Herman Bavinck – The Covenant of Grace – Mosaic- (Read Bavinck!)


Reading Bavinck on the Covenant of Grace and the Mosaic Covenant is well worth anyone’s time. Put the modern books down and read the good stuff. The difference between Modern Reformed Thought and reading Reformed thought is like going to eat at McDonald’s or Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Read Bavinck!


The universal reality of misery evokes in all people a need for deliverance, a deliverance from above. Pagans who construe misery as basically physical know neither the essential character of sin nor the deliverance of grace. Scripture, however, sees our misery as sin, as an ethical violation of communion with God, who alone can restore it. This requires grace, which in biblical revelation assumes the form of a covenant.

This covenant begins immediately after the fall as evidenced by Adam and Eve’s shame in their nakedness, a sign of lost innocence. Guilt and shame reveal both God’s wrath and his grace, but the latter is shown especially when God seeks out Adam and Eve and interrogates them. In his punishment on the serpent and on humanity, God’s mercy triumphs over judgment as he annuls the covenant made with evil and puts enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Now the path of glory must pass through suffering for man and woman. In the promise of Genesis 3, we find the gospel in a nutshell and, in principle, the entire history of the human race.

The word “covenant” is not found in Genesis 3, but the reality is. Modern critics judge that covenant ideas arose late in Israel’s history but need circular arguments for their case. A history of Israel is constructed by alleging that certain biblical sources are inauthentic, which history is then used to demonstrate the inauthenticity of documents that witness against it. It is better scholarship to see the latter prophets as standing on the foundation of a real covenant made with the patriarchs.

Covenant (ברית) is characterized by three factors: an oath or promise including stipulations, a curse for violation, and a cultic ceremony that represents the curse symbolically. Covenant making is a religious and social act. The covenant of grace is unilateral, indissolubly grounded in the merciful promises of the sovereign God. God cannot break his promise; he has sworn himself to uphold it. The unilateral divine origin and character attributed to the covenant in Hebrew is likely the reason why the Septuagint translates ברית by διαθηκη, or “testament,” rather than συνθηκη.

The doctrine of the covenant achieved dogmatic significance in the Christian church because the Christian religion had to understand its relation to and distinction from Judaism. Over against Gnosticism and Marcion, the church had to maintain the unity of and, over against Judaism, the distinction between the two covenants. Law and gospel, Old Testament and New Testament, are to be distinguished but never separated. During the Reformation this issue became crucial as Anabaptists and others (Arminians, Socinians) devalued the Old Testament. Key differences also arose between the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. It is in the latter, beginning with Zwingli and Calvin, that the doctrine of the covenant is most fully developed, notably in the German Reformed theology of Olevianus and Ursinus, English Puritanism, and the Westminster Confession.

Among the Dutch Reformed, Cloppenburg and Cocceius made the covenant the fundamental premise and controlling principle of dogmatics as a whole. Cocceius had an eccentric view of the covenant, notably the notion of successive covenantal abrogations, which in fact undermined the key element of grace, making it uncertain. After Cocceius, a more general disparagement of the Old Testament took place among modern thinkers such as Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. Judaism was then seen as no better than paganism as preparation for Christianity.

In the Reformed church and theology, covenant became a very important practical encouragement for Christian living. Here the basis of all covenants was found in the eternal counsel of God, in a covenant between the very persons of the Trinity, the pactum salutis (counsel of peace). The work of salvation is an undertaking of the one God in three persons in which all cooperate and each one performs a special task. It is the triune God—Father, Son, and Spirit—who together conceive, determine, carry out, and complete the entire work of salvation. The benefit to the believer is in knowing that the covenant of grace executed and revealed in time and history nevertheless rests on an eternal, unchanging foundation, the counsel of the triune God. The Father is the eternal Father, the Son the eternal Mediator, the Holy Spirit the eternal Paraclete.

Care must be taken in considering the execution of the pact of salvation in time and history. Though God elects Abraham and Israel as his chosen people, his salvific purpose is universal, with all peoples. In the fullness of time, humanity as a whole, Jew and Gentile, is reconciled in the one man, Jesus Christ, at the cross. After the fall, grace and judgment alike are extended to the whole human race. In the beginnings of human history, we see great blessing in remarkable longevity and the great judgment of the flood. After the flood, God makes a covenant with nature not to destroy the world with water again, reduces human life span, and spreads humanity across the world, preventing humans from reaching heaven itself with their ambition. Despite letting the Gentiles walk in their own ways, God providentially grants them significant cultural and social development. He did not leave them without witnesses to himself through the works of his hands. In this way God is present to all people, and they are in some sense “prepared” for the message of salvation.

The universal scope of God’s intention for all peoples—Jew and Gentile—must never obscure the special favor of God to Israel. While Israel is drawn from the nations and there are analogies between Israel’s religious practices and those of the nations, the essential difference is that special grace is reserved for Israel and is not known among the pagans. Pagan religion is self-willed and legalistic. The covenant made with Abraham is new and comes from God alone. Through his covenant with Abraham and Israel, the Creator proves himself to also be the Re-creator and Savior. Elohim, Creator of heaven and earth, is Yahweh, the God of the covenant.

The old covenant with Israel is the necessary preparation for the new covenant in Christ. Though the covenant is one, there are two dispensations. In God’s own time, the promise of the old covenant was fulfilled in the new. The shadow and particularity of the letter became the substance, universality, and freedom of the Spirit. Nothing of the Old Testament is lost in the New, but everything is fulfilled, matured, has reached its full growth, and now, out of the temporary husk, produces the eternal core.

The covenant of grace, fulfilled in the New Testament, was and is surrounded and sustained by God’s covenant with nature, with all creatures. Unlike what Cocceius taught, the covenant of grace is not the successive abolition of the covenant of works but its fulfillment and restoration. “Grace repairs and perfects nature.” God’s demand of obedience remains as the only way to eternal life. The difference between the covenant of works and grace is that God now approaches us not in Adam but in Christ, who fulfilled all the obedience required of Adam. Christ is the second and last Adam who restores what the first Adam had corrupted; he is the head of a new humanity.

The covenant of grace is also integrally united with the counsel of peace, though it should be distinguished from it. In the counsel of peace, Christ is the guarantor and head; in the covenant of grace, he is the mediator. In this way the doctrine of the covenant maintains God’s sovereignty in the entire work of salvation. It is the Father who conceives, plans, and wills the work of salvation; it is the Son who guarantees it and effectively acquires it; it is the Spirit who implements and applies it.

At the same time, the covenant of grace also allows the rational and moral nature of human beings to come into their own. Here it differs from election, in which humans are strictly passive. The covenant of grace describes the road by which elect people attain their destiny; it is the channel by which the stream of election flows toward eternity. Christ sends his Spirit to instruct and enable his own so that they consciously and voluntarily consent to this covenant. The covenant of grace comes with the demand of faith and repentance, which may in some sense be said to be its “conditions.” Yet, this must not be misunderstood. God himself supplies what he demands; the covenant of grace is thus truly unilateral—it comes from God, who designed, defines, maintains, and implements it. It is, however, designed to become bilateral, to be consciously and voluntarily accepted by believers in the power of God. In the covenant of grace, God’s honor is not at the expense of but for the benefit of human persons by renewing the whole person and restoring personal freedom and dignity.

The covenant of grace, with Christ as the new head of humanity, reminds us of the organic unity of the church. The covenant of grace reminds us that election is about not only individual persons but also organic wholes, including families and generations. Therefore, some who remain inwardly unbelieving will for a time, in the earthly administration and dispensation of the covenant of grace, be part of the covenant people. The final judgment belongs to God alone, and in this life the church must regard such with the judgment of charity.(a)

This (Abrahamic) covenant with the ancestors continues, even when later at Sinai it assumes another form. It is the foundation and core also of the Sinaitic covenant (Exod. 2:24; Deut. 7:8). The promise was not nullified by the law that came later (Gal. 3:17). The covenant with Israel was essentially no other than that with Abraham. Just as God first freely and graciously gave himself as shield and reward to Abraham, apart from merits of his, to be a God to him and his descendants after him, and on that basis called Abraham to a blameless walk before his face, so also it is God who chose the people of Israel, saved it out of Egypt, united himself with that people, and obligated it to be holy and his own people. The covenant on Mount sinai is and remains a covenant of grace. “I am The Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the ouse of slavery” (Exod. 20:2) is the opening statement and foundation of the law, the essence of the covenant of grace. Yahweh is and perpetually remains Israel’s God before and aside from any dignity or worth that Israel may have. It is an everlasting covenant that cannot be broken even by any sins and iniquities on the part of Israel (Deut. 4:31; 32:26f; Judg. 2:1; Pss. 89:1-5; 105:8; 111:5; Isa. 54:10; Rom. 11:1-2; 2 Cor. 1:20).

