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Earlier today I tweeted this: “God comes to us in three books — nature, law, and gospel. Read plainly, we read God above us, God against us, and God with us.”

I have been asked for additional explanation, and so here it is. The responses ranged from huh? what? to “you sound like Michael Horton.” But this thought is actually a reworking of something I read from Matthew Henry, and shows how, once again, I am sitting on the edge of the fountain in the central square of Reformedville, just swinging my legs.

First, the Scripture: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:13-14).

There are differences between Lutherans and the Reformed on the three uses of the law (usus legis), but the differences are not over whether there are three uses.

There is a use of the law that convicts us of our need for Christ. If the basic message of the gospel is preached by evangelists whose message is “repent and believe,” this creates the obvious question — “repent of what?” That question cannot be answered without a standard, and the standard in Scripture is the law of God. This use of the law is essential in evangelism — more rich young rulers need to go away sad.

A big part of the disagreement between Lutherans and Reformed has to do with the normative use of the law in the Christian life. There should be no disagreement over whether sinners are convicted by a holy law which is against them.

“This difference between the Lutherans and the Reformed arises out of the dialectical relationship of law and gospel in Lutheranism as opposed to the simple distinction of law and gospel within the one foedus gratiae held among the Reformed” (Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, p. 321).

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Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
8 years ago

What about Psalm 119?

Kyle B
8 years ago

I think of “delighting in the law” (referencing Psalm 119) like I think of a doctor who diagnoses cancer in the early stages. When you catch it early, and you have the cure (Christ), wouldn’t you laud the doctor for his excellent doctoring? In the same way, the law shows us our cancer—hopefully before it’s too late. And for those who are in Christ, we got the diagnosis early enough to administer the cure. So shouldn’t we send the good doctor a thank-you card? He gave us some hard news, but it eventually saved our life. Something like that.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
8 years ago

Their heart is as fat as grease;
but I delight in thy cancer diagnosis. 
 
It is good for me that I have been afflicted;that I might learn thy death sentence. 

 

The cancer diagnosis of thy mouth is better unto methan thousands of gold and silver. Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy cancer diagnosis is my delight. I have longed for thy salvation, O LORD; and thy cancer diagnosis is my delight.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
8 years ago

Well, so much for formatting.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

I think it was in Chronicles where we see Israelites joyfully reading the law again after it was lost.  Joyful not so much because it showed their guilt, though yes to that — but joyful because it showed the awesome, pure white Truth of their God.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

The law is strong for guilt because it is rich in innocence.

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
8 years ago

I mean, yeah, sure, the law can show us we are guilty. As can Christ–since we don’t act like Him. But I have a hard time seeing how that’s what they’re for. There is the Colossians verse (and a few others) but there are other verses that don’t make sense the other way. For instance, were the Christians in Acts 21:20 zealous for condemnation? Was the Psalmist saying “The cancer diagnosis of thy mouth is better unto methan thousands of gold and silver. Let thy tender mercies come unto me, that I may live: for thy cancer diagnosis is my delight. I have longed for thy… Read more »

Dave Wagner
Dave Wagner
8 years ago

Is it possible that “Law” is being used, at times to refer to the entire OT ( at least as much as the Psalmist had), which includes not only commands but also the story of God’s gracious dealings (which would be sweeter than honey, etc)? Certainly the law does function to do us harm, though it does more (Romans 5.20).

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
8 years ago

Matthew, I think conviction is only one of the three uses of the the law. 

Dale Courtney
Dale Courtney
8 years ago

The Lutherans and the Book of Concord have the same “Three Uses” as the Reformed. They are just in a different order with a different emphasis. 
That said, most Lutherans I’ve talked to don’t know that the Third Use of the Law is even in the BoC. 
Link: http://bookofconcord.org/sd-thirduse.php

Rick Davis
8 years ago

Matt,
It’s been years, but I wrote my college thesis on the topic of the use of the Law in the OT. As I said, it’s been a while, but I found these two articles to be useful and perhaps relevant to your thoughts about delighting in the law.

 

“Law and Love in Jewish Theology” by Byron Sherwin Anglican Theological Review 64, no. 6

   

“Law and Grace in Judaism and Lutheranism” by Horace Hummel in Speaking of God Today

Nick Rohe
Nick Rohe
8 years ago

Pastor Wilson, I think my Micheal Horton comment might have come across wrong. It was not meant as a criticism . I actually agree with much of what he writes and frequent the White Horse Inn. My mind just immediately goes back to a joint interview with the two of you that ended with you both critiquing each other on how the other handled the second and third use of the law. Your post just sounded in line with some of the stuff he said there and elsewhere . That’s all I meant 

Justin
Justin
8 years ago

These days the law is more allusive than that of a ninja…maybe I should Nathan’s new childrens book to figure this out!

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

“… all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.  10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet … this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Matthew N. Petersen
Matthew N. Petersen
8 years ago

Rick, Thanks for the articles. I’ll try to look them up. I think one of the difficulties may be the word “law”. What do we mean by “the law”? Do we mean the Torah, which, as Isaiah says, endureth forever? Or do we mean the curses in the Torah: “If you do not keep the law…” The first doesn’t seem acceptable in this context–if for no other reason than that “Emmanuel” is as much a Jewish name as a Christian name. But the second does, particularly regarding the Colossians passage. A Paul who reassured the Christians in Jerusalem that he… Read more »

Seth B.
Seth B.
8 years ago

Matt: Read “By This Standard” by Greg Bahnsen. It will answer basically every question you’ve asked.

bethyada
8 years ago

A man can be zealous for the Law because he loves righteousness, or zealous because he is self-righteous. The former shows a struggling man the better way, the latter condemns him.

RFB
RFB
8 years ago

“But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it…”
Deuteronomy 30:14

Jordan Bush
Jordan Bush
8 years ago

Matthew, I think the answer to your question about loving the Law can be answered in looking at David’s response to Nathan’s story. David heard about the rich man who had stolen the poor man’s only sheep, and he was outraged, and declared that justice must be done, at which point (if we were to extrapolate the story) he would have rejoiced with the justified poor man. In his response, David declared that God’s law was good and worthy of rejoicing in, and yet after Nathan’s rebuke, he realized that that same Law that he was ready to rejoice in… Read more »

ulisses
8 years ago

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