The Connection of the Law With the Gospel

There is a common question about how the Law of God and the Grace of God relate to one another. Some seem to wonder how they even co-exist. 

Spurgeon, though, when once asked how he reconciled the Law and the Gospel, replied:

“There is no need to reconcile friends.”

Granted, there is some tension between these two great Biblical themes. But there is an answer – a wonderful, glorious answer. 

Charles Bridges, a 19th Century Anglican pastor-theologian, takes up this  issue and offers some profound and practical answers in an essay titled: The Connection of the Law With the Gospel. 

Bridges’ language is a bit archaic, but with some effort most people should be able to grasp the richness of his insights. Having found it nowhere else on the web, I post his essay below for the benefit those willing to work through it.

But I have been thinking: Perhaps one day I will edit and translate this essay to language for our day… and post it again.


MR. [JOHN] NEWTON admirably remarks upon the importance of this subject:

‘Clearly to understand the distinction, connection, and harmony between the Law and the Gospel, and their mutual subserviency to illustrate and establish each other, is a singular privilege, and a happy means of preserving the soul from being entangled by errors on the right hand or the left!’’  

Some in the Apostle’s time “desired to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they said, nor whereof they affirmed.”  This seems to imply the importance, in a Christian teacher, of a clear understanding of the law in all its connections. And indeed the momentous matter of a sinner’s acceptance with God cannot be accurately stated without a distinct view of the subject. The Judaizing teachers of the Galatian Church, from misconception of this point, had “darkened the counsel” of God “by words without knowledge;” “bewitched” their “foolish” hearers from the simplicity of the Gospel; and-instead of establishing them “in the liberty, wherewith Christ had made them free” had well nigh “entangled them again with the yoke of bondage.”

I. The subject embraces an explicit statement of the difference between the law and the Gospel.

It was an axiom in the old schools of divinity –

‘Qui scit bene distinguere inter Legem et Evangelium, Deo gratias agat, et sciat se esse Theologum.’ 

There is much difference in the original revelation. The law, partially at least, (as in the case of the heathens,) is discoverable by the light of nature;  whereas the Gospel is “the hidden mystery of God,” which could only be known by the light of Revelation. We find, therefore, man in his natural state partially acquainted with the law; but wholly unacquainted with the Gospel.

There is also a difference in their respective regards to man. The law contemplates man as the creature of God, as he was at the period of its first promulgation -”standing perfect and complete in all the will of God.” The Gospel contemplates man as he is – a sinner, equally unable to obey, or to offer compensation for disobedience; guilty, condemned, helpless, lost.

They differ also in the power of their sanction. They both inform us what we ought to be and do. But the Gospel alone provides the necessary resources, in union with the Son of God, and participation of a heavenly life derived from him. Command is the characteristic of the law; as promise and encouragement is of the Gospel. In the one case, obedience is required on the penalty of death; in the other case it is encouraged by the promise of life. A promise is indeed attached to the obedience of the law, but placed beyond our reach, upon terms far more difficult than those of Adam’s covenant; inasmuch as he was endued with sufficient strength for perfect obedience, while we are entirely helpless for the lowest spiritual requirements. The Gospel on the other hand gives the promise freely, in order to obedience, as the principle and motive of it.

In its condemning power also, the law is widely different from the Gospel. As a valuable writer tersely observes:

  • ‘[T]he law condemns, and cannot justify, a sinner; the Gospel justifies, and cannot condemn, the sinner that believes in Jesus.
  • In the law, God appears in terrible threatenings of eternal death; in the Gospel, he manifests himself in gracious promises of life eternal.
  • In the former he curses, as on Mount Ebal; in the latter he blesses, as on Mount Gerizim.
  • In the one, he speaks in thunder, and with terrible majesty; in the other, with soft whispers, or “a still small voice.”
  • By the trumpet of the law he proclaims war with sinners; by the jubilee-trumpet of the gospel he publishes peace-”peace on earth, and good-will toward men.”
  • The law is a sound of terror to convinced sinners; the Gospel is a joyful sound, “good tidings of great joy.”
  • The former represents God as a God of wrath and vengeance; the latter as a God of love, grace and mercy.
  • The one presents him to sinners as “a consuming fire;” the other exhibits the precious blood of the Lamb, which quenches the fire of his righteous indignation.
  • That presents to the view of the sinner a throne of judgment; this “a throne of grace.”
  • Every sentence of condemnation in Scripture belongs to the law; every sentence of justification forms a part of the Gospel.  The law condemns a sinner for his first offense; but the Gospel offers him the forgiveness of all his offenses.’

Thus in every point of difference, “that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excels.”

