Law Can Only Point to What it Cannot Provide

“We see that the law simply cannot bring into being what it commands…The law says, ‘Thou shalt love!’ It is right; it is ‘holy, true, good’. Yet it can’t bring about what it demands. It might impel toward the works of the law, the motions of love, but in the end they will become irksome and will all too often lead to hate. If we go up to someone on the street, grab them by the lapels and say, ‘Look here, you’re supposed to love me!’ the person may drudgingly admit that we are right, but it won’t work. The results will likely be just the opposite from what our ‘law’ demands. Law is indeed right, but it simply cannot realize what it points to. So it works wrath. It can curse, but it can’t bless. In commanding love law can only point helplessly to that which it cannot produce.”

Gerhard Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross, p. 107 (discussing Thesis 26 of Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation)

Law & Gospel

Several months ago Mark Jones and I were discussing the issues of law and gospel, as well as the conditionality of the covenant. I asked Mark some questions, and he has now posted some further thoughts on this at the blog Meet the Puritans.

Mark provides several quotes from Puritans demonstrating that many of them argued that the gospel was conditional and commanded us, but the most helpful quote in the article comes from Richard Gaffin in his book By Faith, Not by Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation. Gaffin explains:

“The gospel is to the end of removing an absolute law-gospel antithesis in the life of the believer.  How so? Briefly, apart from the gospel and outside of Christ the law is my enemy and condemns me.  Why? Because God is my enemy and condemns me.  But with the gospel and in Christ, united to him by faith, the law is no longer my enemy but my friend.  Why? Because now God is no longer my enemy but my friend, and the law, his will, the law in its moral core, as reflective of his character and of concerns eternally inherent in his own person and so of what pleases him, is now my friendly guide for life in fellowship with God” (By Faith, Not by Sight, 103).

In other words, the law-gospel distinction is not an end in and of itself. It will end. The goal, redemptively speaking, is to place us back into a proper relationship with God. The problem is that because we are sinners and still live in a fallen world, we turn this on its head and try to find approval with God through the law instead of seeing the law as a guide for our fellowship and enjoyment of God. I would encourage you to read Mark’s whole article here.

Law/Gospel, iMonk, and White Horse Inn

iMonk listened to a recent White Horse Inn broadcast and came away with a lot of questions, especially about the Sermon on the Mount. He reflected on his questions in his recent post: “The White Horse Inn, Law/Gospel, and Why I Want my Sermon on the Mount Back.” Be sure to read the comments because Mike Horton and Shane Rosenthal jump into the discussion.