Thesis Thursday

We continue in Lecture 9, examining…


Thesis V.

The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.

Reverting to the Old Testament, we see even there what the character of the teaching of Christ is. We read in Gen. 3:15: “It [the Woman’s Seed] shall bruise thy head.” What is the import of these words? It is this: The Messiah, the Redeemer, the Savior is not come for the purpose of telling us what we are to do, what works we are to perform in order to escape from the terrible dominion of darkness, sin, and death. These feats the Messiah is not going to leave for us to accomplish, but He will do all that Himself. “He shall bruise the serpent’s head,” that means nothing else than this, that He shall destroy the kingdom of the devil. All that man has to do is to know that he has been redeemed, that he has been set free from his prison, that he has no more to do than to believe and accept this message and rejoice over it with all his heart. If the text were to read: “He shall save you,” that would not be so comforting; or if it read: “You must believe in Him,” we should be at a loss to know what is meant by this faith. This protoevangelium, this First Gospel in Genesis, was the fountain from which the believers in the Old Testament drew their comfort. It was important for them to know: “There is One coming who will not only tell us what we must do to get to heaven. No, the Messiah will do all Himself to bring us there.” Now that the rule of the devil has been destroyed, anything that I must do cannot come into consideration. If the devil’s dominion is demolished, I am free. There is nothing for me to do but to appropriate this to myself. That is what Scripture means when it says, “Believe.” That means, Claim as your own what Christ has acquired.

Many additional prophecies might be cited to prove the correctness of this interpretation. Let me call your attention only to one, which shows clearly what the doctrine of the Gospel really is. Jer. 31:31–34 we read: Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which My covenant they brake, although I was an Husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel, After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my Law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin on more. A new covenant, then, God is going to make. Note this well. This covenant is not to be a legal covenant like the one which He established with Israel on Mount Sinai. The Messiah will not say: “You must be people of such and such character; your manner of living must be after this or that fashion; you must do such and such works.” No such doctrine will be introduced by the Messiah. He writes His Law directly into the heart, so that person living under Him is a law unto himself. He is not coerced by a force from without, but is urged from within. “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,” — these words state the reason for the preceding statement. They are a summary of the Gospel of Christ: forgiveness of sin by the free grace of God, fro the sake of Jesus Christ. Any one, therefore, imagining that Christ is a new Lawgiver and has brought us new laws cancels the entire Christian religion. For he removes that by which the Christian religion differs from all other religions in the world. All other religions say to man: “You must become just so and so and do such and such works if you wish to go to heaven.” Over against this the Christian religion says: “You are a lost and condemned sinner; you cannot be your own Savior. But do not despair on that account. There is One who has acquired salvation for you. Christ has opened the portals to heaven to you and says to you: Come, for all things are ready. Come to the marriage of the Lamb.” That is the reason, too, why Christ says: “I heal the sick, not them that are whole. I am come to seek and save that which was lost. I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

…All the apostles corroborate His teaching. John says in his gospel, chap. 1:17: The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He places the Law over against grace and truth. I need not explain what grace is. When John speaks of the “truth” that has come, he views Jesus as saying: “I teach the essence of the things which were foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament presented emblems; I bring realities.” The entire Temple-service of the Levites was figurative. Christ actually brought what was typified in the Old Testament.

…In sundry other places of their confessions they explain their meaning more fully thus: Many laws were uttered by Christ of which Moses knew nothing; for instance, the law to love our enemies, the law not to seek private revenge, the law not to demand back what has been taken from us, etc. All these matters the papists declare to be “new laws.” This is wrong; for even Moses has said: “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thine heart and with all thy soul and with all thy might,” Deut. 6:5; and: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” Lev. 19:18. Now, Christ did not abrogate this law of Moses, but neither did He publish any new laws. He only opened up the spiritual meaning of the Law. Accordingly, He says in Matt. 5:17: “Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” That means that He did not come to issue new laws, but to fulfil the Law for us, so that we may share His fulfilment.

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17 Responses to Thesis Thursday

  1. RubeRad says:

    A new covenant, then, God is going to make. Note this well. This covenant is not to be a legal covenant like the one which He established with Israel on Mount Sinai. … He places the Law over against grace

    Law Covenant, Gracious Covenant, hmmm, where have I seen that distinction before?

