And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
~ Acts 13:39, Galatians 3:13
For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
~ Romans 7:2, Romans 7:4, Romans 7:6, Romans 8:2
Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
~ Romans 11:5-6, Galatians 5:4, Galatians 2:21
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
~ Romans 7:24-25, Romans 8:2
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.
~ John 13:14-15, John 13:34, Galatians 6:2
The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, by Samuel Bolton. The following is an excerpt from the text. Part One.
To the Christian Reader,
It is well known that, just as God has communicated many truths to man, so has Satan endeavoured to bring in many errors, his hope being to prejudice and weaken the reception of the truth even though he failed to induce men to entertain his lies. Indeed he finds that his best time for selling his wares is when pedlars are most busy, and when, in the busy market, men are buying truth. It is then that he offers his merchandise. To make it more vendible he represents it as highly respectable and as spiritual in character as truth itself. For long he has walked as a prince of darkness, but because he has lost hope of deceiving men any longer as such, he now transforms himself into an angel of light. Successful in past ages as a bare-faced deceiver, he put on a mask when men discovered his real character, and thus disguised he carried on his designs for generations. But the mask is now taken off, and he operates as one wearing the very face of truth.
No errors are more dangerous and destructive than those which reach men as the teachings of free grace. Poison in the fountain from which they spring, they are poison in men’s hearts. I need not tell how many of them have been brought before men and received by them. For the recovery of those who have been thus carried away, for the establishing of those who stagger, and for the upbuilding of those who are in some measure settled in the truth, the following treatise is, at the request of many friends who heard it preached, now printed. It is partly doctrinal, setting forth and confirming the truth commonly received by Christians, and partly controversial, examining and confuting the contrary opinions.
We have given our opponents a fair trial, having been willing to hear the utmost they could say. Our examination of the questions on which we differ is comprised under six queries, namely,
1. Whether our being made free by Christ frees us from the law,
2. Whether our being made free by Christ delivers us from all punishments or chastisements for sin,
3. Whether it is consistent with Christian freedom to be under obligation to perform duties because God has commanded them,
4. Whether Christ’s freemen may come into bondage again through sin,
5. Whether it is consistent with Christian freedom to perform duties out of respect for the recompense of the reward,
6. Whether the freedom of a Christian frees him from all obedience to men.
These will be the main inquiries. Opinions contrary to those here expounded will be debated in a friendly manner and plainly confuted. My main aim is to convince the judgment, not to irritate the affections, lest while I seek to be helpful to grace, I might render service to sin, and while I endeavour to lead men to holiness, I should stir up men’s corruptions, and so run in vain. I have sought, therefore, to deal with principles more than persons, and rather to unveil errors by means of argument than by naming them. It is my earnest desire that what is here made obvious to the eye, the God of truth would make evident to the heart, and that He would give to my readers and myself sound judgment, that we may be able to distinguish between things that differ. May He guide us in the ways of faith and obedience, enable us to serve Him while we live, smile upon us when we die, and after death take us to Himself. This is all I desire for myself, and the least I desire for my readers.
23rd of April, 1645.
Yours, in the service of Christ, to advance faith and obedience, Samuel Bolton.
1. True Christian Freedom
‘If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’ (John 8: 36).
It is set down as a part of the sufferings of Christ (Heb. 12. 3) that He endured the contradiction of sinners. And among all the chapters in the Gospel there is none that sets down so great a part of the sufferings of Christ in this respect as this eighth chapter of John. From the twelfth verse to the end of the chapter almost every verse shows how the Jews set the pride of their obstinate and rebellious wills against His Divine and infinite wisdom. There was nothing that Christ could speak but their rebellious hearts cavilled at it, and sought to thwart and contradict Him in it. Yet there were some among them that the Word had better effects upon. In verse 31 it is recorded that, though there were many to contradict, yet some were wrought upon, some believed. To those in particular Christ directs Himself, by way of caution and encouragement, and tells them that if they continued in His word, they would know the truth; yea, and the truth would make them free.
Whereupon the Jews answered (not those that believed, as appears by verse 37, for the same persons that thus answered sought to kill Him): ‘We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?’ Christ might have returned this impudent cavil upon them by urging them to review their former state under the Egyptians and Babylonians, and their present condition under the Romans; but putting aside their political bondage. He proves them to be in spiritual and soul bondage to sin. ‘He that committeth sin is the servant of sin’(v. 34); and you, said He, commit sin.
Having shown them their present sinful condition, He next goes on to tell them what would be their future doom. They must be cast out of the house, although they were now in the Church of God. As the apostle says: ‘Cast out the bond-woman and her son’. This Christ proves by contrasting the condition of a servant and of a son: The servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever’ (v. 35). Yet He does not leave them here under their sad doom, but propounds to them a way to prevent it, namely, by endeavouring to get free. He then sets down the means by which this freedom may be obtained, and that is by the Son. Though the work is difficult, yet He that abides in the house for ever, He that is the Son, can effect it: For if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed’.
Thus have I shown you how my text is related to, and depends upon, the preceding words. We shall now look at the text as it stands complete in itself: ‘If the Son shall make you free‘ –
Here we observe, first, a supposition – If the Son shall make you free’; secondly, a consequence – Ye shall be free indeed’. Give me leave to set forth this truth in four particulars:
First, we have a benefit expressed – freedom: ‘If the Son shall make you free’.
Secondly, we have the qualities of this freedom – it is a true and real freedom: ‘free indeed’.
Thirdly, we have the subjects of this freedom – believers: ‘If the Son shall make you free’.
Fourthly, we have the author of it – Christ: ‘If the Son shall make you free’.
From what is expressed and what is implied, we can draw four conclusions:
(1) That every man by nature, and in the state of nature, is in bondage,
(2) That some are set free from this bondage,
(3) That those who are set free are set free by Christ,
(4) That such as Christ sets free are free indeed.
I do not propose to deal with all these matters in this discourse: it will not suit my present purpose. Not that the subject of the bondage of men might not be of service, as set in contrast with spiritual freedom. Much can be learned from contraries. Just as something of heaven is to be known from the consideration of hell, so something of the excellency of spiritual freedom may be known from the consideration of man’s natural bondage – a bondage to sin, to Satan, and to the law of God. All which is a universal bondage of the soul, a cruel bondage, a willing bondage, a bondage out of which we are not able to redeem ourselves by ransom, or to deliver ourselves by our own power.
The doctrine of man’s bondage we shall not at present expound further, though I may make some application of it later. The four points about freedom, however, on which I shall now speak, I will sum up in one statement of doctrine: That there is a true and real freedom which Christ has purchased, and into which He has brought all those who are true believers. This is the teaching of the text. Otherwise stated, we have here the nature, the quality, and the parts of Christian freedom.
The Nature of Christian Freedom
First, we shall consider the nature of this freedom.
There are four kinds of freedom – natural, political, sensual, and spiritual. Natural freedom is that which is enjoyed by everything in nature, but this is not the freedom intended in the text. Political freedom pertains to a Nation, a State, a Commonwealth, a Corporation, and it was of this that the Jews understood Christ to speak. They were Abraham’s seed, and therefore free. But Christ did not speak of this. Again, there is a corrupt and sinful freedom which we express under the name of Libertinism. To this the apostle refers in Gal. 5. 13: ‘Brethren, ye are called unto liberty: but use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh’, that is, as an occasion to sin. It is a fearful thing when men turn the grace of God into wantonness. Such men are spoken of in the fourth verse of the Epistle of Jude: There are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness ‘. Perhaps they reasoned thus: ‘Let us abound in sin because God has abounded in grace’ (Rom. 6), which is fearful reasoning, not that of a child of God. Of the same sort of men, the apostle Peter speaks (1 Pet. 2. 16): ‘As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness ’ (that is to say, as a pretext or a colour to sin), ‘but as the servants of God’. It is evil to sin, to do any act of maliciousness, but much more so to cloak or cover it; and much more again to make Christian liberty the cloak of sin: that is most damnable. To make religion, to make the truth of God, to make Christian liberty so dearly purchased, a cloak or pretext to sin, or to take occasion to sin by it, is a fearful sin.
But of this Christ does not here speak. This is our bondage, not our freedom, as I shall show later.
It is a spiritual and heavenly freedom of which our text speaks, a freedom purchased by Christ, revealed in the Gospel, and conveyed to the saints of God as the great dowry of Christ to His Church and Spouse. Two great things Christ has entrusted into the hands of His Church – Christian faith and Christian liberty. Just as we are to contend earnestly for the maintenance of the faith (Jude 3), so also for the maintenance of Christian liberty, and that against all who would oppose and undermine it: ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free’ (Gal. 5. 1). Very like this is the exhortation of the same apostle: Ye are bought wit h a price: be not ye the servants of men’ (1 Cor. 7. 23). But of this I shall say more hereafter.
In general, then, I say, the freedom into which Christ brings believers is a spiritual, a Divine freedom, a freedom contrasted with their former bondage. If this is clearly understood it will explain what Christian freedom really is.
The Quality Of Christian Freedom
We come next to inquire what is the quality of this freedom. One quality is mentioned in the text; I shall add two more to it. First, it is a real freedom, not an imaginary or fancied freedom. Too many imagine themselves to be free who are really in bondage. But this is no imaginary freedom; it is a freedom indeed, a true and real freedom. Whom the Son makes free are free indeed.
Again, it is a universal freedom, a freedom which does not leave us partially in bondage. Christian liberty frees a believer from all kinds of previous bondage. But we must beware of taking any part of our liberty for our bondage, or of our bondage for our liberty. Too many do so. We were, then, in bondage to Satan, to sin, to the law, to wrath, to death, to hell. By this privilege we are freed from all. It is a universal freedom, universal in respect of persons – believers; universal in respect of its parts. We are free from all that was, or is any way part of our bondage; free from Satan, from sin, from the law, as I shall show later.
Then, too, it is a constant freedom; a Christian is brought into a condition of freedom, a state of freedom, as previously he was in a state of bondage. Wherever the Lord’s jubilee is proclaimed and pronounced in a man’s soul, he will never hear again of a return to bondage. He will never again come under bondage to Satan, the law, or aught else. This is implied by Christ in the words: The servant abideth not in the house for ever; but the Son abideth ever’ (John 8. 35). The apostle expresses the same truth under the figure of an allegory when he says: ‘Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman’ (Gal. 4. 22). Here he distinguishes between those who are under the law, and those who are under the Gospel, the children of the bondwoman and those of the free, the heirs of promise and the servants of the law. The one must be cast out, says Paul. Likewise Christ speaks here: The servant abides not in the house for ever’ (they shall not inherit), but the Son abides in the house for ever. ’ The sons shall inherit, shall enjoy a perpetual freedom, and shall never again return to bondage.
The Branches of Christian Freedom
We come now to consider the third thing propounded, the branches of this Christian freedom. But before I speak of this. I must necessarily tell you that freedom in general has two branches. First, there is inchoate freedom, that is, the freedom we enjoy during the days of our pilgrimage, freedom in grace – second, consummate freedom, that is, the freedom of our Father’s house, freedom in glory. We shall speak chiefly of the first – inchoate freedom.
Freedom in its Negative Aspects
(i) Freedom from Satan
To begin with, it is clear that believers are free from Satan. Christ has wrested us and delivered us from Satan’s hands. We were prisoners to Satan, in his chains, and Christ has brought us deliverance. This is set down by way of a parable in the Gospel of Luke: ‘When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils’ (ch. 11. 21-22). But it is plainly stated in Heb. 2. 14, 15: Christ came into the world ‘that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’. Christ freed us from the wrath of God, from the devil’s power, by purchase. By a strong hand He delivers us from Satan, just as He delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt by a strong hand.
(ii) Freedom from Sin
Secondly, we are freed from sin, by which I mean the guilt, the defilement and the dominion of sin. That none of our sins shall condemn us or bring wrath upon us, Christ interposes Himself between us and wrath, so that no one shall be able to condemn us: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’(Rom. 8. 1). Christ Himself shall as soon be called to account for your sin as you yourself. If you have an interest in Him, sin shall never condemn you, for Christ has made satisfaction for it. Those whose standing is in Christ have made satisfaction in Christ to all the requirements of God and His law’ (Piscator).
It would not be righteous of God to require payment from Christ, nay, to receive the full satisfaction of Christ, and to require anything from you. This is what God has done: H e laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa. 53. 6). This is what Christ has done: He paid God till God said He had enough. He was fully satisfied, fully contented: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3. 17 and 12. 18), that is, ‘in whom I am fully satisfied and appeased’. Hence the apostle writes: God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself… for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5. 19-21). God was paying Himself out of the blood, scourgings, and sufferings of Christ; and in that, Christ made a full payment. Hence Christ says: I send my Spirit, and he will convince the world, as of sin so of righteousness, because I go to the Father and ye see me no more’ (John 16. 7-10). That is, you shall see Me no more after this fashion. You shall never see Me again as a sufferer, as a satisfier of God’s justice for sin. I have completed this work. Indeed we should have seen Christ again if He had not satisfied justice. If the guilt of but one of those sins He bore had remained on Him unsatisfied for, it would have held Him under chains of death and the power of the grave for ever. He could never have risen, much less ascended and gone to the Father, if He had not met the claims of justice to the full. For this reason the apostle throws down a challenge. He sets the death of Christ against whatever sin, Satan, justice, and the law can say: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’ (Rom. 8. 33-34). He does not say, Who shall accuse? but, Who shall condemn? Indeed, we may have accusers enough – sin, Satan, conscience, and the rest – but none can condemn. The issues of life and death are not in their hand. And as none of our sins shall condemn us, so none of our sins shall ever bring us into a state of condemnation again, ever put us under the curse or under wrath again.
