He Submitted Himself to the Covenant of Works (Bavinck)

 Romans 5 is a great passage in Scripture that compares and contrasts Adam and Christ.  Paul uses legal and covenantal language to explain how Adam was a type of Christ.  For example, here’s verse 19: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (NIV).  I appreciate how Herman Bavinck commented on these great truths:

…While it is certainly true that as a human and with reference to himself Christ was subject to the law, it must be emphasized that his incarnation and being human occurred not for himself but for us. Christ never was, and may never be regarded as, a private person, an individual alongside and on the same level as other individuals. He was from the very beginning a public person, the second Adam, the guarantor and head of the elect. As Adam sinned for himself and by this act imposed guilt and death on all those he represented, so Christ, by his righteousness and obedience, acquired forgiveness and life for all his own. Even more, as a human being Christ was certainly subject to the law of God as the rule of life; even believers are never exempted from the law in that sense. But Christ related himself to the law in still a very different way, namely, as the law of the covenant of works. Adam was not only obligated to keep the law but was confronted in the covenant of works with that law as the way to eternal life, a life he did not yet possess. But Christ, in virtue of his union with the divine nature, already had this eternal and blessed life. This life he voluntarily relinquished. He submitted himself to the law of the covenant of works as the way to eternal life for himself and his own.

The obedience that Christ accorded to the law, therefore, was totally voluntary. Not his death alone, as Anselm said, but his entire life was an act of self-denial, a self-offering presented by him as head in the place of his own.

 Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 379.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Legalism, Love, and the Law

 One of my favorite shorter articles on Christian ethics is John Murray’s contribution simply called, “The Christian Ethic.”  At one point in this article he discussed how God’s law and love relate in Christian ethics.  He gave three specifics: The primacy of love, the priority in love, and the specific nature of the correlation of law and love.

The section I’ll post below made me think of legalism.  Legalists are very law-heavy and quick to judge others when it comes to the details of the law.  Legalists will quickly condemn Christians, preachers, books, Christian music, and so forth if these things do not measure up to their law-heavy and detailed standards.  Legalists are always upset with someone or something and they rarely encourage, help, or share the burden of those who are (in their eyes) inferior.  They are quick to complain and condemn, but slow to encourage and help.  I don’t think it is an overstatement to say this: the more legalistic a person is, the less he or she truly loves others.  The opposite is also true.

Here’s Murray’s discussion of the primacy of love in the law:

  1. Love is primary because only by love can the commandments be fulfilled.  Love is emotive, motive, impulsive, and expulsive.  It is emotive in that it constrains affection for its object, motive because it is the spring of action, impulsive because it impels to action, expulsive in that it expels what is alien to the interests of its object.  We know only too well what a grievous burden is formal compliance with commandments when there is no love.  Why is labor so distasteful, why so much heartlessness, and with heartlessness deterioration in quality and the mark of dishonesty on the product?  It is because there is no love.  Most tragic of all is the evidence of this in the highest of vocations [callings] and the discharge of the most sacred functions.  The apostle reminds us: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” [NASB].

This quote is found on page 178 of John Murray’s Collected Writings, page 178.

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

Making the Legalist in Us Squirm (Luther)

 Martin Luther’s comments on Galatians 4:3 will make the legalist in us squirm.  But they will also help explain what “Christ alone” means for the guilty conscience:

The law does tell me to love the Lord my God, but it does not enable me to do so or to lay hold of Christ.

I do not say this in order that the law should be despised; nor does Paul intend this. It should be held in great esteem. But because Paul here is dealing with justification, he has to speak of the law as something contemptible and odious, for justification is poles apart from the law. We cannot speak contemptuously enough of the law when we are dealing with this matter. When the conscience is in this conflict, therefore, it should think of nothing and know nothing except Christ alone. The law should be completely removed from sight, and the promise of Christ alone embraced. It is easy to say this, but in times of temptation, when the conscience is struggling with God, it is the hardest of all things actually to do. When the law accuses you, terrifies you, reveals to you your sin, threatens your soul with the wrath of God and eternal death, then you need strong faith in Christ, as if there had never been any law or sin, but only Christ, grace, and redemption. You need to be able to say, “Law, I will not listen to you. The time has come for me to be free, and I will not put up with your tyranny any longer.”

