3.30.2010

PERKINS ON THE NECESSITY OF THE LAW AND GOSPEL DISTINCTION

William Perkins (1558-1602) believed that if one confuses or rejects the distinction between the law and the gospel, it will be to the most certain ruin of the gospel. Perkins didn't just believe this, he actually saw it happen, with Rome. As they say, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.....

Here is Perkins on Galatians 3:12,

When Paul says, the law is not of faith, he sets down the main difference between the law and the gospel.  The law promises life to him that performs perfect obedience, and that for his works.  The gospel promises life to him who does nothing in the cause of his salvation, but only believes in Christ; and it promises salvation to him that believes, yet not for his faith or for any work else, but for the merit of Christ.  The law then requires doing to salvation, and the gospel believing, and nothing else.

Objection 1:  The Gospel requires repentance, and the practice of it.  Answer:  Indeed the law does not teach true repentance; neither is it any cause of it, but only an occasion.  The gospel only prescribes repentance, and the practice thereof--yet only as it is a fruit of our faith, and as it is the way to salvation in which we are to walk, and no otherwise.

Objection 2: The law requires and commands faith.  Answer: The law requires faith in God, which is to put our affiance in him.  But the gospel requires faith in Christ the Mediator, God-man, and this faith the law never knew.

Objection 3: In the gospel, there are promises of life, upon the condition of our obedience.  Romans 8:13, "If by the spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live"; 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive them."  Answer: The promises of the gospel are not made to the work, but to the worker; and to the worker not for his work, but for Christ's sake, according to the work.  As for example, promise of life is made not to the work of mortification, but to him that mortifies his flesh, and that not for his mortification, but because he is in Christ, and his mortification is the token evidence thereof.  And therefore it must be remembered that all the promises of the gospel that mention works, include in them reconciliation with God in Christ.

Objection 4: Faith is a virtue, and to believe is a work; therefore one work is commanded in the gospel, and is also necessary to salvation.  Answer:  The gospel considers not faith as a virtue or work but as an instrument or hand to apprehend Christ.  For faith does not cause, effect, or procure our justification and salvation, but as the beggars hand, it receives them, being wholly wrought and given of God.

This distinction between the law and the gospel must be observed carefully.  For by it we see that the church of Rome has erroneously confounded the law and the gospel for these many hundred years.  The law of Moses (say they) written in tables of stone, is the law; the same law of Moses, written in the hearts of men by the Holy Ghost, is the Gospel. But I say again, that the law written in our hearts is still the law of Moses. And this oversight in mistaking the distinction of the law and the gospel, is and has been the ruin of the gospel...believing and doing are opposed in the article of our justification (William Perkins, The Workes: Galatians Vol. II (John Legatt: London, 1635) 236-7). 


See this related post on Perkins' important distinction

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting. I am reading the Marrow of Modern Divinity which deals with this topic in length and this was helpful.

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  2. Hi Jeff, glad this helped. Since Perkins has not been published since the mid 17th century, I think I will start doing a daily Perkins. So check back, there will be a lot more of this kind of stuff. Chris

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  3. I totally agree, for issues like Sola Fide actually greatly (though not necessarily entirely) on the Law-Gospel-Distinction.

    The fundamental error/misreading of the Reformers was that they thought Paul was teaching TWO WAYS of receiving ONE (SAVING) RIGHTEOUSNESS: Either perfect obedience to the "law" or faith in Christ's perfect obedience to the "law".

    The correct reading, however, is that Paul was distinguishing between TWO TYPES of Righteousness, an escatological/heavenly/soteric righteousness and a *separate* earthly/temporal/nonsoteric righteousness.

    The whole picture emerges very clearly when one realizes the Mosaic Law never promised eternal life, it only promised earthly blessings (e.g. promised land, long life). Thus the ML never saved, and wouldn't save anyone, even if kept perfectly. Paul's thesis is explained clearly in Gal 3:15-18.

    The key is to realize Paul is not fighting pelagianism (at least not primarily). The dispute is one of Jew-versus-Gentile, thus Paul's teaching is how the Mosaic Covenant relates to Salvation history.

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