Likewise, none of our sins can bring upon us the consequences of Divine wrath. We are freed from all miseries, calamities, afflictions, and punishments which are the fruits of sin, so far as they have wrath in them. If you take away the substance, the shadow must needs depart also. Sin is the substance, punishment the shadow that attends it and follows it. Take away sin and then the punishments are also taken away. All God’s dispensations are in mercy.
It is agreed by all that eternal punishments can never come upon any of those whom Christ has freed from sin, those whom He has justified. From other punishments that have something of eternal punishment in them, believers are also freed. Nothing in the nature of Divine wrath can touch them.
I grant that God does afflict those whose sin He pardons, but there is a great deal of difference in respect of the hand from which the afflictions proceed, the persons who bear the afflictions, the reasons for afflicting, and the ends that God aims at in sending the afflictions, as I shall show later.
It is clear that, so far as afflictions are part of the curse for sin, God does not and cannot afflict His people for sin. Nor does God afflict His people for sin as if such afflictions were payments or satisfactions for sin, and as if God’s justice was not fully satisfied for sin by Christ; as if Christ had left something for us to bear by way of satisfaction. The Papists say this (and therefore they perform penances and punish themselves) but so do not we.
Again, so far as afflictions are the sole fruits of sin, God does not bring them upon His people, for in this respect they are part of the curse. Afflictions upon wicked men are penal, a part of the curse; there is nothing medicinal in them; they are the effects of vindictive justice and not of Fatherly mercy. But afflictions which come upon the godly are medicinal in purpose, and are intended to cure them of sin.
Whether, then, we have regard to punishment eternal, spiritual, or temporal, Christ has freed the godly from all: from eternal punishment as the wrath which is due to sin, from spiritual punishment as it is related to eternal, and from temporal as far as it is related to both the others, and as far as it has anything of God’s wrath in it.
God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people. The ground of His dealings with us is love (though the occasion may be sin), the manner of His dealings is love, and the purpose of His dealings is love. He has regard, in all, to our good here, to make us partakers of His holiness, and to our glory hereafter, to make us partakers of His glory.
But it is not so in regard to God’s punishment of wicked men. Neither is the ground love, nor the manner love, nor the purpose love. All His dealings with them in this respect are parts of the curse and have regard to the demerit of their sin. Christ has also freed the believer from the dominion of sin: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you’ (Rom. 6. 14). Why? For ye are not under the law, but under grace’. Indeed, while we were under the law, sin had full dominion. It had not only possession of us, but dominion over us. And that dominion was a voluntary, a willing, a free subjection and resignation of ourselves to the motions and services of sin. Then we went down stream, wind, and tide. There was both the power of lust, and lustful inclinations, to carry us: this was the tide, the other was the wind. But now, being under grace, a covenant of grace, and being interested in Christ and set free by Him, we are freed from the dominion and power of sin.
We still have the presence of sin, nay, the stirrings and workings of corruptions. These make us to have many a sad heart and wet eye. Yet Christ has thus far freed us from sin; it shall not have dominion. There may be the turbulence, but not the prevalence of sin. There may be the stirrings of corruption. It was said of Carthage that Rome was more troubled with it when half destroyed than when whole. So a godly man may be more troubled with sin when it is conquered than when it reigned. Sin will still work, but it is checked in its workings. They are rather workings for life than from life. They are not such uncontrolled workings as formerly. Sin is under command. Indeed, it may get advantage, and may have a tyranny in the soul, but it will never more be sovereign. I say, it may get into the throne of the heart and play the tyrant in this or that particular act of sin, but it shall never more be as a king there. Its reign is over; you will never yield a voluntary obedience to sin. Sin is conquered, though it still has a being within you.
Augustine describes man under four different conditions.
Before the law he neither fights nor strives against sin. Under the law he fights but is overcome. Under grace he fights and conquers. But in heaven it is all conquest, and there is no combat more to all eternity. It is our happiness here in grace that there is a conquest, though a daily combat: we fight, but we get the victory; sin shall nevermore have dominion over us. Those sins that were kings are now captives in us; sins that were in the throne are now in chains. What a mercy is this! Others are under the authoritative commands of every passion, of every lust; every sin has command over them; no temptation comes but it conquers. A sinful heart stands ready to entertain every sin that comes with power; it is taken captive at pleasure and wit h pleasure.
But the believer is free from the dominion of sin. In temptation sin is broken. There is no allowing of sin in the understanding. The soul is not willing to allow of sin as sin under any shape or form. There is no closing with it in the will, no embracing of it in the affections. Its workings are broken and wounded. O believers, you will never be willing captives to sin again; you may be captives, never subjects; sin may tyrannise, never reign. The reign of sin describes a soul under the power of sin and in a state of sin. But sin rather dies than lives in you. A sickly man who is pining away is said rather to be dying than living; to live implies a getting of strength, and sin does not do this. It is in a consumptive state, dying daily.
Sin is dead judicially; Christ has sentenced it. Christ has condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8. 3). Sin met its death blow in the death of Christ. And it is dying actually. As was the case with the house of Saul, it is decreasing every day. But notice that God has chosen to put sin to a lingering death, to a death upon the cross, and this for the greater punishment of sin, that it might die gradually. But also, it is for the further humiliation of saints that they might be put upon the exercise of prayer and cast upon the hold of their faith. It is intended to exercise their faith for the daily breaking of the power of sin and corruption in them.
Thus much then upon our deliverance from sin by Christ.
(iii) Freedom from the Law
Christ has freed us from the law: that is another part of our freedom by Christ. We are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’ (Rom. 7. 6).’ I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’ (Gal. 2.19). ‘If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law”(Gal. 5. 18). T e are not under the law, but under grace’ (Rom. 6. 14). This then is another part of our freedom by Christ: we are freed from the law. What this is we shall now consider.
We are freed from the ceremonial law, which was a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear (Acts 15. 10). Yet this is but a small part of our freedom.
(a) Freedom from the law as a covenant.
We are freed from the moral law: freed from it, first, as a covenant, say our divines. It would save a great deal of trouble to say we are freed from the law as that from which life might be expected on the condition that due obedience was rendered. But take it, as do many, in the sense that we are freed from the law as a covenant.
The law may be considered as a rule and as a covenant. When we read that the law is still in force, it is to be understood of the law as a rule, not as a covenant. Again, when we read that the law is abrogated, and that we are freed from the law, it is to be understood of the law as a covenant, not as a rule. But yet in all this it is not yet expressed what covenant it is. The apostle calls it the old covenant (Heb. 8. 13) under which they were, and from which we are freed. It could never give us life; it cannot now inflict death on us. We are dead to it, and it is now dead to us. We read in Romans 7. 1-6: The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.’ Among other interpretations which might be set down, I shall suggest this one only: the law is your husband; you are under subjection to it as you are looking by your subjection to be justified and saved. And until the law as a covenant or husband is dead to you, and you to it (for the apostle makes them both one), you will never look for righteousness and life in another. Until the law kills you, and you are dead to it, you will look for righteousness and life through obedience to it. But when once the law has killed you, and showed you it is dead to you and can do you no good, so that you can expect nothing from it, then will you look for life by Christ alone.
Such was the apostle’s own case. He was once one that expected (as well he might) as much good from the law and his obedience to it as any man. Says he: ‘I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death’ (Rom. 7. 9, 10). That is to say, I found that instead of saving me it killed me; it gave death instead of life.
And again he says: ‘For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me’: that is, the law came in wit h an enlightening, convincing, accusing, condemning power, and laid me on my back, and did clean kill me. I saw I could expect nothing there, nothing from it as a covenant.
As for the apostle, therefore, the law was now dead to him, and could afford him nothing; likewise was he also dead to the law. He expected nothing from it afterwards. As he tells us later: ’ I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’ (Gal. 2. 19): that is, the law having now slain me, I am for ever dead to it. I expect nothing from it as a covenant – all my life is in Christ. I look now to live by another. I through the law, that is, through the convincing, enlightening, condemning, killing power of it, see that it is dead to me and I to it. I can expect nothing from it, that is, as a covenant of life and death. It is dead to me and I to it, and I look for all from Christ.
Thus are we freed from the law as a covenant. I shall speak more largely of this in the answers to the queries later. Meanwhile we come to deal with other branches of our Christian freedom from the law, the next in order being our freedom from the maledictions and curses of the law.
(b) Freedom from the curses of the law
The law requires two things of them who are under it: either they must obey the precepts, which is impossible with the degree of strictness and rigidness which the law requires (Gal. 3); or they must bear the penalties of the law, which are insupportable. Either they must obey the commands or suffer the curses of the law, either do God’s will or suffer God’s will in forfeitures of soul and body. In this sad dilemma are those who are under the law as a covenant: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already … the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3. 18, 36). Unbelievers must needs be under the curses of the law.
But believers are freed from the law as a covenant of life and death. Therefore they are free from the curses and maledictions of the law. The law has nothing to do with them as touching their eternal state and condition. Hence the words of the apostle: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8. 1), that is, to them who are not under the law. Were you indeed under the law as a covenant, condemnation would meet you, nothing else but condemnation. Though the law is not able to save you, yet it is able to condemn you. Unable to bestow the blessing, yet it can pour the curse upon you: ‘As many as are of the works of the law’ – that is, those under the law as a covenant, and that look for life and justification thereby -‘are under the curse’ (Gal. 3. 10). And he continues with the argument:, For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’. It is not possible for a man to obey in all things without failing in any; hence he is left under the curse. So that I say, if you are under the law, the law is able to condemn you, though it cannot save you (Rom. 8. 3).
But Christ has brought freedom to those in Him, freedom from the curses of the law, and that by bearing this curse for them, as it is written: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3. 13). The apostle not only says that Christ bore the curse for us, but that He was made a curse for us, for: ‘It is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’. This is another of the benefits which flow from Christ’s work. The believer is freed from the law as a covenant, and so from the curse of the law. The law cannot pass sentence upon him, it cannot condemn him. He is not to be tried in that court. Christ has satisfied the law to the full.
This privilege belongs not only to the present; it lasts for ever. Even though the believer falls into sin, yet the law cannot pronounce the curse on him because, as he is not under the law, he is freed from the curse of the law. A man is never afraid of that obligation which is rendered void, the seals torn off, the writing defaced, nay, not only crossed out and cancelled but torn in pieces. It is thus that God has dealt with the law in the case of believers, as touching its power to curse them, to sentence them and condemn. The apostle tells us: He hath blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross’ (Col. 2. 14). By ‘the handwriting of ordinances’ I conceive is not meant the ceremonial law alone, but the moral law also, so far as it was against us and bound us over to the curse.
We can here observe the successive steps which the apostle sets out. ‘He hath blotted out.’ But lest this should not be enough, lest any should say. It is not so blotted out, but it may be read, the apostle adds. H e took it out of the way. But lest even this should not be enough, lest some should say. Yea, but it will be found again and set against us afresh, he adds, ‘nailing it to his cross’. He has torn it to pieces, never to be put together again for ever. It can never be that the law has a claim against believers on account of their sins. Indeed it brings in black bills, strong indictments against such as are under it; but it shall never have anything to produce against those who have an interest in Christ. I may say of believers, as the apostle does in another sense, ‘Against such there is no law’. As there is no law to justify them, so there is no law to condemn them.
Five reasons why the law cannot condemn the believer.
All this the apostle puts plainly: ‘Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died’ (Rom. 8. 34). He sets the death of Christ against all the charges that can be brought. It is evident that the court of the law cannot condemn the believer:
(1) Because that court is itself condemned; its curses, judgments, and sentences are made invalid. As men that are condemned have a tongue but no voice, so the law in this case has still a tongue to accuse, but no power to condemn. It cannot fasten condemnation on the believer.
(2) Because he is not under it as a court. He is not under the law as a covenant of life and death. As he is in Christ, he is under the covenant of grace.
(3) Because he is not subject to its condemnation. He is under its guidance, but not under its curses, under its precepts (though not on the legal condition of ‘Do this and live’), but not under its penalties.
(4) Because Christ, in his place and stead, was condemned by it that he might be freed: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3. 13). It may condemn sin in us, but cannot condemn us for sin.
(5) Because he has appealed from it. We see this in the case of the publican, who was arrested, dragged into the court of justice, sentenced and condemned. But this has no force because he makes his appeal, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18. 13). He flies to Christ, and, says the text, ‘He went down to his house justified’. So the court of the law (provided that your appeal is just) cannot condemn, because you have appealed to the court of mercy.
True and take appeals from the court of the law.
