Good Works in the Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism by Zacharias Ursinus

Zacharias UrsinusIV. HOW CAN OUR GOOD WORKS PLEASE GOD, SINCE THEY ARE ONLY IMPERFECTLY GOOD?

If our works were not pleasing [sic] to God, they would be performed to no purpose. We must, therefore, know in what way it is that they please God. As they are imperfect in themselves, and defiled in many respects, they cannot of themselves please God, on account of his extreme justice and rectitude. Yet they are, nevertheless, acceptable to God in Christ the Mediator, through faith, or on account of the merit and satisfaction of Christ imputed unto us by faith, and on account of his intercession with the Father in our behalf. For just as we ourselves do not please God in ourselves, but in his Son, so our works being imperfect and unholy in themselves, are acceptable to God on account of the righteousness of Christ, which covers all their imperfection or impurity, so that it does not appear before God. It is necessary that the person who performs good works should be acceptable to God; then the works of the person are also accepted; otherwise, when the person is without faith, the best works are but an abomination before God, inasmuch as they are altogether hypocritical. As now the person is acceptable to God, so are the works. But the person is acceptable to God on account of the Mediator; that is, by the imputation of the merit and righteousness of Christ, with which the person is covered as with a garment in the presence of God. Hence the works of the person are also pleasing to God, for the sake of the Mediator. God does not look upon and examine our righteousness and imperfect works as they are in themselves, according to the rigor of his law in respect to which he would rather condemn them; but he beholds and considers them in his Son. It is for this reason that God is said to have had respect to Abel and his offering, viz: in his Son, in whom Abel believed; for it was by faith that he presented his sacrifice. (Gen. 4:4. Heb. 11:4.) So Christ is also called our High Priest, by whom our works are offered unto God. He is also called the altar, on which our prayers and works being placed, they are acceptable unto God, which otherwise would be detestable in his sight. It follows, therefore, that every defect and every imperfection respecting ourselves and our works is covered, and, as it were, repaired in the judgment of God, by the perfect satisfaction of Christ. It is in view of this that Paul says, “That I may be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Phil. 3:9.)

V. WHY GOOD WORKS ARE TO BE DONE, OR WHY ARE THEY NECESSARY?

We have already, under the 86th Question, enumerated certain moving causes of good works which properly belong here; such as the connection which holds necessarily between regeneration and justification, the glory of God, the proof of our faith and election, and a good example by which others are won to Christ. These causes may be very appropriately dwelt upon to a much greater extent, if, having reduced them to three principal heads, we say that good works are to be performed by us for the sake of God, ourselves and our neighbor.

I. Good works are to be done in respect to God, 1. That the glory of God our heavenly Father, may be manifested. The manifestation of the glory of God is the chief end why God commands and wills that good works should be performed by us, that we may honor him by our good works, and that others seeing them may glorify our Father which is in heaven, as it is said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16.)

2. That we may render unto God the obedience which he requires, or on account of the command of God. God requires the commencement of obedience in this life, and the perfection of it in the life to come. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another.” “This is the will of God even your sanctification.” “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” “Yield your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” (John 15:12. 1 Thes. 4:3. Rom. 6:18, 13.)

3. That we may thus render unto God the gratitude which we owe unto him. It is just and proper that we should love, worship and reverence him by whom we have been redeemed, and from whom we have received the greatest benefits, and that we should declare our love and gratitude by our obedience and good works. God deserves our obedience and worship on account of the benefits which he confers upon us. We do not merit his benefits by anything that we do. Hence our gratitude, which shows itself by our obedience and good works, is due unto God for his great benefits. “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” “Ye are an holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (Rom. 12:1. Pet. 2:5, 9, 20.)

II. Good works are to be done on our own account, 1. That we may thereby testify our faith, and be assured of its existence in us by the fruits which we produce in our lives. “Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit.” “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, unto the praise and glory of God.” “Faith without works is dead.” (Matt. 7:17. Phil. 1:11. James 2:17.) It is by our good works, therefore, that we know that we possess true faith, because the effect is not without its own proper cause, which is always known by its effect; so that if we are destitute of good works and new obedience, we are hypocrites, and have an evil conscience instead of true faith; for true faith (which is never wanting in all the fruits which are peculiar to it,) as a fruitful tree produces good works, obedience and repentance; which fruits distinguish true faith from that faith which is merely historical and temporary, as well as from hypocrisy itself.

