"Believe!" Law or Gospel?

Discussion in 'Federal Vision/New Perspectives' started by R. Scott Clark, Jan 17, 2007.

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  1. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

  2. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The orthodox reformed teach that the gospel commands as well as promises. See Rutherford's Spiritual Antichrist, 2:119-127. The idea that imperatives are law was an Antinomian notion, not reformed. Likewise, the law promises as well as commands. The difference is to be found in the person these are first directed towards. Perkins: "The promises of the law are directed and made to the person of every man particularly: the promises of the gospel are first directed, and made to Christ, and then by consequent to them that are by faith ingrafted into Christ" (Galatians, 184).

    On pp. 440-441 of Perkins' Galatians commentary there is as succinct an account of the differences of law and gospel as one will find anywhere in reformed literature. They differ: (1.) In the manner of revealing: the law is known by nature; the gospel cannot be known in this way. (2.) In the subject or doctrine itself: the law preaches absolute justice; the gospel shows how justice is qualified with mercy. (3.) In the object: the law is given to the unjust; the gospel to the penitent. (4.) In the promise: the law promises life on condition of works; the gospel without condition of works. (5.) In the effects: the law is no instrumental cause of faith; the gospel causes life.
  3. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    The idea that the command to believe is to be classified as law is specifically addressed and answered by Zacharias Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, p. 105.

  4. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    :up: Good stuff!
  5. yeutter

    yeutter Puritan Board Senior

    The answers Dr. Clark gives on Heidelblog are right on target.
  6. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior


    I have been known to disagree with Ursinus on occasion. For example, I don't like his language about the prelapsarian state that borders on the donum super additum. I think we know better now than to speak that way about the fall.

    I'm not entirely sure, however, that I disagree in substance with Ursinus, and I'm well familiar with the passage you cite, but there are other Reformed writers (e.g., Olevianus! - somewhere I recall him saying that the command "to repent," is "law" and not gospel) who speak differently on the same issue.

    I don't think it's strictly accurate to say "the gospel commands us." I think Ursinus was a little imprecise here. I think, however, it's useful to pay close attention to the closing words of the quotation:

    In effect, it seems to me, that he has redefined "law," in connection with the gospel as a special case in order to make his argument. In other words, he had to equivocate on "law," to make it work out.

    Fine. Given his equivocation, I agree with him. Given my definition, however, I think I'm within my rights to speak as I have.

    I don't think that anything I said disagrees with Perkins, with whom I interact in CJPM.

    I do, however, take exception to your claim that to speak as I do is antinomian. The adjective antinomian needs to be used very carefully. After all, the FV (and the papists!) call me antinomian for not building sanctity into faith or into the ground of justification.

    It seems to me that genuine antinomianism denies the 3rd use of the. Obviously, I do no such thing.

    Last edited: Jan 17, 2007
  7. Larry Hughes

    Larry Hughes Puritan Board Sophomore

    An outstanding pastoral post on your blog Dr. Clark, you are shepherd of souls.

    It always comes down to suffering, if nothing more, and I’ve said this before, at one’s own death bed, the threat of death and in particular the threat of the second death drawn forth in such times. Upon this the Law and Gospel become crystal clear. One’s personal theology “quickens quite nicely” in such times.

    Of course the Gospel always brings forth the charge of antinomianism by its very nature. Ultimately both the legalist and the antinomian are no different as both seek self justification in some fashion. An open rebellious sinner justifies himself just as much as a very pious religious person and both are in “comparison mode” to other people. Neither can survive death. I’ve known very legal folks and what many would term antinomian in the broad pale of ‘christian’, and outwardly there is little difference in appearances. Some of the most generically ‘legal’ folks I personally know are rank atheist. A good pastor friend and co-worker of mine made this observation as in our circle of scientist one runs into a lot of atheist, “It is fascinating to me that everyone of them I know, without exception, are strict morally and very very tight concerning the letter of the law as it pertains to moral code.” Now this may not be universal among all atheist but it is a large report. Very few I know would be “antinomian” in fact that’s how they saw the Gospel when we’d talk about it. When it comes right down to it both legalist and antinomians are bean counters. In fact I’ve seen religious legalist and antinomians in the broad pale of Christianity waft back and forth between the two depending upon the subject at hand.

