Pastor Richard Barcellos joins the Regular Reformed Guys to talk about his upcoming, as yet unnamed book about the Covenant of Works, the Garden of Eden and a number of other questions in relation to the New Covenant Theology.
This is one of those meaty episodes. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
How the “uses of the law . . . sweetly comply with . . .the grace of the Gospel” (2LCF 19.7)
Richard C. Barcellos
Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it . . . (2LCF 19.7a)
Our subject is important for at least three reasons. First, because this is what we confess as confessional, associational churches. It is, therefore, what we believe the Bible teaches. Second, because it is one of those confessional assertions that is often misunderstood and, in our day, denied by prominent evangelicals.1 And third, it is important for the well-being of our churches, which are comprised of God’s dear children. This last reason will be examined more fully in the conclusion.
In addressing the issue of how the “uses of the law . . . sweetly comply with the grace of the Gospel” (2LCF 19.7), we will consider 2LCF 19.7 in its confessional context, define some technical terms utilized in discussions about the law of God, identify the “uses of the law” implied by this paragraph, and discuss how the “uses of the law . . . sweetly comply with the grace of the Gospel.” A conclusion to the whole will be our final consideration of this topic in light of the discussion.
The Confessional Context of 2LCF 19.7
Our Confession at 19.7 assumes and builds upon the previous paragraphs. An outline of chapter 19 may help to see the progress and development of the doctrine of the law of God and how 2LCF 19.7 functions in light of what precedes it.2
- The Initial Revelation of the Law of God–BCF 19:1 “God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience . . .”
- The Subsequent Function and Revelation of the Law of God–2LCF 19.2-4
- Its subsequent function: Adam to Moses–2LCF 19.2a “The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall”
- Its subsequent revelation: Mosaic Law–2LCF 19.2b-4 “and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai”
- Mosaic law and the law written on the heart (i.e., Moral Law)
- Mosaic law and supplemental/positive law–2LCF 19.3-4 “Besides this law, commonly called moral . . .”
- The Universal Obligation of the Law of God–2LCF 19.5
- Its Statement–2LCF 19.5a “The moral law doth for ever bind all, (Rom. 13:8-10; James 2:8, 10-12) as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof”
- Its Basis–2LCF 19.5b
- Because of its content: “and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it,”
- Because of its giver: “but also in respect of the (James 2:10, 11) authority of God the Creator, who gave it;”
- Its Strengthening–2LCF 19.5c “neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, (Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31) but much strengthen this obligation.”
- The Various Uses of the Law of God–2LCF19.6-7
- Uses common to believers and unbelievers “Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others,”
- It directs and binds as a rule of life. “in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly;”
- It discovers sin within. “discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin;”
- It points to a remedy without. “together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience;”
- Uses common to believers alone “it is likewise of use to the regenerate . . .”
- It restrains our corruptions by forbidding sin. “to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin;”
- It shows what the sins of believers deserve and what afflictions are to be expected in this life by its threatenings. “and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof.”
- It shows believers God’s approbation of and our expected blessings upon obedience by its promises. “The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.”
- Uses common to believers and unbelievers “Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others,”
- The Complementary Nature of these Uses with the Gospel for Believers–2LCF 19.7
- Its denial: “Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel,”
- Its affirmation:
- the essence of its affirmation: “but do sweetly comply with it”
- the efficient cause of its affirmation:
- his person: “the Spirit of Christ”
- his work: “subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”
Working our way through 2LCF 19 puts us into the context of a discussion which utilizes terms or concepts, either explicitly or implicitly, that must be understood to grasp what is and is not being asserted. This being the case, let us consider some of the terms and concepts utilized in 2LCF 19.
Defining our Terms
Our Confession is the product of more than a century and a half of post-Reformation theological insight. It reflects the thinking of the movement sometimes called Protestant Orthodoxy. Before we identify the uses of the law as contained in 2LCF 19.6 (i.e., the uses implied by 19.7), let us define some terms utilized in this Reformed theological tradition in its discussions on the law of God. This will aid the current discussion by putting it into a recognized context of the conversation that predates us and upon which what we confess is built. It is proper to remind ourselves that doing theology involves utilizing terms and phrases that have evolved over time in an attempt to encapsulate crucial biblical teachings. We use technical terms and phrases to accommodate wide swaths of truth, putting these truths into brief, theological short-hand. Acquainting ourselves with the theological nomenclature typically utilized in discussions of the law of God will help us when coming to the specific confessional assertions about it.
