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The Law/Gospel Distinction Just for Lutherans? The Reformed Orthodox Didn’t Think So

28 November, 2008

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721)

Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721)

It’s sometimes said that the strict distinction between law and gospel, when it comes to how we stand before God, is a Lutheran distinction and not a Reformed one. Well, it is a Lutheran distinction — but it’s also just as truly a Reformed one, as we at C or C like to talk about often.

There are nearly as many examples of this as there are theologians, but today let’s go with Melchior Leydekker. Leydekker was one of the last great defenders of a robustly confessional Reformed orthodoxy in the academies of the Netherlands at the turn of the eighteenth century, and he certainly cannot be accused of soft-pedaling his differences with Lutherans (or anyone else!). Here’s some of what he had to say about this ‘Lutheran’ distinction:

“It is the true wisdom of a Christian to understand aright and with a spiritual eye to discern the great difference between the Law and the Gospel, the Covenant of Works and that of Grace, the Legal and the Evangelical justification [i.e. justification by works or faithfulness versus justification by grace through faith], the ignorance whereof is the great cause of most errors this day among professed Christians.

When our blessed Savior came into the world, he came flowing out of this bad fountain a multitude of heresies in the Jewish church, deceived by the Pharisees — blind leaders of a blind people — erecting and establishing their own righteousness before the throne of God. And it is certain that our Lord Jesus Christ was rejected by the Jews because they could not believe their own unrighteousness, misery, and condemnation by the law, nor be made to seek in the Messiah — in his sufferings and satisfaction — the true expiation of sins and a complete righteousness sufficient for eternal happiness. Certainly they understood not the promises of the prophets, especially that of Isaiah 53, neither looked they to the end of the ceremonial economy and law which was to be abolished (2 Cor 3:13).

Of this error by the Jews we have a clear example in the apostle Paul: before his conversion a Pharisee, and by his great masters well instructed in the letter of the law. For he, looking upon himself and not understanding the nature of the law in its Spiritual meaning, was in his own eyes no sinner, but a just man, ‘living’, and having a right to pretend a sentence of justification before God upon the account of his works according to the law. But when it pleased God to reveal his Son to his soul, he could ‘count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ’, and desire ‘only to be found in him, not having [his] own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ — the righteousness that is of God by faith’ (Phil 3:8-9). And so he became a great example for all true converts and believers, and his conversion a demonstration of this evangelical doctrine: that no man is justified by his works, but by the righteousness of Christ imputed, and by faith received and applied….How happy would the church be in these days, if the doctrine of Gospel-Justification did continue pure, and could be propagated and transmitted to the following ages!…”

  1. 28 November, 2008 8:24 am

    “the ignorance whereof is the great cause of most errors this day among professed Christians.”

    Not to mentioned those who are trying to ever reform in our day. Sheesh I can’t believe what’s happening all over the Reformed map. In every form in every denomination gospel obscuring gnomes are popping up like tares.

    “How happy would the church be in these days, if the doctrine of Gospel-Justification did continue pure, and could be propagated and transmitted to the following ages!…”

    Exactly! I’ve seen over and over again in my travels that it’s not a lack of legalistic preaching that is the problem with most churches but a lack of Christ placarding gospel preaching. The Gnomes are stuck on the wrong track.

  2. thomasgoodwin permalink
    28 November, 2008 2:03 pm

    Who has ever said that the law-gospel distinction is only Lutheran? I know plenty of people who are critical of the law-gospel hermeneutic, but they still admit that Reformed theologians have used this distinction, at least historically. In fact, I’m unaware of anyone who would deny that the Reformed orthodox have used this distinction. Do you guys have a source? Thanks, TG!

  3. creedorchaos permalink*
    28 November, 2008 2:57 pm


    There’s a difference between saying, ‘The law/gospel distinction isn’t Reformed’, and saying ‘The Reformed orthodox didn’t teach the law/gospel distinction’. I’m not saying anyone claims the latter, I’m saying a lot of people do in fact claim the former. And here I’m simply giving an example of what you rightly point out, that the law/gospel distinction is in fact historically ‘Reformed’.

    I’ve never had a conversation with anyone who would talk about ‘the Reformed orthodox’, who would then claim they didn’t employ the distinction. But as you know, MANY self-styled Reformed have never read any of that, and are often quite insistent that the Reformed believe in ‘gospel-law’, that the two are on a continuum rather than in contrast, and the like.

