The Mail Room
Letters from Volume 32
Welcome to the Mail Room for Present Truth Magazine! This is where we post some of the interesting letters which we receive from our viewers. All of our viewers are invited to E-mail us your comments and views and we will post these views for all to consider!
"The Man of Romans 7:14-25"
I enjoyed immensely your June issue devoted to the man of Romans 7:14-25, particularly your own putting of this passage into perspective. You show a Spirit-given insight when you remark on the bearing this portion of Scripture has on the doctrine of "the third use of the law" for Christians. Failing to see this connection lies behind many ancient and modern heresies.
When, within our own confessional fellowship, we were reasoning together over the so-called third use of the law, I was assigned a study paper on Romans 7:22. It became more and more clear that the assigned verse could not be properly understood unless it was taken in the full context of chapter 7, specifically with regard to the third use of the law. Paul delighted in the law according to the inner man, but his flesh continually stone-walled his ability to perform that which his renewed heart, mind and will earnestly desired.
Sixteenth-century Reformation theology staunchly maintained the reality of the ongoing tension within the spirit/flesh, inner-man/outer-man nature of the regenerate. The Lutheran Confessions, and particularly the sixth article of the Formula of Concord, which treats the third-us-of-the-law doctrine, clearly maintain, with Paul, that the regenerate is a divided man, continually at war with himself. On the one hand, Article VI was written over against the antinomian heresy, which maintained that once one is regenerate, he is altogether free from the law, for he is led by the Spirit in his new life of obedience. In a sense, the article admits, this can be said; though it hastens to qualify the words in line with Pauline theology:
"But when man is born anew by the Spirit of God, and liberated from the Law, that is, freed from this driver, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, he lives according to the immutable will of God comprised in the Law, and so far as he is born anew, does everything from a free, cheerful spirit; and these are called not properly works of the Law, but works and fruits of the Spirit, or as St. Paul names it, the law of the mind and the Law of Christ. For such men are no more under the Law, but under grace, as St. Paul says, Rom. 8:2, 7:23, I Cor. 9:21, but [my emphasis] since believers are not completely renewed in this world, but the Old Adam clings to them even to the grave, there also remains in them the struggle between the spirit and the flesh. Therefore they delight indeed in God's Law according to the inner man, but the law in their members struggles against the law in their mind; hence they are never without the Law, and nevertheless are not under, but in the Law, and live and walk in the Law of the Lord, and yet do nothing from constraint of the Law.
Later on, it is put this way: "Because so far as they have been born anew according to the inner man, they do what is pleasing to God, not by coercion of the Law, but by the renewing of the Holy Ghost, voluntarily and spontaneously from their hearts; however, they maintain nevertheless a constant struggle against the Old Adam. For the Old Adam as an intractable, refractory ass, is still part of them [my emphasis], which must be coerced to the obedience of Christ, not only by the teaching, admonishing force, and threatening of the Law, but also oftentimes by the club of punishments and troubles, until the body of sin is entirely put off, and man is perfectly renewed in the resurrection, when he will need neither the preaching of the Law nor its threatenings and punishments, as also the Gospel any longer . . . "
The authors of the article are purposefully redundant as they heap up the phrases: "nevertheless, the old Adam clings to them"; "because of these lusts of the flesh"; "because of the flesh"' "but as far as the old Adam is concerned." If Paul, in Romans 7:14-25, is not speaking of the believer after conversion, there is little ground to stand on over against antinomianism and/or perfectionism of the former and latter days.
Whereas antinomians fail to understand the Christian in Romans 7:14-25, 50 also do those who follow Calvin in his view of "the third use of the law." In Book 2, chapter 7, of his lnstftutes, Calvin ascribes the following function to the law (and he begins by making clear that this has to do with "believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already flourishes and reigns"):
"By frequently meditating upon it [the law], he [the regenerdte] will be excited to obedience, and confirmed in it, and so drawn away from the slippery paths of sin . . . "
". . . the Law is a constant stimulus, pricking him forward when he would indulge in sloth . . . "
"Moses has admirably shown that the Law, which can produce nothing but death in sinners, ought to have a better and more excellent effect upon the righteous . . . "
"Therefore, the doctrine of the Law has not been infringed by Christ, but remains, that, by teaching, admonishing, rebuking, and correcting, it may fit and prepare us for every good work."
