The Law/Gospel Study Bible, Coming Soon

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My apologies to Green Baggins for not getting to his latest installment on RINE more promptitudinously. Things have been busy — ministerial conference, presbytery, and a writing deadline all conspired to reinforce the dictum that obligations are like grapes. They come in bunches.

Lane reviewed two chapters together (17 and 18), and he didn’t really have any trouble with 17, the one on sons of Belial, and so neither shall I.

In chapter 18, the law/gospel issues comes up again. Lane summarizes my view (accurately) this way: “He holds that the law-Gospel distinction is in the mind of the reader, not in the text of the Bible (p. 152)” This is fair enough, although I would probably prefer to say that it is in the “heart of the reader.” I acknowledge that the way I phrase some of this is different, but I am trying to resolve a tension by doing this — I am not doing it for purposes of entertainment. On top of that, I don’t think that this restatement is at odds with the heart of the traditional doctrine, and I will say why in a minute.

First, a restatement of my view on this. The Scripture is what it is, and contains both promises and imperatives. For the one who reads the Scripture in evangelical faith, he sees all the imperatives in the context of a larger grace. For the one who reads the Scripture in unbelief, he can sound out the promises, but they are always trumped by what he thinks is the larger demand of “do this and live.” The former contextualizes everything as a subset of God’s grace. The latter contextualizes everything as a subset of law.

For the believer, even the Ten Commandments can be understood as gracious. The preamble reminds the Jews that these words were coming from the one who brought them out of the house of bondage. For the unbeliever, even the message of the cross is foolishness, an intolerable demand. So that, in a nutshell, is what I think is going on with law and gospel.

Now Lane says, “I challenge this view of the law-Gospel distinction. I believe it erases the first use of the law, which is to drive us to the Gospel, to Jesus.” But note his use of the word use. What does it mean? It means that the same passage applies differently to different people in different situations. But that is what I am maintaining. The Bible applies differently. There are different uses of the same passage — the Word is versatile.

This is plain from Lane’s application of WCF 19, which shows that the law given to Adam in the garden did not evaporate simply because Adam disobeyed. The law continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and as such was delivered by God at Mt. Sinai in the Ten Commandments.

This is all good, and I quite agree, provided I can register a few squawks here and there. First, the law given to Adam was to stay away from a tree, and the Ten Commandment mention nothing about this tree, and so the extension from the Garden has to be at a higher level — “Always do what God says, the way He says to do it.” That applies both in the Garden, and on the mountain. Secondly, all those who are not yet converted are still in Adam and under Adam’s obligation to obey God, which they cannot do. When they are converted, they are at that moment transferred into the covenant of grace, period, and are no longer in Adam in terms of covenantal obligations.

The use of the law which drives unbelievers to Christ can be used by believers provisionally, reminding them to turn to Christ when they are convicted by the law, but they are never to do this because they are under any covenant of works proper. I cannot be under a covenant of works if my central duty is to flee from that covenant to Christ. And my duty to flee means that my understanding of my relationship to that law is, at bottom, a misunderstanding. I am not supposed to stay there. And if I am not supposed to stay there, it is not my home. My home is Christ.

Lane appears to know this, and I think acknowledges my central point here. He says in one place, for example, “The rule for the CoW was the moral law, the Ten Commandments,” and in another, “I do not believe that the Mosaic covenant can be simply equated with the CoW. The preamble to the Ten Commandments forbids that, in my opinion. Instead, I believe that the CoW has remnants in the Mosaic economy.”

But if these remnants are in the text, then list them. We need, it would seem, in the worst way, a CoW and CoG Study Bible, which color codes the different parts of the Scriptures according to what covenant word they are. But the standard Reformed understanding of the three uses of the law removes any such need for identifying the first half of this verse as CoG and the second half as CoW. What is the situation? What are the circumstances? Who is listening to this, a believer or unbeliever? This is necessary because the WCF identifies the moral law, here in Chapter 19 with the law given to Adam in the Garden, and elsewhere it identifies the entire Mosaic administration as an administration of the CoG. We cut through all the confusion if we allow that there is a CoW use (for those under the law) and a CoG use (for those not under the law). Those not under the law are constantly reminded of their sinfulness by the holy law of God, and so the first use of the law applies to them provisionally, but not really and actually.

There is a vast difference between a law/gospel hermeneutic, which I reject heartily and with enthusiasm, and a law/gospel application or use, which is pastoral, prudent and wise. If you say it is a hermeneutic, then you are in principle saying that a Law/Gospel Study Bible is a good idea. Which it isn’t.

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