    So, no sources that I know of claim the Reformed orthodox didn’t teach this distinction. But I’m sure I don’t have to bring to your attention the many who purport to be Reformed and yet label this distinction ‘Lutheran’, often appealing to Calvin (of course against the Calvinists).

    Hope that clarifies my intent,

  4. 28 November, 2008 3:25 pm

    My comment above doesn’t provoke MJ’s question. I never said that. I see a real problem particularly in Reformed circles of preaching the gospel. How in the world did the tradition that loved the grace of God so much become a tradition that outsiders point to as dark legalism? Even one of our profs (u know who) admits that it wasn’t until somewhat recently that he understood the Law/Gospel relationship/distinction. It’s an understanding that has faded and desperately needs to be recovered in mother kirk. It is not evident in very much of the preaching that I’ve encountered anywhere and that’s a real problem. The confusion of Law and Gospel disrupts the story of divinely wrought redemption. It dilutes the power of the gospel in the context broken covenant….who will now keep the Law as federal head acting on our behalf? Who will now bear the burden of our sin?…is the tension created at the start of the story. And the answer to those questions is trumpet blaring glorious and is celebrated in the Christ song of Phil 2:5-11. The glawspel-heads confuse the wonderful drama by looking to their own piety…in some form or another…which is our usual inclination this side of glory.

    Here’s one of many examples: – 49k

  5. thomasgoodwin permalink
    28 November, 2008 4:01 pm

    Yes, but the post does. I think it’s well-nigh impossible to deny that the Reformed taught law-gospel; of course, I differ with some who think that there is only one approach to this hermeneutic; there isn’t. The Reformed and the Lutherans apply it differently. In fact, even amongst the Reformed there is diversity. Bavinck has written on this. So, while I agree that we must not confuse the indicatives and the imperatives, we also need to clearly define what we *mean* by law and gospel and how do we apply this. Some applications of law-gospel are overly-wooden in my opinion and end up butchering the text into little subsets of law-gospel-law- ummm, not sure …

    And there’s our good friend Frame πŸ™‚

  6. thomasgoodwin permalink
    28 November, 2008 4:06 pm

    And, yes, Brannan, I see your point. I am not trying to defend Frame, but I think he may be attacking a specific form of law-gospel. There’s certain law-gospel applications that make me uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean I abandon the CoW-CoG distinction; that doesn’t mean I try to make indicatives into imperatives and vice versa. All it means is that there is a diversity of opinion on how to implement these categories, esp. since some insist on defining them broadly and strictly, which can confuse things! Is the command to repent law or gospel? There’s a whole plethora of opinions among Reformed and Lutheran theologians on that question alone, never-mind how does this all work out in a robust federal theology.

  7. creedorchaos permalink*
    28 November, 2008 5:14 pm


    I see where you’re coming from, and I don’t think you’re trying to dissimulate or anything. I would just make two comments in response:

    1) I know exactly what you’re talking about with Bavinck, and there are lots of examples like that contrasting Reformed and Lutheran paradigms — some of Vos’s or Berkhof’s similar statements are other good examples, and these could be multiplied. I don’t want to get into details here, but you have to keep in mind the context out of which the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century historical rhetoric grows. The language Bavinck and others often use is ‘genetic’ and talks a lot about the ‘root idea’ and the ‘motive force’ and so on, and they usually assign ‘justification by faith’ to the Lutherans and something like ‘the absolute sovereignty of God’ or ‘the glory of God in all things’ to the Reformed. Now, I understand the rhetoric, but I think the whole nineteenth century drive to identify the one basic Idea (with a capital “I”) of every System (capital “S”) can be very unhelpful if we take it strictly or prima facie. If we’re not careful such an approach can turn into caricature on both sides.

    2) Every command is ‘law’. So I would explain it like this: the command to repent is law, because it’s something required of us, and it’s something that in and of ourselves we’re liable to punishment for if we fail to do. ‘Gospel’, however, promises to us that Christ has both earned the repentance that we’ve been granted by the Holy Spirit, and as the one who never for one second needed to repent, nevertheless suffered for all our unrepentant-ness, the righteous for the unrighteous.

