Calvin and the Law-Gospel Hermeneutic©2002
by Michael S. Horton
In the last fifty years, Calvin has undergone something of a face-lift after years of hagiographical hearsay, parallel to the Luther renaissance launched by Karl Holl. Largely through the efforts of Barth, Brunner, and the Niebuhrs, a renewed post-war focus on the theology of the Reformers, combined with the Marxian interests in social history, have drawn historians to the primary documents instead of relying on the repetition of caricature and gossip. Regardless of how one might view the hidden agendas of these various historians and theologians, the renaissance of Calvin scholarship has produced a secondary literature that is unequaled in any prior period.
In spite of this renewed interest, however, very little has been done with Calvin vis-a-vis the Law-Gospel hermeneutic. A number of plausible suggestions could be adduced for this oversight. First, it might be asserted that such a dialectical hermeneutic fell more into the province of Luther's theology and the scholastic Lutheranism that developed from it, and in his Institutes, Calvin does caution his readers against an excessive Law-Gospel antinomy that might undercut the ethical life of the believer. Nevertheless, as we shall see, this oversimplifies the Reformer's rather vast body of material on the subject and substitutes conjecture for data.
Another possible reason for the lack of scholarship on this subject in recent years is the theory of discontinuity between Calvin and Reformed scholasticism, as if the latter somehow departed from the Reformer's teaching and in distancing the Reformed tradition from Lutheranism in the polemics of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth-centuries, Reformed dogmatics somehow buried the Law-Gospel hermeneutic in obscurity. This discontinuity thesis has dominated the Neo-orthodox scholarship, as I understand Luther and Lutheranism have been similarly torn assunder. Calvin, we are told, emphasized the absolute unconditionality of grace as God's first and last word, while his systematicians, employing the very scholastic Aristotelian system overthrown by the Reformers, returned to the medieval legal categories. Thus, Calvinism (unlike Calvin) developed an elaborate federal theology in which the first Adam's guilt is imputed and the Second Adam's righteousness is imputed, on the basis of a penal theory of the atonement. Salvation, therefore, is merited after all, but by Christ rather than by the believer. Calvin, however, taught (we are told) that God's justice was not primary and, therefore, all of this legal language about sacrifice and satisfaction of divine wrath, the payment of a price for redemption, substitution and imputation, is a return to medieval Augustinian categories. For many of these writers, Luther and Calvin are perceived (remarkably, in light of the evidence) as champions of a Gospel-Law hermeneutic that their successors (especially the Reformed) reversed.1
Therefore, no longer is Calvin the culprit to whom we may attach the guilt for a "legal" soteriology; it is rather his successors who failed to anticipate the insights of Karl Barth's massive reinterpretation of Reformation theology. In the last few years, there has been a surge of scholarly interest in this thesis and with the passing of Neo-orthodoxy and the steady triumph of detail-work on the primary sources, the weaknesses of this discontinuity thesis are finally being exposed.2
The purpose of this paper, then, will be to defend a third possible interpretation for the lack of scholarship on the topic of Calvin and the Law-Gospel hermeneutic, offering two reasons: First, that the openness of Reformed theology to a wide variety of modern trends has provided the assumption that hermeneutics can be broadly established on a foundation of general evangelical and Protestant consensus. In this way, it is neither Calvin nor his successors who are to blame for the obscurity of the Law-Gospel hermeneutic in contemporary Reformed theology and preaching, but contemporary heirs of the Reformed tradition who are more in touch with broadly evangelical trends than with their own primary documents. Second, I will argue that the specific labels that are given to this traditional Reformation hermeneutic differ from the Lutheran to the Reformed confessional traditions. For instance, in the federal theology that develops the Reformers' insights, the Covenant of Works serves the purpose of the Law in Lutheran dogmatics, while the Covenant of Grace fills the category of Gospel. The main purpose of this paper, then, will be to defend the proposition that Calvin did insist upon the Law-Gospel hermeneutic as central and that the Reformed scholastics, while introducing new terms (biblical terms, however), actually crystallized this hermeneutic and made it central to Reformed faith and practice.
Does Calvin Explicitly Encourage the Law-Gospel Hermeneutic?
First, like Luther, Calvin sometimes refers to "the Law" as the Old Testament and "the Gospel" as the New. Therefore, "The law included the whole body of Scripture, up to the advent of Christ."3 Thus, Calvin writes, "The Law consists chiefly of three parts: first, the doctrine of life; secondly, threatenings and promises; thirdly the covenant of grace."4 One must be careful, therefore, to distinguish by context whether the Reformers are referring to the Law and the Gospel as Old Testament promise andNew Testament fulfillment or as theological categories of judgment and justification, since both senses appear to be used somewhat interchangeably, depending on the discussion at hand and it is easy to conclude a confusion of the Law-Gospel categories if one does not recognize the two ways in which these terms are used.
Throughout this paper, therefore, we shall refer to these two distinct meanings of "Law" and "Gospel" as eschatological versus theological. Against the Anabaptists especially (and whoever found himself in the Joachimist-Marcionite tradition), Calvin thought it necessary to expand on the unity of revelation in the 1559 Institutes. Therefore, we find a redemptive-historical, eschatological approach to Scripture, where Christ is to be seen at the center of all revelation. Paul Wernle, for this reason, refers to Calvin's Old Testament exegesis as a massive effort at "christianizing the Old Testament and its history," although Wernle himself is convinced that this goal is hermeneutically naive.5 In these discussions, it is revelation that is primary in the discussion and the unity of Old and New Covenants. To be sure, there are differences6, but the basic structure is promise and fulfillment: one covenant of grace, administered under two distinct testaments. As Otto Weber pointed out, the medieval hermeneutic made Christ's church "into a sacral realm with the legalisms pertaining to it," rendering Christ simply a new Moses.7 The Reformers rejected either the tendency to collapse the New Testament into the Old or the Anabaptist tendency to radically separate the two testaments. In fact, Luther and Calvin both concentrated not so much on the nature of Scripture as its content: "For Luther it is based upon the concept of law and Gospel, for Calvin upon the aspects of threats and promises," Weber argues8, but regardless of the specific terminology, the idea is the same. (It is worth noting, for instance, that "promise" is substituted for "gospel" in Melanchthon's Apology: "All Scripture should be divided into these two chief doctrines, the law and the promises," Art. IV.).
If one were to focus exclusively on these chapters in the Institutes, it would not be too great of a stretch to conclude that Calvin's view of the Law and the Gospel differs greatly from Luther's. And yet, Luther himself refers to the Law and the Gospel as Old and New Testaments, respectively.9 Especially for Calvin, therefore, two concerns dominate the hermeneutical horizon: eschatological and theological, and in this he anticipates the modern relationship between biblical theology and systematics.