2. That we may be assured of the fact that we have obtained the forgiveness of sins through Christ, and that we are justified for his sake. Justification and regeneration are benefits which are connected and knit together in such a way as never to be separated from each other. Christ obtained both for us at the same time, viz: the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit, who through faith excites in us the desire of good works and new obedience.

3. That we may be assured of our election and salvation. “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” (2 Pet. 1:10.) This cause naturally grows out of the preceding one; for God out of his mercy chose from everlasting only those who are justified on account of the merit of his Son. “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified.” (Rom. 8:30.) We are, therefore, assured of our election by our justification; and that we are justified in Christ, (which benefit is never granted unto the elect without sanctification,) we know from faith; of which we are, again, assured by the fruits of faith, which are good works, new obedience and true repentance.

4. That our faith may be exercised, nourished, strengthened and increased by good works. Those who indulge in unclean lusts and desires against their consciences cannot have faith, and so are destitute of a good conscience and of confidence in God as reconciled and gracious; for it is only by faith that we obtain a sense of the divine favor towards us and a good conscience. “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” “I put thee in remembrance, that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee.” (Rom. 8:13. 2 Tim. 1:6.)

5. That we may adorn and commend our profession, life and calling by our good works. “I beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” (Eph. 4:1.)

6. That we may escape temporal and eternal punishment. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” “If ye live after the flesh ye shall die.” “Thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity.” (Matt. 7:19. Rom. 8:13. Ps. 39:11.)

7. That we may obtain from God those temporal and spiritual rewards, which, according to the divine promise, accompany good works both in this and in a future life. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8.) And if God did not desire that the hope of reward, and the fear of punishment should be moving causes of good works, he would not use them as arguments in the promises and threatenings which he addresses unto us in his word.

III. Good works are to be done for the sake of our neighbor, 1. That we may be profitable unto our neighbor, and edify him by our example and godly conversation. “All things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might, through the thanksgiving of many, redound to the glory of God,” &c. “Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” (2 Cor. 4:15. Phil. 1:24.)

2. That we may not be the occasion of offences and scandal to the cause of Christ. “Woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you.” (Matt. 18:7. Rom. 2:24.)

3. That we may win the unbelieving to Christ. “And when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” (Luke 22:32.)

The question, whether good works are necessary to salvation, belongs properly to this place. There have been some who have maintained simply and positively, that good works are necessary to salvation, whilst others, again, have held that they are pernicious and injurious to salvation. Both forms of speech are ambiguous and inappropriate, especially the latter; because it seems not only to condemn confidence, but also the desire of performing good works. It is, therefore, to be rejected. The former expression must be explained in this way; that good works are necessary to salvation, not as a cause to an effect, or as if they merited a reward, but as a part of salvation itself, or as an antecedent to a consequent, or as a means without which we cannot obtain the end. In the same way we may also say, that good works are necessary to righteousness or justification, or in them that are to be justified, viz: as a consequence of justification, with which regeneration is inseparably connected. But yet we would prefer not to use these forms of speech, 1. Because they are ambiguous. 2. Because they breed contentions, and give our enemies room for caviling. 3. Because these expressions are not used in the Scriptures with which our forms of speech should conform as nearly as possible. We may more safely and correctly say, That good works are necessary in them that are justified, and that are to be saved. To say that good works are necessary in them that are to be justified, is to speak ambiguously, because it may be so understood as if they were required before justification, and so become a cause of our justification. Augustin has correctly said: “Good works do not precede them that are to be justified, but follow them that are justified.” We may, therefore, easily return an answer to the following objection: That is necessary to salvation without which no one can be saved. But no one who is destitute of good works can be saved, as it is said in the 87th Question. Therefore, good works are necessary to salvation. We reply to the major proposition, by making the following distinction: That without which no one can be saved is necessary to salvation, viz: as a part of salvation, or as a certain antecedent necessary to salvation, in which sense we admit the conclusion; but not as a cause, or as a merit of salvation. We, therefore, grant the conclusion of the major proposition if understood in the sense in which we have just explained it. For good works are necessary to salvation, or, to speak more properly, in them that are to be saved (for it is better thus to speak for the sake of avoiding ambiguity,) as a part of salvation itself; or, as an antecedent of salvation, but not as a cause or merit of salvation.