Here is Richard Muller’s entry for natural law:
lex naturalis: natural law; also lex naturae; law of nature; the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica [i.e., Mosaic law, which includes the natural law, though in a different form] with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins… The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica . . . according to substance, and distinguish them . . . according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure [due to sin], whereas the lex Mosacia is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.3
The natural law is universal because God is the Creator of all men. Natural law is “founded on the natural right of God . . . (being founded on the very holiness and wisdom of God).”4 These laws are “just and good antecedently to the command of God . . .”5 They are commanded because just and good in light of who God is and what man is as His image bearer. Natural law is “the practical rule of moral duties to which men are bound by nature.”6Due to man’s created constitution, this law is written on his heart (2 LCF 4.2-3), though now obscured by sin (2LCF 6). Natural law is not acquired by tradition or formal instruction. This law was, however, promulgated (i.e., formally published) on Sinai, which differs from the natural law in form though identical to it in substance. Protestant Orthodoxy taught that the Decalogue summarily contains the moral law and is the inscripturated form of the natural law, as to its substance. A distinction was made between substance and form. Substance is one; form (and function) may vary. For example, when the Westminster Larger Catechism Q.98. says, “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments,” it refers to the fact that the substance (i.e., the underlying substance) of the moral law is assumed in the propositions of the Decalogue as contained in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The form (and function) fits the redemptive-historical circumstances in which it was given. The substance, or underlying principles, are always relevant and applicable to man because he is created in the image of God. The application may shift based on redemptive-historical changes, such as the inauguration of the new covenant, but the substance and utility never changes. For example, the application of the second commandment under the inaugurated new covenant is different from its application under the Mosaic covenant but its substance is the same. We must worship God as God has revealed, and since the fall into sin, through a mediator and in accord with His revealed will.
Muller defines moral law in Protestant Orthodox thought as follows:
[S]pecifically and predominantly, the Decalogus, or Ten Commandments; also called the lex Mosaica . . ., as distinct from the lex ceremonialis . . . and the lex civilis, or civil law. The lex moralis, which is primarily intended to regulate morals, is known to the synderesis [i.e., the innate habit of understanding basic principles of moral law] and is the basis of the acts of conscientia [i.e., conscience–the application of the innate habit above]. In substance, the lex moralis is identical with the lex naturalis . . . but, unlike the natural law, it is given by revelation in a form which is clearer and fuller than that otherwise known to the reason.7
As noted above, the moral law is summarily comprehended in the Decalogue, not exhausted by it. Though the formal promulgation of the Decalogue had a unique redemptive-historical context and use, it is nothing other than the natural law incorporated into the Mosaic covenant in a new form. This is one of its uses in the Bible, though it does not exhaust its uses (e.g., Jer. 31:33).
Positive laws are those laws added to the natural or moral law. They are dependent upon the will of God. These laws are “good because God commands them.”8 They become just, because commanded by God. The first revelation of positive law was delivered to Adam in the Garden (Gen. 1:28; 2:17; cf. 2LCF 4.3; 6.1; 7.1-3; 19.1). Subsequent positive laws are spread throughout the Old and New Testaments. Positive laws can be abrogated for various reasons. They are not necessarily universal or perpetual. Some obvious examples of positive law in the Old Testament are circumcision and the laws of sacrifice and two New Testament illustrations are baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Neither circumcision, sacrifices, baptism, or the Lord’s Supper are universal or perpetual. The ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, as well as the judicial law of old covenant Israel, are also examples of positive law. Ceremonial law is not based on creation but conditioned upon God’s purpose to remedy the plight of man due to sin. It is positive law, law added to the natural or moral law and, in this case, for the purposes of redemption. The judicial law refers to the civil laws revealed through Moses for ancient Israel as God’s nation in the land of promise. Though the underlying principles of these laws (i.e., their general equity) are still of moral use (2LCF 19.7), the laws as universal, positive laws for God’s covenant people have expired along with the theocracy.
