Chapter 19, Of the Law of God

sylwia-bartyzel-1127211. God gave to Adam a Law of universal obedience, written in his Heart, and a particular precept of not eating the Fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him, and all his posterity to personal entire exact and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it. (Genesis 1:27; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Romans 10:5; Galatians 3:10, 12)

The subject of God’s law and its relationship to the Christian life is extremely important, and yet today many Evangelicals today seem uncertain about its use, and some even deny its relevance. Reformed Theology is clear about the role of the law in the Christian life. This chapter of the Confession is a centerpiece of Puritan theology. Beeke and Jones write in their book entitled, Puritan Theology: “Much of the Protestant Reformation and the Puritan movement revolved around questions of God’s law.  Ernest Kevan wrote in The Grace of Law, his masterful treatment of the law in Puritan theology, ‘The place occupied by the moral Law of God is observable in every department of theology, and particularly of Puritan theology. Sin is the transgression of Law, the death of Christ is the satisfaction of Law, justification is the verdict of the Law, and sanctification is the believer’s fulfillment of the Law.’”[1] The robust theology of the law is what we will see in the following seven paragraphs.

The Confession begins, God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written on Adam’s heart (see 4:2a).  In other words, God gave to Adam a law that was an all-encompassing (universal) which informed him how to perfectly and completely obey God in every area of morality.  The use of the word “universal” contrasts the upcoming word “particular.” To say the law is written on Adam’s heart, means this law was part of his very nature; it was inherent to his very being (see 4:2 and 6:1) as one made in the image of God. A.A. Hodge states: “God introduced man at his creation as a moral agent, under inalienable and perpetual subjection to an all-perfect moral law, which binds his conscience and requires perfect obedience.  This follows self-evidently and necessarily from the very nature of God as a moral Governor, and from the nature of man as a moral agent.”[2]

In addition to the law of “universal” obedience, God also gave Adam a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (see 4:3). We find this precept in Genesis 2:16-17: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17  but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (ESV).  This precept is “particular” because it was a unique and a specific precept revealed by God externally, not written on the heart. It had also particular terms and conditions attached to it: “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” If God had not revealed this precept, Adam would not have inherently known not to eat of this one tree from all the others. In this way we see the distinction between the law of “universal” obedience and the “particular” precept.[3] But while distinct, perfect obedience was required to all God had commanded to remain in happy communion with God, and to receive the reward of the life (see 7:1).

The Confession states: by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience.  Both Adam and his posterity were bound to the law of universal obedience, but in principle they were both also bound to the “particular precept,” since Adam is the federal head of all mankind; Adam’s failure to keep the particular precept was also his posterity’s failure, and thus Adam’s disobedience to the particular precept was imputed to his posterity. God bound Adam and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obediencePersonal: Adam, Eve, and each and every person born out from them are individually obligated to all aspects of the law given to Adam, and in Adam to his posterity.  Entire: The Westminster Larger Catechism 93 uses the word “perfect” instead of “entirely.” Each person is required to obey every single aspect perfectly.  Perpetual: obedience is required forever.

God promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.  The reward of life was promised to Adam if he fulfilled both moral law and the particular precept.  For a discussion of the reward of life see the commentary on chapter 7, Of God’s Covenant, paragraph 1. The threatening of death, if the particular precept was breached is found in Genesis 2:16-17. God had not only created Adam in holiness and righteousness, but he also endued Adam with the power and ability to keep the law of universal obedience (the moral law) and the particular precept (see 4:2). If God had created Adam with a law that he was not empowered to carry out, God’s goodness would be undermined as well as Adam’s responsibility for his sin.  Given that God did empower Adam, and yet he still sinned compounds Adam’s guilt.  Adam could not say, “The devil made me do it,” because Adam had the power to obey, even in the face of temptation, and yet he did not.

 

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  1. The same Law that was first written in the heart of man, continued to be a perfect rule of Righteousness after the fall; and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in Ten Commandments and written in two Tables; the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. (Romans 2:14, 15; Deuteronomy 10:4)

The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall. God’s law and its requirement of Adam and his posterity remained the same standard and requirement after the fall. And even though the fall marred the law’s clarity on the heart, yet the Confession seeks to plainly state that did not in any way alter the law’s requirement of perfect obedience; it remained the inflexible perfect standard or rule of righteousness. And while, the law’s letters on the heart were no longer in high definition after the fall, yet the letters remained present with sufficient clarity that man still knew right and wrong, even without the coming codification of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.