Indeed there are many who make a false appeal. They appeal in part, not wholly, for they trust partly on Christ and partly on themselves. Many appeal to Christ for salvation who do not appeal to Him for sanctification. This is false. Many appeal to Christ before they are brought into the court of lie law, before they are humbled, convinced, and condemned by the law. The case of the publican shows what kind of appeal will do a man good. Condemned in the court of the law, he makes his appeal to Christ in the Gospel. Read the words spoken of him: ‘He stood afar off, and would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner’. Here was a threefold demeanour, answering to a threefold work within him. First, he stood afar off; this answers to his fear and consternation. Then, he would not so much as lift up his eyes; this answers to his shame and confusion. Again, he smote his breast; this answers to his sorrow and compunction. And being in such a case he then appeals: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’.
In brief, then, if your appeal is a right one and such as will do you good, it must be a total, not a partial, appeal. You must not come to Christ for some relief only, but for all. Christ must have the honour of all. Also, it must be an appeal for grace as well as mercy, for sanctification as well as salvation, an appeal to be made holy by Christ as well as to be made happy by Christ. Again, it must be the appeal of a man humbled and condemned in himself. No man will appeal to another court until he is found guilty and condemned in the former. So here, we cannot appeal to Christ until first we are found guilty and condemned by Moses. This the apostle shows: ‘We have proved both Jews and Gentiles to be all under sin; as it is written. There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understandeth, none that seeketh after God’ (Rom. 3. 9-11).
Thus runs the indictment and the accusation of the law, and in verse 19 is found the sentence or judgment upon it, and there the apostle tells us the reason why the law says this: ‘That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’. It is when the law has accused and sentenced us, when it has stopped our mouths and we become guilty, that the sinner comes to make his appeal from the law as a covenant to Christ as a Saviour. He looks for nothing from justice, but all from mercy. And when he has thus appealed, the law has no more to do with him; he is not under the sentence, the penalties of the law; he is out of the law’s reach. The law can take no hold of him for condemnation; he has fled to Christ, and taken sanctuary in Him.
What a privilege is this, to be free from the curses and penalties of the law, so that if the law threatens, Christ promises; i f the law curses, Christ blesses. This is a high privilege. If God did but let one spark of His wrath and displeasure fall upon your conscience for sin, you would then know what a mercy it is to be thus freed.
(c) Freedom from the accusations of the law.
But now we proceed to consider the freedom which the believer has from the indictments and accusations of the law:
’Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ (Rom. 8. 33). This may be thought a strange question, ‘who shall?’, but there are several such accusers:
Satan is ready to lay things to their charge. He is called ‘the accuser of the saints … night and day’ (Rev. 12. 10). He is the great Calumniator, ever bringing forward bills of indictment against the saints. Sometimes he accuses God to man, as in the case of our first parents, where he charged God wit h envy to His creatures, as if He had forbidden the tree lest they should become too wise. It is ordinary with Satan, either to accuse God’s mercy by telling men they may sin and yet God will be merciful, or to accuse His justice by saying that, if they sin, there is no mercy for them.
As he stretches God’s justice above the bounds of the Gospel, so he stretches God’s mercy above the bounds of His truth. And as Satan accuses God to man, so he accuses man to God. Sometimes he does this by way of complaint, as appears in the case of Joshua (Zech. 3. 1-4). In this fashion he is ever charging crimes home, and introducing bills of indictment against the saints. So that, in all his temptations, we may say, as the man said to Joab when he was asked why he had not killed Absalom: Thou thyself didst hear what the king commanded, that Absalom should not be hurt; and if I had done this thing, thou thyself wouldest have been the first to accuse me to the king’ (2 Sam. 18. 12-13). So may we answer Satan: Thou thyself dost know that God hath forbidden this thing; and if I should have done it, wouldst not thou have been the first to accuse me to God? Such is Satan’s way; he is first the tempter to draw us to sin, and then an accuser to accuse us to God for sinning.
At other times Satan uses the method of suspicion and conjecture. It was so in the case of Job. God commends Job; Satan condemns him, as if he knew Job better than God Himself. Nay, and though he could not condemn Job’s actions, yet he would quarrel with his affections. Surely, whatever his actions are, yet Job’s intentions are not good! This was as much as to tell God that He was deceived in Job; it was as if Satan said, Certainly, whatever Thou thinkest of Job, yet Job doth not serve Thee for nought. He is a mercenary fellow, one that serves Thee for loaves, for belly blessings. Thou hast heaped outward favours on him and hast made a hedge about him, fenced him in with Thy favours so that nothing can annoy him. Thus it is that Satan brings his accusations.
But Satan cannot condemn. The issues of life and death are not in his hands, nor will his accusation against us before God take effect. A man who is himself condemned, though he has the voice of accusation, yet he has no power to condemn. His testimony against another is invalid. Satan is a condemned wretch, and all his accusations against the saints before God have no effect. Joshua’s case shows this: though the accusation was true that he was clad in filthy garments, yet God would not receive it: The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ (Zech. 3. 2).
But it is not only Satan who accuses us; wicked men may do the same. Sometimes they do so justly, for sins committed, but forgiven, and in this they show their malice and lack of love in not forgetting that which God has forgiven. Sometimes they accuse the godly unjustly, laying to their charge things they never did, as Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of uncleanness because he would not be unclean. David, too, complains that men laid to his charge things he never did; so also, Daniel. But none can condemn the truly godly.
Again, not only Satan and wicked men, but conscience itself may accuse; and then, is it possible for us to say. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Conscience, I say, may accuse, sometimes bringing true light, sometimes false information, sometimes reviving old bills cancelled and crossed long ago. In the first case, we are to listen to the accusations of conscience when it charges us truly. Joseph’s brethren were accused by their consciences when they were evil intreated in Egypt, and told by them that they were verily guilty of the wrong done to Joseph. After David had numbered the people, his heart smote him. Conscience had not been a bridle, and it was now a whip; it had not been a curb, therefore it was now a scourge. David did not hearken to the warnings, and therefore he feels the lashings of conscience. And when conscience justly accuses us, when it comes in with evidence according to the Word, we must hear it, for there God speaks. If a sun-dial be not set by the sun, it is no matter what it says; but if it is correct by the sun, we must hearken to it. So, if conscience does not speak according to the Word, we need not give heed to its accusations, but if it speaks according to evidence there, it is good to listen to it.
Sometimes conscience charges us falsely. It will perhaps tell us that those things are sin which are not sin. In this case it is an erroneous conscience and we are not to listen to it. At other times conscience will revive old cases, answered and satisfied long ago. Then it is a quarrelsome conscience, like a contentious troublesome fellow at law, and God will deal with it as an honest judge with such a fellow; He casts the charges out of court as matters not worth hearing, or as things that have been settled long ago. These accusations must not take hold of the soul. In this case, I say, when conscience condemns, God is greater than conscience, to acquit and absolve the soul.
But there is a fourth party which is ready to lay sin to the charge of God’s people, and that is the law. The law may come as accuser. How then can it be said, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’, for if the law may accuse, we cannot be said to be free from the indictments and accusations of the law. I answer thus: if we speak of sins pardoned, neither conscience, nor Satan, nor law, has any right to accuse the people of God. God has justified them, and who then shall accuse?
Indeed, before faith, while we are under the law, we are subject to the accusations, judgments, and sentences of the law. The law not only accuses us then, but its sentence and curse take hold of us. It accuses us, as Christ told them that would not believe in Him, but looked for justification by the law: ‘Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust’ (John 5. 45). The law by which they looked to be justified would accuse them. The law also sentences the sinner, and the sentence and curse take hold of him: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already… the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3. 18, 36). So that while a man is under the law, before faith and interest in Christ, the law not only accuses but also condemns him.
As for those, however, who have an interest in Christ, the law cannot accuse them of sin committed before grace saved them, because it is pardoned, and thus this accusation is made void. Nor can the law accuse them of sin after grace saved them, sin after pardon. They are not subject to the accusations, arrests, and sentences of the law. The law cannot so accuse believers as to call them into the court of the law; so the word signifies, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’; or rather. Who shall call them into court? The word not only signifies to accuse, but to summon to court (jus vocare). Yet the believer is freed from the law as a covenant, and hence from its judgments, sentences, condemnations, curses, and accusations. If it sends any of its officers to accuse us and arrest us for sin, we may refuse to obey and to appear in its court, for we are to be tried by another court; we are to be tried by the Gospel. If God’s people, when they have sinned, go to the right court, they will both sooner get sorrow for sin, and assurance of the pardon of sin; they will find more sorrow and less dismay for sin.
When I say that we are freed from the accusations of the law, I mean such accusations as are subordinate to condemnation. There is a twofold accusation, first, an accusation leading to conviction and humiliation for sin, second, an accusation resulting in sentence and condemnation for sin. All the accusations of the law against those who are under the law come under the second head. But all its accusations against the godly for sin are with a view to conviction and the humiliation of the godly under it, and so are subordinate to life and salvation. And so I conceive the law may accuse those who are, notwithstanding, the freemen of Christ. It may show them how far they come short of the glory of God, and how far they have wandered from the paths of righteousness, and may accuse them for it; but this results in humiliation, not condemnation. As I shall show hereafter, either this must be so, or else it must be denied that the law is a rule for believers.
But there are two queries that arise here. The first is whether the law may justly accuse us, seeing that we are not under it. Briefly I answer that we are not under its curses, but we are under its commands. We are not under the law for judgment, but we are under the law for conduct. So far as we walk not according to it, as a rule, it has an accusing power, though we are taken from under its condemning power. There is no further power left in the law than is for our good, our humiliation, our edification, and this is intended to lead to our furtherance in grace.
The second query is whether the law is just in its accusations against us, seeing we do not sin. This is founded on the previous query; if it be true that we are freed from the law as a rule or as a direction of life – were this so, it would be our bondage rather than our freedom – then our breaches of the law are not sin. If we are not subject to law, then we do not sin in the breaking of it, any more than we do if we break the laws of Spain or of any other nations, which are no laws to us.
I shall show later the invalidity and the danger of these two queries. In the meantime I must tell you that the law in its directive power remains with the believer. This must needs be plain from the words: ‘The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after (the promise), cannot disannul (the promise), that it should make the promise of none effect’ (Gal. 3. 17). For if the law, as the apostle says, was given 430 years after the promise, then it was given either as a covenant or as a rule. But as a covenant it could not be given, for then God would have acted contrary to Himself, first in giving a covenant of grace and then one of works. Therefore He gave it as a rule, to reveal to us, after our justification by the promise, a rule of walking with God so that in all things we might please Him.
Furthermore, that can never be said to be a part of our freedom which is a part of our bondage; nor can that be said to be part of our bondage which is part of our holiness. But conformity to the law, and subjection to the law of God, is part of our holiness. Therefore it can never be said to be a part of our bondage. There is, indeed, a twofold subjection – the subjection of a son, and the subjection of a slave. We are freed from the one, namely, the subjection of a slave, which was a part of our bondage, but not from the other, namely, the subjection of a son, which is a part of our freedom. But I shall speak of this at greater length in the discourses that follow.
(d) Freedom From the rigour of the law.
In the fourth place, observe that the believer is freed from the rigour of the obedience required in the law. He is not freed from the requirement of exact obedience, but from that rigour of obedience which the law required as a condition of salvation.
First, the law not only commanded difficult, but also impossible things of us. It laid a yoke upon us that we could not bear, and it would not, and could not, give us the least assistance towards obedience. As it was with the scribes and Pharisees, who laid heavy yokes and burdens on men’s shoulders but would not touch them with one of their fingers, so it is with the law. It lays heavy yokes upon us, but gives us not the least help or necessary strength for fulfilling its requirements. It commands, but gives neither strength nor grace for fulfilment. Therefore divines have compared the rigour of the law to the bondage of Israel under Pharaoh, who required the tale of bricks but supplied no straw. So, too, the law requires the full measure of obedience; it abates nothing in the command: but it gives no help for the fulfilment of it. It answers us in this matter as the priests did Judas, ‘See thou to that’.
But now in the Gospel we are freed from impossibilities. Here all things are possible, not in respect of ourselves but in respect of God, who has undertaken to work all our works in us and for us. Chrysostom blessed God that that which God required of him, He had given to him. Indeed, the works of the Gospel are as great as any works of the law, nay, greater, namely, to believe, which is a greater work than to do all the duties of the law. But God has given us more strength; we have communion with the power and strength of Christ. Just as ‘without me ye can do nothing’ (John 15. 5), so ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me’ (Phil. 4. 13). A weak Christian and a strong Christ shall be able to do all. Nothing will be too hard for that man who has the strength of Christ to enable him, and the Spirit of Christ to work with him. If God commands the works of an angel, and gives us the strength of an angel, all will be easy. The works commanded may be difficult in respect of Divine imposition, but they are easy in respect of Divine co-operation. The law was a spiritual law, but the Gospel is the law of the Spirit (Rom. 8. 2). It therefore enables us to do what it commands to be done. Take one instance. In Romans 6. 12, the Spirit enjoins that we should not let sin reign in our mortal bodies. That is the command. Read on in verse 14: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under the law, but under grace’. There is the promise, linked with the reason for it; as if he had said. Had you been under the law you could not have expected such assistance, but you are under grace, and therefore shall have the power to obey.