  2. John Yeazel says:

    If you add in the covenant of common grace with Noah then you really start seeing why Two Kingdom theology developed in the church and why the Reformers wrote so much about it. I have to admit that it was the Calvinists who developed Covenant theology more than the Lutherans did after the Reformation but there was a distinction between a legal covenant and a gracious covenant in Lutheran theology. And I think the Lutherans developed this distinction a bit differently than the Calvinists did and made it the center and most important distinction of the scriptures and in their theological thought.

  3. John Yeazel says:

    Rube,

    Thanks for posting that Irons essay- I have read half of it and will read the rest this weekend sometime. It is helpful in understanding why Reformed theologians have argued and split on this controversial subject. It is easy to go off in tangents on this topic and you have to be very careful in your thinking when trying to understand it all.

  4. John Yeazel says:

    There were a couple of quotes in that Irons essay which I found to be thought provoking:

    1) “It is this covenant theological formulation of the Law-Gospel contrast which sets Reformed thought apart from Lutheranism, which makes that distinction in terms of eternally competing abstract principles, thus failing to take account of the historico-covenantal unfolding of the divine plan of redemption as taught by Paul in Galatians 3.”

    I am not sure Walther would agree with this quote that the Lutheran idea of the Law-Gospel distinction was rooted in “eternally competing abstract principles” rather than in the plan of redemption as taught by Paul in Galatians 3. I am also not sure of the history of why the Lutherans rejected the idea of the historico-covenantal unfolding plan of redemption which the Calvinists worked diligently and thoughtfully to develop. I am sure there has to be some answers to that but I am not aware of them. Anybody out there who reads this web site know anymore about this?

    2) The view that the Mosaic Covenant is to be understood as nothing but an administration of the covenant of grace fails to take account of this works element. One of the great dangers of this view is that it erases the Law-Gospel contrast by equating the dual sanctions of the Mosaic Covenant (blessing and curse) conditioned on faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Law, with the requirement of the New Covenant that believers bring forth evidence of faith by good works. But the distinct roles played by works in the Mosaic Covenant and in the New Covenant are diametrically opposed. In the Mosaic Covenant, works were the legal condition for obtaining the blessings of long life in the land, and Israel’s covenant breaking was the basis for her eventual exile from the land under the divine curse. Under the New Covenant the believer’s good works do not function as the legal ground for receiving the inheritance, but are the necessary result of having received a right and title to the eternal inheritance on the legal ground of Christ’s obedience. Confusion reigns if we do not distinguish the radically divergent ways in which works function in their respective covenantal contexts. By acknowledging the propriety of speaking of a works-principle in the Mosaic Covenant, a works-principle which stands in antithetical contrast to the faith-principle which governs the covenant of grace in Christ, we are enabled to offer a clearer witness to the gospel of justification by faith alone (sola fide).

    I was particularly struck by this sentence: “Under the New Covenant the believer’s good works do not function as the legal ground for receiving the inheritance, but are the necessary result of having received a right and title to the eternal inheritance on the legal ground of Christ’s obedience.”

    I have never heard that contrast between the Law and good works as one of the distinctions between the Old and New Covenants. I can think of some scripture versus that would seem to support this view by implication but nothing clear cut. The whole quote would certainly cause problems for theonomists but I think theonomy bought into the idea of the Mosaic economy as an administration of the covenant of grace rather than a separate covenant intended for differing purposes.

  5. todd says:

    John,

    We law-gospel 2k guys Reformed would also say the Mosaic covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace, but that the way it administers the covenant of grace is to place Israel under the Law (a works principle) that she would see her inability and look to Christ as her only hope and righteousness.

  6. RubeRad says:

    Hi John,

    Good stuff there; so that distinction from Lutheranism, I’m not sure I get it. Is that saying that the Lutherans are all about Law/Gospel (covenant of works, covenant of grace), but reject the overarching covenant of redemption that, for the reformed, tie them all together?

