Category Archives: Matthias Schneckenburger

Adam, the Garden, and God’s Law

If, according to Lutheran teaching, the law is not made for a righteous person, if it has reference only to sin, then it had no place in the state of created, original righteousness. Man in the holy divine image was without the law. His condition is thought of as the perfect unio mystica, the gracious indwelling of the most holy Trinity. The command not to eat is therefore only something negative and does not come under the concept of law. It was only a pedagogic measure in the interest of confirming the state of innocence. It also gave man opportunity, however, to enter into sin and so into the position of being under the law.

According to the Reformed, on the other hand, the first man was under the law just like the believer. For the former, too, the objective, divine will existed as a norm outside himself, according to which he was obligated to live and conduct himself. After all, the necessity of a progressive development into perfection was facing him. Such perfection he had not yet received with the divine image, but it was intended for him. Even as a bearer of the divine image Adam was subject to the prescriptive dictates of the law in the form of a commanding conscience, which in this form constitutes an essential motivating element of human nature. For human nature is simply the finite, which can get to know the divine will as the absolute only in this form. The purely finite sees the infinite opposite it and sees itself only as different from and dependent on it.

Lutherans, by way of contrast, see Adam as the final product of God’s creation, who did not need any real development but only to persevere and be confirmed in holiness. Enjoying the most intimate unity with God by virtue of the indwelling of the Trinity, he was the perfect human model. Because he was created with perfect righteousness, the difference between what one should do and what one wants to do, between God’s will and his own will, did not even exist. God’s will was expressed only as that which was identical with man’s will. Man’s will was in full conformity with God’s. That a separation occurred between the two and the consciousness of the divine will became a reality as a demanding conscience is already the result of sin.

The imperative form of the divine will in the conscience became a reality only then when God had to call man to account and condemn him. It is, however, no more essential than the form whereby God called man to account and condemned him and is only a testimony to the already degenerate quality of human nature. Rather, only that original holy impulse which was at the bottom of that divine commanding is shown to be essential; this is not law, not duty, but willingness, love. And this is restored from the categorical imperative form through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, by faith. It was only when the Reformed idea of a covenant of works and a covenant of grace was adopted that Lutheran teaching began to abandon this view, which originated from exegetical considerations.

Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper. All italicized print appears in Pieper’s essay.

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Killing the Old Adam and Sustaining the New Man

According to Lutheran theology, the believer needs the law only because he is still a sinner, that is to say, he is not yet a perfect believer in every respect, not yet a person who has the absolute principle as the all-determining dynamic of his life. For the Lutheran, therefore, the activity called forth by the law is directed principally to the work itself, to practicing the personal and indeed negative virtues, to subduing evil desires (concupiscentia). The believer’s chief concern is to rid himself more and more of the remnants of his sinful Old Man. Precisely these remnants are recognized in the mirror of the law and are constantly struck by its reprimands. As a believer, however, who no longer is under the law, he has only to conserve the faith he has by always establishing himself in it anew. Here, too, of course, belongs the manifestation of love in his outward activities, if indeed he is to avoid losing the fellowship with God he already has.

According to the Reformed view, on the other hand, a believer becomes secure as far as he himself and his final, definite overpowering of sin are concerned only by doing good works. His chief activity to which the divine law summons him is therefore directed toward outward work, toward the positive shaping of the world according to the divine norm.

This basic difference, which is, to be sure, in itself rather subtle but nevertheless very significant and characteristic with respect to the authority of the law, not only gives Reformed piety its particular quality and spirit, but also has consequences and similarities in other doctrines.

Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper. All italicized print appears in Pieper’s essay.

More Tertius Usus Legis: Lutheran and Reformed Differences

Two-and-a-half years ago I posted a long quote from this same essay. Here now is another long quote from the same essay. Schneckenburger’s book is begging to be translated by someone who has the time and the gifts to do it. – DMJ

If we, to begin with, restrict ourselves to the fact that, according to the Lutheran conception, the believer as such does not need the law but only as one who has not yet been completely regenerated, and that, according to the Reformed conception, the believer precisely as a believer and a person who is regenerated needs the law, then without even considering the difference also in the definition of the law itself, a somewhat different understanding of faith itself becomes evident.