The Threefold Division of the Law
The threefold division of the law understands the moral law as based on creation and, therefore, perpetually binding on all men (though in differing ways) and the ceremonial and judicial law of the old covenant as supplemental to the Decalogue under the Mosaic covenant (cf. 2LCF 19.1-4 and the outline of 19.1-7 above). The ceremonial and judicial law of the Mosaic covenant is positive law, law added to the moral law for temporary redemptive-historical purposes. The threefold division of the law is based on the fact that the Bible makes distinctions between different types of law functioning under the Mosaic covenant (and prior to it) and views the principles of the Decalogue as pre-dating its formal promulgation at Sinai, going back to the creation of man.9 In one sense, the Decalogue under the Mosaic covenant is positive law, law for ancient Israel as God’s covenant nation to be obeyed as such in the land of promise.10
The Threefold Use of the Law
The threefold use of the law and the threefold division of the law are not one and the same thing. Concerning the doctrine of the threefold use of the law, Muller says:
usus legis: use of the law; as distinguished by the Protestant scholastics, both Lutheran and Reformed, there are three uses of the lex moralis. (1) . . . the political or civil use, according to which the law serves the commonwealth, or body politic, as a force for the restraint of sin. The first usus stands completely apart from any relation to the work of salvation and functions much as revelatio generalis . . . in bringing some knowledge of God’s will to all mankind. (2) . . . the elenctical or pedagogical use; i.e., the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ. . . . (3) . . . the tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. This final use of the law pertains to believers in Christ who have been saved through faith apart from works. In the regenerate life, the law no longer functions to condemn, since it no longer stands elenctically over against man as the unreachable basis for salvation, but acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom the grace of God works the good. This normative use is also didactic inasmuch as the law now teaches, without condemnation, the way of righteousness.11
The threefold use of the law refers to various functions of the moral law. The first use of the moral law applies to all men. The second use applies to all men who come in contact with the written Word of God. The third use applies to believers alone. Chapter 19 paragraph 7 concentrates on the use of the moral law for believers. It functions, among other things, as a pattern for life,12 that is, it functions as a guide for the sanctification of believers.
The “Uses of the Law” Implied by 2LCF 19.7
What are the uses of the moral law implied by 2LCF 19.7, “the aforementioned uses of the law”? Here is 2LCF 19.6 with a list of the uses of the law contained in it.
6. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 2:16; Rom. 8:1; 10:4) to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as well as to others, in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; (Rom. 3:20; 7:7ff.) discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience; it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof. The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works; so as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being (Rom. 6:12-14; 1 Pet. 3:8-13) under the law and not under grace.
There are six uses of the law contained here: three common to both believers and unbelievers and three common to believers exclusively.13 Notice carefully what is asserted: “. . . yet it [i.e., “The moral law,” cf. 2LCF 19.5] is of great use to them [i.e., “true believers”] as well as to others [i.e., unbelievers], in that . . .” Then notice the shift to believers exclusively: “. . . it is likewise of use to the regenerate . . .” The fact that believers and unbelievers have uses of the moral law common to them implies that they have something else in common that is the ground or basis for these uses. Believers and unbelievers are both creatures, “being made after the image God, . . . having the law of God written in their hearts” (2LCF 4.2; see 4.3; 6.1; 19.1, 2, 5). Here is an outline of the uses stated in 2LCF 19.6 and implied by 19.7.14
Uses Common to Believers and Unbelievers
- it directs and binds as a rule of life: “in that as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; (Rom. 3:20; 7:7ff.)”
- it discovers sin within: “discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin;”
- it points to a remedy without: “together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience;”
Uses Common to Believers Alone
- 4. it restrains corruption in believers by forbidding sin: “it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin;”
- 5. it shows what the sins of believers deserve and what afflictions are to be expected in this life by its threatenings: “and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof.”
- 6. it shows believers God’s approbation of and expected blessings upon obedience by its promises: “The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works;”
The Sweet Compliance of these Uses “with the Grace of the Gospel”
The specific issue we are focusing on is how these uses “sweetly comply with” “the grace of the Gospel.” What is meant by “sweetly comply”? I take this to mean assuredly agree with or not to contradict in any fashion. The assertion is that the uses of the moral law stated in 19.6 do not in any way contradict “the grace of the Gospel.” To what is “the grace of the Gospel” in this context referring? Notice it does not say “the Gospel.” The “grace of” refers to that which comes to believing sinners as a result of the gospel believed.15 It is “grace” which comes by virtue of the gospel believed. Recall that the Confession is dealing with present believers in 19.7. The “grace of the Gospel” refers not to redemption accomplished (or the announcement of it), but to redemption applied (i.e., the benefits of Christ). This “grace of the Gospel” refers not to the message to be believed; it refers to the grace which comes to believers, those having believed. In other words, “the grace of the Gospel” is that which comes to believing sinners and is given to them. This is referring to the Spirit-enabled obedience of believers and unique to them.16 This should become clearer as we continue the discussion. Let’s take a closer look at the paragraph.
The paragraph has a denial and an affirmation, as noted in the outline above. Here is 2LCF 19.7 again:
7. Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law (Gal. 3:21) contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, the Spirit of Christ subduing (Ezek. 36:27) and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.
