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Posts Tagged ‘Law and Gospel’

aalexander2This question, I think it is true to say, is probably on the minds of many more Christians than we would like to admit.  What must I do to be saved?  How can I know I am saved? And although I know some would not have us focus so much on this question (citing the morbid introspective individualism of our times) I would go so far as to say that this inherent heart-cry of the human soul before God, and the answer proclaimed in the gospel, lies at the very center of the Christian faith!

Oh, and the answer goes against every bone of contention in our body, every seeming rule of nature, and every preconception about reality.  And yet that answer is so wonderfully, beautifully, joyously, and rapturously simple.

Below is an account of one Archibald Alexander, who later went on to become the first professor at Princeton Seminary.  He describes the great labor and anguish in which he wrestled with this understanding.  The context is during the great awakenings, where the common expectations, in some places, was that you needed an ‘experience’ in order to be sure of your salvation. People were urged to look inwards instead of outward to Christ.  This only lead to deep spiritual confusion.  Please read.

Being much dissatisfied with my state of mind, and now sensible of the corruption of my heart, I resolved to enter on a new course, and determined to give up all reading except the Bible, and to devote myself entirely to prayer, fasting and the Scriptures, until I should arrive at greater hope. My life was spent almost entirely in religious company, but our conversation often degenerated into levity, which was succeeded by compunction [regret]. Telling over our private exercises was carried to an undue length, and instead of tending to edification, was often injurious. But reserve on this subject was considered a bad sign; and on meeting, the first inquiry after salutation was concerning the state of each other’s souls.

A young women of my acquaintance, who, with others, had gone over to Bedford, appeared more solemnly impressed than most of the company. All believed that if any one had experienced divine renewal, it was Mary Hanna. One afternoon, while reading a sermon of Tennent’s on the need of a legal work preparatory to conversion, she was seized with such apprehensions of her danger, that she began to tremble, and in attempting to reach the house, which was distant only a few steps, fell prostrate, and was taken up in a state of terrible convulsion. The news quickly spread, and in a short time most of the serious young people in the town were present. I mention this for the purpose of adding that I was at once struck with the conviction that I had received an irreparable injury from the clergyman who had persuaded me that no such conviction as this was necessary. I determined, therefore, to admit no hope until I should have the like experience.

I read all the religious narratives I could procure, and laboured much to put myself into the state in which they described themselves to have been, before enjoying hope. But all these efforts and desires proved abortive, and I began to see much more of the wickedness of my own heart than ever before. I was distressed and discouraged, and convinced that I had placed too much dependence on mere means, and on my own efforts. I therefore determined to give myself incessantly to prayer until I found mercy, or perished in the pursuit.

This Resolution was formed on a Sunday evening. The next morning I took my Bible and walked several miles into the dense wood of the Bushy Hills, which were then wholly uncultivated. Finding a place that pleased me, at the foot of a projecting rock, in a dark valley, I began with great earnestness the course which I had prescribed to myself. I prayed, and then read in the Bible, prayed and read, prayed and read, until my strength was exhausted; for I had taken no nourishment that day. But the more I strove the harder my heart became, and the more barren was my mind of every serious or tender feeling. I tasted then some of the bitterness of despair. It seemed to be my last resource, and now this had utterly failed.

I was about to desist from the endeavour, when the thought occurred to me, that though I was helpless, and my case was nearly desperate, yet it would be well to cry to God to help me in this extremity. I knelt upon the ground, and had poured out perhaps a single petition, or rather broken cry for help, when, in a moment, I had such a view of a crucified Saviour, as is without a parallel in my experience. The whole plan of grace appeared as clear as day. I was persuaded that God was willing to accept me, just as I was, and convinced that I had never before understood the freeness of salvation, but had always been striving to bring some price in my hand, or to prepare myself for receiving Christ. Now I discovered that I could receive him in all his offices at that very moment, which I was sure at the time I did. I felt truly a joy which was unspeakable and full of glory.