From the Lutheran standpoint, in the justified person faith, bringing with it the unio mystica, is such a unity of the human subject with the divine that he finds in himself the norm and stimulus for his actions. He no longer needs to receive this from the outside. Because he has been given the Holy Spirit, he is an independent source of a divine manifestation in his life and his activity. The law, therefore, does not stand over him anymore as something foreign to his will, but it has passed over into his will as the impulse of love, inflamed by the Holy Spirit…But in this life faith is never present in such ideal perfection. A believer, to be sure, soars in inspired moments to this pure height in keeping with his real nature. Otherwise, however, he still carries around with him the natural man, who only through a long and hard battle is transformed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, active in faith. Only because of the Old Man does the believer also need the law as a taskmaster of the flesh in the interest of the spirit. Thus the law has for him a negative function. All truly Christian, positive action, however, proceeds from faith itself, which receives from itself guidance and impulse – which is, naturally, to be compared with the law and verified by it.

For the Reformed, faith is, of course, also a unity with the divine, but only as a principle and beginning. Its actual realization lies in immeasurable infinity. It is not an ideal law which already includes in itself the totality of all development. Faith, as such unity created by the Holy Spirit, possesses the will, the striving and the abstract, general direction. But the norm for faith and the will, which is carried along by faith, in individual situations always is the divine will as something still standing over it, demanding the particular action. The “you must” has not yet been overcome, but rather sharpened. Only now does the believer begin to understand the law in its spiritual nature. Its commands and promises, as well as its threats and prohibitions, become more penetrating because they are now understood in faith.

So, just because faith has been kindled, for that reason the law is necessary, which urges one on to action. It is precisely the regenerate person who needs the law for his development, his perfection, his positive progress, his manifestations of obedience and his good works, which should glorify God. By no means does he need the law only to control and discipline the unregenerate part in him…. The law is necessary for him because it rests on the natural law of God, that is, because the difference between the finite and the infinite always continues, and the former can have its norm only in the latter. The norm of the infinite will always become known to the finite only as a categorical imperative. This is that being kept in the fear of God by the curb of the law [mentioned in the Geneva Catechism] also in the case of the regenerate person. The law must always preserve the reverence which is fitting for the finite as such over against the infinite.

This, then, is the basis for the Lutheran charge that Reformed piety is servile, legalistic and not evangelically free. The Reformed Christian fears nothing more than that under the pretext of evangelical freedom licentiousness might set in. That is why he emphasizes the law, so strongly at times that he comes dangerously close to infringing on evangelical freedom.

Thus [Lewis] Bayly writes, “One should live, therefore, as if there were no gospel and die as if there were no law. In life we should act as if no one but Moses ruled over us.” The Lutheran, on the other hand, fears nothing so much as work-righteousness and is very concerned that the striving for sanctification which is based on faith might not become that. Therefore the law always serves him only to convict him of sin. That which is positively good is only a work of the freedom of faith in the Spirit. The law is needed only because the individual as the one who is acting is still always a sinner. In connection with the apostolic text about the law of freedom [James 1:25], the Reformed emphasizes the word law as real law, while the Lutheran emphasizes the word freedom as freedom from the law in the true sense of the word, so that the law of freedom signifies the norm that is present in the believer himself. The Reformed theologian mistrusts what is present in the believer in the form of something which merely motivates him just as we found him mistrusting faith, which is something direct and emotional in him. As the condition of being in faith must be demonstrated to his own self-consciousness through works, so the subjective, impelling norm for action must be legitimized for him by means of the objective law.

Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper. All italicized print appears in Pieper’s essay.

Faith Itself and Tertius Usus Legis

If we, to begin with, restrict ourselves to the fact that, according to the Lutheran conception, the believer as such does not need the law but only as one who has not yet been completely regenerated, and that, according to the Re­formed conception, the believer precisely as a believer and a person who is regenerated needs the law, then without even considering the difference also in the definition of the law itself, a somewhat different understanding of faith itself becomes evident.

