Foundation for Reformed Theology
John Calvin
In This Email
§ 36. Ethics as a Task of the Doctrine of God
§ 37. The Command as the Claim of God
§ 38. The Command as the Decision of God
§ 39. The Command as the Judgment of God
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In fulfillment of our mission to promote the study of Reformed theology for the building up of the church of Jesus Christ, and as a part of our work to provide for better preaching, better teaching, and better pastoral care, we are continuing to encourage all who will to read through Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics.

A three year plan for reading through these 9,000 pages at a pace of ten pages per day for ten months each year has been posted on our website at this link:

 Barth's Dogmatics in 2010-2012

Of course, the plan may be easily adjusted for any start date or any pace.

Today's email, one in a series, contains a few quotations and observations from Volume II, "The Doctrine of God," second half-volume (or part two), Chapter VIII, "The Command of God," paragraphs 36 through 39, in case they might be of help to you in your reading.

Thank you for your interest. I look forward to hearing back from you.


As the doctrine of God's command, ethics interprets the Law as the form of the Gospel, i.e., as the sanctification which comes to man through the electing God. Because Jesus Christ is the holy God and sanctified man in One, it has its basis in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Because the God who claims man for Himself makes Himself originally responsible for him, it forms part of the doctrine of God. Its function is to bear primary witness to the grace of God in so far as this is the saying engagement and commitment of man. (II.2, 509)

1. The Command of God and the Ethical Problem (II.2, 509)

"In the true Christian concept of the covenant of God with man the doctrine of the divine election of grace is the first element [Chapter VII, 32-35], and the doctrine of the divine command is the second [Chapter VIII, 36-39]. It is only in this concept of the covenant that the concept of God can itself find completion. For God is not known and is not knowable except in Jesus Christ. He does not exist in His divine being and perfections without Jesus Christ, in whom He is both very God and very man. He doe3s not exist, therefore, without the covenant with man which as made and executed in his name." (II.2, 509)

"To say divine election, to say predestination, is to name in one word the whole content of the Gospel, its sum." (II.2, 510)

"It is as He makes Himself responsible for man the God makes man, too, responsible. Ruling grace is commanding grace. The Gospel itself has the form and fashion of the Law. The one Word of God is both Gospel and Law. It is not Law by itself and independent of the Gospel. But it is also not Gospel without Law. It its content, it is Gospel; in its form and fashion, it is Law. . . . As the one Word of God which is the revelation and work of His grace reaches us, its aim is that our being and action should be conformed to His." (II.2, 511-512)

"This makes it plain that ethics belongs not only to dogmatics in general but to the doctrine of God." (II.2, 512)

2. The Way of Theological Ethics (II.2, 543)

"We are asking who and what is man in the Word of God and according to the Word of God, that is, the man elected, received and accepted by God in Jesus Christ, and therefore, as such, the recipient of the divine command. We find this man in the person of Jesus Christ himself." (II.2, 549)  


As God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, His command is the claim which, when it is made, has power over us, demanding that in all we do we admit that what God does is right, and requiring that we give our free obedience to this demand. (II.2, 552)

1. The Basis of the Divine Claim (II.2, 552)

"It is the God in whom we may believe, and He alone, who calls us in such a way the we must not only hear but obey; who orders us in such a way that in all freedom we must recognise the force of His order; who claims us in such a way that the claim is valid and we necessarily find ourselves claimed. The power of the imperative about which we enquire is to be found in the fact that we may believe." (II.2, 556)

"God has given us himself. He is not only mighty over us. He is not only the essentially good. He is not only our complete satisfaction. He has given Himself to us. He has graciously turned to us. He has made Himself ours. With His divine goodness He has taken our place and taken up our cause. He is for us in all His deity. Although He could be without us-He did not and does not will to be without us." (II.2, 557)

"All of this is actual in Jesus Christ. The Law is completely enclosed in the Gospel. It is not a second thing alongside and beyond the gospel. It is not a foreign element which precedes or only follows it. It is the claim which is addressed to us by the Gospel itself and as such, the Gospel in so far as it has the form of a claim addressed to us, the Gospel which we cannot really hear except as we obey it." (II.2, 557)

"For the grace of God in Jesus Christ is the proclamation and establishment of His authority over man. . . . The fact that God is gracious to us does not mean that He becomes soft, but that He remains absolutely hard, that there is no escaping His sovereignty and therefore His purpose for man. To know His grace is to know this sovereignty." (II.2, 560)

