It is hard to overstate how excited we are about this year’s Mockingbird conference main speaker, Michael Horton. Through his work as the Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Ca, editor of Modern Reformation and host of The White Horse Inn radio program, he has encouraged, educated and inspired countless people around the world to, in the words of the apostle Peter “be prepared with a ready defense for the hope you have within you” (1 Peter 3:15). I can think of few other people whose work and ministry more embodies the intention of this verse, because with Mike, you are not hearing theology expounded for any other reason than to help people deepen the confidence in the message of the Gospel—of God’s saving Grace for sinners. Through his work, he has helped emphasize the all important distinction between law and gospel and helped countless people finally come to realize, as he often says, that the gospel is not about what God does in you, but about what he has done for you in Christ. As we lead up to the conference, I will be posting quotes and links to his work, because to say that we consider him a brother-in-arms is an understatement. Here is just a taste of what you are in for come April; do yourself a favor and register today!
The following excerpts are from The Law & The Gospel, by Michael Horton:
In order to recover the sufficiency of Scripture we must once again learn to distinguish the Law and the Gospel as the “two words” of Scripture. . . At the heart of the reformation’s hermeneutics was the distinction between “Law” and “Gospel.” For the Reformers, this was not equivalent to “Old Testament” and “New Testament;” rather, it meant, in the words of Theodore Beza, “We divide this Word into two principal parts or kinds: the one is called the ‘Law,’ the other the ‘Gospel.’ For all the rest can be gathered under the one or other of these two headings.” The Law “is written by nature in our hearts,” while “What we call the Gospel (Good News) is a doctrine which is not at all in us by nature, but which is revealed from Heaven (Mt. 16:17; John 1:13).” The Law leads us to Christ in the Gospel by condemning us and causing us to despair of our own “righteousness.” “Ignorance of this distinction between Law and Gospel,” Beza wrote, “is one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity.”. .
. . . Without this constant emphasis in preaching, one can never truly worship or serve God in liberty, for his gaze will always be fastened on himself–either in despair or self-righteousness–rather than on Christ. Law and Gospel must both ever be preached, both for conviction and instruction, but the conscience will never rest, Calvin says, so long as Gospel is mixed with Law. “Consequently, this Gospel does not impose any commands, but rather reveals God’s goodness, his mercy and his benefits.” This distinction, Calvin says with Luther and the other Reformers, marks the difference between Christianity and paganism: “All who deny this turn the whole of the Gospel upside down; they utterly bury Christ, and destroy all true worship of God.”
. . . In our day, these categories are once again confused in even the most conservative churches. Even where the categories of psychology, marketing and politics do not replace those of Law and Gospel, much of evangelical preaching today softens the Law and confuses the Gospel with exhortations, often leaving people with the impression that God does not expect the perfect righteousness prescribed in the Law, but a generally good heart and attitude and avoidance of major sins. A gentle moralism prevails in much of evangelical preaching today and one rarely hears the Law preached as God’s condemnation and wrath, but as helpful suggestions for a more fulfilled life. In the place of God’s Law, helpful tips for practical living are often offered. (In one large conservative church in which I preached recently, the sermon was identified in the program as “Lifestyle Perspectives.” Only occasionally was one reminded that it was a church service and not a Rotary meeting.) . . .
. . . When the Law is softened into gentle promises and the Gospel is hardened into conditions and exhortations, the believer often finds himself in a deplorable state. For those who know their own hearts, preaching that tries to tone down the Law by assuring them that God looks on the heart comes as bad news, not good news: “The heart is deceitful above all things…” (Jer. 17:9). Many Christians have experienced the confusion of Law and Gospel in their diet, where the Gospel was free and unconditional when they became believers, but is now pushed into the background to make room for an almost exclusive emphasis on exhortations. Again, it is not that exhortations do not have their place, but they must never be confused with the Gospel and that Gospel of divine forgiveness is as important for sinful believers to hear as it is for unbelievers. Nor can we assume that believers ever progress beyond the stage where they need to hear the Gospel, as if the Good News ended at conversion. For, as Calvin said, “We are all partly unbelievers throughout our lives.” We must constantly hear God’s promise in order to counter the doubts and fears that are natural to us.
So say we all.