Secondly, it belonged to the rigour of the law that the law required obedience in our own persons; it would not allow any to do or to work for us and help in the performance of its requirement. But we are now freed from this rigour, and God will accept of our obedience by another. There was a twofold debt that we owed to God, the debt of sin and the debt of service. These two were both transferred to Christ, and He has fulfilled all righteousness for us, both the obedience and the suffering, so that we are now said to be ‘complete in him’ (Col. 2. 10), though in ourselves we are imperfect.
Thirdly, this belonged to the rigour of the law, that it required universal and actual, as well as personal, obedience, yea, and with such a degree of rigour that if a man failed in one tittle he was lost for ever: ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the law to do them’ (Gal. 3. 10). Here was the call for an obedience, personal, universal, actual, constant and perpetual, failure in which in respect of any tittle at any time, brought a man under the curse of the law. All his desires, all his endeavours, would not serve the turn. If he failed in the least tittle, he was undone for ever. No repentance, no tears, no prayers, no future amends would make up for the failure. The Gospel admits of repentance, but the law will not own it. The law looks for exact obedience in every jot and tittle. From this rigid obedience has God freed the believer. Instead of universal actual obedience, God is pleased to accept of universal habitual obedience, as we find it written: Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments’ (Ps. 119. 6). Though there may be failing in action, yet where there is truth of affection, God can own it In the Gospel God accepts affections for actions, endeavours for performance, desire for ability. A Christian is made up of desires, of mournings, thirstings and bewailings: O that my ways were directed! O miserable man that I am! Here is Gospel perfection.
Adam’s want was will rather than power, ours rather power than will. There is the will to do, but the lack of power to do. Not that the will is now perfect, for as we cannot do the things we would do (there is flesh in our members), so we cannot will the things we should will (there is flesh in our wills); but yet, I say, the failing of God’s people is more from want of power than want of will. There is the will to do, but the power to do is lacking, as says the apostle: to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not’(Rom. 7. 18). Yet God has mercy for ‘can- nots’, but none for ‘will-nots’. God can distinguish between weakness and wickedness. While you are under the law, this weakness is your wickedness, a sinful weakness, and therefore God hates it. Under the Gospel He looks not upon the weakness of saints as their wickedness, and therefore He pities them. Sin makes those who are under the law the objects of God’s hatred. Sin in a believer makes him the object of God’s pity. Men, you know, hate poison in a toad, but pity it in a man. In the one it is their nature, in the other their disease. Sin in a wicked man is as poison in a toad; God hates it and him; it is the man’s nature. But sin in a child of God is like poison in a man; God pities him. He pities the saints for sins and infirmities, but hates the wicked. It is the nature of the one, the disease of the other.
Fourthly, this again shows the rigour of the law, that it enforced itself upon the conscience with threats and with terror; but now the Gospel comes otherwise, with beseechings and with love. ‘1 beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God’ (Rom. 12. 1). In the Gospel the spirit is not a spirit of bondage and fear, but a spirit of power and of love (Rom. 8. 15; 2 Tim. 1. 7). The law urges obedience upon pain of eternal death (Deut. 27. 14-26; Gal. 3. 10), an d enforces it s demands by terror, but the Gospel by sweetness and love; all terror is gone. The book of the law was placed between the cherubim and under the mercy-seat, to tell us that, under the Gospel, every law comes now to the saints from the mercy-seat.
All rigour has gone and nothing but sweetness is the motive to it, and the principle of obedience: ‘The love of Christ constrains us’ (2 Cor. 5. 14), as the apostle says. There is nothing more powerful than love. Things impossible to others are easy to the in that love. Love knows no difficulties: ‘my yoke is easy, my burden is light’ (Matt. 11. 30). Love is an affection that refuses to be put off by duties or difficulties which come between it and the person beloved. Jacob served a hard apprenticeship for Rachel, and yet, says the Scripture, he esteemed seven years, but a few days, for the love he had to her’ (Gen. 29. 20). Love shortens time and facilitates labour. When Achilles was asked what enterprises he found the most easy of all he had undertaken in his life, he answered, Those which I undertook for a friend.’ This is the spirit which God implants in His children, not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of love, which is the spring of all their actions, and which makes those things which otherwise would be tasks and burdens, refreshments and delights. A godly man takes in whatever concerns his happiness by faith, and lays out whatever concerns his duty by love. Faith and love are the all of a Christian. The apostle says so:, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love’ (Gal. 5. 6). Faith, like Mary, sits at the feet of Christ to hear His Word, and love, like Martha, compasses Him about with service. Faith is the great receiver, and love is the great disburser; we take in all by faith and lay out all by love. This, then, is another privilege which believers enjoy; they are freed from the rigour of the law. And there are other privileges also which, because I would hasten on, I shall but name.
(iv) Freedom horn obedience to men.
In the next place we observe that the believer is not only freed from Satan, from sin, and from the law; he is also freed from obedience to men. We have no lords over us; men are our brethren; and our Lord and Master is in heaven. We find in Scripture a double charge: do not usurp mastership, do not undergo servitude. Consider the first, not to usurp mastership. We read in the Word: ‘Be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren…. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ’ (Matt. 23. 8-10).
As for the second, not to undergo servitude, we read: Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men’ (1 Cor. 7. 23). The meaning is, that we are not to acknowledge any our supreme master, nor are we to give our faith and consciences, nor enthral our judgments, to the sentences, definitions, or determinations of any man or men upon earth, because this would be to make men masters of our faith, which the apostle so much abhorred: ‘We are not masters of your faith, but helpers of your joy’ (2 Cor. 1. 24). There are two kinds of masters, masters according to the flesh, and masters according to the spirit. The first kind you read of in Eph. 6. 5-7: ‘Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh’. The second kind we read of in Matt. 23. 8-10, as already mentioned. To our masters according to the flesh we are to be obedient, so far as appertains to the outward man, in all outward things. But of our souls and consciences, as we have no fathers, so we have no masters upon earth, only our Master and Father which is in Heaven; and in this sense Christ speaks, that we must not absolutely yield up ourselves to be ruled by the will of any, nor enthral our judgments, nor submit our faith and consciences to any power below Christ. It were high usurpation for any to require it; it is to trespass on Christ’s Royal Prerogative, and it were no less iniquity for us to render it. Thus much, then, for the fourth branch of our freedom; I may speak more upon it later.
(v) Freedom from death
Again, the believer is freed from death. There are three kinds of death: firstly, a spiritual death, the death of the soul in the body; secondly, a natural death, the death of the body from the soul; thirdly, an eternal death, the death of soul and body for ever. The first and third of these believers do not doubt of; all the question is about the second, namely, natural death, of which I shall say no more than this, that it is the body only that dies, man’s inferior part, yet our dust and bones are still united to the Son of God. But the believer is freed from death as a curse. The nature of death is taken away, and therefore the name is changed. It is but called a sleep, and a sleep in Christ, and a gathering to our fathers, a change, a departing. Death is the godly man’s wish, the wicked man’s fear. Aristippus, being asked in a storm why he did not fear as well as others, answered: There is a great difference between us; they fear the torments due to a bad life; I expect the rewards due to a good life.’ There is another aspect to a believer’s freedom from death – he will not die until the best time. Indeed, none shall die until God’s time. What David said to his enemies, so may any man say: ‘my times are in thy hand’ (Ps. 31.15). But this is not always the best time: you may die with Belshazzar, carousing; with Ananias and Sapphira, lying; with the nobleman, unbelieving; 1 with Julian, 2 blaspheming. But this is the privilege of saints, that they shall not die until the best time, not until when, if they were but rightly informed, they would desire to die.
Men cut down weeds at anytime, but their corn they will not cut down till the best time. ‘You are God’s husbandry’, says the apostle; you are His wheat, and when you are ripe, when you have done your work, then, and not till then, shall you be gathered into your Master’s garner.
(vi) Freedom from the grave.
Lastly, believers will be freed from the grave, and this belongs to their consummated freedom. We shall but touch the subject by giving you three conclusions: (i) Though our bodies die and are consumed to dust, yet they shall rise fresh, heavenly and glorious. They shall arise perfect bodies, freed from sickness and all imperfections; spiritual bodies ( i Cor. 15. 44), not in regard to substance but in regard to qualities; immortal bodies, never to die more; glorious bodies, every one filled with brightness and splendour, shining as the sun in the firmament (Dan. 12. 3; Matt. 1343). (2) The bodies rise as the same bodies. The same soul shall be re-united to the same individual body. This is a mystery. The philosophers dreamed of a transformation of bodies, or bodies transformed into new shapes; and of a transmigration of souls, or souls flitting into new bodies; but they could never apprehend the truth of this, the resurrection of the body. It was beyond them to think that this same individual and numerical1 body should rise again after being corrupted in water, consumed by fire, converted into earth, dissipated into air, eaten up by fishes and those fishes eaten by men. When Paul disputed this point at Athens, the great philosophers of the Epicureans laughed at him: ‘What will this babbler say?’ But the Scripture tells us that we shall see Him with these same eyes (Job 19. 27). And it agrees with God’s justice that the same bodies which have sinned or suffered shall be punished or rewarded. (3) The soul and body shall never be parted more to all eternity. When a believer dies, by death he is freed from death; after this reunion there shall never be separation more.
Freedom in its Positive Aspects
So far, I have spoken of the negative aspects of Christian freedom.
I shall next speak a little on the positive aspect of the subject, what we are free unto, and will but name a few particulars:
(1) We are freed from a state of wrath and brought to a state of mercy and favour (Eph. 2. 1-10).
(2) We are freed from a state of condemnation and brought to a state of justification (Rom. 8. 1). Before, we were under the condemnation of the law because we had sinned, and of the Gospel because we believed not. But now there is ‘no condemnation’, not one condemnation. The law cannot condemn us because we have appealed from it; the Gospel cannot because we are now believers. God condemned sin in Christ that He might justify the sinner by Christ, and cast out condemnation for ever.
‘He will bring forth judgment unto victory’ (Matt. 12. 10). ‘He will cast out condemnation for ever’ is the way in which an old writer construes the passage, and this sense it will bear.
(3) We are freed from a state of enmity and brought into a state of friendship: ‘And you that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works yet now hath he reconciled’ (Col. 1. 21).
(4) We are freed from a state of death and brought to a state of life: You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph. 2. 1).
(5) We are freed from a state of sin and brought into a state of service: ‘W e being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear’ (Luke 1. 74). For this reason God discharged the debt of sin that we might render Him the debt of service. He freed us from the bonds of misery that we might take upon us the engagements of duty (Rom. 8. 12). After mentioning all the benefits brought to the believer by Christ, he draws this inference: ‘Therefore, brethren, we are debtors’. He that thinks not service to be his freedom thinks not sin to be his bondage, and therefore he is in bondage.
(6) We are freed from a state of bondage, a spirit of slavery in service, and brought into a spirit of sonship and liberty in service. As Christ by His blood redeemed us from being slaves, so by His obedience and Spirit He has redeemed us to be sons. Now we are drawn to service, not with cords of fear, but with the bands of love; not by compulsions of conscience, but by the desires of nature (2 Peter 14). As the love of God to us was the spring of all His actions to us, so our love to God is the source of all our obedience to Him.
(7) In a word – for we cannot stay to name all – we are freed from death and hell, and brought to life and glory. Heaven is our portion, our inheritance, our mansion, louse. It was made for us, and we for it; we are vessels prepared for glory (Rom. 9. 23). And this is called ‘the glorious liberty of the sons of God’ (Rom. 8. 21; Eph. 1. 14). To tell you what you are freed from, and what you shall enjoy hereafter – to take you to the top of Nebo and show you all this Canaan— would make you willing to lay down your bodies there (as did Moses) and go up to enjoy it. But it is far beyond man’s power to open this privilege to view, even a little. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. 2. 9). Yet this is spoken of grace, and therefore what is glory? Could we but open this up to you, it were even enough to put you into Heaven while you are here upon earth. It is called the New Jerusalem, glory, joy, the Master’s joy, the Father’s house, the Kingdom of glory. Heaven, Light, Life, Eternal Life. Look but on that one place (2 Cor. 4. 17): For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’: glory, weight of glory, exceeding weight of glory, more exceeding weight of glory; a far more exceeding weight of glory, nay, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory! And this is the glorious liberty of the sons of God! But I must conclude on this matter, because I would not willingly keep you off from that which is to be the chief part of my discourse.
We have thus briefly, as far as the breadth and scope of the subject would allow, finished the three general points which we proposed in the handling of this doctrine – the quality, the nature, and the branches of Christian freedom. I must now come to the application of what I have said, and the largeness of the subject will afford much comfort and caution, much direction and encouragement to the people of God. But I have other work to do first.
2. The Moral Law a Rule of Obedience
Query I: Are Christians treed from the moral law as a rule of obedience?
Our text (John 8. 36) is the main basis whereon this doctrine of Christian freedom is built. But many have endeavoured to build their own superstructures, hay and stubble, upon it, which the foundation will never bear. Indeed, there are so many opinions which plead patronage from this doctrine that I conceive it is my great work to vindicate so excellent a doctrine as this is – true Christian freedom – from those false, and I may say licentious, doctrines which are fastened and fathered upon it. I must show you that neither this doctrine, nor yet this text, will afford countenance to, or contribute any strength to the positions and opinions which some would seem to deduce from it and build upon it.