VI. DO OUR GOOD WORKS MERIT ANY THING IN THE SIGHT OF GOD?

This question naturally grows out of the preceding one, as the fourth grew out of the third. For when we say that we obtain rewards from God by our own good works, men immediately conclude that our good works must merit something at the hands of God. We must know, therefore, that our good works are necessary, and that they are also to be done for the rewards which are consequent thereon; but that they are, nevertheless, not meritorious, by which we mean that they deserve nothing from God, not even the smallest particle of spiritual or temporal blessings. The rea sons of this are most true and evident.

1. Our works are imperfect, both in respect to their parts and degrees. As it respects the parts of our works, they are imperfect, for the reason that we omit many good things which the law prescribes, and do many evil things which the law prohibits; and always mingle much that is evil with the good we do, as both Scripture and experience testify. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary, the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” (Gal. 5:17.) Works, now, that are imperfect not only merit nothing, but are even condemned in the judgment of God. “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. (Deut. 27:26.) Our works are also imperfect in degree, because the best works of the saints are unclean and defiled in the sight of God, not being performed by those who are perfectly regenerated, nor with that love to God and our neighbor which the law requires. The prophet Isaiah declares even in reference to good works, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Is. 64:6.) So the apostle Paul passes the same judgment in regard to his own works, saying, “I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things; and do count them but dung that I may win Christ.” (Phil. 3:8.) It is in this way, now, that all the saints speak and judge concerning their own righteousness and merits.

2. No creature, performing even the best works, can merit any thing at the hand of God, or bind him to give any thing as though it were due from him, and according to the order of divine justice. The Apostle assigns the reason of this when he says, “Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again.” “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own.” (Rom. 11:35. Matt. 20:15.) We deserve our preservation no more than we did our creation. God was not bound to create us; nor is he bound to preserve those whom he has created. But he did, and does, both of his own free-will and good pleasure. God receives no benefit from us, nor can we confer any thing upon our Creator. Now, where there is no benefit, there is no merit; for merit presupposes some benefit received.

3. Our works are all due unto God; for all creatures are bound to render worship and gratitude to the Creator, so that if we were even never to sin, yet we could not render unto God the worship and gratitude which is due from us. “When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10.)

4. If we do any works which are good, these works are not ours, but God’s, who produces them in us by his Holy Spirit. “It is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” “What hast thou, that thou didst not receive?” (Phil. 2:13. 1 Cor. 4:7.) We are by nature the children of wrath—dead in trespasses and sins—evil trees, which cannot produce good fruit. (Eph. 2:1, 3. Matt. 7:18.) If we are by nature evil trees, God must by his grace make us good trees, and produce good fruit in us, as it is said; “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10.) Hence, if we perform any thing that is good, it is the gift of God, and not any merit on our part. It would, indeed, be foolish on the part of any one, if, when he were to receive a hundred florins as a present from a rich man, he should think he deserved a thousand for receiving the hundred, seeing that he is under obligations to the rich man for the gift which he has received, and not the rich man to him.

5. There is no proportion between our works, which are altogether imperfect, and those exceedingly great benefits which the Father freely grants unto us in his Son.

6. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:31.) But if we deserve the remission of our sins by our good works, we should then have something whereof to glory; nor should we attribute the glory of our salvation to God, as it is said, “If Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory, but not before God.” (Rom. 4:2.)

7. We are justified before we perform good works. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger: As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Rom. 9:11–14.) We are, therefore, not justified before God at the time when we do good works, but we perform good works when we are justified.

8. The conceit of merit and justification by our good works is calculated to shake true Christian consolation, to disturb the conscience and lead men to doubt and despair in reference to their salvation. For when they hear the denunciation of the law, cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them, and consider their own imperfection, their conscience tells them that they can never perform all these things, so that they are continually led to cherish doubts, and to live in dread of the curse of the law. Faith, however, imparts sure and solid comfort to the conscience, because it grounds itself in the promise of God, which cannot disappoint the soul. “The inheritance is of faith, that it might be by grace, to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” (Rom. 4:16.)

