The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
1. Great Truths
2. The Law Defined
3. The Moral Law as Given in Exodus and in Deuteronomy
4. The Giving of the Law
5. The General Character of the Law
6. Correct Rules of Interpreting the Law
7. The Uses of the Law
8. The Nature of the Obedience Required by the Law
9. The Place Good Works Occupy in a System of Grace
10. Salvation Is Not by Our Obedience to the Law
12. The Gospel Does Not Supersede the Moral Law
13. Detached Remarks
Chapter 1. Great Truths
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the
Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you
the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not
the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until
everything is accomplished." Jesus Christ.
"To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken, than
the fat of rams. Samuel. The law of your mouth is better unto me than
thousands of gold and silver... A good understanding have all those who do
his commandments." David.
"The commandment is a lamp and the law is light."
"He will magnify the law and make it honorable.... The
Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king." Isaiah.
"The the law is holy, and the commandment is holy,
righteous and good... Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at
all! Rather, we uphold the law." Paul.
"If you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but
a judge.... There is one lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy."
"Whoever commits sin, transgresses also the law." John.
"If we have not the spirit of grace, the law comes only
to convict and slay us." Augustine.
"If even for one day I fail to compare my heart with the
law of God, I am sensible of a decline in my devotional feelings.... If I
give unto the law its proper definition, and keep it within the compass of
its office and use, it is an excellent thing; but if I translate it to
another use and attribute that unto it which I should not, then do I not
only pervert the law, but also the whole Scripture." Luther.
"The law is like a mirror, in which we behold, first, our
impotence; secondly, our iniquity, which proceeds from it; and lastly, the
consequence of both, our obnoxiousness to the curse." Calvin.
"There was never so much matter and marrow, with so much
admirably holy cunning, compended, couched and conveyed in so few words, by
the most terse, concise, sententious and singularly significant spokesman in
the world—as we find in the moral law. Durham. The dignity of the name of
divine laws is reserved to those which concern the duties of religion, such
as the two fundamental laws [love to God and love to man] the Decalogue, and
all the precepts contained in the Holy Scriptures about faith and practice."
"Two things there are, which, the oftener and the more
steadfastly we consider, fill the mind with an ever new, an ever rising
admiration and reverence: the STARRY HEAVENS above, and the MORAL LAW
"Ignorance of the nature and design of the law is at the
bottom of most religious mistakes." John Newton.
"None but rogues and felons look at a law to find out how
they may evade it." Hare.
"Of the law there can be no less acknowledged than that
her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world. All things
in heaven and earth do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, the
greatest as not exempted from her power. Both angels, and men, and creatures
of whatever condition, though each in different sort and measure, yet all
with uniform consent, admitting her as the mother of their peace and joy."
"I am confident of it, and affirm boldly there is not one
man made free by Christ, that makes it his rule to be bold to commit sin
because of the redemption that is in the blood of Christ; but that Christ
who has redeemed from sin and wrath, has also redeemed from a vain life. All
who have the pardon purchased by Christ for them, have also the power of God
in them, which keeps them, so that they do not sin licentiously." Crisp.
"Though the moral law is not a Christ to justify us, yet
it is a rule to instruct us.... The law of God is a hedge to keep us within
the bounds of sobriety and piety." Thomas Watson.
"Those only, who obey the word of the Lord's direction,
shall enjoy the consolations of his love." Mason.
"If a man has not spiritual and just apprehensions of the
holy law, he cannot have spiritual and transforming discoveries of the
glorious gospel." Colquhoun.
"The purity of the law appears from its forbidding sin in
all its modifications, in its most refined as well as in its grossest forms;
the taint of the mind as well as the pollution of the body; the secret
approbation of sin, as well as the external act; the transient look of
desire, the almost unperceived irregular motion." Dick.
"The divine Lawgiver sees and knows the relations of
things perfectly. He can draw no wrong deductions from them. He can make no
mistake. Whatever laws have certainly emanated from him are certainly
Chapter 2. Law Defined.
A law is a rule of action. Johnson.
A law is a rule of action laid down or prescribed by a
Law as applicable to human conduct in general, may be
defined a rule of moral action proceeding from a superior, having right to
command, and directed to inferiors bound to obey. Edinburgh Review.
Law is beneficence acting by rule. Burke.
Law in its general and most comprehensive sense signifies
a rule of action. Blackstone.
A law is that which directs, prescribes, or controls.
The law is void of desire and fear, lust and anger. It is
mens mind without passion, written reason, retaining some measure of the
divine perfection. It does not enjoin that which pleases a weak, frail man,
but without any regard to persons, commands that which is good, and punishes
evil in all, whether rich or poor, high or low. It is deaf, inexorable,
To every good law be required these properties: that it
be honest, righteous, possible in itself, and after the custom of the
country, convenient for the place and time, necessary, profitable, and also
manifest, that it be not confusing by any dark sentences, or made for any
private wealth, but all made for the commonwealth. St. Germain.
The Moral Law is a divine, unchangeable rule given to
man, and accommodated to his nature, as he was created by God, obliging him
to serve to God's glory as his last end. Willard.
The Moral Law is that which prescribes to men their
religious and social duties; in other words, their duties to God and to each
other. Noah Webster.
The Moral Law is the declaration of the will of God to
mankind, directing and binding everyone to personal, perfect, and perpetual
conformity, and obedience thereunto, in the frame and disposition of the
whole man, soul and body, and in the performance of all those duties of
holiness and righteousness which he owes to God and man: promising life upon
the fulfilling, and threatening death upon the breach of it. Westminster
A law, then, is a rule of binding force, given by a
competent authority. It consists of two parts; first, a precept or direction
given; and secondly, a sanction annexed, consisting of good secured to the
obedient, or of punishment threatened against the transgressor, or of both
of these. A law without a sanction may be disregarded at pleasure. It is no
law. It is mere advice.
Blackstone, "Of all the parts of a law, the most
effectual is the retributive. The main strength and force of the law
consists in the penalty annexed to it."
Promises of good, irrespective of law, are mere
gratuities. Threatenings of evil, having no reference to law, are but
arbitrary expressions of displeasure. The Hebrew word commonly rendered Law,
occurs more than two hundred times. It primarily signifies instruction, then
precept. In a few cases it signifies a custom or manner so established as to
form the rule of procedure. The Greek word rendered Law occurs in the New
Testament nearly two hundred times. Primarily it signifies anything allotted
or apportioned, then a usage or prescription, then a law.
In the Scriptures, the precise meaning of the word Law is
varied according to the subject under consideration. In Psalms 1 and 19, it
is put for the whole word of God as then written. In Romans 7:23, it twice
has the sense of a force governing our actions in our present sinful state.
In Romans 2:14, it signifies the law of nature. In John 10:34, and
elsewhere, it signifies the Old Testament. In Gal. 3:11, it is put for the
works required by the law. In John 1:17, and elsewhere, it is a name given
to the whole of the Mosaic dispensation.
