-Wir sein pettler. Hoc est verum.--"We are beggars. This is true."--Martin Luther-

[ Home ] [ Originals ] [ Words of Ones Wiser ] [ Odds and Ends ]

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Third Use of the Law

This is a section out of my senior thesis on the broader topic of sanctification (in the context of law and gospel).

I think it is a fresh look at the text of Article VI. As I note in the document, the tone that the modern debate has taken is based on how it began in the 60's and 70's. That is, it was started with the focus on the authority of Scripture and the continued relevence of the law. I don't think that we have gotten much past this over the last 4 or 5 decades. What I try and do is get at the spirit Article VI is written in.

It seems that people engaging in the debate, who uphold the third use, either focus on 1) "Like a stubborn recalcitrant donkey," or 2) the prevalent aspects of the new man, the fruit of the Spirit, taking delight in the law, the renewing of the mind, and the leading and teaching of the Holy Spirit. That is, they either focus on the law or the gospel, (very) indirectly trying to answer whether the third use is law or gospel.

The answer to this largely depends whether we consider those passages that describe the teaching and instruction in the law (not the Holy Spirit's teaching/instruction, mind you) as being discriptive of the third use, or not (namely par. 9, 21, and 24). The highly negative discription in these sections, including the concepts of threats and punishments, leads me to believe that they are not describing the third use in these sections. I think the proof of this (yes, I think it is pretty pursuasive) lies in the conclusion of Article VI where we are told this type of instruction in the law is not only to be used with Christians but also with non-Christians. This, in spite of the fact that the very definition of the third use tells us that it is a function of the law exclusive to Christians.

This also supports a common complaint against talk of the third use, that is, where we are frequently reminded that we do not "use" the third use, but the Holy Spirit (c.f. par. 3). Therefore, it is not a function of the external preaching and teaching (that par. 9, 21, and 24 are about), but the internal preaching, teaching, and guiding of the Holy Spirit.

Also of note is the language of the definition of the third use in the Solid Declaration: "[The law] is also used when those who have been born anew through God's Spirit, converted to the Lord, and had the veil of Moses removed from them live and walk in the law." Now compare this to how Article VI describes the inner man (not the flesh, mind you), namely they say that he is "not under the law but in the law; they live and walk in the law of the Lord and yet do nothing because of the compulsion of the law." (par. 18) This is obviously not a coincidence. Therefore, when we are talking about the third use, we are not talking about the flesh that is under the law, but the inner man who is not under the law.

The purpose of writing Article VI was to show why the law should continue to be preached and taught in the Churches. This includes all three uses, which I mention in my paper. Where the third use comes in, is that they are saying that because the Holy Spirit teaches and guides the inner, renewed man, the Christian therefore needs to know the law, thus he needs the external preaching and teaching of the law, which can include threats and punishments (the 1st and 2nd uses). The actual function (uti) itself, though, is reflective of the gracious work of God as the Holy Spirit renews our hearts and minds so that we delight in and gladly engage in the the will of God.

Obviously this is a very different interpretation then most have given, and many might not agree with it. I probably have read Article VI a few dozen times, and have read dozens of articles on the matter, including Murray's book, and I can't shake these arguments I have given. Maybe you can shake them; I'd love to hear peoples' thoughts.

Sorry that the introduction is so long, but I think these thoughts will help you read and understand the paper.


Augustinian Successor said...

Dear Joel,

Is it possible to read your entire thesis? The *uses* of the Law is certainly one of my favourite subjects.

Augustinian Successor said...

I forgot to ask ... are you are studying and training for the ministry?

Joel Woodward said...

I'd be glad to send it to you. Don't feel you have to read all of it though, it is rather long.

I am finishing up my undergrad in religious studies. I plan on getting an M.A. next in systematic theology. I would like to eventually teach...I don't plan, on getting ordained.

Augustinian Successor said...

Would love to read the whole thesis, though! Appreciate it. My email address is at jasonloh@um.edu.my

Where are you based, Joel? I'm with a secular institution, a public university (i.e. para-state corporation). Am actually with a think-tank specialising in public policy.