Second use of the Law--needing some clarity

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by JTB.SDG, Mar 13, 2018.

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  1. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    The 2nd use of the Law has often been labeled as restraining sin; especially civil restraint. Nicholas Batzig has an article ( in which he argues (in passing) that the second use of the Law is NOT about civil restraint. Citing the Institutes, he says that just like the first use, this second use, according to Calvin, was to drive sinners to Christ, but in a different way: the first use was for the self-righteous/legalist/pharisees--it drives them to Christ by exposing their sin; but the second use is actually for the unrighteous/lawless/prodigal sons--it drives them to Christ but in a different way: by threatening God's punishment for sin.

    Reading Calvin himself (Institutes, 2.7.10-11) I'm left a bit confused. Calvin seems to be saying BOTH. But it almost seems as though his thoughts aren't fully developed here. On the one hand, he says the Law serves to restrain sin; and on the other he does say that in this way the Law leads the lawless to Christ by fear of punishment; but it seems as though he says the Law restrains sin AND THUS leads them to Christ by fear of punishment, which doesn't completely make sense to me. What would make sense is that the primary function of the second use of the Law is to *Instil fear* of God's punishment; and that instilling of fear has 2 effects: on the one hand, to restrain sin; but on the other, to lead to Christ. But I'm not sure if Calvin is actually saying this. Any thoughts on this? Many thanks in advance.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2018
  2. VictorBravo

    VictorBravo Administrator Staff Member

    I think paragraph 11 is saying that both the 1st and 2nd use of the law work as "schoolmasters". The first use shows God's righteousness and contrasts our condition before God. The second use restrains and hedges the rebellious, teaching, as it were, the futility of rebellion.

    The first use has us using the law as a mirror. We have the mindset: "who is God and who am I?" It gives us a snapshot of our condition and of what is required to be in God's presence.

    The second use is for those who don't even want to look in the mirror. We run from the mirror and from any thoughts of God headlong into the hard boundaries imposed by the law. Civil authorities have us bound up against our inclinations and will. Even here, the law acts to teach, although the first lesson might only be that it stops hurting when you quit fighting the restraint.
  3. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Brother, here's what I ended up writing. Would you agree or modify this?

    The SECOND Use of the Law: The second use or purpose of the Law is instilling fear. The first use is to show men their true condition; the second is to confront them with God's judgment. Often, this second use of the Law is spoken of in the context of civil restraint. In other words: The threat of the Law's punishment causes men to restrain their vices so they don't act out the sinful desires they would otherwise unleash against others in society. Now, this is part of what Calvin originally meant. He tells us that, “this constrained and forced righteousness is necessary for the public community of men”, and that without any threat of punishment, society would completely unravel. But along with this aspect of civil restraint, Calvin says that this second use of the Law also serves to lead men to Christ. How so? The first use of the Law, he says, is for self-righteous Pharisees; it shows them their sin in order to drive them to Christ. But the second use of the Law is for unrighteous prodigals; it confronts them with God's punishment of sin. And so, this fear of God's judgment not only serves to restrain men from acting upon certain sins they would have otherwise committed, but it also serves to drive them to Christ for safety (in a similar way to how the avenger of blood served to drive a man-slayer to the city of refuge). So then, while the first use of the Law drives men to Christ by exposing their sin; the second use of the Law drives other men to Christ by threatening God's judgment.
  4. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior

    I think an element of what Calvin is saying that is bound up with what you've written here is that the second use of the Law keeps us nearer to Christ by not allowing us to be given over to our sins. When Godly rules are in place, we will not be able to stray too far. I can testify that my parents' household rules kept me from giving myself over to my sins entirely, kept me in a kind of fear of God, and caused me to be constantly confronted with the truths of the Christian religion, until I was converted at 18. I was a very ungodly teenager, but there was a lot that was restrained as well, and I was never really comfortable in my sins.

    "For all," Calvin writes, "who have remained for some time in ignorance of God will confess, as the result of their own experience, that the law had the effect of keeping them in some degree in the fear and reverence of God, till, being regenerated by his Spirit, they began to love him from the heart" (11).
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