"The God who is the basis of the ethical claim [is] the God in whom we may believe, the God who is gracious to us in Jesus Christ. . . . He has spoken of the good by doing it; He has spoken of Himself by delivering Himself up for us. It is in this that He is God. This is his majesty. This is how He maintains and proves His authority over man. The Law is valid because God Himself is the does of the Law, because God orders and only orders on the basis of the fact that He Himself has given and realised and fulfilled what He orders." (II.2, 565)

2. The Content of the Divine Claim (II.2, 566)

"The grace of God--wherever it is actualised and revealed--has teleological power. It is not exhausted by the fact that God is good to us. As He is good to us, He is well-disposed towards us. And as such, He wills our good. The aim of the grace actualised and revealed in God's covenant with man, is the restoration of man to the divine likeness and therefore to fellowship with God in eternal life." (II.2, 566)

"It is the grace of God which is attested to us by the claim of God. The grace of God wills and creates the covenant between God and man. It therefore determines man to existence in this covenant. It determines him to be the partner of God. It therefore determines his action to correspondence, conformity, uniformity with God's action." (II.2, 575)

"What God wants of us and all men is that we should believe in Jesus Christ. . . . The essence of faith is simply to accept as right what God does, to do everything and all things on the presupposition that God's action is accepted as right." (II.2, 583)

3. The Form of the Divine Claim (II.2, 583)

"The form by which the command of God is distinguished from all other commands, the special form which is its secret even in the guise of another command, consists in the fact that it is permission-the granting of a very definite freedom. . . . We have to believe in Jesus Christ, and in and with the fact that we live in this faith to do the right. The command of this Commander is a permission." (II.2, 585)

"Obligation--the obligation of the real command--means permission. That is the first point. But the second is that permission-the permission which is the proper inmost form of the divine command-also means obligation." (II.2, 602)   


Barth gives an exposition of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-31 in a footnote covering pp. 613-630.  


As God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, His command is the sovereign, definite and good decision concerning the character of our actions-the decision from which we derive, under which we stand and to which we continually move. (II.2, 631)

1. The Sovereignty of the Divine Decision (II.2, 631)

"That God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ is the divine decision about our whole being, what we do and do not do. This is the will of God for us. In virtue of this will He has taken the initiative from all eternity and in the heart of time, making Himself responsible for our relationship to Him and participation in His glory. This is His will for us at every moment of our lives. The divine command is the witness to this will. It requires our obedience, i.e., that we should live in this surrender to God which He both wills and effects. It requires the witness of our will and actions as the praise of His great love." (II.2, 632)

"It is in the use of our freedom that we give an account how we stand in the sight of Goid, and are pierced to the depths by the searching glance of God." (II.2, 634)

"It is the idea of responsibility which gives us the most exact definition of the human situation in face of the absolute transcendence of the divine judgment. We live in responsibility, which means that our being and willing, what we do and what we do not do, is a continuous answer to the Word of God spoken to us as a command. It takes place always in a relationship to the norm which confronts us and transcends us in the divine command. It is continually subject to an enquiry concerning its correspondence with this norm. It is always an answer to this enquiry. Man does not belong to himself. He dos not exist in a vacuum. He is not given over to the caprice of an alien power, nor to his own self-will." (II.2, 641)

"The Church is most faithful to its tradition, and realises its unity with the Church of every age, when, linked but not tied by its past, it to-day searches the Scriptures and orientates its life by them as though this had to happen to-day for the first time." (II.2, 647)

2. The Definiteness of the Divine Decision (II.2, 661)

"That God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ means a total divine claim to our obedience and a total decision concerning good and evil in the choice of our decisions. It means our total responsibility. For the love of God in Jesus Christ intends and seeks and wills us in our totality. The work of atonement accomplished in Jesus Christ refers to the whole of our lives. And therefore our gratitude for the divine love and its work can only be a wholehearted gratitude." (II.2, 662)

"My decision--the human ethical decision--is whether in my conduct I shall correspond to the command which encounters and confronts me in the most concrete and pointed way, whether I shall be obedient or disobedient to is, whether I, for my part, shall meet it according to my election (the election of Jesus Christ) as a believer or an unbeliever." (II.2, 669)

"God's faithfulness is greater than our unfaithfulness." (II.2, 671)

"His purpose and action in the story of the covenant of grace to which the Bible bears witness is the mercy for the sake of which and in the strength of which He draws man to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, in which He Himself becomes man in order to execute on man the just judgment of sin, that man bay be pure and free and blessed, to give man over to death that he may come to a new life which is life indeed." (II.2, 677)

Barth gives an exposition of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon of the Mount in a footnote covering pp. 683-700.

