Law and Grace (Painting)

This issue’s woodcut is an imitation of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1529 painting, “Law and Grace”
Law and Grace, Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529
Christian Culture, Summer/Fall 2022 Cover

Each issue of Christian Culture features a woodcut on the cover. These woodcuts have come from the title pages of 16th century books, mainly from the works of Martin Luther. This issue’s woodcut is an imitation of Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1529 painting, “Law and Grace” (pictured here). Such imitations were quite popular; there are other paintings like it and many woodcut title pages that follow its themes. In the center of the Law and Grace artworks grows a tree, which is dead on the left and alive on the right. The left side is characterized by the Law of God, man’s sin, and God’s judgment against sin. Typically in the lower left corner, the tablets of the Law send a sinner flying to hell. The image calls to mind such Scripture passages as, “through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20) and “the Law brings wrath” (Rom. 4:15). The left side, however, is not devoid of God’s grace. The account of the bronze serpent appears in the Law and Grace artworks, which shows the wrath of God against sin, but at the same time His provision for the salvation for man. “All the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Mt. 11:13), foretelling and foreshowing salvation.

The right side features the work of Christ. Cranach’s painting shows the Incarnation in the announcement of the angel to the shepherds. The woodcut on the cover pairs the Annunciation with this, which theologically complements the image opposite on the left: the manifestation of the Word of God in the Law is followed by the manifestation of the Word of God in the flesh. Typical of the Law and Grace artworks are the death and resurrection of Jesus. John the Baptist stands on the right, directing the sinner to Christ for salvation, proclaiming “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). The blood of Christ spurts from His side and sprinkles the sinner (1 Pet. 1:2). Death and the devil from the left side lie defeated under our resurrected Savior. “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).


Andrew Richard

Rev. Andrew Richard is Assistant Pastor, Headmaster, and Upper Level Teacher at Mount Hope Lutheran Church and School in Casper, WY.

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