Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
~ Romans 5:20-21, 2 Timothy 1:9, Romans 3:27-28, Titus 3:5
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
~ 1 Corinthians 15:10, Romans 4:4-5
The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, by Samuel Bolton. The following is an excerpt from the text. Part Two.
For the clearing of these difficulties, let it be said that divines have distinguished between various kinds of covenants. Some of them have set down these three: a covenant of nature, a covenant of grace, a mixed kind of covenant consisting of nature and grace.
Other divines have distinguished the following:
1. ‘Foedus natura’, or that covenant which God made with man in innocency.
2. ‘Foedus promissi’, or the covenant of grace and promise, which was made with Adam after his fall in the words: The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head’, and renewed to Abraham in Genesis, Chapter 15, but more clearly in Gen. 22. 18: ‘In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’. So runs the covenant of grace.
3. ‘Foedus open’, or the covenant of works which was made with the Jews, as they interpret the verses already quoted, Exod. 19. 5 and Deut. 4. 13.
Still others make the three covenants to be the following:
1. ‘Foedus natura’: the covenant of nature made with Adam.
2. Toedus gratiae’: the covenant of grace made with us in Christ.
3. Toedus subserviens’, or the subservient covenant which, they say, was the covenant made here with the Jews merely by way of subserviency to the covenant of grace in Christ, a covenant of preparation, to make way for the advancement of the covenant of grace in Christ. This, they say, as a covenant, has already gone, though the subserviency of it still remains.
Still others say that there were never more than two covenants made with man, one of works, the other of grace, the first in innocency, the other after the fall. Yet, they add, this covenant of grace was dispensed to the Jews in such a legal manner that it seems to be nothing else but the repetition of the covenant of works. In respect of this legal dispensation of it, the same covenant under the law is called a covenant of works, but under the Gospel with its clearer manifestations it is called a covenant of grace. These then, they claim, were not two distinct covenants, but one and the same covenant differently dispensed.
That the law could not be a covenant of works in the true sense of the term, is shown by the following arguments:
(1) I cannot conceive that that could be called a covenant of works under which a holy God is married to a sinful people – but by the covenant described in Jer. 31-33, God was married to such (‘although I was an husband unto them’). Therefore it could not be a covenant of works.
(2) That could never be said to be a covenant of works which had mercy in it to sinful men, but this covenant had such mercy. It was set up with merciful purposes, in subservience to the Gospel, as the apostle shows at length in Galatians, Chapter 3.
(3) If the law was given as a covenant of works, then it would be opposite to, and contrary to, the promise; but the apostle shows that this is not so: ‘Is the law against the promises of God? God forbid’ (Gal. 3. 21). But if it were set up as a covenant of works, then it was diametrically opposite to it; for if salvation is of works, then is it not of grace.
(4) That can never be a covenant of works which was added to the covenant of grace; but the apostle shows that the law was added to the promise (Gal. 3. 19). If it had been added as a covenant, then it would overthrow the nature of the promise. But it was so added that the nature of the promise might be preserved. But if anything of works were here, it would clean overturn grace, and overthrow the nature of the promise. Therefore it was not added as a covenant, nor was it added as an ingredient of the promise, as if justification was to come to man partly by working and partly by believing, for this would overthrow the freeness of the promise spoken of in Rom. 11. 6: ‘If salvation be of works, then is it no more grace’. But it was added by way of subserviency to the promise, as the apostle says: ‘It was added because of transgressions’. It was so added to the promise, or covenant of grace, as to help and advance it, not subvert and destroy it. Therefore it could not be added as a covenant of works.
(5) A fifth argument may be taken from Gal. 3. 17: The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after (the promise), cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.’ But if God had introduced the law as a covenant, it would have disannulled the promise. It would also have declared God to be changeable, which cannot be, for, as the apostle says, ‘God is one’ (Gal. 3. 20); He is the same in His grace and purpose to sinners, even though He seems, by giving the law after the promise, to repent of His former mercy, and by this means to cancel or repeal what He had done previously. Yet it is no such matter, for God is one; He is the same in all. This covenant was established by oath (Heb. 6. 17-18), and when God swears, He cannot repent (Ps. 110. 4). If God set this up as a covenant after He had given the promise, either this would have showed mutability in God’s will, or contradiction in His acts, which cannot be. Therefore the law could not be a covenant of works.
(6) If it were God’s purpose to give life and salvation to the lost sons of men by a covenant of grace, then He never set up the law as a covenant of works for that end. But this was His purpose, as the apostle tells us in Gal. 3. 18: ‘If the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.’ As if he had said, It was never God’s purpose to give life by the law, for He had given it before in another way, namely, by promise. Therefore it was never intended by way of law.
(7) If the law were a covenant of works, then the Jews were under a different covenant from us, and so none were saved, which the apostle gainsays:, We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they (the Gentiles)’ (Acts 15. 11): or else they are both under a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. But this they could not be, as they are both utterly inconsistent the one with the other.
(8) God never appoints anything to an end to which the thing appointed is unserviceable and unsuitable. But the law was utterly unserviceable and unsuitable to this end, to give life and salvation: the apostle tells us the law could not do it (Rom. 8. 3). Also in Gal. 3. 21: ‘If there had been a law given which could have given life’, which implies that it could not do it, and therefore God never introduced it for that purpose.
(9) It could never suit with God’s heart to sinners to give a covenant of works after the fall; because man could do nothing; he was dead and powerless. Besides, it was contrary to the nature of a covenant; man was impotent and could not stand as a party in covenant with God.
Besides, if the nature of a covenant of works is considered, it will be seen quite plainly that it is impossible for the law to be a covenant of works:
(a) The covenant of works is a covenant between two friends. It is a covenant of friendship. But God could not make such a covenant with fallen man. We were enemies, we were guilty sinners; therefore a covenant of friendship could not be made. Indeed, there might be a covenant of grace made with man, for that is a covenant of reconciliation, and such a covenant might be made with enemies; but there could not be a covenant of works made, for that is a covenant between friends, and such we were not after the fall.
(b) The covenant of works was a covenant wherein each party had his work. It was a conditional covenant; man had something to do if he expected to receive that which was promised. But such a covenant God could not make with man after man’s fall, for man could not meet the least of its terms or perform the meanest of its conditions.
(c) The covenant of works was a covenant no way capable of renewal. If man once broke it, he was undone for ever. But the covenant which God actually made with man was capable of being renewed, and men frequently renewed covenant with God. Therefore this could not be the covenant of works. Plainly, then, it was not a covenant of works which God made with the Jews.
Objection (2): That the law is not the covenant of grace, nor a third covenant, and must therefore be a covenant of works.
But an objector may say: A covenant it was, and so it is called. If so, it is either a covenant of works, or a covenant of grace, or else ‘datur tertium’ (given as a third), that is, a third, or middle covenant. But there is no middle covenant, nor is it a covenant of grace; therefore it must needs be a covenant of works:
I answer: If by a third covenant is meant a middle covenant, consisting partly of works, and partly of grace, under which the Jews were placed, and by which they were saved, I utterly deny any such covenant. For there was no such covenant ever made with fallen man, neither can there be any middle course between works and grace. The apostle says plainly: ‘If of works, then is it no more grace’ (Rom. n. 6). If man had been required to do anything to help in the procuring of life, though never so small, and if the Gospel had provided all the rest, yet it would still have been a covenant of works, and utterly inconsistent with the covenant of grace. For, as Augustine says, ‘Grace can no way be called grace, if not every way grace.’ If there was anything of man’s bringing, which was not of God’s bestowing, though it were never so small, it would overturn the nature of grace, and make that of works which is of grace. If a man should ask but a penny of us for the purchase of a kingdom, though he should give us the rest, yet would that penny hinder it from being a mere gift and grace. So it is here. And therefore I can by no means allow a middle covenant.
There are two other opinions which I will here mention. Some men think it neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, but a third kind of covenant distinct from both. Others think it a covenant of grace, but more legally dispensed.
Those who consider it to be a third covenant speak of it as a preparatory, or a subservient covenant, a covenant that was given by way of subserviency to the covenant of grace, and for the setting forward or advancing of the covenant of grace. Those men who hold this view say that there are three distinct covenants which God made with mankind – the covenant of nature, the covenant of grace, and the subservient covenant.
The covenant of nature was that whereby God required from the creature as a creature perfect obedience to all divine commandments, with promise of a blessed life in Paradise if man obeyed, but with the threat of eternal death if he disobeyed the command, the purpose of all this being to declare how virtue pleased, and sin displeased God.
The covenant of grace was that whereby God promised pardon and forgiveness of sins and eternal life, by the blood of Christ, to all those that should embrace Christ, and this was purposed by God to declare the riches of His mercy.
The subservient covenant, which was called the old covenant, was that whereby God required obedience from the Israelites in respect of the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws. Blessings in the possession of Canaan were promised to obedience, and curses and miseries to those who broke the covenant, and all to this end, that God might thus encourage their hearts in the expectation of the Messiah to come.
This subservient or old covenant is that which God made with the people of Israel in Mount Sinai, to prepare them to faith, and to inflame them with the desire of the promise and of the coming of Christ; also it was meant to be as it were a bridle of restraint, and to withhold them from sin, until the time came when God would send the Spirit of adoption into their hearts, and govern them with a more free spirit.
This covenant, of which the moral law is said to be a part, and which is called here the subservient covenant (under which were the Jews), is described by the writer who propounds it, to be a third and distinct covenant, mid-way between the covenant of nature and the covenant of grace. In his treatise on the matter he states the points of difference and agreement which he sees between it and the covenants of nature and of grace. Take first the differences and agreements with the covenant of nature. The agreements are these:
1. In both these covenants (i. e. of nature and of subserviency), one party covenanting is God, the other is man.
2. Both covenants have a condition annexed to them.
3. The condition is, in general, the same—’Do this and live’.
4. The promise is, in general, the same – Paradise and Canaan.
These are the agreements. I will now show the disagreements:
1. The covenant of nature was made with all men, the subservient covenant with the Israelites alone.
2. The covenant of nature brings us to Christ, not directly by itself, but obliquely and ‘per accidens’ (accidentally); but the old or the subservient covenant brings us to Christ of deliberate intent and ‘per se’ (of itself), for this was the true and proper scope which God aimed at in the giving of it. ‘God did not make the covenant of nature with man, that he, being burdened with the weight of it, should go to Christ. In giving that, God aimed at this, to have that which was His due from man. But in this subservient covenant God requires His right for no other end than that man, being convinced of his weakness and impotency, might fly to Christ. ‘
3. The covenant of nature was made with man, that by it men might be carried on sweetly in a course of obedience, for it was engraven on their hearts. But the subservient covenant was made that men might be compelled to yield obedience, for it did naturally beget to bondage (Gal. 4. 24).
4. The covenant of nature was to be eternal, but this subservient covenant was but for a time.
5. The covenant of nature had no respect to the restraint of outward sins, neither in its principal nor lesser uses, but the old covenant in its lesser uses had this in view, as explained in Exod. 20. 20.
6. The covenant of nature was engraved in the heart, but the other was written on tables of stone.
7. The covenant of nature was made with Adam in Paradise, but the subservient covenant at Mount Sinai.
8. The covenant of nature had no mediator; the subservient covenant had Moses for a mediator.
9. The one covenant was made with man perfect, the other with a part of mankind fallen.
These are stated to be the main agreements and differences between the covenant of nature and this subservient covenant. We come now to show the differences and agreements which it has with the covenant of grace: first the points of agreement: God is the Author of both, both are contracted with fallen men, both reveal sin, both bring men to Christ, both are contracted by a mediator, in both, life is promised.
Their points of difference are as follows:
1. In the subservient covenant, God is considered as condemning sin and approving only of righteousness, but in the covenant of grace He is seen as pardoning sin and renewing holiness in fallen man.
2. They differ in the stipulation or condition attached to each: that in the old covenant runs, ‘Do this and live’; that in the new, ‘Believe and thou shalt be saved’.
3. They differ in age. The promise was more ancient than the law. It is recorded that the law was added to the promise, and that, four hundred and thirty years after the promise was given (Gal. 3. 17).
4. The subservient covenant restrains man, but by coercion and slavish restraint; but the covenant of grace works in him a willing and child-like inclination of spirit, so that obedience is free and natural.
5. In the subservient covenant, the spirit of bondage is given, but in the covenant of grace the Spirit of adoption is given.
6. The old covenant terrified the conscience; the covenant of grace comforts it.
7. The object of the old covenant was man asleep, or rather man dead in sin; of the other, man awakened, and humbled for sin.
8. The one shows the way of service but gives no strength for the service; the other both shows the way and gives the power to serve.
9. Both covenants promise life, but the one in Canaan, the other in heaven.
I have thus explained the opinion of certain divines which, though they do not seem to meet all difficulties, are nevertheless reasonable. The main reason underlying the opinion seems to be this. The law is said to be a covenant, as I have showed from various Scriptures, and if so, it is either a covenant of works, or of grace, or else a third type of covenant, neither one of works nor of grace.
It cannot be a covenant of works, as I have explained at length previously, for there was a former covenant, a covenant of grace, made, and this was but added to it, not by way of opposition to it, but by way of subserviency. Besides, this covenant, being broken, was capable of renovation, which a covenant of works is not capable of. And again, when they had broken it, they were not to think the case hopeless, but had liberty of appeal from the law to the Gospel, from God’s justice offended to God’s mercy pardoning and covering their sin, as we find the people frequently doing when they implored mercy and pardon for His Name’s sake: ‘For thy name’s sake forgive, and for thy name’s sake cover our transgressions’; under which expressions Christ was darkly foreshadowed.
Again, if it had been a true covenant of works, a covenant of life and death, then could they have had no mercy, no pardon, but must needs have perished. But against this the apostle speaks:, We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be saved, even as they’(Acts 15. 11). Nay, and then it would have been utterly inconsistent with the covenant of grace; there would have been some ends and uses for which the law was promulgated which were altogether destructive to the promise and covenant of grace. But I have already showed that there were no such ends. Therefore it must be concluded that it was such a covenant as did not stand in contradiction to the covenant of grace; therefore it could not be a covenant of works. If so, say these divines of whom I am speaking, then it must be either a covenant of grace, or some kind of third covenant.
But they say that it could not be a covenant of grace either. For our divines in general reckon this to be one part of our freedom in Christ, that we are freed from the law as a covenant, and if the law were a covenant of grace, only more legally dispensed and administered after a more legal manner, it might seem better to say that we are freed from this aspect of it rather than to say we are freed from it as a covenant. Therefore, if they say we are freed from it as a covenant, it cannot possibly be held to be the covenant of grace. This seems to be the reason underlying this opinion.