II.  The harmony of the law with the Gospel is also a most important subject of our Ministration.

Though distinct, they are not opposite. As coming from the same source, they must ultimately meet in the same plan, and sub-serve the same end. Like the seemingly opposite perfections of their glorious Author, they harmonize in mutual subserviency in the Christian system.

The provisions of the Gospel are fully commensurate with the demands of the law.

  • Its righteousness fulfils the law as a covenant; Its grace obeys it as a rule.
  • Both have a commanding and condemning power.
  • Both combine to “bring the sinner to Christ”:
  • “the law indirectly -as a school-master,” showing his need of him.
  • the Gospel directly, exhibiting him in all points suitable to his need.

In this center of everlasting love, the “mercy” of the Gospel “and the truth” of the law “meet together.”  The “righteousness” of the law and the “peace” of the Gospel here “embrace each other.”   Both unite to endear the ways of God to us –

  • the law, as the instrument of conviction, teaching us to prize the grace of the Gospel;
  • the Gospel, as the principle of holiness, exciting us “to delight in the law of God after the inward man.”

The directive power of the law is in equal consonance with the spirit and end of the Gospel.

  • The grace of the Gospel regulates our heart and life by the rule of the law.
  • “Love,” which is “the fulfilling of the law,” is also the great end of the Gospel.
  • The Gospel dwells, only “where the law of God is written in the heart.”

Thus, as they are both parts of the same revelation, they unite in the same heart; and, though the offices of each are materially distinct, neither will be found separate from the other. 

As both are transcripts of the Divine mind and image, both must be hated or loved together.

  •  The hatred is the radical principle of the carnal mind.
  • The love is the mind of Christ, and the commencement of the service of heaven.

III.   The law as a preparation for the Gospel, is also a part of our Ministry.

The preaching of John [the Baptist] –partaking mainly of the character of the law– was ordained to prepare the way for Christ.  

The Epistle to the Romans -the most systematic scheme of Ministerial instruction- clearly sets forth this order of “dividing the word of truth.”  The Apostle speaks of us, “before faith came, as being under the law”-not left in imprisonment– but “shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” 

Thus “the law is our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith;” which Luther explains to mean –

that the law must be laid upon those that are to be justified, that they may be shut up in the prison thereof, until the righteousness of faith come -that, when they are cast down and humbled by the law, they should fly to Christ. The Lord humbles them, not to their destruction, but to their salvation.  For God wounds that he may heal again. He kills, that he may quicken again.

This appears to have been the uniform opinion of the church.

Augustine remarks:

‘The conscience is not to be healed, if it be not wounded. Thou preaches and presses the law, comminations, the judgment to come, with much earnestness and importunity. He which hears, if he be not terrified, if he be not troubled, is not to be comforted.’

The Reformers were evidently of this judgment. Tindal writes thus:

‘It becomes the preacher of Christ’s glad tidings, first, through the opening of the law, to prove all things sin, that proceed not of the Spirit, and of faith in Christ; and thereby to bring them unto the knowledge of himself, and of his misery and wretchedness, that he might desire help.’

Again – ‘Expound the law truly’– he writes to John Frith:

‘…to condemn all flesh, and prove all men sinners, and all deeds under the law, before mercy have taken away the condemnation thereof, to be sin, and damnable; and then, as a faithful Minister, set abroad the mercy of our Lord Jesus, and let the wounded consciences drink of the water of life. And thus shall your preaching be with power, and not as the hypocrites. And the Spirit of God shall work with you;  and all consciences shall bear record unto you that it is so.’

Luther has been already referred to. Calvin observes:

‘that the law is nothing else but a preparation for the Gospel.’

And elsewhere:

‘The faithful cannot profit in the Gospel, until they shall be first humbled; which cannot be, until they     come to the knowledge of their sins. It is the proper function of the law, to call the consciences into  God’s judgment, and to wound them with fear.’

Beza remarks briefly, but to the point:

‘Men are ever to be prepared for the Gospel, by the preaching of the law.’

Archbishop Usher, in reply to the question before us – ‘What order is there (in the Ministry) used in the delivery of the word, for the begetting of faith?’ answers:

‘First, the covenant of the law is urged, to make sin, and the punishment thereof, known; whereupon the sting of conscience pricks the heart with a sense of God’s wrath, and makes a man utterly to despair of any ability in himself to obtain everlasting life. After this preparation the promises of God are propounded,. whereupon the sinner, conceiving a hope of pardon, sueth to God for mercy.’

The ablest of the Puritan divines took this view of the subject. Mr. Perkins (one of the most systematic of them) speaks of the influence of the work of the law, as making way for the Gospel: 

‘And then,’ (says he) ‘succeeds seasonably and comfortably, the work of the Gospel.’

