Dear Church Family,
We’ve resumed our Sunday school lessons in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC). Most recently, we studied questions 94-97. Here is a brief review.
WLC 94 Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
A. Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law; yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.
In our continued introduction to the moral law (or the ten commandments), WLC 94 reminds us of the biblical truths that “no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law.” That is to say, there is none righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10), for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10). This question and answer is also an introduction to the next several questions as it teaches us that the ten commandments are of great use to all men (WLC 95), the unregenerate (WLC 96), and the regenerate (WLC 97).
Before delving into these next questions, however, it might be helpful to review what theologians have historically referred to as the three uses of the moral law. Since the theologian Louis Berkhof summarizes these three uses of the moral law so well, the following definitions are directly quoted from his Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1938; Combined edition with new preface, 1996), pp 614-615.
(1) Civic Use – Goad to civil righteousness (usus politicus or civilus)
The law serves the purpose of restraining sin and promoting righteousness. Considered from this point of view, the law presupposes sin and is necessary on account of sin. It serves the purpose of God’s common grace in the world at large. This means that from this point of view it cannot be regarded as a means of grace in the technical sense of the word.
(2) Pedagogical Use – Tutor to drive us to Christ (usus elenchticus or pedagogicus)
In this capacity the law serves the purpose of bringing man under conviction of sin, and of making him conscious of his inability to meet the demands of the law. In that way, the law becomes his tutor to lead him unto Christ, and thus becomes subservient to God’s gracious purpose of redemption.
(3) Teaching Use – Rule of life (usus didacticus or normativus)
This is the so-called tertius usus legis, the third use of the law. The law is a rule of life for believers, reminding them of their duties and leading them in the way of life and salvation. This third use of the law is denied by the Antinomians.
WLC 95 Of what use is the moral law to all men ?
A. The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.
In this first category of ‘all men,’ the moral law serves a mostly revelatory purpose. That is, the ten commandments are a means of divine revelation. God teaches all men certain things through His moral law. Specifically, there are three basic revelatory uses of the moral law for all men. First, the moral law teaches all men about God and His nature – specifically, that God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45). Second, the moral law teaches all men about man and his nature – specifically, that man is sinful (Romans 7:7-12). Third, the moral law teaches all men about their need for Christ – specifically, His imputed righteousness (Galatians 3:21-22).
WLC 96 What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
A. The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ, or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.
In this second category of ‘unregenerate men,’ the moral law serves one of two very different purposes. On the one hand, the ten commandments reveal the unregenerate person’s sin and inability to keep God’s law. In this way, the moral law serves as a tutor or a pedagogue to drive the unbeliever to Christ (Galatians 3:23-25). Alternatively, if the unregenerate person does not repent and turn to Christ, but remains in their sin, the ten commandments leave him without excuse and under the curse of the law (Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15; Galatians 3:10).
WLC 97 What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
In this third and final category of ‘the regenerate,’ the moral law is not a means by which the believer is either justified or condemned; however, the ten commandments serve three basic purposes for those who have trusted in Christ and His righteousness. First, the moral law serves the same general uses that are common to all men: in revealing God’s holy nature, man’s sinful nature, and man’s need for Christ (see WLC 95). Second, the moral law assures the regenerate person of his salvation and creates in him an appreciation for his being redeemed from the curse of the law and united to Christ (Romans 7:24-8:4). Third, the moral law provokes the regenerate person to thankful obedience, to seek to live as becomes a follower of Christ (Colossians 1:9-14; Titus 2:11-14).
As the Westminster Confession of Faith (19.7) reminds us, these uses of the ten commandments (or the moral law) are not contrary to the grace of the Gospel, “but do sweetly comply with it.” The Spirit of Christ subdues and enables our wills so that we freely and cheerfully do the will of God as revealed in His holy law.
Join us on Sunday mornings at 9:15 am as we learn more of how we may offer up our thankful obedience to our Savior in all that we think, say, and do.
The Lord be with you!
Pastor Peter M. Dietsch