclaim Christ, telling men not to believe in Him, is as heinous an offense as blasphemously to brand Christ as a fanatic as the unbelievers do.
Well, it is easy to avoid this gross manner of keeping men away from Christ. I need not warn you against it. But it is difficult to avoid doing the same thing in a more refined manner. Innumerable preachers imagined that they were preaching Christ and proclaiming His doctrine until their eyes were opened and they saw that they had concealed Christ from the eyes of poor sinners and had directed men away from Him rather than to Him. ‘
from C.F.W. Walther, ‘Law and Gospel, Thirty-fifth Evening Lecture’ (September 18, 1885)