The Second Use Of The Law As Understood In The Westminster Assembly’s Scottish Context -- By: Richard C. Gamble

Journal: Reformed Presbyterian Theological Journal
Volume: RPTJ 01:1 (Fall 2014)
Article: The Second Use Of The Law As Understood In The Westminster Assembly’s Scottish Context
Author: Richard C. Gamble


The Second Use Of The Law As Understood In The Westminster Assembly’s Scottish Context

Richard Gamble

Professor of Systematic Theology
Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Introduction: Since this presentation concerns the second use of the law- we should agree as to what the law’s “second use” means. To underline the importance of a proper definition, turn to a contemporary blog to observe its misuse. A former colleague from the south addressed a controversy within the PCA, and asked: “So, what’s really going on here? I wonder if the real missing distinction here is not the distinction between law and gospel, but the distinction between the second use and third use of the law [original italics]. The clear focus of pastor [name withdrawn]’s response article was on the “second use” of God’s moral law, namely that the law functions to expose our sinfulness, reveal our failure, and to drive us to Christ.” The colleague added: “Put differently, the law is not just something that condemns (second use), but it is also, for the believer, a necessary guide to holiness (third use).” He concluded: “If one thinks mainly in “second use” categories, then [the article’s] call to obedience might sound like a call to legalism.”

Notice the professor’s definition of the second use of the law: he says that it exposes our sinfulness, reveals our failure, and condemns. While the law does so function, this learned colleague is not speaking of the second use of the law at all- but in fact of the first. Thus, when a Seminary professor in the midst of theological controversy can be mistaken, such writing underlines the contemporary relevance for proper terms and categories.

Reformed theology defines the first use of the law as the rule of God’s judgment over men.1 The first use of the law, operative before conversion, is sometimes called the “pedagogical” use. It is the law as a standard for righteousness that crushes and condemns us because of our sin. The second use of the law, this presentation’s topic, is the restraint of sin. The third use of the law is the guide for the righteous walk of the believer.2

In fact, the first and the third uses of the law are much easier to understand and apply than is the second. This paper will try to demonstrate the beauty of the second use so that we view it like the sweet middle of an Oreo cookie! Having briefly defined the terms, let’s turn to the Westminster Standards’ analysis.

I. Definition Of Second Use Of Law In The Westminster Standards.

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