    Thanks again for a great post!

  8. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Prof. Clark,

    If it were merely a matter of disagreeing with Ursinus over an equivocation, then I would not be concerned with your redefinition of the law and gospel contrast; but Ursinus explicitly rejects your premise that command equals law in contrast to gospel.

    As for Perkins, he says the law promises, whereas you say the law only commands and the gospel only promises. The WCF also says the law promises (19:6): "The promises of it, in like manner, show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof."

    There are different ways of expressing the third use of the law, and if one chooses another way to express the same thing that is fine. But when all doing is defined as law in contrast with gospel, such manner of speaking has been rejected as Antinomian by reformed divines, and rejected because it undermines the third use of the law. (Please read Samuel Rutherford's Spiritual Antichrist.) Why did they do so? Because Christians do not obey the law as law, but as grace, Titus 2:11-12. (Thomas Manton's sermons on this passage are highly recommended.) Hence the WCF states (19:6): "So as, a man's doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace."
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2007
  9. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Samuel Rutherford on the commands of the gospel sweetened by the love of Christ (Spiritual Antichrist 2:122, 123):

  10. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    John Owen on the gospel command of holiness (Works 3:604, 605):

    Owen qualifies that the gospel commands holiness, not in order to justification, but as necessary for communion (ibid., 609, 610):

  11. tewilder

    tewilder Puritan Board Freshman

    The way to consider the imperatives that appear in Scripture is not to ask, first of all, are these law or gospel? Rather ask, What covenant?

    Are these conditions of the covenant of works, or not? Are they conditions of the covenant of grace?

    A work can only be a work if it is an effort directed toward a goal. That is, the fulfillment of the condition that some covenantal promise hinges on. Thus the concept of "work" is a covenant-relative concept. Thus you don't understand "work" without having in mind the covenant and how that covenant is kept.
  12. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Mr. Winzer,

    What is your opinion of Walter Marshall's book: The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification?
  13. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Rev. Winzer,

    I remember Owen calling unbelief a sin in one of his brief arguments for Particular Redemption. What implications might that have as to whether or not he viewed the specific command to believe the Gospel as being Law?
  14. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Rev Winzer (why are we using titles?)

    The law is never grace.

    The law only and always demands.

    The law never gives what it demands, not even in the third use.

    See Heidelberg Catechism 114-115. There one sees the elenctic function of the law even in the third use, as it drives the Christian back to Christ.

    Is the HC antinomian?

    So, there's only one version of the third use?


  15. turmeric

    turmeric Megerator

    Isn't the law part of the Covenant of Grace? This is causing me some confusion - how am I to take the imperatives in the NT, in the Epistles of Paul, for example? It's all well and good (and necessary) to say that Jesus kept that for me, but I'm still being told to do it. But I have this problem...
  16. alwaysreforming

    alwaysreforming Puritan Board Sophomore

    Dr. Clark,
    I once heard someone say (or write) that the Law was also "graceful" because at least in this God's case, He was letting His subjects know what was expected and wanted from them. They didn't have to grope around in the dark and throw virgins in the fire or whatever, trying to figure out what would appease their God and warrant His favor.
    Appearantly the pagan gods did not have any directives for their people to follow, and were capricious and arbitrary in their desires.

    Is there any merit to this argument?
  17. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    Hi Meg,

    Strictly speaking, the covenant of grace is just that, a covenant of grace.