This view of the doctrine of "the third use of the law" plays into the hands of the infused grace of Roman Catholic teaching, bringing the law of God down to a standard the regenerate is capable of fulfilling. If it doesn't say so in so many words, yet it implies that the point can be attained where Paul's anguished cry, "O wretched man that I am!" no longer applies to the regenerate.
As you state, "There is no time or point in this life where we can do without this disciplinary function of the law." The third use of the law, even as the first and second uses, performs a necessary function in its contribution to the Christian life after conversion. Its function is disciplinary and negative. It doesn't reform the flesh but arouses it to sin and exposes it as contributing "no good thing" toward the new life of obedience. That new life is the sphere of the Holy Spirit, who works through the gospel. Yes, the Christian needs the law as a rule of life because of the flesh. Taking that law in its radical seriousness sends the regenerate fleeing again and again to the "alien righteousness" of his God-Man Saviour, Jesus Christ, which alone fulfills and satisfies the law.
Understanding the man in Romans 7:14-25 helps us to keep our balance, turning neither to the right hand nor the left in this doctrine of "the third use of the law." For while we must all stand in Paul's shoes as wretched men, we can simultaneously bask in his victory cry, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul G. Fleischer, Lutheran Pastor
We should be careful that "the third use of the law" (as a rule of life for believers) does not slip away into second use only. In this slipping away we are left only with a negative view of the law. Psalm 119 reflects the positive view, which should also be shared by all believers. We see Luther and Calvin's positions as complementary and not antagonistic. —Ed.
Regarding Arthur W. Pink's article, "The Christian in Romans 7," reprinted in your June issue: On page 30 he cites David Brainerd as "the first missionary to the Indians." Incidentally, his name is correctly spelled "Brainerd," not "Brainard." And he was not the first missionary to the Indians. That distinction belongs to John Eliot (1604-1690), who translated the whole Bible into the Algonquin dialect of the Massachusetts Indians and was used of God in the conversion of many hundreds of Indians.
David Brainerd lived 1718-1747, dying at the young age of less than 30 years. While evangelizing the Indians, he was dying of consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis). That seldom-mentioned fact undoubtedly accounts for some of the gloomy and discouraged feelings manifested in his well-known Diary. I know. I have had the disease myself, and that is how it makes a person feel. By the mercy of God through modern medical science I have been completely cured; Brainerd died of it.
Brainerd should certainly be remembered and honored for what he did by the blessing of God. However, the Moravians, just a brief generation later, far exceeded Brainerd in the success of their work among the Indians (Heckewelder, David Zeisberger, who labored 63 years among the Indians, John Ettwein, Spangenberg and others). Some of their life-dates partly overlap Brainerd's.
May I add that I earnestly deplore your approving citation of Karl Barth—the father of neo-orthodoxy and a destroyer of the biblical Reformed faith (page 41).
References for Brainerd and the Moravians and Eliot: Encyclopedia Britannica; Moyer, Who Was Who in Church History.
Johannes G. Vos, Theology Professor
We deplore Romanism too, but would happily quote the Pope if what he said were worthy of attention. —Ed.
After reading the June issue, "The Man of Romans 7:14-25," I cannot help but write and thank you for it. You have so clearly and completely revealed this forgotten truth from the Scriptures. Oh, how many souls have lost out with God because they were never taught to correctly understand this spiritual struggle! Where there is life there is always struggle. May God bless this issue to those many discouraged and confused souls who, like me, experience daily what Paul wrote about.
Dale R. Hanson, Lutheran Pastor
"The Righteousness of Christ"
I am a member of a conservative Protestant denomination and have been receiving Present Truth for several years. I am quite impressed, both with its content and its design. Your art director does a fine job of choosing inspiring and fitting illustrations for the articles that you publish.