In popular use in Christian countries, it most commonly
signifies the Moral Law containing the ten precepts or words
as the Hebrew expresses it.
The law given from Mount Sinai consisted of three kinds
prescriptions and carnal ordinances. These were very numerous. All the
times, and modes, and circumstances of public worship, and all the varieties
of cases that could arise under a ritual the most minute are here ordained.
If salvation by rites the most exact, and extensive, and Heaven-appointed
had been possible, verily it had been by the Mosaic law. It far outdoes all
modern devices. Yet it was powerless. It never made the comers thereunto
perfect. Heb. 10:1. Indeed it was an intolerable burden. Acts 15:10. It
could not be endured. It has been wholly abolished. Acts 15:28. And yet it
had a shadow of good things to come. Heb. 10:1. Its typical representations
of the Messiah were both numerous and instructive. It was abolished by being
2. Another part of the law given from Sinai related to
judicial proceedings. It regulated
commerce between man and man. It provided for the establishment of justice,
and for the punishment of crime. Some of its provisions, as the cities of
refuge, had a typical reference. Some of them constitute a good part
of the foundation of the municipal and judicial rules of all Christian
nations. They are not, however, of binding force on us except as they
contain the principles of right and equity applicable to all men; or, unless
they are incorporated into the laws of the state to which we belong. We are
not living under the theocracy.
3. The third part of the code given from Sinai is the
Moral Law. Very often in Scripture it is
mentioned by way of excellence as The Law. This is the great code by
which men's thoughts accuse or excuse them before God, and by which they
will be finally judged.
Chapter 3. The Moral Law as Given in Scripture
1. "You shall have no other gods before me.
2. "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form
of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am
a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the
third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a
thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.
3. "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,
for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
4. "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days
you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to
the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your
son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor
the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and
the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh
day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
5. "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may
live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
6. "You shall not murder.
7. "You shall not commit adultery.
8. "You shall not steal.
9. "You shall not give false testimony against your
10 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall
not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or
donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." Exodus 20:3-17
Forty years later, Moses rehearsed these commandments to
Israel, with slight variations, which in no degree affect our duty to God or
man. The moral law as given in Deuteronomy 5:6-21: "I am the Lord
your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. "You
shall have no other gods before me. "You shall not make for yourself an idol
in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the
waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the
Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the
fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing
love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my
commandments. "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the
Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. "Observe the
Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six
days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath
to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your
son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your
donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your
manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were
slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a
mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has
commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. "Honor your father and your
mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long
and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving
you. "You shall not murder. "You shall not commit adultery. "You shall not
steal. "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. "You shall
not covet your neighbor's wife. You shall not set your desire on your
neighbor's house or land, his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor."
Thus we have in two different books the whole Moral Law.
Its precepts are of two kinds; some enjoining duties; some forbidding sins.
The fourth and fifth command certain things. All the rest prohibit certain
Chapter 4. The Giving of the Law.
I. The law was first given from Sinai 2,513 years after
the creation. It is now, (1864,) 3,355 years since this code was
delivered to mankind in writing. To those living previous to the time of
Moses, many of its precepts seem to have been pretty clearly taught by the
light of nature, as indeed they are to all men. Paul says, "As many as have
sinned without law, shall also perish without law." Romans 2:12. Speaking of
the heathen he adds, that "the work of the law is written in their hearts,
their conscience also bearing witness" to it. Romans 2:15. Doubtless also,
much of the divine will was known to eastern nations, by revelations with
which they were made acquainted from time to time, before and during the
existence of the theocracy. Melchisedec, Job, and the wise men who brought
their gifts to the infant Savior, are illustrations of what is here meant.
It has always been true that, "in every nation, he who fears God, and works
righteousness, is accepted by him." Acts 10:35.
II. In giving the law, God exercised an unquestionable
right. Everyone's conscience says as much. Man is a creature.
Surely his Creator has a right to direct him. In this very connection God
claims universal sovereignty, saying, "All the earth is mine." Ex. 19:5.
Calvin: "God asserts his authority and right of giving commands, and thereby
lays his chosen people under the necessity of obeying him." Man is
dependent. If God, on whom he depends may not direct him, surely none else
can. Man is not fit to direct himself, for he is blind, foolish and
perverse. That God is fit to be a lawgiver, it is blasphemy to deny. The act
of God in giving this law is therefore no usurpation, no encroachment upon
our rights. It is but controlling, regulating, and asserting his own
sovereignty over that which belongs to him by every conceivable tie. Weak as
men are, they claim the right of doing as they please with their own. Who
can deny the same to God? He is infinitely wise. None of his enactments are
foolish or mischievous. In their operation they produce only good. Even the
best temporal princes have erred for lack of wisdom. To charge the same on
God is atrocious wickedness. God is good. He has no evil designs.
Malevolence is as far removed from him, as folly. He is the most loving
Being in the universe. Such a governor could not enact unrighteous laws.
III. In giving the law, God delivered it not as
counsel or advice—but as law. The very form of
enactment indicates this—"You shall." "You shall not." None but the perverse
can misunderstand such language. Besides, God annexes sanctions to some of
the precepts in immediate connection with them, and sanctions to the whole
code in many general teachings of Scripture. These sanctions consist of
rewards promised, and punishments threatened. All, therefore, which could
prove any writing to be a law in the highest sense of the term, is found
here. Competent authority enacts. The enactment has all the form of statute.
The statute is supported by adequate sanctions.
Stowell: "Obedience and blessing, disobedience and a
curse; holiness and heaven, impurity and hell; these are the unalterable
connections which constitute the sanctions of the law of God."
IV. In giving a law, we would expect God to enact nothing
dishonorable to himself. This is just what we find in the moral
law. There is no objection to the assertion that this law is a transcript of
the moral character of God. He is honored by such a remark. The law is
worthy of its author. The glory which Jehovah gets from the holy angels
arises from their conformity to it. A great end accomplished by the gospel
is the recovery of believers from sin, to an agreement with the excellence
of this law. In it there is nothing derogatory to the character of God. The
only perfectly happy society in the universe is that of heaven, where every
member is wholly conformed to the requirements of this code. The only
perfectly wretched community in the universe is that of the world of
darkness, where every member is entirely opposite and contrary to all the
provisions of this law. On earth bodies of men are found to be either happy
or miserable in proportion as they are more or less conformed to this code,
so far as it regulates their fellowship with each other.
