Is the Law/Gospel Distinction Only Lutheran? Part 3

Part 1; Part 2

Also of great interest here is Scott Clark’s collection of quotations from the Reformed orthodox available here. Even if that were all that were available, it would bury the contention that the Law/Gospel distinction is only Lutheran. Most important, of course, are the confessional documents for answering this question (Clark has quite a few of those quoted). I wish I had Dennison already to help me with this (and I also fervently wish the other two volumes were already out!). At least I have still have Schaff.

The Second Helvetic Confession, chapter 12 deals with the law, and plainly affirms the first use of the law (which is that most closely associated with the Law/Gospel distinction), and further distinguishes when it says “We know that the Scripture of the law, if it be expounded by the Gospel, is very profitable to the Church, and that therefore the reading of it is not to be banished out of the Church” (Schaff, p. 856). As has already been noted, the Heidelberg Catechism clearly affirms the Law/Gospel distinction (certainly that is how Ursinus, one of the two authors of the Catechism, understood it).

French Confession, article 23 (Schaff, pp. 372-373): “We believe that the ordinances of the law came to an end at the advent of Jesus Christ; but, although the ceremonies are no more in use, yet their substance and truth remain in the person of him in whom they are fulfilled. And, moreover, we must seek aid from the law and the prophets for the ruling of our lives, as well as for our confirmation in the promises of the gospel.” Then, following this section, in article 25, we see this: “Now as we enjoy Christ only through the gospel…” (p. 374). Very similarly, the Belgic Confession, article 25, which did model itself at least somewhat off the French Confession.

The Marrow of Modern Divinity clearly equates the law with the covenant of works and the gospel with the covenant of grace (see pp. 27ff.). Quoting Musculus, “for it is manifest, says Musculus, that the word which signifies covenant, or bargain, is put for law: so that you see the law of works is as much as to say, the covenant of works.” It should be noted here that the Marrow has an excellent way of understanding the continuity between the covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant. The Ten Commandments are described as the matter of the covenant of works. It cannot properly be called the covenant of works (as it is given in Exodus 20) because it does not have the form of the covenant of works (in terms of the agreement). See pp. 28-29.

Thomas Ridgely’s commentary on the Larger Catechism (p. 303): “Hence arises a clear sight of the need which persons have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience. When we find that we are condemned by the law, and that righteousness is not to be attained by our own obedience to it, we are led to see our need of seeking it elsewhere; and when the gospel gives us a discovery of Christ, as ordained by God to procure for us righteousness, or a right to eternal life by his obedience, we see the need we have of faith in him, whereby we derive from him that which could not be attained by our own conformity to the law.”

And John Colquhoun (for these quotations and analysis, I simply copied and pasted from Donald MacLean’s email to me. Donald MacLean’s blog is here):
1) The law is necessary from the nature of God but the gospel is voluntary. (146-7). 2) The law is partly revealed by nature (Rom 2:14-15) but he gospel is only known by revelation from heaven (Matt 11:27). (147). 3) The law comes and demands perfect obedience the gospel comes and shows the grace and mercy of God to sinners. (147-8). 4) The law shows us what we should be but “The gospel teaches us how we may be made such, namely by union and communion with Christ…” (148). 5) The law says, “Do and you shall live; you shall, by performing personal and perfect obedience, entitle yourselves to eternal life…'” but “The gospel says ‘Live, for all is already done; all the righteousness, meritoriousness of eternal life for believers, is already fulfilled by the second Adam…'” (148).  He expands on this: “The Law is God in a command, but the Gospel is God in Christ, God in a promise.  The law gives man more to do for eternal life than they are able to do; the gospel gives them less to do than they are willing to do.  The law gives man all the work: the gospel gives grace all the work and all the glory.”  (149). 6) The promises of the law are “conditional” but the promises of the gospel (as a covenant) are “absolute”. (150-1). 7) The law “condemns , and cannot justify a sinner” but the gospel “justifies, and cannot condemn the sinner who believes in Jesus.” (150-1). 8) The law “says to every man, ‘You are a sinner’.  The gospel says, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.'” (151-2). 9) The law hardens (Rom 4:15) while the gospel softens the heart. (152). 10) The law allows for boasting but the gospel excludes it (Rom 3:27). (152-3). Colquhoun also notes we should not confound law/gospel with old/new testament (153-5).  He closes his chapter by applying the truths he has discussed stating, “None can successfully minister true consolation to a discouraged and disconsolate believer without teaching his to distinguish, in his own case, between the law and the gospel.” (157).

Donald MacLean also has a couple of other posts on this subject well worth pursuing here and here.

