Friday, March 23, 2012

Law - Gospel - Law...

Not only the content of preaching, but the order of the content is important... indispensable.  J. Gresham Machen, in Christianity and Liberalism, wrote,
The consciousness of sin was formerly the starting-point of all preaching, but today it is gone... Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.... it begins with the consciousness of sin.  Without the consciousness of sin, the whole gospel will seem to be an idle tale. (pp. 56-57)
How often is the first use of the Law employed in a sermon to impress upon believers an awareness of God's holiness, his just demands, and how far they have fallen short due to their very real sin?  Machen, it seems, would say that if the gospel is to have its intended effect as Good News, then it is necessary for a consciousness of sin, the bad news, to precede that of the free mercy in Christ Jesus offered to undeserving sinners.

Likewise if the third use of the law (admonishing and directing grateful believers in a righteous direction for living) is preached without first presenting the message of the Law, followed by the proclamation of the gospel - Jesus as the One who died and bore the penalty of our falling short, raised from the dead for our justification (his righteous obedience credited to us) - then, rather than directing and guiding, it takes on a subtle, foreboding tone of demand for obedience.

This often occurs when the Law - God's demand for holiness and his condemnation of sin - and the Gospel - God's remedy in the provision of a Savior for sinners - are assumed in a sermon.  They may be implicitly mentioned, but not explicitly proclaimed as God's two words in Scripture that are the foundation of the redemptive story.  But my people already know the teaching that they're sinners and that Jesus died for them!  So then, sermons that bypass Law and Gospel message are often reduced to biblical admonitions to obey and trust sprinkled with promises of God's grace and faithfulness. The intention is to encourage believers to live in a manner worthy of their Lord.  And yet the message too often received is a sermon-exhortation of soft law-demands.


  1. And Bingo was his name-O!

    Thanks, Laura.

  2. Hi Charlie,

    Why assume that a story must be fable or without doctrine? The Redemptive Story is the account of the true historical events of God's work of salvation throughout history (story) with the redemptive interpretation (doctrinal truth) that the Bible gives. Christ died on the cross is true story. Christ died on the cross to save sinners is the doctrinal truth which interprets/explains that story. Thus Law and Gospel (doctrine based on absolute truth) is integral to proclaiming the story of redemption:

    I love to tell the story,
    'Twill be me theme in glory,
    To tell the old, old story
    Of Jesus and his love.


  3. might be chicken and egg. Since the gospel itself is about Christ's death satisfying the law for the sins of the elect imputed, the gospel cannot be preached without law. In my own case, I don't think I ever feared God until I understand the gospel. I never understood the true demand of the law until I understood Christ's death as the only satisfaction of law. I am not saying that we must always go from gospel to law, but neither must the "preparation" scheme be law to gospel.

    And after we believe the gospel, we are not under the law. That's what Romans 6:14 says. We can take some of the shock of that away by saying "not under law for justification, but are under law for sanctification." or by saying that we are "not under the law as attached to the Mosaic covenant." but I would argue that both those qualifications say less than needs to be said.

  4. John Owen---they are under its power, rule, conditions, and authority, AS A COVENANT. And in this sense all men are under it who are not instated in the new covenant...."

    The "as a covenant" distinction does not work as well we might like, because as Lee Irons has explained----the discontinuity of the new covenant from older covenants means that we cannot pull the law out from the old covenant, and still use that "not as a covenant" else where. Covenants and laws don't work that way in the Bible, but they do in the theology of people who still want to say One gospel therefore one law and one covenant

    Lee Irons---the third use of the Law in the Reformed tradition can easily drift toward legalism. The Reformed tradition on the Law is not legalistic in the hard sense of asserting that we are justified by the Law. But I wonder if it sufficiently guards against the idea that we are sanctified by the Law.”

    Lee Irons—- God’s moral will, however, must not be equated with the Decalogue, nor can it be defanged into a list of bare non-covenantal commands – “the moral law not as covenant of work ”

  5. What does “For I through the law died to the law” mean? Galatians 2:19

    Machen, Notes, p 159 “The law . . . led men, by its clear revelation of what God requires, to relinquish all claim to salvation by their own obedience. In that sense, surely, Paul could say that it was through the law that he died to the law. The law made the commands of God so terribly clear that Paul could see plainly that there was no hope for him if he appealed for his salvation to his own obedience to those commands.”

    Machen: “This interpretation yields a truly Pauline thought. But the immediate context suggests another, and an even profounder, meaning for the words.”

    Machen: “The key to the interpretation is probably to be found in the sentences, I have been crucified together with Christ, which almost immediately follows. The law, with its penalty of death upon sins (which penalty Christ bore in our stead) brought Christ to the cross; and when Christ died I died, since he died as my representative.”

    Machen: “The death to the law… the law itself brought about when… Christ died that Since He died that death as our representative, we too have died that death. Thus our death to the law, suffered for us by Christ, far from being contrary to the law, was in fulfillment of the law’s own demands. “