The Importance of Understanding Law and Gospel

Theology Gals | Episode 142

This week Coleen and Rachel talk about the importance of law and gospel. They also show the emphasis on law and gospel in the Reformed Faith. 

Episode Resources:

Law, Gospel, And The Three Uses of the Law (1) by R. Scott Clark 

Law, Gospel, And The Three Uses Of The Law (2) by R. Scott Clark 

The Three Uses of the Law by R. Scott Clark 

Law and Gospel by Michael Horton

Concerns About The Rhetoric: “X Is A Gospel Issue” by R. Scott Clark

The Indicative and The Imperative A Reformation View of Sanctification by Michael Horton 

Calvin on Law and Gospel by Michael Horton 

Heidelberg Catechism 

Chapter 1 Part 1: The Law-Gospel Distinction Lane Keister 

Is the Law/Gospel Distinction Only Lutheran? Part 2

Law and Gospel quotes 


Further, because Paul seems to abrogate the Law, as if now-a-days it did not concern believers, we must now see how far this is the case…he does not treat of the Law in the abstract, but sets it forth invested with those of its qualities, wherein it is opposed to the Gospel; for, inasmuch as his controversy was with those who interpreted it amiss, he could not help contrasting the Law with the Gospel, as if they were in opposition to each other: not that they were really so, if their respective doctrine be dextrously applied to its proper object, but because such a conflict arose from the absurd mixture, which the false apostles introduced. They asserted that men are justified by the works of the Law, and, if this were admitted, the righteousness of faith was destroyed, and the Gospel fell to the ground. They, moreover, restored the yoke imposed on the ancient people, as if no liberty had been obtained by the blood of Christ. In this discussion it was necessary for Paul to advert only to that which is peculiar to Moses, and distinct from Christ; for although Christ and Moses perfectly accord in the substance of their doctrine, still, when they are compared with each other, it is fitting to distinguish what is peculiar to each. Calvin’s Commentaries (Commentaries on the Last Four Books of Moses 3:199-200) 

John Owen

The order, relation, and use of the law and the gospel do uncontrollably evince the necessity of this conviction previous unto believing. for that which any man hath first to deal withal, with respect unto his eternal condition, both naturally and by God’s institution, is the law. This is first presented unto the soul with its terms of righteousness and life, and with its curse in case of failure. Without this the gospel cannot be understood, nor the grace of it duly valued. For it is the revelation of God’s way for the relieving the souls of men from the sentence and curse of the law, Rom. 1:17. That was the nature, that was the use and end of the first promise, and of the whole work of God’s grace revealed in all the ensuing promises, or in the whole gospel. Wherefore, the faith which we treat of being evangelical,- that which, in its especial nature and use, not the law but the gospel requireth, that which hath the gospel for its principle, rule, and object,- it is not required of us, cannot be acted by us, but on a supposition of the work and effect of the law in the conviction of sin, by giving the knowledge of it, a sense of its guilt, and the state of the sinner on the account thereof. 

John Bunyan

If there be the terror, horror, and severity of the law discovered to a people by the servants of Jesus Christ, though they do not speak of it to the end people should trust to it, by relying on it as it is a covenant of works; but rather that they should be driven further from that covenant, even to embrace the tenders and privileges of the second, yet, poor souls, because they are unacquainted with the natures of these two covenants, or either of them, therefore, say they, ‘Here is nothing but preaching of the law, thundering of the law;’ when, alas, if these two be not held forth-to wit, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, together with the nature of the one and the nature of the other-souls will never be able either to know what they are by nature or what they lie under. Also, neither can they understand what grace is, nor how to come from under the law to meet God in and through that other most glorious covenant, through which and only through which, God can communicate of himself grace, glory, yea, even all the good things of another world…So long as people are ignorant of the nature of the law, and of their being under it-that is, under the curse and condemning power of it, by reason of their sin against it-so long they will be careless, and negligent as to the inquiring after the true knowledge of the gospel. The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded. It is found in volume 1 of the Banner of Truth Works. In his epistle to the reader (p. 493)