This law was given amidst the most extraordinary displays
ever made upon earth, or ever to be made until the last day. The Jews have a
tradition that there were seventy thousand angels present at the giving of
the law. This may be a very incorrect enumeration. The number may have been
far greater; for "the chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of
angels." The number present was probably "innumerable." Heb. 12:22. We have
the best authority for stating that the law was ordained by angels in the
hand of a mediator. Gal. 3:19. The whole visible church of God on earth was
also assembled around Mount Sinai on that occasion. The greatest of all was
that God himself was there—God, who is a consuming fire, whom the heaven of
heavens cannot contain, whose dwelling-place is eternity, and before whom
all nations are as a drop of the bucket. Yes, Jehovah was there in the
brightest robes of glory and the most awesome and overpowering tokens of
divine majesty. "The sight was so terrifying that Moses said—I am trembling
with fear." Heb. 12:21.
If such was the effect upon Moses, who spoke to God face
to face, it requires no stretch of the imagination to conceive how terror
must have seized the people. Ex. 20:19; Deut. 5:5, 23-28. Nor was God angry
with them for being thus alarmed. The sight must have been terrifying. The
poetic description given by Moses is in these words: "The Lord came from
Mount Sinai and dawned upon us from Mount Seir; he shone forth with flaming
fire at his right hand."
VI. The moral law was given in a way altogether unique.
God never made to man in like manner any other communication. In
the midst of the grand and solemn appearances already alluded to, it was
spoken by the Almighty in an audible voice from the top of Sinai, in the
hearing of all the people. No other part of the law of Moses was thus
uttered by Jehovah. Deut. 4:33; 5:4,22. Without any variation it was also
twice written on tables of stone by the finger of God himself. Ex. 32:15,16;
34:1; Deut. 10:4,5. The Lord would have it engraved on a rock. These tables
were long preserved in the ark of the testimony, covered with the divine
glory. Ex. 25:16, 1; 37:1-9.
Moreover, great preparations were, by divine command,
made by the people for the space of two days together. They cleansed
themselves and their raiment from all pollutions that they might come and
stand before the Lord. Ex. 19:10, 11. Every man seems to have been anxious
to make himself ready for that great and solemn day of hearing the law; a
day more great and solemn than ever any shall be, except that of judging men
according to the law. Besides, a strict injunction was given them to beware
of touching the mount, or offering to ascend it—a fence was placed around
it, which was not to be violated on pain of death. Ex. 19:12. "If even an
animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death." Heb. 12:20. And
even after God had descended upon the mountain, and the people had been
brought out of the camp to meet with him, Moses was again called up to
receive a new and more imperative prohibition of the transgression of the
appointed limits. "Go back down," said God, "and warn the people not to
cross the boundaries. They must not come up here to see the Lord, for those
who do will die. Even the priests who regularly come near to the Lord must
purify themselves, or I will destroy them." Ex. 19:21, 22. No marvel that
our Savior said to the Jews, "Had you believed Moses, you would have
believed me." John 5:46.
VII. At the giving of the moral law, it was not called by
the name of the "Ten Commandments." Nor is it so denominated in any part of
the Hebrew Scripture. It is more than once spoken of as the Ten Words. Ex.
34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4. Yet the English version renders the Hebrew in these
cases Commandments; but the original requires it should be Words; for we
have not the word commonly rendered Commandments. Sometimes the Moral Law is
called the Covenant, or the words of the covenant. Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 1
Kings 8:21; 2 Chron. 6:11; Jer. 31:32-34. Very often in Scripture the
Decalogue has the name of the Law, and sometimes of the Commandments. It is
also often called the Testimony.
Chapter 5. The General Character of the Law.
I. The law of God is unbending, inexorable.
This is the nature of all law. The law of gravitation in nature yields
nothing to circumstances. The good man and the bad man alike feel its force
in the prosecution of their benevolent or nefarious designs. A law that
would yield to the caprices of men would be of no service either to direct
them or to set forth the character of the lawgiver. The divine law may be
broken, but it will not bend. We could have no confidence in the
unchangeable character of God, if we found his law varying from time to
time. He is a Rock, and his work is perfect. "I am the Lord, I change not."
Mal. 3:6. Domat: "There are no natural and immutable laws but those which
come from God."
II. The law of God is one and not many. There
is no conflict between its several precepts. The same authority enacts, the
same benevolence pervades, the same sanctions attend each commandment. It is
for this reason that an apostle says, "Whoever shall keep the whole law, and
yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." James 2:10. The law is a
chain of many links. Break which link you please, and the chain is broken.
Hare: "All God's commandments hang together: they are knit and woven
together like a fine net, wherein you cannot loosen a single stitch without
danger of unraveling the whole.... There is no letting any one devil into
our souls, without the risk of his going and fetching seven other devils
wickeder than himself."
Although, by its peculiar form, the law seems to require
only a few leading duties and to forbid a few atrocious sins, yet even this
arrangement is found to be useful. Calvin: "Anger and hatred are not
supposed to be such execrable crimes when they are mentioned under their own
proper appellations; but when they are forbidden to us under the name of
murder, we have a clearer perception how abominable they are in the view of
God, by whose word they are classed under such a flagitious and horrible
species of crime, and being influenced by his judgment, we accustom
ourselves more seriously to consider the atrociousness of those offences
which we previously accounted trivial."
III. The law requires compliance with its demands as
obedience to God. It is not an accidental conformity to the
letter of the law that will satisfy its claims. Men may avoid, for good
reasons, the violations of its rules of temperance, honesty, and truth; but
without any reference to the authority of the divine lawgiver. For their
sobriety and uprightness they have their reward in health, thrift, and
respectability. Men find infractions of the commandments oftentimes
inconvenient and troublesome. To avoid vexation they outwardly conform, but
this is not obedience to God. In all this they are consulting their own
profit and advantage, and not at all the glory of Him who made them. Domat:
"It is for God himself that God has made man. It is that man may know
him—that he has given him an understanding; it is that man may love him—that
he has given him a will; and it is by the ties of this knowledge, and of
this love, that he would have men to unite themselves to him, that they may
find in him their true life." This makes them like God.
IV. The law comprehends all conceivable moral acts.
"Your commandment is exceeding broad." Psalm 119:96. It enjoins all
duties, binding on any rational creature. There is no form of sin which it
does not forbid. Scott: "The breadth of the commandment shows the scantiness
of man's best righteousness, and recommends the righteousness of the
Redeemer, as alone commensurate with its holy and extensive requirements."
All admit that the law of God extends to overt acts. The great error
of many is that here they stop. Nor can it be denied that the law claims to
regulate our speech. What would a rule of moral conduct be worth if
it allowed all men the unbridled use of their tongues? "The tongue is a
fire, a world of iniquity." James 3:6.
The law goes further. It prohibits all wicked thoughts.
It is spiritual. Romans 7:14. Calvin: "If a king prohibits by an edict,
adultery, murder, or theft, no man, I confess, will be liable to the penalty
of such a law, who has only conceived in his mind a desire to commit
adultery, murder, or theft, but has not perpetrated either of them; because
the superintendence of a mortal legislator extends only to the external
conduct, and his prohibitions are not violated unless the crimes be actually
committed. But God, whose eye nothing escapes, and who esteems not so much
the external appearance as the purity of the heart, in the prohibition of
adultery, murder, and theft, comprises the prohibition of lust, wrath,
hatred, coveting what belongs to another, fraud, and every similar vice.