“The same law that was first written in the heart of man” was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. It seems that the first clause of paragraph 2 is an ellipsis—an implied part of our current clause, thus it would read as follows: “The same law that was first written in the heart of man…was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in Ten Commandments.” When read this way, we see the continuity of the first law with that of the Ten Commandments. Robert Shaw writes: “But the original edition of the law being greatly obliterated, God was graciously pleased to give a new and complete copy of it. He delivered it to the Israelites from Mount Sinai, with awful solemnity. In this promulgation of the law, he summed it up in ten commandments; and, therefore, it is commonly styled the Law of the Ten Commandments. These commandments were written by the finger of God himself on two tables of stone.–Exod. xxxii. 15, 16, xxxiv. 1.”[4]  The continuity of the Sinai Law shows the nature of the Ten Commandments: the moral law (i.e. the one and only moral law). This moral law is put into two categories: 1) the four first containing our duty towards God, and 2) the other six, our duty to man. By this we understand that the moral law does not merely consist in how we deal with God, but also how we deal with others.

 

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  1. Besides this Law commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel Ceremonial Laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which Ceremonial Laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only Lawgiver who was furnished with power from the Father, for that end, abrogated and taken away. (Hebrews 10:1; Colossians 2:17; 1 Corinthians 5:7; Colossians 2:14, 16, 17; Ephesians 2:14, 16)

Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws.  When the Confession states “besides this law,” “this law” refers to the one moral law: the moral law given to Adam and codified in the Ten Commandments. In addition, then, to that moral law, God was pleased to give Israel ceremonial laws.  These ceremonial laws were not given to all mankind to obey, but only to Israel.

The Confession continues: containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.  The ceremonial laws are by nature typical, meaning they are types.” A “type” in Scripture is something that has its own significance in its own right, and yet points toward something (usually in the future) that has a greater significance.  It is “like” it, but it is not it, and it is not as important. “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ (Col. 2:17 ESV).  Ordinances are things formally prescribed by God to be carried out regularly. Of these ceremonial laws which contain typical ordinances, there are two kinds: 1) Those dealing with worship, and 2) those which give instructions. Of the ceremonial laws that deal with worship, they prefigure Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefit.  Of the ceremonial laws which give instructions, these typify higher moral duties.

The typical ordinances of worship prefigure Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits.  Hebrews 10: 1 states: “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (ESV).  These prefigured Christ, that is, they herald or suggest a greater reality to come to be found in Christ himself.  These also prefigure Christ’s graces, actions, and suffering.  They prefigure his benefits as well.  Some of the prefiguring is clearer than others—but we can now look back through Christ and see what the ceremonial laws point toward.  Before Christ they were mere shadows, but in Christ the shadows were filled with light.

In addition to typological ordinances made of worship, there are also typological ordinances partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.  The instructions are typological in nature, and they point to a higher moral duty.  When we consult the original Westminster Confession of Faith there are three Scriptural proof-texts listed for this portion of the Confession: 1 Cor. 5:6-8; 2 Cor. 6:17; Jude 1:23. Since the 1689 Confession closely follows the Westminster Confession for this paragraph, with only a slight variation, these biblical proof-texts are helpful interpretive clues for understanding our Confession. These passages show how Paul and Jude make use of typological instructions, such as those having to do with unleavened bread or ceremonial uncleanness, to illustrate a higher moral use. It is important to understand the distinction between typological instruction and that which is actually moral. We do not want to find morality in things that are not moral. Unleavened bread typifies impurity, but it is not morally impure itself. Uncleanness typifies or signifies moral filth, but certain animals are not literally morally filthy. Someone who is ceremonial unclean, is not morally filthy because of the thing that made them unclean, such as touching a dead corpse, or contracting leprosy. Paul and Jude understanding the typical use of these typological instructions, use them as a short-hand way to communicate about actual morally impure things.

