The Third Use of the Law – A Historical Examination, pt.3

concordia-cover2Part 1    Part 2

By the late 1570’s the dispute regarding faith and good works had been assumed into the broader political and theological discussions of the day but the issues addressed during the antinomian controversies had not. As the formulators [of what would eventually become the Formula of Concord] gathered, Jacob Andrea lobbied for a definition of the third use of the law in keeping with his belief that Christians were always suffering under the attacks of, “the old ass, the old Adam, who is not yet regenerate.”

Thus Article VI defined the third use of the law as applying to people,

“…after they have been reborn – 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..”

The necessity of such a use is affirmed by the argument that Christians:

“have been redeemed by the Son of God so that they may practice the law day and night (Ps. 119:1). For our first parents did not live without the law even before the fall. This law of God was written into the heart, for they were created in the image of God.”

Because regeneration and renewal are incomplete in this world, the formulators asserted, the third use of the law functions as a guide for Christians on account of “the old creature [who] is still lodged in the human understanding, will, and all human powers,” and thus, “in order that people do not resolve to perform service to God on the basis of their pious imagination in an arbitrary way of their own choosing, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light their way.”

Andreas Poach, Michael Neander, Anton Otto, and Andreas Musculus received a final answer, and reproof, in the Epitome to the Formula of Concord, when it was agreed that the Holy Spirit produced fruits in the regenerated, so that, “in terms of obedience to [the law] there is a difference only in that those people who are not yet reborn do what the law demands unwillingly, because they are coerced (as is also the case with the reborn with respect to the flesh). Believers, however, do without coercion, with a willing spirit, insofar as they are born anew, what no threat of the law could ever force from them.”

In spite of serious reservations voiced by Poach and Musculus as to the content of the article, both men signed their names, affirming the document.

Why, if they disagreed so vehemently with the arguments made for a third use of the law, did Poach and Neander sign the document affirming the third use of the law as a Lutheran doctrine?

What is the relation of the third use of the law to the first and second use, as Lutherans have understood and taught them?

Finally, what could the consequences have been if Poach, Neander, etc., had refused to the sign the document?

 

Although Andreas Poach and his colleagues were labeled antinomians by many contemporaries they remained adamant in their defense of what they believed was the law’s proper functions (which they argued was in keeping with their professor’s, Martin Luther’s, understanding of the law).  As students of Luther, Poach and Anton Otto, as well as Otto’s friend Michael Neander, and Andreas Musculus in like manner, were of the opinion that they, and not their opponents, were the true custodians of Luther’s teaching regarding the proper functions of the law.

For Poach the law could not function in abstraction but was instead a functional reality, given “for obedience” in order to reveal God’s justice.  The law was not a moral code inculcated under the rubric of the Ten Commandments alone.  Instead, the law was a “debt we owe” or an “obligation which we must fulfill.”  The proper operation of the law in the world, and upon Christians, for Poach was its function as a killer.  He wrote, “…the most proper effect of the law is in the revealing and demonstrating of our works, that is, our sins – to accuse, to thoroughly terrify, to kill and to damn.”  Thus, “the law is to be taught not for salvation, but for death and damnation.”

In response to Joachim Moerlin and Joachim Westphal, Poach criticized their arguments for the necessity of the law in salvation by quoting Luther’s Lectures on Galatians, writing, “The works of Christ, which are the fulfillment of the law, are the merit of our salvation.  Our works, which ought to have been the fulfillment of the law, do not merit salvation, even if they were the most perfect, as the law requires – which, moreover, is impossible.  The reason is that we are debtors to the law. Christ, however, is not a debtor to this law.  Even if we most perfectly fulfilled all the commandments of God and completely satisfied the righteousness of God, we would not be worthy of grace and salvation on that account, nor would God be obligated to give us salvation and grace as a debt.  He justly demands the fulfillment of his law from us as obedience due him for his creature, who is bound to obey its Creator.”

Poach maintained a distinct understanding of Christ’s work in that he believed Christ Jesus imputed his righteousness to Christians “above and apart from the law.”

Peppering his writing with Luther’s vocabulary throughout the correspondence with Moerlin, Westphal, and the others, Poach pressed their definition of the law, emphasizing the functional reality of the law as that which, “terrifies, reveals sins, accuses, works wrath, damns and kills,” whereas the gospel, “consoles, reveals the justification of God, defends, works peace, absolves, and vivifies.” Faith, Poach argued, created works spontaneously in the believer apart from any coercion of the law.

Nevertheless to the extent Poach and his colleagues sought Luther’s understanding of the law throughout the debates, they were unable, even when employing Luther’s vocabulary, to disentangle their theological thinking from the usus legis formula of their opponents.  The potency and untamed dynamism of Luther’s understanding of the law was absent from Poach and company as they attempted to construct theological categories around the impasse of an eternally binding lex moralis.