If it be neither a covenant of works, nor a covenant of grace, then must it of necessity be a third kind of covenant: and it must needs be such a covenant as does not stand in opposition to grace, nor is inconsistent with the covenant of grace, for if this be not so, then God will have contradicted Himself, overthrown His own purpose, and repented of His own promise which He had given before. Hence it is called a subservient covenant. It was given by way of subserviency to the Gospel and a fuller revelation of the covenant of grace; it was temporary, and had respect to Canaan and God’s blessing there, if and as Israel obeyed. It had no relation to heaven, for that was promised by another covenant which God made before He entered upon the subservient covenant. This is the opinion which I myself desire modestly to propound, for I have not been convinced that it is injurious to holiness or disagreeable to the mind of God in Scripture.
There is, however, a second opinion in which I find that the majority of our holy and most learned divines concur, namely, that though the law is called a covenant, yet it was not a covenant of works for salvation; nor was it a third covenant of works and grace; but it was the same covenant in respect of its nature and design under which we stand under the Gospel, even the covenant of grace, though more legally dispensed to the Jews. It differed not in substance from the covenant of grace, but in degree, say some divines, in the economy and external administration of it, say others. The Jews, they agree, were under infancy, and therefore under ‘a schoolmaster’. In this respect the covenant of grace under the law is called by such divines, foedus vetus’ (the old covenant), and under the Gospel ‘foedus novum’ (the new covenant): see Heb. 8. 8. The one was called old, and the other new, not because the one was before the other by the space of four hundred and thirty years, but because the legal administrations mentioned were waxing old and decaying, and were ready to disappear and to give place to a more new and excellent administration. ‘That which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.’ The one covenant was more obscurely administered, shadowed, darkened with shadows; the other was administered more perspicuously and clearly. The one was more onerous and burdensome, the other more easy and delightful. The one through the legal means of its administration gendered to bondage, the other to son-like freedom. All this may be seen clearly in Col. 2. 17; Heb. 10. 1; Gal. 3. 1-4. 3. Hence, as Alsted tells us, the new and old covenants, the covenants of the law and Gospel, are both of them really covenants of grace, only differing in their administrations. That they were virtually the same covenant is alleged in Luke 1. 72-75: to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant’. What was, his holy covenant’? It is made clear in verse 74 that in substance it was the same as the covenant of grace: ‘That he would grant unto us, 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’.
For brevity’s sake I will give a summary of the thoughts of those divines who maintain this second opinion. They assert:
1. There were never more than two covenants made with mankind, which held out life and salvation; the first was the covenant of works, made with man in innocency; the other is the covenant of grace, made after the fall.
2. There was but one way of salvation, one only, since the Fall, and that was by a covenant of grace; God never set up another covenant of works after the Fall; He sets us now to believe, without working for life.
3· Nevertheless, all Adam’s posterity lie under the covenant of works, as Adam left them after his fall, until they come over to Jesus Christ.
4. The law was never given as a covenant of works, but added to the promise by way of subserviency to the covenant of grace.
5. Though the law was given with merciful purposes, and as subservient to the covenant of grace, yet it seems to reach man as though it were the repetition of another covenant of works under which man stands. Or rather, the covenant of grace under the Old Testament seems to be so presented as if it were still a covenant of works to man. And it is worthy of observation that the covenant of grace, like the sun in the firmament, as it rises to its zenith, becomes ever clearer. From Adam to Moses it was very dark and obscure; from Moses to the time of the prophets light began to appear. The light was clearer still when John the Baptist began his ministry. Then came the ministry of Christ Himself, when there were more clear and glorious manifestations of the covenant, for He revealed the bosom counsels of His Father. After Christ’s resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit, the book previously clasped became fully opened, that he that runs may read. Hence some have called the covenant of grace before Christ’s coming, ‘foedus promissi’ (the covenant of promise); and now, under the Gospel, the covenant of grace in respect of its full, clear, and ample unfolding. The shadows which obscured it in former times have been taken away, and the whole platform of God’s design to save man by sheer grace is so clearly revealed that he that runs may read it.
Objection (3): That as the covenants of law and of grace are opposites, the law cannot be linked with grace.
We now come to deal with the third objection raised by some, namely, that that which stood upon opposite terms to the covenant of grace cannot be described as a covenant of grace, but must needs be a covenant of works. But the law stood upon such opposite terms; therefore it must be a covenant of works. To which I answer thus:
That the law stood upon opposite terms is manifest, for in one case there is the command to do, in the other to believe: as is found, for example, in Lev. 18. 4-5: ‘Ye shall do my judgments and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the Lord your God. Ye shall therefore keep my statutes and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the Lord.’ And again in Ezek. 20. 11: ‘And I gave them my statutes, and shewed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them.’ And again in Gal. 3. 12: The law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them shall live in them. ‘
But these passages may be thus explained. The Word does not say: ‘He that doeth them shall live by them’, but ‘shall live in them’. We live in obedience, but we do not live by obedience. There is much difference between the two statements.
Lest this difference should be evaded, see it plainly recorded in Rom. 2. 13: ‘For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.’ That the apostle speaks here of the moral law he shows in verses 21 and 22 where he discourses of certain branches of the moral law. Likewise in Rom. 10. 5-11: ‘For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law’(he does not say ‘by the law’), ‘that the man which doeth those things shall live by them. But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise… whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.’ So that the law seems to stand upon opposite terms to grace. This is the objection which is presented, and which I have shown in all its fulness. If this can be cleared, then all is done.
Now against all this I might oppose various other Scriptures which seem to speak against it, for instance, Gal. 3. 11: ‘But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for the just shall live by faith.’ Again, Gal. 3. 21: ‘If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.’ That is, if the law had been able to justify and save any man, God would never have sent Christ. But, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight’ (Rom. 3. 20; see also Ps. 143. 2). ‘As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse’ (Gal. 3. 10). If, then, all who look for life by obedience to the law are under the curse, surely God did not set up the law to the end that we should have life by obedience to it. The law entered that sin might abound’, says the apostle, and if the law was given to show the full extent of sin, and the greatness of sin, then surely there is no possibility that man should be justified by it. Besides, it was given four hundred and thirty years after the promise. God gave the promise of life and justification previously to faith, and if afterwards He had given the law so that man might have life by working, then He would have acted contrary to Himself. He would have shown Himself changeable in His purpose, as if He repented of His former mercy. But this cannot be; therefore the other cannot be.
Besides, God could not expect men to work that they might have life, because the promise of life was given before they could do any work. Christ said, ‘Without me ye can do nothing’. We have no life out of Christ; He is our life. ‘He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life.’ ‘That I come, however feebly, to Thee’, said Chrysostom, ‘is not possible except by means of Thee.’ Dead men cannot work. We are incapable of working that we might live. Indeed, in Christ we are made alive that we might work.
Again, God never purposed to give life to man upon man’s obedience, for He had decreed another way to confer life upon man, as may be read plainly in Gal. 3. 11 where the apostle is debating this very matter: ‘But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident.’ And how is it evident? Because, says he, ‘the just shall live by faith’. It is as if he had said, God has decreed another way to life, and therefore surely the former is not the way.
Yet the objector may say, It seems as if the law did require us to work, and promised us life for so doing; and if so, then certainly the law stands upon opposite terms to grace, and therefore can be neither a covenant of grace, nor subservient to it. And if they do not stand upon opposite terms, how shall we understand the Scripture, ‘Do this and live?’
In answer to this objection, I will lay down six or seven particular matters for consideration:
(1) ‘Do this and live’ has not reference to the moral law only, but to the ceremonial law also (as in Lev. 18. 4-5), which was their Gospel. This will especially appear if we look upon the ceremonial law not as an appendix to the moral law, but as it bears a typical relation to Christ, just as every lamb slain in sacrifice pointed to Christ, and said, ‘Behold the Iamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world’. The Gospel was darkly administered and shadowed forth in the ceremonial law.
(2) ‘Do this and live’ was not spoken of the law abstractly and separately considered, but of the law and the promise jointly; not of the law exclusively, but of the law inclusively, as including the promise, and as having the promise involved with it.
(3) God does not bid men. Do and live by doing, but Do and live in doing. We may live in obedience, though we do not, and cannot, live by obedience. We could not live by doing, till we had life; but life is not by doing, but by believing, as Christ says, ‘Ye will not come to me that ye might have life’; here, clearly, it was not by works, but by grace. ‘If there had been a law given that could have given life’ – either life, that we might obey, or life upon our obedience – ‘verily righteousness should have been by the law.’
(4) Some writers think that God, after He had given the promise of life, and tendered life upon believing, repeated the covenant of works in the law, to put men upon the choice of being saved by working or by believing. This, they say, God did, so as to empty them of themselves, and teach them the folly of thinking that they could obtain life by obedience. Therefore God puts them to the trial; and lest they should think that any wrong was done to them. He gives them a repetition of the former covenant, and as it were gives them the choice of being saved by working, or saved by believing. Then, convinced of their own impotency, they might better see, admire, adore, and glorify the mercy of God who has given a promise, and sent a Christ, to save those who were not able to do anything towards their own salvation.
(5) Others think that ‘Do this and live’ has reference merely to a temporal and prosperous life in the land of Canaan. If the people would be conformable to the law which God had given them, and would obey Him in His commands, then should they live, and live prosperously, in the land of Canaan which He had given them: He would bless their basket and store, and give them many other blessings, as listed in Deuteronomy Chapter 28.
(6) Another interpretation is this: that ‘Do this and live’, though it was spoken to the people of Israel in person, did not terminate with them, but through them was spoken to Christ, who has fulfilled all righteousness for us, and purchased life by His own obedience.
Some of these six points I reject entirely, and I cannot heartily go with any of them, but I state them to show the variety of interpretations which have been propounded. I will give briefly my own thoughts of the matter.
I grant that, viewed externally, the law and the Gospel do seem to stand upon opposite terms. But these seemingly opposite terms had, in the case of the law, ends subservient to Christ and grace. For the terms of the law were intended to awaken men, and convince them of their own impotency, to humble them for their impotency, and to drive them to Christ for salvation. If we look upon the law separately from the Gospel, it does seem to stand upon opposite terms. If we take it to mean that man must work for salvation and life, then certainly it is against the promises of God. But the apostle deals with this matter when he asks the question, ‘Is the law against the promises of God?’, to which he replies, ‘God forbid.’ Hence we must not look upon the law separately from the Gospel. We must look upon it relatively, as it has respect to the promise, and then the seemingly opposite terms of the two covenants will be seen, in the case of the law, to have ends subservient to the promise and grace. As is said by Peter Martyr: The law and the Gospel give us in turn their hand.’ The law by showing us our helplessness causes us to go over to Christ and the promise for life. We have already seen that this was the difference between the covenant made with man in innocency and that which God required in the law. In the former, God did not require obedience so that man might become burdened with the rigour of His requirements and flee to Christ. It was simply God’s aim to receive that which was His due from man. But in the law, God’s sole purpose is to require His right so that man might become convinced of his weakness and helplessness, and fly to Christ. So that, although ‘Do this and live’ seems to be against the promise, yet if we look at the end which God had in view in giving the law, to convince man of his impotency, to humble him for it, and to drive him away from all hope in himself, then we can see a sweet agreement and subserviency of the law to the promise.
Jerome propounds a seeming contradiction, yet it is true in both of its parts: ‘Cursed is he that saith, God commands impossibilities. And cursed is he that says. The law is possible. ’ This seems strange. Did not God command the law, and is not the law possible? It is true that it is so. But God did not command the law with the expectation that we could or should fulfil it; we were not able to obey it, nor could it help us to do so. Both of these impossibilities are seen in Rom. 8. 3: the flesh was weak, therefore the law was weak. But God spoke the words,, Do this and live’, to show us our weakness and to stir up our hearts to seek Christ, who has fulfilled all righteousness for us, both positive and negative. He has undergone the penalties, and obeyed the precepts, borne our curses, and performed our services.
The course that Christ takes with the rich young ruler is very observable, and fully proves what I have been saying. It is recorded in Matt. 19. 16-22: ‘Good Master’, says he, ‘what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?’ Here was his question. Christ’s answer is in the latter part of verse 17: ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments’. This was a strange answer. Was the law a way? If so, why had Christ come into the world? And was the young man able to keep the law? That is impossible, as Rom. 8. 3 assures us; and does not the apostle say, ‘As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, 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.’ Strange answer therefore! Christ did not say, as in other places. If thou wilt enter into life, Believe; but here, ‘Keep the commandments’. Yet if we look upon the person to whom Christ spoke, and the purpose of the saying, we shall see the meaning. The person was a proud ruler, one puffed up with the proud notion that he had kept the whole law and therefore ought to have been saved by the law, as he says afterwards; ‘AH this have I kept from my youth up’. Therefore Christ sets him upon fulfilling the law, not as an instrument of justification (for He answers the same question otherwise in John 6. 28-29), but that he may find in the law a glass to reveal to him his imperfections and impotency, and that, being humbled by it, he might seek unto Christ for life and salvation.
When men will be saviours of themselves, when they look for righteousness by the law, Christ bids them go and keep the commandments (servanda mandata), and this He does to humble them and to bring them to Himself. But if men are humbled and broken by a sight of their sins, then, without mention of the law at all, He comforts them with the free promises of grace, saying: ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will ease you’, and again. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach liberty to the captives, to set at liberty them that are bruised’, and so on. The afflicted one’, says Calvin, ‘is comforted by the passing by of the law and by mention of the gracious word of promise.’
So then to conclude: I conceive the opposition between the law and the Gospel to be chiefly of man’s own making. Men should have been driven to Christ by the law, but instead they expected life in obedience to it. This was their great error and mistake. It proved as hard to turn them from seeking life by their own righteousness and obedience to the law, as to force the sun from the sky. I do not think, however, that they imagined they could achieve righteousness by the moral law alone, for there they could not help but see that it was an impossibility, but they hoped to obtain it by joining the ceremonial law with the moral. God had given them these laws, and had often said, ‘Do this and live’. Therefore they hoped by subjection to them to have life. And what they lacked in the moral, they tried to make up in the ceremonial; they would do something of what the moral law commanded, and go to the ceremonial law for what they could not do. Not that all did this, yet many of them did so.
But this was far from God’s purpose. It was their own error and mistake, as the apostle seems to imply in Rom. 10. 3-4: ‘They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.’ They went about it, but could not attain it. All this was but setting a dead man on his feet; and this arose from their ignorance, their error and mistake. They did as poor ignorant souk do with us; we bid them pray, we bid them obey and perform duties; and, poor souls, all they do, they do with the idea that they can thereby justify themselves. They spin a thread of their own righteousness in which to apparel themselves. Poor souls, they can think of nothing but working themselves into life. When they are troubled, they must lick themselves whole. When they are wounded, they run to the salve of duties and the streams of performances, and Christ is neglected. So hard it is to be in duty in respect of performance, and out of duty in respect of dependence! This is a thing beyond their reach, to do all righteousness, and yet to rest in none but Christ. Says the Psalmist to the Lord: ‘I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only’(Ps. 71. 16). And this is our case, too, for Christ is made to us, wisdom, and righteousness (1 Cor. 1. 2 9 ).
