The Law of God is Good and Wise

I recently preached a sermon based on Lord’s Day 2 of the Heidelberg Catechism which asks:
3. From where do you know your misery?
From the Law of God.

4. What does the Law of God require of us?

Christ teaches us in sum, Matthew 22: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

5. Can you keep all this perfectly?

No, for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.

I just stumbled across the hymn “The Law of God is Good and Wise” for the first time.  It captures much of what I said in my sermon:

The law of God is good and wise,
And sets His will before our eyes,
Shows us the way of righteousness,
And dooms to death when we transgress.

Its light of holiness imparts
The knowledge of our sinful hearts,
That we may see our lost estate
And seek deliverance ere too late.

To those who help in Christ have found
And would in works of love abound
It shows what deeds are His delight
And should be done as good and right.

When men the offered help disdain
And willfully in sin remain,
Its terror in their ear resounds
And keeps their wickedness in bounds.

The law is good, but since the fall
Its holiness condemns us all;
It dooms us for our sin to die
And has no power to justify.

To Jesus we for refuge flee,
Who from the curse has set us free,
And humbly worship at His throne,
Saved by His grace through faith alone.

It’s important that we recognize this “first use of the law,” which the Reformers called the “pedagogical use.”  The law functions in this use as a tutor to lead us to Christ.  It shows us our guilt and the punishment we deserve, and consequently our need for a Savior (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:24).

Christ has already fulfilled the law on our behalf and paid the penalty for our sins on the cross.  Because of his life and death we are forgiven of our sins and receive his righteousness by faith alone (Gal. 3:10-14; Eph. 2:8-9).  This is the good news of the gospel, we are saved by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.

But it doesn’t end there, we are then called to walk in newness of life in thankfulness to God by living according to his commandments.  This is why the Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three parts: guilt, grace and gratitude (in other words, law, gospel, law).  Once we have been led to Christ by the law and have trusted in his completed work (the gospel), we then look to the law not to merit salvation, but as a guide for how to live the Christian life.  The law can no longer condemn us, but it still commands us.

The Reformers called this the “third use of the law” or the “normative use.”  In its third use, it functions as “the rule of love,” (1 Jn. 5:3) namely how we are to love God and live a life that is pleasing to him as a response to grace as we are enabled to by the Holy Spirit (Ezek. 36:27; Eph. 2:10).

Let us never confuse the law and the gospel and let us always remember that the law of God is good and wise in all of its uses.

You can listen to the sermon, entitled “Exposed by the Law” here.