Chapter 13 – Of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the Promises, and of the Spirit and Letter
The Ancients Had Evangelical Promises. The Gospel, is indeed, opposed to the law. For the law works wrath and announces a curse, whereas the Gospel preaches grace and blessing. John says: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Yet not withstanding it is most certain that those who were before the law and under the law, were not altogether destitute of the Gospel. For they had extraordinary evangelical promises such as these are: “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpentâ€™s head” (Gen. 3:15). “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). “The scepter shall not depart from Judah . . . until he comes” (Gen. 49:10). “The Lord will raise up a prophet from among his own brethren” (Deut. 18:15; Acts 3:22), etc.
The Promises Twofold. And we acknowledge that two kinds of promises were revealed to the fathers, as also to us. For some were of present or earthly things, such as the promises of the Land of Canaan and of victories, and as the promise today still of daily bread. Others were then and are still now of heavenly and eternal things, namely, divine grace, remission of sins, and eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Fathers Also Had Not Only Carnal but Spiritual Promises. Moreover, the ancients had not only external and earthly but also spiritual and heavenly promises in Christ. Peter says: “The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation” (1 Peter 1:10). Wherefore the apostle Paul also said: “The Gospel of God was promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures” (Rom. 1:2). Thereby it is clear that the ancients were not entirely destitute of the whole Gospel.
What Is the Gospel Properly Speaking? And although our fathers had the Gospel in this way in the writings of the prophets by which they attained salvation in Christ through faith, yet the Gospel is properly called glad and joyous news, in which, first by John the Baptist, then by Christ the Lord himself, and afterwards by the apostles and their successors, is preached to us in the world that God has now performed what he promised from the beginning of the world, and has sent, nay more, has given us his only Son and in him reconciliation with the Father, the remission of sins, all fullness and everlasting life. Therefore, the history delineated by the four Evangelists and explaining how these things were done or fulfilled by Christ, what things Christ taught and did, and that those who believe in him have all fullness, is rightly called the Gospel. The preaching and writings of the apostles, in which the apostles explain for us how the Son was given to us by the Father, and in him everything that has to do with life and salvation, is also rightly called evangelical doctrine, so that not even today, if sincerely preached, does it lose its illustrious title.
Of the Spirit and the Letter. That same preaching of the Gospel is also called by the apostle “the spirit” and “the ministry of the spirit” because by faith it becomes effectual and living in the ears, nay more, in the hearts of believers through the illumination of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:6). For the letter, which is opposed to the Spirit, signifies everything external, but especially the doctrine of the law which, without the Spirit and faith, works wrath and provokes sin in the minds of those who do not have a living faith. For this reason the apostle calls it “the ministry of death.” In this connection the saying of the apostle is pertinent: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” And false apostles preached a corrupted Gospel, having combined it with the law, as if Christ could not save without the law. (Second Helvetic Confession)