The paragraph denies that the uses of the moral law for believers mentioned in 19.6 are “contrary to the grace of the Gospel.” It affirms that the various uses “do sweetly comply with it.” The denial is explained by the affirmation. We know that the uses of the moral law mentioned in 19.6 are not “contrary to the grace of the Gospel” because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the souls of Christ’s people as that relates them to the law of God. In other words, “the grace of the Gospel” in this context is concentrating on “the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling” believers as they are related to the law of God. It is the Spirit of Christ who changes the people of Christ that they might obey the law of Christ. I ask again, to what does “the grace of the Gospel” refer in its context? It refers to benefits brought to us by the Spirit of Christ. The “grace of the Gospel” includes, though is certainly not exhausted by, what the Spirit of Christ does to and in believers to relate them to the law of God. This means that believers do not relate to the law of God like unbelievers in all senses. Recall 2LCF 19.6, where we confess, “. . . true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned.”That this is the intent of the words under consideration seems clear from the reference to Ezekiel 36:27, which reads, “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (NAU 1995). By virtue of the citation of Ezekiel 36:26-27 in 2LCF 7.2, we learn that our framers viewed Ezekiel’s words as part of that which is promised in the covenant of grace.17
This paragraph is a wonderful testimony to the doctrine of the work of the Holy Spirit in the application of redemption in relating believers to the moral law of God. The Spirit of Christ empowers the people of Christ to do the will of Christ. As A. A. Hodge asserts, “In respect to regenerate men, the law continues to be indispensable as the instrument of the Holy Ghost in the work of their sanctification.”18 This comports with other assertions of our Confession. For example, 2LCF 16.3 says of the good works of believers, “Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ . . .” In 16.5, we read of the good works of believers, “. . . because they are good they proceed from his Spirit . . .” The reason why the uses of the moral law stated in 19.6 are not “contrary to the grace of the Gospel” is due to the work of the Spirit of Christ in believers, “subduing (Ezek. 36:27) and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”
Theological and Practical Conclusions
Understanding the terms and concepts assumed by our Confession in this discussion helps our understanding of the doctrinal formulation contained in 2LCF 19.7.
We must recognize that the use of technical language is important. All subjects of inquiry utilize such. Our Confession utilizes terms and concepts which must be understood in order to grasp its meaning as intended. Doing the work of opening up Muller’s Dictionary and reading various entries can pay off dividends for years to come. Not only will it stock our minds with the technical language utilized in (and often assumed by) our Confession, it will help us understand its intent more clearly. For example, contemporary readers might take the word “law” in 19.7 and assume it means the Mosaic covenant. A little work behind the scenes will help to keep us from falling into idiosyncratic or anachronistic interpretations of our Confession.
Understanding 2LCF 19.7 properly should help us preach the law sweetly to our people.
Listen to Turretin:
It is one thing to be under the law to acquire life by it (as Adam was) or as a schoolmaster and prison to guard men until the advent of Christ; another to be under the law as a rule of life, to regulate our morals piously and holily. It is one thing to be under the law inasmuch as it is opposed to the gospel as to rigid and perfect exaction of obedience and the terrible curse with which it threatens sinners; another to be under the law inasmuch as it is subordinated to the gospel, as to sweet direction.19
As our Confession makes careful distinctions between types of biblical law and the various uses of the moral law following the Bible, so should we do the same in our pulpit ministries. On the one hand, we must not confuse law and gospel; on the other hand, we must preach in such a way as to assume the various uses of the moral law of God in the hand of the Spirit while we preach. As I once read in (I think) Thomas Watson, “We must preach the law most killingly,” but not to God’s people. The law’s maledictory, cursing, condemning function no longer applies to believers. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). As shepherds of Christ’s sheep, we ought to guide them into safe pastures, giving them the “sweet direction” of the law sweetly. This leads to another related consideration.
While preaching, we ought to assume these uses of the moral law.
These uses of the moral law (for believers and unbelievers) do not become true or actuated only if the text we are preaching contains one of the ten commandments. This, along with all other divinely revealed theological facts, ought to be assumed by us as true at all times. We can know that something is true but do not know how or when the Spirit of Christ is wielding the preached word while we deliver it and which uses of the law are being experienced in the souls of our listeners. There is no need to have a list of “uses” in our sermons that seek to apply the various uses of the moral law to the types of hearers under our preaching. No biblical text exists where the moral law cannot be used by the Spirit of God in the souls of hearers. All individual biblical texts come in the context of the entire biblical text, which we know canonically as the testaments of the Bible. Everything that is true in light of God’s written word is true while we are preaching from any individual text. Add to that the fact that our hearers normally know more about the Bible than what we tell them in our sermon. Whether we assume the uses of the moral law consciously or not, the Spirit of Christ takes the word of Christ to the souls of men.
Our understanding of the sweet compliance of these uses of the law with the grace of the Gospel is fertile ground for humility, both in us and in our people.