9. If we were to obtain righteousness by our own works, the promise would then be made of none effect, and Christ would have died in vain.

10. If the conceit concerning the merit of good works be admitted, then there would not be one and the same method of salvation. Abraham and the Thief on the cross would have been justified differently, which might also be said of us. But there is only one way of salvation: “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” “There is one Mediator between God and men.” “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.” “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (John 14:6. 1 Tim. 2:5. Eph. 4:5. Heb. 13:8.
Acts 4:12.)

11. Christ would not accomplish the whole of our salvation, and thus would not be a perfect Saviour if any thing were to be added by us to our righteousness by way of merit; for there would be as much detracted from his merit as would be added thereto from our merit. But Christ is our perfect Saviour, as the Scriptures sufficiently testify. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” “By grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” “Neither is there salvation in any other.” (Eph. 1:7; 2:8, 9. 1 John 1:7. Acts 4:12.)

Obj. Reward presupposes merit. God also calls those good things which he promises, and grants unto them that perform good works, rewards Therefore good works presuppose merit, and are meritorious in the sight of God. Ans. The major proposition, sometimes, holds true among men, but never with God; because no creature can merit any thing at the hands of God, seeing that he is indebted to no one. Yet they are, nevertheless, called the rewards of our good works in respect to God, because he, out of his mere grace, recompenses them. This recompense, however, is not due; for we can add nothing to God, neither does he stand in need of our works. Yea, something is rather added unto us by our good works; because they are a conformity of ourselves with God, and his benefits, by which we are bound to render gratitude to God, and not God to us. It is, therefore, not less absurd to say that we merit salvation at the hands of God, than if a certain one should say, Thou hast given me one hundred florins. Therefore thou oughtest to give me a thousand florins. Yet God commands us to perform good works, and promises a gracious reward to those who do them, as a father promises rewards to his children.

Theodore Beza on Law and Gospel

Theodore_Beza4.22 That which we call “The Word of God”: Its two parts- the Law and the Gospel

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.”

HT: Gospel-Driven blog

Law & Gospel: Preaching Christ Through a Rightly Divided Word

Law & Gospel:
Preaching Christ Through a Rightly Divided Word

by Shane Rosenthal
© 1998 Reformation Ink
 
Shane Rosenthal, M.A., Historical Theology, Westminster Theological Seminary in CA, is a freelance audio/video editor and producer. He is currently one of the creative producers for the national radio program The White Horse Inn, and webmaster for Reformation Ink. Shane, along with his wife and three children reside in southern California.

As we begin to enter the 21st century I am concerned for the state of American Christianity. Contemporary churches are in my opinion becoming conformed more by the pattern of the world, than by the power of the Word. In the Reformation of the 16th century, the church was defined as an institution in which the Word was rightly preached and the sacraments were rightly administered. Today however, not only is this definition missing, but the office of preaching and the practice of the sacraments have fallen on hard times. Sacraments are practiced so infrequently that they are no longer part of the regular life of the church, and preaching in some cases has become a means to entertain the “audience,” or it has become a political rally, a therapy session, a discourse on Christian or family values, or speculation about the end of the world–all to the neglect of proclaiming the saving message of Christ’s propitiatory death for sinners. In order to make the case that the church is no longer acting in accordance with the historic Protestant definition of what a church should be, this paper will focus on the singular issue of the failure of contemporary preaching, particularly in its neglect of Christ, and of rightly distinguishing law from gospel.

In a letter to Cardinal Sadeleto John Calvin complained that the office of preaching had fallen on hard times. In fact, Calvin writes:

Nay, what one sermon was there from which old wives might not carry off more whimsies than they could devise at their own fireside in a month? For, as sermons were then usually divided, the first half was devoted to those misty questions of the schools which might astonish the rude populace, while the second contained sweet stories, or not unamusing speculations, by which the hearers might be kept on the alert. Only a few expressions were thrown in from the word of God, that by their majesty they might procure credit for these frivolities.1

Calvin concludes this section by arguing that the Reformers raised the standard of preaching throughout Europe when they appeared on the scene. What is interesting to me about this quote is how contemporary it sounds. Our day, it seems, is plagued with this pre-Reformation scenario in regards to the content and quality of preaching as well. In many cases one leaves a church service having heard more stories about the life of the pastor than about the life and death of Christ. The chief element that is missing in both Calvin’s day before the Reformation and our day is the sound proclamation of the Word of God with Christ at the center of it all.

