The Third Use of the Law – A Historical Examination, with Questions, pt. 1

November 30th, 2012 Post by

Part 2     Part 3

Responding to Nikolaus Selnecker’s praise for his contributions to the Evangelical Church of Braunschweig in the latter’s introduction to his Institution of the Christian Religion, Jacob Andrea drafted the Six Sermons, an attempt, at the time they were preached during 1572-73, to establish a new fresh course toward concord within a vitriolic Lutheran church. Among the Six Sermons the fifth, On the Proper Distinction of Law and Gospel, and What the Gospel Really is, and Whether the Law Should Be Taught to the Regenerate in Christendom, sought to repair an old sticking point amongst theologians of the Augsburg Confession; what was the proper use of the law of God? “Whether the Law, that is, the Ten Commandments and God’s reprimands and threats connected with it, ought to be proclaimed even to Christians.”

The dilemma Andrea set out to correct and reconcile regarding the Law’s proper function for Christians led him inexorably to address a controversy, which had erupted twice amongst pastors and professors around 1556-57. The first exchange was between the Gnesio-Lutheran party of Matthias Flacius, Johann Wigand, Joachim Moerlin, and Joachim Westphal and the Lutheran pastors Andreas Poach, Anton Otto, and Michael Neander. The second was between Andreas Musculus and Abdias Praetorius. Both controversies involved a dispute over the article of the third use of the law.

The argument’s public fervor had enough momentum politically and theologically that by the time Andrea addressed it in his Six Sermons, the substance of the issue compelled him to formulate what would shortly become accepted as the thesis to Article VI of the Formula of Concord. Namely, that the third use of the law is necessary for Christians “since nevertheless the flesh still clings to them – that precisely because of the flesh they may have a sure guide, according to which they can orient and conduct their entire life.”

But was the third use of the law, as Andrea and the theologians of the Formula of Concord understood it, a necessary discipline to be urged upon Christians?

What were the objections of the three pastors Michael Neander, Anton Otto, and Andreas Poach, who, like Musculus, opposed the formulation of a third use of the Law?

What was the significance of emphasizing the “use” of the Law, for the writers of the Formula, as a guide for Christians who were justified by faith alone, in Christ alone?

What is the proper place of the Law in the Christian life?

Who uses the law, according to Paul, Isaiah, and the Deuteronomic writer?

Is justification by faith alone, in Christ alone an unconditional Word of God, or is there something else that comes after forgiveness? A ‘third plank’ of justification perhaps?

Finally, can sinners, in bondage to sin, choose to repent before and/or after justification?


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  1. November 30th, 2012 at 08:44 | #1

    Repentance is a fruit of faith; while repentance is not necessarily manifested immediately at the point of regeneration (I don’t think that Lutherans believe babies manifest any sign of repentance at their baptism!), it is nevertheless a necessary and inevitable consequence of justification.

    As for the third use of the law, I don’t see what would be so problematic with it, so long as the third use is understood to be a fruit of salvation, and not the basis for salvation. Paul exhorts his believers to good works and to abstain from sin numerous times in the latter half of his epistles (thus reinforcing the understanding that such exhortations are IN LIGHT OF the gospel, and not an addition to the gospel). The danger comes when we use the law as a MEANS of salvation, or as a means of penance, and thus obscuring the gospel.

    To quote Luther: Ever more say “Keep the law,” but don’t attach that old meaning (referrring to works-righteousness) to it again.

  2. Tim Schenks
    November 30th, 2012 at 09:24 | #2

    J. Dean :Repentance is a fruit of faith; while repentance is not necessarily manifested immediately at the point of regeneration (I don’t think that Lutherans believe babies manifest any sign of repentance at their baptism!), it is nevertheless a necessary and inevitable consequence of justification.

    I thought repentance and regeneration and conversion were all the same thing. A fruit of faith is how you act after/because you become a believer.

  3. November 30th, 2012 at 09:42 | #3

    @Tim Schenks #2
    I say that repentance is a fruit of faith insofar as that it is a result of faith. God regenerates my heart and gives me faith; as a result, I believe what the Scriptures say regarding my sinfulness, God’s holiness, and Christ’s righteousness for me. Ergo, by the work and empowerment of the Spirit based upon what I know and believe to be true as revealed in the Scriptures, I exercise repentance.

  4. Carl Vehse
    November 30th, 2012 at 10:37 | #4

    “But was the third use of the law, as Andrea and the theologians of the Formula of Concord understood it, a necessary discipline to be urged upon Christians?”

    Well, yes, of course, as agreed to by those who hold a quia subscription to the Lutheran Symbols, such as Ep.VI.2:

    “We believe, teach, and confess that, although men truly believing [in Christ] and truly converted to God have been freed and exempted from the curse and coercion of the Law, they nevertheless are not on this account without Law, but have been redeemed by the Son of God in order that they should exercise themselves in it day and night [that they should meditate upon God's Law day and night, and constantly exercise themselves in its observance, Ps. 1, 2], Ps. 119.

