On this subject we call the “Word of God” (for we know well that the Eternal Son of God is also so named) the canonical books of the Old and New Testament; for they proceed from the mouth of God Himself.
We divided 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 the 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. However, so that we may have a more exact knowledge, it was written by God on two Tables and is briefly comprehended in ten commandments. In these He sets out for us the obedience and perfect righteousness which we owe to His majesty and our neighbours. This on contrasting terms: either perpetual life, if we perfectly keep the Law without omitting a single point, or eternal death, if we do not completely fulfill the contents of each commandment (Deut. 30:15-20; James 2:10).
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 (Matt. 16:17; John 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 (1 Cor. 1:30). By it, I say, the Lord testifies to us all these things, and even does it in such a manner that at the same time He renews our persons in a powerful way so that we may embrace the benefits which are offered to us (1 Cor. 2:4).
4.23 The similarities and the differences between the Law and the Gospel
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 principle sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.
The majority of men, blinded by the just judgement of God, have indeed never seriously considered what curse the Law subjects us to, nor why it has been ordained by God. And, as for the Gospel, they have nearly always thought that it was nothing other than a second Law, more perfect than the first. From this has come the erroneous distinction between precept and advice; there has followed, little by little, the total ruin of the benefit of Jesus Christ.
Now, we must besides consider these things. The Law and the Gospel have in common that they are both from the one true God, always consistent with Himself (Heb 1:1,2). We must not therefore think that the Gospel abolishes the essence of the Law. On the contrary, the Law establishes the essence of the Gospel (Rom 10:2-4); this is what we shall explain a little further on. For both set before us the same God and the essence of the same righteousness (Rom 3:31), which resides in perfect love to God and our neighbour. But there is a great difference in these points which we shall touch on, and especially concerning the means of obtaining this righteousness.
“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 principle sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.”
For, in the first place, as we alluded to before (Section 4.22-J.F.), the Law is natural to man. God has engraven it in his heart from creation (Rom 1:32; 2:14,15). When, a long time afterwards, God made and exhibited the two Tables of the Law, this was not to make a new law, but only to restore our first knowledge of the natural law which, because of the corruption of sin, was little by little becoming obliterated from the heart of man (Rom 7:8,9). But the gospel is a supernatural doctrine which our nature would never have been able to imagine nor able to approve without a special grace of God (1 Cor 1:23; 2:14). But, the Lord has revealed it, firstly to Adam shortly after his sin, as Moses declares (Gen 3:15), afterwards to the patriarchs and the prophets in increasing degrees as seemed good to Him (Rom 1:2; Luke 1:55,70), until the day in which He manifested Jesus Christ in Person. It is He who has clearly announced and accomplished all that is contained in the Gospel (John 15:15; 6:38). This Gospel God still reveals today and will reveal it until the end of the world by the preaching instituted in His Church (John 17: 18; Matt. 28:20; 2 Cor. 5:20).
In the second place, the Law lays bare to us the majesty and justice of God (Heb. 12:18-21). The Gospel sets forth this same justice to us, but there it is pacified and satisfied by the mercy manifested in Christ (Heb. 12:22-24).
In the third place, the Law sends us to ourselves in order to accomplish the righteousness which it commands us, that is to say, the perfect obedience to its commandments, which is necessary in order to escape guilt. That is why it shows us our curse and subjects us to it, as the Apostle declares (Rom 3:20; Gal 3:10-12). But the gospel teaches us where we shall find what we do not have and, having found it, how we shall be able to enjoy it. That is why it delivers us from the curse of the Law (Rom 3:21,22; Gal 3:13,14). In conclusion, the Law pronounces us blessed when we accomplish it without omitting anything; the Gospel promises us salvation when we believe, that is to say, when, by faith, we take hold of Jesus Christ who has everything which we lack, and still more that we need. Now, these two terms – to do what the Law commands, or to believe what God offers us in Jesus Christ – are two things which are not only very difficult but totally impossible to our corrupt nature. This latter, as St. Paul says, cannot even perceive what is of God (2 Cor 3:5; Phil 1:29). That is why it is necessary to add a fourth difference between the Law and the Gospel.
“…the gospel is a supernatural doctrine which our nature would never have been able to imagine nor able to approve without a special grace of God (1 Cor 1:23; 2:14).”