When we see progress in sanctification, either in ourselves or our people, we must remember that it is due to “the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling.” Growth in us and growth in our people, sweet conformity to the moral law of God, is due, not to the preacher of the word, but to the Spirit breathing upon the word, bringing its truth to sight. The sanctifying light is not ours to produce or manufacture or force into our hearers by powerful illustrations or fits of emotionally-charged rhetoric. We are to preach the word as accurately as possible and leave the efficient work of the sanctifying of souls to the Spirit of Christ, who enables “the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.”
It will be argued below that our Confession is applying the doctrine of what is more commonly called the threefold use of the law at 19.6-7. For an example of one contemporary evangelical who denies the third use of the law (i.e., the moral law as a rule of life for the believer), questions its legitimacy, and yet sees “the notion . . . not entirely wrong . . .” see Thomas R. Schreiner, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2010), 97-100. Schreiner says, “Strictly speaking, the idea that believers are under the third use of the law is mistaken, for we have seen that the entire law is abolished for believers. Still, the notion is not entirely wrong . . .” and later “Calvin and Luther had different positions on the third use of the law. Luther is closer to the truth on this matter than Calvin, for he sees more clearly that the Old Testament law is not normative for believers, and that believers are no longer under the Mosaic covenant” (99). ↩
I wrestled with whether or not to include this somewhat extensive outline. I decided to include it for readers to see the flow of thought, the interconnectedness of the various doctrinal assertions, and the use of technical terms and concepts either explicit or implied by 2LCF 19.1-7. ↩
Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 175. ↩
Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 vols., ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992-97), 2.11.1 (II:2). ↩
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 2.11.1 (II:2). ↩
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 2.11.1 (II:2). ↩
Muller, Dictionary, 173-74. ↩
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 2.11.1 (II:2). ↩
For the best contemporary discussion on the threefold division of the law see Philip S. Ross, From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law (Ross-shire, Scotland: Mentor Imprint by Christian Focus Publications Ltd., 2010). ↩
See the discussion “The Concept of Abrogation in Owen and others” in Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, eds. Ronald D. Miller, James M. Renihan, and Francisco Orozco (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005), 325-31. ↩
Muller, Dictionary, 320-21. ↩
Muller, Dictionary, 321, terms this as the didactive use of the law under usus didacticus. “. . . this latter didactic or normative use is referred to simply as the tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. This final use of the law pertains to believers in Christ who have been saved through faith apart from works. In the regenerate life, the law . . . acts as a norm of conduct . . . This normative use [usus normativus] is also didactic inasmuch as the law now teaches, without condemnation, the way of righteousness.” Calvin also referred to the third use as usus in renatis, which means the use of the law for the regenerate. ↩
See Chad Van Dixhorn, Confessing the Faith: A reader’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014), 251, n. 1, where he acknowledges that the ordering of the uses of the law in the Confession differ from Calvin’s. The form is different from Calvin but not the concepts. ↩
Bold text in the confessional quotations indicates where and why I identified each use as I did. ↩
This is not to deny that the initial act of saving faith, justification, etc. are not graces or gifts which come to us. ↩
See Van Dixhorn, Confessing the Faith, 257. He uses the phrase “Spirit-enabled obedience” as a heading while commenting upon WCF 19.7. ↩
2LCF 10.1 also cites Ezekiel 36:26 and 27. ↩
A. A. Hodge, The Confession of Faith (1869; reprint, Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), 258. ↩
Turretin, Elenctic Theology, 2.11.23 (II:143). ↩
On 14, Mar 2016 | In Resources | By admin
A 20 page paper by Stephen J. Wellum titled “Progressive Covenantalism and the Doing of Ethics” was posted in the New Covenant Theology Facebook group recently [Note: it has since been removed as it was not supposed to be posted publicly – it will be available in this volume]. It presents a good opportunity to bring to attention some of the important areas where 1689 Federalism (a particular version of covenant theology) disagrees with Westminster Federalism (what Wellum simply refers to as “covenant theology”), as well as highlight where 1689 Federalism believes Progressive Covenantalism errs. My comments will be brief, and I won’t be summarizing his argument, so make sure to read it first…
On 17, Feb 2015 | In Richard Barcellos | By admin
JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY:
Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective
Richard C. Barcellos
John Owen was a giant in the theological world of seventeenth century England. He is known today as quite possibly the greatest English theologian ever. His learning was deep and his writings thorough and profound. He has left the Christian Church with a legacy few have equaled in volume, fewer yet in content. In saying this of Owen, however, it must also be recognized that some things he said are difficult to understand. Some statements may even appear to contradict other statements if he is not followed carefully and understood in light of his comprehensive thought and the Reformation and Post-Reformation Protestant Scholastic world in which he wrote.
