Perkins: The Law Promises Salvation On The Basis And Through Obedience. The Gospel Promises Salvation On The Basis Of Christ’s Obedience And Through Faith Alone

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  1. This quote draws out the competition between the law and the Gospel. I’m going to just sketch this out over my coffee as a way of delighting in this deep and wonderful stuff.

    Here’s my working understanding: In Christ there is no competition. In Christ the law serves its purposes and is very good and we should meditate on its statutes. But only the Gospel is salvation unto God, and so the law which is glorious is always only a fading glory when compared with the far surpassing glory.

    Here’s the competition: To the world, the law and the Gospel may seem to offer the same thing — salvation from sin and unto God. In some ways we can say that they do offer the same thing but to two different groups:

    The law offers salvation to those who do not sin and the Gospel offers salvation to the sinners.

    Christians can think of the law and the Gospel in terms of people, worldview, or even religions, and in each instance we can use the same two words to describe the difference: Hagar and Sarah.

    The first offers life out of life. Which is nice if you’ve already got life. Life out of life seems fair and makes a good bit of sense.

    But the second offers life out of death. Wait, what’s this now? Life out of death? This sort of thing would require an act of God!

    While the law seems fair, the Gospel is not simply justice (to us) at all but extends compassion and mercy.
    While the law seems to make sense, the resurrection is not something I can measure or reproduce. (Although I confess that I do sometimes try!)

    One thing that strikes me occasionally is that whatever Paul says is surprisingly consistent with the four Gospels. Note how unusual it is that Paul doesn’t say “Just do it,” or as my kids’ favorite movie song goes “Just do the next right thing.” It’s almost as though Jesus does not say “Achieve and believe.” Now that would have moved units. But for whatever reason, Jesus says that terrible wonderful strange thing that means death to oneself: “Repent and believe.”

    And this Christ crucified bit doesn’t make sense like the law. In fact, it’s a stumbling block to the legalists and foolishness to the antinomians! I read one about God’s strength being perfected in weakness. That’s not the to-do list I would have chosen!

    So these things do compete in the Christian heart. It’s as though the law is something I might trick myself into believing that I can do. I do have some good days. John Hendryx has a line where he says the entire reason Monergism exists is “to cut the sinner off from all hope in himself, pointing to Christ as our only hope.” Which sounds like repentance to me.

    I’ll have what Perkins is having. Make it a double.

    • Joe,

      The Reformed have traditionally said that what was offered in the covenant of works (law) is what is offered under the covenant of grace (gospel): eternal blessedness and fellowship with God. The difference between the two is the condition of the covenant. The condition of the covenant of works was perfect, personal obedience to the law. The condition, or to speak more precisely, the instrument, of the covenant of grace is faith (knowledge, assent, and trust). This is what Perkins and the whole Reformed tradition before and after him was getting at. Law and gospel are two distinct principles. They cohere in God and in themselves but for sinners they are truly distinct and have to be clearly distinguished. This was one of the great breakthroughs of the Reformation and a distinction that we nearly lost in the 20th century in the P&R world.

      For more:

      Resources on the Law/Gospel Distinction (Updated)

  2. Lovely quote. I think the transcriber meant page 177 rather than “117” and Christ rather than “Christs.”

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