Is the Law/Gospel Distinction Only Lutheran? Part 2

This time, we’ll start with some more modern authors and work our way backwards. First off is Danny Hyde, author of a commentary on the Belgic Confession:

When law and gospel are confused, sanctification is motivated by guilt, not gratitude.

What follows is an extensive quotation from Calvin’s Commentaries (Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses 3:199-200) that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Calvin held to the Law/Gospel Distinction:

Further, because Paul seems to abrogate the Law, as if now-a-days it did not concern believers, we must now see how far this is the case…he does not treat of the Law in the abstract, but sets it forth invested with those of its qualities, wherein it is opposed to the Gospel; for, inasmuch as his controversy was with those who interpreted it amiss, he could not help contrasting the Law with the Gospel, as if they were in opposition to each other: not that they were really so, if their respective doctrine be dextrously applied to its proper object, but because such a conflict arose from the absurd mixture, which the false apostles introduced. They asserted that men are justified by the works of the Law, and, if this were admitted, the righteousness of faith was destroyed, and the Gospel fell to the ground. They, moreover, restored the yoke imposed on the ancient people, as if no liberty had been obtained by the blood of Christ. In this discussion it was necessary for Paul to advert only to that which is peculiar to Moses, and distinct from Christ; for although Christ and Moses perfectly accord in the substance of their doctrine, still, when they are compared with each other, it is fitting to distinguish what is peculiar to each.

A few comments are necessary here on Calvin’s language. Firstly, he, as well as practically all other Reformed authors, do not make the covenant of grace totally distinct from the Mosaic economy. He asserts that the doctrine really does agree. However, justification by works of the Law versus justification by faith is completely antithetical. It is in that sense that the Law and the Gospel are distinct. And even there, there is still a distinction between the time of the Law and the time of the Gospel (the Westminster standards make the Law/Gospel a distinction in time in WCF 7.5).

Next up, we have John Owen, in his magisterial treatment of justification by faith alone, in volume 5 of his complete works, which is one of the most important treatments of the doctrine of justification ever written. Here is what he says (pp. 75-76):

The order, relation, and use of the law and the gospel do uncontrollably evince the necessity of this conviction previous unto believing. for that which any man hath first to deal withal, with respect unto his eternal condition, both naturally and by God’s institution, is the law. This is first presented unto the soul with its terms of righteousness and life, and with its curse in case of failure. Without this the gospel cannot be understood, nor the grace of it duly valued. For it is the revelation of God’s way for the relieving the souls of men from the sentence and curse of the law, Rom. 1:17. That was the nature, that was the use and end of the first promise, and of the whole work of God’s grace revealed in all the ensuing promises, or in the whole gospel. Wherefore, the faith which we treat of being evangelical,- that which, in its especial nature and use, not the law but the gospel requireth, that which hath the gospel for its principle, rule, and object,- it is not required of us, cannot be acted by us, but on a supposition of the work and effect of the law in the conviction of sin, by giving the knowledge of it, a sense of its guilt, and the state of the sinner on the account thereof.

Closely related to the work of John Owen is the work of Thomas Goodwin. I do not have the finer, five-volume edition of his works, but rather have the Nichol edition published by Tanski. Mark Jones will not only tell you that the five-volume work is better (since it is not nearly as edited), but I hope he will look up this passage and tell me if anything major has been edited out or changed. This is from the Nichol edition, volume 4, pp. 315-316, in his work A Discourse of the Glory of the Gospel, the beginning of chapter 6:

The next thing that is (in Col. 1:27) attributed to the gospel is, that it is a glorious gospel…He saith that the law is good…but when he comes to speak of the gospel, he calls that glorious…He doth acknowledge that the law had a kind of glory in it…but now I only quote it for this in the general, that the apostle, though he attributeth a glory to the law, yet in comparison of the gospel he makes it no glory.

Goodwin goes on to mention how the gospel is more glorious than the law in their respective promulgations, and in their respective subject matter. This plainly implies a Law/Gospel distinction.

Jonathan Edwards, in his work, Justification By Faith Alone, in volume 19 of the Yale edition, pp. 166-167, plainly affirms the Law/Gospel distinction. First he argues that just because we are sinners does not mean that God somehow lost the right to require absolute perfection of sinful creatures. Otherwise, why would Jesus Christ need to die for our sins? Then, Edwards goes on to argue that we are justified by faith alone apart from works, and what he means is, apart from the law, apart from any and all works of the law. This kind of argumentation is impossible apart from the Law/Gospel distinction. Edwards goes on to demolish the Roman Catholic/proto-NPP position that Paul only excludes ceremonial aspects of the law (pp. 168ff).