    Lufauxran mileage may vary (LMMV)

  5. Carl Vehse
    November 30th, 2012 at 11:26 | #5

    Here are a couple of papers on the Third Use of the Law and some history behind it:

    1. “The Third Use of the Law: The Author Responds to His Critics” (CTQ 72, 2008, 99-118) by Scott R. Murray, author of Law, Life, and the Living God: The Third Use of Law in Modern American Lutheranism (CPH, 2002), based on his 1998 Ph.D. dissertation.

    2. “Looking into the Heart of Missouri: Justification, Sanctification, and the Third Use of the Law” (CTQ 69, 2005, 293-307) by Carl Beckwith.

  6. Robert
    November 30th, 2012 at 16:22 | #6
  7. December 1st, 2012 at 14:37 | #7

    “Luther’s Threefold Use of the Law

    Edward A. Engelbrecht

    Although students of Luther agree that the doctrine of the use of the law is a cornerstone in his thought laid early in the Reformation, several scholars since the mid-twentieth century have claimed that Luther taught only two uses of the law,l even though Luther explicitly described a “threefold usefulness of the law” (dreyerley brauch des gesetzes) in 1522 and a “third office … of the law” (3. officium . .. legis) in 1528.2

    Scholars of the only-two-uses consensus have not examined these two passages side-byside, nor have they viewed Luther’s teaching in light of the medieval exegetical tradition.

    Consequently, it will be argued below that the only-two-uses consensus is not properly grounded in history.

    CTQ 75 (2011): 135-150

    “In a 1522 postil on Galatians 3:23–29 and in the 1528 Lectures on. 1 Timothy, Martin Luther taught a threefold use of the Law, a fact neglected by numerous”…….

    Friends of the Law: Luther’s Use of the Law for the Christian Life
    by Engelbrecht, Edward

    Item #: 124393WEB / 2011 / Paperback / 326 Pages

    IXOYC

  8. Carl Vehse
    December 1st, 2012 at 15:37 | #8

    Here’s the CTSFW link to the article: “Luther’s Threefold Use of the Law,” Edward A. Engelbrecht, Concordia Theological Quarterly, Vol. 75:1-2, January-April, 2011, pp. 135-150.

    Here a link to John Warwick Montgomery’s article, “The Third Use of Law.”

  9. December 2nd, 2012 at 00:01 | #9

    @J. Dean #1

    Repentance is a fruit of faith

    The confessions say that repentence has two parts, contrition and faith, without the Roman third part, satisfactions.

    http://bookofconcord.org/augsburgconfession.php#article12

    Keeping this straight is extremely important because it, if not part of the article on justification, is so closely related to it that errors here can undermine the chief article on which the church stands or falls, even if quite unintentionally.

    Contrition is a work of God’s grace, even though his means of working it is the Law.

    Faith is a work of God’s grace.

    Infants and adults experience these works of God differently, but the works themselves remain the same.

    The new obedience and good works follow, and in some sense, perhaps it is useful to refer to these as repentance, but it would be better then to specify which sense of the word is being used, so that we never loose the clarity, in repentance’s first sense, of faith being part of repentance, lest works should sneak back into the cleaned house through the side door, clothes drier vent, coal chute, or draft through a window frame, and works is wont to do.

  10. December 10th, 2012 at 17:26 | #11

    I found this. What is so hard about this?

    Sanctification in Lutheran Theology
    David P Scaer
    Lutheran theology certainly requires that sanctification be put in proper
    perspective, at least in regard to justification.

    “Luther’s explanations of the second through the tenth
    commandments are what would later commonly be called the third use of the
    law, referring to the relationship of the law to the Christian qua Christian.”

    “Luther can
    see the believer in Christ untroubled by sin. In this ideal state, the sinner has
    been transformed by Christ and now is in Christ. The Christian sees the law
    from an entirely different perspective. As Christian he is free from the civil
    and accusing functions of the law. The law functioning for the Christian as
    Christian is not law in the sense of prohibition and condemnation. This is the
    content of the Lutheran understanding of the third use of the law.18 True, the
    phrase “third use of the law” can be slightly misleading and may have given
    rise to misunderstandings simply because the word “law” is used.”

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CDAQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ctsfw.net%2Fmedia%2Fpdfs%2Fscaersanctificationinlutherantheology.pdf&ei=xFPGUOypKYaA9QTQ1IH4BQ&usg=AFQjCNGRKnC-v8ujZlEsfYuL4buEnTDf0Q&sig2=nauK2Vi5DWodyHa-ziRubg

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