The 3 Uses of the Law

Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology

(NOTE: this is a repost from March, 2009)

When the Reformed and Lutheran scholastics talked about God’s moral law (lex moralis), they taught that there are three basic uses of the law (usus legis).  They are – as Richard Muller describes them in the Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms these three:

1) The civil use (usus politicus sive civilis).  That is, the law serves the commonwealth or body politic as a force to restrain sin.  This falls under the general revelation (revelatio generalis) discussion in most of the scholastics as well as natural law (cf. Rom 1-2).

2) The pedagogical use (usus elenchticus sive paedagogicus).  That is, the law also shows people their sin and points them to mercy and grace outside of themselves.  In Muller’s summary, this is “the use of the law for the confrontation and refutation of sin and for the purpose of pointing the way to Christ” (p. 320).  This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 2-4.

3) The normative use (usus didacticus sive normativus).  That is, this use of the law is for those who trust in Christ and have been saved through faith apart from works.  It “acts as a norm of conduct, freely accepted by those in whom  the grace of God works the good” (p. 321).  This can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Days 32-52.

Note: “In this model, Christ appears as the finis legis, or end of the law, both in the sense that the usus paedagogicus leads to Christ as to a goal and in the sense that the usus normativus has become a possibility for man only because Christ has fulfilled the law in himself” (Ibid.).  In other words, in both the pedagogical use and the normative use Christ is central as the one who has saved his people from the law’s demands and the one who has earned life for them. By his Spirit, he makes his people willing and able to live for him in thankful obedience.

The above quotations and more information on this can be found in Muller’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms.

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

Denying Hell? (Turretin)

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 3 Volumes

The last section of Francis Turretin’s Institutes appropriately covers the doctrine of the last things (eschatology). Turretin’s seventh question is this: “Is there a hell? And what are its punishments…?” Turretin immediately says yes, hell is real and it is a place of punishment for the wicked. He gives numerous Scripture quotations to defend the doctrine of hell (Mk. 9:44, Mt. 22:13, Mt. 25:41, Rev. 19:20, Heb. 6:2, Mt. 3:7, etc. etc.). In other words, Turretin says, yes, quite clearly the doctrine of hell is taught in the Bible. I like how he then commented on the question itself:

We think it is superfluous to inquire whether there is a hell, whatever Epicureans and atheists (who consider it as a mere figment and empty scarecrow of the simple) may say. For it is asserted in so many passages of the Scriptures, and is confirmed by so many arguments (whether from the justice of God, or from the curse of the law, or from the heinousness and demerit of sin, or from the terrors and torments of conscience) that it is a proof not only of the highest impiety, but also madness to question or deny it. Those deriders will too well feel its truth and terribleness to their own great hurt.

Francis Turretin, Institutes, volume 3, p. 605.

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

Practicing Patience (Goodwin)

As Christians, we always need to pray for patience and practice patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and we’re commanded to “put on” patience (Gal 5:22, Col. 3:12). Love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). Our heavenly Father is patient and our Lord Jesus is patient (Rom 9:22, 1 Tim. 1:16). It’s not a suggestion! Patience is a command for the Christian: be patient! (James 5:7-8).

This is a great reminder for the crazy situation we’re in right now – medically, politically, culturally, etc. A lot of people are falling apart and coming unhinged; it’s a good time to pray for patience and practice patience to persevere through whatever God puts in our path! I appreciate how Thomas Goodwin wrote about patience. He said that patience is 1) an act of waiting upon God, 2) waiting with quietness, 3) it carries on without fainting or discouragement, 4) it submits to God and his will, and 5) it keeps us humble and lying at God’s feet. Gooodwin says more about this, but to keep it short I’ll list two of these below:

Patience includes and comprehends an act of waiting upon God, and his good pleasure. Waiting is an act of faith continued or lengthened out; and where faith would of itself be short-winded, patience ekes it out. The daughter helps the mother, with an expectation of a happy issue. You find waiting involved in patience as an eminent act thereof, James 5:7, ‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, and has long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.’ Look, how and in what manner the farmer waits, so he sets out and exhorts a Christian patient man should do.

