Another Reflection on the Divine Uses of the Law

By Caleb Keith

It seems like nobody can stop talking about the three uses of the Law, which is often a blurry distinction. The systematic distinctions of the Law help the Christian work through the various ways the law functions in Scripture. Melanchthon introduces the third use of the Law for the first time in the 1535 Loci Communes under the title De usu legit divine. Our own Dr. Keith has translated that section of the Loci and has made it available to read at 1517 Legacy project. Interestingly, Lutherans tend to omit the word “divine” when talking about the uses of the Law. While this removal is most likely for the practicality of speaking, I believe this can lead to preachers who preach the Law in a manner that serves one particular use over another. This method of thought allows pastors to assume the role of a user of the Law, rather than God being the one who uses the Law through their preaching.

Scripture does not cleanly divide the Law into uses. Instead, it is approached as the universal and timeless Law of God. Yet as seen in Paul, that Law has specific effects on different individuals, and some universal effects that touch all people, even those who have not heard the Law directly (Romans 2). This allows Paul to preach toward specific issues plaguing various churches without dividing the Law, but rather letting it have multiple effects on many people. I would suggest that the term “effects of the Law” is a better description than “uses of the Law.” Such an explanation maintains God as the wielder of the Law rather than man. The term “effects” removes the hard lines produced by the word “uses” and acknowledges that the Law restricts, accuses, and guides all people, and that those effects have a different reality for those in Christ than those outside of Christ.

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My intention here is not to reject the third use of the Law or FC VI. I truly believe that the Law does serve as a guide in and for the Christian life. Instead, my intention is simply to bring attention to the language Christians use in describing God’s Law. We must not forget that the term “use” is not inspired or holy, but is a systematic construction that helps the Christian understand Scripture. The Law functions in all of its uses whenever it is faithfully preached regardless of our ability to properly divide and distinguish those uses at a particular time. Instead of focusing on our division of Law, we ought to focus our energy of the distinction between Law and Gospel. Every use of the Law is death to the sinner apart from Christ. May God guide our hearts and minds to the forgiveness from the Law that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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One thought on “Another Reflection on the Divine Uses of the Law

  1. Caleb,

    “Interestingly, Lutherans tend to omit the word “divine” when talking about the uses of the Law. While this removal is most likely for the practicality of speaking, I believe this can lead to preachers who preach the Law in a manner that serves one particular use over another. This method of thought allows pastors to assume the role of a user of the Law, rather than God being the one who uses the Law through their preaching.”

    Melanchton says “the uses of the Divine Law” – so I think what you say above isn’t really justified. We speak the oracles of God, which include God’s eternal law and gospel. And what does Jesus means when he says “he who hears you hears me” to his apostles… Really?

    I suggest that Walther’s L & G here is actually quite clear here (see this: http://surburg.blogspot.com/2015/11/marks-thoughts-walthers-law-and-gospel.html ), as he just follows what Luther, Melanchton and Chemnitz did.

    I don’t think that the uses of the law are only related to the ways it affects us. I think that the 3rd use of the law, for example, is the use that the Christian uses, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to guide himself *and others* as Christians, which *includes*, but is not limited to, checking his *and others’* old Adams.

    This is not a “motivating” use of the law, but it is one that we use like the Apostle Paul does (for example see Romans 12 ff)

    Or do you think the way I am framing things here is somehow less than fully Christian/Lutheran? If that is your evaluation, what do you think about the following?:

    “Preachers should be diligent not to preach in generalities, but always to arrange the material according to these parts: sin; God’s wrath and punishment of sin; contrition, remorse, anxiety of the conscience, etc.; the resolve to abandon and avoid sin; the person of Christ; His office and merit; God’s grace; the forgiveness of sin; faith; the good fruits of faith, such as the good resolve to do better, good works, patience in suffering, etc. This is done so that in the sermons, the teaching may always have its application or accommodation to use, as the doctrine should be used in the best way.”

    That is from two of the main contributors to the Lutheran “Book of Concord,” Martin Chemnitz and Jacob Andreae, giving a clear explanation of what sermons should be all about “in our Lutheran congregations”.

    “Every use of the Law is death to the sinner apart from Christ. May God guide our hearts and minds to the forgiveness from the Law that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

    Amen.

    +Nathan

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