Charles Hodge, in his Memoir, comments.

There is another lesson of a different kind suggested by the account above given. How different are theory and experience! What becomes of the boasted power of man – of his ability, plenary or natural, to repent, believe, and change his own heart? Had any miserable sophist gone to the youthful subject of this memoir, lying on the ground in his agony in the depths of the forest, and told him, ‘You can if you will’, would it not have been as much a mockery as when Satan said to Adam and Eve, ‘Ye shall be as gods’? It is well enough for men in their studies to split hairs and quibble about ability and inability, can and can’t; but when it comes to the death-struggle, these distinctions are all discarded, and a solemn, fearful consciousness of absolute helplessness is produced. And until in one form or another this sense of impotence is experienced, there is no real apprehension of the help of Christ.

Then, again, when men tell us that conversion is effected when the soul summons all its powers and determines to make God its portion, or purposes the general good, how does this agree with the experience of God’s people? Is conversion, so far as it is a conscious process, a self-determination, [as] much as it is a beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, as that glory is revealed to it through the word and by the Spirit, taking the whole soul captive in admiration, gratitude, love, and submission? Men do not create themselves; they do not come forth from the darkness of spiritual death, to behold the light of God’s countenance and the glories of the new creation, by any energy of their own. The whole change is one of which man is the subject, rather than the agent.

Taken from Princeton And Preaching by James M Garretson. (p 14-17)

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Is faith something that is merely ‘passive’ in nature? Or does it have an ‘active’ principle as well? What is the nature of saving faith itself? Is it something passive, where we merely receive the benefits of Christ gifted to us and poured out for our sakes? Or is it something more active, where we obediently, or faithfully, bring something to the table or add something to the mix?

Some might wonder whether this is even a valid distinction. “Why do you want to dig into this so bad?” one might ask.   I hear you. But first let’s look at the issue a little more.

I’ve recently read something by Mark Garcia where he gives a description of what he believes Calvin taught regarding the nature of faith. Here’s a quote from his book Life in Christ: Union with Christ and Twofold Grace in Calvin’s Theology.

“Unlike his Lutheran counterparts, Calvin did not ground good works in imputation or justification but in union with Christ. In contradistinction with Melanchthon, for example, Calvin argued a positive, soteric value of good works as the ordinary prerequisite for receiving eternal life. It appears that basic differences exist in their respective understandings of justifying faith: at the heart of the inseparability in Calvin’s unio Christi-duplex gratia formulation is a justifying faith defined not only passively, as resting on Christ alone, but actively, as an obedient faith that, resting on Christ alone, perseveres in the pursuit of holiness” (p. 260).
So, faith is (according to Garcia) defined not merely “passively,” but also “actively, as an obedient faith” (emphasis mine).
Now let us look at some passages from Calvin himself to see whether this is congruent with what the theologian actually taught. Timothy Massaro at Water is Thicker than Blood has compiled some quotes here, and here, from the French Reformer. Calvin writes:

“How would this argument be maintained otherwise than by agreeing that works do not enter the account of faith but must be utterly separated? The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God.” (Institutes, 3.11.18)

“But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12. For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith.” (Institutes, 3.11.14)

And for Calvin’s short definition, he puts it very simply.

“Faith is something merely passive, bringing nothing of ours to the recovering of God’s favor but receiving from Christ that which we lack.” (Institutes 3.13.5)

There it is: “Merely passive”. Those are Calvin’s own words.  For it was his view.  One might think this sounds awful suspect, and like free-grace antinomianism.  But it’s not. This is the heart of the Gospel and the Reformed faith; by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  And what’s more, we see this same theology reflected in the different Reformed confessions as well.

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 72. What is justifying faith?

A. Justifying faith is a saving grace, wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and Word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assents to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receives and rests upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.

Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 14.2

“…the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace”

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 21. What is true faith?

Answer: True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.

Belgic Confession of Faith: Article 22: The Righteousness of Faith

We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him.

For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely.

Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God– for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified “by faith alone” or by faith “apart from works.”

However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us– for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.

But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits.

When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins.

Now. What do we see in these definitions?  Do we see even an ounce of this ‘active’ principle or idea? No! In fact there is no concept whatsoever of obedience being intrinsic to faith whatsoever. And while we recognize that wherever there is true and vital (living) faith there will also be all other fruit of spiritual life as well (eg. repentance, obedience, good works etc), but faith by definition is something which receives. Faith apprehends. It in and of itself is the conduit by which the benefits of Christ are applied to the sinning soul.  It’s like pouring water from a pitcher through a funnel into our hearts. That funnel is our faith.  It doesn’t work.  For there’d be nothing left for it to do. Indeed, work adds nothing to our justification. Only Christ’s perfect merit means anything for justification; and it can only be applied by/though faith.  And therefor, necessarily, obedience is not in view. It is not the issue.

So this begs the question how and why could we ever be entertaining such notions which go contrary to the reformed faith.  There’s various reasons for this I’m sure.  One is that we (rightly) don’t want to fall into a ‘cheap grace’ antinomianism.  And that would be certainly bad, I agree.  But the answer isn’t in changing the message of the gospel.

In Romans 6, Paul didn’t change the message of the gospel when some people slandered him about how he was teaching it. He just told them they didn’t get it — they didn’t understand. Because if they had understood, they wouldn’t be asking the question: “should we sin more that grace may increase?”)

Finally, let us look at a one more confession — this time from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

143. By faith, man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith”

The Obedience of Faith

144. To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment.

This “obedience of faith” sounds an awful lot like the “obedient faith” described above by Garcia.

Which leads me to my conclusion: Either (1) Calvin was a Catholic, or (2) Garcia is confusing things more than is necessary.

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485px-Charles_Haddon_Spurgeon_by_Alexander_MelvilleCovenant theology might not be something one necessarily expects from a Baptist preacher.  But it is apparent that at least this Baptist preacher had an extremely high regard for the doctrine — even to the point of distinguishing a covenant of works from a covenant of unconditional grace.  Read my friend, and drink to your heart’s rest, peace, and joy.

“If anything in the world can make a man praise his God it is the covenant, and the knowledge that he is in it. I will leave off preaching and ask you to think over the love of God in the covenant. It does not belong to all of you. Christ is not the Shepherd of the whole herd of men; he is only the Shepherd of the sheep, and he has not entered into any covenant for all mankind, but for his sheep alone. The covenant is for his own people; if you believe in him it is a covenant for you, but if you reject him you can have no participation in that covenant; for you are under the covenant of works, which condemns you. But now, believer, just sit down for a moment and think over this exceeding mercy. Your God, the everlasting Father, has entered into a solemn compact with Christ on your behalf; that he will save you, keep you, and make you perfect. He has saved you; he has performed a large part of the covenant in you already, for he has placed you in the way of life and kept you to this day; and if, indeed, you are his, he will keep you to the end. The Lord is not as the foolish man who bedpan to build and was not able to finish. He does not commence to carry out a design, and then turn from it. He will push on his work till he completes it in you. Can you really believe it? With you, a poor puny mortal, who will soon sleep in the grave—with you he has made an everlasting covenant! Will you not say with our text, “To whom be glory.” Like dying David you can say, “Though my house be not so with God, yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure.” I am sure you will joyfully add, “Glory be to his name.”

Our God deserves exclusive glory. Covenant theology glorifies God alone. There are other theologies abroad which magnify men; they give him a finger in his own salvation, and so leave him a reason for throwing up his cap and saying, “Well done I;” but covenant theology puts man aside, and makes him a debtor and a receiver. It does, as it were, plunge him into the sea of infinite grace and unmerited favor, and it makes him give up all boasting, stopping the mouth that could have boasted by filling it with floods of love, so that it cannot utter a vainglorious word. A man saved by the covenant must give all the glory to God’s holy name, for to God all the glory belongs. In salvation wrought by the covenant the Lord has exclusive glory.”