John Bunyan has an entire treatise entitled The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded. It is found in volume 1 of the Banner of Truth Works. In his epistle to the reader (p. 493), he says this:

If there be the terror, horror, and severity of the law discovered to a people by the servants of Jesus Christ, though they do not speak of it to the end people should trust to it, by relying on it as it is a covenant of works; but rather that they should be driven further from that covenant, even to embrace the tenders and privileges of the second, yet, poor souls, because they are unacquainted with the natures of these two covenants, or either of them, therefore, say they, ‘Here is nothing but preaching of the law, thundering of the law;’ when, alas, if these two be not held forth-to wit, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, together with the nature of the one and the nature of the other-souls will never be able either to know what they are by nature or what they lie under. Also, neither can they understand what grace is, nor how to come from under the law to meet God in and through that other most glorious covenant, through which and only through which, God can communicate of himself grace, glory, yea, even all the good things of another world…So long as people are ignorant of the nature of the law, and of their being under it-that is, under the curse and condemning power of it, by reason of their sin against it-so long they will be careless, and negligent as to the inquiring after the true knowledge of the gospel.

More to come in Part 3.

Is the Law/Gospel Distinction Only Lutheran? Part 1

The short answer is that the Law/Gospel distinction is found in many important Reformed writers. One can certainly argue that the Three Forms of Unity are based on this distinction, in pointing out (in the HC, for instance) misery (which we find out by the law), salvation (pointed out to us by the Gospel), and gratitude (the Law/Gospel distinction does NOT eliminate the third use of the law, contrary to what some might think). Here are some quotations that clearly indicate that the Law/Gospel distinction is Reformed.

First up, Ursinus, one of the two authors of the Heidelberg Catechism (concerning question 2, which lays out the structure of the HC):

This question contains the statement and division of the whole catechism and at the same time accordes with the division of the Scriptures into the Law and Gospel. (Commentary on the Catechism, p. 20)

Hence it is manifest that we must commence with the preaching of the law, after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, that men may thus be cast down from the conceit of their own righteousness, and may obtain a knowledge of themselves, and be led to true repentance. Unless this be done, men will become, through the preaching of grace, more careless and obstinate, and pearls will be cast before swine to be trodden under foot. (Commentary, pg. 21)

Next up, Turretin, in speaking of the covenant of grace:

(In talking of Galatians 4:24) “He disputes against the false apostles who confounded the law and the gospel.” (IET II, p. 236)

There is not the same opposition throughout between the Old and New Testaments as there is between the law and the gospel. The opposition of the law and the gospel (in as far as they are taken properly and strictly for the covenant of works and of grace and are considered in their absolute being) is contrary. They are opposed as the letter killing and the Spirit quickening; as Hagar gendering to bondage and Sarah gendering to freedom, although the law more broadly taken and in its relative being is subordinated to the gospel. (IET II, pp. 236-237).

W.G.T. Shedd (in the third edition), p. 824 quotes approvingly (“the following excellent statement of the law and the gospel as means of grace”) the Lutheran Formula of Concord article 5 (for which, see Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, volume 3, pp. 126-130, which is followed, interestingly enough, by an exposition of the third use of the law, article 6; the Lutherans did NOT deny the third use of the law!).

Johannes Vos, in his commentary on the WLC, pp. 235-236:

13. What is the place of the moral law of God in a scriptural program of evangelism? While the word evangelism means “proclamation of the gospel,” we should realize that the gospel is meaningless without the law. Gospel means “good news”: that is, good news of salvation from sin. Sin is the transgression of the law: without conviction of being transgressors of the law, people will feel no need of the gospel; without knowledge of the moral law of God, people will not feel themselves to be transgressors of the law. Therefore no program of evangelism is sound os scriptural which does not emphasize sin as the transgression of God’s moral law. Much present-day “evangelism” has little to say about God’s law, sin, and repentance; instead, the tendency is to speak only about “accepting Christ.” A return to the old emphasis on God’s law is urgently needed. Without it, there cannot be a genuine revival of the Christian faith.

Notice that Vos equates the Law/Gospel distinction with the first use of the law. This means that the WS do indeed teach the Law/Gospel distinction as the first use of the law. Therefore all six forms of unity teach the Law/Gospel distinction. The reason some are uncomfortable with the Law/Gospel distinction is that they feel it does away with the relevance of the law for the Christian. It does no such thing. As we saw even in the Formula of Concord, the Law/Gospel distinction is immediately followed by a discussion of the third use of the law for the believer. Similarly, the treatment of the Ten Commandments in the HC is found in the section on gratitude, NOT in the section on misery, or salvation. Ursinus obviously felt no schizophrenia for arguing in this fashion (see the quotes above). On to other authors in Part 2, which will follow shortly.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 349 other followers