Law and Gospel in a Pastoral Context? What does that mean?

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The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter XVI.6,7

 VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.

 The Grace of Law.  RSC

The question comes.

“I once heard someone say (or write) that the Law was also “graceful” because at least in this God’s case, He was letting His subjects know what was expected and wanted from them.”

I appreciate the intent of the sentiment. There are two problems here. First is the semantic problem. The English language is a little limited here. We use gift, grace, and favor, as synonyms. If we could distinguish “gift” from “grace” and “favor,” then we might be able to speak that way. What we need is a word that connotes something freely given that is isn’t necessarily saving and, in some cases is beneficial but not all. The word “benefit” does this.

The second problem is the pervasive and persistent problem that some Reformed and would-be Reformed folk have, in reacting to antinomianism, of conflating grace and law. This is the more serious.

Rather than speaking of the grace of the law, it would be better to speak as the Westminster Confession does. The Westminster divines (theologians) did not confess that the covenant of works was “a covenant of grace,” or “a covenant of favor,” nor did they say that God “graciously” instituted the covenant of works. Rather they said (7:1) that God established the covenant of works by “voluntary condescension.” In other words, rather than appealing to the nature of the law they appealed to God’s exercise of his free will.

WCF ch. 16 summarizes the Reformed doctrine of good works and there we do not find the law called a grace or gracious. Chapter 19 is devoted the the Law of God. If the confession is going to speak of the grace of the law anywhere, it would be there. Yet, in WCF 19.3, it says that God “was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age….” As in chapter 7, they appealed to traditional Reformed language concerning the will of God.

RSC

As I have noted before this is a problem with a hermeneutic that overly equates the Law with the Covenant of Works.  It is also problematic in the fact that Dr. Clark’s definition of grace is narrowly defined and neglects some of the old understandings of Grace.  I posted on that a while back.

https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/what-is-grace-it-has-been-dumbed-down-by-modern-reformed-thought/

If you really want to get biblical, grace truly does more than what Dr. Clark neglects to understand.  Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness according to Titus 2:11,12  Dr. Clarks understanding of the Westminster is skewed in a few places because of his Law / Gospel hermeneutic.  Many have confronted his interpretation of Westminster Confession chapter 19 as he relates the Law to always be interpreted as synonomous with the Covenant of Works in this context.

What spurred me on to think of doing this blog was a recent Facebook post by a friend directing everyone to a Heidelblog encouraging us to think Pastorally when considering Law and Gospel.  In light of how he and others have used the term Pastoral, I have grown concerned about what it means to be Pastoral when considering the Law / Gospel distinctions.   In the blog post Law and Gospel in a Pastoral Context and by comments made in other places about preaching in light of understanding the distinctions between Law and Grace it seems to me that preaching and counseling pastorally means to magnify the doctrine of justification by faith alone in most situations.

The Post referenced above is not a bad post but I have some concerns about the context of being “Pastoral concerning Law and Grace” and some of the shortsightedness of the comments.  I might be incorrect but it seems that the implication to preach Pastorally and to counsel Pastorally means you magnify the doctrine of justification by faith alone at the expense of neglecting the full truth of what it means to be Pastoral according to the situation.  We have seen this problem recently in the antinomian debates. After all, the Law can not be connected to grace in anyway if they are to keep their dichotomous distinction.  Only the Law can command.  The Gospel is only a victory proclamation.  It never commands in their thinking.

Here is the first quote of the blog that I found rather strange to my ears.

“DATHENUS: Just as this is very comforting, so it also is certain and true. For this is what Paul is teaching us with these similar words, namely, that “by the deeds of the law no flesh shall justified in his sight: for by the law is knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Also, “Nay, I had not know sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7; Exod. 20:17).

As summation, Paul points out that the law is our disciplinarian, or what which leads us to Christ, to be justified by faith. However, once we have come to faith, we are no longer under the disciplinarian guide.”

The quote, “However, once we have come to faith, we are no longer under the disciplinarian guide,” seems to be really off base and antinomian.  Sure we are not under the Law as a Covenant of Works but we are under it in a Gospel sense as the Law and Gospel do sweetly comply and we are still under the demand to obey it.  Note WCF 16.6,7 and 19.5,6. Does not what I have shown above prove the Law influences us to live Godly?  Does not the Grace of God teach us to deny ungodliness?  Titus 2:11,12 Thus the terminology “Grace of the Law” is not an unbiblical teaching.  The Law is a guide and influence upon the regenerate which God uses to discipline us by as we are to discipline our lives to be conformed in the image of Christ.

I have recently been noticing how some Profs. and Pastors are encouraged on how they should think about being Pastoral in their proclamation and distinctions (or dichotomy) concerning the doctrines of Law and Grace. In my estimation an over emphasis is given to the doctrine of justification by faith alone in this type of Pastoral Counseling sometimes. The problem with this type of thinking is that it can become unbalanced when an over emphasis on justification by faith alone is emphasized as being the Pastoral application. I agree that it is an important part of being Pastoral. But so is the confrontation that is needed when a person needs to repent or he will be cut off from the body of Christ. One dear old Mentor of mine challenged me in my very early days as a new Convert to memorize 1Corinthians 10:13.

1Co 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.
1Co 10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.

Now tell me, was he not being Pastoral by telling me to live righteously in light of Galatians 6:7-9?

Gal 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
Gal 6:8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Gal 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

So when you hear someone mention to you that the Pastoral way of thinking as it concerns Law and Gospel has to do with justification by faith alone don’t neglect the fact that Pastoral preaching and counseling also warns and calls us to repentance. It also counsels us to think in terms of Paul’s words in Romans 6.

Pray and think pastorally.  Pray for wisdom about the situation.  Not everyone needs to be comforted about their salvation.  Some need to be concerned that they may not be found in the faith as Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 13:5.  Some of us need to be pastorally challenged to repent for our own good and for the good of the Church.  And that is gracious.

WCF 19.5,6

V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.

VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

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