Thus have I answered the first great query, and the objections that arose from it. I would lay down these two positions as firm conclusions:
1. That the law, for the substance of it, remains as a rule of obedience to the people of God, and that to which they are to conform their walk under the Gospel.
2. That there was no end or use for which the law was given, but such as was consistent with grace and serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace.
4. Chastisements for Sin.
Query 2: Are Christians freed from all punishments and chastisements for sin?
If we examine the Scriptures, they seem to hold out this teaching to us, that God’s people, those whose sins are pardoned, may yet bear chastisements for sin. That they have at sundry times been under the rod, the corrections and chastisements of God, is plain. Abraham, Moses, David, and indeed all were; and the apostle tells us: ‘If ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons’ (Heb. 12. 8). God scourges every son He receives. That these corrections have been inflicted on them for sin, the Scripture seems to teach in Lam. 3. 39-40: ‘Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins? Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.’ Also in Micah 1. 5: ‘For the transgression of Jacob is all this, and for the sins of the house of Israel.’ Also in Micah 7. 9: ‘I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him.’ Nay, it is laid down as a condition which must of necessity precede God’s removal of calamities from them, that they were to humble themselves for sin, and turn from sin before God will deliver them. Thus the Lord speaks to Solomon (2 Chron. 7. 14), and thus also do we read in Lev. 26. 41: ‘If their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity, then will I remember my covenant. ‘What does this mean? This: that if they would justify God in His proceeding against them, if they would lie down in the dust and own their punishment, and say that their sins deserved it; if they would acknowledge God’s justice in afflicting them; then would God remember His covenant and help them. All this was done by the princes of Israel when they were punished by the hand of Shishak of Egypt (2 Chron. 12. 6). It is said, They humbled themselves, and said. The Lord is righteous’, that is. He justly afflicts us for the sin that we have committed. This proves that they were punished for their sins; for they were to humble themselves for sin under affliction, if they were to justify God in His dealings with them; surely, then, God afflicted them for sin.
But against this it may be said that this was spoken of the whole congregation, and not of those alone who were godly. I grant this, yet the godly themselves were to perform the same duties as the rest; they were granted no exemption; they too were to humble themselves for sin, as we find Daniel and Ezra doing. And if sin was not the cause, and if the calamities were not inflicted on them for sin, then they would have been acting an untruth. To humble themselves for sin as the cause of the going out of God’s hand against them, and to accept of the punishment of their iniquity, even while they declared that God was righteous in it, would indeed have been acting an untruth if God was not actually chastening them for sin, and such acting we cannot allow.
Yet, admitting that this was spoken of the entire congregation, we have other Scriptures as evidence that God has punished His own people for sin, including His choicest ones. Moses and Aaron were shut out of Canaan; God would not allow them to enter the land of promise. This was a great affliction; and in Numbers 20. 12 it is made clear that the cause of their exclusion was sin, because they had not sanctified God at the waters of Meribah. ‘Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.’
David, the man after God’s own heart, as God Himself says, is another instance of God’s chastisement of a godly man. His child dies, the sword does not depart from his house, his own son rises up in rebellion against him. These were great calamities. The Scripture declares that the cause of them was his sin, his act of murder and his adultery:, Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife’ (2 Sam. 12. 10).
Does Chastisement Pertain to the Old Testament Only?
But against this it may and will be replied that these were examples under the Old Testament, and therefore do not prove our contention, for the godly now live under a different covenant. To this I answer as follows: I have already explained that some divines distinguish between three kinds of covenant – a covenant of nature, a covenant of grace, and a subservient covenant. This last was that which was made with the Israelites at Sinai and was contained in the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws. It was a covenant which, though it stood upon opposite terms to the covenant of grace, served the purposes of the covenant of grace subserviently. It was a covenant which God made with Israel when they were to enter into Canaan, and it had chief respect to the good or evil which would come upon them in that land. In it God promised blessings upon obedience, and threatened calamities and judgments on them if they disobeyed. All this is set out clearly in the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth chapters of Deuteronomy. Yet, as I have explained, it was subservient to the covenant of grace, for when they saw that they were neither able to obtain life and outward mercies, nor to ward off death and temporal evils, by their obedience to it, they were to look for the promise of grace and to long for the coming of the Messiah, and to expect all these upon better grounds. Into this covenant they all entered, and bound it with a solemn oath to God, and a curse, as is shown in Deut. 29. 12 and 19. God for His part engaged Himself to bless them in the land of Canaan whither they went, if they obeyed His commands; He also threatened to punish them there if they failed to obey Him. To all this they subscribed, and bound it with an oath and a curse. therefore some interpret the words, ‘Do this and live’, as if they merely had respect to their well-being in the land of Canaan, and during this life.
I have read a story of the Sadducees who denied the resurrection, and consequently, I suppose, the immortality of the soul. They were men skilful in the law and observant of it, though they held this great error. A certain man, observing their keeping of the commandments, asked them why they kept them, seeing they denied the resurrection and a future life. They answered: In order that it might go well with them in this life, that they might inherit temporal blessings by their obedience to them. I will not say that they served the end of the law in this, for certainly God gave the law for higher ends. But this I may say, that it is possible they served the end of it better than the man who asked the question. It may be that the questioner was keeping the law to be justified by it. We read of such a spirit in Rom. 10. 3-4 where the apostle speaks of some who thought they would be justified by obedience to the law, and that was further from the mind of God in giving it than was the motive of those who kept the law that it might go well with them in this life. For the former there is not a tittle of support in the Book of God, but for the latter there seems much. We read of something to this purpose in the fifth commandment: ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which thou goest to possess.’ There is something of it, too, in the second commandment, and a great deal more in Deut. 26. 16-19, and throughout the whole of its twenty-eighth chapter; though under these temporal blessings spiritual things were shadowed and apprehended by those who were spiritual.
It is true, the things that were commanded or forbidden were morally good or evil, and therefore of perpetual obligation. Yet the terms on which they seem to be commanded or forbidden, and on which the people obeyed (prosperity or calamity, good or evil, in the land of Canaan), are clean gone. Yet, while the terms lasted, the people were said to break God’s covenant by their disobedience. This cannot mean the covenant of grace, for that cannot be broken; it is an everlasting covenant, like that of the waters of Noah (Isa. 54. 9). The covenant of grace does not depend upon our walk and our obedience; it is not made upon our good behaviour. Obedience might be the end, but it was not the ground or motive God had in making it. Nor could it be a covenant of works with reference to life and salvation, for that, once broken, is not capable of renewal and renovation. But the covenant under which the Israelites were put was a subservient covenant.
I only suggest this and am not peremptory in respect of it But I do not see that it will involve us in any difficulties. But (and this is the greatest concession that can be allowed to objectors), admitting that the Israelites were under a different covenant, and that it was of the character we have just explained, yet they were under a covenant of grace also, as well as we. That surely will be granted; for the apostle speaks plainly of it in Acts 15. 11: ‘We believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.’
Without doubt, there were some who were God’s choice people, who were not only under, but in, this covenant of grace, and yet they were chastised and afflicted for sin – Moses, David and Hezekiah are examples. This objection cannot therefore overthrow our proposition, namely, that God afflicts His own people for sin.
I have already noticed the cavil that the persons I have instanced as having been chastened for sin are taken from the Old Testament, and that therefore they do not apply to the case as it stands now; but such an attitude actually is full of danger, and would lead to more difficulties than at first appear. The harmony of Scripture must be preserved, for it is one way to discover the truth on doubtful points, and it is the work of the ministers of the Gospel, their great work, to unfold and preserve this harmony, and to show that one part of the Word does not quarrel with and clash against another. The two Testaments are always in sweet harmony and full agreement. God is the same in both; and had we wisdom, we should see the mutualness, the harmonies and the agreements, even in those places that seem to be opposites.
New Testament Teaching about Chastisement.
But in this matter I shall meet the cavilling of opponents by showing that the New Testament does nothing but confirm the Old Testament on this matter of chastisement: I think We shall find that both Testaments speak the same language in this matter.
I begin with i Cor. 11. 30: For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.’ The apostle here tells them of the fearful sin of profaning the Lord’s Table, and of partaking of the ordinance unworthily. Finally he tells them that, though they did not take notice of it, yet this was the great cause of the sickness, weakness, and death which God had inflicted on them, and which now reigned among them. For this cause’, says he, by which he signifies an unworthy partaking. Can there be a clearer proof of what I am asserting than this? Here we find affliction and punishment set down, and here is the sin set down; and lest all this should not be enough, he tells them plainly that for this sin is this punishment — ‘For this cause many are sick’.
But it may be objected that this was not spoken of God’s people, but that those of whom it is spoken were unworthy partakers of the sacrament; God’s people cannot be unworthy partakers of the sacrament.
In explanation of this matter, observe that there is a twofold unworthiness, the unworthiness of the person, the unworthiness of present disposition. The unworthiness of the person is seen when a man comes without the wedding garment, unjustified, unsanctified. After this fashion God’s people cannot be unworthy for they are not found in this state of unworthiness.
But there is also unworthiness of present disposition, or of the manner of partaking of the Supper, when we do not come with those dispositions and affections which are required in such an ordinance. Habitual preparation there may be, and at the same time the lack of actual preparation, which consists of self-examination, and the excitation of our graces, as the apostle speaks:, Let a man examine himself and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup’; lack of this actual preparation may make a man an unworthy receiver. A similar thing may be seen in the prayer of Hezekiah: The good Lord pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though he be not prepared according to the preparation of the sanctuary’ (2 Chron. 30. 18- 19). They had habitual preparation (their hearts were prepared to seek God), but they lacked actual preparation according to the requirements of the sanctuary. Thus may God’s people have habitual preparation but yet may lack sacramental preparation.
That the Corinthians were God’s people may be seen from 1 Cor. 11. 32: ‘We are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.’ It was not a punishment, but a chastisement, a term peculiar to saints, and the purpose of it was that they might not be condemned with the unbelievers. This place then is clear enough on the matter. We now look further.
Let us turn to Rom. 8. 10:, If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin’. Here the apostle shows that death is the result of sin, and though a man be in Christ, yet he must die because of sin; sin brings death. A saying in Heb. 12. 6-8 speaks to the same effect: ‘He scourgeth every son whom he receiveth: what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?’ And why does he chastise his son? Because he is a son? No, that cannot be the reason. It is because he is a sinner. Correction, though not invariably, here surely implies an offence. So, too, in 1 Pet. 4. 17: ‘Judgment must begin at the house of God.’ With this, compare Rev. 2. 12-16, where it is said to the angel of the Church at Pergamos (of whom God gives this testimony, that he had kept the Name of Christ, and had not denied the faith of Christ) that there were some sins among them, and that the Lord bade them repent of them, lest He should come and fight against them. This shows that their sins would bring calamity if they repented not.
And again, in 1 Cor. 10. 5-12: ‘With many of them God was not well pleased:… neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them… all these things happened unto them for ensamples, and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.’ And how are they admonitions to us, if we are not to share with them in the same strokes if we go on with them in the same sins?
Various Cavils Answered.
Thus have I called your attention to some parts of Scripture which seem to hold out this truth firmly to us, that God’s people may be chastised for sin, and that God does chastise His people for sin. Now we shall ask the objectors to show us their strength, so that we may see whether they can stand against the strength and clearness of this truth. We will look first at some of their cavils, which are their forlorn hope, and then we shall look at the main body of their arguments, and shall keep strength in reserve to bring to bear afterwards, thus to make the victory of truth more complete and perfect. What then are some of their cavils?
God, they say, does not afflict His people for sin, but chastises them from sin, and they add: the father does not give his child medicine to make him sick, but to take away bad humours, to prevent or remove diseases.
This I regard as a mere cavil. Afflictions have respect both to time past and time to come. God both afflicts His people for sin, and chastises them (to use the cavillers’ phrase) horn sin. The father not only corrects his child to make him beware of falling into the fault in the future, but also for the fault already committed. He does it to bring him to repentance and sorrow for his fault, and to work out of him the disposition to it. Or (to use their own similitude), he gives him medicine, not to increase his bad humours, but to remove them. We grant it, and we say, God chastises for sin; not to increase sin, but to remove sin. But we add this, that the reason a father gives his son medicine is bad humours, for if there were no bad humours there would be no need of medicine. Likewise, sin is the cause of the affliction; if there were no sin, there might be no affliction. And if a father may give medicine for the purging out of bad humours before they actually break out, and much more for the correction of them and the cure of them when they do break out, so it is spiritually. If God may afflict men for the purging out of a sinful disposition, much more may He correct them for the actual breaking out of sin in consequence of this disposition. The mistake of the objectors lies here, that they look upon afflictions merely as medicine, and this does not truly answer the case. Afflictions are both medicines and rods. They are called rods (as in Micah 6. 9; Job 9. 34; Lam. 3. 1) because they correct us for sin committed, and medicines to prevent sin in the future. But if a man looks upon them as medicine only, let him remember that medicine has two purposes:first, to purge out our present distemper, which teaches us that afflictions are for sin; second, to promote our future health, which teaches us that afflictions are from sin.
A second cavil is this, that we confound things, and regard that as a cause which is but an occasion for chastisement, God, they say, may take occasion from sin to chastise His people, when yet their sin is not the cause of the chastisement. For instance, consider David’s sin in numbering the people of Israel. When he did this, God brought a pestilence upon Israel. David’s sin, say the cavillers, was not the cause of the pestilence; Israel’s sin was the cause; David’s sin was but the occasion; for it is said in 2 Sam. 24. 1: ‘The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.’ God had displeasure against Israel, and David’s sin was not the cause of procuring, but the occasion which God took to inflict this judgment on them. The same may be said of Hezekiah’s sin in glorying in the riches of his treasure and the abundance of his store, as appears in Isa. 39. 2. He showed all his riches to the ambassadors from Babylon, upon which act of pride and vainglory God sent the prophet to tell him that, as he had thereby tempted God, so also had he tempted an enemy and showed him where he might have a booty if he would only come and fetch it. And that indeed would be the issue of the matter, for all this treasure and show of strength which he had revealed would be carried into Babylon. Now this particular sin of Hezekiah, for which God seems to threaten this calamity, was not the actual cause of it, but at the worst it was but an occasion for it. Therefore it is a great mistake in these and other places to make out those things to be causes which are but occasions. Such is the cavil which we are invited to answer.
Before I answer, let me say that I wish the cavillers were no more guilty of confounding things than we are. Certainly the want of clear conceptions of things has been the ground of those mistakes and erroneous opinions which they have put forth. But we will not recriminate, but proceed to the answer.
