Saturday, March 27, 2010

Purposes of the Law

Calvin derived from Scripture that there are three purposes to the Law.  In today's reading he covered two of the three purposes.

The first purpose he describes in this way: "...while it [the Law] shows God's warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness.  For man, blinded and drunk with self-love, must be compelled to know and to confess his own feebleness and impurity."  God is holy and righteous.  Man is sinful and wicked.  By having the Law, we see the difference.  It is a mirror for us to see our own unrighteousness.  By comparison, we see how perfect and righteous God is.  Calvin uses the mirror analogy when he writes, "The law is like a mirror.  In it we contemplate our weakness, then the iniquity arising from this, and finally the curse coming from both - just as a mirror shows us the spots on our face.  For when the capacity to follow righteousness fails him, man must be mired in sins.  After the sin forthwith comes the curse."  Calvin quotes part of Romans 3:20, but the entire verse reads, "Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin."  It is because of the Law that we are given the ability to properly recognize our sin.  The Law, apart from the grace of God, can only "accuse, condemn, and destroy."  Augustine  in his book On Rebuke and Grace wrote, "If the Spirit of grace is absent, the law is present only to accuse and kill us."

We recognize our shortcomings because of the Law.  Often uninformed people accuse Calvin of being cold and that he believes in a harsh God.  Read what Calvin writes about God in relation to us and the Law.  "Thus it is clear that by our wickedness and depravity we are prevented from enjoying the blessed life set openly before us by the law.  Thereby the grace of God, which nourishes us without the support of the law, becomes sweeter, and his mercy, which bestows that grace upon us, becomes more lovely.  From this we learn that he never tires in repeatedly benefiting us and in heaping new gifts upon us."  It is not God that prevents us from having happiness, but our wickedness.  God wants to heap His blessings upon us, but we continue to wallow in sin.

The Law is not just for believers, but unbelievers as well.  The Law by itself condemns all men.  This should terrify the wicked unbelievers.  However, it should also make the believer more aware of the grace of God and the mercy he shows to us.  "For God's mercy is revealed in Christ to all who seek and wait upon it with true Christ his [God's] face shines, full of grace and gentleness, even upon us poor and unworthy sinners."

Calvin takes a section to have back-to-back-to-back quotes from Augustine about the Law and grace.  Here are a few that Calvin chose.  "The law bids us, as we try to fulfill its requirements, and become wearied in our weakness under it, to know how to ask the help of grace."  "The law commands; grace supplies the strength to act."  "So act, O Lord: so act, O merciful Lord.  Command what cannot be fulfilled.  Rather, command what can be fulfilled only through thy grace so that, since men are unable to fulfill it through their own strength, every mouth may be stopped, and no one may seem great to himself.  Let all be little ones, and let all the world be guilty before God."  Augustine clearly saw that the Law was a vehicle for God to be able to demonstrate His Grace.  In the Law, God commands us, but only through God's grace do we have the ability to fulfill His commands.

The second purpose of the Law is to restrain those who are unbelievers or not yet believers.  " least by fear of punishment to restrain certain men who are untouched by any care for what is just and right unless compelled by hearing the dire threats in the law.  But they are restrained, not because their inner mind is stirred or affected, but because, being bridled, so to speak, they keep their hands from outward activity, and hold inside the depravity that otherwise they would wantonly have indulged.  Consequently, they are neither better nor more righteous before God."  Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, "But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust."  Calvin responds to this, "He shoes in this that the law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh."

There are two types of not yet regenerate men.  The first "are too full of their own virtue...they are not fit to receive Christ's grace until they first be emptied."  The second type of not yet regenerate men need "a bridle to restrain them from so slackening the reins on the lust of the flesh as to fall clean away from all pursuits of righteousness."  Some need God to humble them in order to recognize their sinfulness and need of grace and others need God to discipline them and keep them from sin. Calvin concludes, "For all who have at any time groped about in ignorance of God will admit that it happened to them in such a way that the bridle of the law restrained them in some fear and reverence toward God until, regenerated by the Spirit, they began wholeheartedly to love him."

Tomorrow's reading: 2.7.12-2.7.17

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