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