Yet in quoting copiously from Luther’s Antinomian Disputations as well as his Galatians lectures during the conflict with Moerlin, Matthias Flacius, Westphal and Abdias Praetorius, Poach, along with Otto, Neander, and Musculus presented their opposition to the third use of the law from a highly defensible position; the distinction between the law and the reality to which the law points.

For their part Moerlin, Westphal, Flacius, and Praetorius based their argument firmly within a presupposition that the law was the way of salvation.  Writing a criticism of Poach’s antinomian opinions, Moerlin stated, “…if obedience to the law is not necessary to salvation, then Christ’s merit is not necessary to salvation”  Flacius followed suit by insisting the necessity of the third use of the law.

This necessity of a usus tertius legis in the Christian life was two-fold.  First, that “…the old creature, like a stubborn, recalcitrant donkey, is also a part of them, and it needs to be forced into obedience to Christ not only through the law’s teaching, admonition, compulsion, and threat but also often with the cudgel of punishments and tribulations until the sinful flesh is completely stripped away and people are perfectly renewed in the resurrection.”  Second, “believers…require the teaching of the law regarding their good works, for otherwise people can easily imagine that their works and life are completely pure and perfect.”

What finally flourished in the formula was, in its best moments, a compromise. Neither party was able to formulate an understanding of the law in keeping solely with the ethic of Luther or the dogmatic of Melanchthon. “For Luther,” as Lauri Haikola wrote, “the absolute law is hidden and cannot be known.  The command to Adam not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, for example, was not an insight into general ethical principles.  Instead of living out his life against the background of a timeless, abstract, philosophical law, man lives in a series of ‘situations of creation’ within the flux of time.  Dependent, he must learn what is required of him again and again.  Melanchthon’s idea of an absolute law, on the other hand is inevitably transformed by the human mind into mastery of the future, and then into a doctrine of free will.”

The door thus opened, both parties contended over the proper ‘usus’ of the law amongst Christians, never fully distinguishing the functional reality of the law’s subject from an abstracted eternal lex moralis, never finessing the function of the law, in its three modes, within the happy exchange between the little whore, the sinful soul, and the pure bridegroom, Christ.


Comments

The Third Use of the Law – A Historical Examination, pt.3 — 32 Comments

  1. I understand and accept the teaching regarding the third use of the Law. However, I think that talking about the Law that way is really an academic conversation.

    Lutherans believe that we have been justified so that we might also be sanctified. Our compliance with the Law, in the sense of the third use, is not our doing but the Spirit at work in us. In this context, and for practical application, perhaps we should talk about it as the “second use of the Gospel”.

  2. I’ve finished reading all three parts of Rev. Donovan’s comments and I am still not sure I understand what he is trying to assert with these posts.

    Does he, or does he not, believe, teach and confess the Formula of Concord’s article on the third use of the law?

    I’m left wondering.

  3. It says a historical examination on the title, not a thesis. Half of the LCMS’s 1922 (?) Book of Concord (the english portion of the 1917 Bente-Dau Concordia Triglotta) was a gigantic historical introduction which was not part of the Symbolic Books.

  4. Very well, but one has to be a Confessional Lutheran to be allowed by the editors to post any “Lutheran Opinons” on the BJS website, as I assume Pr. Riley is.

  5. Hank Bender :
    I’ll wait for Rev. Donovan to answer my question, Mr. Schenks, thank you.

    It’s difficult to imagine anyone adhering to Lauri Haikola and, by extension, Gerhard Forde, would be able to affirm God’s eternal law, natural law, and the law’s third use as understood by Orthodox Lutherans and the early LCMS.

    We have a serious doctrinal problem in our Synod: We disagree on God’s law.

    If so, then we also disagree on the Gospel.

  6. Tim Schenks :
    Very well, but one has to be a Confessional Lutheran to be allowed by the editors to post any “Lutheran Opinons” on the BJS website, as I assume Pr. Riley is.

    Not all “confessional” Lutherans are Orthodox Lutherans, Mr. Schenks.

  7. The proper understanding the Third Use of the Law among Lutherans pertains to, first, the external person, not the inner person, in relation to God. Second, the third use is not for getting the regenerate to do good works, but rather curbing the old man in Adam’s tendency for a.) doing self-chosen works. b.) not obeying the law.

    The law is the law is the law. We don’t use God’s law. God uses His word of law in three modes. Thus, it is not preachers who control how the law is going to be used, but the Spirit alone uses the law to accomplish His purposes amongst the ungodly and godly alike. Therefore, sanctification doesn’t happen when you try your best to obey the Third Use of the Law … it happens when and where the Spirit chooses to have mercy on whom He has mercy.