    And even after we repent and believe the gospel, and as the Spirit more and more clothes us in the fruits of repentance, every time we fall short and fail in repenting we know that Christ never failed in accomplishing all righteousness on our behalf, and he is our all-sufficient standing and our identity before God as we walk, not by our own attempts at law-keeping, but by the Spirit of holiness — so that we live *by the gospel* from first to last, because for us Christ lived and died and rose again *by the law*.


  8. 28 November, 2008 6:17 pm

    “Some applications of law-gospel are overly-wooden in my opinion and end up butchering the text into little subsets of law-gospel-law- ummm, not sure …”

    I’ve seen that done. Pretty silly. But I haven’t seen it done often. I don’t think it’s the biggest problem in Reformed preaching. Just a clunky unskilled approach that will hopefully get ironed out. I think I’ve seen more often dry, oppressive legalistic preaching that makes some of the Calvary Chapel preachers seem more refreshing than some of us at times. That’s really bad.

    You have to admit preaching is just plain hard. No wooden formula really works. I think the main thing is to do what the text is doing as it functions within the larger whole of the canon. And I think it’s helpful to keep in mind the things Dr. Horton talks about in Covenant and Eschatology’s introductory chapter (p 6-20something I think). You own a copy Holmes πŸ™‚

  9. creedorchaos permalink*
    28 November, 2008 6:25 pm

    Also, I think I’ll try to make a practice of not honing in on JF so much. I’ve never really met him and some of my favorite people love him….I just wish he’d stop.

  10. creedorchaos permalink*
    29 November, 2008 2:19 am

    (Both of the last comments are from Phil, BTW)

  11. 29 November, 2008 10:12 am

    no bro. we’re in this together. take some responsibility.

  12. 4 March, 2009 2:37 pm

    Context is everything – no?

    Some say they’ve never heard any “gospel” oriented sermons in Reformed circles but rather just a bunch of “legalistic” preaching, etc. etc.

    Well I’ve sat under a “gospel” oriented preacher for the past two years and I’m sick of it. How can I say that? Do I deny free grace? Do I deny justification by faith? Do deny…. of course not.

    These guys seem to be stuck on justification.

    The guy had the nerve to say from the pulpit “Santification [like justification] is by faith ALONE” – why the hell did Paul continue any of his Epistles about establishing that fact??? Why not stop with Ephesians 3?

    Seems like I need to burn John Owens and J.C. Ryle and Martin Lloyd-Jones (especially his commentary on Ephesians) as a bunch of “legalistic” trash.

    Ex-Catholics should NOT become PCA pastors… just too muddled and end up preaching antinomian half truths!!!!!!!!!


    “A FOOLISH consistency is the hob-goblin of small minds, poets and DIVINES”

    At least the Calvary Chapel guys are exegeting a text – all I’ve heard is 2 years worth of eisegesis with law-gospel as the filter and if an inconvenient verse/passage/book (I’d love to hear the sermon series on 1 John – Lloyd-Jones has a great commentary series on it… guess he’s too legalistic for the “gospel”guys though – from one of these “gospel” guys)

    I never thought I’d live to see the day when the word “gospel” would become repugnant to me – antinomian tripe…. bahhhh

  13. creedorchaos permalink*
    5 March, 2009 1:20 pm

    Unfettered Monk~

    Since I’m not familiar with your situation, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and agree that your pastor may sometimes be making too-quick leaps or talking about something the text isn’t immediately interested in — even so, I’d humbly offer two suggestions:

    1) Your tone is really worrying. It’s not a good situation to be in, when the words of your pastor, the one who feeds you the bread of life, is ‘repugnant’ to you. Or rather, you are finding ‘the word “gospel” repugnant’ — either way, such circumstances should be a huge red flag: where is your heart in all this bitterness?

    2) The most worrying thing is what you’re complaining about. Again, even conceding that your pastor may not be the best at what he does, you’re complaining about hearing law-gospel preaching every week!! I don’t mean this as a personal jab, but Oh! for more people complaining that that’s all they get! — because that means that’s what everyone else at church is getting too, and they’re being fed richly by the Spirit of grace. It seems to me the doctrinal issue is hardly the real issue here, which is where your heart is.

    But the doctrinal issue is important, and from what I can tell you’re simply making a category mistake. Confessing sanctification to be by faith alone is not saying ‘justification=sanctification’; it’s saying that both justification and sanctification operate on the same gospel principles: in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. And where our redemption is concerned, these are opposed to law principles: in Adam, by debt, by works.