For, being a spiritual legislator, he addresses himself to the soul as much
as to the body.... Human laws are satisfied, when a man abstains from
external transgression. But on the contrary, the divine law being given to
our minds, the proper regulation of them is the principal requisite to a
righteous observance of it."
The moral law enjoins all those things which are
honorable to God and profitable to man. It extends to the affections
and pronounces unholy desires to be sin, and all pious longings to be
pleasing to God. It regulates motives. It declares David's desire to
build a house for God to be pleasing to his Maker. It declares worthless all
the fiery and ostentatious zeal of Jehu for the reformation of the true
religion. The heart is the very center of its dominion. The state of men's
spirits, no less than the actions of their lives, falls under its precepts.
Wicked thoughts are as truly an offence against its righteousness, as
wickedness acted out. "The thought of foolishness is sin." A malicious
feeling, like a malicious word or deed; an unholy thought—as truly as a
wicked performance, infracts its principles. "Man judges by the outward
appearance, but the Lord ponders the heart."
V. The law is right. It is an unerring
standard of duty. It is holy, just, and good. The Spirit of God is its
author. Whoever is perfectly conformed to it, knows no sin. Whoever lacks
conformity to it in all respects is wicked. Whoever lacks conformity to it
in any respect is so far a sinner. There is no moral goodness but is here
enjoined. There is no moral evil but is here prohibited. Whether men's
hearts and lives agree with other codes is a matter of comparatively small
importance. If they agree with this, no more is required. If they disagree
with this, conformity to any other can do them no good beyond this life.
Everything in the moral law is "exceedingly lovely and desirable."
VI. This law is of perpetual obligation. Some
statutes expire by limitation. On their very face they are to be of binding
force only for a term of years. But the law of God, as it has been the code
of heaven ever since the creation of angels or men, so shall it be in the
"dateless and irrevoluble ages of eternity." Sometimes a statute ceases to
be binding, because it is repealed by a competent authority. But God has
never repealed a single provision of the moral law. Christ himself declared
that his mission was not to set aside any of its enactments, but to fulfill
them. And long after Christ's ascension the apostles repeated in various
forms the precepts of the decalogue as in full force. This law is unrepealed
and unrepealable. Colquhoun: "The authority and obligation of the law of
nature, which is the same as the law of the Ten Commandments, being founded
in the nature of God, the Almighty Creator, and Sovereign, and Ruler of men,
are necessary, immutable, and eternal."
It is making Christ the minister of sin, and his blood
the justification of licentiousness, to hold that the gospel sets aside or
relaxes the moral law. Having stated with great force the doctrine of
salvation by grace, Paul says, "Do we then make void the law through faith?
God forbid! yes, we establish the law." Romans 3:31. We have never seen the
Ten Commandments aright, unless we have perceived that "the obligations
under which believers lie to yield obedience to them are greatly increased
by the grace of the Redeemer and the mercies of redemption. If the saints
are obliged as creatures, they are still more firmly bound as new creatures
to keep those commandments.... The great Redeemer gives this high command to
all his redeemed: "Be perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is
VII. This law, like its Author, is supreme. It
admits of no rival code—no conflicting claims. Within certain limits,
father, mother, teacher, guardian, civil governments may and must be obeyed.
But when they trench upon the authority of the statutes of the Lord, we can
but set them aside. "We ought to obey God rather than man." Acts 5:29.
Because God is greater than man, his commands override all others. God's
supremacy establishes the supremacy of his laws. If He is over all, so are
his laws. If He admits no rivals, neither do they. If any authority must
yield, surely it ought not to be that of Heaven. If any claims may be
deferred, those of the decalogue must not. Obedience to it may be threatened
and followed by imprisonment, exile, confiscation, and crucifixion; but
still it must be rendered. Though all other governments be disobeyed, here
is a government that must not be slighted.
VIII. This law is in itself practical. Man did
obey it perfectly until he fell from righteousness. His failure to obey it
now is not chargeable to the law itself, but to his love of sin. A perfectly
holy creature finds no difficulty in perfectly conforming to its
requirements. It can be kept—it can be kept perfectly—it can be kept without
weariness to its subjects. Though in the best of mere men on earth, piety is
imperfect, yet the judgment of all the pious is, that the fault is their's
and not God's. Duncan: "What a strong argument for the divine origin of the
system of Moses is furnished by the excellence of the moral precepts
embodied in it! In science, in art, in almost everything of a merely secular
kind, the Israelites were far inferior to many nations of antiquity; yet in
the writings possessed by them we find views of the character of God, and of
the duty which he requires from men, immeasurably superior to those which
prevailed among the most intelligent contemporary nations—nay, to those
which are contained in the writings of the wisest philosophers of Greece or
Rome. This fact cannot be explained on any other principle than that stated
by the Psalmist, 'The Lord made known his ways unto Moses, his acts unto the
children of Israel. He shows his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his
judgments unto Israel. He has not dealt so with any nation; and as for his
judgments they have not known them.'"
Chapter 6. Correct Rules of Interpreting the Law.
Every document is to be explained according to its nature
and design. As the law of God is spiritual, and the intention of giving it
was the promotion of the divine glory, it becomes a matter of great
importance that we rightly understand it. An error here may be fatal. By
rules of interpretation, let no one understand so much a reference to the
mere words of the law as to the general scope of the whole; and yet the
sense, of course, is not to be learned without a correct grammatical
construction of the words in which it is delivered. Let these rules be
1. Although no two commandments are precisely the same,
yet it frequently occurs that one and the same thing, in different aspects,
is required or forbidden in several commandments. Thus the eighth
commandment says, "You shall not steal," and the tenth says, "You shall not
covet." Now though there may be covetousness without actual stealing, yet
there cannot be actual stealing without covetousness. So both these
commandments virtually forbid us to lust after that which belongs to
another. In like manner, covetousness often leads to Sabbath breaking, and
thus the fourth commandment often forbids the same sin as the tenth. And as
the third commandment requires the reverent use of God's name, and as the
right observance of the fourth commandment greatly promotes the fear of God,
so these two commandments thus far enjoin the same thing. Colquhoun: "The
first commandment is so closely connected with all the other precepts, that
it is obeyed in all our obedience, and disobeyed in all our disobedience.
Obedience or disobedience to it is virtually obedience or disobedience to
the whole law."
2. Where a duty is commanded—the contrary sin is
forbidden; and where a sin is forbidden—the contrary duty is
commanded; and where a promise to the obedient is annexed—the contrary
threatening to the disobedient is included; and where a threatening against
the transgressor is annexed—the contrary promise to the obedient is implied.