Thus, the fourth difference between the Law and the Gospel is that the Law, by itself, can only show us, and make us see, our evil more exceedingly, and aggravate our condemnation; not through any fault of its own (for it is good and holy), but because our corrupt nature burns for sin the more it is reproved and threatened, as St. Paul has declared through his own example (Rom 7:7-14). But the Gospel not only shows us the remedy against the curse of the law, but it is at the same time accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit who regenerates us and changes us (as we have said above, [Section 4.3-J.F.]); for He creates in us the instrument and sole means of applying to us this remedy (Acts 26:17,18).
In order to speak even more clearly, let us expound these words “letter” and “spirit” which some have taken in the wrong sense. I say, therefore, that the Gospel is not “letter”, that is to say, only a dead doctrine which sets before us in their bareness and simplicity (I do not say those things which it is fitting for us to do – for that is the office of the Law) the things which it is necessary for us to believe: that salvation is promised freely in Jesus Christ to those who believe; but it is “spirit”, that is to say, a powerful means full of efficacy from the Holy Spirit, and He uses it to create in us the power to believe the things which He teaches us, that is to say, to embrace free salvation in Jesus Christ. It is thus that the Law itself, which kills us and damns us in ourselves, justifies us and saves us in Jesus Christ, taken hold of by faith (Rom 3:31).
“…the Gospel not only shows us the remedy against the curse of the law, but it is at the same time accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit who regenerates us and changes us…”
This is the reason why I have said that the Law and the Gospel are not contrary in that which concerns the essence of the righteousness with which we must be clothed in order to be accepted before God and to participate in eternal life; but they are contrary with regard to the means of having this righteousness. For the Law justly seeks in us this righteousness; it has no regard to what we can do but to what we ought to do (Gal 3:12).
Man, indeed, by his own fault alone, has made himself unable to pay; nevertheless, he does not cease to be a debtor even if he is unable to pay. And consequently, the Law does us no wrong in demanding from us that which we owe, although we cannot pay it. But the Gospel, softening this righteous rigour as with the honey of God’s mercy, teaches us to pay by Him who has made Himself our Surety, who has put Himself, I say, in our place and paid our debt, as principal debtor, and to the last farthing (Coloss 2:13,14). So that the rigour of the Law which made us tremble in ourselves and struck us down completely, now confirms us and accepts us in Jesus Christ.
“…the Gospel, softening this righteous rigour as with the honey of God’s mercy, teaches us to pay by Him who has made Himself our Surety…”
For, since eternal life is due to those who have obeyed the Law perfectly, and Jesus Christ has fulfilled all righteousness in the name of those who should believe in Him and take hold of Him by faith (1 Cor 1:30; Phil 3:9), it follows that, even according to the rigour of the Law, salvation cannot fail those who, by faith, have become united and incorporated with Jesus Christ.
4.24 For what ends the Holy Spirit uses the preaching of the Law
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. For there is no doubt that He employs them for the purpose for which they have been established.
We are then all so blind, whilst our corruption reigns in us, that we are ignorant even of our ignorance (John 9:41) and, not ceasing to smother the little light of knowledge which has been left to us so as to render ourselves inexcusable (Rom 1:20,21; 2:1), we are pleased about that which ought to displease us most.
It is necessary, before all things, that God, all good and full of pity, makes as know clearly the cursed pit in which we are. He could do it no better than by informing us, by the declaration of His Law, what we ought necessarily to be. Thus, blackness can never be better known than in being placed beside white (Rom 3:20; 7:13).
This is why God begins with the preaching of the Law. In it alone we can see what we ought to be; and yet we cannot fulfill a single point of it. In it alone, we can see how near we are to our damnation, unless there comes to us some very strong and sure remedy.
And indeed, the stupidity which has reigned in the world at all times and reigns now more than ever, shows clearly how necessary it is that God begin at this point in order to draw us to Himself: by making us know what great and certain danger those are in who think least of it. The fact is, the Law was never given to justify as (for if this were so, Jesus Christ would have died in vain, as St. Paul says; Gal 2:21; 3:18-21), but, on the contrary, to condemn us, and to show the hell which is opened wide to swallow us, to annihilate and totally abase our pride, in making the multitude of our sins pass before our eyes and showing us the wrath of God which is revealed from Heaven against us (Rom 1:18; 4:15; Gal 3:10,12).
“The fact is, the Law was never given to justify…”
However, for a long time men have been blind and senseless. Not only do they seek their salvation in that which condemns them wholly or in part that is to say, in their works, instead of running to Jesus Christ by faith, the only remedy against all that they can be justly accused of before God; but, what is more, they do not cease to add law upon law to their conscience, that is to say condemnation upon condemnation, as if the Law of God did not condemn them enough (Gal 4:9,10; 5:1; Coloss 2:8,16-23).
