Law, Gospel, and the Two Testaments (Melanchthon)

Philip Melanchthon’s Commonplaces (Loci Communes) was first published in 1521 – relatively early in the Reformation. Commonplaces is something like a systematic theology in that it covers the basic teachings of the Christian faith as found in Scripture (e.g. God, Trinity, sin, law, gospel, faith, predestination, the sacraments, etc.). Martin Luther couldn’t speak highly enough of Melanchthon’s work, believing it was one of the best books on the Christian faith ever written.

I haven’t yet finished Melanchthon’s Commonplaces, but so far I am enjoying it! Here’s a helpful section I highlighted a few weeks ago. It’s on the law/gospel distinction. I appreciate how he notes that this distinction is not a historical one, but a hermeneutical one:

Generally speaking, there are two parts to Scripture, law and gospel. The law shows sin, the gospel [shows] grace. The law indicates disease, the gospel points out the remedy. To use Paul’s words, the law is the minister of death, the gospel is the minister of life and peace: ‘The power of sin is the Law’ (1 Cor. 15:56), but the gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who has faith (Rom. 1:16).

Nor has the Scripture so given us law and gospel that you should think that only that is gospel which Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John have written, and that the books of Moses are nothing but law. But the presentation of the gospel is scattered, and the promises are sprinkled throughout all the books of the Old and New Testaments. On the other hand, law is also scattered in all the books of both the Old and New Testaments. Contrary to common opinion, history is not divided up into some periods of law only, other periods gospel only. …Every age known to us is a time of law and a time of gospel just as men have been justified in all ages in the same way: sin has been revealed through the law, and grace through the promise of the gospel.”

Philip Melanchthon, Commonplaces, “The Gospel”.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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