The benefits granted to Israel by God in this covenant are the same as those granted to Abraham, but more detailed and specialized. Genesis 3:15 already contains the entire covenant in a nutshell and all the benefits of grace. God breaks the covenant made by the first humans with Satan, puts enmity between them, brings the first humans over to his side, and promises them victory over the power of the enemy. The one great promise to Abraham is “I will be your God, and you and your descendants will be my people” (Genesis 17:1 paraphrase). And this is the principle content of God’s covenant with Israel as well. God is Israel’s God, and Israel is his people (Exod. 19:6; 29:46; etc.) Israel, accordingly, receives a wide assortment of blessings, not only temporal blessings, such as the land of Canaan, fruitfulness in marriage, a long life, prosperity, plus victory over its enemies, but also spiritual and eternal blessings, such as God’s dwelling among them (Exod. 29:45; Lev. 26:12), the forgiveness of sins (Exod. 20:6; 34:7; Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Pss. 32; 103; etc.), sonship (Exod. 4:22; 19:5-6; 20:2; Deut. 14:1; Isa. 63:16; Amos 3:1-2; etc.), sanctification (Exod. 19:6; Lev. 11:44; 19:2), and so on… (b)

Just as Abraham, when God allied himself with him, was obligated to “Walk before his face,” so Israel as a people was similarly admonished by God’s covenant to a new obedience. The entire law, which the covenant of grace at Mount Sinai took into its service, is intended to prompt Israel as a people to “walk” in the way of the covenant. It is but an explication of the one statement to Abraham: “Walk before me, and be blameless” [Gen. 17:1], and therefore nor more a cancelation of the covenant of grace and the foundation of a covenant of works than this word spoken to Abraham. The law of Moses, accordingly, is not antithetical to grace but subservient to it and was also thus understood and praised in every age by Israel’s pious men and women. But detached from the covenant of grace, it indeed became a letter that kills, a ministry of condemnation. Another reason why in the time of the Old Testament the covenant of grace took the law into its service was that it might arouse the consciousness of sin, increase the felt need for salvation, and reinforce the expectation of an even richer revelation of God’s grace. He writes that Israel as a minor, placed under the care of the law, had to be led to Christ (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:23f. 4:1f.) and that in that connection sin would be increased and the uselessness of works for justification and the necessity of faith would be understood (Rom. 4:15; 5:20; 7:7f; 8:3; Gal. 3:19). On the one hand, therefore, the law was subservient to the covenant of grace; it was not a covenant of works in disguise and did not intend that humans would obtain justification by their own works. On the other hand, its purpose was to lay the ground work for a higher and better dispensation of that same covenant of grace to come in the fullness of time. The impossibility of keeping the Sinaitic covenant of the meeting of demands of the law made another and better dispensation of the covenant of grace necessary. The eternal covenant of grace was provoked to a higher revelation off itself by the imperfection of the temporary form it has assumed in Israel. Sin increased that grace might abound. Christ could not immediately become human after the fall, and grace could not immediately reveal itself in all its riches. There was a needed for preparation and nurture. “It was not fitting for God to become incarnate at the beginning of the human race before sin. For medicine is given only to the sick. Nor was it fitting that God should become incarnate immediately after sin that man, having been humbled by sin, might see his own need of a deliverer. But what has been decreed from eternity occurred in the fullness of time. (c)

Bavinck, H., Bolt, J., & Vriend, J. (2006). Reformed Dogmatics, Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ ((a) 193–196, (b) 220-221, (c) 222). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

I guess what I am trying to say is read Bavinck!

Natural Theology (Revelation) Bavinck.


Admittedly, article 2 of the Belgic Confession states that God is known by two means—nature and Scripture—and natural theology is upheld in its truth and value by all Reformed theologians.  But in that first period, before rationalism infected Reformed Theology, it was clearly seen that nature and Scripture are not detached and independent entities, any more than natural and revealed theology are.  Calvin incorporated natural theology into the body of Christian dogmatics, saying that Scripture was the spectacles by which believers see God more distinctly also in the works of nature.  Originally natural theology was by no means intended to pave the way, step by laborious step, for revealed theology.  In adopting it, one was not assuming the provisional stance of reason in order next, by reasoning and proof, to mount to the higher level of faith.  But from the very outset the dogmatician took a stand on the ground of faith and, as a Christian and believer, now also looked at nature.  Then, with his Christian eyes, armed by the Holy Scripture, he also discovered in nature the footprints of the God whom he had come to know—in Christ and by Scripture—as Father.  From a subjective point of view, in dogmatics it was not therefore natural reason that first took the floor, after which faith in the Word had its say.  On the contrary, it was always the believing Christian who, in catechism, confession, and in dogmatics, gave voice to his faith.  And in the same way, speaking objectively, nature did not stand on its own as an independent principle alongside of Holy Scripture, each of the supplying a set of truths of their own.  Rather, nature was viewed in the light of Scripture, and Scripture not only contained revealed truth (in the strict sense) but also the truths that a believer can discover in nature.  Thus Alsted did indeed acknowledge the existence of a natural theology in the unregenerate, but a confused and obscure natural theology.  By contrast, for the believer the principles and conclusions of natural theology are replicated clearly and distinctly in Scripture.

So, though one can speak of a knowledge of God derived from nature, dogmatics still has but one external foundation (principium externum), i.e., Holy Scripture, and similarly only one internal foundation (principium internum), i.e., believing reason.  And it is not simply the case that Holy Scripture is only the norm and not he source of dogmatics, but it is specifically the foundation (principium) of theology.  Between earlier theologians and those of today there is a major difference.  Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics Prolegomena Vl. I pp. 87,89

There is no such thing as a separate natural theology that could be obtained apart from any revelation solely on the basis of reflective considerations of the universe. The knowledge of God that is gathered up in so-called natural theology is not the product of human reason.

Rather, natural theology presupposes, first of all, that God reveals himself in his handiwork. It is not humans who seek God but God who seeks humans, also by means of his works in nature. That being the case, it further presupposes that it is not humans who, by the natural light of reason, understand and know this revelation of God. Although all pagan religions are positive [concrete], what is needed on the human side is a mind that has been sanctified and eyes that have been opened in order to be able to see God, the true and living God, in his creatures. And even this is not enough. Even Christian believers would not be able to understand God’s revelation in nature and reproduce it accurately had not God himself described in his Word how he revealed himself and what he revealed of himself in the universe as a whole. The natural knowledge of God is incorporated and set forth at length in Scripture itself. Accordingly, Christians follow a completely mistaken method when, in treating natural theology, they, as it were, divest themselves of God’s special revelation in Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, discuss it apart from any Christian presuppositions, and then move on to special revelation.

Even when Christians do theology, from the very beginning they stand with both feet on the foundation of special revelation. They are Christ-believers not only in the doctrine of Christ but equally in the doctrine of God. Standing on this foundation, they look around themselves, and armed with the spectacles of Holy Scripture, they see in all the world a revelation of the same God they know and confess in Christ as their Father in heaven.

Reformed Dogmatics Vl. 2 pp 74,75

Herman Bavinck on Law and Gospel



I am still moving my other blog posts over to this page.  This is one of my favorite portions by Bavinck that historically sets up the differences between Lutheran and Reformed Theology concerning Law and Gospel.  As I have noted before this is not a new discussion as some have thought.  Even the Westminster Divine Anthony Burgess acknowledged the differences between Lutheran and Reformed thought concerning Law and Gospel.


Anyways, Enjoy this translation by Dr. Nelson Kloosterman of Bavinck on this topic.    


The Law-Gospel Distinction and Preaching
Herman Bavinck
Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman

Herman Bavinck was born in 1854, and raised in the experimental Calvinism of the Dutch Second Reformation (the Nadere Reformatie). He studied theology at the University of Leiden, and began teaching theology at the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Churches (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken) at Kampen in 1882. In 1902 Bavinck joined the faculty of the Free University of Amsterdam as Professor of Systematic Theology, where he served until his death in 1921.

The following material is a translation of paragraphs 520-521 of Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 3rd unaltered edition, vol. 4 (Kampen, J. H. Kok, 1918), pages 489-498. Punctuation, sentence length, and paragraph divisions reflect editorial decisions made for ease of reading. Bavinck’s footnotes are included in the text between brackets in the form of paraphrased summary.

