Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Law - Gospel Continuum...

More thoughts and a few questions prompted by some excerpts from Calvin's Commentary on 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 which highlight the interplay between law and gospel, the two words of Scripture.  Here is the passage:
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and wherethe Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. [ESV]
Questions and Thoughts:
Is there a power to transform in the law? Does the law have a role in transformation apart from the gospel?  Or does its role only effectively come into play in the light of the gospel? These questions are asked with both the first use and third use of the law in mind.

We are taught that the Holy Spirit and Word work together as Christ is proclaimed.  The gospel presented transforms the law presented from a harsh messenger of condemnation to one that convicts of sin and points sinners to Christ.  The law diagnoses sin, the gospel remedies sin.  Then through faith and repentance, as sinners trust in God's forgiveness and Christ's righteousness imputed to them, the gospel-fulfilled-law directs their lives in grateful obedience.  The gospel (Jesus' perfect satisfaction for our sins and perfect and complete obedience of the law for us) is then the only ground upon which the sinner's/saint's God-accepted-obedience-for-Christ's-sake walks.

And if, as Calvin comments, the gospel is that divinely unique message by which God communicates Christ to us and by which the we are transformed into that same image of Christ, then is this "beholding" only to be a one time or infrequent occurrence?  Or, is the gospel that which believers are to be regularly fed, the Spirit nourishing their faith in Christ's finished work for them as they are transformed into the image of Christ through faith, repentance, and obedience?  Rinse and repeat for a lifetime...

Calvin's comments:
16. "But when he shall have turned to the Lord..." This passage has hitherto been badly rendered, for both Greek and Latin writers have thought that the word Israel was to be understood, whereas Paul is speaking of Moses. He had said, that a veil is upon the hearts of the Jews, when Moses is read. He immediately adds, "As soon as he [it] will have turned to the Lord, the veil will be taken away." Who does not see, that this is said of Moses, that is, of the law? For as Christ is the end of it, (Romans 10:4,) to which it ought to be referred, it was turned away in another direction, when the Jews shut out Christ from it. Hence, as in the law they wander into by-paths, so the law, too, becomes to them involved like a labyrinth, until it is brought to refer to its end, that is, Christ. If, accordingly, the Jews seek Christ in the law, the truth of God will be distinctly seen by them, but so long as they think to be wise without Christ, they will wander in darkness, and will never arrive at a right understanding of the law. Now what is said of the law applies to all Scripture -- that where it is not taken as referring to Christ as its one aim, it is mistakenly twisted and perverted.

17. "The Lord is the Spirit..." This passage, also, has been misinterpreted, as if Paul had meant to say, that Christ is of a spiritual essence, for they connect it with that statement in John 4:24, God is a Spirit. The statement before us, however, has nothing to do with Christ's essence, but simply points out his office, for it is connected with what goes before, where we found it stated, that the doctrine of the law is literal, and not merely dead, but even an occasion of death. He now, on the other hand, calls Christ its spirit, meaning by this, that it will be living and life-giving, only if it is breathed into by Christ. Let the soul be connected with the body, and then there is a living man, endowed with intelligence and perception, fit for all vital functions. Let the soul be removed from the body, and there will remain nothing but a useless carcass,  totally devoid of feeling.  The passage is deserving of particular notice, as teaching us, in what way we are to reconcile those encomiums [praises] which David pronounces upon the law -- (Psalm 19:7,8) -- "the law of the Lord converteth souls, enlighteneth the eyes, imparteth wisdom to babes," and passages of a like nature, with those statements of Paul, which at first view are at variance with them -- that it is the ministry of sin and death -- the letter that does nothing but kill. (2 Corinthians 3:6,7.) For when it is animated by Christ, those things that David makes mention of are justly applicable to it. If Christ is taken away, it is altogether such as Paul describes. Hence Christ is the life of the law.

18. "But we all, with unveiled face..."  He points out, however, at the same time, both the strength of the revelation, and our daily progress.  For he has employed such a similitude to denote three things: first, That we have no occasion to fear obscurity, when we approach the gospel, for God there clearly discovers to us His face; secondly, That it is not befitting, that it should be a dead contemplation, but that we should be transformed by means of it [i.e. the gospel] into the image of God; and, thirdly, that the one and the other are not accomplished in us in one moment, but we must be constantly making progress both in the knowledge of God, and in conformity to His image, for this is the meaning of the expression -- from glory to glory.
[Italics, brackets, and bold added]


  1. "Is there a power to transform in the law? "

    Yes, Jack.