    The moral law, however, continues to prosecute unbelief in the first use and to obligate all believers as the moral will of God in the third use. As you say, it re-appears in the NT epistles in just this way. I read Rom 2:13 and Gal 5:3 as an expression of the law in its first use. All the hortatory sections of the epistles are expressions of the law in its 3rd use.

    The question isn't whether we have to keep the law but under what conditions? If the law hasn't been kept for one, by the Mediator, then one still owes perfect obedience to it. If Jesus is one's Mediator and law-keeper, then we are not "under law," in the way Paul speaks of it. The terror of the law is extinguished. Under grace we're free to keep the law by the Spirit.

    If someone tells you that, even after trusting Christ the Mediator and Law-Keeper, in order to be justified, you have to keep some law you tell 'em to go the whole way and cut themselves off.
  18. R. Scott Clark

    R. Scott Clark Puritan Board Senior

    The merit bit is a pun, right?

    Well, in English we're a little limited here. We use gift, grace, and favor, as synonyms. If we could distinguish "gift" from "grace" and "favor," then we might be able to speak that way.

    Perhaps another way to go would be speak as the WCF does. They didn't call the covenant of works "a covenant of grace," or "a covenant of favor," nor did they say that God "graciously" instituted the covenant of works. Rather they said (ch. 7) that God established the covenant of works by "voluntary condescension."

    In WCF ch. 16, I do not find the law called a grace.

    In WCF 19.3 the WCF says that God "was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age...." This traditional Reformed language concerning the will of God.

    WCF 20.7 says, "Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done."

    Here grace and law are related closely and carefully without being identified. I don't see the law called "grace." We should probably follow the example of the divines.

  19. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Part of the problem, I believe, is the way that we are using the term 'law' in one way when it is obviously used in a multitude of ways in the Bible, even by the same author.

    Look at Romans 3:21 for example:

    "But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets"

    The first term 'law' clearly reveals to vs. 19-20 where we read that no one can be justified by keeping the law; i.e. strictly speaking the commandments of God. The second, in conjunction with 'the prophets,' means the entirety of the Pentateuch which obviously contains gospel (Genesis 3:15 for example). Law there is not so much (narrowly) God's commandments but (broadly) His divine revelation to Moses as a part of the Old Testament canon.

    Therefore we could (should!) say that we are not saved because of our keeping of the law but only by Christ's righteousness. But we may (should!) say that the Law (OT revelation) does reveal the gospel insofar as it foreshadows Christ. Perhaps we do well to speak of the latter 'law' only in conjunction with 'the prophets' to avoid confusion.

    Thus if one were to say that we are saved by the law without any qualification they are making a wreckless statement because it explicitly violates what Paul says in Romans 3:19-20 (and other similar passages). Some might think they are clever but they are actually leading people astray (btw, in the spirit of my post, I am not referring to anyone here on the Puritanboard!).

    Though I am not naive enough to think that this takes away all the difficulties that one might face on a hermeneutical and theological level, I do think it impresses upon us the need to be as clear as possible when we are using terms generically when they really should be explained specifically and in context.
  20. AV1611

    AV1611 Puritan Board Senior

    If belief is part of the law then we are saved by works!
  21. Larry Hughes

    Larry Hughes Puritan Board Sophomore

    This is why believing must be kept in the category of "gift", wrapped up and with, so to speak the NEWS of the Good News itself. If you get stuck on "am I believing", then you've gotten stuck on working again but calling it faith. You have to take "faith" out of the thought and just trust, look back to Christ. That's not a "do" its a beckoning call, 'over here', hey over here, look over here. Don't worry about whether your looking rightly, strongly, clearly and don't continue to "look" at your "looking" (faith in faith or assurance in faith or assurance in the strength of faith, etc...). AW Pink cleared that up for me in his comentary on John, specifically on the looking to the bronze serpent for salvation of the Israelites in the desert compared to Christ lifted up. He points out about 7 or so thinks NOT being said there to clear up what IS being said. Among them also, don't look at your repentance either as that is like a man looking into a dark whole and wondering why there's no light. It's great help on this issue.