  7. todd says:

    Rube,

    Lee is a friend of mine, so I think I can answer for him. Lutherans tend to see either law or gospel in all Scripture, so even the love commands in the new covenant are law because we cannot fully perform them. While that is true in itself, the Law-Gospel distinction described in the NT itself is an Old Covenant-New Covenant distinction, so the imperatives of the new covenant are not really law because the law came with a “do this and live” principle, while that is not true of the ethical imperatives in the new covenant. Does that help?

  8. RubeRad says:

    I dunno, I think I’d say (along with the Lutherans and WHI) that the ‘love commands in the new covenant are law because we cannot fully perform them’. And they are commands after all, and they are not innovative, but WCF 19.5 reminds us: Neither does Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation (of the moral law).

  9. todd says:

    Rube,

    The question is not whether they are commands or not, or whether we can fully perform them or not, that we all agree. The question is, when the New Testament distinguishes law from gospel, is it simply distinguishing law in general from promise, or is it contrasting the works principle in the OC from the grace principle in the NC? For example, Gal 3:12, John 1:17, and II Cor 3 do not contrast promise from commands in general, but the law principle of the old covenant with the grace principle of the new. In the end both are true of course.

  10. John Yeazel says:

    Todd,

    If I am reading the Iron’s essay properly, which Rube linked, you would be refuted by John Murray and most Reformation and Reformation scholastic theologians by considering the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace. According to them, the Mosasic covenant was a republication of the covenant of works given to Adam. Iron’s then flushes out the reasons why he believes this is so in the second part of the essay.

  11. John Yeazel says:

    I’m not sure what exactly he is saying either Rube. That seems to be a rather harsh indictment against Lutheran theology without any explanation of what he means by “eternally competing abstract principles.” How are Law and Gospel abstract principles anyhoot? They seem pretty concrete to me, rooted in the warp and woof of scripture from Genesis to Revelation. The only thing I can think of what he might be saying is that if Law and Gospel are not rooted in the covenants God made with man then where are they rooted in? But it seems to me that Walther is saying this very thing in Lesson 9. And that is what the book of Galatians is all about- especially chapter 3.

  12. John Yeazel says:

    I agree Rube, I am not sure what Todd is trying to say here.

  13. John Yeazel says:

    BTW, thanks to whoever fixed the copy of my Iron’s quotes- I do not know why they copied the way they did. Some format problem I suppose.

  14. todd says:

    John,

    The WCF and Murray clearly saw the Mosaic covenant as an administration of the covenant of grace. That is standard Reformed theology. I think you are confused here.

    WCF 7:5&6 “This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament. Under the Gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence, and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the New Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.”

    And see Murray here: http://www.the-highway.com/Covenant_Murray.html

    Remember, we who see the Mosaic Law as republication of the Garden probation principle still see it as administering the covenant of grace as it was to drive the Israelites to Christ to fulfill the Law for them. Maybe you are confused at what the word “administer” means in this context?

  15. John Yeazel says:

    Todd,

    I don’t think we are communicating properly here. Did you read the Iron’s essay? I get that the old and new covenants both contained grace in them but the Mosaic Covenant was subserviant to the Abrahamic Covenant. I also get that the Mosaic covenant was to act as a schoolmaster to lead one to Christ and thus be gracious in that sense. Grace in the scriptures is always presented as the person of Christ administered through Word or Sacrament. Iron’s does make the distinction that those who saw the Covenant with Moses as an administration of grace did not necessarily see it as a republication of the covenant of works and this has divided many Reformed theologians- Iron’s claims that Murray was part of the latter group.

  16. RubeRad says:

    That would be me. I pop in and edit things once in a while, always trying never to change content. Let me know if any of your comments suddenly seem to say something else!

  17. RubeRad says:

    I think it is helpful to look at the Turretin part of the paper:

    Turretin: It pleased God to administer the covenant of grace in this period [from Moses to Christ] under a rigid legal economy…A twofold relation ought always to obtain: the one legal…

    Irons: It is interesting to observe that although Turretin regarded the Mosaic Covenant as essentially gracious

    So there’s both going on, at different levels, which is kinda the point — and also an important point is that the covenant of works is not operative for us in the New Covenant, since Christ fulfilled it (WCF 19.6 “true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned”)

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