So many folks, when speaking about the law of God, want to paint it all one way or all another. They want it to be all our enemy or all our friend. As an enemy, the law of God shows us our impossible failings and sins. It drives us to our knees before a holy God. It ruins and destroys us, for it shows us to be miserable sinners. This “use” of the law is often called the “first use” of the law or the “pedagogical use” of the law. The friendliness of the law shows us the way of blessing. In this conception, the law reveals good things to us, as it shows us what pleases God and how we are to behave. This “use” of the law is sometimes called the “third use,” or the “normative use” of the law. (The “second,” or “civil use” of the law is one by which evil is restrained in society generally by threat of divine recompense and judgment. Sometimes the numbering of these uses differs, but the three distinct notions are all there, as I mentioned back here. Also, Reformed Reader has this.)
Now, Edwards speaks of these uses of the law (first and third, that is), and he uses some interesting terminology for them. Here’s what he says:
The next thing done towards the work of redemption, is God’s giving the moral law in so awful a manner at mount Sinai. This was another new step taken in this great affair [of redemption – TP]. Deut. 9:33: ‘Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?’ And it was a great thing, whether we consider it as a new exhibition of the covenant of works, or given as a rule of life. (Per. 1, Part 4, Sec. 3.)
So the first use, the pedagogical use of the law is seen as a “new exhibition” of the covenant of works (CoW). This is sometimes called the recapitulation of the CoW. This is interesting (at least to me), as Edwards links “recapitulation” with the first use of the law. These, it would seem, are one and the same. This makes sense, as anyone outside of Christ stands under the condemnation of the CoW, in their federal head, Adam. The law comes and rubs their noses in it. Then the good news of the Gospel comes to free them from that condemnation of the CoW. In the Gospel, we’re freed to serve Christ in accordance with his law. Edwards calls this the “rule of life,” as it is the path of blessing and life in fellowship with God. This is the third use of the law.
The law of God ought not be overly simplified, or made to fit just this mold or that one. Its uses are many – from the humbling of sinners to the instruction of God’s people in the way they should go. Thank God for his law!