If one reads some of the difficult sections of Owen’s writings, either without understanding his comprehensive thought and in light of the theological world in which he wrote, or in a superficial manner, some statements can easily be taken to mean things they do not. When this is done, the result is that authors are misunderstood and sometimes, subsequent theological movements are aligned with major historical figures without substantial and objective warrant. Two such instances of this involve John Owen and New Covenant Theology (NCT).
This covenant was conditional because it was a legal/works covenant that promised life and threatened death. Israel failed to earn the blessings promised in the covenant. But under the New Covenant, the Church becomes the Israel of God and all her members are kings and priests (a kingdom of priests). Christ, as our Surety (Heb. 7:22), has kept the Old Covenant for us and earned every blessing it promised.3
The reader of Owen’s treatise on the Old and New Covenants in his Hebrews commentary, however, will quickly realize that Reisinger’s comments above do not give the full picture of Owen’s position. For Owen did not view the Old Covenant as a covenant of works in itself. He viewed it as containing a renewal of the original covenant of works imposed upon Adam in the Garden of Eden,4 something emphatically denied by Reisinger.5 Neither did Owen teach that Christ “kept the Old Covenant for us and earned every blessing it promised.”6 On the contrary, Owen taught that obedience or disobedience to the Old Covenant in itself neither eternally saved nor eternally condemned anyone and that its promises were temporal and only for Israel while under it.7 According to Owen, what Christ kept for us was the original Adamic covenant of works, not the Old Covenant as an end in itself. Owen says:
The phrase ‘Old Covenant’ will be used throughout as a synonym for ‘Mosaic or Sinai Covenant.’ ↩
John G. Reisinger, Tablets of Stone (Southbridge, MA: Crown Publications, Inc., 1989), 36. ↩
Reisinger, Tablets of Stone, 37. ↩
John Owen, The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), XXII:78, 80, 81, 89, 142. Owen viewed the Old Covenant as containing a works-inheritance principle of the broken covenant of works. The reintroduction of this element of the covenant of works, however, functioned on a typological level under the Old Covenant and applied to temporal promises and threats alone. See Mark W. Karlberg, Covenant Theology in Reformed Perspective (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2000), 167, 184, 217, 218, 248, 273, 346, and 366 for a similar understanding of the works principle of the Old Covenant as it relates to the covenant of works on the typological level of kingdom administration. ↩
The following is taken from John G. Reisinger Abraham’s Four Seeds (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 1998), 129. In it he denies both the covenant of works and the covenant of grace as traditionally understood. “Some time ago I discussed the basic theme of this book with a group of Reformed ministers that was about equally divided on the subject of Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism, and the view that I hold. Several of those who held strongly to Covenant Theology insisted on using the term covenant of grace as if it had the authority of a verse of Scripture. They made no attempt to prove their assertions from Scripture texts. They kept speaking in terms of logic and theology. I finally said, ‘We agree that the Bible is structured around two covenants. However, the two covenants that you keep talking about, namely, a covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden and a covenant of grace made with Adam immediately after the fall, have no textual basis in the Word of God. They are both theological covenants and not biblical covenants. They are the children of one’s theological system. Their mother is Covenant Theology and their father is logic applied to that system. Neither of these two covenants had their origin in Scripture texts and biblical exegesis. Both of them were invented by theology as the necessary consequences of a theological system.’” Though Reisinger denies the Edenic covenant of works, he does not deny the theology of the covenant of works entirely. He simply does not go back far enough in redemptive history for its basis (cf. Hosea 6:7 and Romans 5:12ff). Because of holding to a modified covenant of works position (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant is the covenant of works), Reisinger’s writings uphold the law/gospel distinction which is crucial in maintaining the gospel of justification by faith alone. For this he is to be commended. ↩
Reisinger, Tablets of Stone, 37. ↩
Owen, Works, XXII:85, 90, 92. ↩
On 27, Jan 2015 | In Resources | By admin
Theonomy may not be heard regularly from pulpits, but it is a view that is alive and well among Christians who take the Bible seriously and are struggling to understand how to apply it to the world they live in.
As appealing as theonomy may be for its apparently simple answer to a difficult subject, it is actually entirely (100%) incompatible with 1689 Federalism. Theonomy, properly defined as the belief that all nations today are obligated to obey Israel’s judicial laws because they have not been abrogated, relies upon an extreme version of the “one substance, multiple administrations” view of covenant theology. It stresses that the Old Covenant is really just the Older Covenant and the New Covenant is just the Newer Covenant – both being administrations of the covenant of grace. Since 1689 Federalism rejects this model, there is no way to hold to both theonomy and 1689 Federalism.