Colquhoun: "The duties required in the law cannot be performed, without
abstaining from the sins forbidden in it; and the sins forbidden cannot be
avoided, unless the contrary duties be performed. We must not only cease to
do what the commands forbid, but do what they require; otherwise we do not
obey them sincerely. A negative holiness is far from being acceptable to
God. Every affirmative precept includes a negative one, and every negative
command contains an affirmative."
Thus the fifth commandment requires us to honor father
and mother. Of course it forbids every act of disrespect to them. The eighth
commandment, which forbids the sin of stealing, requires us to do all within
our power to promote the temporal welfare of our fellow men. So also the
promise of long life, affixed to the obeying of the fifth commandment,
clearly implies the opposite curse upon those who disregard it. And the
threatening annexed to the third commandment clearly implies that the
opposite promise is made to the reverent and holy use of God's name. Had all
sins and duties, all promises and threatenings been fully and formally
expressed, the law would have become cumbrous; whereas, now it is easily
remembered even by a child.
3. That which is forbidden in this law of God is never to
be done—be the perils, or pains, or penalties ever so great. No
circumstances can excuse, much less justify transgression. Sin is always
wicked. Disregard of any prohibition is always criminal. Between two natural
evils we are often compelled to choose, as between the amputation of a limb
and death. But between two moral evils we are never compelled to choose. He
who steals may indeed be strongly tempted to lie; but the strength of the
temptation does not justify falsehood. With every temptation there is a way
of escape. It is not wicked to be punished for stealing, but it is wicked to
lie about anything. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God:
for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man." James 1:13.
There is no excuse for sinning even in the least.
4. That which God commands is always our duty; and yet
every particular duty is not to be done at all times. There is an
order in our duties. Everything is beautiful in its season. It is a duty to
be tenderhearted, and to weep with those that weep; but it is not a duty to
weep with those that are properly rejoicing. It is right to think upon God's
name, and the habits of one's mind may be pleasing to God. Yet our minds may
be intently occupied for hours in a mathematical demonstration, so that we
cannot have them turned to anything else. We are to do our duties as we have
opportunity. We should always be in a right state of mind and heart to do
what is required, if the occasion offers.
5. "Under one sin or duty, all of the same kind are
forbidden or commanded; together with all the causes, means, occasions and
appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto." Thus the
prohibition to use God's name in vain forbids an irreverent use of his word,
or works, or sacraments, or worship; because his name is that whereby he is
known. Thus the commandment to honor father and mother obliges us to honor
magistrates, who are politically our fathers; and masters and mistresses,
who are domestically our parents; and teachers, who for the purposes of
education are as parents to us. And as we may not kill, so we may not
prepare to kill, nor indulge envy, hatred, wrath, nor any malice; nor may we
use quarrelsome, abusive, or contemptuous language, nor violent and
threatening gestures as these things do often lead to murder. When God
forbade the use of leavened bread during the passover, he mercifully forbade
the keeping of leaven in the house.
6. What is forbidden or commanded to us, we are bound,
according to our places, to do all that we properly can, to cause to be
avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places.
In the fourth commandment, this is expressly stated to be the rule.
In other parts of Scripture, the principle is applied to the whole round of
our duties. What a man may not lawfully do himself, he may not lawfully aid,
counsel, countenance, or encourage others in doing. What a man is obliged to
do himself, he ought to aid, teach, counsel and encourage others to do. We
may not be partakers of other men's sins, by leaving them in ignorance of
their duty, when we could teach them.
7. The aim, scope, and tendency of this law is holiness.
The sum of it is, "Be holy, for I am holy," says the Lord. This
holiness is not the assumption of a peculiar appearance, nor submission to a
round of ceremonies, nor a mere profession of religion under any form
whatever. The demand of this law is for rectitude in conduct, rectitude in
speech, rectitude in thinking, rectitude in feeling. Holiness of heart
alone, is conformity to the law. This uprightness must be loved, and so must
God the lawgiver, and man our fellow-subject. Therefore, a very important
rule for interpreting any precept is to inquire what is its general scope
and aim? what does God intend to prohibit? what does he design to encourage
in the command? Domat: "For understanding aright the sense of a law, we
ought to well consider all the words of it and its preamble, if there are
any, that we may judge of the law by its motives, and by the whole tenor of
what it prescribes; and not to limit its sense to what may appear different
from its intention."
In interpreting human laws, there is a rule—He who sticks
to the letter, sticks in the bark; that is, he does not penetrate to the
heart of the tree. There is another rule of judging of the nature of a
law—It is known by its fellows. The meaning is something like this: if any
of the precepts of the law are moral, they are all moral; if any of them
comes to us with solemn sanctions expressed, they all have solemn sanctions
implied. The same rule is expressed by Domat: "Laws are interpreted one by
8. This law is never to be so interpreted as to make us
cruel to our fellow-men. "I will have mercy and not sacrifice."
Hos. 6:6; Matt. 9:13; 12:7. The law is good, and works no evil to any. It is
benevolent. It abhors all cruelty. In Scripture, God often declares his
preference for justice, faith and mercy, above any attention to the rites of
religion, although prescribed by himself; 1 Sam. 15:22; Psalm 1. 8-15; Isa.
9. "Love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans
13:10. For this there is no substitute. Compare Gal. 5:14. Jesus Christ
himself taught this same doctrine. When one of the Pharisees said unto him,
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second
is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets
hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:36-40. So that no preciseness or
uniformity of outward action can in the least degree take the place of
heart-felt love. "Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure
heart and of a good conscience, and sincere faith." 1 Tim. 1:5.
In case our love to the creature or to life conflicts
with our love to God, we must still cleave to him. So teaches the Savior:
"If any man comes to me, and hates not his father, and mother, and wife, and
children, and brethren, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot
be my disciple." Luke 14:26. Of course the hatred here is comparative
and not absolute. We are to love all things less than God.
10. "The commands of the first table are not to be kept
for the sake of the second; but the commands of the second are to be kept
for the sake of the first. The worship and service of God are not
to be performed out of respect to men; but our duty towards men is to be
observed out of respect to God. For he who worships God that he might
thereby recommend himself to men, is but a hypocrite and formalist. And he
who performs his duty towards men without respecting God in it, is but a
mere civil moralist." Willard: "God and our neighbor do not stand upon even
ground, so as to divide our love and obedience between them; but though it
may seem to be a paradox, yet it is a great truth, that God must have all
our love, and yet our neighbor must have some of it too. God must have our
whole heart and soul—and yet our neighbor must have our hearty and sincere
Chapter 7. The USES of the Law.
