In a recent post about “the third use of the law”, I made this claim:
It’s all about Christian’s Spirit-led and default inclination being to coerce and drag old Adam – some other Christian’s or our own – into the presence of God’s means of grace and beyond… i.e. into the straight paths that make life safe and good for straying sheep.
And this is what those who preach the law in it’s third use take into account. Well… some remain quite unconvinced of this. Therefore, this is part IV of my ongoing posts about “the third use of the law” (part I, part II. and part III) The post that ties them all together however, identifying what I believe are the underlying issues, is this one: Can Confessional Lutherans Live in an “Imputation-Only World”?
What many modern confessional Lutherans want to say is this:
[The article on the third use of the law in the Lutheran Confessions] indicates that “the preaching of the law is to be urged with diligence, not only among those who have no faith in Christ … but also among those who truly believe in Christ.” Period.
Note the “Period”. The desire is that the conversation ends here. That is all there is to say.
The sixth article of the Lutheran Formula of Concord is indeed about how the law should be urged on Christians. But in what way? What does it mean to urge the law on the Christian here?
I submit that this can be seen by looking closely at the fifth and sixth articles of the Formula of Concord, about “The Law and the Gospel”, which parallels Paul’s use of the law in Romans 1-3, and the “Third Use of God’s Law”, which parallels Paul’s use of the law in Romans 12 ff, respectively.
FC V is about how the law is revealed and taught to people (here we note it is mentioned that the law is unchangeable as well – V:17) so that they (believers to!: see V:2: “unbelief of the converted… is pardoned and forgiven”) may be led to the knowledge of their sins by the Law. It is all about the Holy Spirit and the Church using the law in its second, or spiritual use: accusing, condemning, convicting, reproving, rebuking, etc. en route to repentance. FC V is about the preaching of repentance using the law of God, not the Gospel (the message of the cross can also convict). In other words, it is related to justification and continual justification. Note again, the second use of the law – its primary use – is to be continually applied to believers (as well as being needed to convert unbelievers), who here are understood to, as they stand before God, always remain totally sinners and totally saints (100% each).
This would be like what Paul is doing in Romans 1-3.
FC VI is, as the sainted Kurt Marquart says, about the laws “practical application to daily life” (think of Luther’s “Table of Duties” and the “Large Catechism”): how the law is used with people born anew by God’s spirit that they might live and walk in it. It is about the preaching not of repentance per se, but of obedience, addressing the old and new natures in the Christian. With the Gospel serving as the ground (“by the mercies of God”)*, the third use of the law encourages the Christian, according to his new man, to walk in the good works that God has appointed for him to do (“good works …encouraged from the law” – VI:2). The new man in the Christian,
motivated [update: not a good word…let’s try….] having his anticipation aroused by (as in: “The law, after all, cannot motivate or inspire the obedience it demands – but the Gospel can inspire us to say “Amen!” when we hear the beauty that is God’s law/will!” ; also see the note from Dr. Philips below) this instruction and admonishment / exhortation (VI:6 ; 12: “He encourages them to this”), is eager to live according to God’s law, in which he delights, so much so that sometimes he will wield the law himself, accusing, threatening and even physically punishing the flesh, the old man, within him (I Cor. 9:27). Therefore, the law need not “confuse the regenerate with its coercion” (VI:5).
This would be akin to what Paul is doing in Romans 12ff “by the mercies of God” (based on all the sweet Gospel that comes before it, and including the discussion of the two natures in the Christian, chapters 7 and 8) and Ephesians 4-6.
Of course in discussing the Christian’s new obedience, the second use of the law – the law’s primary use! – cannot be irrelevant to this (neither is it the focus of article VI – as it is not dealt with in the Epitome of the article) but has some significance (see VI: 12 -14, 21-22). The written law continues to reveal to the believer how his good works always fall short, and how the Gospel, in the blood of Christ, covers even the sin that infects our good works. What is important to note here is that the strong believer, ever aware of this Gospel truth, will eagerly join in the rebuking and condemning of the old Adam in him. In sum, while the presence of the second use of the law in the article does address old Adam’s Pharisaical tendencies – showing him how his works are imperfect and impure and cannot stand before God – it also points out to the new man in the Christian how the fruit of obedience can and should become more pure (see VI:17, 18, 24), as sin is driven out and old Adam is “forced to obey Christ” (VI: 24). In other words, all of this serves the primary purpose of the article – the new obedience of the Christian – by addressing and countering old Adam’s Epicurean tendencies. In other words, it is related not just to our passive sanctification, but our active sanctification as well (see the end of Romans 6 in particular here).
To add more detail: the law in its second use threatens persons with God’s wrath and temporal and eternal punishments (“God’s wrath, death, all temporal calamities, and the punishment of hellfire”- V:20). Here, we note that the law is used specifically to reveal sin and, with the Gospel, to produce repentance unto life. In the case of the third use of the law, the law is used specifically to address the Christian as partially saint and partially sinner (Romans 6-8 unveils this reality in detail), urging the new man in the Christian on to obedience, as old Adam is driven out more and more. The threats, rewards, and punishments discussed here are more akin to the first use (VI: 19), with its focus on temporal, often immediate, carrots and sticks. As Luther says, the Holy Spirit makes the law enjoyable and gentle to the justified, and therefore, the preacher should not make the law overly harsh among the justified but should change into the gentler tone of exhortation.** Again, we note that here we have Christians taking steps themselves to tame, even through “blows”, the wild and disobedient old Adam within.
This is what the Holy Spirit encourages, and this is what proclaimers of the Word should encourage, imitating Paul, as he seeks to keep in step with the Spirit.
*A great quote from Dr. Eric Phillips, which helps us think more about this:
“The third use of the Law isn’t just an exhortation to the forgiven. It’s a promise. This is what you will be: like Christ. This is what you have already begun to be: like Christ. “Let the dead man bury its dead, and come follow Me. I have ordained good works for you to do, now and forever.”
The third use isn’t Law-Gospel-LAW. David Scaer is good on this. It’s the Christological use of the Law. It’s the Law we get to do, as fellow-laborers together with Him, haltingly but with increasing power, until we are made His perfect image in the Resurrection. It’s the Law promised in Jeremiah 31: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (v. 33). It is, whether you want to adopt his language or not, the promise St. Peter alludes to in 2 Pet. 1:4, that we have been freed from corruption and made to be like God.
2 Peter 1:5-8: For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Of course the 3rd use will convict us also by implication, just as the 2nd use also exhorts and instructs us, but its purpose is to rouse anticipation, not fear–to enlist the New Man happily to mortify the Old and taste “the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the Age to Come” (Heb. 6:5). The Law always accuses, but when we know we are forgiven, it can also comfort and encourage us.”
**Luther also says that too much condemning law can lead into despair and kill completely – the law “should be reduced through the impossible supposition to a salutary use”
Note: some changes have been made in the original post for the sake of clarity.