The work is great, for I am to deal with the greatest knots in the practical part of divinity, and men’s judgments are various. Scripture is pleaded on all hands. The more difficult the work, the more need of your prayers, that the Father of lights would go before us, and by His own light lead and guide us into the ways of all truth. In this confidence we shall venture to launch into these deeps, and begin the examination and trial of those doctrines which are deduced from, and would seem to be built upon, this text. The first doctrine, and the main one, that they would seem to build upon this text is, that believers are freed from the law. And this shall be the first question we will examine.
In answer to this query as it is propounded, we must confess that we are not without some places of Scripture which declare the law to be abrogated, nor without some again that speak of it as yet in force. We will give you a taste of some of them; and shall begin with those that seem to speak of the abrogation of the law.
Jeremiah 31. 31-33: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.’
Romans 7. 1-3: ‘Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is n o adulteress, though she be married to another man.’
That the apostle here speaks of the moral law is evident from the seventh verse; and that believers are freed from it, see the sixth verse and others. See also Rom. 6. 14: ‘For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace’; Gal. 3. 19, The law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come’; Gal. 4.4-5, ‘God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons’; Rom. 8. 2, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death’; Gal. 5.18, ‘But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law’; Rom. 10.4, ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth’; 1Tim. 1. 8-10, The law is good if a man use it lawfully, knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man’, etc.
There seems therefore to be a great deal of strength in the Scripture to prove the abrogation of the law, that we are dead to the law, freed from the law, no more under the law. These Scriptures we shall have to deal with afterwards. For the present, I only quote them, to let it be seen with what strength the Scriptures seem to hold out for the first opinion, that is, for the abrogation of the law.
On the other hand, there are some Scriptures which seem to hold up the law, and which say that the law is still in force: I say, some which seem to support the obligation, as the others the abrogation, of it. Thus there is Rom. 3. 31: ‘Do We then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.’ This seems contrary to the former; the verses previously given seem to speak of the abrogation, this of the establishment, the obligation, of the law. So also Matt. 5. 17-18: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ Upon these varieties of texts, men have grounded their varieties of opinions for the abrogation of, or the obligation of, the law. There is no question but the Scripture speaks truth in both; they are the words of truth; and though they seem here to be as the accusers of Christ, never a one speaking like the other, yet if we are able to find out the meaning, we shall find them like Nathan and Bathsheba, both speaking the same things.
In order to find out the truth under these seeming contraries, and for the purpose of answering the query, lest we should beat the air and spend ourselves to no purpose, it will be necessary to make two inquiries: (i) what is meant by the word ‘law’? (2) in what sense is the word used in Scripture? When this has been done there will be a way opened for the clearing of the truth and for the answering of the queries.
The Scriptural Uses of the Word Law
( 1) What is meant by the word ‘law’? I answer: the word which is frequently used for ‘the law’ in the Old Testament is Torah’. This is derived from another word which signifies ‘to throw darts’, and comes to signify ‘to teach, to instruct, to admonish’; hence it is used for any doctrine or instruction which teaches, informs, or directs us: as, for example, in Proverbs 13. 14: ‘The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.’ Here ‘law’ is taken in a large sense for any doctrine or direction which proceeds from the wise; so, too, in Proverbs 3. 1 and 4.2. In the New Testament the word ‘law’ is derived from another word which signifies ‘to distribute’, because the law distributes, or renders to God and man their dues.
In brief, this word ‘law’, in its natural signification both in the Old and New Testaments, signifies an y doctrine, instruction, law, ordinance, or statute, divine or human, which teaches, directs, commands, or binds men to any duty which they owe to God or man. So much, then, for the first matter.
(2) In what senses is this word ‘law’ used in Scripture? I shall not trouble the reader with all the uses of the word, but shall confine myself to the chief of them:
(i) It is sometimes taken for the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. So the Jews understood it in John 12. 34: ‘We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever’. So also in John 15. 25: This cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause’ (Ps. 35. 19). Similarly, we have 1 Cor. 14. 21: ‘In the law it is written’, where the apostle is repeating the words of Isaiah 28. 11, and he says they are written in the law.
(ii) The term ‘law’ is sometimes used as meaning the whole Word of God, its promises and precepts, as in Ps. 19. 7: the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul’. Conversion is the fruit of the promise. Neither justification nor sanctification is the fruit of the law alone. The law commands but gives no grace, so that here the psalmist includes the promise of grace in his use of ‘law’; or else conversion, as he speaks of it here, does not mean regeneration.
(iii), ‘Law’ is sometimes taken for the five books of Moses, as in Gal. 3. 21: ‘If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law’. Likewise, in John 1.45: ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law… did write’. Similarly in Luke 24.44: ‘All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses’, meaning the five books of Moses; see also Gal. 4. 2 1.
(iv) ‘Law’ is used for the pedagogy of Moses, as in John 5. 46: ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. ‘See also Josh. 1. 7-8.
(v) Sometimes ‘law’ is used for the moral law alone, the Decalogue, as in Rom. 7. 7, 14 and 21.
(vi) Sometimes ‘law’ refers to the ceremonial law, as in Luke 16. 16.
(vii) Sometimes ‘law’ refers to all the laws, moral, ceremonial, and judicial, as in John 1. 17: The e law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’: ‘grace’ in opposition to the moral law, ‘truth’ in opposition to the ceremonial law which was but a shadow. Thus Chrysostom comments on this passage: ‘The ceremonial law was given right up to the time of the coming of the seed promised to Abraham.’
Among all these different usages, the controversy lies in the last- mentioned, where the word, law’ signifies the moral, judicial, and ceremonial law. In respect of two of these varieties of law, we find considerable agreement; the main difficulty concerns the moral law.
The ceremonial law was an appendix to the first table of the moral law. It was an ordinance containing precepts of worship for the Jews when they were in their infancy, and was intended to keep them under hope, to preserve them from will-worship, and to be a wall of separation between them and the Gentiles. This law, all agree, is abrogated both in truth and in fact.
As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table, it was an ordinance containing precepts concerning the government of the people in things civil, and it served three purposes: it gave the people a rule of common and public equity, it distinguished them from other peoples, and it gave them a type of the government of Christ. That part of the judicial law which was typical of Christ’s government has ceased, but that part which is of common and general equity remains still in force. It is a common maxim: those judgments which are common and natural are moral and perpetual.
However, in respect of the ceremonial and the judicial law we find few dissenters. All the controversy arises from the third part, the moral law. And so we come to speak of the moral law which is scattered throughout the whole Bible, and summed up in the Decalogue. For substance, it contains such things as are good and holy, and agreeable to the will of God, being the image of the divine will, a beam of His holiness, the sum of which is love to God and love to man.
It is one of the great disputes in these days, whether this moral law is abrogated, or, in the words of the query, whether believers are freed from the moral law. All agree that we are freed from the curses and maledictions, from the indictments and accusations, from the compellings and irritations, and other particulars which we named before. But the question is, to put it in plain terms: Are believers freed from obedience to the moral law, that is, from the moral law as a rule of obedience?
Some there are who positively or peremptorily affirm that we are freed from the law as a rule, and are not, since Christ came, tied to the obedience of it. Others say that it still remains in force as a rule of obedience, though abolished in other respects, as Beza says: ‘Christ fulfilled the law for us, but not in order to render it of no value to us.’ We are still under the conduct and commands of the law, say these Christians, though not under its curses and penalties.
Again, others say that we are freed from the law, as given by Moses, and are only tied to the obedience of it, as it is given in Christ: and though, they say, we are subject to those commands and that law which Moses gave, yet not as he gave it, but as Christ renews it, and as it comes out of His hand and from His authority: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another’ (John 13. 34). It is a commandment, for Christ is both a Saviour and a Lord; and it is a new one, not that it did not exist before, but because now renewed, and because we have it immediately from the hands of Christ.
I shall not much quarrel with this. Acknowledge the moral law as a rule of obedience and Christian walking, and there will be no falling out, whether you take it as promulgated by Moses, or as handed to you and renewed by Christ.
Indeed, the law, as it is considered as a rule, can no more be abolished or changed than the nature of good and evil can be abolished and changed.
The substance of the law is the sum of doctrine concerning piety towards God, charity towards our neighbours, temperance and sobriety towards ourselves. And for the substance of it, it is moral and eternal, and cannot be abrogated. We grant that the circumstances under which the moral law was originally given were temporary and changeable, and we have now nothing to do with the promulgator, Moses, nor with the place where it was given, Mount Sinai, nor with the time when it was given, fifty days after the people came out of Egypt, nor yet as it was written in tables of stone, delivered with thunderings and lightnings. We look not to Sinai, the hill of bondage, but to Sion, the mountain of grace. We take the law as the image of the will of God which we desire to obey, but from which we do not expect life and favour, neither do we fear death and rigour. This, I conceive, is the concurrent opinion of all divines. For believers, the law is abrogated in respect of its power to justify or condemn; but it remains full of force to direct us in our lives. It condemns sin in the faithful, though it cannot condemn the faithful for sin. Says Zanchius: The observance of the law is necessary for a Christian man, and it is not possible to separate such observance from faith.’ And as Calvin says: ‘Let us put far from us the ungodly notion that the law is not to be our rule, for it is our changeless rule of life.’ The moral law, by its teaching, admonishing, chiding, and reproving, prepares us for every good work. The law is void in respect of its power to condemn us, but it still has power to direct us; we are not under its curse, but yet under its commands.
Again, the moral law is perpetual and immutable. This is an everlasting truth, that the creature is bound to worship and obey his Creator, and so much the more bound as he has received the greater benefits. If we claim to be free from obedience, we make ourselves the servants of sin. But these matters I shall speak more largely upon in the discourse that follows.
Therefore, against that opinion which holds forth the abrogation of the law, and says that we are freed from obedience to it, I shall state and endeavour to make good two propositions which will serve fully to answer the query, and to refute the false notions. The propositions are these:
(1) That the law, for the substance of it (for we speak not of the circumstances and accessories of it), remains as a rule of walking to the people of God.
(2) That there was no end or use for which the law was originally given but is consistent with grace, and serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace.
If these two propositions are made good, the doctrines of the abrogation of the law and of freedom from the law will both fall to the ground.
Proposition I: The Law Remains as a Rule of Walking for the People of God
We shall begin with the first proposition, namely, that the law, in the substance of it, remains in force as a rule of walking to the people of God. I shall not need to stay long over this, for when the second proposition is made good it will be seen that it establishes this also. By the law is meant the moral law comprehended in the Decalogue or ten commandments. By the substance of it, I mean the things commanded or forbidden which are morally good or evil, and cannot be changed or abolished. For what is the law in the substance of it but that law of nature engraven in the heart of man in innocency? and what was that but the express idea or representation of God’s own image, even a beam of His own holiness, which cannot be changed or abolished any more than the nature of good and evil can be changed? And that the law thus considered remains as an unchangeable rule of walking to believers I am now to prove.
The Testimony of the Reformed Confessions
For this proof, not to mention individuals whose testimony might be produced, even as many almost as men, we have a cloud of witness es if we look upon the Confessions of Christian and Reformed Churches in their agreement together. The Helvetian (Swiss) Church has this confession: Thus far is the law of God abrogated, in that it has no power to condemn believers…. Notwithstanding, we do not disdainfully reject the law, but condemn them as heresies which are taught against the law, that it is not a rule of walking.’ The French Church has this: ‘We believe all the figures of the law to be taken away by the coming of Christ,
although the truth and substance of them continue to us in Him, and are fulfilled to us in Him. But the doctrine of the law is used in them both to confirm our life and that we may be the more established in the promises of the Gospel.’ Agreeable to this is the Belgic Confession.
The Wittenberg Confession includes this: We acknowledge the law of God, whose abridgement is in the Decalogue, to command the best, the most just and perfect works, and we hold that man is bound to obey the moral precepts of the Decalogue/Neither are those precepts which are contained in the apostles’ writings a new law, but are branches of the old law.’ And again, ‘It is needful to teach men that they must not only obey the law, but also how this obedience pleases God.’
The Scottish Church confesses:, We do not think we are so freed by liberty as if we owed no obedience to the law; we confess the contrary.’ The Church of England holds a similar doctrine: ‘Although the law given of God to Moses in regard of the rites and ceremonies does not bind Christians, neither is any, although a Christian, loosed from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.’ To these testimonies might be added many more.
But it may be that some men regard these Confessions as of no authority and therefore they have no power with them. And indeed, if these things are not proved from the Word of God, they have no power with us. We respect good men and their writings, but we must not build our faith upon them as a sure foundation. This is against our Christian liberty; we cannot be enslaved to the judgments of any. To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.’ We shall therefore give some proofs out of the Word itself, and then draw arguments from them.
The Testimony of the New Testament.