    Pastorally, if this was understood, it would clear up a lot of bad preaching.

  8. @Hank Bender #1
    You addressed your question not to Rev Donovan but just generally asked the question to no specific individual. I suggest if you have a question for Rev Donovan then address them to him specifically and not to “Does he, or does he not …”

  9. Jonathan Lange wrote an insightful article about the misuses of the Third Law in which he argues the same thing as I stated in my previous comment. Unlike the liberals in the 1960’s who denied the Third Use altogether, Lange argued that there is a Third Use, but it doesn’t mean that the preacher gets to choose which use of the law he will use. You might want to consult Lange’s article. I think it appeared in Logia

  10. I find, myself, the overlooked point in the Formula about the 3rd Use is the one that Rev. Riley points out is that they are three different ways in which God, not us, uses the Law. For one to say that he is preaching a specific use of the law is sheer human arrogance and folly, usurping the role of the Spirit. This is especially true when people think that positive exhortation *is* the third use of the Law.

    Consider one who preaches saying, “You are a Christian, and as such, you ought to love your neighbor.” This is a positive, good thing – a call for Christian action. Yet… it does not of necessity have a “third use” impact upon the hearer.

    There is Joe, who is planning to give his neighbor Mike the shaft. He hears this, and his plans crumble. Wickedness has been curbed. A first use.

    There is Mike, who has been treating Joe rather poorly, aggravating the poor fellow. Mike hears this and says, “I have not loved Joe as I ought.” Sin has been revealed. A second use.

    There’s Paul, who hears this and says, “yes, I should love my neighbor. Joe seems stressed, maybe I should see what is bothering him.” Works have been directed and guided. A third use.

    The same word – but the Spirit may very well put it to use in three different ways, as He knows is best.

    ++++++++++++

    The problem in discussing the third use, then, is that so many people seem to think that they are the master of the uses of the Law, that it is they themselves who make the law guide people, neglecting the work of the Holy Spirit.

    Thus – you can answer as the Formula speaks, but one who wishes to have his own effort usurp the work of the Spirit thinks that in dismissing his self-idolatry you are denying the 3rd use.

  11. @Eric Brown #11

    Pastor Brown, let me ask if this example would work.

    If I were to say, “A Christian shouldn’t use an IP blocker when posting, because that is fundamentally meant to be deceitful”, it may just let some know proper etiquette, or it may even cut off some people from planning some sort of internet trolling… or it may even make some feel ashamed.

    Is that what you were getting at in your post?

  12. I think it’s close — although I think that might be too specific of a point. I don’t necessarily think an IP blocker is wrong, or even using a nom de plume would be wrong. However, I do know some in Lutheran circles that are highly offended by this, so I would recommend it — but I would be somewhat hesitant to actually preach that.

    Besides, if you were to preach that, I mean, it wouldn’t apply to 95%+ of your congregation.

  13. IP blockers protect your personal information like passwords and online banking. Without an IP blocker, you are vulnerable to hacking and loss of personal data. They are not for ‘trolling’, though many may misuse it like that. It is like any other object in life in that regard. Food is good for you until you become a glutton, money is good for you until greed consumes you, anger is an emotion that can propel you to do good things, but it can also lead you down a path of hatred and so on. The only thing I can think of that you cannot do too much of is love. Love your neighbor, love the Lord your God, love your brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends.

    https://www.torproject.org/about/torusers.html.en#normalusers

  14. Certainly in the realm of the preached word, too many Pastors are quick to forget whose Law it is. When Preachers are purely preaching the text, God’s Law (beit 1st, 2nd or 3rd use) IS being preached according to
    1. God’s Word
    2. God’s design
    When a preacher says “This Sunday, I am going to hit them with the _____ Use of the Law”, they are playing a dangerous game. All of a sudden the Word preached becomes the formulation of man and not God. Simply stated: The preacher becomes the voice of God’s enemy, and thereby becomes God’s enemy.

  15. Good point Roger! And this ties into what Rev. Hoffman pointed out — when we preach the Law, it cannot be what *we* think it good or right… it must play into God’s Word itself.

    (Oh, and I would hesitate to rely on anger — in fact, I had blogged about that this morning — http://confessionalgadfly.blogspot.com/2012/12/reacting-to-sin.html )

    I think what happens is the temptation for a man to preach what he thinks is the “3rd Use of the Law” when in reality it ends up becoming just a law of his own devising.