We grant as much as this, that this or that particular sin may sometimes be said rather to be the occasion than the cause of affliction. But to this we add that sin is not only an occasion, but it is oftentimes a cause, not only of chastisement in general, but of this or that particular act of chastisement. As is seen in i Cor. 11. 30: ‘For this cause many are weak and sickly, and many are fallen asleep.’ See also Ps. 39. 11. As for the cases cited by the cavillers, I conceive that they will afford them little success. As for the case of Hezekiah, I am so far from thinking that his particular sin was the cause, that I will not even admit it to be the occasion of the calamities threatened. I grant it to be the occasion of the prediction, but not of the punishment. By reason of his sin, God takes occasion to foretell the calamity which He had decreed, but this was no occasion either of the decree itself or of the evil decreed. As for the other case, that of David, it was not merely an occasion taken, but there was an occasion given by David’s sin. It was not only an occasion, but a cause, too. If Israel’s sin was the deserving cause, David’s sin was the immediate and apparent cause. If Israel’s sin procured the affliction, David’s sin gave the finishing and concluding stroke. Not only his sin in numbering the people, but the omission of the duty which God required, which was:, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them’ (Exod. 30. 12-15). This being omitted, God brought a plague on them.
This is all I shall say for answer to these cavils which are made. I will come next to their main body of arguments.
Main Arguments Against Chastisement Stated and Answered.
Their first argument, whereby they would prove that God does not punish for sin, is this: If God takes away the cause, then He takes away the effect also. Sin is the cause of all punishment, punishment is the effect of sin. If God takes away the cause, namely, sin, then too He takes away the effect, which is the punishment of sin. If the body is removed, the shadow goes too. Sin is the body and punishment the shadow; take away the sin and the punishment must needs be taken away. This seems to be implied in that phrase which is used in Scripture for the pardon of sin: ‘I will remember your sins no more’, that is, never to condemn you for them, nor to charge them against you, nor yet to punish you for them. Where God pardons sin, there He forgives the punishment. This seems to be granted in the thing itself, the pardon of sin. What is the pardon of sin but a removing of guilt? What is guilt but an obligation and binding us over to punishment, spiritual, temporal, eternal? Therefore, if God takes away the guilt of sin, then does He take away the punishment also.
In answer to this argument, it is necessary to distinguish between various kinds of punishments – temporal, spiritual, and eternal. As for eternal punishment, all are agreed that it can never lay hold on those whom Christ has set free, that is to say, those whose sins are pardoned. In respect of spiritual punishments, as they have relation to, or are subordinate to, eternal punishment, so we are freed from them also. Not only so, but we are likewise freed from all temporal punishments as far as they are part of the curse for sin, and as far as they are satisfactions for sin, either satisfaction by way of purchase or satisfaction by way of punishment; for God’s justice, both vindictive and rewarding, commanding and condemning, is satisfied. Further, believers are freed from temporal punishments as they are the fruits of sin, or as merely penal, for to this extent are they parts of the curse, and so are inflicted on wicked men, but not upon the godly, all of whose troubles are fruitful, not penal, troubles. As far as temporal punishments are the effects of vindictive justice, and not of fatherly mercy, believers are freed from them. God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people. The ground, the manner, the end of all His dealings with them is love, that He may do them good and make them partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12. 10) and hereafter make them partakers of His glory.
But there is another argument which I must answer. It is this: If Christ has borne whatever our sins deserved, and by doing so has satisfied God’s justice to the full, then God cannot, in justice, punish us for sin, for that would be to require the full payment from Christ and yet demand part of it from us. Therefore, there can be no temporal punishments for sin.
I grant that God’s justice is fully satisfied in Christ. He can require no more that what Christ has already done and suffered. Abundant satisfaction has been made. Therefore, far be it from any to say that God chastises His children for their sins as a means of satisfying His justice. Christ having done that has left nothing for us to bear by way of satisfaction. The Papists indeed say that our sufferings are satisfactions, and therefore they punish themselves and submit to penances. But no Protestant divines say so. We say that God does not chastise us as a means of satisfaction for sin, but for rebuke and caution, to bring us to mourn for sin committed, and to beware of the like.
It must always be remembered that, although Christ has borne the punishment of sin, and although God has forgiven the saints for their sins, yet God may God – fatherly correct His people for sin. Christ endured the great shower of wrath, the black and dismal hours of displeasure for sin. That which falls upon us is a sunshine shower, warmth with wet, wet with the warmth of His love to make us fruitful and humble. Christ drank the dregs of that bitter cup, so much of it as would damn us, and left only so much for us to drink as would humble us for our sin. That which the believer suffers for sin is not penal, arising from vindictive justice, but medicinal, arising from a fatherly love. It is his medicine, not his punishment; his chastisement, not his sentence; his correction, not his condemnation. In brief, then, God, for various reasons may chastise the saints for those sins for which Christ has rendered satisfaction, and which He Himself has forgiven. Augustine names three such reasons – the demonstration of man’s misery, the amendment of his life, and the exercise of his patience. I shall give five reasons:
Five Reasons Why God Chastens His People.
(i) God may do it for the terror of wicked men, that they may read their destiny in the saints’ miseries. If it be thus done with the green tree, what shall become of the dry tree? If it thus befall the sheep of Christ, what shall become of the wolves and the goats? If God deals thus with His friends, what shall become of His enemies? If judgment begins at the house of God, where shall the wicked appear?
(2) God may do it for the manifestation of His justice, that He may show to the world that He is just. If He should punish others for sin, but spare His own, wicked men would say that He was partial, that He respected persons. Therefore, to declare that He is just and impartial, He will chastise His own.
(3) God may do it to remove scandal. The sins of the saints bring scandal upon religion; their sins are the sins of public persons; every one stands for many. God was more dishonoured by David’s uncleanness than by all the filth of Sodom. The ways of God were blasphemed thereby, as the prophet tells him; and upon that ground, because he had given the occasion, God would chastise him (1Sam. 12).
(4) Again, He may do it for caution to others. Others’ woes should be our warnings; others’ sufferings our sermons, and standing sermons to us to beware of the like. God chastises lest sin should spread to others. The apostle shows this at length in i Cor. 10. 5-12. Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt to season us.
(5) God also chastens His people for their own good here, and for the furtherance of their salvation hereafter. As for the former, it is to humble them the more for their sin. When sin comes clad and arrayed with a cross or sad affliction, then it works the more deeply for humiliation. Afflictions draw men’s thoughts inward. It is with the godly as it is with the wicked; sometimes they have a careless ear that can hear indictments against sin, and yet not lay sin to heart. Therefore, God opens their ear by discipline. In their month you shall find them (Jer. 2. 24). God’s house of correction is His school of instruction. When an affliction comes upon us, then we are ready to listen to the indictments of sin, the checks of conscience, and the reproofs of God, and become ready to abase ourselves and humble ourselves under them. Such is one end in divine chastisements. Another end is to draw the heart further from sin. Another is to prevent the like. Our sufferings will be our warnings. Men who have felt the sting of the serpent, in affliction for sin, will beware of the spawn of the serpent in the pollution of sin. We read that, before the Babylonian captivity, the children of Israel were ever and anon falling into idolatry, and the whole creation was scarcely large enough for them to make idols of. They could scarcely find enough creatures to make idols of. But after God once carried them captive into Babylon, and scourged them soundly for their idolatry, amid all their sins afterwards they never returned to idolatry. Even to this day they abhor pictures.
Many other reasons for the chastisements of believers might be laid down, but the chief is that God chastises them to make them partakers of His holiness here and of His glory hereafter; and, indeed, to sweeten heaven and glory to them. The philosopher Zeno sought torment to assist him to get the most out of pleasure and said that pleasures were nothing worth if they were not thus seasoned: ‘from the disagreeable to the esteemed, from thorns to roses, from commotions to peace, from storms to the harbour, from the cross to the crown’. The apostle’s words are to the same effect: ‘Our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. ‘
I shall proceed no further with these unhappy differences between us, but before I conclude this answer will add a few thoughts worthy of consideration.
1. Sin does naturally bring evil upon us. As there is peace and good in the ways of holiness, so there is evil and trouble in the ways of sin. They are never separated. Trouble is the natural and proper fruit of sin, the fruit which it naturally bears. Evil lies in the very bowels of sin. Sin is a universal evil, a big-bellied evil. All evils are born of sin. If you could rip up sin you would find all evil within it. All the evil in punishment lies in the evil which attends upon sin. All the Commandments were given for good, and our good lies in obedience to them. He that breaks the bounds that God sets, necessarily runs into evil and trouble. Sin is born from our hearts, and trouble is born from sin. Trouble is as truly a child of sin as sin is the natural issue of our souls. Not only by consequence and by God’s ordination, but naturally, sin brings forth evil and trouble.
2. The evil that sin brings, and the trouble that comes by sin, is either by chance or by providence and Divine dispensation. But it cannot be by chance. Job tells us so, and surely he tells the truth: ‘Afflictions do not arise out of the dust’ (Job 5. 6), and Christ says that: ‘There cannot a hair fall from your head’, without a providence (Matt. 10. 29-30). And if not a hair, if not the smallest thing without a providence, then much less the greatest. Augustine says that God arranges the various parts of the body of a flea or a gnat. So then, the evil that comes by sin is not by chance, but by providence and Divine dispensation.
3. If evil arises from providence, then either it is from God’s active or from His passive providence, or, if you prefer it this way, from either His permissive providence or by His active ordaining providence. The former – permissive providence – does not so well suit with God, who is all act, nor with the words of the prophet: ‘Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?’ (Amos 3. 6). Understand that this is meant only of the evil of punishment, not of the evil of sin, in which God has no hand. There are many things which God permits in the world, which He does not do; these are the evils of sin. But the evils of punishment, these He permits and does too. Isaiah gives the same answer as Amos in this matter: ‘Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? Did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned?’(Isa. 42. 24-25). We see, then, that all these come from Divine dispensation. God brings this evil, and He tells us, too, that it is on account of sin.
4. If God in His providence brings evil upon His people, then either it is out of love, or out of anger, or out of hatred. It cannot be out of hatred, for that were an impossibility; there is nothing that God does to His people that is the fruit or effect of hatred. Indeed, afflictions on the wicked are the fruits of hatred, droppings before the great shower of wrath falls upon them; but it is not so with His own people. Then it is either out of love or out of anger. Certainly it is not out of anger apart from love, for the principle, the ground, the end of all His dealings with His people is love. There is nothing He does to them which is separated from His love; there is love in all. Nay, it is from love that the chastisements proceed: for all his ways are ways of mercy to them that fear him (see Ps. 25. 10). But because afflictions and chastisements are evils, and seem to be the works of one who is angry and displeased, therefore I say that, though they come from love, yet it is from love displeased, from love offended. Paul says: ‘God had mercy on Epaphroditus, and not on him only, but on me also’ (in restoring him to health) (Phil. 2. 27). Why was this? Would it not have been a mercy to Paul if he had died too? Are not God’s ways, ways of mercy? And therefore, if he had died, would it not have been a mercy too? What shall we say to this? Shall we say it would have been a mercy in the issue and event, as God would sanctify it to the apostle, and do him good by it, as he himself says, ‘All things work together for good to them that love God’ (Rom. 8. 28)? Indeed this is good, but this is not all; sin itself may be a mercy in the issue. But the Psalmist says: ‘All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth.’ Not a step God takes towards His people, not an action that God does, not one dispensation of providence, but it is out of mercy. Therefore, what is the meaning of the saying that God had mercy on Paul in restoring Epaphroditus? Why should he say so, seeing it would also have been a mercy if he had been taken away? Would not God still have showed mercy to Paul even if Epaphroditus had died? Why then does Paul say that God had mercy on him in the restoring of Epaphroditus?
I agree that indeed it would still have been mercy to Paul if Epaphroditus had died, but a correcting mercy, a mercy in chastisement. The apostle seems by this expression of his to imply a medium, or at least a difference between mercy restoring and mercy depriving. It would still have been mercy, but a correcting mercy, if God had taken Epaphroditus away. And so it is in general; though afflictions and chastisements are sent in love, yet because in themselves they are evil, therefore, I say, they proceed often (not always) from love displeased, from love offended. We say indeed that God is angry; not that we are to conceive there is anger in God, for He is without ’passions’ even as He is without ‘parts’; but We say He is angry because He deals with us as men are accustomed to deal with their fellows in such cases; they withdraw from them, they chide them, they rebuke them, they correct them. Likewise does God, in a paternal displeasure, act towards those He dearly loves. I must draw to a close in this matter, but I must first mention a few further particulars so as to give full satisfaction to the exercised.
(1) First, God does not for ever chastise His people for sin. I say this, that not all the chastisements which God inflicts upon His people are for sin. Some are inflicted for the prevention of sin, as in the case of Paul’s temptation; some for the trial of graces, as in the case of Job. Divines distinguish various kinds of afflictions. Some are chastisements for sin, some accompany witnessing to the truth; some are trials of faith and give exercise to our graces. So that, though it be granted that God chastises for sin, yet not all the afflictions which God brings upon us to exercise us are for sin. It may be truly said that sin is the general cause of all calamities, but it cannot always be said that this or that particular affliction is procured by a particular sin. We see this in the case of the trials which came upon Job and Paul.
(2) God sometimes takes occasion by the sins of His people to afflict and chastise them. Thus far most Christians are in full agreement. Many will grant sin to be the occasion, who will not grant that sin is the cause why God afflicts His people; and indeed, this or that particular sin often seems to be an occasion rather than a cause of the chastisement. Sin may be the cause, and yet this or that particular sin may be but the occasion, as I have showed before.
(3) Not only does God take occasion by sin, but often He chastises and afflicts His people for sin. For sin, I say, and not only for the preventing and the curing of sin, but for the punishment and correction of it, as I have already showed at some length. God makes us to see sin in the effects when we will not see it in the cause; to see sin in the fruit of it when we refuse to see it in the root. God reveals sin to us through His works, when we refuse to see it through His Word. That which we will not learn by faith, He will teach us by sense: ‘A rod is for the fool’s back’ (Prov. 10. 13).
(4) When God chastens His people for sin. His chastisements are not the fruits of wrath or parts of the curse, for there is no wrath in them; they are not satisfactions for sin; they are not sent in vindictive justice; they are not merely penal, but medicinal; their reason is displeased love, and their purpose is fuller embraces.
This must suffice for the answer to the second query.
5. Performance of Duty.
Query 3: If a believer is under the moral law as a rule of duty, is his liberty in Christ infringed?
The question might well have been divided into two parts: (1) Whether it consists with Christian freedom to be tied to the performance of duty? (2) Whether the Christian is tied to the performance of duty because God has so commanded? We shall find these opinions held: (1) That it is an infringement of the freedom we have by Christ to be tied to the performance of duty at all; (2) That it is far below the free spirit of the saints to be tied to the performance of duty because God has commanded it. We might therefore have dealt with these questions separately, but for brevity’s sake we shall regard them as belonging to one question, yet we shall answer both parts distinctly.