Preaching Christ
In the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees that “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life (5:39-40). The point that Jesus seems to be making is that he himself is the major subject of the Scriptures. The Pharisees were reading the Bible as an end in itself, but Jesus clearly rebuked them for this, showing them that this way of reading the Bible actually kept them from coming to the truth. Jesus makes a similar point to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27). The disciples were not reading the Scriptures in a Pharisaic or legalistic way; nevertheless, they had neglected to find the message of the messianic deliverer at the heart of it all. But when Jesus preached this sermon about himself the disciples asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). This should be the response of today’s disciples as God’s servants open up the Scriptures each Lord’s Day. But it should be the response of the heart after it has heard wonderful things from the Word concerning the work of Christ on our behalf.

Rightly Dividing the Word
In his second epistle to Timothy, The apostle Paul writes, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2:15). What the NIV translates here as “correctly handles” was previously in the old King James translated as “rightly dividing.” The greek word underlying each of these translations is ojrqotomouvnta, a present active participle of orqotomew which according to Baur, Arndt and Gingrich is “found elsewhere independently of the NT only in Prov. 3:6; 11:5…and plainly means to “cut a path in a straight direction” or “cut a road across country (that is forested or otherwise difficult to pass through) in a straight direction” so that the traveler may go directly to his destination.2 If this is correct, then the biblical material is the “forest” which the preacher must trek through in advance of the people. He must make the way straight and clear, and he must cut a path that leads to the “promised land” of the faithful, rather than to Egypt or Assyria.

If the promised land, or goal, of Christian preaching is Christ, I believe the means to that end is the hermeneutic of law and gospel. This was the way of reading the Scriptures recovered at the Reformation that sought to correct a number of problems in the way the medieval church communicated salvation. One of the problems the Reformers responded to was that the Roman church had made the gospel too difficult. It was no longer a sweet promise, but it had become a kind of new law. Another problem was that the preaching of the law had become too easy, and was not presented as a sharp, strict and unrelenting barrier to fellowship with God. With the first error, the Reformers feared that Rome was making true Christians despair of their salvation, and with the second error, they feared that Rome was creating Pharisees.

Martin Luther, one of the first to make this distinction at the time of the Reformation, wrote in 1532:

This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference. If this ability is lacking, one cannot tell a Christian from a heathen or a Jew; of such supreme importance is this differentiation. This is why St. Paul so strongly insists on a clean-cut and proper differentiating of these two doctrines.3

So important was this distinction for Luther, that it separated Christianity from heathenism, and notice that he did not attempt to take credit for coming up with this hermeneutic on his own. He argues that this differentiation is found in the Scriptures themselves. After all, it was not Luther but Paul who wrote, ” But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith” (Rom. 3:21-22). Luther’s point was that if one does not get this understanding down, and thinks that righteousness can somehow be obtained “by” the law, then he is not a Christian. The Christian rests his faith on Christ who fulfilled all righteousness for us, even to the obedience of death on the cross. This righteousness as Paul says, “without the law” is given to us through faith (and if it is through faith apart from the works of the law, then Luther is correct in asserting that it is through faith “alone”).

Luther was not the only Reformer to emphasize this point. Although the law/gospel distinction has survived strongest in the Lutheran theological tradition, a number of Reformed theologians have argued its importance as well. In his Institutes, John Calvin writes:

By the term Law, Paul frequently understands that rule of holy living in which God exacts what is his due, giving no hope of life unless we obey in every respect; and, on the other hand, denouncing a curse for the slightest failure. This Paul does when showing that we are freely accepted of God, and accounted righteous by being pardoned, because that obedience of the Law to which the reward is promised is nowhere to be found. Hence he appropriately represents the righteousness of the Law and the Gospel as opposed to each other. But the Gospel has not succeeded the whole Law in such a sense as to introduce a different method of salvation. It rather confirms the Law, and proves that every thing which it promised is fulfilled. What was shadow, it has made substance…4

