The Great Christian Revolution 2C – The Law and the Reformation

Liberty and God’s law: the twoare inseparable. He who preaches against the law of God preaches against liberty. Anyone who says that we canbuild our lives, our families, our churches, or our civil governments on any foundation other than the law ofGod, and still have liberty, is a liar. He is a deceiver. He is layingthe foundation of tyranny.1

It must be understood that “the Bible does not recognize any law as valid apart from the law of God, and this law is given by revelation to the patriarchs and Moses, and expounded by prophets, Jesus Christ, and the apostles. To have two kinds of law is to have two kinds of gods; not surprisingly, the ancient world, like the modern, was polytheistic; having many laws, it had many gods.” 2

It is fair to say, that the leaders of the Reformation were inconsistent about God’s law. On the one hand, Luther wrote that “true righteousness does not come through the works of the Law; it comes through hearing with faith, which is followed by the powerful deeds and fruits of the Spirit.” But on the other hand, he could claim in the same document, that “the righteousness of the heart ignores all laws, not only those of the pope but also those of Moses.” 3

This ambivalence was not unusual for Luther. In his Commentary on the Book of Galatians, he claimed that “the right use and end, therefore, of the law is to accuse and condemn as guilty such as live in security, that they may see themselves to be in danger of sin, wrath, and death eternal…the law with this office helpeth by occasion to justification, in that it driveth a man to the promise of grace.”4

But he could also say, in a sermon of 1525, entitled “How Christians Should Regard Moses,” that the law of Moses binds only the Jews and not the Gentiles. “We will not have Moses as ruler or lawgiver any longer…I dismiss the commandments given to the people of Israel. They neither urge or compel me…where he [Moses] gives commandment, we are not to follow him except so far as he agrees with the natural law.” 5

Melanchthon and Bucer logically followed Luther. Melanchthon wrote that “that part of the law called the Decalogue or the moral commandments has been abrogated by the New Testament,” 6and on more than one occasion made reference to the “Divine and natural laws,” and the “laws of nature,” 7as though they were either one and the same, or that they were not contradictory. This was a major flaw, as it opened the door to the acceptance of natural law (of Greek, humanist origin) as a perfectly legitimate means of government and law-making. Lutherans may proclaim, “Sola Scriptura,” but if they were to be ruthlessly honest about their position, they would say, “Sola Scriptura, (along with the Natural Law of humanism).”

Calvin was different, but not much better. He wrote that “the law is the best instrument for enabling believers daily to learn what that will of God is which they are to follow.” 8But at the same time, he could write that “some deny that a state is well constituted, which neglects the polity of Moses, and is governed by the common laws of nations. The dangerous and seditious nature of this opinion I leave to the examination of others; it will be sufficient for me to have evinced it to be foolish and dangerous.” 9

This meant that the Reformation had made a wonderful beginning, but was dangerously unfinished, in terms of the Word of God and society. Justification was now a settled issue, but what about the law of the land? Would the Reformers finish the job? Sadly, they did not. “The Reformation was stillborn.” 10

1. North, G., “Liberating Planet Earth,” 1987, p.150-151.
2. Rushdoony, R. J., “The Institutes of Biblical Law,” 1973, p.679.
3. Pelikan, J., (Ed.), “Luther’s Works,”, vol.26. Quoted in Rushdoony, “Romans and Galatians,” p.340.
4. At his points of commentary on Galatians 2:17 and 3:19.
5. Luther’s Works, vol.35, quoted in Rushdoony’s Institutes, p.651.
6. ibid, p.682.
7. ibid, p.681.
8. Calvin, J., “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” 2.7.12. Quoted in Bahnsen, G., “By This Standard,” 1991, p.202.
9. Calvin, J., “Institutes,” book IV, chap.XX, para.xiv. Quoted in Rushdoony, “Institutes,” p.9.
10. Rushdoony, “Institutes,” p.659.

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