“How I wish Christ’s ministers would spread more and more of this covenant doctrine throughout England. He who understands the two covenants has found the marrow of all theology, but he who does not know the covenants knows next to nothing of the gospel of Christ. You would think, to hear some ministers preach, that salvation was all of works, that it was still uncertain who would be saved, that it was all a matter of “ifs,” and “buts,” and “peradventures” and if you begin to give them “shells,” and “wills,” and purposes, and decrees, and pledges, and oaths, and blood, they call you Calvinistic. Why, this doctrine was true before Calvin was born or thought of! Calvin loved it as we do, but it did not come from him. Paul had taught it long before; nay, the Holy Ghost taught it to us in the word, and therefore we hold it. The bringing back of this truth to the front will be a grand thing for the church. From the mouth of this cannon the Lord will blow the Pope and all his myrmidons into a thousand shivers, but no other doctrine will do it. By God’s good grace, we must live this doctrine as well as preach it, and may he that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will. Then will he have glory through the covenant and through you, both now and for ever. Amen and amen.”

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon
Taken from, “The Blood of the Covenant”. Delivered on Lord’s-Day Morning, August 2nd, 1874
Full sermon can be found here: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1186.htm

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I know one of the issues which comes up sometimes is the fundamental differences between Reformed theology and Lutheran theology.  Certain doctrines such as ‘law and gospel’ or ‘justification by faith alone’ are said to be particularly Lutheran, and that Reformed theology maintains a significantly variant version.

But it appears to me that this distinction may have been overdone. Let me quote the historic Reformed theologians B. B. Warfield:

“It is unfortunate that a great body of the scientific discussion which, since Max Goebel […] first clearly posited the problem, has been carried on somewhat vigorously with a view to determining the fundamental principle of Calvinism, has sought particularly to bring out its contrast with some other theological tendency, commonly with the sister Protestant tendency of Lutheranism. Undoubtedly somewhat different spirits inform Calvinism and Lutheranism.”(1)

“But it is gravely misleading to identify the formative principle of either type of Protestantism with its prominent points of difference from the others. They have vastly more in common than in distinction. And nothing could be more misleading than to trace all their differences, as to their roots, to the fundamental place given in the two systems respectively to the principles of predestination and justification by faith.”

“Just as little can the doctrine of justification by faith be represented as specifically Lutheran. It is as central to the Reformed as to the Lutheran system. Nay, it is only in the Reformed system that it retains the purity of its conception and resists the tendency to make it a doctrine of justification on account of; instead of by, faith. It is true that Lutheranism is prone to rest in faith as a kind of ultimate fact, while Calvinism penetrates to its causes, and places faith in its due relation to the other products of God’s activity looking to the salvation of man. And this difference may, on due consideration, conduct us back to the formative principle of each type of thought. But it, too, is rather an outgrowth of the divergent formative principles than the embodiment of them. Lutheranism, sprung from the throes of a guilt-burdened soul seeking peace with God, finds peace in faith, and stops right there. It is so absorbed in rejoicing in the blessings which flow from faith that it refuses or neglects to inquire whence faith itself flows. It thus loses itself in a sort of divine euthumia, and knows, and will know nothing beyond the peace of the justified soul. Calvinism asks with the same eagerness as Lutheranism the great question, “What shall I do to be saved?” and answers it precisely as Lutheranism answers it. But it cannot stop there. The deeper question presses upon it, “Whence this faith by which I am justified?” And the deeper response suffuses all the chambers of the soul with praise, “From the free gift of God alone, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Thus Calvinism withdraws the eye from the soul and its destiny and fixes it on God and His glory. It has zeal, no doubt, for salvation but its highest zeal is for the honour of God, and it is this that quickens its emotions and vitalizes its efforts. It begins, it centres and it ends with the vision of God in His glory and it sets itself; before all things, to render to God His rights in every sphere of life-activity.”