These two sections form part of Chapter X, “Concerning the Means of Grace.” Bavinck opens the chapter with, “The Word as Means of Grace.” He has some beautiful things to say about the power of the Word in regeneration and about the church as the “nursery” of that working. Within this subsection we find his discussion of the Word of God as law and as gospel.


520. The first and primary means of grace is the Word of God. Lutheran and Reformed agree with each other here. Nevertheless, the latter do not discuss the Word of God under the heading of the means of grace, since in their dogmatics they have usually treated it by this time in a separate chapter [reference to Calvin, Institutes 2.7-9, and others], or also concerning the law in connection with the covenant of works, and concerning the Gospel in connection with the covenant of grace [reference to Marck,Med. Theol. and ‘many others’].

This peculiar method of treatment does not warrant the claim that the Reformed did not acknowledge the Word of God as means of grace, for they repeatedly declare the very opposite [reference to BC 24, HC qu. 65). But one may indeed conclude from this fact that for the Reformed, the Word of God possessed a far richer meaning than that it served as means of grace only in the narrower sense of the word. The Word of God is to be distinguished from the sacrament in part by the fact that the latter serves to strengthen faith and thus has a role only within the church. But the Word of God, both as law and as Gospel, is revelation of the will of God, is the promulgation of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, addresses all people and every creature, and has a universal meaning. The sacrament can be administered only by a lawfully called minister in the gathering of believers, but the Word of God has an existence and a place beyond that gathering, and performs there too its manifold functions. As means of grace in the proper sense alongside the sacrament, the Word of God is discussed insofar as it is preached openly by the teacher; all the emphasis falls on the Word preached in God’s name and by virtue of His commission. But as a rule, people will likely have been in contact with that Word in the home, at school, by means of conversation and reading material, long before they hear it openly proclaimed in the church. So the public administration of the Word hardly contains all the power proceeding from the Word; it serves also to bring about faith in those who do not yet have it, but still more to strengthen faith among believers in their gathering. In a Christian society the Word of God reaches people in various ways, from various quarters, and it reaches a person from the time of infancy. Yes, God brings that Word often to the hearts of children in the internal calling already before consciousness is awakened, in order to regenerate and to sanctify them, even as God writes the work of the law in the heart of each person from the very beginning of his existence. Therefore we must distinguish between the Word of God and Scripture. Not in the sense that the Word of God is merely to be found in Scripture and Scripture itself is not the Word of God; but in this other sense, that the Word of God most frequently, even in most instances, does not reach us as Scripture, in the form of the Scripture, but in such a way that it is taken up from the Scripture into the consciousness of the church, from there in turn radiating outward to the various people, to accomplish its working, in the form of admonition and address, nurture and instruction, book and writing, tract and summons. And God always stands behind that Word; He is the one who makes it move in those various forms to people and thus calls them to conversion and life. In Scripture, then, the expression “word of God” is never identical to Scripture, even though Scripture may without a doubt be called God’s Word. A few passages come to mind where the expression “word of God” is applied to a part of Holy Scripture, for example, to the written law. But for the rest, the phrase “word of God” when used in Scripture is never the same as the Scripture, something that is impossible, after all, since at that point Scripture was not yet finished. The phrase “word of God” has various meanings in Scripture, and can refer to the power of God whereby He creates and upholds, or His revelation to the prophets, or the content of revelation, or the Gospel proclaimed by the apostles. Nevertheless, it is always a word of God, which means: never simply a sound, but a power, no mere information but also an accomplishment of His will, Isa. 55:11. By the word God creates and upholds the world, Gen. 1:3, Ps. 33:6, 148:5, Isa. 48:13, Rom. 4:17, 2 Cor. 4:6, Heb. 1:3, 11:3, Jesus quiets the sea, Mk. 4:38, heals the sick, Mt. 8:16, casts out demons, 9:6, raised the dead, Luke 7:14, 8:54, John 5:25,28; 11:43, etc. By the word He also works in the moral and spiritual arenas.

The word which God employs to make known and to fulfill His will in moral and spiritual areas is to be distinguished as law and Gospel. When Jesus appeared on earth to proclaim the coming of the kingdom promised in the OT (Mk.1:15), to bring the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation to tax collectors and sinners, to poor and imprisoned (Mt.5:1f.; 11:5,28-30; Lk.4:18-19; 19:10; etc.), He came into conflict as a matter of course with the pharisaical, nomistic view of religion that dominated His time.

Yet, though He rejected the human inventions of the ancients (Mt.5:21f.; 15:9), and though He had another conception [opvatting] of murder (Mt.5:16), adultery (5:27), oaths (5:33), fasting (6:16), divorce (Mt.19:9), sabbath (Mk.2:27), He maintains the entire law, also in its ceremonial particulars (Mt.5:23,24; 17:24-27; 23:2,3,23; Mk.1:44; 11:16); He explains it in its spiritual meaning (Mt.5-7), emphasizes its ethical content, defines love toward God and neighbor as its core (Mt.7:12; 9:13; 12:7; Mk.7:15; 12:28-34), and desires an other, overflowing righteousness than that of the Pharisees (Mt.5.20). Though greater than the temple (Mt.12:6), He even placed Himself under the law (Mt.3:15), and came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Mt.5:17). And though He never sought to annul the law, He knew that His disciples are inwardly free from the law (Mt.17:26); that His church is based not on the law but on the confession of His Messiahship (Mt.16:18); that in His blood a new covenant is established (Mt.26:28); in a word, that the new wine demands new wineskins (Mt.9:17), and that the days of the temple, the nation and the law were numbered (Mk.13:2). Jesus desired no revolutionary overthrow of the legislative dispensation of the old covenant, but a reformation and renewal that would be born out of its complete fulfillment.

And so, in fact, it went. The church in Jerusalem at first still held to the temple and law (Acts 2: 46; 3:1; 10:14; 21:20; 22:12). But a new conception surfaced. With the conversion of the Gentiles the question arose as to the significance of the Mosaic law. And Paul was the first to fully understand that in the death of Christ the handwriting of ordinances was blotted out (Col.2:14).

Paul always understood by nomos (except where further qualification pointed elsewhere, e.g., Rom.3:27; Gal.6:2) the Mosaic law, the entire Torah, including the ceremonial commandments (Rom.9:4; Gal.2:12; 4:10; 5:3; Phil.3:5-6). And he described this law not as the letter to the Hebrews does — as imperfect, preparatory, Old Testamental dispensation of the covenant of grace, which then disappeared when the high priest and surety of the better covenant arrived — but as the revelation of God’s will, as a religious-ethical demand and obligation, as a God-willed regulation of the relationship between Himself and man. And concerning this law, so understood, Paul taught that it is holy and good, and bestowed by God (Rom.2:18; 7:22,25; 9:4; 2 Cor.3:3,7); but instead of being able, as the Pharisees argued, to grant righteousness, the law is powerless through the flesh (Rom.8:3); stimulates desire (Rom.7:7-8); increases the trespass (Rom.5:20; Gal.3:19); arouses wrath, curse and death (Rom.4:15; 2 Cor.3:6; Gal.3:10); and was merely a temporary insertion, for pedagogical reasons (Rom.5:20; Gal.3:19,24; 4:2-3).

Therefore, that law has reached its end in Christ, the seed of promise (Rom.10:4); the believer is free from the law (Gal.4:26f.; 5:1), since he is redeemed through Christ from the curse of the law (Gal.3:13; 4:5), and shares in the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of freedom (Rom.8:15; 2 Cor.3:16-17; Gal.5:18).

This freedom of faith, however, does not invalidate the law, but establishes it (Rom.3:31), since its legal requirement is fulfilled precisely in those who walk according to the Spirit (Rom.8:4). After all, that Spirit renews believers so that they delight in God’s law according to the inner man and inquire as to what God’s holy will is (Rom.7:22; 12:2; Eph.5:10; Phil.1:10), while they are spurred on through various impulses — the great mercy of God, the example of Christ, the costly price with which they have been purchased, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, etc. — to the doing of God’s will.

521. This antithesis between law and Gospel was further intensified and brought into irreconcilable conflict in the Christian church, on the one hand, by antinomianism in its various forms of Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Paulicianism, Anabaptism, Hattemism, etc. The entire OT derived from a lower God, from an angry, jealous, vengeful God, and was replaced with an entirely different revelation from the God of love, from the Father of Christ.

