The Third Use of the Law – A Historical Examination, with Questions, pt. 2
The Synod of Eisenach was convened during 1556 to discuss Justas Menius’ contention that good works were necessary to salvation. Seven theses were agreed upon, of which the first by Nicholas Amsdorf stated:
“Although the proposition, Good works are necessary to salvation, may be tolerated hypothetically and in an abstract in the doctrine of the law, nevertheless there are many weighty reasons why it ought and should be avoided no less than this one: Christ is a creature.”
The theses, particularly the first, had successfully reined in Menius but three Lutheran pastors began raising objections to what they believed was a capitulation by the Lutheran theologians to abstract and hypothetical doctrines regarding the necessity of good works.
In a letter to Joachim Moerlin, Poach protested the consensus arrived at during the synod that good works were not necessary for salvation with respect to justification, but were necessary “abstractive et idea in doctrina legis” (in an abstract sense and as a notion in the teaching of the law); he objected “on grounds that the law was not given as a way to salvation.”
“The law does not have the necessity of salvation but the necessity of what is owing. Even if…a man were to do the law perfectly, he would not acquire salvation because of those works. Neither is God obligated to man, but man is obligated to God. And God in the law requires of man the obedience, which he owes; he does not require obedience with the promise of salvation. In fact salvation, that is, the remission of sins and justification, as something apart from the law and alien to the law, is gained through Christ.”
As the correspondence between the two Lutheran parties continued, becoming increasingly confrontational, it became apparent to Joachim Moerlin and his colleagues that Andreas Poach and his fellow pastors were fanatics or worse. Though the quarrel about the 3rd use of the law remained relatively private for a decade, accusations against Anton Otto of antinomianism, led to a more public discussion of faith and good works at the Altenburg Colloquy in 1568-69. Yet, even then, the contentions of either party were far from being settled.
As the Gnesio-Lutheran argument sought a resolution to the relation of faith and good works another dispute was likewise underway between the pastor and professor Andreas Musculus, a son-in-law of Johann Agricola, and Abdias Praetorius, a professor of Hebrew at Frankfurt.
Musculus had contended that:
“In every good work (I believe) the saints are acted upon rather than acting, and those works are best which are worked without us by the Holy Spirit of Christ and those are worst which we do, having chosen them ourselves and with the assistance of free will.” Andrea pointed out that he believed Musculus disagreed with Praetorius’ affirmation of the third use of the law because the former considered it “coercive.”
Contrariwise, Praetorius believed good works were necessary for salvation in that they were “according to God’s order and will.” The third use of the law, he corrected, was not coercive but necessary if good works were to be produced in the believer.
Political and academic quarrels persisted to embitter the combatants, as they paralleled the contentions of the intra-Gnesio-Lutheran disputation. But, despite the support of the clergy in Brandenburg, Praetorius was compelled to abandon the argument and return to Wittenberg during 1563. For at that time, despite being labeled an antinomian, Musculus had won the support of a majority of the clergy and the elector Joachim II. “Thus even though he was branded as an antinomian, he was able to hold his position and contribute to the final drafting of the Formula of Concord.”
Are those works “best which are worked without us by the Holy Spirit of Christ and those are worst which we do”?
Are good works necessary for salvation “in that they were ‘according to God’s order and will’”?
Is the third use of the law coercive?
Is the third use of the law necessary if good works are to be produced in a believer?