Lane asks us to consider the role of the Law, both for the believer, and for the unbeliever. While considering this question, I found it helpful to keep in mind the roles of the Gospel writers – especially Matthew’s author – in considering a Jewish audience while sharing the Good News of Christ’s redemption and the Kingdom of Heaven. This is especially relevant when we consider that Calvin argues salvation to be found only in Christ. In our attempts to be inclusive of various faith traditions today, we would find much of Calvin’s language unhelpful.
For all of us, Calvin essentially describes Mosaic Law as an unattainable standard of conduct, especially as it pertains to perfect worship of God and right relationship with God. Lane points us to later chapters (3.17) for a fuller explanation of how Christ alone becomes fulfillment of the Law.
For immediate use, however, Calvin seems to allow both believers and nonbelievers alike to share in the Law in two ways. First, the Law acts as a mirror (there’s that mirror language again) by which we can compare our unworthy selves to the high standards set by Mosaic Law. Second, all people, regardless of belief, can utilize the Law as a code of conduct. This second perspective blurs the line between civil/political laws and the Law of the Old Testament. Calvin argues that the Mosaic Law can be instructional, and a path towards belief for nonbelievers. It is this sentiment he captures when he says creation of the Law was, “not done to lead the chosen people away from Christ; but rather to hold their minds in readiness until his coming,” (2.7.1)
For believers alone, though, Calvin speaks of the Law being written on our hearts. This sounds to me like the Rastafarian notion of the second half of scripture being written on our hearts – an additional, intangible truth that believers share in common. To Calvin, this shared value system is a moral standard to hold in constant comparison to our own actions and desires.
All of this reminds me of the tension held in Matthew as Christ’s role and person are described to a Jewish society. Matthew goes to great trouble to promote Jesus as an extension of Jewish tradition. John the Baptist recalls Isaiah as he announces Christ’s coming. Christ then describes himself as the fulfillment of the Law. In these ways, the author creates a theology of Mosaic Law realized in Jesus. Matthew as a text is careful to honor Jewish tradition just as it lifts up Jesus as the one true path to faith.
Calvin seems to be carrying this same tension as he describes our ongoing duty to honor the Law. In some sense, his recognition of the Law stops short of an ongoing usefulness for “modern” application. Calvin seems to find a peaceful middle ground between deification of the Law and abandonment of it by allowing it to be a grounding – if limited – connection to our faith roots. By claiming Christ as the only true fulfillment of the Law, Calvin sounds to me like Matthew; he is allowing for ancient tradition, but landing on Christ to carry us to the Kingdom.