    Confessing sanctification to be by faith alone is confessing with Paul that ‘the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God’ (Gal 2:20); or with the author to the Hebrews that we live our whole lives looking to the faithfulness of Christ, even as we bear the fruit of holiness by grace through faith. You don’t leave ‘faith alone’ when you enter the door of sanctification, or you’d never get in. Notice the dynamic at work in this passage, for instance:

    ‘…we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.’ (Heb 10:19-24).

    And I have no doubt that Owen, Ryle, and Lloyd-Jones are right there with me on this one.

  14. 5 March, 2009 3:14 pm

    I do appreciate the benefit of the doubt…. really….

    First of all after two years of interacting with the pastor and elders of the PCA church of which I am referring I finally decided to leave. I am no longer attending that church. I was not alone in this. There were a number of us who engaged the session on these issues. Two of us were MDiv’s (Gordon Conwell and RTS – ad hominum no doubt but at the same time not your average grace sucking down pew-sitter) I have also been reading Owens, (Kapic and Taylor’s editions – Overcoming Sin and Communion with the Triune God) Ryle (Holiness) and Lloyd-Jones (commentary on Ephesians) prior to the arrival of this pastor so when he started preaching I thought something just isn’t right. I beg to differ as far as Owens, Ryle and Lloyd-Jones are concerned – just go read the Intro to Holiness – it won’t take very long – my pastor (ex) said he stands in opposition to Ryle on this issue. Ryle specifically takes issue with the usage of the phrase “sanctification by faith” apparently popular in his day.

    My ex denies that repentance is a component of salvation (see WCF – Of Repentance) He skips over “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (ohh I just tweaked somebody’s bogeyman with that one), etc. etc.

    Is there such a thing as antinomianism? Is it bad? Should we criticize it as much as legalism? If not then ok I’m done.

    The problem with antinomianism is that it’s a half-truth. Sinclair Ferguson has a great lecture series on the Marrow controversy where he outlines the issues between legalism and antinomianism. Antinomian’s get away with it cause they pride themselves in being called such assuming that means they are preaching the gospel.

    Read Owen’s – he talks about the concepts of cheap grace etc. the same thigns that Frame said in his article. By the way I agree with a lot of what frame said in that article – thanks for the link. I’m guessing you guys are associated with Westminister West so Frame is a baddie… oh well….

    I stand with Owens, Ryle and Lloyd-Jones and the WCF for crying out loud.

    On justification I’m with you all the way. On sanctification you’ve shut yourself off to a TON of scripture.

    Here’s the part of Frames article I especially agree with –

    “Now if people want to define gospel more narrowly for a specific theological purpose, I won’t object too strongly. Scripture does not give us a glossary of English usage. A number of technical theological terms don’t mean exactly what similar terms sometimes mean in the Bible. Regeneration and election are examples, as is covenant. We can define our English terms pretty much as we like, as long as those definitions don’t create confusion in our readers.

    Over the years, we have come to think of gospel as correlative with faith and law as correlative with works. In this usage, law is what condemns and gospel is what saves. Although this distinction differs from the biblical uses of the terms, it does become useful in some contexts. For example, we all know a type of preaching that merely expounds moral obligations (as we usually think of them: don’t kill, don’t steal) and does not give its hearers the knowledge of Christ they need to have in order to be saved. That kind of preaching (especially when it is not balanced by other preaching emphases) we often describe as a preaching of mere law, legalism, or moralism. There is no good news in it. So, we are inclined to say, it is not preaching of the gospel. So in this general way we come to distinguish the preaching of law from the preaching of gospel. That is, I think, the main concern of the Formula: to remind us that we need to do both things.

    We should be reminded of course that there is also an opposite extreme: preaching “gospel” in such a way as to suggest that Christ makes no demands on one’s life. We call that “cheap grace or “easy believism.” We might also call it preaching “gospel without law.” Taken to an extreme, it is antinomianism, the rejection of God’s law. The traditional law/gospel distinction is not itself antinomian, but those who hold it tend to be more sensitive to the dangers of legalism than to the dangers of antinomianism.

    Such considerations may lead us to distinguish in a rough-and-ready way between preaching of the law and preaching of the gospel. Of course, even in making that distinction, our intention ought to be to bring these together. None of these considerations requires us to posit a sharp distinction. And certainly, this rough-and-ready distinction should never be used to cast doubt on the integration of command and promise that pervades the Scriptures themselves.

