Lutheran Quarterly

Autumn 2023 Featured Essay – Freedom from the Law and the Experimental “Third Use” – by Steven Paulson

A third use of the law was a thought experiment that appearedas a side issue in annotations on scripture from the great Preceptor—Philip Melanchthon.

His students, who composed nearly the whole second generation of Lutherans, took the formula from the school into the congregation and applied it to living sinners to determine what it would do.

Would it guide them to align their wills with God’s will in the form of the pure, perfect law? The reports varied and one would have to conclude the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the treatment.

Do “the reborn,” who still have flesh clinging to them, need a “sure guide” to orient and conduct their lives? No doubt they do as far as the old creature is concerned. Whether or not the reborn—as new creatures—are improved by this guide is open for debate, as the Formula of Concord VI acknowledges.

Yet the question remains: is the law in this particular formulation “to be urged upon the reborn Christians or not?”1 The only sure conclusion is to reject any thought of preaching law only to the unbaptized; Christians (including those who truly believe!) must also hear the law.

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