  16. I don’t see the relevance of Rev. Riley’s position on the “third use of the Law.” He is presenting an historical treatment of the controversies that are behind Formula article VI. Does he get the historical facts straight? Is his interpretation of those facts the correct one? These are the relevant questions in a discussion on matters of history. Good article, btw.

  17. @Eric Brown #16

    Heh, well of course, but Luther himself said that anger is a natural reaction to false teaching. You get angry when you learn you are deceived or deception is being taught.

    Sin not in your anger. I was just trying to pull out an opposite example of something that is usually considered ‘bad’ can be used for good.

    I also totally agree. We are bound by our own consciences about certain things. We do have moral principles (the 10 commandments), but we have Christian freedom to apply those principles in an ethical way without destroying the freedom we do enjoy in the Gospel.

  18. Lex Semper Accusat – nuff said?

    1,2,3 – only the 1st can be targeted, God uses the other 2 as He sees fit. The first use is easy… if you do that again, I will call the cops. The 2nd and 3rd uses belong to God to convict of sin as He sees fit.

    I never have understood all of this hand wringing over the 3rd use of the law. The argument only has gravitas if I as a preacher can play God.

  19. Robert :

    Tim Schenks :Very well, but one has to be a Confessional Lutheran to be allowed by the editors to post any “Lutheran Opinons” on the BJS website, as I assume Pr. Riley is.

    Not all “confessional” Lutherans are Orthodox Lutherans, Mr. Schenks.

    It’s the liberals who redefine theological terms, Robert. What is your point?

  20. @Pr. Donofrio #19
    I never have understood all of this hand wringing over the 3rd use of the law. The argument only has gravitas if I as a preacher can play God.

    Actually, I’ve heard more about the “third use of the law” from a lay person, who was suggesting that others should be doing more. [Preferably to help that person, who was working hard at avoiding having to hold a job and suggesting that not enough was being done by fellow Christians to assist that endeavor!]

  21. @Robert #6
    Not all “confessional” Lutherans are Orthodox Lutherans, Mr. Schenks.

    If they are not “orthodox”, i.e., adhering to Scripture and the Confessions, they are not Confessional Lutherans.
    I agree that there are some [self labeled “confessionals”] who are not, by the evidence of their practices, orthodox.

  22. I’m sorry Pastor Riley, but I believe you have confused many of us with your discussion. Just perhaps Forde was correct when he philosophically said the third use of the law is not a third use when it is confused with the first two uses. Furthermore, the Confessions are very clear when they state the third use is part of our life of repentance and is the fruit of the Spirit in a Christian’s life.

  23. Jerry,

    I wrote a historical examination of a particular debate that occurred amongst theologians, not a thesis. Forde (whom I disagree with in this matter) is not relevant here since, as Pastor Cwirla noted, I am presenting an historical treatment of the controversies that are behind Formula article VI. And, the relevant questions, are twofold … Does he get the historical facts straight? Is his interpretation of those facts the correct one? These are the relevant questions in a discussion on matters of history.

  24. Sorry it always seems like I’m providing the wrong answer to the wrong question…thanks for your time and effort; we very much appreciate it…

  25. Eric Brown :I think it’s close — although I think that might be too specific of a point. I don’t necessarily think an IP blocker is wrong, or even using a nom de plume would be wrong. However, I do know some in Lutheran circles that are highly offended by this, so I would recommend it — but I would be somewhat hesitant to actually preach that.
    Besides, if you were to preach that, I mean, it wouldn’t apply to 95%+ of your congregation.

    Re: nom de plumes causing offense…

    [59] By nature we all have within us this beautiful virtue, that whoever has committed a wrong would like to cover up and adorn his disgrace, so that no one may see it or know it. No one is so bold as to boast to all the world of the wickedness he has done. All wish to act by stealth and without anyone being aware of what they do. So, if anyone is caught sinning, God’s name is dragged into the affair and must make the wickedness look like godliness, and the shame like honor.

    The Large Catechism (2nd Commandment; Paragraph 59). Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition (Pocket Edition). Concordia Publishing House.

  26. so how do we have an LCMS spiritual intervention in this new year and beyond to help in cleaning up our wayward leaders and congregations?
    disrespect for God his word his commands and others for 20 years and more-sexual immorality-insubordination-open communion-liberation theology and hymnody and desire to be non-Lutheran and so much more and our leaders will do nothing on various levels including refusing to acknowledge reports from pastor and letters from founding members who want their inner city church to remain faithful and Lutheran? are leaders afraid of sinners?

  27. God Bless my faithful pastor and family who have lost all for standing for the Savior’s truth and practice- and bless those servants and families like this kind- and shame on apathetic leaders who care more about golf and such

  28. We don’t have a Spiritual intervention. We preach Christ and let the chips fall where they may.

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