    It should be evident that “legalist” preaching as described above is not true preaching of law, any more than it is true preaching of the gospel. For as I indicated earlier, law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace. ”

    I keep coming back to another question… so what’s the bogeyman? Everybody one each side of this has a bogeyman they are afraid of… some people fear the legalists, some fear the antinomians – both of them at least in this debate proclaim the free gift of the gospel by grace alone through faith alone…. so we yell and scream at each other.

    My bogeyman is a gospel message devoid of the 2nd half of the equation…. where’s the new life in Christ? Where’s the “raised to walk in newness of life”?? All I ever hear is a mockery of people who dare to say they love God and keep His commands (which Jesus says are not burdensome)

    The very idea that someone actually sets out – having received new life in Christ and having been set free from sin’s dominion (power not presence) to actually cast of sinful habits and tendencies (the sin which so easily entangles) tries to run the race set before them buffeting their body making it their slave and running with endurance, yada yada on and on… so many scriptures… is mocked and derided as either foolish legalism or a fools errand or denying the gospel – (and I quote the ex – “how’s that working for you???”)

    To me it denies the gospel to mock the gospel’s power in bringing about new life. – it’s a half-truth, a false gospel.

    So that’s what has raised my ire… the gospel is on the line – the whole thing not just the narrow half baked version some of these guys are peddling.

    Please go read Ryle’s introduction and get back to me. Either we burn Ryle quickly as repudiating the gospel we hold dear or we challenge the narrow thinking law-gospel preachers to think abut the huge amount of scripture they’ve banished by their limited hermeneutic.

    Does this stuff make me angry? yeah… if it’s sin to express that in this forum then I apologize. I saw this post and used it as a foil for the purpose of getting it out. Here’s hoping you guys can take my rant.

  15. 5 March, 2009 3:25 pm

    Full Disclosure – The associate at the new PCA church I’m going to is a grad of Westminster West and I’m a huge fan – I’m not kicking Westminster West around I’m saying Frame makes a good point. I don’t care if he’s a FV’er or Theonomist or a gay episcopal bishop the question is does his article cohere, is it consistent with Reformed Orthodoxy, etc. and in my opinion the answer is yes and yes and YES.

    and one last note – my ex went to Together4TheGospel (I’m a huge fan of those guys as well!) and came back and said it’s too bad they didn’t preach the gospel…

    Check out John Piper – God is the Gospel –

  16. creedorchaos permalink*
    5 March, 2009 4:08 pm


    Don’t worry, we can take it — my concern’s with the damage that can be done by standing over the preaching of the Word with a critical spirit, instead of sitting under it in the Spirit. As a theology PhD student who teaches NT, I’m speaking from my own temptations.

    As far as this context goes, my bogeyman is neither legalism proper nor antinomianism proper; my bogeyman is ‘covenantal nomism’, simply because it’s not the rejection of either law or gospel, but their confusion. That’s much more dangerous because it’s much more subtle. And as I said, I don’t really know your ‘ex’ pastor, but that’s probably his beef too.

    Again, I think you (and Ryle in his Introduction) are fighting against a ‘sanctification by faith alone’ that’s entirely different than what a strong law-gospel advocate would mean by saying the exact same thing. In fact, when I say ‘sanctification by faith alone’ I mean precisely what Ryle *affirms*:

    “faith in Christ is the root of all holiness–that the first step towards a holy life is to believe on Christ–that until we believe we have not a jot of holiness–that union with Christ by faith is the secret of both beginning to be holy and continuing holy–that the life that we live in the flesh we must live by the faith of the Son of God–that faith purifies the heart– that faith is the victory that overcomes the world–that by faith the elders obtained a good report–all these are truths which no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying.” (from his Introduction)

    When Ryle goes on to say what he *doesn’t* agree with, he’s arguing against the kind of people who say ‘Just let go and let God’, or those who think they just need to ‘have faith’ (whatever that means) and all’s well — as they go about in their former and current ignorance and barrenness. Hopefully that clarification is helpful for our discussion.

