Herman Bavinck on The purpose and function of the Law.

Before we even begin to think about the purpose and function of the law; What is a purpose and a function?  

Our local rabbit who came to say hello and have some lunch!


 Purpose: From my understanding a purpose is a reason for something:

The online Cambridge encyclopaedia gives us a whole list of definitions carrying many different shades of meaning;  https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/purpose

Function:  A function is do with action and something is achieved at the end of the process.

I found it interesting that Bavinck uses ‘Purpose or function’ not ‘purpose and function’ in his minor title to this section.  In society in general the law’s purpose is to regulate human activity and make the world a safer place to live in.  The law functions in such a way that those who break the law can be punished and or reformed in some way and become better citizens.   Bavinck in this very small section gives us three uses of law:

1.       Civil use

2.       Pedagogic or convicting use

3.       Teaching use among believers.  Taken from pages 226 -227

Note: Pedagogy is about the act of teaching

Civil use

Bavinck here says, “The law is a bridle that tames and restrains the raging animal Within people. People can no longer fulfil the law in a spiritual sense. However, they can bring their actions into conformity with the law. “ (Page 226-227)   Just because a person can keep the law externally, this does not mean that it reaches God’s standards.  This is a very important thrust in the teachings of Jesus.  Just because the law has been kept even like Paul could say he was blameless. (Philippians  3.6)  This is not good enough in God’s court.  This was the problem with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19.20:

The Rich Young Ruler

16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20 The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. Matthew 19:16-22 NASB

Even in the natural if you love a family member and they are ill, one would be willing to sell house and car to get the medicine to help the loved one.  What drives a lot of people in these sorts of circumstances is love.   The rich young ruler was not a bad man.  He really did keep all the commandments, but he loved his wealth more than God.  It was a stumbling block to him.   My friends we have the same stumbling blocks because of our materialism and greed.   As Bavinck says in this section that just because you can keep all the rules inside our hearts there can be a haughty and proud spirit when it comes ‘to legal virtue’. 

Note: It is important to put a an exegetical correction to the rich young ruler because it is so easy to misunderstand what Jesus is getting at.  Matthew 5 says,

“3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3”

This is the correction.  The whole thrust of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew is to show that in our own abilities we cannot reach God’s standards.  The starting point is by the root of faith, understand this within our own being.  It is only through God’s grace that we can reach God’s standards ‘in Christ’. 

Pedagogic or convicting use

Bavinck begins this passage by saying there are two areas we need to look at:

“Here the law functions in two ways:

·         first, it convicts us of sin (Rom. 3:19, 20; 4:15; 5:20; 7:7—20):

·         second, it convicts us of judgment and punishment (2 Cor. 3:7; Rom. 4:15; Heb. 12:29).

It is through the law that we become aware of the ideal that God desires concerning what we ought to be and will be.” (Page 227)

We are now going to look at these references and see what God is saying to us:

We are convicted of sin

Note: Convicted in this context is according to our conscience we find ourselves guilty before the divine court.

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:19-20


15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation. Romans 4:15


20 The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 5:20-21

7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.

The Conflict of Two Natures

14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. Romans 7:7-20


It convicts us of judgment and punishment (2 Cor. 3:7; Rom. 4:15; Heb. 12:29).

7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, 2 Corinthians 3:7

15 For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15

29 for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29


Teaching use among believers. 

17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfil. Matthew 5:17 NASB

Concerning this verse Bavinck says: This use “consists in the instruction and direction of all internal and external moral actions. Thus, the law is a perpetual rule of life, Matthew 5:17.” Page 227 As believers and students then, we continually learn from God’s Law.

What we have then covered over the last weeks has been a prolegomenon of the chapter preparing us to go deeper into understanding what the natural law is about. 


The use of the law falls into three categories in this section.  No person except Christ has managed to keep the law completely.  The law is not bad because God gave it.  We cannot keep the law but that does not mean that the law is bad.  It means that the law is doing what it was supposed to do.  So, we have covered the areas of; Author, Content, Object, Purpose and Use of the Law. 

Next time we are going to start to look at the natural law.  This is the law of nature, what we are born with.  We are coming to the end of Bavincks Book 1 on Reformed Ethics, and I am getting very excited as we move into the ethics of the Christian believer.   We live by faith, and ‘life in the Spirit’.   What does this actually mean.  In the coming weeks after I have finished Book1 on natural morality we will be diving into ‘Life in the Spirit’.   I know personally as I have grown spiritually and as a human being by reading and studying Bavinck’s writings.  On the side I also started to read his 4 volume Dogmatics. 

I hope that those of you who have followed my blog have also grown to be more like our Saviour Jesus Christ.   In today’s world we need someone like Herman Bavinck to show us what the Bible has to say about our beliefs.   Thanks for following my blog it is an open blog to everyone.  I hope and pray for those who have not come into a living relationship with our Lord that even if they don’t convert to the faith that there is more empathy towards Christians.  Better still is that you come into a true relationship with God through his Son our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.  For those who are believers already I pray and hope that your walk with God goes even deeper and that through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ you walk the walk and do the talk the talk of faith carried by the gift of grace. The Gospel of Matthew surely shows us that we have a deep need of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.   Let us then continually love God and love our neighbour (whoever they are including those who would want to harm us.)


Reformed Ethics volume 1; Herman Bavinck; edited by John Bolt; page 226-227

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