When Calvin turns to the uses of the Law, he turns from the progress of redemption and revelation to the categories of "Law" and "Gospel," as described by Luther and Melanchthon as well as by the Swiss and German Reformed, arguing that both Law and Gospel run concurrently from Genesis to Revelation. As we shall see below, "Law" is everything in Scripture that issues commands and threatenings; "Gospel" is everything in Scripture that issues promises and free justification in Christ. Therefore, when discoursing on the unity of the testaments, "law" refers to the Old and "gospel" to the New Testament. But when discussing Law and Gospel in connection with systematic or dogmatic theology he is in perfect agreement with Luther's approach. Weber notes the inheritance from Augustine at this point, especially his De Spiritu et litera: "As the Reformers saw it, Paul was really understood here...[as] the distinction between law and Gospel, between the letter and the spirit, was brought to full theological validity."10
As we turn now to Calvin's writings, we must begin with Calvin's theology proper because it is here first where the Genevan Reformer is thought by many of his critics to be a gesetz-lehrer. This assumption, widely disseminated by the scurilous hagiography of Will Durant and Ernst Troelsch, has no foundation in the primary sources. First, Calvin regards "the fatherly indulgence of God"11 as primary and argues, like Luther, that outside of Christ any discussion of God's power and righteousness will have only one effect: to condemn the sinner and lead him to despair. Faith requires knowledge, but not just any kind of knowledge. As I. John Hesselink describes Calvin's view, "Faith is not produced by every part of the Word of God, for the warnings, admonitions and threatened judgments will not instill the confidence and peace requisite for true faith."12 Warnings and threatenings cannot lead to faith, but can in fact "do nothing but shake it," Calvin writes. While it is the function of the Law to strip one of self-confidence before God, another Word must lead to faith. Therefore, "it is after we have learned that our salvation rests with God that we are attracted to seek him...Accordingly, we need the promise of grace, which can testify to us that the Father is merciful; since we can approach him in no other way, and upon grace alone the heart of man can rest." Calvin's famous definition of faith follows from this: "...a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit."13
Throughout his sermons, tracts, commentaries, liturgies, and polemics, God's merciful goodness in Christ is primary. Hesselink summarizes the emerging consensus of Calvin scholars in concluding that "The evangelical, not the legal, character of Calvin's concept of God is what stands in the foreground."14 B. B. Warfield remarked,
That is, in a word, the sense of the divine Fatherhood is as fundamental to Calvin's conception of God as the sense of his sovereignty....The distinguishing feature of Calvin's doctrine of God is, in a word, precisely the prevailing stress he casts on this aspect of the conception of God. It is a Lutheran theologian who takes the trouble to make this plain to us. 'The chief elements which are dealt with by Calvin in the matter of the religious relation,' he says, 'are all summed up in the proposition: God is our Lord, who has made us, and our Father from whom all good comes; we owe Him, therefore, honor and glory, love and trust. We must, so we are told in the exposition of the Decalogue in the first edition of the Institutes, just as we are told in Luther's Catechism--we must "fear and love" God....[But] we find in the Institutes...expressions in which the second of these elements is given the preference....We may find, indeed, in Luther and the Lutherans, the element of fear in piety still more emphasized than in Calvin....'"
Thus, Warfield himself concludes, "In a word, with all his emphasis on the sovereignty of God, Calvin throws an even stronger emphasis on His love," so that even zeal was inspired not by fear of punishment, but by the sense of a son defending the honor of his father.15
This leads us to Calvin's explicit statements concerning the Law and the Gospel in this systematic-theological sense. When discussing the "fatherly indulgence of God," Calvin explains Paul's reference to "the spirit of bondage" versus "the spirit of adoption," in Romans 8:15:
One he calls the spirit of bondage, which we are able to derive from the Law; and the other, the spirit of adoption, which proceeds from the Gospel. The first, he states, wasformerly given to produce fear; the other is given now to afford assurance. The certainty of our salvation, which he wishes to confirm, appears, as we see, with greater clarity from such a comparison of opposites...From the adverb again we learn that Paul is here comparing the Law with the Gospel. This is the inestimable benefit which the Son of God has brought us by his advent, that we should no longer be bound by the servile condition of the Law...Although the covenant of grace is contained in the Law [now referring to it as "Old Testament"], yet Paul removes it from there, for in opposing the Gospel to the Law [in the theological sense] he regards only what was peculiar to the Law itself, viz. command and prohibition, and the restraining of transgressors by the threat of death. He assigns to the Law its own quality, by which it differs from the Gospel.
Therefore, there is no graciousness in the Law, as considered in itself (i.e., as a theological-hermeneutical category), but there is graciousness in the Old Testament, as the covenant of grace is promulgated in both testaments under distinct administrations. A distinction is made between the totus lex and the nuda lex, the former referring to the entire Old Testament, while the latter refers to the Law as a category of command without promise. But Calvin is not finished with this point:
Finally, the Law, considered in itself, can do nothing but bind those who are subject to its wretched bondage by the horror of death as well, for it promises no blessing except on condition, and pronounces death on all transgressors. As, therefore, under the Law there was the spirit of bondage,which oppressed the conscience with fear, so under the Gospel there is the spirit of adoption, which gladdens our souls with the testimony of our salvation. Note that Paul connects fear with bondage, since the Law can do nothing but harass and torment our souls with wretched discontent as long as it exercises its dominion. There is, therefore, no other remedy for pacifying our souls than when God forgives us our sins, and deals kindly with us as a father with his children.
This Law-Gospel antithesis is repeated throughout his writings, but, as one might expect, is especially pronounced in his Galatians commentary:
It [Galatians 3] is an argument from contradictions, for the same fountain cannot yield both hot and cold. The Law holds all men under its curse. From the Law, therefore, it is useless to seek a blessing. He calls them of the works of the law who put their trust for salvation in those works. Such modes of expression must always be interpreted by the state of the question. Now we know that the controversy here relates to the cause of righteousness...The Law justifies him who fufills all its commands, whereas faith justifies those who are destitute of the merit of works and rely on Christ alone. To be justified by our own merit and by the grace of another are irreconcilable; the one is overthrown by the other.16
At the same time, Calvin warns against concluding that this purpose of the Law is the only service it renders. "He did not propose to inquire in how many ways the Law is of advantage to men. Readers must be put on their guard in this matter; for I see many make the mistake of acknowledging no other use of the Law than what is expressed here," in spite of many Pauline passages that continue to exhort believers to order their lives by its rule while refusing to seek righteousness by it.17 Nevertheless, in another passage (Romans 3:21), Calvin insists that even believers after they are justified must be vigilent in distinguishing the Law and Gospel; otherwise, they will, with Augustine, conclude that the righteousness that they have before God, though a gift of regenerating grace alone, is inherent in the believer. "But it is evident from the context that the apostle includes all works without exception, even those which the Lord produces in his own people." It is not enough to attribute sanctification to grace; in this whole matter, all righteousness (produced by God or self) that is by Law is to be considered the very antithesis of the righteousness that is by faith. "In the same way, in his Epistle to the Galatians he sets the Law in opposition to faith with regard to the effect of justification, because the Law promises life to those who do what it commands (Gal.2:16), and requires not only outward performance of works, but also a sincere love of God."