We commence with the first part: Whether it consists with our Christian freedom to be tied to the performance of duty? We answer: It is no infringement to our liberty in Christ to be tied to the performance of duty. It was the great end of our freedom and redemption that we might serve God. Christ redeemed us from sin that we might engage in such service, as says Zacharias in his song: 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’ (Luke 1. 74-75). Christ has not redeemed us from the matter of service, but from the manner of service. He has redeemed us from a slavish spirit in service and brought us into a son-like spirit; from a spirit of bondage to a spirit of liberty. He has broken the bonds of subjection to other lords, that we might take on us the yoke of service to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light (Matt. 11. 30). Hence the apostle, after he has set down the main privileges which we enjoy by the redemption of Christ, such as justification, and freedom from the guilt and power of sin, infers: Therefore we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh, for if ye live after the flesh ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live’ (Rom. 8. 12-13). The truth is as plain as if written with a sunbeam. It is as easy to separate the sunbeam from the sun as holiness and obedience from the person whom God has justified. As says the apostle: The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world’ (Tit. 2. 11-12). So that about the first part of our inquiry there can be no controversy. It does consist with our freedom to be tied to obedience or the performance of duty; nay, it is part of our redemption, and part of our freedom. Indeed, that is true and real bondage which is not joined with sincere and true obedience.
Three Mistakes with Regard to the Performance of Duty.
But there is some controversy about the second part of the query: Whether it is any infringement of our Christian liberty to be tied to duty because God commands it? Many, though they would perform duty, are disinclined to be tied to it. They would rather perform it as they follow the inclinations of their own spirits than as the duty is imposed upon them by God. There are three mistakes about this matter. We shall consider first the case of those who think they ought only to obey when the Spirit of God moves them to it.
(i) The case of such as wait for the Spirit to move them to obedience Indeed, when the Spirit of God moves, it is good to go, to spread the sails when the wind blows, to open when He knocks. As it was said to David: when he heard the noise in the tops of the mulberry-trees, then he was to go out, for God was gone out before him (2 Sam. 5. 24). So when you find, strong movings upon your spirits, it is good to take those hints of the Spirit of God, and to close with the season. Many are like harlots who will murder the child in the womb, to avoid the trouble of child-bearing. Similarly they will murder the births of the Spirit, because they would not be at the trouble of the work required by Him. This is a fearful sin, to cast water upon and quench and cool any motions of the Spirit of God. When God moves, He comes with power for the performance of the duty; then we should go full sail. It is good to take such hints. But good hearts in this case sometimes mistake, and become perplexed, and think that if they do not act upon every motion of their spirits, no matter how unseasonable it is, they have quenched and rejected a motion of the Holy Spirit. I conceive it therefore not amiss to tell such that sometimes Satan sets us to the performance of duty when we think it is the Spirit of God that does so. This may seem strange, but yet it is truth. There are four occasions in which Satan usually sets men to duty:
1. When our spirits are much sunk and down, either oppressed with temptations or troubles, then Satan puts us to the performance of duty. It is possible that God also may set us to duty at such times, but sometimes the prompting comes from Satan. He deals with us as the Babylonians did with the Israelites when they were oppressed with their captivity in Babylon, and when they said to them,, Come now, sing us one of the songs of Sion.’ Thus, when the spirit is oppressed and overwhelmed, when Satan thinks that we are at a great disadvantage and when he hopes that we shall torture and distress ourselves the more, then it may be he urges us to pray, and not to believe, as those did who dealt with Christ, blinding his eyes and then saying: ‘Prophesy, who smote thee?’ (Luke 22. 64). And so it is with us: when Satan has blinded our eyes, he bids us now see, now prophesy, now pray. When he has disturbed our spirits, when he has troubled the sea (of our souls) that it casts up nothing but mire and dirt (that is, distrustful and unbelieving thoughts), then he bids us go and pray. Yet even so, this sometimes helps to lay the storm, and to quiet the spirit too, so that Satan loses by it. It proves to his own disadvantage, for unexpected grace comes in which he was not aware of, and which he could not foresee.
2. A second occasion when Satan may set us to the performance of duty is when we are called by God to other employments, either natural or spiritual. As for the latter, we may be called to hear the Word, or to confer with others, or to engage in other such duties, and at such times he bids us go to prayer; that is, he loves to make duties clash one with another. Or the difficulty may arise from his use of our natural employments. It may be the occasion of our eating and drinking, or our sleeping. Sometimes he has carried a poor soul out of his bed or taken him from his meat, and told him he must now go to prayer. Yet this may not have been to Satan’s advantage either. But thus he sometimes tempts poor souls; and if they do not go to duty upon his instigation, then he tells them they have resisted a motion of the Spirit of God. If they obey him, it is equally for their trouble; it leads to trouble either way. Perhaps he will charge them with Popery and superstition and voluntary penance, if they rise in the night to go to prayer or similar exercises. Who requires this at your hand? he questions. It is good in all such cases to say with a godly man who was thus moved to prayer when he should have been asleep, Get thee hence, Satan, I will go to duty when God calls, not when thou dost suggest; I have committed my soul into the arms of Christ, and in His arms I will rest and sleep.
3. But there is a third occasion when Satan may set us to the performance of duty. When we are weak in body and not able to perform it, when we lack the natural spirits to do the work, then will he put us on the doing of it. He knows that if we attempt it, then he will, by reason of our natural weakness, get the advantage over us. When he puts us to lift logs, he knows we are weak. When he moves us to duty, it is only because he knows that we have no strength.
4. Another occasion when he puts us upon duty is when he thinks duty will prove a snare to us. In this case he puts us to it, not as the work of God, but as that which will bring us into difficulty, that which will not bring us comfort but rather torment and vexation, that which will not raise us when we are dejected but cast us down still lower. Yet, even so, he is often mistaken.
Thus Satan sometimes sets the believer to the performance of duty. But so, too, does the Spirit of God. He stirs up the heart to duty, and when He moves indeed. He moves effectually; He sets the believer to the duty and gives him strength to perform it; He carries him through. And it is good to observe God’s times, the hints of the Spirit, and to go with them. This is my first answer to the mistake of my opponents.
But again, though we are to go to duty when God’s Spirit moves us, yet we are not to neglect duty when we do not perceive such sensible motions of the Spirit. Grace moves us, or should move us, to converse with God every day; and if so, it is the Spirit who moves us to it. It is the Spirit who regenerated us, though the Spirit who regenerates us does not Himself appear; and God’s Spirit may move secretly, even where He does not move visibly and sensibly to the soul.
Besides, if a person looks for this direct summons to duty, then he will not perform duty out of obedience to the command. We must perform duty at times out of obedience, though we are without both a heart for it and a heart in it. That duty is esteemed by God which is wrested out of the hands of the flesh, and which is carried through against temptations and gainsayings.
Furthermore, if the believer never goes to duty but when the Spirit sensibly moves him to it, he will often lack that communion with God which he now enjoys. How often does a believer go to prayer with a dead heart, and rise with a lively heart! He begins with a straitened heart and rises with an enlarged heart; he begins dejected and ends comforted! How often, when he could find no such motion of God leading him to duty, has he yet met with God in the midst of the duty, and enjoyed God, in a prayer, in a glorious sweet way! Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways’ (Isa. 64. 5). God loves to meet those that are in His way. Though the miller is unable to command the wind, yet he will spread his sails, and thus be in the way to use it, if it come. Though the lame man could not get into the waters, nor command the moving of them, yet he would lie for thirty- eight years by the waters’ side, and undoubtedly with a deal of longing every time the waters moved – O that some would throw me in! So, though we cannot bring the Spirit to us, yet let us set ourselves in the way for Him to meet with us. Maintain the performance of duty; by it the believer may come to see the face of God, to have converse with Him. Thus also he makes headway against sin, gets supplies of strength from Christ, and gets above the world. Those who speak against the performance of duty might as well speak against the actings of faith and the exercise of grace. For prayer is nothing else but the communication of the soul with God, the actings of faith and the exercise of grace. This must suffice for a reply to the first mistake of some, that they are not to perform duty but when the Spirit of God moves them to it.
(ii) The case of such as think they are to do nothing else but pray.
But there is another mistake. Some there are who think they are to do nothing else but pray. God has commanded us to pray and they think they are to do nothing else. Therefore, ever and anon they run to their knees, drop as it were a head, say over a Pater Noster (Our Father), and with a Popish spirit too, as if they had thus done so much to obtain life, so much laid out for the purchase of a pardon and for heaven. There are too many such persons.
There are two chief kinds of such persons. There are such as are blind and ignorant. They would fain go to heaven, and they hear that they ought to pray. Therefore they go to prayer every moment, determined not to lose heaven for want of prayers. There are others who are in humiliation and wounded in spirit. Poor souls! They go ever and anon to their knees. In some cases doubtless there is the dawning of faith and a desire to seek Christ; but in other cases those who thus kneel do so as a salve to heal their wounds, or as a bribe for a pardon, or as so much good money laid out for the purchase of glory. Naturally, men run to a covenant of works, but it must be another kind of work to bring us to Christ. A convicted man runs to a covenant of works. It is a converted man who embraces the covenant of grace. Thus much for the second mistake.
(iii) The case of such as think they are to perform duty because their hearts incline them to it.
There is a third mistake. Some there are who think that they are not to perform duty because God commands it, but because their own hearts incline them to it. To this I answer: Though we must perform duties such as praying and hearing because God has commanded us so to do, yet it is not alone sufficient to perform them because God has commanded them. In explanation of this, it must be understood that there are two kinds of laws, laws positive and laws natural. I mean that some laws are founded upon God’s will and that others are founded upon God’s nature. Those that are founded upon God’s will are good because God commands them. Such were many of the Old Testament laws, such as the ceremonies and the forbidding of certain meats. These were things neither good nor evil in themselves, but only as God commanded or forbade them. Some laws, on the other hand, were founded on God’s nature and were intrinsically and inherently good in themselves, and not only good because God commanded them.
As for the first of these, namely, those laws which were founded on God’s mere will, it was sufficient that men obeyed them simply because God had commanded them. The apostle called them a heavy yoke which neither they nor their fathers were able to bear (Acts 15. 10). In so speaking, Peter indicated that obedience to them was more because God had commanded them, than because of any inherent intrinsic goodness which was in them. His calling of them a heavy yoke was a sign that the Jews obeyed them, not out of love to the things commanded, but out of love to that God who commanded them. They were indeed a heavy yoke, but yet they bore it until God took it off. They were hard laws, but yet they submitted to them till God was pleased to repeal and disannul them. And indeed I may well call it submission, for their obedience was more out of submission than delight. And for those laws it was sufficient that they obeyed them merely because God had commanded them.
But as for the other laws, those founded upon God’s nature, and which were in their own nature good and holy, it was not sufficient to obey these solely because God had commanded them. It was also required that in men’s hearts there should be an inward principle agreeable to them, an inward loving of them and closing with them. These commands must not be esteemed a heavy yoke or a burden, but a delight; and they are to be obeyed from a spirit of love.
When, I say, we are commanded to love God, to fear God, to honour God, it is not enough to do this because God commands it, but there must be an inward principle bred in us whereby we do all this. He that loves God solely because God commands it does not love God at all. If this command be all, then if God has not commanded, he would not do it. But a Christian is to do this though there is never a command to bind him to do it. He sees so much beauty and loveliness in God, his heart is so much taken with Him, that He must needs love Him.
And as for prayer, it is not enough that a Christian man prays solely because God has commanded prayer, but he is to go to the duty of prayer out of desire for communion with God. He goes to the performance of the duty, but not only as it is a duty commanded. Carnal hearts which have no love to the duty perform it because of the bare command. But the true believer goes to prayer because it is a means of converse and communion with God, and he thinks it happiness when he can enjoy a little such communion with Him in the duty. He seeks to converse with God, not as a servant with his master, but as a child with his father; not as a matter of duty, but as his nature calls him to it; not as a service only, but also as a privilege. He esteems access to God and communion with Him one of the highest privileges of a Christian.
Four Ways in Which the Believer Is Free from Duty.
I agree that Christians are freed from duty by their freedom in Christ, but only in these ways:
(1) We are free from duty as our task. As a task it was a burden to us. We are not like day-labourers in the ways of God, as if we had to earn every penny we have at God’s hands. As far as duty is a task, we are free from it.
(2) We are free from duty merely as our trade. We walk in duty’s ways, but not after this fashion, for those who walk in duty as a trade do not follow it for love of the work, but for love of the gains which come of it. A Christian will perform duty because he loves it, even though he sees no gains coming to him by it. The work itself is reward and wages to him. Consider a man who loves sin, whose nature is held in captivity to sin. He will drink and sin though it is to his utter undoing. Just so will a godly man serve his God. He will carry on in the way of obedience even if it yields him no rewards. There is such a suitableness between a godly man and Christian duty that he will perform it though he gets nothing by it.
(3) The believer is free from slavery of spirit in the performance of duty, and does duty out of a childlikeness of spirit, but others perform duty because of the fear of blows or of the cudgel. Were it not for the fear that God would punish them for their omission, they would not go through with the duties. But the godly man would do the duty even if there were no punishment for the omission of it. He counts it his greatest punishment to be denied communion with God. He would speak with God; this is all he asks.
The case of Absalom will serve to a small degree to illustrate this matter. Absalom had been banished from the court and from Jerusalem. Afterwards, through the mediation of Joab, he was allowed to return to Jerusalem, but he was denied admission to the court and communion with his father. Whereupon he sends Joab to mediate for him. The pardoning of his fault was not esteemed so great a mercy as the banishment from his father’s sight was esteemed a misery. Therefore he said, ‘Let me see his face, though he kill me.’ He thought no punishment for his fault to be so great an evil as to be denied access to his father and communion with him (see 2 Sam. 14). So it is here with the soul. The godly man thinks this the greatest punishment, to be denied access to God and communion with Him. Oh, this he esteems to be the height of misery. Rather would he be killed in communion and access to God than enjoy all other kinds of freedom with the denial of such access. A man of corrupt heart does duty because of punishment through failure to perform it. A child of God esteems it the height of punishment to be denied communion with God. He has reached the height of happiness when such communion is his. ‘Blessed is the man whom thou causest to approach unto thee’, says the Psalmist (65. 4), and herein he conceives his blessedness to consist, that is, in approaches to his God.
(4) The believer is free from duty upon the tenders and terms commanded in the law. He does not perform duty that it may go well with him here; nor does he perform duty that he may gain glory hereafter. He regards communion and nearness to God as happiness enough. His spirit does not say to him: Act thus, pray, obey, and it shall go well with thee in this world, and gain heaven for thee hereafter. No! he esteems it a piece of his heaven, to have communion with God. This is ‘coelum extra coelum’ (heaven this side of heaven). There is enough in the thing itself – communion with God – to induce him to seek it and make his soul desire it. He engages in the duty as if, in itself, it were a part of his reward; and if he can but find God in it, and have converse and communion with God in it, oh, there is heaven enough and glory enough in his soul. As for other prayers of his, in which his soul finds no special communion with God, he has this much comfort from them, that his soul did in such and such a duty set itself in sincerity to converse with and have communion with God, though, miserable and poor man that he is, he failed to obtain it.
Nine Differences Between Legal Obedience and Evangelical Obedience.