Since ceremonial laws are merely types pointing to a greater substance, we can conclude that they had only have a temporary function; once the substance of what they represent arrives, they no longer need to function in the life of the church for the New Testament saints.  Thus the Confession states the following: All which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away. The phrase “the time of reformation” comes directly from Scripture itself: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing: 9  Which was a figure for the time then present, in which were offered both gifts and sacrifices, that could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience; 10  Which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation (Hebrews 9:8-10 KJV). Thus “the time of reformation” refers to the time that Christ would come and by his work fulfill the types and foreshadows of the ceremonial law, and by fulfilling them he abrogated them. Jesus Christ, as the only lawgiver, has the authority to bring this reformation. Further, since “the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:17 ESV), he is the rightful and only one to bring such reformation. The Confession states: Jesus Christ was furnished with power from the Father for that end.  He was furnished with power—for the very purpose of bringing the reform.  We learned in chapter 8:3b that, “in whom it pleased the Father that all fullness should dwell, to the end that being holy, harmless, undefiled, and full of grace ad truth, he might be thoroughly furnished to execute the office of a mediator and surety.”   To be furnished with power means to be fully empowered, equipped, and authorized to carry out one’s office.

This reformation was radical in that Christ abrogated and took away the ceremonial law.  Abrogated means to end an agreement or contract formally and publicly.  Scripture states of the ceremonial law: These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col 2:17 ESV).  And, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace (Eph. 2:14-15 ESV). Paul indicates that Christ abolished the ceremonial laws and ordinances.  Paul is not speaking of the moral law being abolished. For instance, Paul makes it clear in Galatians and elsewhere that the ceremonial law of circumcision has been abrogated: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6 ESV). When the substance arrived, the illustrative models were no longer required.

 

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  1. To them also he gave sundry judicial Laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only, being of moral use. (Ex. 21 entire chapter; Ex. 22: 1-29; Gen 49:10 with 1 Peter 2:13-14; Matt. 5:17 with verses 38-39; 1 Corinthians 9:8-10)

In addition to the moral law and the ceremonial law, to them [Israel] also he gave sundry judicial Laws. The original Westminster Confession’s proof-texts reference Exodus chapter 21 to chapter 22:25 as examples of the judicial laws.  These sundry (i.e. various) judicial laws cover a range of issues—many especially applicable once Israel was “in the land.”[5]

The Confession states the judicial laws expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution.  When Israel ceased to exist as a nation, so also the obligation to the nation’s judicial laws ceased.  This is a pragmatic and reasonable conclusion; however, there are also biblical reasons for this conclusion.  The proof-texts provided by the Westminster divines for this portion are: Genesis 49:10 which go with 1 Peter 2:13-14. We see in Genesis 49:10 that Jacob prophesied while blessing his son Judah: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be” (KJV). The prophetic blessing given by Jacob to Judah is full of meaning and significance, but we lack the time to discuss all of it.[6]  For our purposes, a key element of the passage is Jacob prophecies that the dominion of Judah will be superseded by that of Christ. This hints at the temporary nature of Israel as a nation, with land and civil laws. Letham states: “Once Israel as such ceased to be the particular vehicle for God’s saving purposes, these laws expired.”[7] When the nation of Israel ceased to exist, so the administration of their judicial laws upon their people ended. We will recall that most of these judicial laws were given by God on Sinai, many for use once they arrived “in the land;” that was their immediate purpose. Once that situation no longer existed, they no longer had the same purpose and use. 1 Peter 2:13-14 (KJV) instructs submission to whatever jurisdictional ruler one finds one’s self under.  Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14  Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.”  The divines presumably intended to show by this reference that the judicial laws of Israel are not universal for all people and nations, since Peter tells believers, even Jewish believers, to submit to the non-Israeli judicial laws in whatever government system they live under.

With the expiration of these judicial laws, the Confession adds, their general equity only, being of moral use. In other words, now the Israeli judicial law is only of moral use, since there is no Israeli nation under its jurisdiction.  These civil laws were never intended, then or now, for other nations. That being said, these judicial laws, given by God, on Sinai no less, still have moral uses. The original Westminster Confession’s proof-texts for these judicial laws is Exodus Chapter 21 and 22:1-25, and these provide examples of the various judicial laws the divines had in mind: those dealing with slavery, crime, liability for bodily injury (tort law) and property damage.  In these various civil laws, we find morality; that is, moral obligation to our neighbor. From these laws, then, we can extrapolate, not a legal use per se, but a moral use (i.e. a moral application). We will recall that all Scripture is useful for correction, rebuke, and instruction; therefore, even expired laws have these values.