Theonomy, as Greg Bahnsen uses the term.5 is a view of the Bible that argues for the continuing validity of God’s revealed law in every area of life. Bahnsen argues that unless a specific Old Testament law has been abrogated by the New Testament, either by specific revelation or because of an application of a New Testament principle, its authority is still morally and/ or judicially binding. “The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity. This is not to say that there are no changes from Old to New Testament. Indeed, there are — important ones. However, the word of God must be the standard which defines precisely what those changes are for us; we cannot take it upon ourselves to assume such changes or read them into the New Testament.”6
The fact is that all of the covenants of the Old Covenant (that is, all of the Old Testament covenants) are unified as parts of the one overall covenant of grace established by God. Paul spoke of Gentiles who were not part of the Old Covenant economy which included the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants as “strangers to the covenants of the promise” (Eph. 2:12)…There were many, progressively revealed aspects to the single promise of God in the Old Testament: many administrations of the overall covenant of grace… Given the unity of God’s covenant throughout history and the Bible, then, is it true that Christians living under the New Covenant are not obliged to keep the Old Covenant law (the commandments of the Old Testament, especially those given by Moses)?…[W]e saw that all of the covenants of God are unified into one overall Covenant of Grace, fully realized with the coming of Christ in the New Covenant. So if there is one covenant enjoyed by the people of God throughout the ages, then there is one moral code or set of stipulations which govern those who would be covenant-keepers. Therefore, we must answer that of course New Testament believers are bound to the Old Testament law of God. His standards, just like His covenant, are unchanging. (BTS, 41-42)…
There is no textual indication, however, that the New Covenant brings a new standard of moral conduct, and there is no textual indication that the Old Covenant standard has been categorically laid aside. The Covenantal administrations are dramatically different – in glory, power, realization, and finality – but not as codes defining right and wrong behavior or attitudes. (BTS, 168)
Wherefore the whole law of Moses, as given unto the Jews, whether as used or abused by them, was repugnant unto and inconsistent with the gospel, and the mediation of Christ, especially his priestly office, therein declared; neither did God either design, appoint, or direct that they should be co-existent…
It is not, therefore, the peculiar command for the institution of the legal priesthood that is intended, but the whole system of Mosaical institutions. For the apostle having already proved that the priesthood was to be abolished, he proceeds on that ground and from thence to prove that the whole law was also to be in like manner abolished and removed. And indeed it was of such a nature and constitution, that pull one pin out of the fabric, and the whole must fall unto the ground; for the sanction of it being, that “he was cursed who continued not in all things written in the law to do them,” the change of any one thing must needs overthrow the whole law…
And the whole of this system of laws is called a “command,” because it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel, as a promise of righteousness by Jesus Christ, Galatians 3:11, 12. Nor is it the whole ceremonial law only that is intended by “the command” in this place, but the moral law also, so far as it was compacted with the other into one body of precepts for the same end; for with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered…
By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaical law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy, should be disannulled, unto the unspeakable advantage of the church…
It is therefore plainly declared, that the law is “abrogated,” “abolished… disannulled.”
Hearty agreement must be given when New Covenant theologians argue for the abolition of the Old Covenant. This is clearly the teaching of the Old and New Testaments (see Jeremiah 31:31-32; Second Corinthians 3; Galatians 3, 4; Ephesians 2:14-15; Hebrews 8-10). The whole law of Moses, as it functioned under the Old Covenant, has been abolished, including the Ten Commandments. Not one jot or tittle of the law of Moses functions as Old Covenant law anymore and to act as if it does constitutes redemptive-historical retreat and neo-Judaizing. However, to acknowledge that the law of Moses no longer functions as Old Covenant law is not to accept that it no longer functions; it simply no longer functions as Old Covenant law. This can be seen by the fact that the New Testament teaches both the abrogation of the law of the Old Covenant and its abiding moral validity under the New Covenant.
In Defense of the Decalogue, 61.
See also JOHN OWEN AND NEW COVENANT THEOLOGY: Owen on the Old and New Covenants and the Functions of the Decalogue in Redemptive History in Historical and Contemporary Perspective
To be clear, LBCF chapter 19 affirms that the moral law, the decalogue, continues to guide Christians as a rule of righteousness. The difference, however, is that moral law does not continue to guide by virtue of its Mosaic establishment. It continues to guide as universal moral standard that transcends all covenants.