Calvin goes so far as to say that the law and the gospel are opposed to one another, but only to a certain extent. The gospel is not a new and unrelated form of salvation, but rather, is the substance of what was previously hinted at in the shadows. The law was strict and severe, but it did point the children of the Abrahamic covenant to the mercy of God. As hymn writer John Newton eloquently put it, “As we ponder grace and justice, let us point to mercy’s store. When through grace in Christ our trust is, justice smiles and asks no more.”5 This “store” of mercy, as Newton calls it, was continually being pointed to throughout the Old Testament period, and stepped out onto front-stage with the coming of Christ. Calvin also points out that the “law gives us no hope unless we obey it in every respect.” Implied in this is the idea that we could possibly put our hope in the law if all was well with us spiritually, but since the fall, no one but Christ has the ability to natively please God. This is why Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Thus, we are in one respect saved by law-keeping, just not our own.

Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza also was also strongly concerned about this issue. In fact, in 1558 Beza wrote , “Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.”6 I think Beza makes a good point here. Christianity has alway suffered from abuse and corruption, but a mistake here at the heart of how we read the Bible is of special concern. He went on to say that the entire corpus of the Scriptures could be gathered into either the heading of Law or Gospel.7

There are a number of other great quotes from Reformed theologians on this subject, but in view of the space limitation, I’ll conclude this section with the noteworthy words of an early English reformer named John Bradford, who was martyred in 1555:

He that is ignorant of [the division of the places of the Law and of the Gospel] cannot, though he were a great doctor of divinity, and could rehearse every text of the bible without book, but both be deceived, and deceive others; as the experience hereof (the more pity) hath taught, nay, seduced the whole world….Therefore, I say, take to thee the glass of God’s law; look therein, and thou shalt see thy just damnation, and God’s wrath for sin, which, if thou dreadest, will drive thee not only to an amendment, but also to a sorrow and hatred of thy wickedness, and even to the brim of despair, out of which nothing can bring thee but the glad tidings of Christ, that is, the gospel: for as God’s word doth bind thee, so can nothing but God’s word unbind thee; and until thou comest to this point, thou knowest nothing of Christ.8

In all of these selections from the Reformers, the recurring theme is that the distinction of Law and Gospel is extremely crucial to the life and health of the church, as well as of the individual believer. Without it the church can be corrupted, deceived, abused, and can even cease to be a church. Bradford even makes a more astonishing claim about the importance of Law and Gospel when he says that without it, “thou knowest nothing of Christ.” This is why it is so important in my mind for preachers to have a good understanding of law and gospel. Even if they do desire to preach Christ, often the message will be confused because Christ is presented as a “new law-giver” rather than as our redeemer and friend.

Problems Associated with Confusing Law & Gospel
In Matthew chapter 19, there is the story of the rich young ruler who comes to Jesus and asks “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (19:16). Jesus answers by saying, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments” (19:17). This is not the answer we would expect, but we must view Jesus here as preaching a strict view of the law. So when the young man replied, “All these I have kept” (19:20), Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (19:21). Here Jesus is challenging the young man’s claim that he had actually kept the law. If he really loved his neighbor as himself, he wouldn’t have a problem giving his wealth away to the poor. But when he heard these words “he went away sad” (19:22). I have heard a number of sermons that totally misunderstood the basic message of this passage. Some have tried to argue that if the young ruler would have only “surrendered” to Jesus then he would have had a “treasure in heaven.” But this is not the point here at all. Jesus is not trying to get him to “do” something, rather, he is confronting him with the fact that he “can’t do” something. In other words, Jesus is not preaching the gospel here, he is preaching the law. This assertion can be evidenced by looking at the disciples response to Jesus following words, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (19:23-24). When they heard this they asked, “Who then can be saved?” (19:25). In other words, they realized that it was not just a failure to “surrender.” When they heard Jesus’ words and began to despair, not just for the rich man, but also for everyone’s salvation. And Jesus’ answer to the question was not very encouraging: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (19:26). Men cannot save themselves, either by works of the law, or by tears, or by surrender or anything that they do, but salvation is possible with God (as will be proclaimed with the gospel message).

