Many ministers, not all inefficient otherwise, imagine that they have accomplished much, in fact, that they have achieved their aim, when they have roused their hearers from their carnal security and reduced them to a state of mind where they despair of their being in a state of grace and of their salvation. It is, indeed, necessary that every person who is to be saved by brought out of his false security, false comfort, false peace, and false hopes. He must, indeed, be made to despair of salvation and of his present condition. But that is merely a preparatory stage through which he must pass; it is not the matter of chief importance nor the chief aim that is to be achieved with regard to him. The principal matter is that he attain to full assurance of his state of grace and his salvation, so that he may exult, as a pardoned sinner, with the godly poet Woltersdorf and sing: —
I know, yes, I know, and shall e'er be maintaining,
That such is the principal aim of an evangelical minister there can be no doubt. For the minister must preach the Gospel to those entrusted to him; he must bring them to faith in Christ, baptize them, and administer absolution and the Lord's Supper to them. However, preaching the Gospel means nothing else than telling men that they have been reconciled, perfectly reconciled, with God by Christ. Living, genuine faith of the heart means nothing else than the divine assurance that one has the forgiveness of sins and that the gates of heaven are open to him. Baptizing a person means nothing else than taking him out of the world of lost sinners, by the command and in the name and place of God, and giving him the solemn assurance that God is gracious to him, that God is his Father, and that he, the baptized person, is God's child; that the Son of God is his Savior and the baptized his child and already saved; that the Holy Spirit is his comforter and the baptized an abode of the Holy Spirit. Administering absolution to a person means nothing else than saying to him by the command and in the name and place of Christ: "Thy sins are forgiven thee." Administering Holy Communion means nothing else than saying to him in the name of Jesus: "You, too, are to share in the great achievement of redemption. To confirm your claim on it, this precious pledge is given you, namely, the body and blood of Christ, the ransom with which He purchased the entire world."
An examination of the Scriptures reveals the fact that the aim of all true ministers has been to train their hearers so that they could declare themselves children of God and heirs of salvation. When Christ said to His disciples: "Rejoice because your names are written in heaven," Luke 10, 20, He evidently called upon them to rejoice in the certainty of their salvation. Paul writes to the Corinthians: 'Ye are washed, ye are sanctified, ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God." I Cor 6, 11 Peter writes to the Christians living in the dispersion: "Ye were as sheep going astray; but ye are now returned unto the shepherd and Bishop of your souls." I Pet 2, 25. John says to his spiritual children, including himself in the statement: "Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." I John 3, 2. Nowhere in theHoly Scriptures do we find the apostles treating the members of the congregations as if they were uncertain regarding their standing with God; their treatment of them is always such that one can see they presuppose that their members, in spite of their weaknesses and blemishes, are dear, beloved children of God.
Conditions are different in our time. As a rule, even the best ministers are well satisfied if they have trained their people to come to them occasionally and complain that they have no assurance of their salvation, that they are afraid they would be lost if they were to die the next night. A complaint like this alarms a truly evangelical minister whose aim is to get his hearers to profess: "I know that my Redeemer lives. I know in whom I have believed." But ministers who are not truly evangelical take this complaint as evidence that they have made good Christians out of their hearers.
What is the reason that so many in our day live in uncertainty about their being true Christians? The reason is that ministers, as a rule, confounding Law and Gospel and do not heed the apostolic adminition: "Study to show thyself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth." 2 Tim 2, 15 For when the Gospel is preached with an admixture of law, it is impossible for a hearer to attain to faith in the forgiveness of his sins. On the other hand, when the Law is preached with an admixture of Gospel, it is impossible for a hearer to arrive at the knowledge that he is a poor sinner in need of the forgiveness of sins.
from C.F.W. Walther, 'Law and Gospel, Thirty Eight Evening Lecture' (October 23, 1885)