Mr. Bolton (one of the most eloquent and experienced Ministers of his day) observes:

‘Let the power of the law first break and bruise, which is a necessary preparative for the plantation of grace: and then pour in (and spare not) the most precious oil of the sweetest Evangelical comfort. But many, very many, :mar all with missing this method; either from want of sanctification in themselves, or skill to manage their Master’s business.’

Mr. Rogers of Dedham, (a most experimental Divine) speaks strongly on this view:

‘Let none speak against the preaching of  the law; for it is the wholesome way, that God himself and his servants in all ages have taken. The Law first humbles; then the Gospel comforts. None can prove that faith was wrought in an instant at first, without any preparation going before.’

Greenham, (of the same school, highly esteemed in his day) briefly writes:

‘When the word is administered in any power and sincerity, there doubtless the preaching of the law     strikes in, and the preaching of the Gospel brings us unto Christ.’

Another writer of consideration observes:

‘Such is the nature of man, that before I he can receive a true justifying faith, he must as it were, be broken in pieces by the law.

Gurnal expresses this view with his characteristic familiarity of illustration:

‘The sharp point of the law must prick the conscience, before the creature by the promises of the Gospel be drawn to Christ. The field is not fit for the seed to be cast into it, till the plough has broken it up; nor is the soul prepared to receive the mercy of the Gospel, till broken with the terrors of the law.’

We conclude this series of quotations with the full and decided testimony of Dr. [John] Owen, not more remarkable for his powerful defense of Christian doctrine, than for his deep insight into every part of experimental godliness:

‘Let no man think’ (says he) ‘to understand the Gospel, who knows nothing of the Law.

God’s constitution and the nature of things themselves have given the law the precedency with respect to sinners; “for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”

And Gospel faith is the soul’s acting according to the mind of God, for deliverance from that state and condition, which it is cast under by the law.

And all those descriptions of faith, which abound in the writings of learned men, which do not at least include in them a virtual respect unto this state and condition, or the work of  the law on the consciences of sinners, are all of them vain speculations.

There is nothing in this whole doctrine that I will more firmly adhere unto, than the necessity of the conviction mentioned, previous unto true believing; ” without which not one line of it can be understood aright; and men do but beat the air in their contention about it.’

These preparative operations of the law do not act in all cases with the same intensity. Yet some impression of guilt, as in the case of our fallen parents,  seems necessary to excite the desire, and to make way for the reception of the Gospel. We must, however, be careful not to load the sinner with threatenings, from an apprehension of a superficial work of contrition. The genuine spirit of humiliation is not the separate work of the law, but of the law preparatory to, and combined with, the Gospel – the sense of sin and misery connected with the hope of mercy.

Still less must we insist upon these preparatory exercises as meritorious, or as entrenching in any degree upon the unconditional freeness of the Gospel. They are needful, not as qualifications to recommend us, but as pre-dispositions to draw us to Christ. We must come to him, if at all, upon the terms of his own gracious invitation, “without money and without price.” But the sense of misery is the preparative for the remedy. “The whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.”

As Calvin remarks:

‘Christ is promised only to those, who are humbled and confounded with the sense of their own sins.’

The invitation is specially addressed to those “that labor and are heavy laden;” and none but such will “incline their ear and come.”

Mr. Newton observes, in the case of Mr. Grimshaw,

‘that a Minister walking with God in a conscientious improvement of the light received, deeply convinced under the law, and but imperfectly acquainted with the Gospel, is peculiarly qualified to preach with effect to ignorant and wicked people, whose habits of sin have been strengthened by a long disregard of the Holy Law of God, and who have had no opportunity of hearing the Gospel. They cannot at first receive, or even understand, that accurate and orderly statement and discussion of Evangelical truth, which renders Ministers, who are more advanced in knowledge, acceptable to judicious and enlightened hearers. But they feel a close and faithful application to their consciences, and are “persuaded,” by “the terror of the Lord” to “consider their ways,” before they are capable of being much influenced by the consideration of his tender mercies.

The Minister is sufficiently before them to point out the first steps in the way; and as he goes gradually forward, “growing in grace, and in the knowledge of the Savior,” they gradually follow him. Thus many of our most eminent Evangelical modern preachers were led.’

IV. We must not forget the establishment of the law by the Gospel.

The Apostle thus anticipates a feasible objection against his statement of justification:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law.”

The faith, or doctrine, of the Gospel “establishes the law”

  • in its covenant form – exhibiting a Divine Surety-ship of obedience to the law as the price for justification;
  • and in its directive form  -inculcating practical obligations upon a stronger foundation., and fulfilling them by the power of an heavenly life, and the impulse of evangelical motives.