    The old man gets bent around the axle, "Am I believing right, enough, etc..." He doesn't realize the Gospel call, a call to stop "doing", is not calling him, it's killing him and calling alive the new man, the truster. The old man doesn't get it, so he sweats it calling if faith and likening it to the only thing he knows, works - thus he associates faith with works in a mingled mish mash. The new gets it, because it is the sole basis for his being, he is utterly new, a truster. Faith suffers to do nothing but trust in a promise yet realized, even in face of the contrary. That's the suffering aspect of faith, it utterly relies in another with out final resolution. The old man, a religious doer, is confounded by this because he is the antithesis to it. The old man is dying and the new man is rising. The old man will not survive the final death, only the new man can.


  22. MW

    MW Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Dear friends, I'm away from home and library for the next fortnight, so I can't call on my faithful friends from my bookshelves at present.

    Concerning Owen and the sin of unbelief -- the gospel preaches Christ, and therefore to not believe in Christ is against the gospel in particular, and the law only generally. That is standard Puritan teaching.

    Concerning Marshall's Gospel Mystery, it is A1. Never should believers obey the law as law, but as it is given to them from the hand of Christ. This is Marrow theology at its best.

    For Prof. Clark, I know Ernest Kevan's work on the Puritan view of law has its defects in not bringing out the antithesis of law and grace in relation to the covenant of works, but I highly recommend it for showing how the law drips with grace for the believer. He is bound by the moral law, not as a covenant of works, but as a rule of righteouness under the covenant of grace, kept out of gratitude to Christ.

    As far as the HC is concerned, I have always thought its practical benefit is seen in the way it shapes reformed theology according to the biblical emphasis of guilt, grace, and gratitude. Certainly one may appeal to its treatment of the law under the subject of guilt as distinct from the gospel; but where it classifies obedience to the law under the subject of gratitude, it is testifying of the use of the law under the power of grace and the gospel. Ursinus' commentary confirms me in this view of the matter.

  23. ChristianTrader

    ChristianTrader Puritan Board Graduate

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  24. AV1611

    AV1611 Puritan Board Senior

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  25. k.seymore

    k.seymore Puritan Board Freshman

    Marrow: "Believe" is both law and not law


    R Scott Clark said:
    "'Believe!' Law or Gospel?"​

    Armourbearer said:
    "The orthodox reformed teach that the gospel commands as well as promises. The idea that imperatives are law was an Antinomian notion, not reformed... Never should believers obey the law as law, but as it is given to them from the hand of Christ. This is Marrow theology at its best."​

    Speaking of Marrow, in the appendix of the Marrow of Modern Divinity, John Brown of Haddington answers this forum's question in the following very balanced way. He separates Gospel and Law out into two senses, and comes to this conclusion:

    The command to believe the gospel is law and not gospel AND ALSO The command to believe the gospel is gospel and not law. He says both these statements are true, but in different senses.

    He asserts that the command to believe, taken strictly, is law and not gospel against the "contrary doctrine [of] Arminius"; and he asserts that the command to believe in Christ is gospel and not law in reference to the "promises, precepts, threatenings, doctrines, histories" of the new testament.

    Here are his words from the Appendix in the Marrow of Modern Divinity:

    1st, In the gospel, taken strictly, and as contradistinct from the law, for a doctrine of grace, or good news from heaven, or help in God through Jesus Christ, to lost self-destroying creatures of Adam's race, or the glad tidings of a Saviour, with life and salvation in him to the chief of sinners, there are no precepts; all these, the command to believe, and repent, not excepted, belonging to, and flowing from the law, which fastens the new duty on us, the same moment the gospel reveals the new object.