The moral law does not bear the same relation to men
which it sustains to angels, and which it did sustain to man before his
fall. Eternal life is no longer by our obedience to its precepts. To
believers it is no more a covenant of works. By it, in the sight of God,
shall no flesh be justified. Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:20; Gal. 2:16. To expect
justification by our own works would be to supersede and render of no
effect, the work of our Savior. We are not under the law—but under grace. To
oppose this grave fundamental heresy of salvation by works is one of
the chief objects of Paul in some of his epistles, and particularly in that
to the Galatians. Seeing then that the law is not to be put in the room and
stead of our Savior, what is its use? or as Paul expresses it, "What, then,
was the purpose of the law?" Gal. 3:19. The answer is,
1. The moral law is of excellent use as a rule of life.
Its value in this respect is great. Its precepts are comprehensive, definite
and easily understood. They cover all possible cases. They inform us with
the utmost exactness what is right and wrong in action and in word. They go
further. They trace sin up to its original fountain in the soul. They
pronounce envy and hatred to be murder; covetousness to be theft; and
forgetfulness of God to be atheism. This law is universal in its
prescriptions. In all things it is holy, wise, and benevolent. None can be
truly pious without consenting that it is good. Whoever esteems any of its
precepts grievous, shows that his heart is still unregenerated. All pious
men do sincerely and habitually desire to be conformed to this blessed code.
Often and earnestly do they cry, "Oh that my ways were directed to keep your
statutes." Psalm 119:5,10. "Teach me your statutes." "Open my eyes that I
may behold wondrous things out of your law." Psalm 119:12,18. He who in the
spirit of humility, carefulness and teachableness thus cries for divine
guidance shall grow wiser than his enemies, shall have more understanding
than all his teachers, and shall understand more than the ancients. Psalm
119:98-100; See also Micah 6:8.
The greatest grief of pious souls is not for poverty, or
sickness, or slander; but because they either positively transgress or come
short of keeping the holy commandments. Such is their desire to be as pure
as the law requires, that there is nothing which makes them so willing to
leave the body and exchange worlds as the hope that in a future state, they
will be wholly conformed to its righteous demands. The superiority of this
law as a rule of life is exceedingly manifest in the particulars already
named as well as in others. It comes to the conscience with a sovereign
authority. The heart of man when not utterly insensate, recognizes God's
voice in all its precepts. Calvin: "The faithful find the law an excellent
instrument to give them from day to day a better and more certain
understanding, and to confirm them in the knowledge of it."
2. The moral law is of excellent use in producing
conviction of sin, and thus making men sensible of their need of a Savior.
"The law entered that sin might abound," Romans 5:20; that is,
that it might be seen by us all, how many and ill-deserving our sins were.
Conviction of sin is not confined to unregenerate men, nor to sinners in the
earlier stages of religious impression when a law-work is wrought on the
heart. Important as this is, the law is not then laid aside as a means of
conviction. To the close of life, it continues to be of use to this end. It
teaches us that we are not worthy to be called God's servants; it shows that
our strength to do that which is right is nothing. Colquhoun: "The children
of fallen Adam are so bent upon working for life, that they will on no
account cease from it until the Holy Spirit so convinces them of their sin
and misery, as to show them that Mount Sinai is wholly on fire around them,
and that they cannot with safety remain a moment longer within the limits of
it." "Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under
the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held
accountable to God." Romans 3:19.
By our early conviction of sin, we obtain some faint
impression of the necessity of salvation by grace. By our subsequent
convictions, we are led more and more to renounce all confidence in
ourselves for righteousness; and to see more and more our need of the
perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater mistake
respecting experimental religion, than that which regards the work of
conviction entirely done when conversion takes place. It is true that
sometimes there are certain horrors of conscience, certain pangs of remorse,
certain guilty fears and solemn apprehensions of the wrath to come, which in
an equal degree do but seldom afflict the soul after conversion. But these
horrors and fears are not necessary elements of conviction. He is truly
convicted, who has a due sense that he is a sinner against a just and holy
God; and that he deserves hell and only hell at the hands of the Judge of
David was an experienced child of God, when he said of
the commandments, "By them is your servant warned;" and "Who can understand
his errors? cleanse me from secret faults." Psalm 19:11,12. One may have set
his hope in God through Jesus Christ; indeed, the more effectually he has
despaired of helping himself, and the more completely he has cast himself on
God in humble hope, the more proper and deep are his convictions.
This use of the law is much insisted on in Scripture.
Paul says, "By the law is the knowledge of sin." Romans 3:20. And when in
the same epistle, he had proven the utter impossibility of salvation by the
deeds of the law, he adds, "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God
forbid." Romans 7:7. He then goes on to say how useful it had been to him.
The spirit of his declaration is, that he never would have known what a
poor, lost, undone, helpless creature he was, and that he never would have
felt his need of a Savior, and never would have fled to him for refuge—but
for the law. His words are, "What shall we say, then? Is the law sin?
Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the
law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not
said—Do not covet." Romans 7:7.
In ancient times, schools had teachers to superintend
their instruction. Besides these, there were pedagogues employed to go
around and gather the children and conduct them to the school. It is
probably to this latter office that Paul refers, when he says, "The law was
our schoolmaster," [literally our pedagogue,] "to bring us to Christ." Gal.
3:24. And as the pedagogue of old brought the child to school not only one
day, but every day, so the law brings us to Christ, not only when we first
accept him but as often as we renew our hold on him. Thomas Watson: "The law
is a star to lead one to Christ." The law shuts us up to the faith of
Christ. It makes Christ precious to the soul. No man can esteem the
redemption that is in Christ, more highly than his sense of his own lost and
ruined estate as a sinner shall rise. Tell me what a man thinks of
himself—and I will tell you what he thinks of the Redeemer. Tell me what he
thinks of the Redeemer—and I will tell you what he thinks of himself.
Every believer is ready to say, "Once I was alive apart
from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I
found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually
brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment,
deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law
is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good." Romans 7:9-12.
"For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful
nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a
sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the
righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live
according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit." Romans 8:3-4.
Why do the great mass of men feel so little interest in
conversation, or books and sermons which explain the way of salvation?
Obviously, the reason is, they have no just view and sense of their
deplorable condition. God's Spirit is indeed the Author of all true
conviction of sin; but in producing it, he leads the minds of men to
understand the nature of the law under which they live; and to see that
their lives, words and hearts are wholly destitute of conformity to its
requirements. If men saw these things as the truth demands, and as they will
one day see them, the preaching of the gospel would be listened to in a
manner far different, and with success far greater than we have ever
witnessed in the world. Then salvation by grace through a Redeemer would be
glad tidings of great joy unto all people. Listlessness would take her
flight from worshiping assemblies. Eagerness would mold the features of
every hearer; and the swelling solicitude of each bosom would catch every
whisper of mercy from the word of God as it was pronounced by the living
Let then all men study the law. Let them study it
candidly, carefully, solemnly. There is a great Physician, but sinners
will never go to him, unless they find out that they are sick. Let
regenerate men also study the law. The more they know it, the closer will
they cleave to Christ; and the more profound will be their humility; and the
better will they understand their indebtedness to Christ, for fulfilling its
precepts and enduring its curse in their stead, and for their salvation. If
a man loves God he will also love his law; and what one loves he will desire
and labor to know. "Christ's promise of ease and refreshment sounds
sweet—after the thunderings and lightnings of Mount Sinai." Augustine: "The
law gives commands, in order that, endeavoring to perform them, being
wearied through our infirmity under the law, we may learn to pray for the
assistance of grace... The utility of the law is to convince man of his own
infirmity, and to compel him to pray for the gracious remedy provided in
Christ... God commands what we cannot perform, that we may know for what
blessings we ought to supplicate him... The law was given to convict you;
that being convicted you might fear, that fearing you might pray for pardon,
and not presume on your own strength."