Far from adopting a Law-Gospel-Law approach, Calvin insists that the believer no less than the unbeliever must have the Gospel "daily repeated in the Church. That peace of conscience, which is disturbed on the score of works, is not a one-day phenomenon, but ought to continue through our whole life."18 Since we are ever-assaulted by the fear inculcated by the Law, we must be ever-assured of the promises of the Gospel. Whenever the believer seeks assurance or favor with God, the Law is never a comfort, but when he is trusting in Christ's imputed righteousness, his relation to the Law changes. It no longer represents God as Judge, but God as Father. More will be said about this below. Well, then, does Hesselink summarize, "Here Calvin does not differ significantly from Luther, except in emphasis and discretion."19 In the Institutes, Calvin observes that "a man may indeed view from afar the proffered promises, yet he cannot derive any benefit from them. Therefore this thing alone remains: that from the goodness of the promises he should the better judge his own misery, while with the hope of salvation cut off he thinks himself threatened with certain death. On the other hand, horrible threats hang over us, constraining and entangling not a few of us only, but all of us to a man. They hang over us, I say, and pursue us with inexorable harshness, so that we discern in the Law only the most immediate death."20
The Law covenants conditionally, while the Gospel covenants on the basis of Christ's fulfillment of all conditions in the believer's stead. "The promises of the Law depend on the conditions of works while the Gospel promises are free and dependent solely on God's mercy."21
There are senses in which the Law and Gospel are not opposed. First, they agree as part of one redemptive history: There is agreement, in other words, between the Old and New Testaments, as the Law and the Gospel have the same offices in both. Second, they agree when touching upon the moral use. Calvin, as we have seen, was concerned about approaches that opposed the Law and the Gospel even when the matter of establishing acceptance before God was not in question. When separated from the promise in Christ, the Law is pure terror and is strictly opposed to the Gospel. When we admit justification by an "alien righteousness," however, the believer's relation to the Law changes and the contradiction is removed. But this is merely consistent with the admission of a third use. While the commands of both testaments fall into the category of "Law," the Gospel itself nevertheless promises that this very Law will be engraved on the hearts of believers. Thus, this prophecy is Gospel, not Law, even though the commands continue to fall under the category of Law rather than Gospel. In seeking righteousness, the Law is an intolerable burden leading to despair; but in seeking a manner of gratitude for an imputed righteousness already freely given, the Law is a gift. Christ is not only the foundation of the Gospel, but of the Law as well. In fact, the Law is merely a written rule for the believer's conformity to Christ's image, although it can never produce the slightest effect toward that end. It is always the Gospel that produces faith and faith that produces grateful service, but the Law now assists not by adding any power or virtue to the Gospel, but by providing a written rule for the evangelically-produced obedience.
This leads us to the Law-Gospel antithesis in the life of the believer. Contrary to what is often supposed, Calvin did not embrace the Law-Gospel hermeneutic for conversion, only to place believers back under the Law as a method for obtaining righteousness in sanctification. Here, we must again be careful to distinguish Calvin's terminology. Barth, Torrance, and a host of Neo-orthodox interpreters have muddied the waters here by reversing the order to Gospel-Law, and they have appealed to Calvin (not to mention, Luther) for support. Since, as Calvin stated it, "the beginning of repentance is a sense of God's mercy"22, it has been suggested that Gospel is prior to Law in Calvin. The sinner will always flee from God's power and righteousness until he is first convinced that God is willing to be merciful to him in spite of his wretchedness. But this does not take into account the fact that Calvin also argues repeatedly (even at the beginning of his discussion of the use of the Law in the Institutes) that the sinner cannot even know himself well enough to flee from God unless he knows the judgment of the Law. To be sure, the Gospel is the object of faith and, in fact, creates that faith, but "through the Law we become conscious of sin" (Rom.3:20).
What these interpreters, then, fail to recognize in Calvin is the difference in the believer's relation to the Law. The Law's imperative drives the sinner to the indicative of the Gospel announcement. But once the believer is justified, this order must be reversed to avoid legalism and, in fact, is reversed in the Scriptures! The chief illustration of this in redemptive-history, which does not go unnoticed by Calvin, is the Exodus and the subsequent covenant at Sinai. First, God redeems his people and then he shepherds them through the wilderness and gives them his commandments. Similarly, Peter bases his imperative to live holy lives on the indicative, "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed..., but with the precious blood of Christ..." (1 Pet.1:13-19). We are not our own, but belong to Christ and the Law, instead of condemning us, testifies to that fact. Calvin affirms this interpretation in his commentary on this passage. What is abolished in the Law for Calvin is not its precepts, but the maledictio legis. For all--including believers, who seek righteousness from it (either for justification or sanctification) under a curse. "Being thus led to despair of attaining any righteousness of their own, they were to flee to the haven of divine goodness--to Christ himself. This was the purpose of the ministry of Moses."23
It is the triumphant indicative (Christ "has become for us our sanctification, holiness, and redemption") that opens the way for the believer's acceptance of the imperative ("Be holy as your Father is holy"). In that sense, Gospel must precede Law when employing the third use. But this Gospel-Law agreement (rather than the Law-Gospel antithesis) is only in effect when considering this third use, not when discussing the method of obtaining righteousness. This is why, for instance, Calvin, following Bucer's Strasbourg liturgy, admitted the singing of the Ten Commandments as well as a Psalm after Confession and Absolution. The liturgical placement could sometimes lead to Confession and, therefore, be placed at the beginning, or follow the Absolution as an expression of grateful response to the Gospel assurances. Thus, Calvin moved freely between the pedagogical and moral uses of the Law in the liturgical life of his congregations. But at no time does he allow the faithful to confuse the Law and the Gospel.
Thus, Calvin's "third use" is the very antithesis to legalism in that it springs forth from the objective Gospel announcement rather than from any attempt to appease God or create an inherent righteousness by the power of the Law. And it is absolutely christocentric in its character, since "the name of God is nothing but an empty imagination when it is separated from Christ."24 "Therefore, we shall find angels and men dry, heavens empty, the earth barren and all things worthless, if we want to partake of God's gifts otherwise than through Christ."25 The "first step to obtaining the righteousness of God," Calvin argues, "is to renounce our own righteousness," since our righteousness and God's righteousness "are opposed to one another, and cannot stand together."26 Faith views the Law as an enemy in the point of justification, but as a friend when joined to Christ, as faith is the source of good works and the Law is the rule to which they are to be framed. But whenever the believer begins to think that the beginning of the Christian life had its source in the Gospel, but its progress is produced by the Law, he warns, "The contrst between Law and Gospel is to be understood, and from this distinction we deduce that, just as the Law demands work, the Gospel requires only that men should bring faith in order to receive the grace of God."27
From this, the believer learns that his righteousness is "from above," not "from below," and that even his progress in sanctification is neither produced by the Law nor in any way a fulfillment of its conditions. And while the stormy threatenings of Mt. Sinai continue to disturb his Sabbath rest, the believer listens to another word: The Gospel, which quiets his soul. The Law can never condemn, threaten, or judge, but can only serve as the written rule for the expression of grateful Christian duty.