Patience is a waiting with quietness. It is not an enduring simply by force, which we call patience perforce, but with quietness. …Isa. 26:3, ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you; because he trusts in you.’ And, chap. 30:15, ‘In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.’ And when faith hath wrought patience, it quiets the heart much more. Patience speaks quietness in the very sound of it; and the reason is because it hath a strength accompanies it, Col. 1:11, ‘Strengthened with all might, unto all patience and long-suffering.’ And thence so far forth as faith and patience do strengthen the heart, so far we are able to bear, and that with quietness. ‘Let not your hearts be troubled,’ saith Christ, John 14. Why? ‘You believe in God, believe also in me.’ Faith on them will cause trouble to fly away, which is a great part of Christ’s meaning when he says, ‘In patience possess your souls,’—that is, dwell quietly in your own spirits, as a man doth in his house, which our law terms his castle.

 Thomas Goodwin, The Works of Thomas Goodwin, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1861), 449.

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

Faith, Reason, Evidences (Zacharias)

I always appreciate Ravi Zacharias’ lectures and books. He always spoke and wrote with such love and concern for people and it was balanced well with presenting the truths of the Christian faith in an “apologetic” way (as in defending the faith). Here’s a section I was reading today from his book, The Logic of God. It’s about faith, reason, the resurrection, and evidences:

I will repeat what I’ve said before: God has put enough into the world to make faith in Him a most reasonable thing. But He has left enough out to make it impossible to live by sheer reason or observation alone. You will recall, for example, that the resurrection of Jesus caught even the disciples by surprise. They did not believe at first that Jesus had risen from the dead. Their understanding of reality was foundationally challenged. All of life and destiny would now have to be reinterpreted. They thought that perhaps Jesus’ resurrection was some fanciful story conjured up by hallucinating people. Their entire hope in Him was politically based – that Jesus would overthrow Rome. But a political victory would have been only a superficial solution, for Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind and to transform hearts and minds. I wonder whether multiple evidences that Jesus had risen from the dead would make any difference to modern-day atheists, or would they be tossed away…?

You see, the problem with evidence is that it is very much limited to the moment and creates the demand for repeated intervention of some sort. I have seen this in my own life over and over. Today it may be a failing business that is in need of God’s intervention. Tomorrow I may want to be healed from cancer. The day after that, I may even want a loved one to be brought back from the dead. There is an insatiable hunger for the constancy of the miracle.

The gospel is true and beautiful and has enough of the miracle to ground it in sufficient reason. But it is also sometimes a hard road becaue of the intertwining of reason and faith. When we come to those places in the road where we long for another ‘proof,’ I pray that we might know that rising beyond reason (to be sure, not violating it) is the constancy of trust in God, and we might sense His presence, for that is really the greater miracle within us. Only through exercising that trust can the moment be accepted and understood as a small portion of a bigger story….

Ravi Zacharias, The Logic of God, p. 142-143.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Loving God, Neighbor, and Self (Augustine)

In several chapters of Book 1 in On Christian Doctrine, Augustine discusses love: love of God, love of neighbor, love of self. I thought Augustine had some helpful reflections on these loves. Here are some selections from these chapters:

Seeing, then, that there is no need of a command that every man should love himself and his own body… it only remained necessary to lay injunctions upon us in regard to God above us, and our neighbor beside us. “Thou shalt love,” He says, “the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Thus the end of the commandment is love, and that twofold, the love of God and the love of our neighbor. Now, if you take yourself in your entirety —that is, soul and body together —and your neighbor in his entirety, soul and body together (for man is made up of soul and body), you will find that none of the classes of things that are to be loved is overlooked in these two commandments. For though, when the love of God comes first, and the measure of our love for Him is prescribed in such terms that it is evident all other things are to find their center in Him, nothing seems to be said about our love for ourselves; yet when it is said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” it at once becomes evident that our love for ourselves has not been overlooked.

…No sinner is to be loved as a sinner; and every man is to be loved as a man for God’s sake; but God is to be loved for His own sake. And if God is to be loved more than any man, each man ought to love God more than himself.

Augustine also asks – and answers – this question: How should we decide whom to help?

Further, all men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among men: since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of lot, according as each man happens for the time being to be more closely connected with you.

 Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 530.

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