Herman Bavinck on the differences between Law and Gospel




Temporary Eternal
Designed for one people Carried to all people
Imperfect Perfect
Shadow and example Substance of the good things to come
Fostered fear and servitude Generates love and freedom
Could not fully justify Enables recipients to keep God’s commandments
Conferred no riches of grace Confers the power of grace
Gave no eternal salvation Gives eternal life
The incomplete gospel The complete law
Demand Gift
Command Promise
Sin Grace
Sickness Healing
Death Life
Proceeds from God’s holiness Proceeds from God’s grace
Known from nature Known from special revelation
Demands perfect righteousness Grants perfect righteousness
Leads people to eternal life by works Produces good works from the riches of eternal life granted by faith
Presently condemns people Acquits people
Addresses itself to all people Addresses itself to those who live within its hearing
Eternal Temporary
Power of sin to death Power of God to salvation

(Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, IV, 452, 453, 455, 458)

Careful readers will note something of a contradiction in this listing. The second pair and the third to last pair seem to be at odds with one another. This apparent disagreement is reconciled when one considers the pair: “Known from nature” and “Known from special revelation.” The Law as the five books of Moses and the entire Old Testament were indeed “designed for one people.” But the law as the knowledge that there is a God and that he will judge all men is known to all men everywhere. So now the Gospel is that special revelation that demands to be published abroad to all people. All people know they need a restored relation with God, whether by Law or law, but it is only the Gospel that reveals how the relationship may be restored.

What of the disagreement between the very first pair and the second to last pair? Bavinck writes, The gospel is temporary; the law is everlasting and precisely that which is restored by the gospel. Freedom from the law, therefore, does not mean that Christians no longer have anything to do with that law, but that the law can no longer demand anything from them as a condition for salvation and can no longer judge and condemn them.

While the New Covenant has been inaugurated how we long for its consummation when the proclamation of the gospel will no longer be necessary, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.



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