We read in Matt. 5. 17-18: Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I. am not come to destroy but to fulfil; for verily I say unto you. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ This seems to be very full and very plain for the continuance of and obligation to the law. And yet there are corrupt readings of these words, and as sinister interpretations. Some would have it to be understood that Christ would not abolish the law until He had fulfilled it. Indeed, He was ‘the end of the law’, as the apostle speaks in Rom. 10.4, but we must understand this to mean ‘the perfecting and consummating end’, not ‘the destroying and abolishing end’ of the law. In Christ the law had an end of perfection and consummation, not of destruction and abolition. It is to be noted that in this verse Christ gives a stricter exposition of the law, and vindicates it from the corrupt glosses of the Pharisees, which surely speaks the continuance, not the abrogation, of the law. And agreeable to this is the language of the apostle in Rom. 3. 31: ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.’ How? Not for justification, for in this respect faith makes it void, but as a rule of obedience, and in this respect faith establishes it. Further, the apostle tells us ‘that the law is holy, just and good’ and that ‘he delighted in the law of God after the inward man’ and also that ‘with the mind I myself serve the law of God’ (Rom. 7. 12, 22, 25). With this agrees James 2. 8: ‘If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture… ye do well’. What law this was, he shows in the eleventh verse to be the Decalogue or moral law. Likewise: ‘He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar’ (i John 2. 4); also: ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3. 4).
Therefore, since Christ, who is the best expounder of the law, so largely strengthens and confirms the law (witness the Sermon on the Mount, and also Mark 10. 19); s m c e faith does not supplant, but strengthens the law; since the apostle so often presses and urges the duties commanded in the law; since Paul acknowledges that he served the law of God in his mind, and that he was under the law to Christ (1 Cor. 9. 21); I may rightly conclude that the law, for the substance of it, still remains a rule of life to the people of God.
But I would add further arguments, beginning with this: If ever the law was a rule of walking, then it is still a rule of walking: this is clear. Either it is still such a rule, or we must shew the time when, as such, it was abrogated. But no such time can be shewed. If it is said that it was abrogated in the time of the Gospel by Christ and His apostles, we reply that no such thing can be proved. It was not so abrogated at that time. If Christ and His apostles commanded the same things which the law required, and forbade and condemned the same things which the law forbade and condemned, then they did not abrogate it but strengthened and confirmed it. And this is what they did: see Matt. 5. 19: ‘He that breaketh one of the least of these commandments, and teacheth men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but he that shall teach and observe them shall be called (not legal preachers, but) great in the kingdom of heaven.’
Therefore, in that Christ Himself expounded and established the law, by His word and authority, as shown in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew, it shows us the continuance of it; for had it been His will utterly to abolish it. He would rather have declared against it, or have suffered it to die of itself; and would not have vindicated it, and restored it to its purity from the glosses of the Pharisees. All this clearly speaks to us of the continuance of, and obligation to, the law.
As with Christ, so with the apostles: instead of abolishing, in their doctrine they establish it, frequently urging the duties of the law upon the churches and people of God:, Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves’ (Rom. 12. 19). Why? ‘For it is written. Vengeance is mine’. Likewise, in Rom. 13. 8-10. There the apostle repeats the commandments of the second table, not to repeal or reverse any of them, but to confirm them as a rule of walking for the saints. He comprehends them all in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, for love is the fulfilling of the law.’ As Beza writes:, Love is not perfected except as the fulfilling of the law.’ See also 1 Thess. 4. 3, 4, 7: ‘This is the will of God… that ye should abstain from fornication… that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of all such.’ See also Eph. 6. 1: ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord.’ The apostle here presses this duty from the authority of the precept, and persuades to it from the graciousness of the promise, ‘for this is the first commandment with promise’ – a conditional promise (as Beza says), as are all such promises as are found in the law. As full and plain are the words of the apostle in Rom. 3. 31: ‘Do we abrogate the law? No, we establish it by faith.’ Though it carries another sense, it bears this sense also, that though we disown the law in respect of justification, yet we establish it as a rule of Christian living.
Again, in Matt. 3. 10 we read: ‘the axe is laid to the root of the tree; every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire’; and in Matt. 5. 22:, Whosoever shall say to his brother. Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.’ In these and sundry other places, so some learned and holy divines tell us, the comminations and threatenings of the New Testament are not of the nature of the Gospel, but are confirmation of the law, and plainly demonstrate to us the continuance of the law under grace. Thus Daniel Chamier distinguishes in the Gospel between the doctrine of the Gospel and the grace of the Gospel, between the preaching of the Gospel by Christ and the apostles and the law of faith or spirit of life in Christ. The preaching or doctrine of the Gospel, he tells us, contains two things, first the promise of grace, and second, the confirmation of the law. And he shows that all those commutations and threats which we read in the Scriptures of the New Testament in no way belong to the nature of the Gospel properly so called, but are the confirmation of the law, and declare the continuation of it now under the Gospel as an exact rule to direct Christians in their walk and obedience.
Five Proofs of the Binding Nature of the Law.
Before I proceed to the rest of the arguments, I will mention what objectors say to this. Some of them say that, thought he law is a rule, yet it is a rule which we are free to obey or not to obey: it is not a binding rule. There are various opinions about this. Some say that it binds us no further than as we are creatures. I answer: if so, why then are they not bound? I hope they are creatures as well as Christians. Others say that it binds the flesh but not the spirit; it binds the unregenerate part, but not the regenerate part of a man, to obedience, for the regenerate part is free. I answer: here is a dangerous gap, open to all licentiousness ; witness the opinions of David George and the Valentinians. Others say that the law is not a binding rule at all and that believers are no more under the law than England is under the laws of Spain; that Christians are no more bound to the obedience of the law than men are bound to the obedience of the laws of another commonwealth than their own; to speak otherwise, they say, overthrows Christian liberty.
Now if this be true, it strikes down all. If it be a rule, but not a binding rule, a rule binding to obedience, it will be of small use. We will end this cavil, therefore, before we go any further, and show that the law is indeed a binding rule, and that it binds Christians, not as men, but as Christians. I will give five arguments in proof of this:
(1) That which being observed, causes the consciences of regenerate men to excuse them, and which, not being observed, causes their consciences to accuse them, is binding on the conscience. But it is the law of God which thus causes the consciences of the regenerate to excuse or else to accuse them. Therefore the law of God is that which is binding on the Christian conscience.
(2) That which has power to say to the conscience of the regenerate Christian, This ought to be done, and that ought not to be done, is binding on the conscience. But the law of God has this power. Therefore, though it cannot say that this or that ought not to be done on pain of damnation, or on pain of the curse; or this or that ought to be done in reference to justification or the meriting of life; yet it shows it ought to be done as good and pleasing to God, and that this or that ought not to be done, as things displeasing to Him.
(3) The authority by which the apostles urged Christians to duty binds the conscience to obedience. But the apostles used the authority of the law to provoke Christians to their duty (as in Eph. 6. 1-2). Therefore the law is the rule by which Christians must walk.
(4) If the law of God does not bind the conscience of a regenerate man to obedience, then whatever he does which is commanded in the law, he does more than his duty; and so either merits or sins, being guilty of will-worship. But in obedience to the law he is not guilty of will-worship, neither does he merit: ‘When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do’ (Luke 17. 10).
(5) Either the law binds the conscience of Christians to obedience, or Christians do not sin in the breach of the law. But they sin in the breach of it, as says 1 John 3. 4: ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’. Therefore, the transgression of the law is sin. Or look at it thus: If Christians are bound not to sin, then they are bound to keep the law. But Christians are bound not to sin; therefore they are bound to keep the law. I know that objectors will agree that Christians are bound not to sin, but that they will deny that they are bound to obey the law; but I will prove my point in this way: If he that breaks the law sins, then Christians are bound to keep the law if they are not to sin. But he that breaks the law does sin, as says the apostle: ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3. 4), and ‘Where no law is there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4. 15). therefore Christians are bound, if they would avoid sin, to obey the law.
And now, being driven against the wall, the objectors have no way to maintain the former error but by another. They tell us plainly that believers do not sin: ‘Be in Christ and sin if you can. ‘But the apostle tells them that they sin in saying this: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1. 8). Nay, We ‘make him (that is, God) a liar’ (v. 10). ‘If we say’, includes the apostles as well as others, for ‘there is no man who sins not’ (1Kings 846). ‘In many things we offend all’ (James 3. 2).
Five Further Arguments for Obedience to the Law.
But if this will not silence them, then they say that God sees no sin in those who are believers. But what is this? It is one thing to sin, and another for God not to see sin. Indeed, He sees not sin, either to condemn believers for sin, or to approve and allow of sin in believers. He sees not sin, that is, He will not see sin to impute it to us when we are in Christ. But if this does not convince the objectors, then they say: Though believers sin, and though God sees it, for He sees all and brings all into judgment, yet God is not displeased with the sins of believers. I reply:
1. Certainly, perfect good must for ever hate that which is perfect evil, and the nearer it is to Him, the more God hates it. In a wicked man, God hates both sin and sinner, but in a believer. He hates the sin, though He pities and loves the poor sinner. He is displeased with sin, though He pardons sin through Christ. But we will follow this no longer. Thus much must suffice for the proof and vindication of the first argument.
2. If the same sins are condemned and forbidden after Christ came as were forbidden before He came, then the law, in respect of its being a rule of obedience, is still in force; but the same sins are thus condemned and forbidden. That which was sin then is sin now. I speak of sin against the moral law. Therefore the moral law is still in force to believers as their rule of obedience.
3. If the same duties which were enjoined in the law are commanded believers under the Gospel, then the law still remains as a rule of direction and obedience. But the same duties are commanded under the Gospel as were enjoined under the law, as I have already shown (e.g. Rom. 13. 9-10 and Eph. 6. 1). Therefore the law still remains as a rule of obedience under the Gospel.
4. If the things commanded in the law are part of holiness and conformity to God, and if this conformity to the law is required of us, then we conclude that the law is still in force. But the things commanded are part of Christian holiness, and conformity to the law is required of us. Therefore the law is still in force. That the things commanded are part of our holiness, I suppose is granted. If so, that this conformity to the law is required of us, it is easy to prove. That which we are to aspire to, and labour for, and after which we are to endeavour both in our affections and actions, in our principles and practices, that, surely, is required of us. But this is all the same with conformity to the law of God. That we are to aspire to such conformity in our affections is clear from Rom. 7. 22, 25, where the apostle shows us that he delighted in the law of God, and that he served the law in his mind. Nay, it was his purpose, aim, desire, and endeavour of heart, to be made conformable to that law which he says is ‘holy, just, and good’. Though he fell short of it, yet he aspired after it; which shows we too are to aspire after it in our affections. And it is equally plain that we are to endeavour after conformity to it in our actions. Take both together: ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments’ (Ps. 119. 4-6). He has respect to them in his heart and affections; and he seeks conformity to them in life and actions. And this was his duty, because God had commanded: ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’ 5. It cannot be part of our freedom by Christ to be freed from obedience to the law, because the law is holy, just, and good. Surely it is no part of our freedom to be freed from that which is holy, just, and good! Consider it in this way: That cannot be part of our freedom which is no part of our bondage. But obedience and subjection to the moral law in the sense I have showed was never part of our bondage. Therefore to be freed from obedience to the law cannot be part of our freedom. I will prove that it was never part of our bondage.
That cannot be part of our bondage which is part of our glory; but obedience and conformity to the law, both in principle and in practice, is part of our glory; therefore it cannot be part of our bondage. Again, that cannot be said to be part of our bondage which is part of our freedom. But to obey the law is part of our freedom, as we read in Luke1. 74: ‘That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.’ I shall proceed no further upon this. It is plain enough, that the law in the substance of it remains a rule of walking or obedience to them in Christ. We shall give two or three applications and then come to the second matter.
(i) Application against Papists
The foregoing will serve to show the error of the Papists in their unjust charge against us that we make it a part of our Christian liberty to be exempted from all law and to live as we list, and that we are not bound to the obedience of any law in conscience before God. We appeal to all the Reformed Churches in the Christian world, whether ever any of them did put forth such an opinion as this. It is the concurrent opinion of all Reformed Churches that Christians are subject to the rule, the direction, and the authority of the moral law, as says Chamier: ‘Believers are free from the curses, not from the obligations, of the law.’ We preach obedience to the law, but not as the Papists do. They preach obedience as a means to justification; we preach justification as a means to obedience. We cry down works in opposition to grace in justification, and we cry up obedience as the fruits of grace in sanctification. He that does not walk in obedience is a stranger yet to Christ; and he that rests in his obedience does not know Christ. Indeed, many are too much like the Jews still. God set up a law as a rule of walking, and they look for justification by it. These poor men are like oxen in the yoke; they draw and toil and spend their strength (for who do more than those who think to earn merit thereby?), and when they have performed their labour, they are fatted up for slaughter. So it is with these: when they have endeavoured hard after their own righteousness, they perish in their just condemnation. These men Luther fitly calls ‘the devil’s martyrs’: they suffer much, and take much pains to go to hell. The apostle tells them what they are to expect: ‘For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse’ (Gal. 3. 10), that is, those who are under the works of the law for justification; and the apostle gives the reason, ‘for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’. These men seek life in death, righteousness in sin. And, alas, we are all too apt to follow this line; it is hard to perform all righteousness and rest in none; hard to be in duties in respect of performance, and out of duties in respect of dependence. We are apt to weave a web of righteousness of our own, to spin a thread of our own by which we may climb up to heaven. Were it not so, what is the need for so many exhortations and admonitions to perform all righteousness but to rest in none? The Scripture does not make a practice of killing flies with beetles, 1 or cleaving straws with wedges of iron; nor does it spend many admonitions and exhortations where there is no need.