Theadore Beza

“Ignorance of the distinction between the Law and Gospel is one of the principle sources of all the abuses which corrupt and still corrupt Christianity.” –Theodore Beza

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 one or the other of these two headings. What we call Law (when it is distinguished from Gospel and is taken for one of the two parts of the Word) is a doctrine whose seed is written by nature in our hearts…What we call the Gospel (‘Good News’) is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from Heaven (Mt.16:17; Jn.1:13), and totally surpasses natural knowledge. By it God testifies to us that it is his purpose to save us freely by his only Son (Rom.3:20-22), provided that, by faith, we embrace him as our only wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1Cor.1:30).

Zacharius Ursinus 

“The doctrine of the church consists in two parts: the Law and the Gospel; in which we have comprehended the sum and substance of the sacred Scriptures. The law is called the Decalogue, and the gospel is the doctrine concerning Christ the mediator, and the free remission of sins, through faith. …The law and gospel are the chief and general divisions of the holy Scriptures, and comprise the entire doctrine comprehended therein. …We have in the law and gospel, the whole of the Scriptures, comprehending the doctrine revealed from heaven for our salvation” (p. 2-3). Zacharias Ursinus 

“…The catechism in its primary and most general sense, may be divided as the doctrine of the church, into the law and the gospel. …These two parts are termed, by the great mass of men, the Decalogue and the Apostle’s Creed; because the Decalogue comprehends the substance of the law, and the Apostle’s Creed that of the gospel” (p. 13).

The Practical Use of Saving Knowledge, Contained in Scripture, and holden forth briefly in the foresaid Confession of Faith and Catechisms (Westminster Divines)

“The chief general use of Christian doctrine is, to convince a man of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…partly by the law or covenant of works, that he may be humbled and become penitent; and partly by the gospel or covenant of grace, that he may become an unfeigned believer in Jesus Christ.”

“The sum of the covenant of works, or the law, is this: ‘If thou do all that is commanded, and not fail in any point, thou shalt be saved: but if thou fail, thou shalt die.’”

“The sum of the gospel, or covenant of grace…is this: ‘If thou flee from deserved wrath to the true Redeemer Jesus Christ…thou shalt not perish, but have eternal life.’”

Louis Berkhof

The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love o God in Christ Jesus (Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, 4th edn. 1941], 612).

Herman Bavinck

The law aroused fear and slavery, the Gospel arouses love and freedom. The law could not justify in the full sense of the word; it provided no richness of grace; it bestowed no eternal salvation; but the Gospel bestows in the sacrament the power of grace, which enables one to fulfill God’s commands and obtain eternal life.

Pauline antithesis between law and Gospel

this antithesis of law and Gospel was again understood by the Reformation. … the Reformers, while on the one hand maintaining against the Anabaptists the unity of the covenant of grace in both of its administrations, on the other hand kept in view the sharp contrast between law and Gospel, and thereby restored the unique character of the Christian religion as a religion of grace.

Over Against the Law Stands the Gospel of Christ, the Euangelion, Containing Nothing Less than the Fulfillment of the OT Epangelia (Mk.1:15; Acts 13:32; Eph.3:6), coming to us from God (Rom.1:1-2; 2 Cor.11:7), having Christ as its content (Rom.1:3; Eph.3:6), and bringing nothing else than grace (Acts 20:24), reconciliation (2 Cor.5:18), forgiveness (Rom.4:3-8), righteousness (Rom.3:21-22), peace (Eph.6:15), freedom (Gal.5:13), life (Rom.1:17; Phil.2:16; etc.). Like demand and gift, like command and promise, like sin and grace, like sickness and healing, like death and life, so here, too, law and Gospel stand over against one another. Paragraphs 520-521 of Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 3rd unaltered edition, vol. 4 (Kampen, J. H. Kok, 1918), pages 489-498.

      Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman


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