Do Lutherans Deny the Third Use of the Law?

Some today have posited that the Lutheran view of the law only has the first two uses (to restrain evil, and to act as a pedagogue to point us to Christ). However, it is clear that not all Lutherans rejected the third use of the law. In fact, the evidence rather points to the opposite conclusion. Take this section from the Form of Concord (Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, III, pp. 130-131):

Article 6. Of the third use of the law. Statement of the Controversy. Since it is established that the Law of God was given to men for three causes: first, that a certain external discipline might be preserved, and wild and intractable men might be restrained, as it were, by certain barriers; secondly, that by the Law men might be brought to an acknowledgment of their sins; thirdly, that regenerate men, to all of whom, nevertheless, much of the flesh still cleaves, for that very reason may have some certain rule after which they may and ought to shape their life, etc., a controversy has arisen among some few theologians concerning the third use of the Law, to wit: whether the Law is to be inculcated upon the regenerate also, and its observation urged upon them or not? Some have judged that the Law should be urged, others have denied it.

The rest of the article clearly and explicitly affirms the third use of the law. The last sentence quoted here, however, might be a reasonable explanation as to why this misperception of Lutheranism has arisen: some Lutherans may have denied the third use of the law.

Posted by Lane Keister

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

“Federal Vision” theology messes with these boundaries. It attempts to follow the lead of Scripture, even when that seems to conflict with Confessional formulae and seems closer to Luther than Reformed orthodoxy. It develops a baptismal theology that is not starkly at odds with Luther.

Peter Leithart, “Presbyterian Identity Crisis.”

A few people have questioned, in the comments section of my last post, whether or not I was fair in my insinuations concerning the Federal Vision’s doctrine of baptism.  First, I’d note that FV seems to be fairly self-conscious about its tinkering with this doctrine, and similarity to the Lutheran scheme, as seen in the above quote from Leithart.  Second, I’d note that my description of FV’s position as “baptismal regeneration lite” would not be contested in the least by at least some FV proponents, as they have in many places explicitly used the terminology of baptismal regeneration, albeit in a qualified manner.

But more specifically, Xon and Jeff Moss asked me where any FV proponent has claimed that “baptism [is] an instrumental means, alongside of faith, by which we lay hold of Christ’s righteousness unto justification.” So I wanted to point out at least a few places where this particular form of “baptismal regeneration lite” (as distinguished from the conveying of regenerating grace) has been articulated by Federal Visionists.  I’ll just pluck out a few examples.

But the concept of instrumentality is a bit fuzzy. We can legitimately ask: Are there other instruments of justification? Paul says we are justified by faith. But James says we are justified by works together with faith. James uses the same preposition for works that Paul uses for faith. He does more than simply qualify the kind of faith that justifies (though he does do that!). He says that works, along with faith, have justifying value. Thus, in some way works are instrumental in justification as well as faith….

There are other complicating factors as well. For example, several NT passages connect baptism with justification (e.g., Acts 2:38: baptism is “for” the remission of sins). In Reformed theology, it has been common to speak of the instrumental efficacy of the sacraments. But how can baptism’s instrumentality in justification be understood vis-à-vis faith’s instrumentality? Do baptism and faith compete with one another or do they work together? I think the solution is easy enough if we remember that baptism is really God’s action, not a human work. God is the Baptizer, ultimately. He may use the minister and the water as his agents, but it is his Spirit who does the work (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13).

The Westminster Standards point in this same direction. On the one hand the Confession says no one is actually justified until Christ is applied to them (11.4). But the Shorter Catechism specifically says one function of baptism is to apply Christ to the believer (92). Putting these two statements together yields this conclusion: Baptism is the instrument through which Christ is applied to us unto justification.

Thus, we can say that faith is the instrument of justification on our end, while baptism is the instrument on God’s side.

-Rich Lusk, “Faith, Baptism, and Justification

Commenting on Acts 2, Lusk also writes of Peter’s audience:

At this point, the word has done its work. The hearers have been aroused and convicted, but, apparently they still aren’t saved. Preaching alone is insufficient to make them participants in Christ’s work of redemption.  Thus Peter tells them what they must do. They must respond to the preached word with repentance and be baptized to enter into the way of salvation. Baptism, not preaching per se, is linked with forgiveness and the reception of the Spirit. Clearly, Peter believes God will give them something in baptism that they have not received through preaching alone. Baptism will consummate the process of regeneration begun by the Word preached.

This article, “Some Thoughts on the Means of Grace:  A Few Proposals,” is no longer available on Mark Horne’s website, but this portion can still be found in the OPC Report.