On the other hand, the antithesis between law and Gospel was weakened and obliterated by nomism in its various forms of Pelagianism, Semi-pelagianism, Romanism, Socinianism, Rationalism, etc. Already by the church fathers, and later by scholastic and Roman Catholic theologians, law and Gospel were identified with Old and New Testaments, and then not placed antithetically against one another, but viewed as a lower and higher revelation of God’s will. Law and Gospel differed not in that the former only demands and the latter only promises, for both contained commands, threats and promises; musteria, promissiones, praecepta; res credendae, sperandae et faciendae; not only Moses, but also Christ was legislator. But in all of this the Gospel of the NT, or the lex nova, significantly transcended the law of the OT or the lex vetus; the mysteries (trinity, incarnation, atonement, etc.) are revealed much more clearly in the NT, the promises are much richer in content and embrace especially spiritual and eternal goods, the laws are much more glorious and bearable, since ceremonial and civil laws were annulled and replaced with just a few rites. Furthermore, the law was given by Moses, grace and truth came in Jesus Christ. The law was temporary and designed for one nation; the Gospel is eternal and must be brought to every nation. The law was imperfect, a shadow and figure; the Gospel is perfect and the substance of the [promised] goods themselves. The law aroused fear and slavery, the Gospel arouses love and freedom. The law could not justify in the full sense of the word; it provided no richness of grace; it bestowed no eternal salvation; but the Gospel bestows in the sacrament the power of grace, which enables one to fulfill God’s commands and obtain eternal life. In one word: the law is the incomplete Gospel, the Gospel is the completed law; the Gospel was contained in the law as the tree is in the seed, as the full head of grain is in the seed [at this point Bavinck refers to vol. 3, 213f., and to a number of theologians, such as Augustine, Lombard, Aquinas, the Council of Trent, and Bellarmine].

Now, to the degree that the Old and New Testament dispensations of the covenant of grace could be described according to their form which came into view with the progress of Holy Scripture, by the terms law and Gospel, to that degree the distinction between both of them that was made by Rome (indeed not in every respect, yet in the main) is to be approved. Still, Rome identified Old and New covenant entirely with law and Gospel. She misperceived the Gospel in the Old Testament and the law in the New Testament. Rome summarized the entire doctrine proclaimed by Christ and the apostles as Gospel, in which they included not only promises but also laws and threats. In this way, Rome made the Gospel into a second law. The Pauline antithesis between law and Gospel was eliminated.

For though it is true that Paul understood by the law the entire OT dispensation, he viewed it then precisely in its legislative [wettischen, “lawish”; italics original] form and in this way places it in direct contrast it to the Gospel. And when he did that, he acknowledged that the legislative dispensation in no way invalidated the promise that had already been given to Abraham (Gal.3:17,21). Moreover, Paul acknowledged that in the days of the old covenant too the Gospel was proclaimed (Gal.3:8), and that then, too, righteousness was obtained from and through faith (Rom.4:11,12; 11:32; Gal.3:6-7).

Concerning the law as law, apart from the promise to which it was made serviceable in the OT, Paul argued that it could not justify; that it increased sin; that it was an administration of condemnation which precisely in that way prepared for the fulfillment of the promise and necessitated an other righteousness, namely, the righteousness of God in Christ through faith.

And this antithesis of law and Gospel was again understood by the Reformation. Indeed, the church fathers did make statements that testified to clearer insight. But no clarity resulted, because they always confused the distinction between law and Gospel with that between Old and New Testaments.

But the Reformers, while on the one hand maintaining against the Anabaptists the unity of the covenant of grace in both of its administrations, on the other hand kept in view the sharp contrast between law and Gospel, and thereby restored the unique character of the Christian religion as a religion of grace.

Although law and Gospel can still be employed in a broader sense for the old and new dispensations of the covenant of grace, in their proper meaning they refer nonetheless to two revelations of God’s will that differ essentially from one another.

The law, too, is God’s will (Rom.2:18,20), holy and wise and good, spiritual (Rom.7:12,14; 12:10), giving life to whomever keeps it (Rom.2:13; 3:12). But through sin it has become impotent, and does not justify, but through sin the law stimulates desire, increases the trespass, effects wrath, kills, curses and damns (Rom.3:20; 4:15; 5:20; 7:5,8-9,13; 2 Cor.3:6f.; Gal.3:10,13,19).

And over against the law stands the Gospel of Christ, the euangelion, containing nothing less than the fulfillment of the OT epangelia (Mk.1:15; Acts 13:32; Eph.3:6), coming to us from God (Rom.1:1-2; 2 Cor.11:7), having Christ as its content (Rom.1:3; Eph.3:6), and bringing nothing else than grace (Acts 20:24), reconciliation (2 Cor.5:18), forgiveness (Rom.4:3-8), righteousness (Rom.3:21-22), peace (Eph.6:15), freedom (Gal.5:13), life (Rom.1:17; Phil.2:16; etc.). Like demand and gift, like command and promise, like sin and grace, like sickness and healing, like death and life, so here, too, law and Gospel stand over against one another. [Here Bavinck has a footnote: From the Protestant side as well the distinction between law and Gospel is often weakened or obliterated, e.g., by Stange, Die Heilsbedeutung des Gesetzes, Leipzig 1904; Bruining, already cited in vol. 3, p. 631. Earlier already by Zwingli,, according to Loofs, Dogmengeschichte, 4th ed., 799.] Although they overlap to the extent that they both have God as author, both speak of one and the same perfect righteousness, both are directed to man, to bring him to eternal life, yet they differ in that the law proceeds from God’s holiness, the Gospel from His grace; the [works of the] law [are] known from nature, the Gospel only by special revelation; the law demands perfect righteousness, the Gospel bestows it; the law leads to eternal life through works, the Gospel makes works proceed from eternal life bestowed through faith; the law currently condemns man, the Gospel acquits him; the law is directed to all men, the Gospel only to those who live under it; etc.

It was in terms of this distinction that differences arose as to whether preaching for faith and conversion which presented a condition and demand really should be considered as belonging to the Gospel, or rather (according to Flacius, Gerhard, Quenstedt, Voetius, Witsius, Coccejus, De Moor, et al.) to the law. And indeed, in the strictest sense there are in the Gospel no demands and conditions, but only promises and gifts; faith and conversion are, just as justification, etc., benefits of the covenant of grace. Still, the Gospel never appears concretely this way; in practice it is always joined to the law and in Scripture it was then always woven together with the law. The Gospel always presupposes the law, and needs it also in its administration. For it is brought to rational and moral people who before God are responsible for themselves and therefore must be called to faith and conversion. The demanding, summoning shape in which the Gospel appears is borrowed from the law; every person is obliged to take God at His word not first by the Gospel, but by nature through the law, and thus also to accept the Gospel in which He speaks to the person. Therefore the Gospel from the very beginning lays claim to all people, binds them in their consciences, since that God who speaks in the Gospel is none other than He who in His law has made Himself known to them. Faith and conversion are therefore demanded of the person in the name of God’s law, by virtue of the relationship in which the person as a rational creature stands with respect to God; and that demand is directed not only to the elect and regenerate, but to all men without distinction.

But faith and conversion are themselves still the content of the Gospel, not effects or fruits of the law. For the law does demand faith in God in general, but not that special faith directed to Christ, and the law can effectmetameleia, poenitentia, but not metanoia, resipiscentia, which is rather a fruit of faith. And though by nature a person is obliged to faith and conversion through the law, precisely because they are the content of the Gospel one can speak of a law, a command, an obedience of faith (Rom.1:5; 3:27; 1 Jn.3:23), of a being obedient to and judged by the Gospel (Rom.2:16; 10:16), etc.

Viewed concretely, law and Gospel differ not so much in that the law always meets us in the form of command and the Gospel in the form of promise, for the law too has promises and the Gospel too has warnings and obligations. But they differ especially in content: the law demands that man work out his own righteousness, while the Gospel invites him to renounce all self-righteousness and to receive the righteousness of Christ, to which end it even bestows the gift of faith.

Law and Gospel stand in that relationship not just before and at the point of conversion; but they continue standing in that relationship throughout the whole of the Christian life, all the way to the grave. The Lutherans have an eye almost exclusively for the accusing, condemning work of the law and therefore know of no greater salvation than liberation from the law. The law is necessary only on account of sin. According to Lutheran theology, in the state of perfection there is no law. God is free from the law; Christ was not subject to the law for Himself at all; the believer no longer stands under the law. Naturally, the Lutherans speak of a threefold use of the law, not only of a usus politicus (civilis), to restrain sin, and a usus paedagogicus, to arouse the knowledge of sin, but also of a usus didacticus, to function for the believer as a rule of living. But this last usus is nonetheless necessary simply and only because and insofar as believers are still sinners, and must still be tamed by the law, and must still be led to a continuing knowledge of sin. In itself the law ceases with the coming of faith and grace, and loses all its significance.