So clearly, there are differences, between the two traditions; Reformed Theology seeks to dig deeper and give all the glory everywhere to God.  But it is essential to realize that they both start at the same point! The same doctrine.  They don’t fundamentally disagree. Calvinism just goes further in explaining it.

So, this begs the question: why would some want to maintain a distance between the Reformed and Lutheran positions? Why would we want to draw separation between these two Protestant traditions which, when regarding these fundamental doctrines, have historically seemed merely to emphasize their solidarity?

_____________

(1) B. B. Warfield Collection, found at: http://www.agessoftware.com/ages_warfield_collection_excerpt_1.html

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promiseI’ve been reading through Michael Horton’s God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, and am finding it very refreshing.  One of striking points he makes is that in the scriptures there are really two different kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional.  He says, “Some demand unswerving obedience as a condition of their fulfillment, such as the covenant made by the people at Sinai,” (p. 20) and yet others “announce a divine promise” (p. 36).  The idea that God is a promise-making, and a promise-keeping God, should all the more become dazzling in our eyes when we realize just what kind of promises our God has made! These “one-sided” promises (p. 41) — that God has done everything for us — “it is finished” and all we’re to do is look to him in faith and believe.    What a foundation for our assurance! What a mighty fountain of joy and gladness and worship, that “he has done these things and they are marvelous in our sight.” But Horton says, “In our day, as in others, the truth that we are declared right before God on the basis of someone else’s “covenantal loyalty”…namely, Christ’s — is under attack” (p. 18). Here’s the Hort:

“Carriers of the legalistic virus in Galatia and elsewhere were not faulted for having a positive view of the law, but for failing to recognize that its purpose was to lead God’s people to Christ. By seeking to attain the everlasting promise of life through the temporal and conditional covenant of law, Paul’s opponents were actually excommunicating themselves from the true Israel. Not only their explicit sins but their confidence in their own obedience revealed that they were “cut off” from the only one in whom they could be found acceptable. For them, at least, Sinai could only be the emblem of the condemnation that awaits them, since to be “under the law” is (for those who violate it) equivalent to being cursed (Gal. 3:10).

While the principles of law and promise agree on a number of points, they reflect intrinsically different types of covenants. Personal obedience to commands is a radically different basis for an inheritance than faith in a promise. While the Scriptures uphold the moral law as the abiding way of life for God’s redeemed people, it can never be a way to life. Every covenant has two parties, and we assume the responsibilities of faithful partners, but the basis of acceptance with God is the covenant-keeping of another, the Servant of the Lord; and because of his faithfulness, we now inherit all the promises through faith alone, as children of Sarah and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The new Covenant announced by the prophets long ago included both justification and rebirth, imputed and imparted righteousness, forgiveness of sins and a new heart that thirsts for God and his glory. Yet (…) the second side of the coin (a new heart) is the result of the first (justification and forgiveness of sins). As Paul warns, we do not receive justification and forgiveness by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, and then go on to sanctification as a matter of personal achievement (Gal. 3:1-4). In the New covenant, all of the blessings have Christ and his obedience as the only ground qualifying us as heirs. Not some of the blessings, but all of them, are comprehended “in Christ.” That spells the end of both legalism and antinomianism: none of the blessings are the result of our own achievement, and at the same time, those who inherit the blessing of justification are equally beneficiaries of regeneration and sanctification. While our status before God (justification) is distinguished from our inward renewal (rebirth and sanctification), our status cannot be separated from our inward renewal even for a moment. Thus, because of God’s sworn oath by himself, the justified sinner will also be one who perseveres against doubt, temptation, the world, the flesh, and the devil, one day inheriting by that same royal grant rest from all warfare.”  (p. 75-76)

That God has promised and he will not change, indeed has kept his word unto his own hurt — the sacrifice of his only begotten Son.  This is a breath-taking, mind-blowing, heart-rending and life-altering doctrine.  God has done everything! He has justified us and regenerated us so that we can know that we are justified. And what are we to do? Believe. And what do we get? Eternal life? How do we know? God has promised.