From the Lutheran standpoint, in the justified person faith, bringing with it the unio mystics, is such a unity of the human subject with the divine that he finds in him­self the norm and stimulus for his actions. He no longer needs to receive this from the outside. Because he has been given the Holy Spirit, he is an independent source of a divine manifestation in his life and his activity. The law, therefore, does not stand over him anymore as something foreign to his will, but it has passed over into his will as the impulse of love, inflamed by the Holy Spirit…But in this life faith is never present in such ideal perfection. A believer, to be sure, soars in inspired moments to this pure height in keeping with his real nature. Otherwise, however, he still carries around with him the natural man, who only through a long and hard battle is transformed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, active in faith.[i] Only because of the Old Man does the believer also need the law as a taskmaster of the flesh in the interest of the spirit. Thus the law has for him a negative function. All truly Christian, positive action, however, proceeds from faith itself, which receives from itself guidance and impulse – which is, naturally, to be compared with the law and verified by it.

For the Reformed, faith is, of course, also a unity with the divine, but only as a principle and beginning. Its actual realization lies in immeasurable infinity. It is not an ideal law which already includes in itself the totality of all development. Faith, as such unity created by the Holy Spirit, possesses the will, the striving and the abstract, general direction. But the norm for faith and the will, which is carried along by faith, in individual situations always is the divine will as something still standing over it, demanding the particular action. The ”you must” has not yet been overcome, but rather sharpened. Only now does the believer begin to understand the law in its spiritual nature. Its commands and promises, as well as its threats and prohibitions, become more penetrating because they are now understood in faith.

So, just because faith has been kindled, for that reason the law is necessary, which urges one on to action. It is precisely the regenerate person who needs the law for his development, his perfection, his positive progress, his manifestations of obedience and his good works, which should glorify God. By no means does he need the law only to control and discipline the unregenerate part in him….The law is necessary for him because it rests on the natural law of God, that is, because the difference between the finite and the infinite always continues, and the former can have its norm only in the latter. The norm of the infinite will always become known to the finite only as a categorical imperative. This is that being kept in the fear of God by the curb of the law [mentioned in the Geneva Catechism] also in the case of the regenerate person. The law must always preserve the reverence which is fitting for the finite as such over against the infinite.

This, then, is the basis for the Lutheran charge that Reformed piety is servile, legalistic and not evangelically free. The Reformed Christian fears nothing more than that under the pretext of evangelical freedom licentious­ness might set in. That is why he emphasizes the law, so strongly at times that he comes dangerously close to in­fringing on evangelical freedom.

Thus Bayly writes, “One should live, therefore, as if there were no gospel and die as if there were no law. In life we should act as if no one but Moses ruled over us.”[ii] The Lutheran, on the other hand, fears nothing so much as work‑righteousness and is very concerned that the striv­ing for sanctification which is based on faith might not become that.[iii] Therefore the law always serves him only to convict him of sin.[iv] That which is positively good is only a work of the freedom of faith in the Spirit. The law is needed only because the individual as the one who is act­ing is still always a sinner. In connection with the apostol­ic text about the law of freedom [James 1:25], the Reformed emphasizes the word law as real law, while the Lutheran emphasizes the word freedom as freedom from the law in the true sense of the word, so that the law of freedom signifies the norm that is present in the believer himself. The Reformed theologian mistrusts what is present in the believer in the form of something which merely motivates him just as we found him mistrusting faith, which is some­thing direct and emotional in him. As the condition of being in faith must be demonstrated to his own self‑con­sciousness through works, so the subjective, impelling norm for action must be legitimized for him by means of the objective law.

[i] Strictly speaking, it is not the Old Man that is transformed and enlightened but the Christian, who, as he grows in sanctification, more and more puts off the Old Man and puts on the New Man (Eph 4:22‑24; Col 3:9,10).

[ii] Lewis Bayly, Praxis Pietatis (Bern, 1703), p 125. Bayly (1565‑1631), was an English preacher and churchman, who had a great influence on German Pietism. His Praxis Pietatis was translated into many languages.