The Reformed, however, have thought about this in an entirely different way. The usus politicus and the usus paedagogicus of the law became necessary only accidentally because of sin; even with these uses aside, the most important usus remains, the usus didacticus or normativus. After all, the law is an expression of God’s being. As a human being Christ was subject to the law for Himself. Before the fall Adam had the law written upon his heart. With the believer it is again written upon the tablets of his heart by the Holy Spirit. And all those in heaven will walk according to the law of the Lord.

The Gospel is temporary, but the law is eternal and is restored precisely through the Gospel. Freedom from the law consists, then, not in the fact that the Christian has nothing more to do with the law, but lies in the fact that the law demands nothing more from the Christian as a condition of salvation. The law can no longer judge and condemn him. Instead he delights in the law of God according to the inner man and yearns for it day and night.

Therefore, that law must always be preached to the congregation in connection with the Gospel. Law and Gospel, the whole Word, the full counsel of God, is the content of preaching. Among Reformed people, therefore, the law occupies a much larger place than in the teaching of sin, since it is also part of the teaching of gratitude. 
[Here Bavinck has a footnote providing bibliographical references relating to the views of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Zanchius, Witsius, De Moor, Vitringa, Schneckenburger, Frank, and Gottschick.]

(from paragraph 521 of Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 3rd unaltered edition, vol. 4 (Kampen, J. H. Kok, 1918), emphases in bold added, and taken from this translation from the Dutch)

Anti-Christian Sermons and Calvin


I was referred to examine Pastor Shawn Mathis’ blog ‘Did Calvin preach anti-ChristIan sermons?’.


My response is ‘no’ if you truly understand the Gospel. Many in the Reformed Camp and outside of it have a very narrow understanding of the Gospel. I also believe their views truncate and actually misdefine the good news. They do that by making justification the sole issue of the Gospel. But the Gospel of reconciliation to God is so much more. It is also about us being made new creatures in Christ. It is about being regenerate (born again) and having a renewed spirit. It is about our daily sanctification and salvation. The Gospel is about our whole life before God.

I posted the following response in the comment section on Facebook where Pastor Mathis posted the blog. Someoone referenced Warfield saying that the passage concerning the Prodgal Son had no Gospel in it because there was no reference to the atonement.  In general I also am confronted by attacks on self examination and how we should view our obedience by those who truncate the gospel.  They have a few good points but you can’t throw the truth out because some misapply or misunderstand the truth.

My response…
“I will say this, there are different layers of the Gospel. All of our reconciliation to God totally depends on the person and work of Christ. But there are themes of the Gospel message that may be presented without specific acknowledgement of the cross. Repentance from sin and seeking reconciliation is a call to the covenant community. How to live before God and please Him is a part of the Gospel. As Bavinck noted, the Gospel restores the Law to its proper place in the life of the redeemed. The Gospel is more than the teaching of Justification. That is something many don’t understand now days.

Philippians 2:12-13
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

Galatians 6:1-10
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 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. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.

1 John 3:18-24
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

2 Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

I have another example of the problem presented to us in a gospel that is truncated by being focused solely on justification.

Let’s examine the examples of Abraham’s faith. His faith is referenced two specific times in the New Testament. A lot of people make categorical mistakes when they try reconciling the writings of Paul and James concerning justification by faith. Paul is speaking about Abraham’s response of faith concerning the future promise of his seed. He is declared righteous without works. Genesis 15:1-7 , Romans 4:1-8 James presents a totally different situation as does Genesis 22.

A lot of people in their zeal for the doctrine of justification by faith alone in the Gospel make a categorical error when they present Genesis 22:1-14 in a typological way concerning the person and work of Christ. Abraham and Isaac are not typological of God and Christ here. This passage is about God testing Abraham’s faith. It is not about justification by faith alone.  It is about covenant obedience and blessing. If anything, and I am assuming here, the Lamb provided is typological and indicates that even our obedience needs to be viewed as imperfect and covered as it can only be accepted in Christ. James is presenting Abraham in a totally different context than Paul is in Romans and it is still Gospel.”

I am looking forward to Pastor Shawn Mathis’ follow up blog. He is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

Very Good discussion on R. Scott Clark’s 7 point summary of Republication



This was a very good discussion on the Puritanboard in which Dr. Clark himself participated.  I joined in on the second page after he made this statement.

“First, As a minister in the United Reformed Churches I subscribe, without exception and unequivocally, the Three Forms of Unity. As a seminary prof I subscribe ex animo (sincerely from the heart) the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster Standards but I believe that I hold them without exception.”  RSC

My response to this was, “On another point I also believe that Dr. Clark holds to a position concerning the Mosaic Covenant that is not in accordance with the WCF concerning the Mosaic Covenant. He seems to hold to a position that is at odds with the Mosaic Covenant being a full administration of the Covenant of Grace. It seems to be a modified approach that makes it both an administration of both the Covenant of Grace and a Covenant of Works (in a varied sense).”

As he has stated,

“That God might have arranged a temporary, national covenant with Israel such that she may be said to have “merited” temporal blessings in the land is a view that has been held in the history of Reformed theology. It is probably a minority view but it has been held.

I would not put it that way myself. As I’ve said many times, there’s too much evidence in the history of Israel for me to think that even the temporal blessings were merited. Nevertheless, it is also the case that Scripture does speak to Israel in legal terms and that, is, in my view, the material question in republication. I agree with the broad mainstream of classic Reformed writers in the 16th and 17th centuries and with the Marrow of Modern Divinity, that the old covenant (Moses-David-Prophets) was both an administration of the covenant of grace and an administration of the covenant of works.” R. Scott Clark

I also note in the discussion, “I do not believe this is the broad mainstream of the Westminster Divines. I am not so sure it is that of the Marrow Men either as I have noted here.”

I know Dr. Clark is not ignorant of the positions here since he was someone who warned me against John Ball’s ‘A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace’. I assume he has read Samuel Rutherford, Anthony BurgessHerman Bavinck, James Durham, John Ball, etc. He is a Reformed Historian and Seminary Professor. I just wish he would be open and quit obfuscating. He isn’t the only person doing this but he is the one who has harped and penned on these issues in great quantity and I believe he is confusing people by hiding the facts and being less precise than he should be as in his comment about Distinctions and being called a Lutheran in a recent comment on his blog. https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2014/05/21/the-charge-of-lutheranism-is-not-about-distinction-it-is-about-dichotomy/

This really isn’t about Clark as much as it is about others being confused by these type of men on these issues. Just be honest about what you believe whether it is in the minority position or majority positions. I have great fellowship with those of other denominations. But they are honest about their disagreements and who they are. They don’t claim to hold to a Confession of Faith without exception when they really don’t.

I hold to the WCF but have some possible quibbles as per my Denominations Testimony. Being honest and open lays a better ground for fellowship and love. In Him there is no darkness.

I believe the following web site can be very beneficial. Please take your time and explore it.

The Mosaic Covenant in Reformed Theology


Introduction to site.

They are deceived then who make Parallel distinctions of the Old and New Testament; of the Covenant of Works, and of Grace; of the Law, and Gospel: for in both, the Testament or Covenant is the Covenant of Grace; in both, the Law and Gospel are urged.

(Johannes Wollebius)

This site will be dedicated to providing resources for understanding the Mosaic covenant in Reformed Theology. Our primary focus will be historical-theological. Our goal is provide the church, her pastors, and professors with direct access to primary documents that speak to this issue. Many historical-theological treatments of this issue are agenda-driven, and are highly skewed according to each person’s own position (and you are free to judge from these primary documents if that is true for me as well).

Most of the material on this sight will be from Reformed Theologians. However, in order to help others understand the Reformed doctrine in its historical-theological context, we hope to provide exerpts from Roman Catholic, Arminian, Socinian, Lutheran, and Amyraldian theology as well. In this way, the distintively Reformed position will stand out sharply against those who disagreed with them.