When a preacher confuses this passage by preaching “full surrender” to Jesus, he creates despair in the hearts of many of his parishioners (who say to themselves, “Who then can be saved?”). Scottish theologian Ralph Erskine had some wrote some very interesting lines critiquing this kind of thing in his Poem, “Against A Legal Spirit”:

Christ is not preach’d in truth, but in disguise,
If his bright glory half absconded lies.
When gospel-soldiers, that divide the word,
Scarce brandish any but the legal sword.
Shaping the gospel to an easy law,
They build their tott’ring house with hay and straw;
With legal spade the gospel-field he delves,
Who thus drives sinners in unto themselves;
Halving the truth that should be all reveal’d,
The sweetest part of Christ is oft conceal’d.9

Erskine’s point is that sinners should not be driven in and unto themselves, but to Christ. To be sure, the law must have its place, but Christ must have his place too, and completely, or else you will not be making Christians of your hearers.

I once heard a sermon on the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus’ words, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20) were taken to mean that we had to live our lives (as Christians) in a more righteous manner than the Pharisees if we wanted to get to heaven. What is interesting is that the minister was a very grace-conscious conservative Reformed Presbyterian. For this pastor, it was all a matter of grace that we would be able to live this type of life, nevertheless, I feared for the majority of the people in the congregation who thought to themselves, “Do I have any hope of getting to heaven now at all?” Their focus, in my view, was removed from Christ and back to their works as the basis of hope. Again, Erskine is helpful here:

For sins of nature, practice, heart, and way,
Damnation-rent it summons thee to pay.
Yea, not for sin alone, which is thy shame,
But for thy boasted service too, so lame,
The law adjudges thee and hell to meet,
Because thy righteousness is incomplete.
As tow’ring flames burn up the wither’d flags,
So will the fiery law thy filthy rags.
Full help is laid upon thy mighty One.
In him, in him complete salvation dwells;
He’s God the helper, and there is none else.
Fig-leaves won’t hide thee from the fiery show’r,
‘Tis he alone that saves by price and pow’r.10

Erskine’s point was that it is not only our sins that cause us problems, but our righteousness as well, for as Isaiah says, “our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). These “fig leaves” of our own making can never make us acceptable with God. This is why it is a very serious mistake to require any level of righteousness in order to gain access to heaven. Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount was not to show “how” we save ourselves, rather, he was pushing us to despair of our own attempts to save ourselves. Yes, our righteousness does have to exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees, because their righteousness were filthy rags as well (even though they put the most effort into being holy). We need the perfect righteousness of another in order to be acceptable to God. Thus, in hearing a strict and unrelenting message of law, we have been forced once again to flee to the gospel for comfort.

Law & Gospel in Les Miserables
I would like to conclude this article with a terrific illustration of this issue from the world of the theatre. In the 1985 musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, there is a powerful example of the gospel as set against the backdrop of an unforgiving law. Jean Valjean is a man recently released from prison who finds that he cannot get a decent job due to his criminal record. A generous bishop grants him a meal and a warm bed but Valjean abuses the bishop’s kindness and steals his silverware in the middle of the night. When he is captured and returned, the bishop asks him why he left without taking the candlesticks also and dismisses the charges. Free from the threat of another prison sentence and feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt, Valjean sings the following verses:

Take an eye for an eye, turn your heart into stone.
This is all I have lived for, this is all I have known!
One word from him and I’d be back,
Beneath the lash, upon the rack.
Instead he offers me my freedom.

I feel my shame inside me like a knife
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching but I fall and the night is closing in
As I stare into the void–to the whirlpool of my sin
I’ll escape now from the world–from the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now, a new story must begin.11

Valjean knew the law, but he was totally unfamiliar with the sort of kindness shown to him by the bishop. This is the way it is with us and God. The law is with us by nature but the gospel message is totally foreign to us This is why the gospel must be preached to us from the outside, because it is a message that is completely contrary to the world as we know it. Valjean describes this as the world of “an eye for an eye,” and admits that “this is all [he has] known.” So when the bishop preaches to him the good news of mercy and pardon, he is cut to the quick and confesses his sin. But Valjean quickly moves (or should we say, “is moved”) from confession to sincere repentance by determining to live a new life.