 

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  1. The moral Law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator; who gave it: Neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8, 10-12; James 2:10, 11; Matthew 5:17-19; Romans 3:31)

            In paragraph 1 and 2, the Confession has shown that the moral law of God is binding upon all mankind (paragraphs 1-2). While it is true that the ceremonial law is abrogated (paragraph 3), and the judicial law expired (paragraph 4), nonetheless, the moral law is not abrogated or expired. It is always and forever binding on all.  The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof.  Obligation to obey the moral law applies to every single person from Adam to each of his posterity. This obligation is not reduced one iota for the justified.  “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19 ESV). There is no basis to believe that Christ’s fulfillment of the law on behalf of the justified, in any way abrogates the justified person’s obligation to it law.

The moral law is binding not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.  Samuel Waldron states that at the time the Confession was framed, “some were apparently saying that while we ought to do what the law says as to its content or matter we should not do it because the law says it, but simply because of gratitude to Christ.”[8]  The Confession indicates the reason we are bound to it is not because we are grateful to Christ, which we certainly are, but it is ultimately based upon God’s authority as Creator over his creature. The justified fall under God’s Creator authority; therefore, they are not immune and are not given a different or replacement reason to obey God. All the antinomian argumentation that the justified are not bound to the moral law cannot overcome this reality: all are under God’s authority as their Creator; therefore all are obligated to keep the moral law. Scripture is clear:

“He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.11 For God shows no partiality (Rom. 2:6-11 ESV).

Since justification does not annul God’s Creator authority over us, then neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.  In the gospel teaching ministry of Christ, there is no evidence he removed obligation to the moral law. We already read Matthew 5:19.  The gospel ministry of Jesus strengthens the obligation to the moral law; it does not abolish it (see Rom. 13:10 and James 2:8-12). This will be further developed in paragraph 7.

 

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  1. Although true Believers be not under the Law, as a Covenant of Works, to be thereby Justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them as well as to others: in that, as a Rule of Life, informing them of the Will of God, and their Duty, it directs and binds them, to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their Natures, Hearts and Lives, so as Examining themselves thereby, they may come to further Conviction of, Humiliation for, and Hatred against Sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his Obedience: It is likewise of use to the Regenerate to restrain their Corruptions, in that it forbids Sin; and the Threatenings of it serve to show what even their Sins deserve; and what afflictions in this Life they may expect for them, although freed from the Curse and unallayed Rigour thereof. The Promises of it likewise show them God’s approbation of Obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the Law as a Covenant of Works; so as man’s doing Good and refraining from Evil, because the Law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no Evidence of his being under the Law and not under Grace. (Romans 6:14; Galatians 2:16; Romans 8:1; Romans 10:4; Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7, etc; Romans 6:12-14; 1 Peter 3:8-13)

 

Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned.  True believers (in contrast to temporary believers and nonbelievers) are made right before God (i.e. justified) under the terms of the covenant of grace, not under the terms of the covenant of works. Additionally, they are not condemned under the requirements of the covenant of works, being now under the covenant of grace. This is the glorious reality of the grace filled new covenant; it causes us to glory in the gospel. We can rejoice, finding great comfort and rest, knowing we are gloriously justified before God with finality; the law no longer hangs over us an inaccessible means to God, or as a means of our damnation. All of these things are absolutely the case for the true believer. But, as we shall see, the law also has other uses beside a covenant of works. Yes, the law is a covenant of works, but at the same time the law is also other things.

If the true believer is not justified or condemned by the law, what is the role of the law in the believer’s life? The answer is yet it is of great use to them as well as to others. It is of “great use,” meaning beneficial use.   It is beneficial to the believer, but also to others who are not believers. How is it beneficial to the believer and others?  The Confession will illustrate these great uses in three areas, one exclusively useful for the believer alone. We will note that none of these following uses of the law are salvific in and of itself.

Firstly, the law is of great use to the believer and others as a Rule of Life, informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them, to walk accordingly. As a rule of life, the law informs both believer and unbeliever of the following: 1) God’s will, and 2) their duty, and 3) it directs them and binds them to walk by it. We can see from God’s own words this beneficial use of the Ten Commandments: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction’ (Ex. 24:12 ESV).  The benefit is that the “law of universal obedience” is now summarized in ten objective and intelligible categories of moral law. All of the law of universal obedience (i.e. every single moral situation) fits under at least one of the Ten Commandments. These ten commands serve as a rule of life: a standard by which to order one’s life according to the will of God.  While these are binding directions showing them how they are to obey God and fulfill their obligation to him, yet that the law informs them how they will be the happiest by living within the order God has designated. How terrible it would be if we did not know that order. His law serves to benefit his creature, not to keep them away from benefits. Of course, sinful creatures think that which is forbidden is good, and that which is commanded is bad. Our lusts wage war—against us, not for us. Regardless, God’s law is good and obeying it is of great benefit to all mankind, believer and unbeliever.