We do not pretend to make any secret of our own position on this matter. We believe that the majority consensus of Reformed theologians of the 16th and 17th centuries was that the Mosaic Covenant was essentially a covenant of grace. While it had unique administrative elements, these were merely accidental and did not change its essential character as a covenant of grace. This position was advanced by the vast majority of prominent 17th century Reformed Theologians, and is embodied in the confessions of that same century, particularly the Westminster Standards. Aware of this, the reader is also free to check all my introductory comments and analysis on the basis of the primary documents, and correct them where he or she feels they are inaccurate.

Nevertheless, we welcome the visitors to this site to read these books and excerpts for themselves to come to their own opinion on the matter. We believe that a thorough, honest, and careful reading of these primary documents will lead the reader to come to the same conclusion.

The Covenant of Grace, The Sinaitic and the New



The Covenant of Grace, The Sinaitic and the New
Drs. J van Gunderen and W. H. Velema
Concise Reformed Dogmatics pp. 548-550 P&R 2008

3. The Sinaitic Covenant.  We can say with Bavinck that the covenant with the fathers is the foundation and core of the Sinaitic covenant (R. D., 3.220).  God’s faithfulness toward the patriarchs is mentioned as the motive (Deut. 7:8).  There is continuity so that also the covenant with Israel bears the character of a covenant of Grace.  This is sufficiently clear from the words of Exodus 20:2, although in the phase of the history of the covenant there is a great emphasis on the observance of God’s commandments.

Sometimes the distinction between the covenant with Abraham and that with Israel at Sinai is almost turned into a contrast.  Thus it is said that although the latter is indeed not a covenant of works, it is presented in a form that is strongly reminiscent of a covenant of works (Aalders, 1939. 179).  We can object that the emphasis on what God demands from his people does not take us into the sphere of a covenant of works.  In Deuteronomy the central idea is that the people will keep the covenant.  Blessing and curse depend on this (Deut. 27-30), but it is the obligation to respond to God’s love that carries the covenant (see Deut. 6:4-5; 7:6-8; 30:19-20).  The Law is the torah, which plays a role within the covenant.  It provides the instruction that is required to make the people walk in the way of the covenant.  Just as Abraham is called to walk before God’s face when the Lord allies himself with him (Gen17.1), so the law that is given to Israel serves the covenant as a further explanation of the statement, “Walk before me and be thou perfect” (cf. Bavinck, R. D. 3.222).

4. In connection with the prophesies concern a new covenant or an eternal covenant, which God is about to establish with his people (Jer. 31:31-34; 32:37-41; Ezek. 37:24-28), the question arises whether this is a covenant other than the covenant made with Israel or whether we must think in terms of a renewal of the covenant.

Some theologians contrast the Sinaitic covenant with the new covenant.  The bond with the people of God in the covenant of Sinai is purely external and national, in the new covenant it is purely internal and spiritual.   Today we deal with the new covenant.  The members of the covenant are members of the invisible church , the living members of Christ (Aalders, 1939, 158f.).  An important conclusion is that covenant and election are quantitatively identical.  The number of covenant members is identical to the number of the elect.  Incidentally, the covenant appears to include illegitimate members, to whom also God has said that he establishes his covenant with them to be their God, but who refuse to acknowledge him as their God.  This can be interpreted as a breach of the covenant on their part (Aalders, 1939, 193,222).

According to Reiling, the prophecy of the new covenant implies that the old covenant no longer exists.  It has been breached by the people and there is nothing left to be restored or renewed.  The old covenant and the new covenant constitute the same covenant only to the extent that God remains himself.  As far as the covenant people are concerned, however, we must speak of two fundamentally different covenants. (J. Reiling, Verbond, oud en nieuto, 1976.111)

While Aalders, Reiling, and others emphasisze the discontinuity of the covenant with Israel and the new covenant, others point to continuity.  The distinction is not that the old covenant is only external and the new covenant internal.  This would constitute an essential difference.  It is disputed by L. H. Vander Meiden (1955.35).  The difference lies entirely in the area of the history of redemption (Wiskerke, 1955.174).

Regarding the relationship between the old (Sinaitic) covenant and the new covenant (Jer.31), we must keep in mind both the similarities and the distinctions between them.

  1. It is in essence one covenant of God with his people.  When the covenant first established with Abraham was subsequently ratified with Israel at Sinai, it retained the character of a covenant of grace.  Jeremiah 31 implies in a surprisingly new manner that God commits himself to extend his grace and faithfulness toward people who do not at all deserve it (cf. in this regard Jer. 31:32).  He renews his covenant with his people.
  2. The new covenant is none other than the old covenant.  The Law that is to be written in the hearts is the same law that was given earlier.  The all-encompassing promise (Jer. 31:33), “I…will be their God and they shall be my people,” is the same promise of Moses’ time (“I … will be your God, and ye shall be my people,” Lev. 26:12).  One may not infer from Jeremiah 31:33-34 that in earlier days the law was not yet written in the hearts or that there was then no forgiveness of sin and knowledge of the Lord.  This “internalization” (See F. Malaresta, Interiority and Covenant, 1978, 68-77) was already promised in the books of Moses (Deut. 30:6).  The Law was indeed written in the hearts of the godly, and the saints of God stood in the right relationship to him.
  3. The manner in which God deals with his people has not changed in the new covenant.  He grants promises such as those expressed in Jeremiah 31:31-34 not just to those who have been chosen to eternal life.  Just as those in Genesis 17 and Exodus 19, they are promises that require a believing response.
  4. There is nevertheless a clear progression in the history of the covenant, which is at the same time redemptive history.  “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant” (Jer. 31:31).  More blessings can be expected in the future.  In essence, what was granted under the old covenant is given to a fuller and richer extent under the new covenant.  Thus there is indeed a difference in degree (cf. Vander Meiden, 1955, 41).
  5. As far as the fulfillment of this prophecy is concerned, some place it after the exile, because the context refers to people returning (Jer. 31:23-25) and because they would then naturally be preoccupied with the law (cf. Neh. 9.38-10.31).  In our view the prophesies concerning the new covenant refer more to a new, enduring dispensation the covenant.  This new dispensation came when Christ completed his work as Mediator and when his Spirit was poured out (see Heb. 8:6-13; 2 Cor. 3:6).  Believers from among the Jewish people and from the nations of the world are proof that God fulfils his promise (cf. Rom. 9:24-26; 2 Cor. 6:16-18).  Thus the church of Christ represents the people of the new covenant. 

The Charge of Lutheranism is not about distinction, it is about dichotomy


May 19, 2014
When I was a seminary student (1984-87) I only occasionally heard about a “law/gospel” distinction and then it as never explained to me. I learned about the substance of the distinction 10 years later doing my doctoral work. No one ever explained how it related to preaching until 1998. I had been preaching for a decade by the time I had any clear idea how important it was for preaching. I didn’t want to be a moralist in the pulpit but I was. I knew I was doing something wrong in my preaching but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I don’t think I was alone. When I first started writing about the distinction several years later I was roundly attacked as a “Lutheran.” A decade or more later it still happens. I still regularly read that the law/gospel distinction is “Lutheran.”

The law/gospel distinction is, it is argued, Lutheran.


The author of the above comment either doesn’t fully appreciate what he has been told by some people or he just doesn’t understand the situation still after many have tried to explain it to him.  He keeps addressing this Law / Gospel issue but seems to refuse to deal with certain specifics when they are shown to him.

He is the commander of his ship (blog).  So when he addresses a topic he is in control of the material and terminology he chooses to expose others to.  For some reason, when others have tried to explain to him that it isn’t the distinctions that we are troubled by but the issue of dichotomizing Law and Gospel it seems to fall upon deaf ears.  He seems to keep hearing an incorrect charge.  Some are probably making other charges that he would rather answer. therefore he can deflect away from this one about distinction.  He claims that it is about distinctions but that is too broad of an accusation.  It seems he obfuscates the issue by constantly making reference that others are calling him Lutheran because he makes a Law / Gospel distinction.  Dear Dr. Clark,  It isn’t about the distinctions, it is that you seem to be dichotomizing Law and Gospel as the Lutherans do.  That is what we are having a problem with.  It isn’t about how they are distinct.  We acknowledge that they are distinct subjects.  We don’t believe the Law is set in the Form of a Covenant of Works in many situations where you see it is.  We do not see that Law and Gospel necessarily oppose each other.  The Law and Gospel sweetly comply.

