Thursday, March 30, 2023

The Three Uses of the Law (Calvin)

In The Institutes of the Christian Religion (2.7), John Calvin described the threefold “function and use of what is called the ‘moral law’” in this way: 
“The first part is this: while it shows God’s righteousness, that is, the righteousness alone acceptable to God, it warns, informs, convicts, and lastly condemns, every man of his own unrighteousness. … The law is like a mirror. ... Yet this is not done to cause us to fall down in despair or, completely discouraged, to rush headlong over the brink - provided we duly profit by the testimony of the law ... that, naked and empty-handed, they flee to his mercy, repose entirely in it, hide deep within it, and seize upon it alone for righteousness and merit.” 

“The second function of the law is this: at 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. … this constrained and forced righteousness is necessary for the public community of men … the law is like a halter to check the raging and otherwise limitlessly ranging lusts of the flesh.”

“The third and principal use, which pertains more closely to the proper purpose of the law, finds its place among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns. … Here is the best instrument for them to learn more thoroughly each day the nature of the Lord’s will to which they aspire, and to confirm them in the understanding of it. … Again, because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path of transgression.”

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