    That in the gospel, taken strictly, there are no precepts, to us seems evident from the holy Scriptures. In the first revelation of it, made in theses words,—"The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent," we find no precept, but a promise containing glad tidings of a Saviour, with grace, mercy, life, and salvation in him, to lost sinners of Adam's family. And the gospel preached unto Abraham, namely, "In thee," i.e., in thy seed, which is in Christ, "shall all nations be blessed," is of the same nature. The good tidings of great joy to all people of a Saviour born in the city of David, who is Christ the Lord, brought and proclaimed from heaven by the angels, we take to have been the gospel, strictly and properly so called; yet is there no precept in these tidings. We find, likewise, the gospel of peace and glad tidings of good things are in Scripture convertible terms; and the word of the gospel, which Peter spoke to the Gentiles, that they might believe, was no other than peace by Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and exalted to be Judge of quick and dead, with remission of sins through his name, to be received by every one believing in him. Much more might be added on this head, which, that we be not tedious, we pass. Of the same mind, as to this point, we find the body of reformed divines, as to instance in a few, Calvin, Chamier, Pemble, Wendelin, Alting, the professors of Leyden, Witsius, Maestrick, Maresius, Troughton, Essenius.

    That all precepts, those of faith and repentance not excepted, belong to, and are of the law, is no less evident to us; for the law of creation, or of the ten commandments, which was given to Adam in paradise, in the form of a covenant of works, requiring us to believe whatever God should reveal or promise, and to obey whatever he should command; all precepts whatsoever must be virtually and really included in it. So that there never was, nor can be, an instance of duty owing by the creature to God, not commanded in the moral law, if not directly and expressly, yet indirectly, and by consequence. The same first commandment, for instance, which requires us to take the Lord for our God, to acknowledge his essential verity, and sovereign authority; to love, fear, and trust in Jehovah, after what manner soever he shall be pleased to reveal himself to us, and likewise to grieve and mourn for his dishonour or displeasure, requires believing in Jehovah, our righteousness, as soon as ever he is revealed to us as such, and sorrowing after a godly sort for the transgression of his holy law, whether by one's self or by others. It is true, Adam was not actually obliged to believe in a Saviour, till, being lost and undone, a Saviour was revealed to him; but the same commandment that bound him to trust and depend on, and to believe the promises of God Creator, no doubt obliged him to believe in God Redeemer, when revealed. Nor was Adam obliged to sorrow for sin ere it was committed. But this same law that bound him to have a sense of the evil of sin in its nature and effects, to hate, loathe, and flee from sin, and to resolve against it, and for all holy obedience, and to have a due apprehension of the goodness of God, obliged him also to mourn for it, whenever it should fall out. And we cannot see how the contrary doctrine is consistent with the perfection of the law; for if the law be a complete rule of all moral, internal and spiritual, as well as external and ritual obedience, it must require faith and repentance, as well as it does all other good works. And that it does indeed require them, we can have no doubt of, when we consider, that without them all other religious performances are, in God's account, as good as nothing; and that sin being, as the Scripture and our own standard tell us, any want of conformity to, or transgression of the law of God, unbelief and impenitency must be so too. And if they be so, then must faith and repentance be obedience and conformity of the same law, which the former are a transgression of, or an inconformity unto; unbelief particularly being a departing from the living God, is, for certain, forbidden in the first commandment, therefore faith must needs be required in the same commandment, according to a known rule. But what need we more, after our Lord has told us, that faith is one of the weightier matters of the law? and that it is not a second table duty which is there meant, is evident to us, by comparing the parallel place in Luke, where, in place of faith, we have the love of God. As for repentance, in case of sin against God, it becomes naturally a duty; and though neither the covenant of works nor of grace admitted of it, as any expiation of sin, or federal condition giving right to life, it is a duty included in every commandment, on the supposal of a transgression.