Martin Luther, Galatians, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), 198.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Sanctity of the Moral Law (or: Constrained to Come to Calvary) (Murray)

Murray vol 1 In 1935, at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, PA, John Murray gave an address called, “The Sanctity of the Moral Law.”  (“Sanctity” in this context means holiness or sacredness.)  In this address Murray  talked about the moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments.  Murray’s lecture is a very helpful discussion of the moral law and its importance for Christians.  I appreciate how he ended this address:

“As we recognize the awful sanctity that surrounds the law, we shall certainly be crushed with a sense of our own hell-deserving guilt and hopeless inability.  We shall certainly be constrained to cry out, ‘Woe is me for I am undone.’  ‘Surely I am more stupid than any man, and I have not the understanding of a man’ (Is. 6:5; Prov. 30:2).  But in that condition there falls upon our ears and into our hearts the sweet news of the gospel, the gospel of a crucified and risen Redeemer and Lord.  “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3:13).  We shall be constrained to come to Calvary.

But when we come to Calvary for the expiation of our guilt and the remission of our sin, it is not to diminish our esteem of that law nor relax our sense of its awful sanctity and binding authority.  Oh no!  …When we are possessed by the sense of the authority and sanctity of the moral law, we must come to Calvary if any true and living hope is to be engendered within us.  But when we rise from our prostration before the Cross, it is not to find the moral law abrogated, but to find it by the grace of God wrought into the very fiber of the new life in Christ Jesus.

If the Cross of Christ does not fulfill in us the passion of righteousness, we have misinterpreted the whole scheme of divine redemption.  ‘For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rom. 8:3).  Is it that the moral law might cease to bind and regulate?  Oh no! But ‘that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

John Murray, Collected Writings vol. 1, p. 203-204.

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

The Law/Gospel Distinction (Olevianus)

An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism The Reformers understood the difference between the law and the gospel.  It wasn’t just Luther who made this important distinction.  For one example, here’s how Caspar Olevianus (d. 1587) explained it (as quoted by Otto Thelemann):

“With reference to the relation between the law and the Gospel, Olevianus says:

“The law is a principle which God has implanted in nature, and has repeated and renewed in the commandments, in which He presents to us as in a handwriting what we are bound to do and what to leave undone, viz., a perfect inner and outer obedience; and He promises eternal life on the condition that we keep the law of God perfectly all our life. But on the other hand, eternal damnation is threatened if we do not keep it, but transgress it in one or more points. Deut. 27:26. After the law has once been transgressed, there is no promise that our sin will be forgiven through its help, i.e., through the works of the law, but the sentence of condemnation follows immediately. But the Gospel, or the glad tidings, is a truth concerning which the wisest men have known nothing by nature. It has been revealed from heaven. In it God does not make a demand of us, but He offers and gives to us the righteousness which the law demands of us, viz., the perfect obedience of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, whereby all our sins and condemnation with which the law threatens us, are pardoned and blotted out. Rom. 5, Gal. 3. God gives us in the Gospel the forgiveness of sins, not under the condition that we keep the law, but as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. Although we have never kept the law, and even now cannot keep it perfectly, He has nevertheless forgiven us our sins and offers eternal life. John 1:17, Rom. 8:3, 4, Gal. 3:12–15.”

 Thelemann, O. (1896). An Aid to the Heidelberg Catechism. (M. Peters, Trans.) (pp. 61–62). Reading, PA: James I. Good, D. D, Publisher.

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

Paul’s Devastating Exposure of Universal Sin and Guilt (Stott)

 Romans 3:19-20 makes this declaration: “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (NET Bible).

I appreciate John Stott’s conclusions on this part of Romans 3:

In conclusion, how should we respond to Paul’s devastating exposure of universal sin and guilt, as we read it at the end of the twentieth century? We should not try to evade it by changing the subject and talking instead of the need for self-esteem, or by blaming our behaviour on our genes, nurturing, education or society. It is an essential part of our dignity as human beings that, however much we may have been affected by negative influences, we are not their helpless victims, but rather responsible for our conduct. Our first response to Paul’s indictment, then, should be to make it as certain as we possibly can that we have ourselves accepted this divine diagnosis of our human condition as true, and that we have fled from the just judgment of God on our sins to the only refuge there is, namely Jesus Christ who died for our sins. For we have no merit to plead and no excuse to make. We too stand before God speechless and condemned. Only then shall we be ready to hear the great ‘But now’ of verse 21, as Paul begins to explain how God has intervened through Christ and his cross for our salvation.

 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (pp. 104–105). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Three-fold Use of the Law (Berkhof)

Systematic Theology For quite some time Reformed theologians have, following various texts and nuances in Scripture, said there is a three-fold use of God’s moral law.  Here’s how Louis Berkhof explained it:

It is customary in theology to distinguish a three-fold use of the law.

1. The three defined. We distinguish:

a. A usus politicus or civilis. The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.

b. A usus elenchticus or pedagogicus. In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.

c. A usus didacticus or normativus. This is the so-called tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.

 Berkhof, L. (1938). Systematic Theology (pp. 614–615). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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