Give me leave to show the differences between the two spirits, the legal spirit and the evangelical, in nine particulars; these will be worthy of notice:
(1) The principle that moves the one spirit to duty is slavish, the other childlike. In one case the man does things in a legal spirit, either hoping to get rewards by it, or fearing punishments if he omits the duty. The godly man, on the other hand, goes about duty for the sake of obtaining communion with God, and knows it to be his reward and happiness to have that communion, while the lack of it is the greatest punishment he can endure.
(2) The one man does these things as his delight, and the other as his burden. And indeed it must needs be burden to them who find not God in prayer, either something of God going out from them to Him, or something of God coming down from Him to them. To the man who has to do with nothing but duty while he is performing duty, to him duty is tedious; but to those who have to do with God, with Christ, in their duties, to them duty is a delight. Though the man of slavish spirit prays, he has nothing to do with God in prayer, he has no converse with Him; he has to do with nothing but duty in duty; yea, and not with duty alone, for he has to do with the world, with sin in duty, not with duty in duty, much less with God in duty. Therefore it is tedious work to him. But the godly man has to do with God. He labours, he breathes, his heart gapes after Him. He it is whom he has in his eyes, and whom he labours after in prayer, even if he cannot enjoy Him.
(3) The one type of man performs duty from the convictions of conscience, the other from the necessity of his nature. With many, obedience is their precept, not their principle; holiness their law, not their nature. Many men have convictions who are not converted; many are convinced they ought to do this and that, for example, that they ought to pray, but they have not got the heart which desires and lays hold of the things they have convictions of, and know they ought to do. Conviction, without conversion, is a tyrant rather than a king; it constrains, but does not persuade; it forces, but does not move and incline the soul to obedience. It terrifies but does not reform; it puts a man in fear of sin and makes him fear the omission of duty, but it does not enable him either to hate sin or to love duty. All that it does is out of conviction of conscience, not from the necessary act of a new nature. Conscience tells a man that he ought to do certain things, but gives him no strength to do them. It can show him the right way and tell him what he ought to do, but it does not enable the soul to do it. Like a milestone by the roadside, it shows the traveller the way, but does not give him strength to walk in the way. On the other hand, where there is the principle of the Gospel, where there is grace, it is in the soul as a pilot in a ship who not only points the way but steers the vessel in the way which he appoints.
(4) The one kind of man looks for his satisfaction in the duty by the performance of the duty, the other looks for satisfaction in the duty as he finds Christ thereby; it is not in the duty, but above the duty, that he finds his satisfaction.
(5) The one kind of man contents himself with the shell, the other is not content without the substance. The godly man goes to duty as the means of communion with God, to see God, to enjoy God, and to talk with God; the other goes to duty merely to satisfy the grumblings and quarrels of his conscience.
(6) The one type of man performs duty in order to live by it. Ask such a man (for he prays) how he thinks he will get to heaven, and he will say that he will reach it by prayer. But the believer prays and performs duty, yet he looks beyond them, and looks to live by Christ alone. He lives in the duty, but not by the duty; he lives in obedience, but yet looks higher than the obedience: I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.’ He looks for as much by Christ, and from Christ, as though he had never prayed a prayer or shed a tear. Even though he has done both these things in abundance, yet for his acceptance he looks up to Christ as if he himself had done nothing at all.
(7) The one type of man does things coldly and formally, the other fervently. Yet I do not question but that at times there may be coldness in a godly man and earnestness in the other. If Baal’s priests prayed to their idol so earnestly, much more may a natural conscience God-wards. A natural man may pray earnestly. There is no doubt that Ahab was at one time earnest. A condemned man may cry earnestly for pardon. A natural man may pray earnestly at times when in fear or horror, or under pangs of conscience, but he does not cry believingly. There may be much affection in a prayer when there is but little faith; there may be fleshy affections, natural affections, affections heightened either from convictions or fears or horrors. Yet these are but the cries of nature, of sense, and of reason, the cries of flesh, not of faith. Affections based on true faith are not loud, yet they are strong; they may be still, yet they are deep; though they are not so violent, yet they are more sweet, more lasting.
(8) The formal man does duty with a view to it serving other ends, and especially when he finds himself in extreme difficulties. In certain cases things which in themselves are looked upon as most evil may be performed. A merchant may cast all his goods out of the ship in which he sails; not that he looks on the act as in any way desirable – he may cast away his heart with his goods – but yet in a certain case he may submit to it, to save his life. Some men engage in duty in a similar way; they desire holiness but only under great external pressure. They look upon prayer, upon obedience, upon the mortification of their lusts, and such like, as so many hard tasks and impositions which they must submit to if they would come to glory. But it is not so with the godly man. He closes with these duties as his heaven, as a part of his happiness, a piece of his glory. He does not close with them from a necessity of submission, but out of delight; these things are not his penance but his glory and his desire. The other man parts with sin, not because sin is not desirable, for he weeps after it, but because it is damning. He parts with sin as Jacob parted with Benjamin, because otherwise he would starve; or as Phaltiel with Michal, because otherwise he will lose his head; or as the merchant with his goods, because otherwise he will lose his life. And so he closes with holiness, not out of love and desire for it, but because he must endure it if he would come to heaven at last. But the godly man, on the other hand, parts with sin as poison, as an accursed thing which he desires to be rid of, and embraces holiness as his happiness. He thirsts to enjoy it and to be swallowed up by it.
(9) The one kind of man does duty as a sick man eats his food, not out of desire for it and delight in it, but because he knows that he will die if he does not eat; yet he has no desire or stomach for it. But the godly man does duty after the manner in which a healthy man feeds, not merely because he needs food, but because he desires it and delights in it. The one man engages in duty as if it were medicine, not food. He is reluctant to perform it; he has no pleasure in it; he is driven to it only because he conceives that his soul’s health demands it. But the godly man engages in duty as a healthful man sits down to meat; there is delight, desire, and pleasure in the exercise. The godly are as the new-born babes that desire the sincere milk (1 Pet. 2. 1).
The one man cries: The good that I would do, I cannot do; the evil that I would not do, I do.’ The other man cries: The good that I have no desire to do, I do; and the evil that I desire to do, I dare not do.’ The latter would sin, but dares not because of wrath; he does duty but has no heart for it, because he lacks the right spirit.
Delight In Duty.
All delight in duties arises from a suitability of spirit in the doing of them. If there is no grace within the heart to answer to the call of duty from without, if there is no principle in the heart agreeable to the precept of the Word, the heart will never delight in them. This, then, is the reason why a godly man conducts himself well in duty, not merely because it is commanded, but because he has the nature which truly and rightly responds to the command. The law of God which is in the Book is transcribed into his heart; it is his nature, his new nature. So that he acts his own nature renewed as he acts obedience. The eye needs no command to see, nor the ear to hear; it is their nature to see and hear. The faculty of seeing is the command to see. So far as the heart is renewed, it is as natural for it to obey as for the eye to see or the ear to hear; as natural to live in obedience as for the fish to live in water or the bird in air.
Thus it is that we do not obey merely because obedience is commanded –
the mere command is for such as have no vital principle in them – but we obey from a principle which God has implanted in us suitable to the commands of God. We grant that the command is the rule, apart from our obedience, but grace is the principle within. The heart and the command answer to one another. As face answers face in the water, or in a glass, so it is with the heart and the command; the command is transcribed in the heart. This is the reason why there is so much delight in the godly man’s obedience, for it is natural to obey, so far as the heart is renewed. As it is natural for the eye to see and the ear to hear, so it is natural for the renewed heart to yield obedience to the command; and with this obedience comes delight. I delight to do thy will, O my God’ (Ps. 40. 8). Wherein was his delight? The psalmist shows in the words that follow: Thy law is within my heart.’ Here we see the ground of true obedience; the law was not only his command, but his very nature. If the law is merely our command we cannot delight to do the will of God. We can perform duties but we cannot delight in them, though we may think them needful as something necessary for glory and for heaven; but when once the law of God becomes our very nature, then we come to delight ourselves in obedience and in the ways of God.
Actions of nature are actions of delight. The eye is never weary of seeing nor the ear of hearing; neither is the heart weary of obeying; that is, as far as the heart is renewed or sanctified. So far as the law of God is its nature, so far does it find delight in obedience. God has promised in His covenant of grace to write His laws on the tables of the heart. Those who know nothing of this have the law in tables of stone, and write after it as after a copy; it is a thing outside of them, and the work is hard. But for the godly, God says He will write His laws on the tables of the heart; He will transplant them into the soul; they become the believer’s nature. And then obedience does not seem to be a strange command, a law imposed from without, but obedience becomes a natural thing, arising from a law within the heart, the godly man’s very nature. From this source springs that abundance of delight in the law which we see throughout Psalm 119. Delight in obedience to God in His law becomes the nature of the man, and so far as that new nature acts, it acts with delight.
I grant that there may be a kind of irksomeness and tediousness in us at times as we seek to do those things which yet are natural and full of delight. Though it is natural for the eye to see, and though seeing is its delight – Solomon says that ‘the eye is never weary of seeing’ (Eccles. 1. 8) – that is to be understood of a sound eye. If the eye is sore, it may breed a tediousness in the eye even when it does that in which it so much delights. Similarly, though it is natural for the soul to obey, and obedience is that wherein it delights, as the fish delights in water, yet if the principle on which it acts from within becomes disturbed and injured, it may breed a kind of irksomeness, or weariness, or tediousness in the soul in the doing of that thing which it so much delights to do.
This irksomeness may arise from various causes. The heart of the believer may be damped with carnal affections, or it may be pulled back by the remains of corruption. At times it may drive heavily under some vexatious and long-drawn-out temptation; or strange trials may intervene and occasion some sinking of the spirits. And, alas, the cause may be a relapse into sin. Yet, take the saint at his worst, and we find that he has a stronger bias God-wards than others have even when at their best. In the one case there is a will renewed, though for the present a will obscured or in conflict; in the other case there may be some move towards the giving of obedience, but the will is lacking.
Thus much must serve for answer to the third main query. I have plainly showed that it is no infringement of Christian liberty to be tied to the performance of duties, and to perform and accomplish duties, because God has commanded them. The freeness of the Christian consists in this, that he obeys the commands of God, not only because God has commanded them, but out of principles of love and delight, and because he has within his heart a nature agreeable to the things commanded. He prays because God commands prayer, but not only so. He prays because there is a suitableness between his heart and the work of prayer, between his soul and the duty. He has desires after God, and his soul delights in his approaches to, and his converse with, God. Thus have I dealt with the question at large.
6. Partial Bondage.
Query 4: Can Christ’s freemen sin themselves into bondage again?
We are to consider whether the freemen in Christ, or those made free by Christ, may or may not sin themselves into bondage again. Some affirm the one, and some the other. I shall answer briefly.
Two Kinds of Bondage.
There is a twofold bondage; universal bondage, and partial or gradual bondage. We shall consider first the bondage which is universal, that is, the state of bondage, which is bondage properly so called. It is threefold:
1. Universal bondage.
1. It is a bondage to sin, as is expressed in Titus 3. 3: ‘We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving diverse lusts and pleasures’. So also in Rom. 6. 20: ‘For when ye were the servants of sin ye were free from righteousness’. And again in John 8. 34: ‘He that committeth sin is the servant of sin’. And again in 2 Pet. 2. 19: ‘While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption’.
2. It is a bondage to Satan, who is God’s jailer, and holds down poor souls under brazen bars and iron gates, not to be broken. He is the ‘spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’ (Eph. 2. 2).
3· It is a bondage to the law, both to the rigour and the curse of the law. The law requires hard and impossible things, yea, and that in such severity that it will not accept of the most eminent endeavours without perfect performance. Nor will it accept obedience in much, if a man fails in a little. Neither will it admit of repentance after failure; one breach of the law cannot be made up again, either by a double diligence or by repentance. Such is the rigour of the law.
Souls under the law are in bondage to the curse of the law. It is an extensive and universal curse, extending to soul, body, estate, silver, gold, and relations, as can be seen in Deuteronomy Chapter 29. It is an unavoidable curse. A man is unable to obey in all things and therefore is unavoidably shut up under the malediction and curse; as the apostle reasons in Gal. 3. 9-11: ‘As many as are of the works of the law (that is, under the law) are under the curse’. And how does he prove it?, 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.’ Here we see the impartiality of the curse – to, every one’ – and the severity of it. It comes upon all under the law who obey not the law, that is, who obey not in every thing. If a man should obey in all things, but have one omission and failing in his life, it would conclude him under the curse. And a man under the law who continues not to obey in all things is cursed. This, then, is the state of bondage, or bondage properly so called.
2. Partial bondage
There is also a partial or gradual bondage, a bondage in part or in degrees, which is a bondage improperly so called. This is a bondage in respect of comfort, and also in respect of the manner of obedience. And so I shall answer this query in two conclusions.
(1) The first conclusion is that the freeman of Christ, or those that are made free by Christ, shall never again sin themselves into the first kind of bondage, that is, into universal bondage or the state of bondage. Christ’s freeman can never again become Satan’s bond-slave. He shall never more be a servant to sin, for the promise runs: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over y o u: for ye are not under the law but under grace’ (Rom. 6. 14). Sin may exercise a tyranny, but never a sovereignty. A believer may be carried captive, as the apostle says in Rom. 7. 23 – ‘bringing me into captivity’ – but he is never a willing captive. He may fall into sin, but he will never more be a servant to sin. His ears will never be bored in token of a willing and voluntary subjection to sin.
Nor can a believer ever again be a slave to Satan. Satan may get the advantage of him, but he can never more become Satan’s willing servant.
Neither can he ever again come under the law, its rigour and its curse. The law can take no hold of him to condemnation. And why? Because he is not under law but under grace. If he can sin himself from under grace, then indeed he is brought once more under the rigour of the law, and its curse. But this is an impossibility. The believer is free. So much for the first conclusion.
(2) The second conclusion is that, though the freemen of Christ cannot sin themselves into a state of bondage again, that is, into a state of universal bondage, yet they may sin themselves into a gradual or partial bondage. This will appear in two particular cases.
(i) A bondage in respect of comfort.
The freemen of Christ may sin themselves into a bondage in respect of comfort. This appears in the case of David as seen in Psalm 51: ‘Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation’. Men that will not follow the direction of the Spirit of God shall lack the consolations of the Spirit. If they do works of darkness, they must expect to walk in darkness. Though promises of grace are absolute, yet promises of peace and comfort seem to be conditional. Not that our walking has any meriting or deserving power for the procuring of our peace. But this is the way in which God bestows it and continues peace and comfort to us. In the ways of duty we maintain our communion with God, our approaches to Him, our actings of faith and grace; and in these ways, as comfort and peace are procured, so are they continued. Grace is as the fire, comfort as the flame that comes from it.
But as it is with green wood so it is with us. As green wood needs a continual blast to keep it aflame, else it quickly gathers ash and becomes dead, so We must have the continual exercise of our graces. There will be no flame, no comfort, without the exercise of faith, and of grace, and without an obedient walk before God. Promises of grace, as I have already said, are absolute, but promises of comfort are conditional: To him that ordereth his conversation aright, will I show the salvation of God’ (Ps. 50. 23). The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness shall be quietness and assurance for ever’ (Isa. 32. 17).