3. The Goodness of the Divine Decision (II.2, 708)

"We understand by goodness the sum of all that is right and friendly and wholesome: the three taken together. . . . God and His command are good in the full sense of the term-genuinely and truly good." (II.2, 708)

"What is commanded is always and everywhere that we should allow ourselves to be summoned to penitence by His goodness." (II.2, 713)

Barth gives an exposition of Romans 12 and following in three footnotes covering pp. 713-716, 717-726, and 728-732.

"Because the command of God is good, this means that, in spite of all the diversity of its claims on men it unites them. . . . To hear and obey the command of God is always to be on the way to fellowship." (II.2, 717)  


As God is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, He judges us. He judges us because it is His will to treat us as His own for the sake of His own Son. He judges us as in His Son's death He condemns all our action as transgression, and by His Son's resurrection pronounces us righteous. He judges us in order that He may make us free for everlasting life under His lordship. (II.2, 733)

1. The Presupposition of the Divine Judgment (II.2, 733)

"In the doctrine of God the concept of the divine judgment brings us, as it were, to the reverse side of the concept of the eternal decree of the election of grace at the beginning of all the ways and works of God. The judgment of God in His command is the sum of every earthly realisation of this decree, its temporal explanation and revelation. What God wills with and for and from man takes place as He judges him in His command. But this event is, in fact, identical with that of the atonement. From this final point in the doctrine of God we thus look forward already to the centre of all Christian truth, and therefore of all Church dogmatics." (II.2, 733)

"To hear the command of God means then, first and decisively, to hear that God is our God, and that we are His Israel, His Church. . . . The man who does not hear this original Yes of the command does not hear it at all. But, again, the man who does hear it is already justified in the judgment. The command is fulfilled so far as he is concerned." (II.2, 735)

"God judges us, and gives us nothing, because He has given us everything in His Son Jesus Christ. he has given us Himself, and direct fellowship with Him. It is in Him that He judges us." (II.2, 736)

2. The Execution of the Divine Judgment (II.2, 742)

"The first result of man's confrontation with God's command is that he is proved relentlessly and irrefutably to be its transgressor." (II.2, 742)

"We cannot transgress more heinously against the command than by not admitting its accusation, for it is the blackest of all sins to try to deny that we are sinners. . . . Grace is the secret of the command, and except in the light of this secret it cannot be understood how strong and radical its claim and its decision are; nor can it be know that we are put wholly in the wrong by the command." (II.2, 746, 747)

"The death of Jesus Christ is this act of divine proof, the execution of the judgment." (II.2, 748)

"We can really comprehend that we are in the wrong before God only in light of the fact that God will put us in the right in His judgment, that He is gracious to us in Jesus Christ, and not the reverse." (II.2, 752)

"The forgiveness of our sins is the final and decisive word which the command has to say to us, and which we have to consider. . . . The forgiveness of sins, or justification, is thus the total and radical acceptance of the sinner, and the total and radical reversal and conversion of the being and action in which he appears before God's judgment-seat, unable either to excuse or justify himself." (II.2, 756)

"However earnestly theology may struggle to achieve breadth and profundity, it is always impotent until it transcends itself, until it becomes the theology of the resurrection, which means concretely, until it becomes prayer." (II.2, 763)

3. The Purpose of the Divine Judgment (II.2, 764)

"The presupposition of the divine judgment is that God wills to have man for himself. The execution of this judgment is that He creates right for the man who is in the wrong before Him, setting him in the right against himself. Its goal and purpose is that man should be the one who passes from this judgment, the one who is judged by His command. It is as such that God wills to have him for himself." (II.2, 764)

"God's forgiveness is and always will be the last word." (II.2, 768)

"It is only of forgiven sin that we know that it is recognised as sin, that it is sin. What we may more or less know apart from forgiveness is perhaps defect, error or vice. But to know sin as sin, as our rebellion against God, as our transgression of His command, we must know its forgiveness." (II.2, 768)

"Yet it is only of sin which is recognised as such that we know that it is forgiven. Without the knowledge of sin man himself may ignore or forget it as a defect or error or vice. But God does not ignore or forget. God knows." (II.2, 770)

"The purpose of God in His judgment is the sanctification of man, i.e., his direction, preparation and exercise for the eternal life ordained and promised." (II.2, 772)  


Dr. James C. Goodloe IVGrace and Peace,
Dr. James C. Goodloe IV, Executive Director
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