    It makes us worse.

  2. Steve, you echo John Owen's words as he answers the question:

    Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God: nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: “The strength of sin is the law.” But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion… (John Owen, A Treatise of the Dominion of Sin and Grace)

  3. The law was added, the law came along side of the gospel, but the texts don't say that the law was useful as a "restraint of sin". So why don't we question the 'second use of the law"?

    1. Isn't the he law, in this case, the Mosaic covenant that was added 430 years after the promise? The moral law written on hearts of all mankind, i.e. even the unregenerate (in My image, though image is deformed), has a restraining effect on sin. It was given creationally not via Moses. Isn't it was the law as a law (covenant) of works that ended with Christ?

    2. There's the law written on the conscience of all men. Even tbe Gentile without the Law is aware of right and wrong.
      But the Law given to Moses to give to Israel at Mt.Sanai was particular to Israel, God gave it to Israel as a written Law,God's requirements made clear.
      It separated a Holy God from a fallen sinful people. It as Paul points out clarified sin and thus the state of men and their need of a righteousness outside of themselves.
      Besides the Law was never given for man to fulfill, but for Christ who would fulfill it.

  4. Dan Fuller in The Unity of the Bible (1992, Zondervan) p 181: “In commenting on Genesis 2:17 -do not eat from that tree–Calvin said, `These words are so far from establishing faith that they do nothing but shake it.’

    Dan Fuller: I argue, however, that there is much reason for regarding these words as well suited to strengthen Adam and Eve’s faith…In Calvin’s thinking, the promise made in Genesis 2:17 could never encourage faith, for its conditionality could encourage only meritorious works. `Faith seeks life that is not found in commandments.’ Consequently, the gospel by which we are saved is an unconditional covenant of grace, made such by Christ having merited it for us by his perfect fulfillment of the covenant of works.

    Dan Fuller responds to Calvin: “I have yet to find anywhere in Scripture a gospel promise that is unconditional.”

    More from Daniel Fuller’s Unity of the Bible (p 310): “If Abraham was not declared forgiven until ten years later, was he still a guilty sinner when he responded positively to God’s promises in Genesis 12:2-3 and also during the following years up until 15:6?”

    “Calvin gave a meaning to the use by James of the word justification which is not supported by the text…He argued that for James, `justify’ meant the `declaration’ rather than the `imputation’ of righteousness.”

    Calvin (3:17:12): “Either James inverted faith and obedience–unlawful even to imagine–or he did not mean to call him justified, as if Abraham deserved to be reckoned righteous. What then? Surely, it is clear that he himself is speaking of the declaration, not the imputation, of righteousness.”

    Back to Fuller (p 313): “Paul would have agreed with James that Abraham’s work of preparing to sacrifice Isaac was an obedience of faith. He would have disagreed strongly with Calvin, who saw obedience and works as only accompanying genuine faith…The concern in James 2:14-26 was to urge a faith that saves a person, not simply to tell a person how they could demonstrate their saving faith."

    And then Daniel Fuller quotes Jonathan Edwards: “We are really saved by perseverance…the perseverance which belongs to faith is one thing that is really a fundamental ground of the congruity that faith gives to salvation…For, though a sinner is justified in his first act of faith, yet even then, in that act of justification, God has respect to perseverance as being implied in the first act.”

  5. The above from Fuller is good evidence as to why one shouldn't rely on Fuller rather than Calvin. Does Fuller remind you of another recent voice promoting faith as works? Of course, he does!

  6. To get at the root of the problem, we are going to need to see the unity of the Abrahamic and the Mosaic covenants, and then see that the Abrahamic covenant is not the same as the new covenant, because the Abrahamic covenants results in both the Mosaic covenant and also in the new covenant. Abraham was only the father of believers but also the father of a typical seed. God did not promise blessings to "believers and their children" . The Abrahamic covenant community is not the new covenant community. We cannot remove all typical promises from the Abrahamic covenant, and then pretend that it only had gospel promises.