Alas, there are multitudes in the world who make a Christ of their own works, and this is their undoing. They look for righteousness and acceptance more in the precept than in the promise, in the law rather than in the Gospel, more in working than in believing; and so they miscarry. There is something of this spirit in us all; otherwise we should not be up and down so much in respect of our comforts and our faith, as is still so often the case. We become cast down with every weakness in ourselves. But we should be all in Christ in weak performance, and nothing in ourselves in strong performances.
(ii) Against Antinomians.
We look next at the case of those who are called Antinomians. Just as the Papists set up the law for justification, so the Antinomians decry the law for sanctification. We claim to be free from the curses of the law; they would have us free from the guidance, from the commands of the law. We say We are free from the penalties, but they would abolish the precepts of the law. They tell us that we make a false mixture together of Christ and Moses, and that We mingle law and Gospel together. How unjustly they lay this charge against us, let men of understanding judge. We cry down the law in respect of justification, but we set it up as a rule of sanctification. The law sends us to the Gospel that We may be justified; and the Gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified. Whatever they say of the law, though they cast contempt and disgrace upon it, and upon those who preach it, yet we know that, for the substance of it, it is the image of God, a beam of His holiness. The things therein commanded and forbidden are things morally, and therefore eternally, good and evil; nothing can alter the nature of them. Things not by nature either good or evil are alterable by him that commanded them. But those things which are morally good or evil, God can no more alter them than make evil good, or good evil. That which was morally good formerly is morally good now, and is to be pursued and practised. That which was formerly morally evil is morally evil now, and is to be shunned and avoided. We have a Gospel rule which turns us to obedience to the law. We find it in Phil. 4. 8: ‘Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’ And I hope the law is of this number. The apostle tells us that the law is ‘holy and just and good’; certainly in it there is nothing commanded but what is good. If we are to learn of the ant, and from brute beasts, certainly are we much more to learn from the law, which is the image of God in man and the will of God to man. We have nothing to do with Moses, nor do we look to Sinai, the hill of bondage, but We look to Zion, the mountain of grace. We take the law as the eternal rule of God’s will, and we desire to conform ourselves to it, and to breathe out with David, ‘O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’ Certainly the law and the Gospel help one another; they lend one another the hand, as says Peter Martyr.
The law is subservient to the Gospel. Its purpose is to convince and humble us, and the Gospel is to enable us to fulfil the obedience of the law. The law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; the Gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of Me. Our obedience to the law is nothing else but the expression of our thankfulness to God who has freely justified us, that ‘being redeemed, we might serve Him without fear’ (Luke 1. 74). Though our service is not the motive or impelling cause of God’s redeeming of us, yet it is the purpose of our redemption. The apostle shows this at length in the sixth chapter of Romans; it is the application he makes of the doctrine of free justification. He continues: ‘Therefore, brethren, we are debtors’ (Rom. 8. 12). If Christ has freed us from the penalties, how ought we to subject ourselves to the precepts! If He has delivered us from the curses, how ought we to study the commands! If He paid our debt of sin, certainly we owe a debt of service.
This was the great end of our redemption; He redeemed us from bondage and brought us into freedom, from slavery to service. That which Christ has redeemed us t o, He cannot be said to redeem us from; but He has redeemed us unto service, and therefore cannot be said to redeem us from service. Indeed, He has freed us from the manner of our obedience, but not from the matter of our obedience. We now obey, but it is from other principles, by other strength, unto other ends, than we did before.
Previously, the principles of obedience were legal and servile, now they are filial and evangelical. As the law was given with evangelical purposes, so it is now kept from evangelical principles, principles of faith, love, and delight, which causes the soul to obey, and facilitates the whole of obedience. The love of Christ constrains (2 Cor. 5. 14), yet is the obedience free. Love knows no difficulties; things impossible to others are easy to them that love. The grounds of obedience differ: heretofore, fear, now love. Previously the strength was our ow n; now we have fellowship with the strength of Christ. Our works are said to be wrought in God, by union with Him (John 3. 21), and by fellowship with Him. As we can do nothing without Him, so we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. And this strength He has promised: The Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments’ (Deut. 26. 18). He tells us that He works all our works in us and for us (Isa. 26. 12), the required works of grace in us, and of duty for us.
The ends before were for justification and life; now they are for other ends – to glorify God, to dignify the Gospel, to declare our sincerity, to express our thankfulness. Before, we obeyed, but out of compulsion of conscience; now we obey out of the promptings of nature, which, so far as it works, works to God, as naturally as stones move downward or sparks fly upward. Thus, then, it is that we preach the law, not in opposition to, but in subordination to the Gospel, as we shall show at length later.
(iii) To all believers.
Lastly, under this head, let me exhort you all to judge of the law aright, and then let it be your care to maintain it. Let not Moses take the place of Christ; but, at the same time, make a right use of Moses. When works and obedience take their right place, when the law is rightly used, then it is holy, just and good. But if we use it as our life, then we trample the blood of Christ underfoot, and make His life and death in vain. Let the servant follow the Master; let Moses follow Christ; the law, grace; obedience, faith; and then all act their proper and designed parts. Remember what Zacharias said: You were redeemed that you might serve’ (Luke 1. 74), that you might live unto Him that died for you. Reason from mercy to duty, not from mercy to liberty. O beware that the great things of Christ do not make you more careless! Take heed not to abuse mercy. It is a sad thing when Christians abuse the grace of Christ. The justice of God prevails with others; oh, but God would have His tender mercies prevail with you: ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice’ (Rom. r2. i). The reasonings of saints are to be from engagements of mercy to enlargements in duty (2 Cor. 5. 14 and 7. 1). Having such precious promises, let us purge ourselves from all corruptions of the flesh and spirit. None but venomous spirits will, spider-like, suck poison from such sweets, or draw such inferences from mercy as may be encouragements to sin.
It would be a sad matter if believers should grow more slack and sluggish; if that which should quicken them slackens their hands; if a man should say in his heart, Christ died, I need not pray so much; Christ has done all, therefore I need do nothing. The doctrine we advance should strengthen and not weaken your engagement to duty, should heighten and not lessen your engagement to duty; it should quicken and not deaden your hearts’ affections; it should inflame and not cool your spirits.
Worse still would it be if we should draw arguments to sin from mercy received. Should that become a spur which should be the greatest curb? ‘Shall we sin because grace abounds?’ (Rom. 6. 1). There is mercy with thee, that thou mayest be feared’, says the Psalmist (130. 4), not that I may sin, but that I may serve. You whom the law has sent to the Gospel, let the Gospel again send you to the law; study now your duty; abundance of mercy calls for abundance of duty. If God had not abounded in mercy, what would have become of us? And has He abounded in mercy? Oh, then, let us abound in duty; let us obey for God’s sake who gives us His Son; for Christ’s sake who has given Himself that we might give ourselves to God; for faith’s sake which is dead without obedience. It is the cry of faith, Give me children, else I die. Obey for the sake of your profession of His Name. Adorn the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What a shame if it should be said of us that faith cannot do that which unbelief is able to do! What will Turks and Mohammedans say – ‘Look, these are the people who reverence Christ! These are the servants of the crucified God! They profess Christ and yet will forswear and will sin against Christ!’ What will Papists say? These are they who preach faith, and yet are strangers to obedience, and live in sin. ‘No, let the righteousness of the law be fulfilled in us; let us walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’ (Rom. 8. 4). The law is a royal law:, If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture’, says James, ‘ye do well’ (2. 8). It is a royal law, that we might live royally above the ordinary rank of men in obedience. ‘Receive not the grace of God in vain’ (2 Cor. 6. 1). If you receive it not in vain, you will have power to will, and power to do; you will prize grace and walk thankfully. It was wittily spoken by one – and there is some truth in the saying – ‘Live as though there were no Gospel; die as though there were no law. Pass the time of this life in the wilderness of this world under the conduct of Moses; but let none but Joshua bring you over into Canaan, the promised land.’
The saying agrees thus far with Scripture. Moses was a man of the law; he gave the law and he is often taken as representing the law: ‘They have Moses and the prophets’ (Luke 16. 29); There is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust’ (John 5. 45). Joshua was a type of Christ; his name signifies so much; he was Jesus, so called in Heb. 4. 8: ‘If Jesus’, that is, Joshua, ‘could have given them rest’. Moses must lead the children of Israel through the wilderness, but Joshua must bring them into Canaan. So while you are in the wilderness of this world, you must walk under the conduct of Moses; you must live in obedience to the law. But it is not Moses but Joshua, not works but faith, not obedience but Christ, who must bring you into Canaan. Do what you can while you live; but be sure to die resting on Christ’s merits.
This must suffice under our first main proposition; that the substance of the law is a rule of obedience to the people of God, and that to which they are to conform their lives and their walk now under the Gospel. This we have proved by the Scriptures, by a cloud of witness es, by the concordant testimony of the Reformed Churches. We have strengthened this by many arguments, and given some applications of the doctrine.
3. Law and Grace
Proposition 2: The Law Is Not Incompatible with Grace.
The next part of our first main query will prove more knotty than the first, but if we are able to make it good, it will at once vindicate the law, and overthrow the many erroneous opinions that are in conflict with it. Our proposition is that there was no end or use for which the law was given which was incompatible with grace and which was not serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace. This I hope to make good, and then it will be seen how the Gospel is in the law; also that the law is not that which some men make it out to be, that is, opposite to the Gospel and to grace; for I shall show that it may run along with grace, and be serviceable to the advancement of grace.
In the prosecution of this matter we shall follow this method:
(1) We shall first explain the chief and principal ends for which the law was promulgated or given;
(2) We shall explain how those ends are consistent with grace and serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace; and therefore that they may continue under grace;
(3) We shall answer such objections as may be raised against this doctrine;
(4) We shall sum up the matter in few words and make a brief application.
Seven Purposes For Which The Law Was Given.
First of all, then, my work is to show the chief and principal ends for which the law was promulgated or given. There are two main ends to be observed, one was political, the other theological or divine. The political use is hinted at by the apostle in i Tim. 1. 8-9: ‘Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for man-slayers’, etc; that is, it was made for them in such fashion that, if it were not their rule, it should be their punishment. Such is the political use of the law.
Its second great purpose was divine, or theological; and this is two-fold, as seen in those who are not justified, and as seen in those who are justified. In those who are not justified, the law first reveals their sin to them, humbles them for sin, and so drives them to Christ. In those who are justified it acts first of all as a doctrine to drive them to duty, next as a glass to reveal their defects so that they may be kept humble and may fly to Christ, next as a restrainer and corrector of sin, and then again as a reprover of sin (2 Tim. 3. 16).
I must, however, state the principal and chief ends for which the law was promulgated:
(1) To restrain transgression; to set bounds and banks to the cursed nature of fallen man, not only by revealing sin, but also the wrath of God against sin: ‘tribulation and anguish to every soul of man that doeth evil’ (Rom. 2. 8-9). We read in Gal. 3. 19 that ‘the law was added because of transgressions’. This Scripture Jerome and Chrysostom understand to refer to the restraining of transgressions. The law may restrain sinners, though it cannot renew sinners; it may hold in and bridle sin, though it cannot heal and cure it. Before God gave the law, sin had a more perfect reign. By reason of the darkness of men’s understandings, and the security of their hearts (Rom. 5. 13-14), death reigned, and so sin, from Adam to Moses, as the apostle shows. Therefore God might give them the law to show them, not only that they sinned in such courses as they walked in, but to show them also that heavy wrath of God which they drew upon themselves by their sin, the effect of which might be to restrain them in their course of sin, and to hinder sin so that it could not now have so complete and uncontrolled a dominion and reign in the soul. Though it continued to reign – for restraining grace does not conquer sin, though it suppresses and keeps it down – yet it could not have full dominion. The sinners would be in fear, and that would serve to restrain them in their ways of sin, though not to renew them.
If God had not given a severe and terrible law against sin, such is the vileness of men’s spirits, they would have acted all villainy. The Devil would not only have reigned, but raged in all the sons of men. And therefore, as we do with wild beasts, wolves, lions, and others, binding them in chains that they may be kept from doing the mischief which their inclinations carry them to, so the law chains up the wickedness of the hearts of men, that they dare not fulfil those lustful inclinations which are found in their hearts.
Blessed be God that there is this fear upon the spirits of wicked men; otherwise we could not well live in the world. One man would be a devil to another. Every man would be a Cain to his brother, an Amnon to his sister, an Absalom to his father, a Saul to himself, a Judas to his master; for what one man does, all men would do, were it not for a restraint upon their spirits. Naturally, sin is oblivious to sense and shame too. There would be no stay, no bank, no bounds to sin, without the law. Therefore we have cause to bless God that he has given a law to restrain transgression, that if men will not be so good as they should be, yet, being restrained, they become not so bad as they would be. Were it not for this, and for the awe that God has cast upon the spirits of wicked men by means of it, there would be no safety.
The fields, the streets, your houses, your beds, would have been filled with blood, uncleanness, murder, rapes, incests, adulteries, and all manner of mischief. If there were no law, saying, Thou shalt do no murder’, men would make every rising of passion a stab. If there were no law saying, ‘Thou shalt not steal’, men would think theft, deception, cheating, and oppression good policy, and the best life would be ‘ex rapto vivere’ (living by robbery), living by other men’s sweat. If there were no law saying, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, men would defile their neighbour’s bed, and commit all manner of wickedness.
