My Wife Reviews a Book

Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives

I asked my wife to read this book and give me a book review of it, and she willingly and graciously assented. So, these are her words, only lightly edited.

There are no pet issues, feel-good fuzzies, or cultural buzzwords in this book. It is not a book for the shallow Christian, yet it is understandable enough for any who desire to grow and benefit from it. This book is solidly biblical, very challenging, extremely practical, and amazingly conservative. In short, it is the book for women I have long bemoaned that all the others aren’t. This woman must have read the Puritans, or at any rate, she knows their God. This book will make you think, but not overwhelm the “non-intellectual” types. Here are some quotations I found helpful:

My husband and boys can’t be my idols. I can’t pin all of my hopes for the future on their personal successes. It’s not fair to them, and it keeps me from placing my hope for the future in God’s hands. I must be a steward of my roles of wife and mom, not an idolater who looks to her husband and children for her sense of personal achievement. The same is true for you in whatever calling God has given you. Jesus must be our source of identity.

Instead of seeing ourselves as connected to Christ at all times, we tend to view our relationship with God in terms of intersecting moments during the day. We think that the more times our lives intersect with God, the more “spiritual” we are. In this paradigm, God goes on his way and I go on my way until we intersect at another corner later that day, week, month, or year. Instead, we need to think of ourselves walking with Jesus continually, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you are a believer, Christ is with you, in you, holding you together at all times. The goal is for us to be aware of that reality and live in light of it, for Christ warns us that apart from him we can do nothing (see John 15). (Taken from pp. 96-97)

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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.