The Law, The Gospel, Our Salvation (Witsius)

 I like how Herman Witsius ended his discussion on the antinomian and neonomian controversy in Britain around 1700.  In the concluding part of this book Witsius discussed the preaching of the law and the gospel.  Here are the last two sections which I’ve slightly edited for length:

…The beginning of the new life is not from the preaching of the law, but of the gospel. The gospel, is the seed of our regeneration, and the law of the Spirit of life, which makes us free from the law of sin and death. Doubtless, while Christ is preached, and life through him, his Spirit falls upon the souls of the elect, and infuses into them a principle of spiritual life. [James 1:18; Galatians 3:2].

…But when that [new] life, infused by the Spirit, through means of the gospel, begins to exert itself; if I am not deceived, it generally proceeds in the following order. That the soul, awakened as from a deep sleep, or faint, or rather death, views itself polluted with sin, guilty of many crimes, abominable unto God, most miserable in every respect, and altogether unable to deliver itself, and therefore seized with pungent grief, and despairing of itself, it pants after salvation, about to come to it from another quarter, to which purpose, the ministry of the law is useful: later it sees Christ held forth in the gospel, and discovering, that in him there is a fulness of salvation, and an abundance of grace, it immediately betakes itself to him, altogether empty of itself, that it may be filled by him; destroyed in and of itself, that it may be saved by him.

It is not possible, that apprehending Christ, and being apprehended by him, it should not, through his inestimable goodness, be inflamed with love to him, and be willing to devote itself wholly to his service, to whom it professes to owe its salvation, nor is it possible that it should not acknowledge him for a Lord, whom it hath found by experience to be a Saviour. And thus again, the gospel brings us back to the law as a rule of gratitude. Hence it is evident, how law and gospel mutually assist one another, in promoting the salvation of the elect; and how sometimes the former, sometimes the latter, takes the lead.

 Herman Witsius, Conciliatory or Irenical Animadversions on the Controversies Agitated in Britain, trans. Thomas Bell (Glasgow: W. Lang, 1807), 190–191.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

 

 

The Freeness of Grace… (Toplady)

The Works of Augustus M. Toplady (6 vols.)

Augustus Toplady used the term “legal fear” to describe the fear people have that makes them think they need to earn God’s favor. They’re afraid that if they don’t do enough to meet God’s standards he will not accept them. It’s a fear that tells a person he cannot be certain of God’s love – to do so would be presumptuous. At other times, Toplady noted, legal fear says

“You must bring…a price in your hand to God the Father or Christ’s redemption will profit you nothing. Do not undervalue yourself by supposing that you can do no good work before you are justified. I tell you that you must work for life and justification. You must do good works in order to be accepted – and fulfill a string of terms and conditions, seeing you are to be saved for your works, because of your works, yea, according to the merits of your works.”

That’s what legal fear says. Toplady responds:

But thou, O believer in Christ, flee these abominable doctrines. Listen not to them, as you value the glory of God, the freeness of grace, the riches of Christ, the interests of real holiness, and your own happiness. Remember that the conditions of fallen man’s salvation are two, and no more: namely, perfect atonement for sin, and perfect obedience to the law. Both of these conditions Christ has completely fulfilled, in the stead, and for the infallible salvation, of every soul that comes to his blood for cleansing, and to his righteousness for clothing. “To what end, then, serves faith?” To let thee into the knowledge, possession, and enjoyment of this free and finished redemption. “And to what end serve good works?” Not to entitle us to God’s favor, or even to pave (much less to pay) our way to his kingdom: but to glorify his name, to adorn his gospel, to evidence our adoption, and benefit others on our road to heaven.

Augustus M. Toplady, The Works of Augustus M. Toplady, vol. 3 (London: Richard Baynes, 1825), 369.

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

The Native Language of the Law (Gurnall)

 Here are two sections of William Gurnall’s discussion of “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15):

The news which the gospel hath in its mouth to tell us poor sinners is good.  It speaks promises, and they are significations of some good intended by God for poor sinners.  The law, that brings ill news to town.  Threatenings are the ‘lingua vernacula legis’ – the native language of the law.  It can speak no other language to sinners but denunciations of evil to come upon them, but the gospel smiles on poor sinners, and plains [smooths] the wrinkles that sit on the law’s brow, by proclaiming promises.

1 Timothy 1:15.  This bridge which the gospel lays over the gulf of God’s wrath, for poor sinners to pass from their sins into the favor of God here, and into the kingdom of God hereafter, is supported with no other arches than the wisdom, power, mercy, and faithfulness of God….

William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor, Direction seventh, 1.1, 1.5.

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

The Two Principal Parts of Scripture (Beza)

Theodore Beza

Here’s a helpful explanation of the law/gospel distinction by Theodore Beza (d. 1564):

We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the “Law”, the other the “Gospel”. For all the rest can be gathered under the one or the other of these two headings.

What we call Law (when it is distinguished from Gospel and is taken for one of the two parts of the Word) is a doctrine whose seed is written by nature in our hearts. However, so that we may have a more exact knowledge, it was written by God on two Tables and is briefly comprehended in ten commandments. In these He sets out for us the obedience and perfect righteousness which we owe to His majesty and our neighbours. This on contrasting terms: either perpetual life, if we perfectly keep the Law without omitting a single point, or eternal death, if we do not completely fulfil the contents of each commandment (Deut. 30:15-20; James 2:10).

What we call the Gospel (“Good News”) is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from Heaven (Matt 16:17; John 1:13), and totally surpasses natural knowledge. By it God testifies to us that it is His purpose to save us freely by His only Son (Rom. 3:20-22), provided that, by faith, we embrace Him as our only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor 1:30). By it, I say, the Lord testifies to us all these things, and even does it in such a manner that at the same time he renews our persons in a powerful way so that we may embrace the benefits which are offered to us (1 Cor 2:4).

We must pay great attention to these things. For, with good reason, we can say that ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principle sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.

Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, trans. James Clark (Lewes, UK: Christian Focus, 1992).

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

The Whole Curse Spent on Him (Bunyan)

Justification by an Imputed Righteousness One of the wonderful and comforting truths of the Christian faith is the fact that a sinner is justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.  This truth is full of hope, peace, joy, happiness, and assurance.  One aspect of justification is what Scripture teaches about Christ suffering the curse of law-breaking in the place of his people (Gal. 3:13).  John Bunyan gave an excellent explanation of how Christ suffered the curse in our stead and completely freed us from it by doing so:

As we are said to suffer with him, so we are said to die, to be dead with him; with him, that is, by the dying of his body. ‘Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him’ (Rom 6:8). Wherefore he saith in other places, ‘Brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ’; for indeed we died then to it by him. To the law that is, the law now has nothing to do with us; for that it has already executed its curse to the full upon us by its slaying of the body of Christ; for the body of Christ was our flesh: upon it also was laid our sin.

The law, too, spent that curse that was due to us upon him, when it condemned, killed, and cast him into the grave. Wherefore, it having thus spent its whole curse upon him as standing in our stead, we are exempted from its curse for ever; we are become dead to it by that body (Rom 7:4). It has done with us as to justifying righteousness. Nor need we fear its damning threats any more; for by the death of this body we are freed from it, and are for ever now coupled to a living Christ.

 John Bunyan, Justification by an Imputed Righteousness, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 304.

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

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

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