The "Three Uses": Upon Which "Use" Does The Emphasis Fall?
Assigning a particular "emphasis" in terms of the triplex usus legis becomes rather difficult and anachronistic if we are thinking of Luther and Calvin, since both were writing at a time when this distinction was just coming into use. In fact, both referred to the "two-fold use" of the Law: pedagogical (theological) and civil (Calvin combined the civil and moral use until the 1559 Institutes, although there is a reference to the "three-fold use" in the 1539 edition) and it was not until Melanchthon's 1535 Loci Communes that the three uses are established. Thus, we must beware of expecting more refinement than the Reformers themselves display on this point.
It is often assumed, especially by those outside of the Reformed tradition, that Calvin regarded the "third use"--that is, the moral use, of the Law as primary, and there is no small reason for this. Calvin himself writes in the final 1559 edition of the Institutes that, "The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper use of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns" (emphasis added).28 But we would be too hasty to conclude from this one statement that Calvin intends to make this the emphasis in the preaching of the Law. For one thing, he declares in his commentary on John, "The peculiar office of the Law [is] to summon consciences to the judgment-seat of God."29 We have already noted the many references to Calvin's explanation of the purpose of the Law that make the pedagogical use central. In fact, "Moses had no other intention than to invite all men to go straight to Christ."30 "The law was the grammar of theology, which, after carrying its scholars a short way, handed them over to faith."31 The recurring emphasis falls on the pedagogical or theological use rather than third: "The special function of the Law was not to incline people's hearts to the obedience of righteousness. The office of the Law, rather, was to lead people step by step to Christ that they might seek pardon from him and the Spirit of regeneration."32 This is especially apparent in a sermon on Isaiah 53:11:
The Law only begets death; it increases our condemnation and inflames the wrath of God....The Law of God speaks, but it does not reform our hearts. God may show us: 'This is what I demand of you,' but if all our desires, our dispositions and thoughts are contrary to what he commands, not only are we condemned, but, as I have said, the Law makes us more culpable before God....For in the Gospel God does not say, 'You must do this or that,' but 'believe that my only Son is your Redeemer; embrace his death and passion as the remedy for your ills; plunge yourself beneath his blood and it will be your cleansing.
Furthermore, whenever Calvin describes the purpose of the Law in one given passage, it is almost always the pedagogical use that he describes: "The Law is like a mirror, in which we behold, first, our impotence; secondly, our iniquity which proceeds from it; and lastly, the consequence of both, our obnoxiousness to the curse, just as a mirror represents to us the spots on our face."33 "Paul, by the word law, frequently intends the rule of a righteous life, in which God requires of us what we owe to him, affording us no hope of life, unless we fulfill every part of it, and, on the contrary, annexing a curse if we are guilty of the smallest transgression."34 "The Law was given to cite slumbering consciences to the judgment-seat, that, through fear of eternal death, they might flee for refuge to God's mercy."35 "The life of the Law is man's death."36 "As soon as the Law presents itself before us, the curse of God falls upon our heads...This is the theological use of the Law."37
In his catechetical work especially, Calvin emphasizes the pedagogical use of the Law. For instance, in his Genevan Catechism, published in French in 1536 and in Latin two years later, Calvin divides the questions into the categories of Faith, The Law, Prayer, The Word of God, and the Sacraments.38 Under "Faith," there is an exposition of the Apostle's Creed in its three parts; "The Law" follows the Decalogue and the New Testament commands, while "Prayer," understandably, follows the form of the Lord's Prayer. The first section, on "Faith," is, not surprisingly, soteriological in its focus. Although "all the works which proceed from us, so as properly to be called our own, are vicious, and therefore they can do nothing but displease God, and be rejected by him," the sinner's only hope is the "righteousness that is offered to us by the Gospel, so we receive it by faith." Even the believer's works "please him, not however in virtue of their own worthiness, but as he liberally honours them with his favour." "But seeing they proceed from the Holy Spirit, do they not merit favor?" Calvin answers, "They are always mixed up with some defilement from the weakness of the flesh, and thereby vitiated." Therefore, "It is faith alone which procures favour for them," by claiming Christ's righteousness to cover even the impurity of our good works. Far from dividing faith from works, Calvin insists that faith is the only proper source of the latter.
But one should not conclude that by placing Faith before The Law, Calvin was reversing the Law-Gospel order. For even when we come to the section on the Law, after Calvin has carefully explained the commandments and sanctions, emphasizing their rigor especially in the light of the New Testament illuminations, leads the catechumen to the question, "Why then does God require a perfection which is beyond our ability?" Here, Calvin does not flinch from the pedagogical use. If the moral use had been uppermost in his mind, it would have been much more natural for him to have stopped short of constantly leading the catechumen to despair. Rather, he would have stopped short of this goal and emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit enabling the believer to perform that which the Law requires. This is not denied, of course, by Calvin, but it is not primary even in this discussion of the Law: "For the law pronounces all cursed who have not fulfilled all things contained in it." This leads one to conclude, he says, that there is a two-fold office for the Law. "For among unbelievers it does nothing more than shut them out from all excuse before God. And this is what Paul means when he calls it the ministry of death and condemnation." Nevertheless, "In regard to believers it has a very different use." But lest we too hastily conclude that Calvin is suggesting that the pedagogical use be limited to unbelievers, we must note carefully how he includes under the use of the Law for the believer an abiding pedagogical purpose: "First, while they [believers] learn from it that they cannot obtain righteousness by works, they are trained to humility, which is the true preparation for seeking salvation in Christ." This is a perpetual service that the Law renders to believers, so that they are always fleeing to Christ to be clothed. Even in its moral use, "inasmuch as it requires of them much more than they are able to perform, it urges them to seek strength from the Lord, and at the same time reminds them of their perpetual guilt, that they may not presume to be proud." But third, Calvin counsels, it is there to serve as a "curb," to show the believer the boundries of Christian liberty. Although the Law is never satisfied by us, it does keep in view the goal toward which our lives should aim, however imperfectly. This also checks the tendency of human nature to invent additional laws and forms of obedience from our own wisdom or experience. This third use of the Law in the life of the believer is clearly set forth, but lacks the series of leading questions and answers that would give us reason to conclude that it has priority over the pedagogical even in the life of the believer.
