Law and Gospel

In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin distinguished three uses, or purposes, in the Law: (1) the pedagogical use (to convict of sin and lead us to Christ); (2) the civil use (to restrain evil in society); and (3) the didactic use (to guide the elect in doing the will of God).

Calvin wrote:

“That the whole matter may be made clearer, let us take a succinct view of the office and use of the Moral Law. Now this office and use seems to me to consist of three parts.

First, by exhibiting the righteousness of God,—in other words, the righteousness which alone is acceptable to God,—it admonishes every one of his own unrighteousness, certiorates, convicts, and finally condemns him… (Inst. 2.7.6)

The second office of the Law is, by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice… (Inst. 2.7.10)

The third use of the Law (being also the principal use, and more closely connected with its proper end) has respect to believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns. For although the Law is written and engraven on their hearts by the finger of God, that is, although they are so influenced and actuated by the Spirit, that they desire to obey God, there are two ways in which they still profit in the Law. For it is the best instrument for enabling them daily to learn with greater truth and certainty what that will of the Lord is which they aspire to follow, and to confirm them in this knowledge…” (Inst. 2.7.12)

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