How they are distinct does matter in a narrow sense and in a broader sense.  In the narrow sense the Works of the Law are opposed to the Gospel as all die in Adam.  In the broader sense the distinction of Law is yet different and not necessarily opposed to the Gospel.  This is Reformed Thought as I understand the Confession and hear our heritage speak.  In Lutheranism Law and Gospel are generally opposed because the Law is almost always equated with being in the Form of a Covenant of Works.  And that is where the problem lies.  The Moral Law is usually set in a context of a Covenant of Works in some sense which puts the Law in Opposition to the Gospel in all of those situations.  That is why the charge of Lutheranism is leveled at some men who dichotomize Law and Gospel in both the narrow and broader sense.

We are not necessarily speaking about distinctions when we accuse anyone of Lutheranism.  We are speaking about how men dichotomize Law and Gospel.  It almost seems as if the author of the comment above is hiding some historical facts.  It is as if he hasn’t been shown or confronted with some of the writings of the Divines of the Westminster Assembly.   Here is the great Westminster Divine Anthony Burgess addressing the subject back in the 17th Century.


“We have confuted (proven to be incorrect) the false differences, and now come to lay down the truth, between the law and the Gospel taken in a larger sense.  

And, first, you must know that the difference is not essential, or substantial, but accidental: so that the division of the Testament, or Covenant into the Old, and New, is not a division of the Genus (classification) into its opposite Species; but of the subject, according to its several accidental administrations, both on Gods part, and on mans.It is true, the Lutheran Divines, they do expressly oppose the Calvinists herein, maintaining the Covenant given by Moses, to be a Covenant of Works, and so directly contrary to the Covenant of Grace. Indeed, they acknowledge that the Fathers were justified by Christ, and had the same way of salvation with us; only they make that Covenant of Moses to be a superadded thing to the Promise, holding forth a condition of perfect righteousness unto the Jews, that they might be convinced of their own folly in their self-righteousness.” (Vindication of the Morall Law,  Lecture 26  p.251)

The differences were recognized back then.  Sure there are some added nuances in the way things have been laid out in today’s theological atmosphere but the Lutheran charge is not about distinctions as much as how the Lutheran hermeneutic makes Law and Gospel so opposed to each other in a large part of theological context.

Statements have been made in the past that the Law only commands and the Gospel only says believe.  In a narrow context that is somewhat true.  But when it is applied to the broader context we start having problems.  We also have problems just because we know the Gospel does command and promise is applied to the command.  When statements are made like this, “The Gospel never tells us what to do.” or “The Gospel never Commands, that is what the Law does.” we start to have problems.  This is the dichotomizing I am speaking about.  The hermeneutic that Gospel and Law are opposed to each other in almost all situations is a misnomer and one that is being propagated on a regular basis today by men in the Reformed Camp.  They are equating the Law with the Covenant of Works in all things.  It is troubling and dangerous in my estimation.  When people lay the charge of Lutheranism at the feet of these Seminary Professors and people like them, this is what they are speaking about.  These guys want to equate the Moral Law with the Covenant of Works.  That is a Lutheran Hermeneutic.

Let me expound on why I think that hermeneutic is a bit out of kilter by referring to Robert Shaw in his commentary on the Law of God in Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith.

The law, as thus inscribed on the heart of the first man, is often styled the law of creation, because it was the will of the sovereign Creator, revealed to the reasonable creature, by impressing it upon his mind and heart at his creation. It is also called the moral law, because it was a revelation of the will of God, as his moral governor, and was the standard and rule of man’s moral actions. Adam was originally placed under this law in its natural form, as merely directing and obliging him to perfect obedience. He was brought under it in a covenant form, when an express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, was annexed to it; and then a positive precept was added, enjoining him not to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, as the test of his obedience to the whole law.–Gen. ii. 16, 17.

Adam was created with the Law written upon his heart in its Natural Form before he was placed in the Garden of Eden under it in the form of a Covenant of Works.  He was brought under the Law in Covenant Form when death and life promises were annexed (attached) to it based upon his compliance to the stipulations of that Covenant Form.  He lived in creation and under the law in its natural form first.  After Adam sinned that Law which was given to him also in Covenant Form was anulled according to Robert Shaw because Adam failed in complying with the stipulations of perfect adherence to that Covenant Form.

Upon the fall of man, the law, considered as a covenant of works, was annulled and set aside

Now after the fall the Law that was written upon Adam’s heart in it’s Natural Form still directed and obliged him to obey it perfectly as it first did in its Natural Form.  It was no longer a Covenant of Works that had the promise of life attached to it.  I can only think by the phrase “annulled and set aside” that Shaw was emphasizing that the Covenant of Works was broken and that possibility for fulfillment by Adam’s children was removed.  All died in Adam.  The Law after the Fall was only considered the Moral Law (as in its Natural Form) as Robert Shaw signifies and as our Confession states.

but, considered as moral, it continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness. That fair copy of the law which had been inscribed on the heart of the first man in his creation, was, by the fall, greatly defaced, although not totally obliterated.

Now let me reiterate that the charge of Lutheranism isn’t necessarily about distinctions as much as it is about the dichotomizing of Law and Grace.  Justification and Sanctification are distinct doctrines found in the Gospel.  They are definitely to be considered in our Union with Christ.  They are as Calvin referred to them a two-fold grace.  They are distinct.  But they do not oppose each other nor are they to  be considered issues cut off from one another.  As Calvin stated repeatedly, justification and sanctification are benefits that are to be distinguished but never separated (distinctio sed non separatio) any more than Christ himself can be separated 1 Cor 1:30.  The Law as Christ’s law is never separated from the Gospel.  The Gospel actually restores it in our lives.  The trajectory that the Law is equated with the Covenant of Works and opposes the Gospel in a broad sense is just poor Lutheran Hermeneutics.  In its Natural Form the Law still obliges perfect obedience but it is not annexed to the promises of life and death any longer as a Covenant of Works.  Not even in some sense.  If that were true then we could even make the Lord’s table a Covenant of Works.  It isn’t about distinction.  It is about dichotomy.  So the charge of Lutheranism just might be true.  Aye?

I think Bavinck is a great place to learn from.

Other related posts.


The Law turned into Gospel / Gospel Obedience


William Perkins ‘Christ fulfilling the law’ in his Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount 5:17

Christ fulfilled the law in men. Men may be of two sorts: elect and reprobates. In His elect, He fulfilled the law two ways: first, by creating faith in their hearts whereby they lay hold on Christ, who for them fulfilled it; secondly, by giving them His own Spirit which maketh them endeavour to fulfil the law; which in Christ is accepted for perfect obedience in this life, and in the life to come is perfect indeed.

Thomas Goodwin (Works, 6:261)

As faith turns the commands of the law into gospel in a regenerate man’s heart, so conscience, in an unregenerate man, turns the gospel into law. As faith writes the law in the heart, and urgeth the duties of it upon evangelical grounds and motives—as the love of Christ, conformity to him, union with him, and the free grace of God—so in a man unregenerate, gospel duties are turned into legal, through the sway and influence of conscience, and that dominion which the covenant of works hath over him.

Samuel Rutherford (The Covenant of Life Opened, 198-199)

The obedience of faith, or Gospel-obedience, in the fourth place, hath less of the nature of obedience than that of Adam, or of the elect angels, or that of Christ’s. It’s true we are called obedient children, and they are called the commandments of Christ, and Christ hath taken the moral law and made use of it in an evangelic way, yet we are more (as it were) patients in obeying gospel-commands. Not that we are mere patients, as Libertines teach; for grace makes us willing, but we have both supernatural habits and influences of grace furnished to us from the grace of Christ, who hath merited both to us; and so in Gospel-obedience we offer more of the Lord’s own and less of our own because he both commands and gives us grace to obey. And so to the elect believer the Law is turned in Gospel, he by his grace fulfilling (as it were) the righteousness of the Law in us by begun new obedience, Rom. 8:4.

Westminster Confession of Faith 19.6

It [the moral law] 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 encourages to the one and deters from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and not under grace. 

Westminster Larger Catechism

Q. 32. How is the grace of God manifested in the second covenant?
A. The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a Mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him, promiseth and giveth his Holy Spirit to all his elect, to work in them that faith, with all other saving graces; and to enable them unto all holy obedience, as the evidence of the truth of their faith and thankfulness to God, and as the way which he hath appointed them to salvation.

The commentary of Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg catechism pp. 617,18 objection 8

Obj. 8. The law is the letter which killeth, and is the ministration of death and condemnation. (2 Cor. 3 : 6, 7.) But there is no condemnation to Christians. Therefore, the law does not have respect to Christians who are in Christ Jesus.