Thus, while in this 1536 catechism Calvin's exposition of the Law lacks the precision that would mark later discussions of the "three uses" (including his own), its substance clearly leads one to conclude that it is the pedagogical use that is emphasized for unbeliever and believer alike. This is especially important in that Calvin had already explained the human condition and justification under "Faith," and might well have been able to conclude that the distinction between justification and sanctification had been so firmly settled that he was now free to focus exclusively on the Law as the rule for Christian practice. Nevertheless, he insists on making the point that the Law is always judging the believer's "righteousness," so that if it were not for the Gospel, one's case would be no less hopeless after conversion than before.
If Calvin does not this third use of the Law as its primary purpose, then, why does he assert explicitly that it is "the principal use"?39 First and foremost in Calvin's mind, the Law has no jurisdiction over the believer in the point of condemnation. "For the law is not now acting toward us as a rigorous enforcement officer who is not satisfied unless the requirements are met," but is rather pointing out "the goal toward which throughout life we are to strive." Before, the Law accused, but now it has a different purpose: "Now, the law has power to exhort believers. This is not a power to bind their consciences with a curse," but to point the way toward divinely-approved service (2.7.12-13). Calvin does not regard the third use as primary in general, but only in respect to its service to the believer who recognizes that he is under grace and not under law. Whenever that believer forgets this fact and hears the Law condemning him, however, the pedagogical use is once again primary.
Second, as Richard Muller has argued, it is dangerous to interpret Calvin exclusively on the basis of the Institutes, since it is not a systematic theology but a catechetical treatise. According to Muller, the Reformer's dogmatic system emerges more clearly from his commentaries and we have already seen the weight he gives to the pedagogical use in those sources, even referring to this as the main purpose and aim of the Law. Furthermore, even the very placement of the Law in the 1559 Institutes is instructive. While we must beware of placing too much weight on the arrangement of the discussion, it is at least noteworthy that Calvin did not place his exposition of the Law under the first book ("God the Creator") or the third ("The Way We Receive The Grace of Christ"), even though the third section covers the Christian life and sanctification.
This was not the case in the 1539 edition, in which Calvin placed the exposition of the Law at the beginning of the Institutes. That he moved it to "The Knowledge of God the Redeemer" (i.e., under soteriology rather than ethics) is significant. Hesselink observes, "The chapter titles of chapters 6-11, in which the discussion of the law occurs, are especially suggestive. Chapter six, for example, has the title, 'Fallen man ought to seek redemption in Christ.'"40 Is this the placement one would expect in someone who regards the pedagogical use as secondary? In fact, the theme of chapter 7 is, "The law was given not to restrain the people of the old covenant under itself, but to foster the hope of salvation in Christ until his coming." Next, in chapter 8, there is the exposition of the Decalogue, immediately followed by the thesis, "Christ, although he was known to the Jews under the law, was at length clearly revealed only through the gospel."
But the case of placement in the Institutes is not unique, for in his 1537 Instruction in Faith, he again discusses the Law under soteriology. Hesselink writes, "Here the accent is on the first use of the law, the usus elenchticus, whereby the law 'exercises (exerce) us in...the knowledge of our sin and consequent fear of the Lord.'"41 Even in the life of the believer, the preaching of the Law is primarily expressed in terms of this pedagogical use: "When God allures us so gently and kindly by his promises and then follows with the thunders of his curse, it is partly to render us inexcusable and partly to shut us up, deprived of all confidence in our own righteousness, so that we may flee to Christ who is the end of the Law."42 Here he does not even include the moral use where one might expect to naturally find it. "The function of the Law, then, is to uncover the disease; it gives no hope of its cure. It is the function of the Gospel to bring healing to those without hope."43
In his clearest exposition of the third use, in the Institutes 2.7.12, Calvin refers to the Law as having the relationship to the flesh that a whip has to a horse. While it cannot condemn the justified believer, it can prod him in his duty to his Redeemer and here Luther and Calvin differ in emphasis.
In his notable remark on this subject Luther declared, "Therefore, [faith] is also a very mighty, active, restless, busy thing, which at once renews a man, gives him a second birth, and introduces him to a new manner and way of life, so that it is impossible for him not to do good without ceasing. For as naturally as a tree bears fruit good works follow upon faith."44 Calvin certainly would not have disagreed concerning the necessary link between faith and works, but he was somewhat less confident about the new man. Calvin often emphasizes the abiding doubt and laziness of the believer and this condition is true even for the genuine believer in his regenerated state. Obedience flows from faith, but there is not always an automatic answer of mind, heart, and body, to the master's command. Faith must generate the gratitude necessary for good works, but the Law prods the believer in his laziness simply by reminding him of his duty. When seeking righteousness, duty is a legal preoccupation, but once the Law's thunder is silenced, God often uses the Law to discipline his sons and recall them to their former course. Nevertheless, the Law cannot do anything more than prod--and by this, Calvin means nothing more than reminding us of our duty. But only the Gospel promises can move us to grateful obedience: "He lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise of grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter. For what would be less lovable than the Law if, with importuning and threatening alone, it troubles souls through fear, and distressed them through fright? David especially shows that in the Law he apprehended the Mediator, without whom there is no delight or sweetness."45
Does the Reformed Tradition Develop Calvin's Law-Gospel Hermeneutic?
Not only has Calvin been seriously misunderstood by his friends and critics; his successors have been maligned as relentless systematicians whose scholastic approach obscured the theology of the Reformers. No figure is more the target of such caricatures than Theodore Beza, Calvin's immediate successor in Geneva. It was he, according to Barth, the Torrances, and a host of Neo-orthodox critics, who began to shift Reformed theology away from the Christ-centered graciousness of God to an elaborate federal theological scheme. These debates are beyond our scope, but suffice it to say that not only was Beza Calvin's hand-picked successor; he was the Reformer's closest associate in both church and academy until Calvin's death in 1564. Furthermore, Beza explicitly carried on Calvin's work and no better can this consistency be observed than in Beza's Confession De Foi Du Chretien, published in Geneva in 1558.
In the Confession, Beza addresses "The means which the Holy Spirit uses to create faith in the heart of the elect." His answer, of course, is the Word and the sacraments, and these discussions therefore follow. But the discussion of "The Word" itself is divided into two parts: "The Law" and "The Gospel":
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).
