Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

The Four Uses of the Law

On pp. 119-20 of his Enchiridion Theologicum, Niels Hemmingsen claims that there are two types of passages, or “testimonies” (testimonia) in Scripture about justification and good works, one “legal” (Legalis) and the other “evangelical” (Evangelicus).

The “legal” has to do with justification before God on the basis of the Law (i.e., by perfect obedience), together with the Law’s promises and threats. For fallen man, it is impossible to be justified in this way. The Scriptural testimonies regarding legal justice, or justice according to the Law (iusticia legalis), nevertheless have several uses; and these uses in their various ways have reference both to the unregenerate and to the regenerate. Hemmingsen, in fact, finds four such uses:

“For those testimonies that have to do with justice1 according to the Law [iusticiae legalis] first of all teach what sort of justice can stand before the tribunal of God–namely, full and perfect obedience to the Law. Next, they place our defilement before our eyes–we who are so wrapped up in [our] sins2 that we are not able to manifest obedience to God according to His Law. Third, those testimonies warn us to seek justice elsewhere, unless we prefer to perish, and thus in a way send us to Christ, who is the perfection3 of the law unto justice for everyone who believes. Fourth, those testimonies admonish us who have obtained the justice of Christ to begin to manifest new obedience according to the law–[an obedience] that we shall manifest fully in eternal life, where God will be all in all.”4 

  1. Throughout, “justice” could also be translated as “righteousness”; I retain Hemmingsen’s Latin term with a Latinate translation.
  2. Or “overwhelmed/covered by [our] sins.”
  3. Perfectio. Cf. Romans 10:4 (Vulg.): finis enim legis Christus ad iustitiam omni credenti.
  4. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

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