3. The law is of great use to believers in restraining
their corruptions, because it forbids sin and denounces the most fearful
curses against those who love and practice iniquity. The very
form of most of the precepts is suited to put believers on their guard.
Goodwin: "Commandments in a negative form suppose the nature of man to run
cross with the law." The soul says—why has God thus hedged me in, but that I
may always see my peril and beware? It is true that the great and habitually
influential motives of Christians in aiming at a holy life, are not drawn
from the terrors of the law. God's people are controlled by something more
exalted. The love of Christ constrains them; that is, it bears them along.
Nevertheless, it is true, first, that while our motives must be evangelical,
yet, even in Christian obedience there is room for the entrance of the law.
We are under law to Christ. We are married to him, but not to despise him.
He is our husband, and, therefore, he is to be obeyed.
Secondly, in certain states of Christian experience, when
the wickedness of the heart threatens to become outrageous, and when nothing
kind or tender seems to have the desired influence over us, when Satan comes
as a roaring lion, when the fiery darts fly thick and fast, and our
spiritual enemies become terrible, it is of eminent service to the child of
God to be able to point to something far more terrible, even the wrath of
Jehovah and the lake of fire. So our Lord himself taught. Compare Matt.
18:7-9; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4-5. It is well for the poor persecuted,
tempted soul to hear the voice of beneficial warning: "Don’t fear those who
kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is
able to destroy both soul and body in hell."
And who can tell the power of the law over the hearts of
men in general? Its chief aim and purpose is not for this kind of power over
the pious. Paul says, "We know that the law is not meant for a righteous
person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for
the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for
murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars,
perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching." 1 Tim.
1:9, 10. The restraining power of the law over the wicked is very great. Bad
as they are, they would be unspeakably worse, but for its terrors. Luther:
"The first use of the law is to bridle the wicked."
4. The law is eminently useful in teaching us how to
regard afflictions and how to be quiet under them. Without just
views of the law of God no man can have just views of his own ill-desert.
Without a sense of his criminality, will he not rebel and cry out, as
Cain—"My punishment is greater than I can bear!" But let him see that he
deserves all that has come upon him, and a thousand-fold more, and he will
bow his head in profound humility, and, by the grace of God, will assent to
the saying of the pious Jews returned from their seventy years' captivity:
"Now we are being punished because of our wickedness and our great guilt.
But we have actually been punished far less than we deserve, for you, our
God, have allowed some of us to survive as a remnant. But now we are again
breaking your commands and intermarrying with people who do these detestable
things. Surely your anger will destroy us until even this little remnant no
longer survives. O Lord, God of Israel, you are just. We stand before you in
our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none
of us can stand in your presence." Ezra 9:13-15.
Surely that must be a turbulent and unsanctified spirit,
which is not quiet when it remembers that our pains are lighter than our
sins; that our sorrows are fewer than our crimes. Will not every pious
soul be inclined carefully to avoid sin, when it sees that God is merciful
and visits us not according to our deserts? Surely in such a case the
sincere soul must hear the voice of the Redeemer, saying, "Go your way and
sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you."
5. The plan of salvation by grace in Christ Jesus is so
arranged and ordered that obedience to the moral law sincerely rendered with
evangelical motives meets a divine reward. Indeed, we know not
that the spotless obedience of angels, who have never sinned, shall be any
more abundantly rewarded than the obedience of the just, who have been great
sinners but who have sincerely accepted the gospel and have honestly obeyed
the law. O yes—in keeping the commandments there is great reward. It is true
in this world. It will be true in the next. Nor will the deeply humbled soul
be at all offended that the reward of his obedience is counted not of debt,
but of grace. He joyfully seeks the acceptance of his services in the same
way that he seeks the acceptance of his person—through the mediation of
Christ Jesus the Lord. The scriptural method of reasoning on this subject is
this: "Since we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be destroyed, let us be
thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our
God is a consuming fire." Heb. 12:28, 29.
Blessed be God! The very lowest acts of obedience rightly
rendered, even a pious wish, a holy desire, a devout thought, the giving of
a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple—shall not lose its reward,
though that reward shall be all of grace. Nor is there any contrariety
between this and the glorious doctrine of salvation by the active and
passive obedience of Christ. The righteousness of the believer in his
best deeds is not a justifying righteousness; but it is a righteousness
accepted by God and rewarded abundantly, yet graciously. It is a
righteousness secured to him and in him by the very scheme of redeeming
mercy. Even the Old Testament teaches as much; ""hen I will sprinkle clean
water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you
will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart with new and
right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your
stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart. And I will put my
Spirit in you so you will obey my laws and do whatever I command. And you
will live in Israel, the land I gave your ancestors long ago. You will be my
people, and I will be your God. I will cleanse you of your filthy behavior."
Ezekiel 36:25-29. Compare Jer. 31:33. "We know that the law is good, if a
man use it lawfully."
Chapter 8. The Nature of the Obedience Required by the
Pure Christianity differs from every form of corrupt
doctrine by the place it assigns to obedience to God's law. On this point
the human mind loves error to such a degree that nothing but grace can cure
its follies. While some teach that obedience is everything, that it is
meritorious, and that by it we are justified; others assert that it is
nothing; that in the gospel plan of salvation there is no room for it; that
none is required, and that, if rendered, it is useless. Both of these are
flagrant and extreme errors. Both do fundamentally oppose the truth of God.
A total rejection of the law will prove as fatal as a total rejection of the
gospel; while a reliance upon the law as a method of justification is both a
rejection of the gospel and an abuse of the law.
Colquhoun: "Legalists teach that believers are under the
law, even as it is the covenant of works. Antinomians, on the contrary,
assert that believers are not only not under it as a covenant, but not under
it even as a rule of duty. These two assertions are not more contrary to one
another, than they both are to the truth as it is in Jesus."
That obedience to the law is required upon its very face,
and in many parts of Scripture, is evident to any candid reader. The form of
enactment has been already alluded to. The following additional passages of
Scripture are here given. "You must obey these laws and regulations when you
arrive in the land you are about to enter and occupy. The Lord my God gave
them to me and commanded me to pass them on to you. If you obey them
carefully, you will display your wisdom and intelligence to the surrounding
nations. When they hear about these laws, they will exclaim, 'What other
nation is as wise and prudent as this!' But watch out! Be very careful never
to forget what you have seen the Lord do for you. Do not let these things
escape from your mind as long as you live! And be sure to pass them on to
your children and grandchildren." Deut. 4:5, 6, 9. "Be careful to obey all
my commands so that all will go well with you and your children, because you
will be doing what pleases the Lord your God Carefully obey all the commands
I give you. Do not add to them or subtract from them." Deut. 12:28,32, and
WHAT IS THE OBEDIENCE REQUIRED?