Beza warns, "We must pay great attention to these things. For, with good reason, we can say that ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity." Why is this? People always turn the Law into something easy and the Gospel into something difficult, as if the Gospel were "nothing other than a second Law, more perfect than the first." Beza then devotes a great deal of space to distinguishing the Law from the Gospel. The Law is in us by nature, the Gospel is "from above." "Having carefully understood this distinction of the two parts of the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, it is easy to understand how and to what end the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the one and the other in the Church." We do not know our sinfulness. "This is why God begins with the preaching of the Law," and after discussing this point more fully, he concludes, "There then is the first use of the preaching of the Law." But "after the Law comes the Gospel" in preaching. In fact, Beza is clearer than Calvin in referring to "Law" and "Gospel" as theological categories and emphasizes this over the eschatological, redemptive-historical sense of those terms. The "third use" Beza discusses under the heading, "The other fruit of the preaching of the Law, once the preaching of the Gospel has effectually done its work," and here he argues that because the believer's relation to the Law has changed, it simply directs instead of inspiring fear and doubt. The sacraments further establish us in the Gospel, since "the Lord has never been content solely with the preaching of his Word," but added Baptism and the Lord's Supper "to the preaching of this external Word, to better nourish and support our faith. For, although Jesus Christ has already acquitted us by his death, yet, while we are below, we possess the Heavenly Kingdom only by hope (Rom. 8:24; 1 Cor. 13:9); it is needful that we be supported to grow in this and persevere to the end (Eph.4:15)."46
By the late sixteenth century, a growing number of Reformed theologians were beginning to arrive at a consensus concerning the covenantal structure of Scripture and were profoundly influenced by the Pauline Adam-Christ typology. Calvin himself had acknowledged that Adam was offered eternal life for himself and for his posterity upon compliance with the commandment of God. "We cannot gainsay that the reward of eternal salvation awaits complete obedience to the Law, as the Lord has promised," although after the Fall, this is impossible.47 The promise, therefore, falls to the ground--or does it? According to Calvin, as we have seen, there was a covenant of grace announced in the protoevangelion, enacted with Abraham, promulgated through types and shadows throughout the Mosaic administration, and fulfilled finally in Christ. But in all of this, Christ has ever been the goal and focal point of redemptive-history. These federal theologians, then, throughout the period of Protestant Orthodoxy, set forth a scheme that seemed to form a natural arrangement of the biblical passages. The covenant of works, established in man's innocence, established a command with a promise. Upon condition of perfect obedience, of which Adam was entirely capable, God would graciously grant eternal life.
In Adam's disobedience, however, this covenant was broken. Nevertheless, God still graciously offered this same eternal life through the promise of a descendent who would crush Satan's head. Stripped of their own righteousness according to the covenant of works, they were clothed with Christ's righteousness, symbolized by God's act of clothing the couple with animal skins. Thus, ever since Adam, all who have looked forward or backward to Christ for redemption enter into a covenant of grace rather than a covenant of works. This is not because the legal covenant was set aside, but because it was fulfilled and its conditions were entirely satisfied by the Second Adam. On the basis of Christ's active and passive obedience, the believer is related to God by grace alone through faith alone.
Paul even declares that the two women, Hagar and Sarah, "represent two covenants," one in slavery and one in freedom, one a representative of the Law and the other of the Promise (Gal.4:24), so Calvin observes, "For the legal covenant makes slaves and the evangelical covenant free-men."48 Zacharius Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus, William Perkins, Dudley Fenner, Johannes Cocceius and other architects of "federal theology" succeeded in removing any fatalistic implications in the doctrine of the decrees by attaching it to a biblical "history of redemption." In this way, predestination was "earthed" and understood not by metaphysical speculation, but by a "theology from below," a theology of redemptive history, so that in Weber's words,"they connected the distinction between law and Gospel with the doctrine of decrees within a historical scheme."49 Thus, in much of Reformed reflection throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Law-Gospel hermeneutic has been assumed under different terms: Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace. In fact, in various polemical disputes within the Reformed tradition, the most common accusation of the Orthodox against Socinians, Arminians, and Legalists of all stripes was that they were returning to a "covenant of works," just as Lutheran might have said that they had placed themselves under the Law again for righteousness. This may be seen, for instance, in the writings of the Westminster divines, most notably, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.
This is not to say that the use of the Law-Gospel terminology fell into complete disuse in Reformed circles; it was still widely employed even interchangeably with the federal language. Apparent throughout the catechetical, polemical, homiletical, and dogmatic works of the Puritans, it may also be discerned in the works of Zacharius Ursinus, author of the Heidelberg Catechism. In his Commentary on The Heidelberg Catechism, the author divides the Word into Law and Gospel in a manner identical to that of Beza and Calvin. In fact, in the Prolegomena, he writes,
The doctrine of the church consists of 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....Therefore, the Law and Gospel are the chief and general divisions of the holy scriptures, and comprise the entire doctrine comprehended therein.
The Law commands, the Gospel gives. "The Law is known from nature; the Gospel is divinely revealed." Therefore, "the Law is our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ..."50
The Basel theologian Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629) is representative of the next generation when in his Compendium Theologiae Christianae he wrote, "The Redeemer is known both through the Law and through the Gospel; from the Law we learn the need for a redeemer, and from the Gospel we learn the truth of redemption."51 In fact, one finds it replete in Puritan literature as late as 1680--and in some writers, far more common than the use of the federal terminology. And regardless of the actual terms used, the idea was clearly identical. Far from departing from the Reformers' message, these systematizers ordered their entire system around these two poles. However, with this covenantal emphasis, it became increasingly easy to view federal theology more as a soteriological system than as a hermeneutic and since coordinating all of Scripture under the categories of "covenant of works" and "covenant of grace" is more awkward hermeneutically than "Law" and "Gospel," it can be said with some truthfulness that the lines were more easily blurred by seventeenth-century Puritanism and effectually removed by the advent of both Enlightenment and revivalistic moralism in both England and America.
Where the moral use gradually eclipses the pedagogical, the dialectical tension of a Law-Gospel antithesis is entirely abandoned for the harmony of indicative and imperative in the Christian life. This is far better than reversing the indicative-imperative order in applying the third use, but the pedagogical use of the Law in relation to the believer is not as clearly stressed in contemporary Reformed preaching as it has been in the tradition. Perhaps this is the reason why many Reformed pastors and theologians are excessively anxious concerning preaching to their congregations in a clear Law-Gospel manner. They fear that they will over-emphasize the antithesis, and yet they have no less than Calvin, Beza, and scores of Reformed systematizers as examples of just such an emphasis.