[iii] That is, that it does not become work‑righteousness. One cannot deny, however, that as the Reformed with his position denies evangelical freedom, so the Lutheran can all too easily fall into spiritual inactivity and fleshly security. That we too do not completely avoid this danger follows from the fact that the abundance of works, which the Reformed sects can exhibit in such great measure, is lacking among us. We think only of the great sacri­fices which the Reformed sects bring for the local congregation, for educa­tional and charitable institutions and for missions, while among us fi­nancial need in all branches of church activity is a chronic condition. Even in that one area in which we until now stood far in front of the Reformed churches, namely, in the area of the parish school, our zeal is beginning to flag because its maintenance demands continuous effort and expenditures. The parish school is, of course, not of divine institution or command, and our faith now does not have enough strength and energy to overcome the indolence of the Old Adam. If we regarded the school and other branches of church activity as a strict divine command, then our zeal for its main­tenance and improvement would perhaps be greater. But that we would thereby be richer in real good works cannot be proved, for all good works are good only in so far as they proceed from faith itself freely and not forced by the law. Accordingly, the cure for our lack of works does not consist in this that we become more legalistic in our Christianity and adopt something of the Reformed spirit, but in this that we, in a genuinely Lu­theran spirit, apply the law in its sharpness as a mirror to our lazy flesh, that we allow ourselves to be judged and condemned by it, that we become alarmed at our lack of energy because of which we neglect God’s kingdom and poor souls, and that we flee again to grace and from its fullness and fervor, which surpasses all human thought, acquire for ourselves new, free, spiritual willpower.

[iv] Just as the law serves as a mirror, so naturally it serves also as a rule and curb—because of the flesh.

August Pieper, “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So Called Third Use Of The Law“. The paper is predominantly one long quote from a portion of Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger’s book, “A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine”, published in 1855.

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Tertius Usus Legis: Lutheran and Reformed Differences

When in the Lutheran Church…the one-sided antinomian movement, which wanted to have the preaching of the law banned from the church as not at all applying to Christians and being harmful to true faith, was brought back onto the right track by Luther, the doctrinal designation of a threefold use of the law, as the Formula of Concord has it, appeared: usus politicus [the curb function], usus elenchticus or paedeuticus [the mirror function] and usus normativus [the guide function]. The last, also called usus tertius, concerns believing regenerated Christians. The law contains the norm according to which believing Christians are to regulate their lives.

In general, the Reformed teach the same. They too had to combat various types of antinomianism which developed in their midst, even though it was derived in part from other sources. When they talk about the enduring authority of the law, however, they mean something different from what Lutherans mean. If we take a closer look at how Lutherans think of this enduring authority, then it cannot consist in this that the law maintains its compelling and demanding authority over believers. For just as Christ redeemed us from the curse, so he also redeemed us from the compelling demands of the law in that he did everything which the law demands of us. Consequently, the believer as such consciously knows that by virtue of his justification he has been liberated from both aspects of the law, from its curse (maledictio) and its coercion (coactio).

It is therefore completely in keeping with the Lutheran point of view when [F.A.] Philippi in his book about the active obedience of Christ says that the one who has been justified is always conscious of freedom from both the punishment and the demands of the law, from the curse and the coercion of the law.This is the same as saying that both forgiveness of sins and justification have been equally granted to him. The believer, as a person who has been justified, is no longer under the law. The law does not have to urge him on to anything anymore; it has nothing to demand of him anymore because its demands have been fulfilled by Christ. What motivates the Christian is love, which has its origin in faith and is the fruition of that faith, in short, the Holy Spirit. Faith, which by the grace of God is saturated with love, compels the believer of himself to do that which is good.

If, however, the law is still to be a norm for him to which he knows he is subject, to the observance of which he knows he is obligated, to whose command he knows he is bound, then this can happen only in so far as he has yet another side than that according to which he possesses the conviction of his justification, and in faith through the Holy Spirit also possesses the immanent principle of conduct well-pleasing to God. That is, the law applies as law only to the Old Man, who is still always present, to the sinful part of the believer, which has not yet been overcome and assimilated by the Spirit.