It is interesting how the rest of the story contrasts Valjean’s life of gratitude and service to God with that of the police officer Javert’s strict adherence to the law in hunting down Valjean for breaking his parole. His pursuit is not unlike Paul’s Pharisaic zeal in persecuting the church; in trying to exact a legalistic righteousness, he wound up in opposition to God’s redemptive plan. In the same way, Javert expresses this type of view when he sings, “Honest work, just reward, that’s the way to please the Lord.” But this tune of the heart makes him the life-long antagonist of the converted Valjean. It was Paul the apostle, however, who summed it all up well when he wrote:

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish (sku/bala), that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Phil. 3:5-10).

Paul certainly knew what it was like to pursue the law with the utmost zeal. But in his pursuit of the law, he neglected that which the law pointed to all along, i.e., the mercy of God in Christ. Therefore preachers have an important responsibility to clearly present the law of God in its full terror. Without this message the gospel will make little sense (a good example is how a number of churches avoid preaching the law but present Christ as the solution to loneliness). The most important task, however, is to see that the gospel of Christ is presented in all its sweetness and comfort as a solution to the divine curse of the law.

If a minister is preaching pop-psychology, political propaganda, ten steps to a successful marriage, end-time speculations, or family values, all to the neglect of Christ, then that particular church has a significant problem. Christ is the heart of the Scriptures, and he is the heart of Christianity. The sermons throughout the book of Acts bear this out. But as bad as this is, I fear more for the congregants of a church where Christ is the major subject of the sermons but is presented as a new Moses rather than as the comforting deliverer of Zion. In the first context, I view the church more as a gathering at the local Elk’s Lodge. I’ve been to churches like this and in my opinion they are not really churches at all but simply public meetings with religious language. The churches, on the other hand, whose pastors regularly confuse the law with the gospel, represent a much more significant problem. Sincere believers, struggling to understand Christ and the message of salvation, are often, in such places, given stones rather than bread. They are pushed back “in and to themselves” again and again. My prayer is that God would send us laborers for his Kingdom who would come to the place of harvesting with the proper tools.

Those suitors therefore of the bride, who hope
By force to drag her with the legal rope,
Nor use the drawing cord of conqu’ring grace,
Pursue with flaming zeal a fruitless chase;
In vain lame doings urge, with solemn awe,
To bribe the fury of the fiery law:
They shew not Jesus as the way to bliss,
But Judas-like betray him with a kiss
Of boasted works, or mere profession puft,
Law-boasters proving but law-breakers oft.12

Notes:
1. John Calvin, Selected Works Vol. 1, “Reply by Calvin to Cardinal Sadolet’s Letter,” (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1983), p. 40.
2. Walter Baur, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 584
3. Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), p. 732.
4. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, tr. by Henry Beveridge, (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845; orig. 1536), 2.9.4.
5. John Newton, Works of Newton Vol. 2, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1835), p.367.
6. Theodore Beza, The Christian Faith, trans. by James Clark (East Sussex, U.K.: Focus Christian Ministries Trust, 1992; orig. 1558), p. 40-41 (sect. 4.22).
7. Ibid.
8. John Bradford, The Writings of John Bradford, “Preface to: The Places of The Law and of the Gospel by Petrus Artopeus” (Cambridge: The Parker Society, 1848; orig. 1548), p. 5.
9. Ralph Erskine, The Sermons and Practical Works of Ralph Erskine, “Against a Legal Spirit.” (Glasgow: W. Smith and J. Bryce Booksellers, 1778) vol. 10, p. 84.
9. Ralph Erskine, The Sermons and Practical Works of Ralph Erskine, “Arguments and Encouragements to Gospel-ministers to avoid a legal strain of doctrine, and endeavor the sinner’s match with Christ by gospel means.” (Glasgow: W. Smith and J. Bryce Booksellers, 1778) vol. 10, pp. 87-88.
11. Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, Les Miserables in Concert at The Royal Albert Hall, (London: First Night Records, 1996; orig. 1985).
12. Ralph Erskine, The Sermons and Practical Works of Ralph Erskine, (Glasgow: W. Smith and J. Bryce Booksellers, 1778) vol. 10, p. 93.

Source: http://web.archive.org/web/20110514021748/http://homepage.mac.com/shanerosenthal/reformationink/srlawgospel.htm