Thus the offices of  Christ delightfully combine.

  • As our Surety, he delivers us from the curse of the law.
  • As our King, he brings us under its rule.

This Scriptural faith saves us from its condemnation, enables us for its requirements. Take away this principle and we are under the full penalty of the broken law; nor is  there any root, on which to engraft a corrupt tree, that it might bring forth good fruit.

Thus also, the grace of the Gospel “establishes the law” in its two-fold character. What the doctrine of faith reveals, the grace of faith applies; both for acceptance, as exposed to the penalty of the covenant; and for ability to exercise that “love, which is the fulfilling of the law.” Here, therefore, believing and doing, though opposed as light and darkness in the matter of justification, yet agree in the life and conduct of  the justified sinner.

Indeed, if “the law” be the transcript of the Divine image, and a perfect rule of righteousness; and if conformity to its precepts be the essence of holiness; how could the Gospel, as a subsequent revelation, “make void” its authority and obligation? But which part of the law does the Christian desire to “make void;” whether that, which inculcates love to God, or the corresponding obligation of love to his neighbor? Does he not rather wish both parts to be confirmed by additional obligations? And do not the doctrines and motives of the Gospel establish his cheerful habit of obedience?

The whole discussion will remind us of the importance of accurately distinguishing in our Ministry between the Law and Gospel; ‘that we, through the misunderstanding of the Scriptures, do not take the Law for the Gospel, nor the Gospel for the Law; but skillfully discern and distinguish the voice of the one from the voice of the other .’  This distinction is confounded, when the law is preached as in any measure the efficient cause of salvation; or when its requirements are inculcated, as if  to be performed in our own strength. This un-evangelical confusion of statement blocks up the way of free and immediate access to God, by interposing legal qualifications, as indispensable for the reception of the Gospel. Even sincere Christians sometimes look for their comfort more from obedience to the law than from the righteousness of the Gospel; and the continual disappointment brings them under “the spirit of bondage unto fear,” instead of rejoicing, and “standing fast in the liberty, wherewith Christ has made us free.”

Thus does this preaching “another Gospel” encourage a self-righteous temper, bring perplexity and distress to awakened consciences, and hinder consistency and establishment in the Gospel.

But while we preserve the distinction of the two, let us also maintain their mutual dependence and connection. ‘Worldly epicures and secure mammonists, to whom the doctrine of the law does properly appertain, do receive and apply to themselves most principally the sweet promises of the Gospel’ And therefore to preach the Gospel without the Law, would encourage self-delusion. On the other hand (as Luther beautifully observes)

‘As thunder without rain did more harm than good; so Ministers, that preach the terrors of the law, but do not, at the same time, drop in the dew of gospel instruction and consolation, are not “wise master-builders;” for they pull down, but build nothing up again.’

Our commission directs us to preach the Gospel under the solemn sanctions of law, and to preach the law under the gracious encouragements of the Gospel.

In fine-’This shows the ignorance and absurdity of those men, who cry down preaching the law, as a course leading to despair and discontentment, though we find by St. Paul, that it leads to Christ. To preach the law alone by itself, we confess, is to pervert the use of it: neither have we any power or commission so to do; for we have “our power for edification, and not for destruction.” It was published as an appendant to the Gospel, and so must it be preached. It was published “in the hand of a mediator,” and must be preached in the hand of a mediator. It was published evangelically, and it must be so preached. But yet we must preach the law, and that in its own fearful shapes; for, though it was published in mercy, it was published in thunder, fire, tempests, and darkness, even in the hand of a Mediator; for this is the method of the Holy Ghost, to convince first of sin, and then to reveal righteousness and refuge in Christ. The law is the forerunner, that makes room, and prepares welcome in the soul for Christ.’

2 thoughts on “The Connection of the Law With the Gospel

  1. Great Post Dennis. Although I’m still having to go back and reread parts it is good to see these different perspectives and quotes from various people.

    I’ve alwasy felt a friction between the law and Grace especially when reading the words of Jesus when He said “if you Love me, keep my Commandments” but then I don’t think he was talking about the Law specifically but things like John 13:34-35, and loving others & your Neighbor etc..

    No question we need to be obeident but only understanding even our obedience comes by Grace not out of our own power.

    Ok, then I ask myself about the verse (forget the address at the moment) but it says “for those who know to do right and don’t do it, to him it is sin!”

    So yes, this topic and the discussion presented is good to read and for me to reread again…

  2. Thought about this more…I think I’ve come to the conclusion that the law issue can be addressed this way.

    Love your neighbor as yourself. If we keep this as a primary thought and in combination with John 13:34-35 I think we begin to see that only Love fullfills the law.

    I could be wrong but I’m leaning this way for sure.

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