The Agreement Between the Law and the Gospel

Image 1 In historic Reformed theology, the moral law has a very important place in the life of the Christian.  One use of the law is that it shows us our sin and drives us to Christ (Rom. 3:20, Gal. 3:23-26).  The law is distinguished from the gospel in that it cannot justify, redeem, or provide a remedy for sin like Christ does in the gospel.  As far as justification goes, the Christian is no longer under the law, but grace (Rom. 6:14); the Christian is not in a covenant of works by which he must earn his salvation, but is in the covenant of grace, where salvation is freely given and received by faith alone (WCF 19.6).

However, Christians do not throw the law out just because it cannot justify us or save us.  On the contrary, the law is a delight to the Christian – it is a lamp in his life to tell him what pleases God and what doesn’t (Ps. 119:105, 174).  The law is of “great use to [true believers] …as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly” (WCF 19.6).  In fact, the law (as a mirror of sin and as a guide for the Christian life) sweetly complies with the gospel (WCF 19.7).  In Reformed theology, we distinguish between justification and sanctification, but we do not separate the two; a similar statement might be said of the law and the gospel.  Reformed theology is neither legalistic (we distinguish between the law and the gospel) nor antinomian (we also see agreement between the law and the gospel).

Thomas Watson said it like this in his introduction to the Ten Commandments:

“Though the moral law be not a Christ to justify us, it is a rule to instruct us. …We do not say the moral law is a Christ, but it is a star to lead to Christ.  We do not say that it saves, but sanctifies.  They who will not have the law to rule them, shall have the law to judge them.  …The moral law is the copy of God’s will, our spiritual directory.”

“The moral law requires obedience, but gives no strength (as Pharaoh required brick, but gave no straw), but the gospel gives strength; it bestows faith on the elect, it sweetens the law, it makes us serve God with delight.” …Though the moral law is not our Savior, it is our guide.  Though it is not a ‘foedus’, a covenant of life, yet it is a ‘norma’, a rule of life.” …They who will not have the law to rule them, shall never have the gospel to save them.”

John Colquhoun made these similar statements in his book under the subheading, “The Agreement Between the Law and the Gospel”:

“The law, as a covenant of works and a rule of life, demands nothing of sinners but what is offered and promised in the gospel; and in the gospel everything is freely promised and offered to them which the law, in any of its forms, requires of them.  …While it [the gospel] reveals and offers righteousness to satisfy the law as a covenant, it promises and offers strength to obey the law as a rule. …Thus, in general, the law and the gospel agree together or mutually subserve each other.”

“Whatever the law requires, the gospel, in the most abundant measure, supplies. …The law in the hand of the Spirit renders the grace of the gospel precious and desirable in the eyes of convinced sinners; and this grace, when it is received, makes the law salutary and pleasing to them.  …What the law as a rule of life binds [Christians] to perform, the grace of the gospel constrains and enables them to do so.”

“When a man spiritually discerns and sincerely loves the grace of the gospel, at the same time he sees and loves the holiness of the law.  The consequence will be that he will sincerely and cheerfully obey the law.  …Everyone, then, who knows by experience the boundless grace of the gospel will perform sincere, cheerful, and constant obedience to the law as a rule.”

John Colquhoun, A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, chapter 8.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond wi

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