The Third Use of the Law

In the June, 2006, edition of the Australian Presbyterian, I found an article discussing holiness by Dr. Joel Beeke entitled, “God’s First Priority.” The first thing that struck me was the sheer amount of knowledge that Dr. Beeke possesses. In the article he quoted everyone from Anselm, Augustine, Stephen Charnock, Luther, Melancthon, to present day scholars like John Murray. (When was the last time you quoted Anselm?) But, what struck me particularly, was a paragraph about the Law of God:

“I know that when Calvin came along and promoted the law as a guide to holiness (what we call the “third use of the law”), scholars have said ever since that that was contrary to Luther. But in my studies of Luther, I have found that while Luther believed that the primary use of the Law was to convict us of sin, he nevertheless taught the law was also meant to guide us into holiness. We see this in his catechism and other writings. He taught that the law’s like a stick; God first uses it to beat us to Christ, and then He puts it in our hand so that we can use it as a cane to walk onward in our Christian journey. This is all Calvin meant by it. In fact the Protestant who first referred to the “third use” of the Law was Philip Melanchthon –Luther’s right-hand man. Calvin simply picked up Melanchthon’s terminology and then developed it.”

Leaving aside all the controversy about Luther and the “third use of the law,” Luther certainly had his theological ducks in a row when he discussed the Law as a stick (to drive us to Christ) and as a cane (to aid us in our sanctification after we have been redeemed by His grace). It was God’s Law that shone its light on my life so that I could see my sin in all its immensity, and, along with God’s Spirit, convinced me that my only hope was in Christ. Now, God’s Law is so helpful in my daily life as I seek to live for my Lord, for it shows me what is righteousness and what is sin. It is truly a “lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

To read the entirety of Dr. Beeke’s article (its lengthy, but rich), click here.

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1 Comment

  1. Sandra A. said,

    October 8, 2010 at 8:24 AM

    Amen, brother. I am a little late in reading your blogs but am now redeeming the time.


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