This is also an implication of Peter Leithart’s teaching:

How can Paul attribute justification and sanctification to baptism when he everywhere attributes justification to “faith, without the works of the Law”? We can go a ways to answering this question by taking more seriously the biblical claim that the church is the “body of Christ.” Because this is true, being joined to the church also means being joined to Christ. Christ is the holy one, and His Body is the holy people, the “saints” (”holy ones”) claimed as God’s peculiar possession. By His resurrection, the Father vindicated or justified the Son (Rom. 4:25), and by union with the body of the Justified Christ, we are justified (ie., counted as covenant-keepers).

-Posted by David Gadbois

New Source-Book on FV

Not all the authors would label themselves FV in this book. However, it will be an important source book for FV teachings. Articles are by Sandlin, Shepherd, Horne, Armstrong, Leithart, Lusk, and Garlington. Read with discernment (as with all books)!

Hebrews 2:17-18


ὅθεν ὤφειλεν κατὰ πάντα τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ὁμοιωθῆναι, ἵνα ἐλεήμων γένηται καὶ πιστὸς ἀρχιερεὺς τὰ πρὸς τὸν θεόν, εἰς τὸ ἱλάσκεσθαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ λαοῦ: ἐν γὰρ πέπονθεν αὐτὸς πειρασθείς, δύναται τοῖς πειραζομένοις βοηθῆσαι.

Translation: “Whence it behooved Him to be made like His brothers in all ways, so that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the things related to God (especially for propitiation with regard to the sins of the people). Since He has suffered, having been tempted, He is able to help those being tempted.”

Paul just finished telling us that it is not angels that Jesus helps, but rather the seed of Abraham, which is the covenant people of God. So, if Jesus is going to do that, then He needs to be made like us in every way. Of course, this does not mean that Jesus was sinful. He did not inherit our sinful nature. However, Jesus did take upon Himself the guilt of our sin. Our sin was reckoned to Christ, as if Christ had done it, even though He didn’t.

Some people might wonder just how much like us He is, if He never sinned. Can He really sympathize with our weaknesses if He has never sinned? The answer is yes. We have not resisted sin to the bitter end. Jesus has. Satan tried every trick in the book to get Jesus to sin. Jesus faced every single temptation known to mankind, and yet resisted successfully.

One big word in these verses is “propitiation.” The word means to appease someone. We have to be careful here. It is not as if God is some kind of homocidal maniac, and Jesus placated Him. After all, it was God the Father who sent Jesus into the world to bear the guilt of our sin (though only those who trust in Christ have this forgiveness). We were, however, children of wrath, as Paul says elsewhere. That wrath was diverted from us to Christ when Christ took our sins upon Himself on the tree. And so now Christ is our High Priest. He can sympathize with us, because He has suffered under temptation, and has taken the guilt of our sin away. Is Jesus your Great High Priest?

Blunting the Serrated Edge

Posted by Bob Mattes

If you missed the dust-up here at GreenBagginses over Thanksgiving weekend, you missed quite a show. I am deeply appreciative of, and indebted to, those who so quickly and freely rose to my defense, as well as that of the PCA and SJC. I had an amazing a post written in my head to right all the many wrongs against the PCA, the personal attacks, and more. But then…

While struggling with how to wrap all this up, I providentially encountered a passage in William Cunningham’s The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation. This is a collection of articles that William Cunningham wrote in the mid-19th century. The third essay, written in 1856, is on assurance and refutes an article by Sir William Hamilton. Dr. Cunningham starts out by quoting a very long section of Hamilton’s work, then starts his analysis with this sentence (page 112-113):

We hope to be able to prove that this elaborate statement contains about as large an amount of inaccuracy as could well have been crammed into the space which it occupies; and, if we succeed in doing this, we may surely expect that Sir William’s authority upon theological subjects will henceforth stand at least as low as zero.

OK, that seems to fit into the “serrated edge” mentality. But then I read a footnote added after Dr. Cunningham’s paper was initially presented. My heart broke as I read it:

In the interval between the publication of the former article and the present one, Sir William Hamilton died, and Dr. Cunningham, in his introductory remarks, thus refers to the event: “The knowledge, if we had possessed it, that he was to die so soon, would assuredly have modified somewhat the tone in which the discussion was conducted, would have shut out something of its lightness and severity, and imparted to it more of solemnity and tenderness; and the knowledge which we did possess, that he, as well as ourselves, was liable every day to be called out of this world and summoned into God’s presence, ought to have produced this result.” [italics in original]

“…ought to have produced this result.” Reading this brought home the reality of Dr. R. C. Sproul’s constant reminder that we live our lives Coram Deo–before the face of God. Our Lord could call us to His presence in heaven in the next second. With apologies to Francis Shaeffer, how then shall we blog?

