Theodore Beza: Similarities and Differences Between the Law and Gospel

2940013596092_p0_v1_s260x420In The Select Works of Theodore Beza, Theodore Beza divides the Word (Books of the Old and New Testament) into two principal parts. One called the “Law” and the other “Gospel”. The Law, for Beza, is a doctrine whose seed is written in our hearts by nature. But this Law is written in the Bible so that we can have a more exact knowledge of it. This list of the two tables (10 Commandments) are a summary of the obedience and perfect righteousness we owe to God and our neighbor. The terms: perpetual life for those who keep the Law perfectly and death for those who do not. (Deut 30:15-20; James 2:10)

While the Law is known to us because it’s written on our hearts by nature, the Gospel is not at all in us by nature. The Gospel is revealed from heaven (Matt 16:17; John 1:13) and “surpasses natural knowledge”. It is through the Gospel that God proclaims to us that he has intended to save us freely by Jesus (Rom 3:20-22) by faith. Jesus must be trusted on for our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor 1:30). Through the Gospel proclamation God not only testifies all of this to us, but by his grace he renews us in way that we can embrace those benefits freely offered (1 Cor. 2:4).

Beza rightly argues that an improper understanding of this was one of the main reasons for the corruption in Christianity. In judgment, God has blinded some to never seriously consider the curse of the Law. And therefore, they would also consider the Gospel as a second Law that was more perfect than the first, basically taking away any benefit of Christ.

The Law and the Gospel are both from God. The Law is not abolished by the Gospel but the Law establishes the essence of the Gospel (Rom 10:2-4). Both the Law and the Gospel set before us the same God and essence of righteousness (Rom 3:31) that of perfect love to God and our neighbor.

1. When God gave the Law in the 10 commandments he is not creating a new law, but restoring a knowledge of the natural law that we already were in possession of but hardened our hearts to because of our sinful nature. (Rom 7:8-9)

The Gospel is first revealed to Adam in Gen. 3:15 and then progresses through the testimony of Scripture (Rom 1:2; Luke 1:55, 70) till it is manifested ultimately in Jesus. The Gospel is only announced through the preaching instituted in the Church of Christ (John 17:18; Matt 28:20; 2 Cor 5:20).

2. While the Law presents the justice of God, the Gospel shows that the justice is satisfied in the person and work of Christ (Heb. 12:22-24).

3. The law sends us to ourselves to accomplish this righteousness it demands to escape our guilt. And therefore, it shows us our infirmity and brings us in bondage to it (Rom 3:20; Gal 3:10-12). Whereas the Gospel shows us where we can find this righteousness and how to enjoy it.

The Law says you are blessed by doing it perfectly. The Gospel announces salvation (deliverance and removal of guilt) when we believe. We believe, when we take, by faith, Jesus the Son of God, who has all we need and more.

4. The Law by itself can only show us and make us see our sin. It reveals to us how sinful we are. It isn’t that we don’t know the Law but because of our depravity we are hardened to it. Thus the Law functions to show us how depraved we truly are. This Law brings about a knowledge that only increases our condemnation. The Law itself is not bad. It is actually good. But the problem is in our corrupt nature that goes more to sin when it is rebuked and threatened (Rom 7:7-14).

The Gospel however, shows us our remedy and as it is accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit in our regeneration. The Holy Spirit, as Beza says, creates in the regenerate the “instrument and sole means of applying to us this remedy”. (Acts 26:17,18)

So it is demonstrated that the Law and Gospel are not contrary to each other concerning the essence of the righteousness that is required to be accepted by God for eternal life. But they are contrary in the way we can have this righteousness. The Law does not take into account our ability to do it only that we must (Gal 3:12). The standard of righteousness does not change, man therefore must change. But it is the Gospel that tells us how we can satisfy this righteous requirement. It is through Jesus, who has placed himself in our place and paid our debt (Col 2:13,14). That Law that was once leaning over us now confirms us and we are accepted as we are in Christ. Eternal life is promised to those who obey the law perfectly. And we are, by faith, in Christ the righteous. He has fulfilled all righteousness and therefore, salvation cannot fail those united and incorporated with Jesus.