It is like a prisoner to whom the prison door would be opened, but who, turning away from a freedom which he does not understand, goes away and voluntarily locks himself in a prison which is even more secure.
There then is the first use of the preaching of the Law; to
make known our innumerable faults so that in ourselves we begin to be miserable and greatly humble ourselves; in short, to beget in as the first degree of repentance which is called ‘contrition of heart’; this produces a full and open confession toward the Lord.
For he who does not know that he is sick will never come to the physician. There are none more unfit to receive the light of salvation than those who think they see clearly by themselves, through lack of understanding how thick is the darkness in which they are born; so great that they must come out of it. On the contrary, they have always made it thicker from then on, and have not ceased to rush on willingly in it (John 9:41).
4.25 The other part of the Word of Cod called “Gospel”: Its authority, why, how and for what end it was written
After the Law comes the Gospel, the use and necessity of which cannot be better understood than by noting the following points:
Firstly, even as there is only one Saviour (Matt 1:21; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5), there is also only one doctrine of salvation which is called Gospel, that is to say Good News, (Rom 1:16). It was fully announced and declared to the world by Jesus Christ (John 15:15) and the Apostles (John 17:8; 2Cor 5:19,20), and faithfully recorded by the Evangelists (Eph 2:20; 1 Pet 1:25) so as to prevent the wiles and craftiness of Satan who, without this, would have more easily put forward to men his dreams under the name of the gospel; however, he has not entirely failed to do so, by the just vengeance of God who has been provoked to anger against the men who, in their accustomed manner, have always preferred darkness to light.
And when we say that the Apostles and Evangelists have faithfully recorded all the doctrine of the Gospel, we understand three points:
1. They have truly added nothing of their own as far as the substance of the doctrine is concerned (Coloss l:28; 2 Tim 3:16,17), but they have obeyed with precision and simplicity what the Lord had said to them: “Go, preach all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20); and St. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, confesses that he does so (1 Cor 11:23).
2. They have omitted nothing of that which is necessary to salvation. For, otherwise, they would have been disloyal to their commission which is not possible. And we see also St. Paul (Acts 20:27; Gal 1:9) and St. Peter (lPet 1:25) testify how conscientious they have been and how particular in this area (John 15:15; 16:13). That is why St. Jerome, writing on this subject, says, “Chatter and babbling must not be believed without the authority of Holy Scripture.” And St. Augustine says even more clearly, “It is true that the Lord Jesus did many things which have not all been written down; for the Evangelist himself testifies that Jesus Christ said and did much that has not been written down. But God has chosen to have written down those things which are sufficient for the salvation of those who believe. (John 20:30 31)
3. What they have written, is written in such a way that the most uncultured and most ignorant in the world, if it is only held out to them, can learn there what is necessary for their salvation (1 Cor 1:26,27). For otherwise, why would the Gospel have been put in written form in a language which everyone was then able to understand (1 Cor 14:6-40), and even in the most familiar and popular manner of speaking which it had been possible to choose (1 Cor 2:1). That is why St. Paul said that if the Gospel was hidden, it was hidden to those who were perishing and whose mind the god of this world had blinded, that is to say, the unbelievers (2 Cor 4:3). And, indeed, the experience of all times has shown that God has not called the most wise and most learned, but, on the contrary, mostly of the most ignorant of the world (Is. 29:14; Luke 10:21; 1 Cor. 1:26, 27; 3:18); so far from the truth is it. that He wished to hide or cover His doctrine so that it should be understood by no-one.
We draw, then, two conclusions from this discourse which are very useful to what we are discussing:
The first is, that it is not necessary to reckon as Gospel anything which men have added to the Word of God written, that is to say, the doctrine contained in the books of the Old and New Testament; but that all additions are merely superstitions and a corruption of the only true Gospel of our Lord (Matt 15:9); St. Paul, has also spoken of this (Gal 1:8,9; 2 Tim 3:16,17). And St. Jerome wrote on this subject, “What is said without the authority of Holy Scripture is also easily set aside, as has been said.”
The second conclusion is that those who say that it only belongs to certain persons to read Scripture, and who, for this reason, do not want it to be translated into the common language, for fear that simple women and other people may read it (Rom 1:14; Gal 3:28; Matt 11:28), are the true antichrists and instruments of satan (Matt 23:13); they are afraid that their abuses be discovered by the coming of the light.
Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith*
*From the cover: “This book was primarily written for Beza’s own father, to whom he earnestly desired to present the Gospel in its Scriptural simplicity, praying that the Holy Spirit would seal His Truth upon his dying heart.”