Are we bringing honor and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ with our words and wit, or are we adding our pride and acerbic “peculiar talents” to the offense of the cross? Do we seek to justify ourselves, or to humbly offer the justification of God freely to the lost, even those with whose politics, business, or lifestyle we disagree–becoming all things to all men so that we may bring some to Christ (1 Cor 9:19-23)?

Here’s what God says about the “serrated edge” in Titus 3:2:

…to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (ESV)

How about James 1:26 on “peculiar talents”?

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (ESV)

And last but certainly not least, 1 Cor 10:31-33 to tie it all together:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. (ESV) [all emphasis added]

How then shall we blog, brothers?

Posted by Bob Mattes

What’s on Google

Here is a very comprehensive listing of what’s available on

For the Budding Greek Scholar

This book provides graded readings in NT, early church fathers, and the Septuagint. Looks like good practise for learning Greek, in addition to having some helps so that unfamiliar territory does not overwhelm one.

History of “Strong Presumption of Guilt”

Posted by Bob Mattes

The phrase “strong presumption of guilt” in the Presbyterian Church in America’s Standing Judicial Commission’s case summaries for cases 2006-2 and 2007-8 have garnered considerable, if poorly informed, posts and discussions on the blogs in recent weeks. Where does this phrase in the BCO, especially BCO 31-2, originate? Over at the PCA Historical Center, there is a series entitled Historical Development of the Book of Church Order. This has some great information on the history of our Presbyterian Church in America polity.

For reference, BCO 31-2 says:

31-2. It is the duty of all church Sessions and Presbyteries to exercise care over those subject to their authority. They shall with due diligence and great discretion demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character. This duty is more imperative when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall ask an investigation.

If such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall institute process, and shall appoint a prosecutor to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case. This prosecutor shall be a member of the court, except that in a case before the Session, he may be any communing member of the same congregation with the accused. [my bold emphasis]

The Historical Center article observes that this paragraph has remained virtually unchanged since its first draft of the PCA BCO in 1973. Perhaps even more interesting is that the phrase goes way back to the PCUS Canons of Discipline, V- 5, in 1867:

It is the duty of all church-sessions and presbyteries to exercise a proper care over those subject to their authority; and they shall, with due diligence and great discretion, demand from such persons satisfactory explanations concerning reports affecting their Christian character. This duty is the more imperative, when those who deem themselves aggrieved by injurious reports shall ask an investigation.

If such investigation, however originating, should result in raising a strong presumption of the guilt of the party involved, the court shall promptly appoint a prosecutor to conduct the case. This prosecutor shall be a member of the court, except that, in a case before the session, he may be any communicating member of the same congregation with the accused. [my bold emphasis]

That should sound very familiar. The Historical Center also has an excerpt from F.P. Ramsay’s Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, pp. 185-186), on RoD, V-2:

A strong presumption means a belief by the members of the court that evidence as then known to them would indicate that guilt probably exists, unless evidence to the contrary can be produced not then known to them.

The court institutes process by appointing a prosecutor. It is the duty of the prosecutor thus appointed to prepare the indictment and to conduct the case ; that is, the court, after the appointment of the prosecutor, is simply a judge, and the whole responsibility of representing the Church as an accuser is on the prosecutor.

So, the concept isn’t an injustice invented by the PCA to use against hapless Federal Visionists as some blogs seem to tout, but goes back to the very early days of the Presbyterian Church on the North American continent.

Can we trace the concept back further? Indeed, otherwise why would I ask? Check out Barbara J. Shapiro’s “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” and “Probable Cause”: Historical Perspectives on the Anglo-American Law of Evidence. Berkeley: University of California Press, c1991 1991. On page 138, she shows that this phrase dates back at least to 1716:

