Monday, January 28, 2013

The Law & The Gospel by Michael S. Horton

The Law & The Gospel
by Michael S. Horton
© 1996 The White Horse Inn


In order to recover the sufficiency of Scripture we must once again learn to distinguish the Law and the Gospel as the "two words" of Scripture. For the Reformers, it was not enough to believe in inerrancy. Since Rome also had a high view of Scripture in theory, the Reformers were not criticizing the church for denying its divine character. Rather, they argued that Rome subverted its high view of Scripture by the addition of other words and by failing to read and proclaim Scripture according to its most obvious sense.

At the heart of the reformation's hermeneutics was the distinction between "Law" and "Gospel." For the Reformers, this was not equivalent to "Old Testament" and "New Testament;" rather, it meant, in the words of Theodore Beza, "We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the 'Law,' the other the 'Gospel.' For all the rest can be gathered under the one or other of these two headings." The Law "is written by nature in our hearts," while "What we call the Gospel (Good News) is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from Heaven (Mt. 16:17; John 1:13)." The Law leads us to Christ in the Gospel by condemning us and causing us to despair of our own "righteousness." "Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel," Beza wrote, "is one of the principal sources of the abuses which
corrupted and still corrupt Christianity."1


Luther made this hermeneutic central, but both traditions of the Protestant Reformation jointly affirm this key distinction. In much of medieval preaching, the Law and Gospel were so confused that the "Good News" seemed to be that Jesus was a "kinder, gentler Moses," who softened the Law into easier exhortations, such as loving God and neighbor from the heart. The Reformers saw Rome as teaching that the Gospel was simply an easier "law" than that of the Old Testament. Instead of following a lot of rules, God expects only love and heartfelt surrender. Calvin replied, "As if we could think of anything more difficult than to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength! Compared with this law, everything could be considered easy...[For] the law cannot do anything else than to accuse and blame all to a man, to convict, and, as it were, apprehend them; in fine, to condemn them in God's judgment: that God alone may justify, that all flesh may keep silence before him."2 Thus, Calvin observes, Rome could only see the Gospel as that which enables believers to become righteous by obedience and that which is "a compensation for their lack," not realizing that the Law requires perfection, not approximation.3

(finish reading this excellent article here)