Gerhard expresses this as follows:

“The regenerate Christian, in so far as he is a Christian and regenerated, needs no law, namely, that drives and compels him, because he does good works on his own initiative. Since, however, he is not yet completely regenerated but is still partly under the old domination of the flesh, his stubborn flesh must be compelled by commands and threats and subjected to the rule of the spirit.”

Luther had already made essentially this same point against Agricola. So this teritus usus legis or normativus is very closely related to the paideuticus in that it has reference only to sin, to its subjection and elimination. Only sin, which is still continually present, makes such a positive norm necessary.

Reformed doctrine too is acquainted with this purposely negative use of the law. It likewise had reason to remind the antinomians that the believer and regenerate Christian is not yet perfect or free from everything sinful. But this significance of the law and the believer’s need for it is still not the complete statement of Reformed doctrine. It is merely the subordinate aspect of it. The law has a positive significance for the regenerate person as such, not just a negative one, in so far as he still has a side that has not yet been renewed. It must tell him what he as a believer and regenerate person must do. It must prescribe God’s will to him and encourage him to carry it out. Accordingly, the justified and regenerated person as such needs the law, and for this reason that, as we have seen before, he has to do good works and in doing the same has to work out his salvation.

The law is the rule of good works, as [Benedict] Pictet teaches:

[To be sure, the law] no longer has that use which it would have had in the state of innocence, where it would have been the means to obtain eternal life [this, by the way, is also a specifically Reformed idea of which the Scriptures say not a word— August Pieper], also with reference to justification. For believers are no longer under the curse of the law, but the law is not abolished; it is always the most perfect rule for morals. Christ and the apostles recommend the law, and without sanctification no one will see the face of God.

The Geneva Catechism states: “Why then are there so many admonitions, commands and exhortations, which both the prophets and apostles employ everywhere? They are nothing else than expositions of the law, which lead us to obey the law rather than away from it.” Lutherans speak here not of law (lex) but of [evangelical] admonition (mandatum), etc. Pictet says, “Christ has redeemed us from the yoke of the curse of the law but not from the necessity of rendering obedience to God.” It belongs to the kingly office of Christ to urge his people according to God’s eternal law. An abrogation of the moral law is not possible because “it is based for the most part on the natural justice of God. Other laws are based on the positive justice of God, which depends on the mere will of God.” [Anton] Hulsius too teaches similarly: “Nevertheless, while the use of the law does not cease, namely, that through it prior to faith the spirit of servitude might produce the beginnings of conversion, just as after faith, when the spirit of servitude has already been changed into the spirit of adoption, the same law is a mirror of gratitude for the liberation through Christ.” And [Peter van] Mastricht says, “The chief norm of obedience is the divine law” as “a prescription of duty under the threat of punishment for the scorner.” The obedience is “that part of spiritual life by which the Christian is inclined to carry out the will of God, with subjection through faith, to the glory of God.” Obedience has its origin “in the regenerating, converting and sanctifying grace of God, as well as in faith.”

It could not be expressed more definitely than this, namely, that the law applies to the believer as such, while Lutherans declare that the believer is free from the coercion (coactio) and threat (comminatio) of the law in that he as a believer voluntarily (sua sponte) does what is Godpleasing. Consequently, he does not need the external prod of a demanding law standing over him. Only because the believer as he is in this life (in concreto) is also something else besides a believer does the law still also apply to him to convict him of sin. The Reformed, on the other hand, let law apply to the believer because and in so far as he is a believer. For God wants nothing from us except that we follow the law, as the Geneva Catechism states; and because we can never follow it completely, it keeps pride down by means of its constant condemnations. “Finally, the law serves them as a curb by which they are kept in the fear of God.”

– Matthias (Max) Schneckenburger, “Vergleichende Darstellung des lutherischen und reformierten Lehrbegriffs” (A Comparative Presentation of the Lutheran and Reformed Concept of Doctrine), quoted in “The Difference Between The Reformed And The Lutheran Interpretation Of The So-Called Third Use Of The Law” by August Pieper

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