Hawkins’s authoritative Treatise of the Pleas of the Crown (1716) is particularly important in facilitating and formalizing the transfer of the causes of suspicion from examination to arrest. Unlike the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors of the justicing handbooks, Hawkins places a list of the causes of suspicion in the arrest portion of his treatise, and from that point onward it became a standard part of the arrest canon of the English and the American handbook tradition. Hawkins’s treatise illustrates how concepts and criteria might migrate from one procedure to another. Hawkins’s treatment of the causes of suspicion that justified arrest included the familiar “common fame” and life-style. The former ought to have “some probable ground,” and the latter might be gained from the suspect’s living a vagrant and idle life with no visible means of support. Keeping company with known offenders at the time of the offense, and more generally associating with those of scandalous reputation, was also an appropriate cause of suspicion. Social and economic status thus had an important role in determining the legitimacy of an arrest. Circumstantial evidence that indicated “a strong presumption of guilt” was another cause of suspicion. Here Hawkins employed the famous presumptions that arose from being found with a bloody sword in hand, leaving the house of a murdered person, and being in possession of stolen property. Behavior which “betrays a consciousness of guilt,” for example, flight, was also numbered among the causes of suspicion.[73] These passages were garnered from materials from Crompton, Lambarde, Dalton, Coke, and Hale, with their sources duly noted. When these passages of Hawkins were retransferred to the justicing handbooks and placed in chapters dealing with arrest, the citations were dropped. They thus floated free from their more distant Romanocanon and rhetorical origins and their proximate pretrial examination associations. The most influential justicing handbook of the eighteenth century was that of Richard Burn. Burn, and most of the English and American handbooks modeled on Burn’s work, followed the Hawkins treatment and provided a list of appropriate causes of suspicion which might engender arrest.[74] [my bold emphasis]

Sorry for the long block of text, but that’s the way it appears in the original. I bolded the phrase in question to provide a quick reference.

The bottom line is that the phrase “strong presumption of guilt” and the concept go back to at least 1716. It wasn’t invented by the PCA or even by Presbyterians in general. Some Federal Visionists have touted this phrase in the SJC case reports as a gross injustice hatched against them. Far from it, and now you know the unvarnished, historically accurate truth.

Posted by Bob Mattes, who isn’t a lawyer but has stayed at Holiday Inn Expresses a number of times.

A Milestone

Not to make a huge deal out of it, but this blog passed 500,000 hits sometime last night before 6 PM. I am humbled that so many people think there is something worthwhile here, and may God receive all the praise.

Berkhof and Baptismal Efficacy

I’d like to float another post drawing on various portions of Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, as I find his writings to be not only clear, logical, and orthodox, but also because his insights continue to be relevant to today’s Federal Vision controversy, 75 years after his ST was originally published. His writings serve not only as an antidote, but more importantly as an inoculation against these FV errors. You can call Berkhof boring, and you can call me slavish and uncreative for following him so closely, but hopefully the reader will prefer it to the innovations swirling about the Federal Vision world. Berkhof may not always be right, but he must be contended with. I rarely see evidence that FV writers are aware of the points he raises concerning the controverted topics, much less do they present arguments that overturn his positions. I can only conjecture that this stems from FV’s disdain for the Old Princeton tradition, with which Berkhof walked hand-in-hand (while being more indebted to Bavinck and teaching at Calvin Seminary).

The Reformed have always sought to hold up baptism, as a means of grace, to be more than merely symbolic (as Baptists and Zwinglians hold), while avoiding, on the other hand, the superstitious and Gospel-denying errors of Romanists (holding to an ex opere operato view of the sacrament) and the various inconsistent and compromise positions (held by Lutherans and some Anglicans). We want to say that the sacraments, including baptism, do something, and are not dependent on the subjective response of human sinners to outward symbols or memorials. Rather, God’s Spirit effectively works through the sacraments, as means of grace by which the sinner is ministered to. As good Calvinists, we ought to see the sinner as passive in receiving God’s ministrations through His Church, the preached Word and Sacraments. As we consider the above positions, we see that there are “extremes” on both sides – a ditch on both sides of the road, as it were. But the Scriptural data forces us to steer a path in the middle of the road, between those ditches.

OK, then. How does God’s Spirit work efficaciously through the sacraments? What does, specifically, baptism do? The Reformed have debated this endlessly, and have had a diversity of opinion in answering this question. One thing, however, is agreed on (our confessional symbols bearing witness to it): the sacraments, and therefore baptism, are efficacious in that they are signs and seals of the spiritual blessings in Christ the elect have. Given the paucity of scriptural data that directly deals with the efficacy of baptism, I am surprised that there has been no serious focus in the recent Federal Vision debates (that I have seen) on the exegesis of Romans 4, the passage that we get our “sign and seal” language from:

Is this blessing [righteousness by faith, to the exclusion of works] then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well…

This passage is near and dear to my own heart, not only because it teaches so clearly the doctrine of justification by faith alone, contra the Gospel-assailing errors of Rome, but because this section in particular was the most pivotal text that convinced me of the truth of paedobaptism. Notice: Paul holds up Abraham as an archetypical member of the covenant of grace (indeed, the “father of all who believe without being circumcised”). His example proves that we, as Christians, are also justified by faith alone. Notice the flow of Paul’s argument as you read from the beginning of the chapter. Those who “do not work, but believe in Him who justifies the ungodly” are counted as righteous. How do we know that? Because Abraham was likewise justified, as he had not been circumcised until after he was justified.