Whatever the actual practice, modern Reformed systematicians continue to distinguish the Law and the Gospel and often bring greater clarity to this position. For instance, Herman Bavinck (1895-1964) states, "The relationship of the Old and New Testament is not like that of law and gospel. It is rather that of promise and fulfillment (Acts 13:12 and Rom. 1:2)."52 As we have seen, Calvin certainly would have agreed as touching upon the narrower use of those terms (which is intended in the Lutheran approach), but sometimes his theological heirs have more clearly distinguished the eschatological from the theological sense of those terms and this has been quite helpful. In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) discusses the Law under "The Doctrine of the Word As A Means of Grace," with the heading, "The Two Parts of the Word of God: The Law and the Gospel." "The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God," he writes. "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 and prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus." Berkhof correctly observes that the Reformed system devotes more attention than the Lutheran to the third use in connection with sanctification, but argues also for the importance of the pedagogical use.53
At the same time, the advances in biblical theology have encouraged a redemptive-historical approach to Scripture that has carried with it an implicit Law-Gospel heremeneutic even though it emphasizes this eschatological promise-fulfillment motif. David is not to be preached for his morality or wisdom, but rather Christ is to proclaimed as David's Savior and Son. This redemptive-historical approach to preaching seeks to emphasize Christ as the center of all revelation and to regard biblical characters and stories not as mere moral examples or illustrations, but as signposts leading to Christ. Its major modern proponents, especially in The Netherlands (Kuyper, Schilder, Bavinck, Ridderbos) and in North America (especially Vos, De Graaf, Kline, and Gaffin), have observed the promise-fulfillment motif that so impressed Calvin and his immediate successors as well. Even when a clear Law-Gospel antithesis is not explicitly stated in those terms, such preaching has the same intention: to regard the evangelical announcement of Christ and forgiveness as central and to eschew moralism and sentimentalism in all of its forms.54
Furthermore, no respected Reformed biblical or systematic theologian argues that the Law has any power or strength to give to the believer, although this is often asserted of the Reformed tersius usus legis by its critics. In his Romans commentary John Murray observed,
(1) Law commands and demands. (2) Law pronounces approval and blessing upon conformity to its demands (cf. Rom.7:10; Gal.3:12). (3) Law pronounces condemnation upon every infraction of its demand (cf. Gal.3:10). (4) Law exposes and convicts of sin (cf. 7:7, 14; Heb.4:12). (5) Law excites and incites sin to more aggravated transgression (cf. 7:8, 9,11,13). What law cannot do is implicit in these limits of its potency. (1) Law can do nothing to justify the person who has violated it. (2) Law can do nothing to relieve the bondage of sin; it accentuates and confirms that bondage.
Therefore, "there is an absolute antithesis between the potency and provision of law and the potency and provisions of grace."55 Ridderbos also notes:
Man, so we have seen, is entirely dependent on the grace of God revealed in Christ not only for his justification (Rom.3-5), but also for his deliverance from slavery under the power of sin (Rom.6-8). The law is of no avail to him, either for the one or for the other.
The only "word" that can topple this slavery is the indicative: "You are no longer under the law, but under grace," so that
the law (letter) and the Spirit thereby stand over against each other in the sense that the Spirit enters in where the law has failed, in joining battle against the power of sin and of the flesh and in vanquishing that power...Therefore--while the law can only lead to bondage--sonship, liberty, and the Spirit are to be found where life is lived from faith and not from the works of the law (Gal.3:21-4:7). Here again the contrast is between the impotence of the law and the omnipotence of the life-creating Word of God, the promise, which has its power not in those who receive it, but in him who gives it, not on the ground of works, but by faith.56
Ridderbos blames the loss of the objective Gospel emphasis in Protestant preaching on pietism and the Enlightenment:
The theology of the Reformation, broadly speaking, has long found this entrance [into Christian theology] in Paul's preaching of justification by faith....While in Luther and Calvin all the emphasis fell on the redemptive event that took place with Christ's death and resurrection, later under the influence of pietism, mysticism, and moralism, the emphasis shifted to the process of individual appropriation of the salvation given in Christ and to its mystical and moral effect in the life of believers. Accordingly, in the history of the interpretation of the epistles of Paul the center of gravity shifted more and more from the forensic to the pneumatic and ethical aspects of his preaching, and there arose an entirely different conception of the structures that lay at the foundation of his preaching.
The results, codified in the Enlightenment, were plain: "Everything, however, is directed toward an effort to reduce Paul's theology and religion to a general, ethical-rational religiosity not dependent on redemptive facts."57
Although the clarity of the Reformers and their successors offers us so much hermeneutical wisdom in an age of hermeneutical fads, many Reformed Protestants especially in America have allowed these trends rather than confessional distinctives to determine the reading and preaching of Scripture. Parallel to the weakening of popular catechetical and liturgical distinctives on the parish level is the weakening of a distinctly evangelical (in the historic sense of that term) method of interpreting Scripture. It is often moralized, exegeted in verse-by-verse isolation, psychologized, politicized, and always with the demand for "more application"--which really means "more Law," and not necessarily the divinely-ordained Law, in its divinely-ordained function, but principles and helpful suggestions for daily living, which are in fact considered "Gospel." However contemporary evangelical preaching may sound "kinder and gentler," this confusion of Law and Gospel presents a threat no less serious than that faced by the Reformers nearly five centuries ago.
If we are to recover this heritage as Reformational Christians--which is to say, if we are to recover this ability to "rightly divide the Word of truth," we must insist upon this Reformational hermeneutic that, following the sensus literalis, leads one inevitably to clearly understand the Law and the Gospel and to base all of our preaching, teaching, and counseling on the careful distinction of one from the other. Furthermore, it is to insist upon the indicative-imperative order when treating of the moral use of the Law in exhortation.
In this brief compass, we have omitted the discussion a variety of important and related issues, such as the civil use of the Law and its relation to natural law. Nor have we discussed the relationship of the Law to the conscience and the very important subject of Christian liberty, which Calvin called "an appendix to justification" in that one could never truly experience the liberation announced in the Gospel while caught in a tangled web of scruples over "things indifferent" (Institutes, 3.10.1-3; 3.19.1-16). Nevertheless, the attempt has been to at least suggest the possibility that (a) Calvin was in agreement with Luther on the Law-Gospel antithesis in preaching and that (b) his emphasis on the moral use of the Law was subservient to his concern for the pedagogical use. I hope to have demonstrated that, far from the mere gesetz-lehrer, Calvin was an evangelical preacher par excellence, concerned to lead the prodigals to a loving Father who has already prepared the feast to welcome them home. And finally, I hope that it will at least in some slight measure encourage more interaction between Lutherans and Calvinists in their common struggle for confessional, Reformation distinctives at a time when the reigning hermeneutic often seems to be shallow moralism, sentimentalism, and therapeutic narcissism. For apart from the preaching of Christ, we can only conclude with Calvin, "We shall find angels and men dry, heavens empty, the earth barren and all things worthless."58
1. Cf. J. B. Torrance, "The Concept of Federal Theology," in Calvinus Sacrae Scripturae Professor, ed. by Wilhelm H. Neuser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), pp.15-40. "In the 1536 first edition of the Institutes, Calvin had followed the pattern of Luther's Short Catechism, treating first law and then gospel (also followed, as we have seen, in Ursinus's Major Catechism in 1562). But in the light of Galatians 3, Calvin abandons that order and argues for the priority of grace over law--the whole Old Testament in the larger sense of the word is 'Gospel' (2.9.2)--the good news of grace" (p.31). This is a good example of the failure to recognize the difference between Calvin's reference to the Law as synonymous with the Old Testament and as one of two categories. The Law contains the Gospel in the sense that the Old Testament contains the promise, but to suggest that "the whole Old Testament in the larger sense of the word is 'Gospel'" is far beyond anything that Calvin actually says and, in fact, flatly contradicts the very section cited by Torrance. Barth, of course, merely collapsed the Law into the Gospel.
2. Cf. Paul Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust); Joel Beeke, The Assurance of Faith (New York: Peter Lang); Richard Muller, Christ and the Decree; Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Baker).