Second, for both believer and unbeliever the law discovering also the sinful pollutions of their natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ and the perfection of his obedience. The Apostle Paul wrote: Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7b ESV).[10]  The law reveals the pollution present in human nature—the corruption in their heart.  The believer who examines his or her sin in light of the law, will receive further conviction—a conviction that leads to humiliation and hatred of sin (i.e. repentance).  This further conviction will give them a clearer understanding of their need for Christ. Paul said: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24 NASB). For the unbeliever, the law may lead the same direction by the work of the Spirit through the gospel.[11] The law also shows the need for a complete or perfect obedience. We will never arrive in this life at perfect obedience, but the law is perfect, and we see in it our need to align with its perfection in our complete obedience.

Third, it is likewise of use to the regenerate to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin; and the threatenings of it serve to shew what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse and unallayed rigour thereof.  There are three important things to note here bout the law: who, what, and how. The “who” is the regenerate.  The “what” is the restraint of corruptions? The “how” is the forbidding of sin and threatening consequence of it. The law forbids sin; those who are regenerate are now able, under the state of grace (9:4), to abstain from the law’s forbidding. No, not perfectly; they still have remaining corruption; however, by the law’s instruction with the Spirit’s help, Scripture is a means of grace to assist us in restraining our corruption. Further, the threatenings of the law serve to show the regenerate what deserve for their sin, and even what afflictions they can expect for disobedience

Thankfully, the regenerate person is free from the curse of the law, and the “unalloyed” (i.e. unappeased or calmed) “rigours” (i.e. hardship and affliction) for violators of the law. God will not pour out his unalloyed justice on the regenerate; he will discipline his children for their good, but they are free in Christ from the “evil” of affliction (21:1). God will discipline us, but it is to make us holy not to eternally condemn us. “But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Cor. 11:32 ESV; see also Rom. 8:28).

The New Testament itself proclaims the law’s use in restraining the regenerate person’s corruption. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV). The law is certainly included in the “all Scripture;” therefore, we cannot deny it use in sanctification: instructing, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness that we may be equipped for every good work.

The promises of it likewise shew them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof, though not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works. Obedience to God’s law comes with a promise of blessing.  “Approbation” means, God’s approval.  The law shows us that we may expect blessing for obedience. Scripture states: “For  ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’ 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good” (1 Peter 3:8-13 ESV)? The Old Testament passage Peter is quoting from uses the promise of blessing to motivate those who “would desire life and good days. Nonetheless, blessing does come by the covenant of works, as if our obedience earned blessings. No, blessing for obedience comes from the provisions of the covenant of grace; that is, the merits of Christ’s perfect obedience credited to us; without that, our obedience would count for nothing. Nonetheless, God does, in Christ, bless his children for their obedience.

So as man’s doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law and not under grace.  One cannot simply equate the regenerate person doing good and refraining from evil, because the law encourages and deters them, as an attempt on their part to fulfill the covenant of works. This is what many antinomians conclude. But such a conclusion is in error for is assumes the law is only one thing: a covenant of works.  But the law is not only a covenant of works, but also a rule of life, a tutor pointing to Christ, a restrainer of corruptions, and a motivation for good by the regenerate. So, the regenerate using the law as a means of grace is actually evidence they are under grace—the “state of grace” (9:4).  The next paragraph essentially makes that point.

 

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  1. Neither are the aforementioned uses of the Law contrary to the Grace of the Gospel; but do sweetly comply with it; the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the Will of man, to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God revealed in the Law, requireth to be done. (Galatians 3:21; Ezekiel 36:27)

Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it.  The “aforementioned uses of  the law” found in the prior paragraph are as follows: 1) The law is a beneficial rule of life, 2) The law brings about conviction of sin—showing the need for Christ, and 3) The law is useful in restraining the remaining corruption of the regenerate.  The Confession denies these uses are contrary to the gospel, and it affirms that these uses of the law sweetly complies with the gospel.

