Berkhof: This Third Use Is Denied By The Antinomians

A usus didacticus or normativus. This is the so-called tertius uses legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.

Louis Berkhof | Systematic Theology, 4th edition (1939), 615.


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  1. Wasn’t the third use also denied by the Apostle Paul: “now that faith has come we are no longer under the supervision of the law”?

    Galatians states the law was until Christ. The new ‘law of Christ’ is to ‘live by the spirit’ – and Paul goes on to state “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love”. Clearly he wasn’t promoting some kind of woolly liberalism, but he was claiming that the law had fully and finally been fulfilled and that we have died to the law.

    Should we go with Paul or Berkhof?

    • Wendy,

      We don’t have to choose! Pastor Gordon and I discussed this very topic recently on a recent episode of the the Heidelcast (either episode 49 or 50, which is upcoming). So, you should listen to that but we are no longer under the supervision of the law but “supervision” there doesn’t deny the 3rd use. We are no longer under the Mosaic economy. We’re no longer under the 613 commandments. We’re no longer following the Israelite calendar or the hand-washing rituals or the types and shadows. Further, we’re no longer under the curse of the law, i.e., the law can no longer threaten us, who believe, who are united to Christ by the Spirit through faith, with condemnation because Christ has extinguished the threat of the law by his obedience and death for us.

      Still, the moral law remains a part of the created, moral order. Consider that, in the creation narrative, before the fall, the Sabbath day is called holy. That’s before sin or corruption. To deny the perpetual validity of a creational ordinance or to call into question the essential goodness of creation is tantamount to Gnosticism. Christians cannot do it. We’ve known this since at least the 2nd century. Further, the same Apostle, whom you cite, regularly applies the law in its 3rd use in his epistles! Read the 2nd half of any Pauline epistle. Romans 12 follows Romans 11 and there you find the 3rd use. Ephesians 4. Galatians 5. They’re chock full of the 3rd use of the law: Having been justified, we have a moral and logical—not legal; not unto justification but because we’ve been freely justified, because we are united to Christ—obligation to respond according to God’s fixed moral norms, grounded in the nature of things (Rom 1-2).

      So, Berkhof (and all our theologians, both Lutheran and Reformed) quite agree with Paul on this.

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