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himweproclaimI’ve started reading Dennis E. Johnson’s ‘Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from all the Scriptures’. So far I’ve been very impressed.  His writing is both clear and eloquent (something that is nice).  Johnson’s aim is to set forth ‘redemptive-historical’ preaching as, not only a legitimate form of preaching, but the most biblical, apostolic, form as well.  In doing so, he will have to deal with various substantial arguments to the contrary (the redemptive-historical hermeneutic is still somewhat controversial in reformed circles). So, from engaging the more liberal ‘seeker-sensitive’ movements as well as other conservative paradigms, Johnson attempts to point out some of the weaknesses that have taken hold in contemporary evangelical preaching.  Anyway, I was somewhat intrigued to see him first take aim at Jay Adams, the well-known pastor-counselor-theologian (nouthetic counseling) and his emphasis on the ‘practical steps’ towards Christian growth.  Johnson’s criticism is quite constructive and (I think) quite deep.

“Despite Adams’s insistence that the gospel is foundational because spiritual growth cannot begin until one has trusted in Christ alone for salvation, does not his emphasis on concrete steps for pursuing behavioral change have the potential of drifting over into a moralism that draws attention so overwhelmingly to believers’ duties that Christ’s grace is obscured, at least in the impression left on his listeners? If the preachier attributes “stalling” in one’s sanctification to faulty methods rather than to feeble faith and failing motivation, might he not emphasize self-discipline at the expense of grace, and make duty displace grateful love as the engine that drives the pursuit of holiness?

Although many preachers who aim to edify Christians might not concur theoretically with Adams’s banishment of evangelistic preaching for the corporate worship service, yet in practice many pastors approach their weekly preaching with the assumption that few unbelievers will be present, and therefore Sunday preaching’s task is to summon the faithful to greater faithfulness in daily living. But… When Christ’s redemptive work is treated as an implicit backdrop to the sermon rather than an active character in the drama, three categories of listeners in the congregation may be misled. First, the unchurched who may be present (whether or not the preacher expects them) have their stereotypes of Christianity reinforced, and come away more firmly persuaded that Christan faith is a system of duties comparable to Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Marxism, or some secular self-improvement program.  Second, even if the pastor’s (pessimistic) assumption that unconverted adults are not present is correct, covenant children growing up [in] the congregation may pick up the signal that being a Christian is really “about” what one does and refrains from doing, with trusting Jesus as merely a prelude to the main event. Finally, Christan believers, who should (and probably do, in their “heart of hearts”) know better, may find their joy in Christ and assurance of God’s love clouded by a vague sense that the Father’s delight over them (though not their eternal destiny) hangs contingent on their progress in the struggle against sin and for love and justice. ”  (Pages 41-42)

What do people think of Dr. Johnson’s assessment?  I’d love your comments.

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John Calvin:

By the term Law, Paul frequently understands that rule of holy living in which God exacts what is his due, giving no hope of life unless we obey in every respect; and, on the other hand, denouncing a curse for the slightest failure. This Paul does when showing that we are freely accepted of God, and accounted righteous by being pardoned, because that obedience of the Law to which the reward is promised is nowhere to be found. Hence he appropriately represents the righteousness of the Law and the Gospel as opposed to each other. But the Gospel has not succeeded the whole Law in such a sense as to introduce a different method of salvation. It rather confirms the Law, and proves that every thing which it promised is fulfilled. What was shadow, it has made substance…”(Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.9.4).

“This is confirmed by the testimony of Paul, when he observes that the Gospel holds forth salvation to us, not under the harsh arduous, and impossible terms on which the Law treats with us, (namely, that those shall obtain it who fulfill all its demands,) but on terms easy, expeditious, and readily obtained” (Institutes, 2.5.12).