‘Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways’ (Isa. 64. 5). ‘If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever’ (John 14. 15-16). ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him’ (John 14. 21). Here, it is seen, all seems to he upon condition. So it is in Gal. 6. 16: ‘As many as walk according to this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.’ So that if men walk not in the ways of obedience, they may lack comfort, they may lack peace.
The freemen of Christ may sin themselves into a bondage by sin, though not into the bondage of sin. They may sin themselves into a bondage of fear, yea, and a bondage of trouble. Their sin may cost them brokenness of bones, though they shall not sin themselves into a state of bondage again. Though a believer cannot sin away grace, yet he may sin away the evidence, the sense, the comfort of it. Though he cannot sin away his pardon, yet he may sin away the sense of it and the comfort of it. Though he has it, he has no comfort from it. It is as though there was no pardon as far as he is concerned; otherwise we are bound to say a man may have fulness of peace, of assurance, and of comfort, even when he is involved in the highest acts of sin. And some have even said this.
A Christian man may not only sin away the sense and comfort of pardon, but the evidence and knowledge of it, as that place in 2 Peter seems to imply: ‘He hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins’ (1. 9). New sins bring new fears, new guilts and troubles. All the former foundations and resting places of the soul seem to be shaken; new doubts arise within the man as to whether or not he is justified and pardoned; and these new doubts bring new troubles and fears on the soul.
But some raise objection to this doctrine. They say that this is the Christian man’s weakness, for the freemen of Christ are let loose (from the law) to enjoy the free Spirit of Christ. Dr. Crisp speaks thus in his Christ Alone Exalted. He says that Christians have free discourse and free society with the Spirit of God, and may hear all the gracious language of God’s thoughts, yea, and with application and comfort, and that (as some even say) as they come hot out of sin.
I answer: This is our weakness indeed, but a penal weakness, a weakness which is a chastisement of former wickedness. There are three kinds of desertions which may come to a godly man: conditional, for the prevention of sin, as Paul’s seems to be; probational, for trial, and for the exercise of grace, as Job’s; penal, for chastisement following the giving way to wickedness, as in the case of David.
In the first two of these cases, it is our weakness indeed, but in the third case the weakness is very different. It is brought upon ourselves by indulged sin, a weakness inflicted upon us as chastisement for wickedness committed, as it was in David. His great sin had brought this trouble and weakness upon him.
The Spirit of God is a tender and delicate Spirit. If we grieve Him, He will grieve us. If we will not follow His counsel and commands, we shall lose the comforts and joys that He brings us. ‘Your iniquities have separated between you and your God’ (Isa. 59. 2). Sin does not lead to a total or final separation between God and ourselves; yet it may cause a withdrawment, and breed a distance between God and us. It may cast up such a cloud, that all the faith we have will not be able to see through it, as was the case with David. A passage in Isaiah proves this: ‘For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him. I hid me and was wroth’ (57. 17). Here we see what troubles the soul draws to itself from the admittance of sin, even ordinary sin. All the former resting places of the soul are no rest to a man. All his former evidences are beclouded and hid so that he cannot discern them.
But it may be said that this is merely his weakness too, as David says in Ps. 77. 10: This is my infirmity’. I grant that it is our weakness to question former blessings, as for example, if God has given us a well-founded evidence of pardon and of our interest in Christ, we are prone to call everything in question again. But we must remember that there is a weakness that comes to a man on account of his turning aside from God, a weakness that accompanies wickedness. God suffers it to be so, so that His fatherly ends may be accomplished in him. Such a man must be humbled for his sin, and therefore four things come upon him: God does not now look upon him as formerly; conscience does not now speak peaceably to him as formerly; it may be that Satan is let loose upon him to tempt him; it may be that the Spirit of God withdraws because He has been grieved. Then no marvel if the man is in trouble and if his soul lacks comfort.
But some may object and say: It is the man’s work, after he has committed sin, to believe; and if to believe, to be comforted. I answer: Comfort is the fruit of faith, and in this respect it is our work to believe. But a man may be able to believe, and yet may not be able to take comfort. A man may rest upon Christ for pardon, and yet upon reflection he may not be able to give evidence that he is thus resting on Him. Also, a man may be able to discern his own acts, and yet his comfort may for a time be suspended. Though it is our work to believe, it is not so properly our work to take comfort. God would have us take comfort in an orderly way, proceeding from believing and mourning, to joy and comfort. God’s workings are orderly workings. It is now a man’s work, therefore, if he has sinned afresh, to believe afresh, and mourn afresh, and then to receive comfort.
Again, a Christian may be comforted, first of all, in respect of his former justification. His new sin does not cancel his former pardon, though it will interrupt and disturb his present peace and comfort from it. And secondly, he may be comforted in this, that there is mercy enough in God to coverall his sins, grace enough in Christ to cure this fresh sin. And further, in this he is to find comfort, that God does not suffer him to live in sin, but that He has revealed his sin to him, humbled him for it, and brought him back to Christ in whom he may renew his peace and regain his sense of comfort.
But some will object that, if our peace may be interrupted by our ill walk, then peace and comfort do not depend upon Christ, but upon ourselves; that it is not Christ’s work but our walk that brings peace to us. I answer: Some distinguish between a peace with God and a peace with ourselves. The peace with God cannot be lost, but peace with ourselves may be forfeited. Others distinguish between a peace of conscience, and peace with conscience. Just as wicked men may have peace with conscience but no peace of conscience, so the godly may have peace of conscience, but not peace with conscience.
Conscience may object and quarrel and dispute, when actually the soul is truly at peace.
Still others distinguish between a real peace and an enjoyed peace. The godly may have a real peace in respect of their state and condition, and yet may not have a sense of peace that they can lay hold of and enjoy. Again, others distinguish between the peace of justification, and peace from justification. The former, they say, remains inviolate and uninterrupted, even when the soul neither sees nor feels its usual consolations (see 2 Cor. 5. 7 and Ps. 49. 5), but the latter may be interrupted and disturbed by our manner of walk. And yet others distinguish between a peace of justification and a peace from sanctification. The former, they say, depends no more upon our walk than our justification itself does; but the other depends upon the exactness of our walking. God, they say, does not maintain our peace while we neglect to walk in the ways of peace: ‘As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them’ (Gal. 6. 16). God always carries on His work of peace and holiness in proportion the one to the other, and the one nourishes and helps the other.
In a word, I conceive that we may distinguish between the foundation and being of a Christian’s peace, and the flourishing and well-being of it. The foundation of our Christian peace is not in us but in Christ, not in our holiness but in His righteousness, not in our walking but in His blood and suffering. He is the spring of our peace, and in Him we have peace (John 16. 33). He is said to be our peace (Eph. 2. 14). But the flourishing and well-being of this peace much depends upon the exercise of our graces and our exact walking with God. It is a peace purchased for us by the obedience of another, but it must be cherished by our own obedience. And indeed, it so far depends upon us, that if we do not walk exactly, even though we cannot sin away our former pardon, yet we may sin away our present peace.
The five-fold peace of a Christian man.
There is a five-fold peace that a man may sin away, the least of which is worth a world:
(1) There is a peace which flows from the witness – bearing of our conscience to our integrity and exact walking. Hezekiah enjoyed such a peace when he said: ‘Lord, remember now, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight’ (Isa. 38. 3). Paul had the same (Rom. 1. 9 and 1Thess. 2. 4-6). This peace we may sin away. If we fall into fresh sin, the comforts of our former walking will not bear us up.
(2) There is a peace which flows from the soul’s communion and converse with God in duty. There is peace as well as sweetness in every part of holiness, and this peace a man may sin away. All the sweetness and oneness of spirit with the Lord in duty departs from him if he turns afresh to sin, with the result that the soul, formerly comforted, is now interrupted and disturbed in all its approaches to God and its converse with Him.
(3) There is a peace which comes to the believer from the exercise of the grace implanted in him. He cannot give exercise to any grace but some peace and comfort comes of it. When he exercises faith in believing on and closing with Christ, when he repents and mourns for sin, some peace, some comfort, results from these exercises. But a man may sin away this comfort. Fresh sin wounds and disturbs him in the exercise of his graces, and the comforts which flow from such exercises are necessarily interrupted. Nay, if a man can sin away to some degree that measure of grace which he has obtained through his own improvement of grace, much more may he sin away the peace which should flow from this.
(4) There is a peace which flows from the sense and knowledge of God’s grace implanted in the soul. When a man is able to trace out the work of grace in his soul, there must needs be peace and comfort in it. Now this also a man may sin away. He may sin away the sense and knowledge of a work of grace within him. He may so darken and obscure his own evidences of grace by his sin that he is no longer able to read them, nor to discern that there is a work of grace within him. He may now find enough of grace to afflict him, but not so much as to comfort him. His light did not direct him to exact duty before, and now it afflicts him.
(5) There is a peace which flows from the assurance that God is at peace with the soul, a peace which flows from the sense of Divine favour. This peace we may forfeit and lose. Though we cannot sin away our former pardon, yet we may sin away our present peace. Nay, we may sin away the sense and comfort, and even the knowledge, of our former pardon. This may be implied in the words of the apostle: ‘He hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins’ (2 Pet. 1. 9).
Thus have we proved that a Christian man, a freeman of Christ, may sin himself into bondage in respect of comfort.
(ii) A bondage in respect of the manner of obedience.
But once more, a Christian may sin himself into bondage in respect of the manner of his obedience. His present state may differ much from his former state. Though he still serves God, yet it is not with that measure of willingness, not with that measure of freedom, cheerfulness, and delight, not with that enlargedness of heart which marked his former service. David, after his sin, desired that he might have the free Spirit of God restored to him. He had not lost the Spirit; the free Spirit was in him; but he lacked that former freedom of spirit. He lacked the operations and workings of God’s Spirit. He lacked that comfort in service and that freedom for service which he had enjoyed before. The wheels were now taken off, and he went heavily and sadly in the ways of life. It is natural for the eye to see and for the ear to hear. Acts of nature such as these are actions of delight. But if the eye is sore and the ear at fault, it may breed a weariness and burdensomeness in the doing of the actions of nature. So it is here. If the principle of action within us is wounded, it may produce an irksomeness in the doing of the things in which we formerly delighted. Though sin cannot bring a godly man into the state of a slave, yet it may disable him from serving fully as a son.
Servileness of spirit may be caused by fear, by doubts and unbelief, by grace weakened in its operation by the prevailings of sin, or by the soul’s lack of its former gracious convictions and its discouragement in all its approaches to God. Indeed, the man still serves God, but it is more out of obedience than out of delight. He dares not but pray, and yet he finds little heart in prayer. He is now wounded in all his approaches to God. The sweet agreement and co-naturalness which formerly existed between his heart and duty is now gone. The complacency and delight which he previously enjoyed in all his approaches to God and in walking with Him are gone, too. His soul drives heavily in the ways of obedience. He now goes to duty as a sick man to his food. He performs duty rather from the compulsions of his mind than from any natural delight he has in it. Thus it befalls many of the saints in their relapses into sin. They sin themselves into bondage in respect of the manner of their obedience.
This must serve as the answer to the fourth query, whether the freemen of Christ may not sin themselves into bondage. We shall now turn to our fifth query.
7. Obedience for the Sake of Reward.
Query 5: May Christ’s freemen perform duties for the sake of reward?
Three Opinions Respecting This Stated And Examined.
There are three opinions concerning this question:
(1) Some say that we are to do duty, and to walk in the ways of obedience, that we may merit heaven and glory. We must fast, pray, and perform good works; and all this with an eye to glory, as wages for work, and as the reward due to obedience. And those who believe this perform their works – their fasting, praying, penances and such like – that therewith they may purchase heaven and glory.
The Council of Trent pronounces a curse on those who say that a justified person does not merit eternal life by his obedience. And what would not the proud heart of a man do, if by doing he might merit heaven? What torments have the very heathen endured, out of the belief that they would come to happiness by them? And what would not others do? I have read of one who said that he would swim through a sea of brimstone if he might but come to heaven at last. Men would be at great pains, and would spare no cost, if what they did might be looked upon as a laying out for heaven, and as the purchase of glory and the wages for work. The proud heart of man would fain have that of debt which God has decreed to be of grace. He desires to obtain that by purchase which God intends to be a free gift.
But such opinions as these have no place in our inquiry. Certainly, though we may do good works, and walk in the ways of obedience and with an eye to the recompense of the reward, yet none of us holds that these things are to be done with reference to our meriting of it. The apostle tells us that it is not of debt but of grace (Rom. 4. 4); and again, ‘By grace ye are saved’ (Eph. 2. 5, 8-10). And yet again. The gift of God is eternal life’ (Rom. 6. 23). ‘Glory is not the wages of a servant, but the inheritance of a son.’ Thus Calvin speaks, while Augustine says, ‘God crowns His gifts, not our merits.’
Indeed, what are all our works in comparison with that glory? If all our sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed, what then are our doings? It was a saying of Anselm, ‘If a man should serve God a thousand years, he could never by that service deserve half a day, in fact not one moment of time, in that eternal glory. ‘
We shall therefore cast man’s deservings out of our inquiry; it is too gross for Christian ears. The apostle tells us plainly:, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us’ (Tit. 3. 5). ‘Not by works of righteousness ‘, that is, not by our own works, even though we were to say, as some of the more moderate of our adversaries do, ‘our own works sprinkled with the blood of Christ’. All are injurious to grace. For by grace are we saved, and grace is in no way grace if not every way grace. But here we leave such adversaries, and turn to other opinions which are to be debated.
(2) Some say peremptorily that we must have no eye, no respect to heaven and glory, in our obedience. We must walk, they say, in all the ways of obedience, with this freedom, carrying no respect to the recompense of the reward at all. They say it is utterly inconsistent with the free spirit of a Christian, and destructive of his Christian freedom, to do duty with respect to reward.
(3) There is a third opinion that says we may do holy actions and walk in the ways of obedience, and may also, in doing so, cast an eye upon, and have respect to, the recompense of the reward.
These two last opinions need examination. We have rejected the first opinion as quite inconsistent with the nature of grace and the freedom of the Gospel; but these two other opinions are held by some as consistent with grace and Christian freedom. Yet these two seem to be mutually contradictory. One of them says that we are to do holy service and not to cast an eye upon the recompense of the reward. The other says that we may have respect to the recompense of the reward in the performance of holy duties.
The first opinion, that we are not to have respect to the recompense of the reward, is supported by the following arguments:
1. Because it overthrows the nature of our obedience and makes that mercenary and servile which should be son-like and free. If we obey God in reference to heaven and glory, we do not obey freely, we do not serve God for what He is in Himself, but servilely and mercenarily, our obedience being servile in principle and mercenary in its end.
2. Because a respect to the recompense of the reward in obedience overthrows the nature of grace, and makes that to be man’s purchase which is in reality the freely bestowed gift of God. The nature of grace must needs be overthrown by this.