Ans. There is here a fallacy of accident ; for the law is not in itself the letter which killeth ; since this comes to pass by the fault of men, who, the more clearly they perceive the difference between themselves and the law, the more fully do they give themselves over to despair in reference to their salvation, and are therefore slam by the law. Again, the law alone, without the gospel, is the letter, that is, it is the doctrine which merely teaches, demands obedience, denounces the wrath of God and death to such as are disobedient, without producing the spiritual obedience which it requires. But when it is joined with the gospel, which is the Spirit, it also commences to become the Spirit, which is effectual in the godly, inasmuch as those who are regenerated commence willingly and cheerfully to yield obedience to the law. The law, therefore, is the letter, 1. By itself and without the gospel. 2. In respect to those who are unregenerated. On the other hand, the gospel is the Spirit; that is, it is the ministration and means through which the Holy Ghost, which works spiritual obedience in us, is given; not indeed as though all who hear, would receive the Holy Ghost and be regenerated, but because faith, by which our hearts are quickened, so that they begin to yield obedience to the law, is received by it. It does not follow, therefore, that the law is no longer to be taught in the church; for Christ himself says: “I am not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.” (Matt. 5: 17.) And Paul also says, that we establish the law through faith. (Rom. 3: 31.) Christ fulfilled the law in two respects: his obedience and suffering. He was just and holy in himself and did not violate the law in a single instance, but partly performed in our behalf those things which he was not bound to do, and partly sustained the punishment of the law. He also fulfills the law in us in two ways, by teaching it and granting unto us his Spirit, that so we may commence obedience to it, as we proved when speaking of the abrogation of the law.  

Portions of Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, 3rd unaltered edition, vol. 4 (Kampen, J. H. Kok, 1918)

Therefore, that law has reached its end in Christ, the seed of promise (Rom.10:4); the believer is free from the law (Gal.4:26f.; 5:1), since he is redeemed through Christ from the curse of the law (Gal.3:13; 4:5), and shares in the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit of freedom (Rom.8:15; 2 Cor.3:16-17; Gal.5:18).
This freedom of faith, however, does not invalidate the law, but establishes it (Rom.3:31), since its legal requirement is fulfilled precisely in those who walk according to the Spirit (Rom.8:4). After all, that Spirit renews believers so that they delight in God’s law according to the inner man and inquire as to what God’s holy will is (Rom.7:22; 12:2; Eph.5:10; Phil.1:10), while they are spurred on through various impulses — the great mercy of God, the example of Christ, the costly price with which they have been purchased, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, etc. — to the doing of God’s will…..
...The Gospel is temporary, but the law is eternal and is restored precisely through the Gospel. Freedom from the law consists, then, not in the fact that the Christian has nothing more to do with the law, but lies in the fact that the law demands nothing more from the Christian as a condition of salvation. The law can no longer judge and condemn him. Instead he delights in the law of God according to the inner man and yearns for it day and night.



For more great quotes visit  https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/sundry-quotes-from-solid-reformed-men-on-law-and-gospel/

Clark is not teaching the Broad view of the Westminster Divines.

And He said something about my dog not barking.



Great expose’ from a comment Dr. R. Scott Clark made.  I feel vindicated.  He is not teaching according to the Westminster Standards.  He is more inline with the Theology of Meredith Kline or dare I say Lee Irons.

“That God might have arranged a temporary, national covenant with Israel such that she may be said to have “merited” temporal blessings in the land is a view that has been held in the history of Reformed theology. It is probably a minority view but it has been held.

I would not put it that way myself. As I’ve said many times, there’s too much evidence in the history of Israel for me to think that even the temporal blessings were merited. Nevertheless, it is also the case that Scripture does speak to Israel in legal terms and that, is, in my view, the material question in republication. I agree with the broad mainstream of classic Reformed writers in the 16th and 17th centuries and with the Marrow of Modern Divinity, that the old covenant (Moses-David-Prophets) was both an administration of the covenant of grace and an administration of the covenant of works.” R. Scott Clark

It is probably a minority view?  It definitely isn’t the Westminster Confessional view.   Broad Mainstream?  In my estimation Dr. Clark is teaching contrary to the Broad view of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  I am not so sure he is teaching according to the Marrow Men even.  Please just finally acknowledge it Dr. Clark.  Clark is Lutheran instead of Reformed.  Read Bavinck and the Divines of the Westminster Assembly.  Put Clark in the Holding Pen and read the Divines and Bavinck.  SMH.

Joel Beeke and Mark Jones acknowledged Owen to be in the Minority Position concerning the Mosaic Covenant. They still have great respect for Owen as I do.  Why can’t Dr. Clark acknowledge he holds to the Minority View also? (Chapter 18 of Puritan Theology) Just be honest and say what you are Dr. Clark, ‘A Minority Man’ which teaches contrary to the Westminster Assembly.

Maybe Dr. Clark isn’t skirting the issue any longer.  https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/skirting-the-issue/  Maybe he just wants the minority view of yesteryear to be a Newly Revised Confessional MajorityView of today.

It seems Clark is all over the place on this topic.  He says one thing one day and another thing on a different day. Plus, the one thing he says about being inline with the Marrow Men I am not sure about.  They have risen up in my ear on the Puritanboard and in private correspondence to affirm that that isn’t true.  https://rpcnacovenanter.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/the-marrow-of-modern-divinity-and-the-recent-republication-issue/

Follow him and his interactions here if you can.


Religious Autonomy, The Scripture, and the Church


…Deism makes human beings independent of God and the world, teaches the all-sufficiency of reason, and leads to rationalism. Pantheism on the other hand, teaches that God discloses himself and comes to self-consciousness in human beings and fosters mysticism. Both destroy objective truth, leave reason and feeling, the intellect and the heart, to themselves, and end up in unbelief or superstition. Reason criticizes all revelation to death, and feeling gives the Roman Catholic as much right to picture Mary as the sinless Queen of Heaven as the Protestant to oppose this belief. It is therefore noteworthy that Holy Scripture never refers human beings to themselves as the epistemic source and standard of religious truth. How, indeed, could it, since it describes the “natural” man as totally darkened and corrupted by sin in his intellect, … In his heart, … in his will, … as well as in his conscience. For the knowledge of truth Scripture always refers us to objective revelation, to the word and instruction that proceeded from God,… And where the objective truth is personally appropriated by us by faith, that faith still is never like a fountain that from itself brings forth the living water but like a channel that conducts the water to us from another source.

Rome, understanding perfectly well this impossibility of religious moral autonomy, bound human beings to the infallible church on pain of losing the salvation of their souls.  For Roman Catholic Christians the infallible church, and so in the final analysis the infallible pope, is the foundation of their faith.  The words Papa dixit (the Pope has spoken) is the end of all back talk.  History teaches, however, that this theoretical and practical infallibility of the church has at all times encountered contradiction and opposition not only in the churches of the Reformation but inside the Roman Catholic Church as well.  It is not unbelievers primarily but the devout who have always experienced this power of the hierarchy as a galling bond to their consciences.  Throughout the centuries there has not only been scientific, societal, and political resistance but also deeply religious and moral opposition to the hierarchical power of the church.  It simply will not do to explain this opposition in terms of unbelief and disobedience and intentionally to misconstrue the religious motives underlying the opposition of various sects and movements.  No one has been bold enough to damn all these sects because they were moved to resist the church and its tradition. Even Rome shrinks from this conclusion.  The extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the church) is a confession that is too harsh for even the most robust believer.  Accordingly, the “law” we see at work in every area of life is operative also in religion and morality.  On the one hand, there is a revolutionary spirit that seeks to level all that has taken shape historically in order to start rebuilding things from the ground up.  There is, however, also a false conservatism that takes pleasure in leaving the existing situation untouched simply because it exists and—in accordance with Calvin’s familiar saying—not to attempt to change a well-positioned evil (malum bene positum non movere).  At the proper time everywhere and in every sphere of life, a certain radicalism is needed to restore balance, to make further development possible, and not let the stream of ongoing life bog down.  In art and science, state and society, similarly in religion and morality, there gradually develops a mindless routine that oppresses and does violence to the rights of personality, genius, invention, inspiration, freedom, and conscience.  But in due time there always arises a man or woman who cannot bear that pressure, casts off the yoke of bondage and again takes up the cause of human freedom and that of Christian Liberty.  These are turning points in history. Thus Christ himself rose up against the tradition of the elders and returned to the law and the prophets. Thus one day the Reformation had the courage, not in the interest of some scientific, social or political goal, but in the name of Christian humanity, to protest against Rome’s hierarchy…

Herman Bavinck Reformed Dogmatics Volume I pp.80-82