“But they observe not that in the antithesis between Legal and Gospel righteousness, which Paul elsewhere introduces, all kinds of works, with whatever name adorned, are excluded, (Galatians 3:11, 12. For he says that the righteousness of the Law consists in obtaining salvation by doing what the Law requires, but that the righteousness of faith consists in believing that Christ died and rose again, (Romans 10:5-9.) Moreover, we shall afterwards see, at the proper place, that the blessings of sanctification and justification, which we derive from Christ, are different. Hence it follows, that not even spiritual works are taken into account when the power of justifying is ascribed to faith “(Institutes, 3.11.14).

“The Law, he says, is different from faith. Why? Because to obtain justification by it, works are required; and hence it follows, that to obtain justification by the Gospel they are not required. From this statement, it appears that those who are justified by faith are justified independent of, nay, in the absence of the merit of works, because faith receives that righteousness which the Gospel bestows. But the Gospel differs from the Law in this, that it does not confine justification to works, but places it entirely in the mercy of God” (Institutes, 3.11.18).

“For the words of Paul always hold true, that the difference between the Law and the Gospel lies in this, that the latter does not like the former promise life under the condition of works, but from faith. What can be clearer than the antithesis — “The righteousness of the law is in this wise, The man who doeth these things shall live in them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh thus, Whoso believeth,” etc. ( Romans 10:5.) To the same effect is this other passage, “If the inheritance were of the law, faith would be made void and the promise abolished. Therefore it is of faith that in respect of grace the promise might be sure to every one that believeth.” ( Romans 4:14.) As to ecclesiastical laws, they must themselves see to them: we acknowledge one Legislator, to whom it belongs to deliver the rule of life, as from him we have life (Antidote to the Council of Trent, 1547).”

“For faith totters if it pays attention to works, since no one, even of the most holy, will find there anything on which to rely.” (Institutes, 3.11.11)

“In short, whoever wraps up two kinds of righteousness in order that miserable souls may not repose wholly in God’s mere mercy, crowns Christ in mockery with a wreath of thorns [Mark 15:17, etc.].” (Institutes, 3.11.12).

Sacharius Ursinus:

“The doctrine of the church consists of two parts: the Law, and the Gospel, in which we have comprehended the sum and substance of the sacred Scriptures.”

“The duties of the ministers of the church include in general, 1) A faithful and correct exposition of the true and uncorrupted doctrine of the law and gospel, so that the church may be able to understand it” (Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism

“This question contains the statement and division of the whole catechism and at the same time accordes with the division of the Scriptures into the Law and Gospel.” (Commentary on the Catechism, p. 20)

“Hence it is manifest that we must commence with the preaching of the law, after the example of the Prophets and Apostles, that men may thus be cast down from the conceit of their own righteousness, and may obtain a knowledge of themselves, and be led to true repentance. Unless this be done, men will become, through the preaching of grace, more careless and obstinate, and pearls will be cast before swine to be trodden under foot.” (Commentary, pg. 21)

John Bradford (1548):

“He that is ignorant of [the division of the places of the Law and of the Gospel] cannot, though he were a great doctor of divinity, and could rehearse every text of the bible without book, but both be deceived, and deceive others; as the experience hereof (the more pity) hath taught, nay, seduced the whole world….Therefore, I say, take to thee the glass of God’s law; look therein, and thou shalt see thy just damnation, and God’s wrath for sin, which, if thou dreadest, will drive thee not only to an amendment, but also to a sorrow and hatred of thy wickedness, and even to the brim of despair, out of which nothing can bring thee but the glad tidings of Christ, that is, the gospel: for as God’s word doth bind thee, so can nothing but God’s word unbind thee; and until thou comest to this point, thou knowest nothing of Christ.”

Caspar Olevianus (1536-87):

“For this reason the distinction between law and Gospel is retained. The law does not promise freely, but under the condition that you keep it completely. And if someone should transgress it once, the law or legal covenant does not have the promise of the remission of sins. On the other hand, the Gospel promises freely the remission of sins and life, not if we keep the law, but for the sake of the Son of God, through faith” (Ad Romanos Notae, 148; Geneva, 1579).