3. Calvin, Corinthians I:452. "The Law" can be used in two different senses: the eschatological, used here (emphasizing the unity of revelation), and synonymous with "Old Testament," and the theological (emphasizing the antithesis between word of judgment and word of promise). In this particular quote, Calvin is obviously referring to "Law" according to the former sense. Calvin himself acknowledges these two senses: "The word law is used in a two-fold sense. At times it means the whole doctrine taught by Moses, and, at times, that part of it which belonged peculiarly to his ministry, and is contained in its precepts, rewards, and punishments" (on Romans 10:5). Thus, the Law is filled with Gospel promises if by "Law" one means the Old Testament, but in its special office as a theological-hermeneutical category, there is no Gospel in the Law, nor Law in the Gospel. "Thus from the Law they receive nothing but this condemnation for there God demands what is due to him, and yet gives no power to perform it. But by the Gospel men are regenerated and reconciled to God by the free remission of their sins, so that it is the ministration of righteousness and so of life. But by the Gospel men are regenerated and reconciled to God by the free remission of their sins, so that it is the ministration of righteousness and so of life," (on 2 Cor. 3:7).
4. Calvin, "The Preface to the Prophet Isaiah," in the Pringle translation of the Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), volume 1 of Isaiah, p. xxvi.
5. Cited in I. John Hesselink, Calvin's Concept of the Law (Allison Park, PA: Pickwick, 1992), p. 101
6. All New Testament references are taken from Calvin's New Testament Commentaries published by Eerdmans, unless otherwise noted. Calvin, Hebrews 12:19
7. Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, trans. by Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981) vol. 1, p. 287
8. ibid., p. 232
9. Cf. Philip Watson, Let God Be God: An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1947), especially chapter five.
10. Weber, op. cit., p. 88
11. Calvin, Romans 8:15
12. Hesselink, op. cit., p. 28
13. Calvin, Institutes, 3.2.7.
14. Hesselink, op. cit., p. 30
15. B. B. Warfield, Calvin and Augustine (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed,1980), pp. 175-176. B. A. Gerrish also writes, "It is particularly striking how often Calvin simply identifies believing in God with recognizing God's fatherhood," Grace & Gratitude: The Eucharistic Theology of John Calvin (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1993), p. 66.
16. Calvin, Galatians 3:10
17. ibid., Galatians 3:19
18. ibid., Romans 3:21
19. Hesselink, op. cit., p. 158
20. Calvin, Institutes, 2.7.4.
21. ibid., 3.11.17
22. ibid., Hosea 6:1
23. ibid., Romans 10:5
24. ibid., John 5:23
25. ibid., John 1:16
26. ibid., Romans 10:4
27. ibid., Romans 10:8
28. ibid., Institutes, 2.7.12.
29. ibid., Baker edition of Calvin's Commentaries, John, vol. 2, p. 140
30. ibid., John, vol. 1, p. 217
31. ibid., Galatians, p. 108
32. ibid., Exodus 24:5
33. The Isaiah 53:11 reference is cited by Hesselink, op. cit., p. 212 end note 188 and is found in the Calvini Opera, 35,668,669; ibid., Institutes, 2.7.7.
34. ibid., 2.9.4. Further, in his explanation of rewards against Rome, Calvin exegetes the story of the rich young ruler (Mt.19:17) in a strictly Law-Gospel manner. The intention was not to merely exhort, but to cause the man to see that he had not truly kept the Law. "With a clear voice we too proclaim that these commandments are to be kept if one seeks life in works. And Christians must know this doctrine, for how could they flee to Christ...?" But Jesus did not always deal this way with inquirers, since "elsewhere he comforts with the promise of grace without any mention of the law others who have already been humbled by this sort of knowledge" (3.18.9).
35. ibid., Four Last Books of Moses, vol.1, p.327
36. ibid., 316
37. ibid., III:197
38. ibid., Selected Works, Henry Beveridge, ed., vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983)
39. ibid., Institutes, 2.7.12.
40. Hesselink, op. cit., p. 11
41. ibid., p. 13
42. ibid., p. 16
43. Calvin, 2 Corinthians 3:7
44. Luther, Weimar Edition, 10 III, p.285
45. Calvin, Institutes, 2.7.12.
46. Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, trans. by James Clark (Lewes, England: Focus, 1992), pp. 40-51
47. Calvin, Institutes, 2.7.2.
48. ibid., Galatians 4:24
49. Weber, op. cit., p. 126
50. Zacharius Ursinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. by G. W. Willard (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, reprint of 1852 edition), pp. 2-3. It is also prominent in his Major Catechism of 1562.
51. Johannes Wollebius, Compendium Theologiae Christianae, in Reformed Dogmatics, edited and trans. by John W. Beardslee III (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p.75. Cf. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. by G. M. Giger and ed. by J. T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994), esp. pp. 200 ff..
51. Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith: A Survey of Christian Doctrine(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), p. 93
52. Leon Morris, for instance, states, "The whole function of the law is to bring people to Christ," New Testament Theology(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p. 51; cf. Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), especially his section 46 on the tertius usus legis, which is affirmed in a thoroughly christocentric manner (pp. 278 ff.): "This also puts an end to the 'legalistic' view of life....Over against this, however, stands the fact that the whole of the law and the whole of life must be understood in the light of the salvation revealed with Christ, and that insight into the will of God for concrete life situations is no less dependent on faith in Christ, being led by the Spirit, and the inner renewal of man than on the knowledge of the law." Cf. Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos, ed. by Richard Gaffin, Jr. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980). The support of the redemptive-historical approach is also seen in John Murray: "The word 'law' should be regarded as referring to law as commandment demanding obedience and applies to all law which falls into this category." It is true that the Decalogue is the most succinct expression. "But it does not provide us with the antithesis between 'law' and 'promise' in terms of the argument" outlined by Paul in Romans 4, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), p. 229
53. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 612-613.
54. ibid. Calvin warns even against grounding one's assurance of justification from the degree of one's conformity to the Law, since, as he says, it is easy to gain comfort when we compare ourselves to others, but "directed toward the sun, stricken and numbed by excessive brightness, our vision feels as weak as it did strong in gazing at objects below....Therefore, we profit nothing in discussing righteousness unless we establish a righteousness so steadfast that it can support our soul in the judgment of God." And that righteousness is ours by imputation alone (Institutes 3.12.2, 3.13.3).
55. Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), p. 216.
56. ibid., pp. 13-21. Thus, "This theology is fundamentally Christology. The Whole Pauline doctrine is a doctrine of Christ and his work; that is its essence" (p.21).
57. Calvin, John 5:23.
Dr. Michael Horton is the vice chairman of the Council of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and is associate professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Dr. Horton is a graduate of Biola University (B.A.), Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.) and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (Ph.D.). Some of the books he has written or edited include Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, Beyond Culture Wars, Power Religion, In the Face of God, and most recently, We Believe.