    What moves us to be the more concerned for this point of doctrine is, that if the law does not bind sinners to believe and repent, then we see not how faith and repentance, considered as works, are excluded from our justification before God, since in that case they are not works of the law, under which character all works are in Scripture excluded from the use of justifying in the sight of God. And we can call to mind that, on the contrary doctrine, Arminius laid the foundation of his rotten principles, touching sufficient grace, or rather natural power. "Adam," says he, "had not power to believe in Jesus Christ, because he needed him not; nor was he bound to believe, because the law required it not. Therefore, since Adam by his fall did not lose it, God is bound to give every man power to believe in Jesus Christ." And Socinians, Arminians, Papists, and Baxterians, by holding the gospel to be a new, proper, preceptive law, with sanction, and thereby turning it into a real, though milder covenant of works, have confounded the law and the gospel, and brought works into the matter and cause of a sinner's justification before God. And, we reckon, we are the rather called to be on our guard here, that the clause in our representation, making mention of the new, or gospel law, is marked out to us, as one of the grounds of this query, which we own to be somewhat alarming. Besides all this, the teaching that faith and repentance are gospel commandments, may yet again open the door to Antinomianism, as it sometimes did already, if we may believe Mr. Cross, who says, "History tells us that it sprung from such a mistake, that faith and repentance were taught and commanded by the gospel only, and that as they contained all necessary to salvation, so the law was needless."

    On this head also, namely, that all precepts belong to the law, we might likewise adduce a cloud of witnesses beyond exception, such as Pemble, Essenius, Anth, Burgess, Rutherford, Owen, Witsius, Dickson, Fergusson, Troughton, Larger Catechism on the duties required, and sins forbidden in the first commandment. But, without insisting further, we answer,—

    2dly, In the gospel, taken largely for the whole doctrine of Christ and the apostles, contained in the New Testament, or for a system of all the promises, precepts, threatenings, doctrines, histories, that any way concern man's recovery and salvation, in which respect, not only all the ten commandments, but the doctrine of the covenant of works belong to it, but in this sense, the doctrine is not contradistinct from the law;—in the gospel, taken thus at large, we say, there are doubtless many precepts that were not actually given [that is, particularly and expressly promulgated or required] before the gospel was revealed. Love to our enemies, to instance in a few of many, mercy to the miserable, bearing of the cross, hope and joy in tribulations, in prospect of their having a desired issue, love, thankfulness, prayer, and obedience to a God Redeemer, zealous witnessing against sin, and for truth, in case of defection from the faith or holiness of the gospel, confessing our faults to and forgiving one another. All the ceremonial precepts under the Old Testament together with the institutions of Christ under the New, faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, with many more, to say nothing of personal and particular precepts, were not actually given before the gospel was revealed; all which are nevertheless reducible to the law of the ten commandments, many of them being plain duties of the law of nature, though they had no due and proper objects, nor occasions of being exercised in an innocent state. It is true, there are many of them we had never heard of, without the gospel had been revealed; yet are they not, therefore, in any proper sense, precepts of the gospel, but of the law, which is exceeding broad, extending to new objects, occasions, and circumstances. The law says one thing to the person unmarried, and another thing to the same person when married; one thing to him as a child, another thing to him as a parent, &c., yet is it the same law still. The law of God being perfect, and like unto its Author, must reach to every condition of the creature; but if for every new duty or new object of faith there behoved to be a new law, how strangely must laws be multiplied! The law itself [even as in the case of a man] may meet with any changes, and yet remain the same as to its essence. Now, as to faith and repentance, though ability to exercise them, and acceptance of them, be by the gospel, yet it is evident they must be regulated by the same law, the transgression of which made them necessary. The essence of repentance, it is plain, lies in repeating and renewing, with a suitable frame of spirit, the duties omitted, or in observing the law one had violated. For as the divine perfections are the rule and pattern of God's image in man, as well in his regeneration as in his creation, so the holy law of God is the rule of our repentance, as well as of our primitive obedience. And why faith, when it has God Mediator, or God Redeemer, for its object, may not be from the same law as when it had God Creator, or God Preserver for its objects, we cannot see.
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