For these reasons God has given a law to set bounds and banks to defend us against the incursions and breaches that sin would make upon us. He that sets bounds and banks to the raging sea, which otherwise would overflow the land, also sets bounds and banks to men’s sins and sinful affections. It is no less wonder that the deluge of lust and corruption in men does not break forth to the overflowing of all banks, than that the sea does not break forth upon us, but He that sets bounds to the one, also binds and restrains the other. This, then, is one purpose God has in giving the law.
(2) Secondly, the law was given to uncover and reveal transgression, and this, I conceive, is the true meaning of the apostle’s words in Gal. 3. 19: The law was added because of transgressions’, that is, chiefly, that the law might be ‘instar speculi’ (like a glass) to reveal and discover sin. Therefore says the apostle: ‘Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet’ (Rom. 7. 7). The apostle seems to say the same thing in Rom. 5. 20: The law entered that the offence might abound’, that is, that sin might appear exceedingly sinful. And this is another end God had in giving the law, to open, to reveal, to convince the soul of sin. And this was with reference to the promise of grace and mercy.
It was for this reason God gave the law after the promise, to reveal sin and to awaken the conscience, and to drive men out of themselves, and bring them over to Christ. Before He gave the law, men were secure and careless. They did not esteem the promise and the salvation which the promise offered. They did not see the necessity for it. Therefore God gave the law to discover sin, and by that to reveal our need of the promise, that in this way the promise and grace might be advanced. In giving the law, God did but pursue the purpose of mercy He had in giving the promise, by taking a course to make His Gospel worthy of all acceptation, that when we were convinced of sin, we might look out for and prize a Saviour; when we were stung by the fiery serpent, we might look up to the brazen serpent – in all this, I say, God was but pursuing the design of His own grace.
(3) Thirdly, the law was given to humble men for sin, and this is a fruit of the former, as we have it in Rom. 3. 19-20:, Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God’, that is, sensible of their own guilt. We were no less guilty before, but now by the law men are made sensible of their own guilt, for, says the apostle,, By the law is the knowledge of sin’. It is also written,, Where there is no law, there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4. 15), that is to say, no transgression appears where there is no law to discover it, or no transgression is charged upon the conscience where there is no law to discover sin. This seems to be excellently set out in Rom. 5. 13-14:, Until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses’, etc. The meaning is, there was no less sin, or guilt and death, before the law than after; sin reigned, and death reigned over all the sons of men, and it reigned the more because it reigned in the dark; there was no law given by which sin was discovered and revealed to them, and to help to charge sin upon them. And so the apostle says, ‘Sin is not imputed when there is no law’, that is, though sin and death did reign, yet men were secure and careless, and having no law to discover sin to them, they did not charge their own hearts with sin; they did not impute sin to themselves. Therefore God renewed the law, promulgating it from Sinai, to discover and impute sin to men, to charge them with sin. I will explain the matter by means of a similitude.
Suppose a debtor to owe a great sum of money to a creditor, and the creditor out of mere mercy promises to forgive him all the debt, yet afterwards sends forth officers to arrest and lay hold of him; it would be concluded that the man was acting contrary to himself and had repented of his former promises, when actually he had not changed at all and had repented of nothing, his only desire being that his mercy might be the more conspicuous and evident in the thoughts of the debtor; therefore he allows him to be brought to these extremities that he may become the more thankful. The case is the same between God and us. We are deeply indebted to God. To Abraham, and to us in him, God made a promise of mercy, but men were careless and secure, and though they were guilty of sin, and therefore liable to death, yet, being without a law to evidence sin and death to their consciences, they could not see the greatness of the mercy which granted them a pardon. Thereupon God published by Moses a severe and terrible law, to reveal sin, to accuse men of sin, and to condemn men for sin. Not that God intended that the sentence should take hold of the sinner, for then God would be acting contrary to Himself, but in order that thereby guilt might be made evident, men’s mouths stopped, and that they might fall down and acknowledge the greatness and riches of free grace and mercy. Thus it was in Job, as is shown fully in Job 33. 16-31. And again: ‘The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe’ (Gal. 3. 22).
(4) The law was given for a direction of life, a rule of walking to believers. This I showed at large formerly: that though the law as a burden to the conscience is removed, yet it is not removed for purposes of obedience. If it were needful, I might pursue this matter further, to strengthen believers. The moral law is certainly perpetual and immutable. It is an everlasting truth that the creature is bound to worship and obey his Creator, and so much the more bound as he has received great benefits. This is a truth which is as clear as the light, and, surely, to be free from obedience is to be servants unto sin, as already showed.
(5) The law was given, not only as a director of duties, but as a glass to reveal the imperfections in our performance of duties, that so we might be kept humble and vile in our own eyes, and that we might live more out of ourselves and more in Christ. It was given so that we might fly to Christ upon all occasions, as a defiled man flees to the fountain to be washed and cleansed, for in Christ there is mercy to cover, and grace to cure all our infirmities.
(6) The law was also given as a reprover and corrector for sin, even to the saints; I say, to discipline them, and to reprove them for sin. ‘All Scripture… is profitable for doctrine and reproof (2 Tim. 3. 16), and this part of Scripture especially for these ends, to be ‘instar verberis’ (like a scourge), to correct and chastise wantonness, and correct a believer for sin. As says Calvin: ‘The law by teaching, warning, admonishing, correcting, prepares us for every good work. ‘
(7) The law was given to be a spur to quicken us to duties. The flesh is sluggish, and the law is ‘instar stimuli’ (of the nature of a spur or goad) to quicken us in the ways of obedience. Thus much, then, for the ends for which the law was given.
Five Reasons Why the Law Is Not Incompatible With Grace.
I am next to show that there was no end for which the law was given which was incompatible with grace and which might not be serviceable to the covenant of grace; therefore the law may remain in force to be serviceable under grace.
1. The law was given to restrain transgressions, and it is of the same use now. It restrains wicked men from sin, though it has no power to renew and thus change them. Fear may restrain, though it cannot renew men. Fear may suppress sin, though faith alone conquers and overcomes sin. The law may chain up the wolf, but it is the Gospel that changes the wolfish nature; the one stops the streams, the other heals the fountain; the one restrains the practices, the other renews the principles. And who does not see that this is the ordinary fruit of the law of God now? It was the speech of a holy man that Cain, in our days, has not killed his brother Abel; that our Amnon has not defiled his sister Tamar, that our Reuben has not gone up to his father’s couch; that our Absalom has not conspired the death of his father. It is because God restrains them. For this reason was the law added, and for this purpose it continues, to restrain wicked men, to set bounds and banks to the rage of men’s lustful hearts.
2. Secondly, the law was given to discover and reveal transgressions, and this is not inconsistent with grace; nay, it serves to advance it, and it still continues for this end, even to discover and reveal transgressions in believers, to make sin and misery appear, and by that means to awaken the conscience to fly to Christ. Hence the apostle says: ‘Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made’ (Gal. 3. 19). Some take ‘seed’ here to mean the saints of God, and make this the meaning, that so long as there are any to be brought to Christ, so long will there be the use of the law to reveal sin both in the unregenerate, that they may fly to Christ, and in the renewed, that they may learn to direct all their faith, hope, and expectation on Christ still. Whether this interpretation holds good or not, yet this is firm truth, that the law remains with us for this purpose, to reveal sin to us., Where no law is, there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4. 15), that is, no sin is discovered; where there is no law to perform this work, sin does not appear. But ‘the law entered that the offence might abound’ (Rom. 5. 20), not only to bring sin to light, but to make it appear exceedingly sinful. The words of the apostle put this beyond all question, I had not known sin but by the law’ (Rom. 7. 7). The law was the revealer of sin to him. He says in verse 13: ‘But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. ‘
It is clear, therefore, that the law still retains this use; it discovers sin in us. T had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Rom. 7. 7); and similarly with all sins. This it does, after grace has come, as well as before grace; that which was sin before is sin now; grace does not alter the nature of sin, though it does set the believer free from the fruits and condemnation of it.
3. Thirdly, the law was added to humble us for sin. This also agrees with grace, and its usefulness in this respect still remains, though some would deny it. Sin is the great reason for humiliation, and that which is a glass to discover sin, must needs upon the discovery of it, humble the soul for it. In respect of this, read Rom. 3. 19-20 and Gal. 3. 22. In this regard it may be said that the law is not against the promises of God (Gal. 3. 21), ‘but the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe’. The apostle says that the law is not against the promises. The affirmative interrogations which he employs are the strongest negations. And he shows why the law is not against the promise, because it is subservient to the promise.
’The law serves the cause of the Gospel’, says Chamier, because, convicting men of their works of condemnation, it prepares them to seek the grace which is found in the Gospel. ‘
The law concludes men under sin; it humbles them, convinces them of sin, that so the promise might be given. Hence it is said in Gal. 3. 24: ‘Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.’ He speaks of the same law as is mentioned earlier in the chapter, which seems (by verse 22) to be the moral law. And how is this the schoolmaster, but by lashing us, humbling us for sin, and driving us to Christ? Or if it is argued that it was the ceremonial law which is meant by the schoolmaster, yet the moral law was the rod. The master does little without the rod, nor the ceremonial law without the moral law. It is the moral law which drives men to the ceremonial law, which was in former days Christ in figure, as it does now drive us to Christ in truth.
Thus the law remains, an instrument in the hand of the Spirit, to discover sin to us, and to humble us for it, that so we might come over to Christ. If the avenger of blood had not followed the murderer, he would never have gone to the city of refuge, and if God does not humble us we would never go to Christ. An offer of Christ and of pardon before men are humbled is unavailing. Men do by this as those did who were invited to the supper; they made light of it. Just so, men make light of a pardon, and of the blood of Christ. But when once God has discovered sin to them; when the law has come to them, as it came to Paul, with an accusing, convincing, humbling, killing power. Oh then, Christ is precious, the promise is precious, the blood of Christ is precious. I conceive that this was the main end for which God gave the law after the promise, to cause sinners to value the promise. Men would not have known the sweetness of Christ if they had not first tasted of the bitterness of sin.
4· Fourthly, the law was given for a direction of life, and so it does still remain and serve, as I have already fully proved. Though we are sons, and are willing to obey, yet we must learn how to direct this willing disposition. I say, though we are sons and are guided by the Spirit, and though in our love to God we are ready for all service, yet we need the Word of God to be a light unto our feet and a lantern to our paths. God has made us sons and he has given us an inheritance; and now He gives us a rule to walk by, that we may express our thankfulness to Him for His rich mercy. Our obedience is not the cause and ground of His act of adoption, but the expression of our thankfulness and of the duty we owe to God who has adopted us. God therefore did not give the rule, and afterwards the promise; but first the promise, and then the rule, to show that our obedience was not the ground of our acceptance, but a declaration of our gratitude to the God who has accepted us. Thus it remains our rule of walking, yet in Christ. It must be our rule in Christ; we must obey by the strength of Christ. Obedience begins from Christ, not that we work for an interest in Christ, but we get such an interest that
we may work.
The law, say some of our divines, was given with evangelical purposes, that is, with purposes subservient to the Gospel. And I say it must be obeyed from evangelical principles, principles rooted in Christ. The law shows us what is good, but gives us no power to do it. It is ‘lex spiritualis’ (a spiritual law), holy, just and good; but it is not ‘lex spiritus’ (the law of the spirit); this is alone in Christ, as the apostle speaks in Rom. 8. 2: ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’. The law shows us what is holy, but cannot make us holy, as long as it is a rule outside of us. It cannot make us holy, for that necessitates a rule within us.
The law is a principle within us first, and then a pattern without us. We are not made holy by imitation, but by implantation. But that principle found within sends us to the law as to the rule without, after which we are to conform our lives without. When the law is once our principle, it then becomes our pattern.
5. Fifthly, the law was given us as a glass to reveal our imperfections in duty, and for this purpose the law remains with us. Through it we perceive the imperfections of our duties, our graces, and our obedience. By this means we are kept close to Christ and kept humble. The law takes us away from reliance on ourselves and casts us upon Christ and the promises.
Thus have we seen God’s purposes and ends in introducing the law; we have also seen how these ends are not only consistent with grace, but also serviceable to the advancement of the work of grace. We come next to objections which may be raised against this doctrine, and when I have answered these I shall leave this first and main query after some application of the same.
Objection (1) That the law as a covenant is incompatible with grace.
The first objection I shall deal with is this: that the law was set up as a covenant, and if so, it was in contrast with grace and incompatible with grace.
That it was introduced and set up as a covenant, certain passages of Scripture seem to declare, as, for example, Exod. 19. 5: ‘Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.’ Still more plainly does it appear in Deut. 4. 13: ‘And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. ’ And again – Jer. 31. 31¬ 33: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord; but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ So it is quoted in Heb. 8. 7-9 with the explanation, ‘For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.’ These places seem to speak very plainly, that the law was given as a covenant of works to the Jews. And as a covenant of works it would not be consistent with grace, and therefore, it is argued, there were certain ends for which the law was introduced which were not consistent with grace.