    Now, about covenant nomism, where do you stand on that? At the end of the excerpt from Frame you quote, “law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace”. I would say this is true *precisely and only because the law is perfectly fulfilled for all righteousness and holiness by Christ on our behalf*. As I mentioned before, even after we repent and believe the gospel, and as the Spirit more and more clothes us in the fruits of sanctification, every time we fall short and fail in our walk we know and trust that Christ never failed in accomplishing all righteousness on our behalf, and he is our all-sufficient standing and our identity (our reality) before God as we walk, not in any way by our own attempts at law-keeping, but by the Spirit of holiness β€” so that we live *by the gospel* from first to last, because for us Christ lived and died and rose again *by the law*.

    If we’re on the same page here, and I hope we are, then the only issue I see is that we’re operating on two different meanings of ‘sanctification by faith’ from two different eras.

  17. creedorchaos permalink*
    5 March, 2009 6:21 pm

    Unfocused Monkey: Dude, you need more law and more gospel and you really need to pay attention to the issue. You’re arguing against a straw-man’s straw man.
    Also, if you don’t like half-truths then quote Phil 2:13 (the indicative) along with Phil 2:12. Paul’s imperative to work out our salvation is grounded only in the fact that it is God who works in us…” (good news if you ask me!)

    Otherwise you’re a half-truth guy. You might as well be a Muslim, Buddhist, A.A. guy. Work it out if you can…. But I don’t think you can.
    I agree with B. You’re first comment betrays a lot about how well you are actually working out your salvation.

  18. 5 March, 2009 7:24 pm

    Chaos, dude, did I get personal? I guess you must feel like I’m attacking you personally to come back at me like that. I meant to attack an idea. Straw man? OK… explain how I’ve set up a straw man?

    Cmon it’s not like we’ve sat down for a few hours and really tried to understand each others positions. Talk about a straw man – “work it out if you can…” – if you’re implying I’m a works based salvation guy – that’s certainly not my position.

    My beef is with the law-gospel hermeneutic. I think it’s insufficient at best – because it doesn’t have room for so much of what I find in the Scriptures. Seriously, dude, I’m familiar with the whole passage in Phil.. When it was preached it was the part I quoted which was completely ignored. As a result I quoted that part simply as a matter of emphasis… your 44 remember – remember the taste great – less filling commercials – I was merely emphasizing the one side since it’s been ignored.

    How am I failing to pay attention to the issue??? If you’re going to throw jabs around at least explain yourself.

    I would like to think my first comment betrays a 2 year struggle with people who have betrayed my understanding of the gospel. Can you appreciate that? Are you going to talk to me about free grace with a cudgel… Are you going to condemn me with the law of your gospel??? Do YOU really get it???

    B – I appreciate what you’ve said. I hope that you can appreciate that we must to some degree sit under the preaching of the Word with a certain amount of criticism… that or we might as well be one of Chaos’ Buddhist or Muslim’s…

    You’re seminary trained. I assume you will go to a church with which you fundamentally agree doctrinally… yes? What if having gone to that church for 10 years they switch horses on you mid-stream and though you subscribe to the WCF you begin to hear things in the sermon that oppose it.

    So either I’m an idiot (perhaps Chaos thinks that’s the issue – he may be right – I’d expect more compassion toward idiots but alas we’re just sinners ain’t we…) and when I expect the word up to mean up and it really means down and I just don’t get it… then what am I to do… I really am without hope in the figuring it out department…

    So if when he used the phrase “sanctification by faith alone” he meant what the confession says about Sanctification being a work of the Spirit and all is well. At the best however it’s a very vague phrase that needs a lot of qualification. I asked him not to use it for that very reason but he insists it has value….

    You even find yourself having to explain what is meant by the phrase. It’s not plain and clear.

    I’m not certain what “covenant nomism” is but I am in complete agreement with your 2nd to last paragraph. I am righteous because of the completed work of Christ imputed to me. As I said I stand to the best of my ability with Owen, Ryle, Lloyd-Jones, etc. As Richard Sibbes says in Bruised Reed – “We rest in our justification” I’m against “let go and let God”, etc.

    Packer has a book called in Keeping In Step with the Spirit – Chapter 4 of that book is my position in a nutshell. In there he describes three views of Sanctification – Weslyian, Keswick and what he calls Augustinian Holiness. Packer affirms the latter and his articulation of that position and I am in complete agreement with him.

    There’s a popular song that goes “Lay your doing down – doing leads to death” Packer would say “If you do you die, if you LIVE you do” – “Or not let go and let God” but “trust God and get going” – Packer calls it “Nike Christianity” – “Just Do IT!” Not to earn anything but because it’s what a Christian does! A Christian loves the law because he loves Christ.