The evidence for the denial and affirmation is this: it is the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done. It is by the gospel that man is transferred from the state of sin, into a state of grace.  What is the state of grace? The Confession states in 9:4a the following: “When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, he freeth him from his natural bondage under sin, and by his grace alone enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good.”  Thus, it is the very design of the grace of the gospel to transform the true believer by regeneration into a new creation—a new creation who is enabled to freely and cheerfully do the will of God. What is the will of God? The will of God is revealed in the law, and all the rest of Scripture.

Organic to the New Covenant is obedience to God’s law. The Old Testament promise of the New Covenant demonstrates this: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33  For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer. 31:31-33 ESV). Also, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules(Ezek. 36:27 ESV).  In the New Covenant, the Spirit of Christ causes the regenerate to walk and obey.  What do they walk in? They walk in God’s statutes.  What do they carefully obey? They obey God’s rules? What are the statutes and rules?  These are the laws of God.  If God himself characterizes the New Covenant as causing his people to obedient his law, then it seems rather obvious that the goal of the New Covenant (i.e. the gospel) is obedience to the law by being transferred into a state of grace.  Therefore, the grace of the gospel sweetly complies with the law.

This chapter explained that the law of universal obedience was given to Adam and written on his heart prior to the fall. The Confession elucidated how that law remained the perfect rule of righteousness even after the fall, and that is was codified on Mount Sinai in the Ten Commandments.  In addition to the moral law, God gave Israel ceremonial laws, some of worship which prefigured Christ and others which typified higher moral uses; both kinds of typical ordinances were abrogated by Christ at the time of the first century reformation.  God also gave Israel judicial laws, which expired when Israel ceased to be a nation.  There are general principles of equity in the judicial laws which serve moral uses today (not civil legal uses).  Of these three divisions of the law, the moral law is still binding upon all mankind, including the justified, since they as well as others are under God’s authority as the Creator who revealed to them his unchanging will.  The true believer is not justified or condemned by the law as covenant of works; however, the moral law is still binding upon them, and is of great use as 1) a rule of life, 2) that which brings conviction of sin to both the unjustified and justified, pointing them to their need for Christ, and 3) for the regenerate the law is a means of grace by its forbidding, threating, and promise of blessing for obedience with the help of the Spirit. These uses of the law for the regenerate do not demonstrate, as the antinomian claims that the regenerate are under the law, not under grace.  It rather shows that the regenerate benefit from the good and holy law by the power of the Spirit who enables to obey God’s law cheerfully. The law is not at cross-purposes with the gospel, but in fact sweetly complies with it—the Spirit causing the regenerate to walk in and obey God’s law.

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97 ESV).

[1] Cited in Joel R. Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), Kindle location 21110.

[2] A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 249.

[3] One may ask whether it is legitimate to include the law of universal obedience in the covenant of works since it was seemingly only the particular precept that contained the threat and was violated. Puritan Thomas Vincent states in his book titled, The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture, under Question 15 (Westminster Shorter Catechism) that while the particular precept of not eating from a fruit seems morally indifferent, it became a great sin to disobey what God forbade. In Adam’s disobedience of the particular precept, Vincent outlines many other sins: rebellion, treason, ambition, luxury, ingratitude, unbelief, and murder. Thus the violation of the particular precept involved also violation of the law of universal obedience, which certainly forbids these sins.  The violation of the precept and the universal obedience, then, constitutes a violation of both aspects of the covenant of works.

[4] Robert Shaw, An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, eighth edition, (Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1857), 194.

[5] See Philip Ross, From the Finger of God: The Biblical and Theological Basis for the Threefold Division of the Law (Ross-Shire, Scotland: Mentor, Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2010), 113-115.

[6] Calvin’s Commentaries go into some detail on this passage with great skill and insight.

[7] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009), 296.

[8] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press, 1999), 240-1.

[9] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (1692, reprinted, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2000).

[10] Paul illustrates how the sinfulness of sin takes advantage of the good law, and stirs up sinful desire against the commands. Thus, while it seems like it us the law that stirs up sinful desires, such as coveting, it is actually sin that stirs to act against the law. “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead” (Rom. 7:8 ESV).

[11] This does not imply the law is the actual law that convicts; that comes by the outward ministry of the word (the gospel) and the inward work of the Spirit.  Gospel preaching does, however, bring the law to bear on the sin of men and women so that they see their need for the gospel. Only the gospel has the power of God unto salvation, not the law.  Nonetheless, we do see in this second use of the law, the role of the Spirit in bringing conviction of sin through the law (John 16:8).

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