A few months ago this
editor was meeting with a group of evangelical preachers in an American
city. These men were concerned with the plague of Pentecostalism
and religious subjectivism that was sweeping the churches. They
were convinced that the challenge could only be met by a clear proclamation
of the objective gospel. A Reformed pastor declared, "I have
preached the gospel in my church. I'm always talking about grace,
faith, and justification, but it does not make the impact it should.
What am I doing wrong?"
When this editor asked
the preacher if he was just as diligent in arraigning his hearers
before the high claims of God's law and the judgment seat of Christ,
he admitted that he had allowed this phase of his Reformed heritage
to fall into disuse. "Then you need look no further to answer
the lack of quickening power in your preaching," he was told.
The Word of God is a
sharp, two-edged sword. The two cutting edges are law and gospel.
The gospel is good news to sinners, but it is a sheer waste of time
to try to comfort those who do not mourn – that is to say,
those who have not been made conscious of their sins by the proclamation
of God's law. Jesus said that we should not cast our pearls before
swine. Those who have not heard the law will not hear the gospel.
As C.F.W. Walther (The Proper Distinction between the Law and
the Gospel) well says, "The law is for secure sinners,
and the gospel is for alarmed sinners."
John Bunyan declared:
He that is
dark as touching the scope, intent and nature of the law, is also
dark as touching the scope, nature and glory of the gospel....
I say, therefore, if thou wouldst know the authority and power
of the gospel, labor first to know the power and authority of
the law. For I am verily persuaded that the want of this one thing,
namely, the knowledge of the law, is the one cause why so many
are ignorant of the other.... Again, that man that doth not know
the nature of the law, that man doth not know the nature of sin;
and that man that knoweth not the nature of sin, will not regard
to know the nature of a Saviour.—John Bunyan, The Doctrine
of Law and Grace Unfolded.
The God of the Old Testament
is the God of law. He who is holiness personified demands a holiness
from man which is without variableness or shadow of turning. "Obey
and live; disobey and die," is as fixed as the stars in their
courses. This inexorable demand of law provides the background to
the glory of the New Testament message of justification by grace,
on account of Christ, through faith. Take away that background,
and the message of grace becomes a meaningless platitude.
It was a lively sense
of God's holiness and deep conviction of sin that prepared the Reformers
to appreciate the light on justification by faith. And in every
age where there has been a revival of genuine religion, men have
been brought by the law to cry out, "How can a man be just
Protestantism has grown
fat and flabby. Luther warned that people would become secure and
lazy by the continual preaching of grace. To make matters worse,
Protestantism's reaction against legalism has made the church very
suspicious of law. In a recent article, Professor Gordon H. Clark
shows that even the word legalism has evolved a new meaning. He
The term legalism
in theology used to designate a theory of justification by works.
Liberals have now redefined it so as to exclude rules, laws and
obedience from moral living! Amorphous love replaces definite
commands. This enables the liberals to transfer the odium of legalism
in its historic sense to the evangelical view that is not subject
to such a criticism. Gordon H. Clark, "Concerning Justification,"
Christianity Today, March 16, 1973.
The church today is not
too concerned with the great Reformation article of justification
largely because the law has fallen into disuse. Justification is
a legal word, a law term. Dr. Strong defines it as being set right
before the law. The message of justification by faith is music to
those who take the demands of God's law seriously and realize that
"the law must be fulfilled so that not a jot or tittle shall
be lost, otherwise man will be condemned without hope" (Luther's
Works [Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press; St. Louis: Concordia],
Vol. XXXI, pp. 348, 349). But this is a very permissive age. God
is too often viewed as an easy-going Benevolence who forgives sins
quite apart from upholding the integrity of His law. In an "Introductory
Essay" to Buchanan's masterful volume on The Doctrine of
Justification (reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961),
Dr. J.1. Packer says:
of today (whose habit it is to take pride in being modern) are
accordingly disinclined to take seriously the uniform biblical
insistence that God's dealing with man is regulated by law....
Thus modern Protestantism really denies the validity of all the
forensic terms in which the Bible explains to us our relationship
Protestant, therefore, is willing to see man as a wandering child,
a lost prodigal needing to find a way home to his heavenly Father,
but, generally speaking, he is not willing to see him as a guilty
criminal arraigned before the Judge of all the earth. The Bible
doctrine of justification, however, is the answer to the question
of the convicted lawbreaker: how can I get right with God's law?
How can I be just with God? Those who refuse to see their situation
in these terms will not, therefore, take much interest in the
doctrine. Nobody can raise much interest in the answer to a question
which, so far as he is concerned, never arises. Thus modern Protestantism,
by its refusal to think of man's relationship with God in the
basic biblical terms, has knocked away the foundation of the gospel
of justification, making it seem simply irrelevant to man's basic
Much of today's revivalistic
preaching is sentimental and subjective. As Professor Joel C. Gerlach
declares in The Northwestern Lutheran:
is an old and familiar one. Accounts of personal encounters with
Christ are given top billing at the expense of the salvation message.
Experience is "in," doctrine is "out.". .
. Church history has a name for people who want to experience
Jesus without any doctrinal formulations, restricting creeds,
or code of Christian ethics. They are antinomians. They flourished
in Luther's day also.
For several months Present
Truth Magazine has been doing a serious research of American
evangelical literature. The amount of antinomianism advocated in
much of it is scandalous. Big-name authors and some of the best-known
Christian publishing houses are filling the land with theories which
undermine the authority of God's law. If this were in the realm
of civil government, it would be called by its right name –
Dispensational theories, ideas on Christian love, baptism-of-the-Spirit
mentality and theories on grace – all are being used as if
they were substitutes for obedience to God's law. This is a desperately
permissive and lawless age, and surely society needs no encouragement
from the church to cast off the discipline of law.
In previous issues of
Present Truth Magazine, we have stated that Protestantism
is drowning in a sea of religious subjectivism. No one can successfully
challenge that observation. The cause is not neo-Pentecostalism
and emotional revivalism. They are symptoms, not causes. The cause
is rejection of God's law. If men reject the authority of an objective
rule of life, what other authority have they to fall back on but
their own subjective experiences?
In different ages the
church has had to grapple with great points of the faith and clarify
its theology. In the second century the great points of contention
were creation, the incarnation, and the resurrection. In the third
and fourth centuries they were the Trinity and the two natures of
Christ. In the tenth century the church grappled with the doctrine
of atonement. In the sixteenth century the evangelical church had
to clearly define the doctrine of justification by faith. The church
today is desperately in need of a clearly defined theology of law.
Witness the flood of Christian existentialism, social relativism,
and neo-orthodoxy that has deluged the churches. Their rejection
of legalism is commendable. But in their reaction they have undermined
the Christian's only absolute, objective authority. They leave us
with nothing to fall back on but our own human experiences. But
experientialism is the worst form of legalism!
The great issue today
is authority – the authority of God's Word versus the authority
of human experience. The battle lines are being drawn.
It is in the context
of this conflict that the angels of the Apocalypse proclaim their
And I saw another angel
fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach
unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred,
and tongue, and people, saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and
give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come: and worship
Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains
of waters. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is
fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations
drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third
angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship
the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead,
or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath
of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His
indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone
in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the
Lamb.... Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that
keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. Rev. 14:6-10,