On “Theology Thursday,” we feature short excerpts on various areas of systematic theology, from a wide variety of colorful (and drab) characters and institutions. Some are orthodox, but decidedly outside the Baptist orbit. Others are completely heretical. Regardless of heresy or orthodoxy, we hope these short readings are a stimulus for personal reflection, a challenge to theological complacency, and an impetus for apologetic zeal “to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints,” (Jude 3).
From The Works of Jacob Arminius, vol. 1, “Disputation 13 - On the Comparison of the Law and the Gospel.” Courtesy of The Wesley Center.
Since the law ought to be considered in two respects, not only as it was originally delivered to men constituted in primitive innocence, but also as it was given to Moses and imposed on sinners, (on which account it has in the Scriptures obtained the name of “the Old Testament,” or “the Old Covenant,”) it may very properly, according to this two-fold respect, be compared with the Gospel, which has received the appellation of “the New Testament” as it is opposed to the Old.
This may be done in reference both to their agreement and their difference; indeed, it would-be inconvenient for us to take their agreement generally into consideration without their difference, lest we should be compelled twice to repeat the same thing.
The law, therefore, both as it was first delivered to Adam and as it was given by Moses, agrees with the Gospel:
In the general consideration of having one Author. For one and the same God is the author of both, who delivered the law as a legislator; (Genesis 2:17; Exodus 20:2;) but he promulgated the Gospel as the Father of mercies and the God of all grace: whence the former is frequently denominated “the law of God,” and the latter “the Gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1.)
In the general relation of their matter. For the doctrine of each consists of a command to obedience, and of the promise of a reward. On this account each of them has the name of hrwt “the law,” which is also commonly ascribed to both in the Scriptures. (Isaiah 2:3).
In the general consideration of their end, which is the glory of the wisdom, goodness and justice of God.
In their common subject, as not being distinguished by special respects. For the law was imposed on men, and to men also was the gospel manifested.
There is, besides, a certain proper agreement of the law, as it was delivered to Adam, with the Gospel; from which agreement the law, as given through Moses, is excluded: it is placed in the possibility of its performance. For Adam was able, with the aid of God, to fulfill the law by those powers which he had received in creation: otherwise, transgression could not have been imputed to him for a crime. The gospel also is inscribed in the hearts of those who are in covenant with God, that they may be able to fulfill the condition which it prescribes.
But the difference between the law, as it was first delivered, and the gospel, consists principally in the following particulars:
In the special respect of the Author. For, in the exercise of benevolence to his innocent creature, God delivered the law without regard to Christ, yet of strict justice requiring obedience, with the promise of a reward and the denunciation of a punishment. But in the exercise of grace and mercy, and having respect to Christ his anointed one, God revealed the Gospel; and, through justice attempered with mercy, promulgated his demands and his promises.
In the particular relation of its matter. For the law says, “Do this, and thou shalt live.” (Romans 10:5.) But the Gospel says, “If thou wilt BELIEVE, thou shalt be saved.” And this difference lies not only in the postulate, from which the former is called “the law of works,” but the Gospel “the law of faith,” (Romans 3:27,) but also in the promise: for though in each of them eternal life was promised, yet by the Gospel it was to be conferred as from death and ignominy, but by the law as from natural felicity. (2 Timothy 1:10.) Besides, in the Gospel is announced remission of sins, as preparatory to life eternal; of which no mention is made in the [Adamic] law; because neither was this remission necessary to one who was not a sinner, nor would its announcement have [then] been useful to him, although he might afterwards have become a sinner.
They likewise differ in the mode of remuneration. For according to the [primeval] law, “To him that WORKED, the reward would be of debt;” (Romans 4:4;) and to him that transgressed, the punishment inflicted would be of the severity of strict justice. But to him that BELIEVETH, the reward is bestowed of grace; and to him that believeth not, condemnation is due according to justice tempered with clemency in Christ Jesus. (John 3:16, 19; 11:41).
They are discriminated in the special consideration of their subject. For the law was delivered to man while innocent, and already constituted in the favor of God. (Genesis 2:17.) But the Gospel was bestowed upon man as a sinner, and one who was to be brought back into the favor of God, because it is “the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
They differ in the peculiar respect of their end. For by the law are illustrated the wisdom, goodness, and strict justice of God: but by the Gospel is manifested a far more illustrious display of the wisdom of God, of his goodness united with gracious mercy, and of justice mildly tempered in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:20-24; Ephesians 1:8; Romans 3:24-26).
… to be continued.