The point is that the law was given to Israel on Mt. Sinai as a covenant of works. Note Owen “it consisted in “arbitrary commands” and precepts, regulated by that maxim, “The man that doeth these things shall live by them,” Romans 10:5. And therefore the law, as a command, is opposed unto the gospel…” The Old Covenant operated upon the works principle “Do this and live” (Leviticus 18:5). As Owen notes, Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 to demonstrate that this principle of works is directly opposed to the principle of faith. Thus “with respect unto the efficacy of the whole law of Moses, as unto our drawing nigh unto God, it is here considered…”
The law says “do this”, a covenant of works says “do this and live.” The curses found in the Mosaic covenant (and the blessings) are derived from the law as a covenant of works. Violation of the law brought curses upon individuals and the nation. That is why people were put to death in Israel for violating the moral law. Because it was a covenant of works with life in the balance (Lev 18:5, cited in Gal 3:12 & Rom 10:5). Augustine put it this way
In that testament, however, which is properly called the Old, and was given on Mount Sinai, only earthly happiness is expressly promised. Accordingly that land, into which the nation, after being led through the wilderness, was conducted, is called the land of promise, wherein peace and royal power, and the gaining of victories over enemies, and an abundance of children and of fruits of the ground, and gifts of a similar kind are the promises of the Old Testament. And these, indeed, are figures of the spiritual blessings which appertain to the New Testament; but yet the man who lives under God’s law with those earthly blessings for his sanction, is precisely the heir of the Old Testament, for just such rewards are promised and given to him, according to the terms of the Old Testament, as are the objects of his desire according to the condition of the old man…
[T]he law of works, which was written on the tables of stone, and its reward, the land of promise, which the house of the carnal Israel after their liberation from Egypt received, belonged to the old testament [covenant]…
“But the law is not of faith: but The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Gal 3:12) Which testimony, quoted by the apostle from the law, is understood in respect of temporal life, in respect of the fear of losing which, men were in the habit of doing the works of the law, not of faith; because the transgressors of the law were commanded by the same law to be put to death by the people.
“‘Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” Deuteronomy 27:26 (cited in Gal 3:10)
The death penalty instituted under the Old Covenant for violation of the moral law was not itself part of the moral law. It was an addition to the moral law given by way of covenant. The shedding of blood by man for violation of the moral law was specifically a curse. Theonomists who believe Christians should enforce Mosaic curses for violation of the moral law are putting Christians under a covenant of works that we have been freed from (Gal 5:1; Acts 15:10).
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.”
(Deuteronomy 21:22-23, cited in Gal 3:13)
It is specifically this principle of curse for violation of the law that Christ died on the cross for (Gal 3:13). Christians are not under the decalogue as a means to earn their life or lose it. Christ has earned our life and saved us from the curse. (Note, however, that although the Old Covenant was a covenant of works, it was not the covenant of works: it did not deal with eternal blessing and curse)
For more on this, see Abraham Booth’s An Essay on the Kingdom of Christ.
A separate question is whether or not nations today may or should enforce the general equity of Israel’s judicial laws in their own civil laws. Here are two resources to help unpack 19.4 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession from a 1689 Federalism perspective:
- 1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21
- Sovereignty of God and Human Authority: Romans 13 ~ Voddie Baucham
Below are links to various short writings from Richard Barcellos related to the law. They are also available combined as one PDF.
- Definition of Key Terms and Phrases
- Some thoughts on the three-fold division of the law
- Some thoughts on Moral Law, Positive Law, the Ten Commandments, the New Covenant, and the Ground of our Justification
- Typical Objections to the Ten Commandments and Christians
- The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 on the Decalogue
- On the use of the word “law” (nomos) with and without the Greek article
The following is Appendix Two in Richard Barcellos’ The Family Tree of Reformed Biblical Theology. Here is a PDF version.
In this Appendix, we will explore the thought of John Owen, as well as several other Reformed theologians from the 16th-18th centuries, on the functions of the Decalogue. We will note the various nuances of terminology and theological formulation among Reformed theologians of the past. But we will also see basic methodological and theological continuity from John Calvin to Thomas Boston. This, once again, displays Owen’s continuity with the Reformed tradition and the continuity among the Reformed orthodox on this subject. As will be seen, the Reformed orthodox approached this subject utilizing a redemptive-historical hermeneutic, something we noted in Chapter Six.
Our focus will be upon John Owen. He is not always easy to understand and has been misused on the issue of the functions of the Decalogue. We will seek to allow him to speak for himself, offer some observations, and compare Owen’s statements with those of others before and after him. This will display, among other things, the fact that Owen fits within the broader theological tradition of Reformed thought on the functions of the Decalogue in redemptive history. Read more…
A sample lecture from the Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies Continuing Education Program
Course Description: This study will cover some of the views of various Reformed theologians on the functions of the Law of God, concentrating on the Decalogue, as well as the confessional position. Once the historical-theological issues are covered, the lectures will then focus on a biblical-theological overview of the subject at hand. Special attention will be given to the functions of the Decalogue and its utility for believers in Christ.