This morning I am reading Luther's Postal for New Year's Day from Galatians 3:23-29. He begins the postal, "This is a truly Pauline Epistle, written about faith against works..." Of course, I am thinking, "classic Luther." And then I was expecting to read a lot about the law-gospel dichotomy. However, I was surprised by what I read a few pages later, and I am interested in what others think on this.
I was theologically "raised-up" believing that Luther did not have a "third-use" of the law, unlike us Reformed folk.
R.C. Sproul helpfully and succinctly defines them thus:
The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.”2 The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.
A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.”3 The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.
The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.
This is close to my understanding. And it is also supposedly different from what Luther thought. But this is what Luther says in his New Year's Postal that has me wondering if we understand Luther correctly:
"Second, [we see] that this is a threefold use of the Law -- or that people take a threefold attitude toward it. The first are those who risk everything and lead shameful lives against it; for them, it is as if there were no Law [See Sproul's first use. The shameful life is only known to be shameful in light of God's righteousness. Cf. Rom 7:7]. The second are those who refrain from such a dissolute life and are preserved in an honorable life; they are under discipline outwardly, but inwardly they are hostile to their guardian [the law], and all their thing happen out of fear of death and hell. Thus they keep the Law only outwardly, and the Law keeps them outwardly, but inwardly they do not keep it and are not kept by it [See Sproul's second use. The law is a fence.]. The third are those who keep it outwardly and inwardly; they are the tablets of Moses, written outwardly and inwardly by the finger of God Himself [Exod. 31:18]."
This third "attitude" towards the law, as Luther says, sounds quite Reformed, or less anachronistically, proto-Reformed (?). However, would it be more correct to say in light of this that Calvin was a Luther-ite (and in light of Luther's treatise on The Bondage of the Will, also)? I do not say Lutheran, because Lutherans are not Luther-ites - they are Melanchthonians. It is a question of mine.