    The way I’ve heard law-gospel preached (and maybe I’ve heard a very bad representation of it) leaves a lot of gospel out.

    I almost stood up in the middle of a sermon and shouted “What shall we say then shall we continue in sin that grace may abound???” If all we are is sinners then we are not truly confessing what has been wrought in us as a result of Christ’s resurrection. “Buried with him through baptism unto death, raised to walk in newness of life”

    I assume as a New Testament guy you’re reading Ridderbos on Paul. I’ll have to find a quote from him on this issue. He appears to have the same concern about the strictly law-gospel hermeneutic. Again it has it’s place but it lacks comprehensive application.

    Ok Chaos, dude, (or can I say “brother”) let me have it (you know me so well) now what do you conclude is my “issue”?

  19. 5 March, 2009 7:45 pm

    I went back and read my first post. I’m not certain I deserved being called a monkey… as Nightly says to Emma – “My status, being so far beneath you, should have secured your compassion”, however I admit, I did sound rather shrill.

    Mr. Chaos I’ll try and keep it civil if you will.

    B – thank you for rising above of both in your discourse.

    Please keep reading Ryle’s book. In the chapter on Sanctification (I think that’s where it is) he does a wonderful job of contrasting Justification and Sanctification.
    There’s more to the gospel than our justification and we in some way participate in our sanctification. Does anyone deny that?

  20. 5 March, 2009 7:49 pm

    last thing – I see you have a link to a featured audio – on that site you’ll also find a lecture series by Sinclair Ferguson o the Marrow Controversy –

    He nails it. His lecture on antinomianism confirms for me that this is what I’ve been hearing from the pulpit.

  21. creedorchaos permalink*
    6 March, 2009 1:01 pm


    The reason why Chaos (and I) are really passionate about this is that we hold the law-gospel hermeneutic *as we understand it* to be absolutely crucial to getting the gospel right (actually, getting the Bible right). Unfortunately, as is so often the case in important biblical and theological matters, the terms are ambiguous and used in very different ways by different people.

    Interestingly, along these lines, I have a friend at church who came out of an unbelievably legalistic Christian upbringing, and now he’s at our church hearing the Word rightly preached and he loves it. Ironically enough, the first conversation we ever had was a (friendly) argument for 3 hours over the law-gospel distinction. He began by rejecting the law-gospel distinction as unbiblical, which I thought was remarkable, seeing as how, from my perspective, one of the key reasons he so benefits from the purity of preaching at our church is that our minister strongly upholds it! After 3 hours, we realized that we actually agree with one another: the problem was that his previous experience with the law-gospel hermeneutic had involved a rejection of any gospel present in *the Law*, i.e. the Torah. He’s an OT PhD student, and so understandably anyone who argues that there’s no good news of God’s free grace in the five books of Moses is going to be on his bad side — they’d be on my bad side, too!

    Long story short, my point is that he was rejecting a certain understanding of the relationship between OT and NT that is also known as a type of law-gospel distinction. There are half a dozen historical and contemporary definitions of ‘law and gospel’. As a Reformed Christian, the one you’re most likely to come across most often is the classical Protestant distinction, which again taking your word for it, hasn’t been employed very skillfully (or graciously) in your experience.

    My advice is to not throw out the law-gospel baby with the antinomian bathwater. Since you agree with my 2nd to last paragraph above, then I would with all sincerity claim further that such statements *stand or fall* with a clear understanding of the relationship between law and gospel, and their distinction. Along these lines, most people who reject the law-gospel distinction nowadays are doing so in the covenantal nomism sense I talked about before, as e.g. the New Perspective(s) on Paul or the FV folks. These positions can’t endorse such claims, and that’s why we at C or C are very sensitive to these things.

    Since you’ve had a really bad experience on this front, why not read up on some positive classical or contemporary Reformed accounts of the distinction, its meaning and importance? For contemporary accounts, Estelle (ed.), The Law is Not of Faith, and Horton, Covenant and Salvation, come immediately to mind, as do (classically) Turretin’s treatment of the distinction between the cov. of works/Adam and cov. of grace/Christ — which is ultimately what the Reformed law-gospel distinction is getting at — in his Institutes, and Ursinus’s discussion in his Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism.

    Hope this helps,

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