I appreciate greatly your emphasis upon the substitutionary work of our Lord. Only as we seek to understand His life and death will our lives become meaningful. When I am tempted to despair because of my daily failure to meet His standards of righteousness, I remember that God accepts me because His Son has not only met the requirements but has gone beyond them.
Mr. Brinsmead's article in the April issue, "The Righteousness of Christ," was especially good. Praise the Lord for the statement on page 22 in the first paragraph under the heading, "The Benefits of Christ's Righteousness":
"God's justification of the believer includes more than pardon for past offenses. While the blood of Christ washes away the stain of all guilt, the righteousness of Christ clothes the believer with the righteousness that the law demands. Justification is not clearing away the past so that the believer can go on and provide his own life for acceptance with God. The holy life of the believer never becomes the central preoccupation where Christ's righteousness is given its proper place."
Keep printing your magazine. I too am looking for a "new reformation" in this generation.
Robert D. Allen, College Student
Both Particular and Universal
The opening verses of John 3 set forth the particularism of God's saving activity in rebirth by the Holy Spirit and faith in the Son of God, which each of us needs. Then in John 3:16-17 there is the revelation that God so loved the world as to give His Son, that the world through Him might be saved. Those who reject the light of Christ are lost (vss. 19-20, 36).
Again in 1 John 2:1-2 we meet the particularism of God's dealing with the sinner through the gracious intercession of Christ his Advocate. Then in the next line there is the fact that Christ made propitiation for the sins of the whole world. No wonder that, in commenting on this passage, John Calvin quotes the scholastic idiom that the atonement of Christ is sufficient for all and efficient for the elect. He thus taught both the universal and the particular.
Likewise, the Canons of the Synod of Dort, in the chapter on redemption, teach that the work of Christ is sufficient for all, fully adapted for all and to be offered to all. And, of course, that Synod teaches the particularism of God's saving activities. But when the message of Dort is condensed into an abbreviation of "The Five Points of Calvinism" and one of these is "limited atonement" or "efficacious redemption," the universal element in Dort and in Calvin has fallen out.
Luther's emphasis was no doubt on the universal element. But as I remember his The Bondage of the Will, he there teaches how Christ intercedes and secures the gift of the Spirit to work faith in the man whose will is otherwise enslaved by sin; and as Luther teaches the children the meaning of the third article of the Creed, it seems to me that he has not forgotten the element of particularism in the gospel.
Most of all, Paul strove more than anyone else to carry Christ from one end to the other of the known world. His missionary work was universalistic. Yet he saw God's plan for himself reaching from before he left his mother's womb, through the confrontation on the road to Damascus when he alone of the company understood the words addressed by the Lord Jesus in the Hebrew tongue, and until he confessed, "I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." So that he is also a great example of the particularism of God's saving activities.
Why may the two not find a place in our thinking and preaching? I have known of those who reasoned from John 17:9 (where Christ said He prayed, not for the world, but for those God had given Him out of the world) thus: Would Christ die for those for whom He did not pray? The rhetorical question implies a negative answer. But is that not setting human reason counter to God's Word that Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, that Christ is the Saviour of the world, that He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world? I doubt whether we are able to dovetail the two thoughts into a thoroughly integrated, logically perfect system. But since both are taught, let us teach both.
In other matters, such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility, admitting that we cannot perfectly show how the two fit together, we have had to use double-line thinking and affirm both. Perhaps we need to admit here also that we cannot perfectly fit together Christ as the propitiation for the sins of the whole world with His praying, not for the world, but for those the Father has given Him. Yet we affirm that the Good Book teaches both.
May these two paradoxical statements be reconciled by noting that the universal relates the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ to turning the wrath of God away from the whole wicked world, while the particular relates the intercession of Christ to those whom the Father has given Him, and in answer to His intercessions, the Holy Spirit, using the Word, turns each in faith to God in Christ, to God our Saviour?
William C. Robinson
Dr. Robinson is professor emeritus of church history at Columbia Theological Seminary. —Ed.