3. Because all the blessings we inherit are included in the covenant of grace made on our behalf. Says God: I will give you grace, I will pardon your sins, I will give you glory. Now we do not obey that we may have pardon, nor obey that we may have grace. Why then the other? Why should man say that he obeys that he may have glory, seeing that this is also similarly promised?
4· Because all the blessings we seek are fully purchased by Jesus Christ and provided for in Christ. Therefore they are not our purchase. We do not obey that we may get this or that; but because glory is purchased for us, and we are persuaded thereof, therefore we obey the commands of God.
As for the other opinion, that we may rightly have respect to the recompense of the reward in our obedience, it is managed and defended by the following arguments:
(1) That which God has propounded as an incentive to obedience, we may rightly have regard to as we render obedience: and indeed God has so propounded it. If motives may be found in the Word to quicken us to obedience, then certainly We may keep them before us in our obedience. But God has without doubt presented glory and heaven as a motive to quicken us to obedience, as may be proved from Rom. 8. 13: ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.’ And again in 1 Cor. 15. 58: ‘Therefore be ye steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.’ See also 2 Peter 1. 5-12, and 3. 14: ‘Seeing ye look for new heavens and a new earth, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless.’ In Gal. 6. 8-9 also we read: ‘He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing; for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. ‘Also 2Tim. 2. 12: ‘If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him.’ Therefore, God having propounded this as an incentive to obedience, we may eye it and have respect to it in our obedience.
(2) That which the saints and people of God have eyed in their obedience, We may eye also; and it is certain that they had respect unto the recompense of the reward. We read of Moses in Heb. 11. 25-26: ‘He chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.’ But it may be said that Moses was a man under the law, and that he had not so free a spirit in service as have those who now serve under the Gospel. But to this it may be answered that he was certainly a son, though under age, and that he had the free spirit of grace, else he could have had no glory. Paul also commends this act of Moses to show the greatness of his faith and obedience, and in this respect he sets it forth for our imitation. Furthermore, we shall find that those who were under the Gospel and who enjoyed abundance of God’s free Spirit, yet had an eye to the same recompense of reward in their obedience. We find Paul, who had as free and sincere principles in him as ever man had, saying of himself in Phil. 3. 13-14: ‘I forget all things that are behind, and I reach forth unto those things that are before. I press hard to the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’ See also Heb. 12. 1-2.
Thus I have set forth the various opinions of others and the arguments by which they support them. Now, by way of reconciliation, and in order to show that which I myself apprehend to be the truth in this controversy, I shall speak of three matters: what is meant by reward; what is meant by the eyeing of the reward; and whether the eyeing of the reward is in any way an infringement of Christian freedom.
What Is Meant by Rewards?
First we shall consider, What is meant by rewards? Rewards may be said to be either temporal, or spiritual, or eternal. Temporal rewards are those mercies which we enjoy in this present life, whether personal or relative, and these in turn may be positive or negative – health, comfort, food, raiment, house, shelter, riches, freedom, deliverance, and so on. Spiritual rewards are the blessings which concern the soul – justification, sanctification, grace, the increase of grace, victory over our lusts, comfort, peace, joy, communion with God. Eternal rewards, which are the main consideration in this controversy, are glory, life, immortality, as the apostle names them in Rom. 2. 5-7: ‘God will render to every man according to his works; to them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.’ In a word, this eternal reward is the enjoyment of God, of Christ, of the Spirit. It is perfect freedom from sin, it is perfect holiness, it is indeed grace glorified. This is the true eternal reward. This must suffice for the first point.
What Is Meant by the Eyeing of Rewards?
What is meant, in the next place, by the eyeing of the reward? It is the phrase which the apostle uses of Moses who had respect unto the recompense of the reward (Heb. 11. 26). We must explain what is intended by this. There is a threefold eye: the eye of knowledge, whereby a man sees and knows the excellency of a thing; the eye of faith, whereby he believes the truth of it, and his interest in it; and the eye of hope, and thereupon of patience and waiting in expectation for the enjoyment of the promise. In all these respects Moses may be said to have eyed the recompense of the reward. Moses eyed it by knowledge. He knew those things which were laid up for him. He saw Him that was invisible, as the next verse tells us. And he saw that those rewards which God had laid up for His people were much to be preferred to the pleasures of sin. He also had the eye of faith, whereby he was persuaded both of the truth of the promise, that such things were reserved, and of his own part in them, and that he should possess this glory. Also, he had an eye of hope; he was willing to wait, and to expect the enjoyment of all this. He was patient. See Heb. 10. 36: ‘Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.’
For these reasons, Moses esteemed the reproach of Christ above all the treasures of Egypt, for, says the text, he had an eye to the recompense of the reward. What is that? Shall we say that he had respect to that glory which he should purchase or enjoy by doing this, or for doing this? No! It was because he knew that the glory was reserved for him, because he believed that he should possess it, because he hoped for it and expected it. That is why he despised the riches and pleasures of the world, as not worthy to be compared with it. Agreeable to this truth are the words of Col. 3. 23-24: ‘Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men: knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ.’ See also Heb. 10. 34: ‘Knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance’. Thus much for the second matter.
Is the Eyeing of Rewards an Infringement of Christian Liberty?
We now come to the third point for consideration; whether to do duty with an eye to the recompense of the reward is any infringement of Christian freedom. I answer: If a man is prepared to look at the matter as I have just been explaining it, and to consider the knowing and the believing and the hoping for that glory which God has promised the believer, then, I say, it is no infringement of our Christian liberty to do duty with an eye to the recompense of the reward. Rather would I say that herein our Christian liberty consists, that the knowledge, the faith, the persuasion, the hope and expectation of the glory which God has reserved for us, all conspire to quicken us in our obedience and thereby to make us free indeed in our obedience to God.
In brief, then, if a man is prepared to take this eyeing of the recompense of reward in the manner which I have said, then a man may do duty with an eye to the recompense of the reward. And indeed a Christian should act thus. Duty should be performed with the knowledge and faith and persuasion that God will bless us and never depart from us in doing us good. We know, too, that God is our father and that He has pardoned our sins. We know that God will glorify us at last. With such knowledge, we are to obey and give up ourselves to all the ways of obedience, love and service of God, as the apostle says, ‘And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily to the Lord, knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance’ (Col. 3. 23-24). If, on the other hand, a man takes the eyeing of the reward to mean that it is a method of obtaining temporal, spiritual, and eternal mercies, then I must pause and answer by making some distinctions.
1. With reference to temporal blessings.
We shall consider the matter first in respect of temporal blessings. Some affirm that it is right that a Christian man should do duty to God with a view to receiving from God His outward mercies and the enjoyments of this present life. I know that this opinion is upheld by holy and learned men, who, in their own walk nevertheless seem to pay but scant heed to the recompense of reward. They maintain that God has propounded these rewards as motives and incentives to obedience, and that the best of saints have eyed them in their obedience; therefore they may do the same. To take off all suspicion of mercenariness of spirit in so doing, they are apt to distinguish between supreme grounds and ends in service, and subordinate grounds and ends. They say that though the things of this life may be the subordinate ground and end of such service, yet they are not to be the ultimate and supreme ground and ends of service. We may eye them with reference and subordination to God’s glory and our good and salvation, but not so as to place them in the forefront, as if they were above the glory of God and our salvation. These are the usual cautionary distinctions put forward by the men who hold to this position.
I respect the persons and judgments of such men, although what I advance may be somewhat different, yet I do not suppose that it will be altogether contrary to that which they have maintained.
I shall at this point re-state the query, which is, whether a man may do duty and obey God in reference to God’s bestowing temporal good things on him. I conceive, first, that the man named in the query must be taken for a Christian man, or a man in Christ. If the query is concerned with a carnal man, it must be understood that such a man neither obeys God from right principles nor upon right grounds, nor after a right manner for right ends. We may say of all his obedience that it is but carnal. The man has carnal principles, grounds, and ends in all that he does. It may truly be said of him what God said of the Jews when they fasted and prayed, they did not at all do this as unto God – see Hosea 7. 14: ‘They assemble themselves for corn and wine, and they rebel against me’. These Jews merely sought belly-blessings; self was the ground, and self was the end of all. They did not serve God because of what He is in Himself, but for their own advantage. They sought not Him but His, as with those who followed the Lord because they did eat of the loaves and were filled. There are many thousands who are moved, not by any inward spring of obedience, but by these outward matters. As with a clock which is worked by outward weights and cannot move when these are taken away, so it is with such men, who stand still and cannot stir. The carnal heart cries, ‘Who will show us any good?’ They count godliness no gain, if they can make no gain of godliness. If, instead of gain, they meet with loss; if, instead of advantage, they meet with persecution; if, instead of a good name, they meet with reproach for Christ; then they immediately cast off religion and obedience. They take up with religion merely to serve their own ends, and for similar ends they disclaim it. He that will serve God for something will serve the devil for more. If he can increase his wages, he is for any master. Therefore, by ‘man’ in the query, I conceive is meant a Christian man, or a man in Christ.
By the ‘good things’ of the query, I conceive is meant outward good things, those things which the world reckons and esteems to be good things, as riches, honour, greatness, applause; at least, a competency and a sufficiency of temporal and outward good things.
By serving God or performing duty to God, as mentioned in the query, I conceive is meant all acts of obedience, not only outward conformity to God’s requirements, but inward subjection to the laws and commands of Christ.
By the eyeing of these temporal good things in service, I conceive is not meant the making of these things either the main reasons for service, or the supreme and primary ends and aims of service, for that would be abominable, but the having a respect unto the enjoyment of temporal good as a subordinate reason for serving God, and a means of quickening the Christian man in working. Thus, then, we have examined the nature of the query. I shall now come to the answer, and in this I hope that the three following particulars will be agreed:
(i) That the enjoyment of these good things in this life is not the ground of a Christian man’s obedience. They are not that which sets him to do service to God, even though they may quicken him in service. They are not the spring of motion. At the most they are but oil to the wheels to keep them in motion and to inspire motion. I conceive that there are several grounds of Christian obedience:
i. The binding grounds. The Christian obeys because God has commanded, as we have it in Ps. 119. 4-5: ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’
2. The enabling grounds. The Christian man is enabled to obey because of his implantation into Christ. As without Christ he can do nothing, so in Christ he is created unto good works, and he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. The Christian man is also enabled to obey because of the implantation of Christ into him, which is called the forming of Christ in the soul, the new man, the law written in the heart, the new creatures, faith and love, whereby he is enabled to obey God’s precepts. His faith enables him – by faith Abraham obeyed – and love constrains him.
3. The impelling grounds. These may rather be termed motives to obedience. The man obeys because God is good, and because He is good to him. God’s goodness is a motive, and His grace is the Christian man’s strength.
(2) It will be agreed too, doubtless, that the enjoyment of temporal good is not the immediate end of a Christian’s obedience, for, if so, it renders him servile and mercenary in his obedience, and not son-like and free. Indeed, such ends may be the mark of the carnal man, but not of the godly. The godly have higher ends than these. These ends are too low for the noble and royal spirits of saints.
(3) It will be agreed, too, that temporal good things are not the main ends of a Christian’s obedience. He has higher ends than these. He has a more noble spirit, a more free-born soul, than will permit him to make anything he receives from God the main end of his obedience to God.
So far there is general agreement. All the controversy is about the next point. I desire to propound it in all modesty for the consideration of those who are of different judgment in the matter.
We are to consider whether the performance by a Christian man of duty to God may have reference to God’s bestowal of outward mercies on him in this life, considered as a subordinate end. Consider the following points:
(i) To be obedient to duty by the prompting of a temporal reward seems to belong to the work of the law as a schoolmaster. In time of law the godly seemed to be moved to the ways of obedience by promises of temporal blessing, and God seemed to propound to them as men under age the promises of temporal good things to tempt them on to obedience: as appears in Deuteronomy, Chapter 29. Certainly, the enjoyment of these temporal things was not the only end of their obedience, though some of them may have had the spirit of the Sadducees who said that they kept the law and observed it in order that God might bless them, and that it might go well with them in this life. Yet all were not of this spirit, nor was the enjoyment of temporal good the main reason for their obedience, any more than it is ours. It was but a subordinate end; God never propounded it, nor did godly men eye it as the main end of their obedience. But God deals with them as with those in infancy, as under age. He leads them on, and allures them by such considerations as these, for they had not the measure and abundance of the Spirit which He bestows on His people now under the Gospel.
(2) Duty done for reward, even as a subordinate end, seems to lay down a rule for God to follow. It seems to limit God, and to depart from submission to His wisdom in His disposal of us.
(3) It also seems to propound that which God has not propounded.
(4) Also, the temporal good things for which the man looks may not be granted, and so far as obedience depends on them, it too will fail.
(5) It is hard to have an eye to the reward of temporal good, and yet for our service to be free.
(6) I conceive that it is safer to find arguments to quicken us in our obedience from the mercies of God bestowed upon us, or made ours in the promise to faith, than to find arguments to obey from the expectation of mercies to be bestowed as the reward of our obedience. It seems better to say that We are not to obey in order that God may bestow blessings upon us, but rather that we obey from the knowledge, the faith, and the persuasion, that God will bless us here and for ever. It is this latter that quickens us to obey God.
The apostle seems to speak after this manner in 2 Cor. 7. 1: ‘Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.’ He argues here from mercy to duty, not from duty to mercy. He reasons here from the enjoyment of promises to the performance of obedience:, Having therefore such promises, let us obey’. Likewise in Col. 3. 24:, Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the Lord and not to men; knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance.’ Here the apostle enforces the duty from the persuasion and knowledge of Christians that God will assuredly bestow the blessings on them. So, too, in Heb. 10. 34: Ye took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.’ However, I am not to deal at this point with eternal, but with temporal rewards, and I urge these Scriptures no further than to strengthen what I said before, that it is better to say we obey from mercies promised rather than to say that we obtain mercies by our obedience. Certain it is that the less we seek to obtain mercies because of our obedience the more will God have an eye to our obedience; the less regard we have to the temporal rewards in our service, the more will God have respect to that service; the less we make temporal blessings the end of our service, the more value will God see in that service. Indeed the enjoyment of outward things seems to me to be too low a principle of action in a Christian’s obedience. The apostle says, We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal’ (2 Cor. 4. 18).
But it may be objected that God has promised all good things to obedience, as the apostle tells us in 1 Tim. 4. 8: ‘Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come’; and therefore it is right to obey with respect to the enjoyment of these blessings.
Before I answer this objection, I will propound one thing, and query two. That which I propound is this: Whether it were not better to express the matter by saying that God has promised to the obedient all good things, rather than to say that He has promised them to obedience. This I suggest the more especially, if that be a truth, that God’s promises under the covenant of grace are not made to the work, but to the worker; not to the action, but to the person performing it. I am sure that our divines have drawn this one great difference between the covenants of work and of grace, that in the covenant of works made with Adam, the promise was made to the work, not to the person; whereas in the covenant of grace, the promise is made to the person, not to the work.