Since Abraham’s circumcision was received after his justification, his circumcision could not have been a cause, instrumental or otherwise, of his justification. Yet this passage says that his circumcision was a “sign and seal” of the righteousness that he already had by faith. This situation is paralleled in the Christian church most directly in the baptism of adult converts, where it is both assumed and demanded that the catachumen already be in possession of “the thing signified”, regeneration unto faith and justification (a point frequently ignored by Protestant sacerdotalists). And, yet, at the same time we see (in examining the book of Genesis) that this sign and seal of righteousness was also applied to Abraham’s infant son, Isaac, as well as his son Ishmael.

Since baptism is the sign and seal of the righteousness which we have by faith, taking the place of circumcision, as New Testament saints under the New Covenant administration of that same Abrahamic covenant of grace (which is established by a careful consideration of Colossians 2:11-12), we should conclude that, likewise, baptism cannot be an instrumental means, alongside of faith, by which we lay hold of Christ’s righteousness unto justification. Paul excludes works, including circumcision, from having such a role (even as an ordained and commanded sign and seal of God), and by implication the same is true for the sign and seal of baptism. Such an idea would be directly contrary to the Reformational doctrine of justification by faith alone (sola fide), which insists that faith is the “alone instrument of justification” (WCF 6.2). In this part of the Westminster Confession, we see that faith’s instrumental causation is, specifically, in “receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness.” Likewise, Berkhof calls faith, in this capacity, the “appropriating organ,” in that “it is the organ by which we lay hold on and appropriate the merits of Christ, and accept these as the meritorious ground of our justification” (ST, p. 522).

This distinction is important, because Reformed theology does not want to deny the efficacy of the preached Word or the Spirit in a sinner’s justification, which can also be said to be “instrumental” causes, but in an entirely different sense. By faith alone the sinner lays hold of Christ’s righteousness unto justification, but the Spirit works through the Word into the heart and mind of the sinner, whereby that faith is engendered, cultivated, and strengthened. The Spirit and Word are thus indirect or second-order instruments of justification. They are not co-instruments along with faith.

This consideration should suggest to us a way of understanding the efficacy of baptism. It, like, circumcision, is not something we can do to be justified. I do not understand how it is any improvement to have a doctrine of justification by faith and baptism rather than the doctrine of justification by faith and circumcision that Paul condemns as a false gospel in the book of Galatians. Frankly, one has to be rather dense not to take the hint.

But then what does baptism actually do or effect, as a sign and seal, in the lives of believers? If what we said is not true of signs and seals above is true, why should anyone care about having signs and seals? The answer is that the Spirit works through baptism, as a sign and seal, and thereby engenders, cultivates, and strengthens the faith of Believers various ways, much as He works through the preached Word. On this point, Berkhof’s comments are apt:

But baptism is more than a sign and seal; it is as such [emphasis mine-DG] also a means of grace. According to Reformed theology it is not, as the Roman Catholics claim, the means of initiating the work of grace in the heart, but it is a means for the strengthening of it or, as it is often expressed, for the increase of grace. This gives rise to a rather difficult question in connection with infant baptism. It can readily be seen how baptism can strengthen the work of faith in the adult recipient, but it is not so apparent how it can operate as a means of grace in the case of children who are entirely unconscious of the significance of baptism and cannot yet exercise faith. The difficulty, with which we are confronted here, naturally does not exist for the small number of Reformed scholars who deny that baptism merely strengthens an antecedent condition of grace, and claim that it “is a means for the impartation of grace in a specific form, and for the specific end of our regeneration and ingrafting in Christ” (ST, p. 641).

The Heidelberg Catechism, similarly, makes this connection between the efficacy of the Word and baptism (or, rather, sacraments generally):

Question 67. Are both word and sacraments, then, ordained and appointed for this end, that they may direct our faith to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, as the only ground of our salvation?

Answer: Yes, indeed: for the Holy Ghost teaches us in the gospel, and assures us by the sacraments, that the whole of our salvation depends upon that one sacrifice of Christ which he offered for us on the cross.

I can think of at least 5 more topics that stem from the above discussion, each worthy of their own post. But I’ll stop here for now so that the reader can consider the Federal Vision’s “baptismal regeneration lite” doctrine, especially in light of Berkhof’s comments and, more importantly, Romans 4.

Posted by David Gadbois

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