Theodore Beza (1534-1605):

“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 other of these two headings…Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity” [The Christian Faith, 1558]

Frances Turretin

“He [Paul] disputes against the false apostles who confounded the law and the gospel.” (IET II, p. 236)

There is not the same opposition throughout between the Old and New Testaments as there is between the law and the gospel. The opposition of the law and the gospel (in as far as they are taken properly and strictly for the covenant of works and of grace and are considered in their absolute being) is contrary. They are opposed as the letter killing and the Spirit quickening; as Hagar gendering to bondage and Sarah gendering to freedom, although the law more broadly taken and in its relative being is subordinated to the gospel. (IET II, pp. 236-237).”

William Perkins (1558-1602):

The basic principle in application is to know whether the passage is a statement of the law or of the gospel. For when the Word is preached, the law and the gospel operate differently. The law exposes the disease of sin, and as a side-effect, stimulates and stirs it up. But it provides no remedy for it. However the gospel not only teaches us what is to be done, it also has the power of the Holy Spirit joined to it….A statement of the law indicates the need for a perfect inherent righteousness, of eternal life given through the works of the law, of the sins which are contrary to the law and of the curse that is due them…. By contrast, a statement of the gospel speaks of Christ and his benefits, and of faith being fruitful in good works (The Art of Prophesying, 1592, repr. Banner of Truth Trust,1996, 54-55).

Marrow of Modern Divinity:

“Now, the law is a doctrine partly known by nature, teaching us that there is a God, and what God is, and what he requires us to do, binding all reasonable creatures to perfect obedience, both internal and external, promising the favour of God, and everlasting life to all those who yield perfect obedience thereunto, and denouncing the curse of God and everlasting damnation to all those who are not perfectly correspondent thereunto. But the gospel is a doctrine revealed from heaven by the Son of God, presently after the fall of mankind into sin and death, and afterwards manifested more clearly and fully to the patriarchs and prophets, to the evangelists and apostles, and by them spread abroad to others; wherein freedom from sin, from the curse of the law, the wrath of God, death, and hell, is freely promised for Christ’s sake unto all who truly believe on his name” (The Marrow of Modern Divinity; 1645, repr. 1978, 337-38. NB: The author of the Marrow was designated only as E.F. Therefore some scholars doubt whether Edward Fisher was actually the author).

William Twisse (1578-1646):

“How many ways does the Word of God teach us to come to the Kingdom of heaven? Two. Which are they? The Law and the Gospel. What says the Law? Do this and live. What says the Gospel? Believe in Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. Can we come to the Kingdom of God by the way of God’s Law? No.Why so? Because we cannot do it. Why can we not do it? Because we are all born in sin. What is it to be none in sin? To be naturally prone to evil and …that that which is good. How did it come to pass that we are all borne in sin? By reason of our first father Adam. Which way then do you hope to come tot he Kingdom of Heaven? By the Gospel? What is the Gospel? The glad tidings of salvation by Jesus Christ. To whom is the glad tidings brought: to the righteousness? No. Why so? For two reasons. What is the first? Because there is none that is righteous and sin not. What is the other reason? Because if we were righteous, i.e., without sin we should have no need of Christ Jesus. To whom then is this glad tiding brought? To sinners. What, to all sinners? To whom then? To such as believe and repent. This is the first lesson, to know the right way to the Kingdom of Heaven.: and this consists in knowing the difference between the Law and the Gospel. What does the Law require? That we should be without sin. What does the Gospel require? That we should confess our sins, amend our lives, and then through faith in Christ we shall be saved. The Law requires what? Perfect obedience. The Gospel what? Faith and true repentance.” (A Brief Catechetical Exposition of Christian Doctrine, 1633).

Martin Luther:

“This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference. If this ability is lacking, one cannot tell a Christian from a heathen or a Jew; of such supreme importance is this differentiation. This is why St. Paul so strongly insists on a clean-cut and proper differentiating of these two doctrines.”

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