1. It is personal obedience. One man cannot
obey for another. "The soul that sins, it shall die." "He who does
righteousness is righteous." Though our personal obedience to the law does
not justify us in the sight of God, yet it alone can justify our profession
of love to him. The obedience which the Lord Jesus Christ rendered to the
precepts of the law as our substitute was intended solely for the
justification of our persons, and in no way as a substitute for our personal
holiness. Scott: "The commandments are addressed in the singular number, to
each person, because everyone is concerned in them on his own account: and
each prohibition implies a positive duty."
2. According to Scripture. The obedience
required is to some command given by God. Ames: "The matter of obedience is
that very thing commanded by God." Uncommanded observances, whatever
sanctity they may seem to attach to us in the eyes of man, are of no avail
in the sight of God. They are all condemned in his holy word. Self-imposed
worship, false humility, harsh treatment of the body, the worshiping of
angels, and abstaining from foods which God has created to be received with
thanksgiving—are crimes in the sight of Heaven, and are marks of an apostate
church. Col. 2:18; 1 Tim. 4:1-4. Of old we read of no worse state of the
church than—"These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with
their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up
only of rules taught by men." Isa. 29:13.
"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of
this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its
rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined
to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings."
3. The obedience required in Scripture consists not in
mere outward acts of the body, irrespective of the state of the heart.
According to Scripture no obedience is acceptable to God, unless it
is rightly intended. God may accept the will for the deed, but he will never
accept the deed for the will. In fact, his holy word pours its heaviest
curses on those who merely make clean the outside of the platter, while in
their hearts they are ravening wolves, or sepulchers full of dead men's
bones. ""Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You
clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and
self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish,
and then the outside also will be clean. "Woe to you, teachers of the law
and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look
beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and
everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as
righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness"
Matthew 23:25-28. "Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and
dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness." Luke 11:39.
This is perfectly right in God. No man would be willing
to accept the most exact and respectful, though heartless politeness of a
wife or child; instead of the warm, sincere affection which was his due.
There is no dispensing with godly sincerity.
4. All obedience must flow from a principle of love.
This is taught everywhere in Scripture. Jesus says, "If you love me,
you will obey what I command. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is
the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too
will love him and show myself to him. If anyone loves me, he will obey my
teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home
with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching." John 14:15,
21, 23, 24. The mere legalist who trusts in salvation by his own
righteousness, is never the man to make great sacrifices for Christ. He has
no principle of love. He is performing a task, and his task is a drudgery.
On the other hand, he who trusts in the merits of Christ alone, and has any
just sense of his obligations to the Redeemer, gives much, gives all, and
then wishes he could give more. The legalist has the spirit of a hireling;
the evangelical man has the spirit of gratitude.
5. All obedience pleasing to God is connected with godly
fear. We will never obey unto all pleasing, unless we bow to the
solemn authority of Jehovah. We will never keep his commandments unless we
fear him. Eccl. 12:13; Compare: Deut. 6:2, 10:12; Psalm 111:10; 1 Pet. 2:17;
Rev. 19:5. In Deut. 28:58, it is expressly said that we are to "observe to
do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that we may fear
this glorious and fearful name, the Lord Your God."
6. All acceptable obedience must flow from a principle of
living faith in the divine testimony, especially respecting Christ.
"And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who
comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who
earnestly seek him." Heb. 11:6. "Whatever is not of faith is sin." Romans
14:23. What made Abraham's obedience of such value as to be noted in
Scripture, was the fact that he believed God even contrary to appearances.
7. The obedience to the law required of believers under
the gospel must be evangelical; that is, we are not to keep the
commandments for the purpose of thus meriting God's favor, nor are we to
render our obedience in our own strength; but by the assistance or the grace
of God. All attempts to climb to heaven by the ladder of our own works must
utterly fail; and all our endeavors to keep the law in the strength of our
fallen nature must no less certainly overwhelm us with disgrace. Colquhoun:
"Heathen morality is external obedience to the law of nature, and may be
termed natural religion. Pharisaical righteousness is hypocritical
obedience to the law as a covenant of works, and is usually called legal
righteousness, or the works of the law. True holiness is spiritual and
sincere obedience to the law as a rule of life, in the hand of the blessed
Mediator, and is commonly styled evangelical holiness or true
8. All right obedience must be performed with a just
sense of our imperfections. We must never present our obedience
before God as being in itself deserving of any reward. Jesus Christ greatly
insists upon this. One of his parables is on this very subject. "Suppose one
of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the
servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to
eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and
wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would
he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also,
when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are
unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" Luke 17:7-10.
The proper spirit in which to commend our labors to God's
favorable regard is beautifully exemplified in the life of that eminent
young man, Nehemiah. He was the most distinguished patriot and servant of
God in his day. With great intrepidity he rebuilt the holy city. His
sufferings and trials were sharp. Having given a modest and truthful record
of what he had endured and accomplished, he offers such prayers as these:
"Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out what I have so
faithfully done for the house of my God and its services. Remember me for
this also, O my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love." Neh.
9. The obedience we render must be universal.
God allows no eclecticism in this matter. "Then shall I not be ashamed, when
I have respect unto all your commandments." Psalm 119:6. "See that
you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it." Deut.
10. Our obedience must be perpetual. "I will
never forget your precepts." Psalm 119:93. "Cursed is he who continues not
in all things written in the book of the law to do them." Stowell: "The
authority of the moral law is founded in the perfection of God, and extends
over all the creatures whom he has rendered capable of obeying it while that
Chapter 9. The Place Which Good Works Occupy in a System
1. A great design of the gospel, so far as man is
concerned, is his restoration to holiness. Indeed, Jesus Christ
"gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for
Himself a special people, eager to do good works." God "has chosen us in
Christ before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without
blame before him." And we are expressly said to be God's "workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that
we should walk in them." Titus 2:14; Eph. 1. 4; 2:10. So that election,
redemption, and regeneration would all fail of their ends, if the subjects
of them were not made holy.
2. It is only by good works manifest and open that
Christians can afford to the world satisfactory evidence that their
principles are better than the ungodly. The world will judge of
men's real characters neither solely, nor chiefly, by their professions—but
by their practice. This is right. Words are cheap. Actions speak louder than
words. That is a just challenge of the apostle when he says: "Show me your
faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." James
2:18. Christ himself says to his disciples, "You are the light of the
world... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Matt. 5:14-16. But if
their works are no better than those of carnal men, they are of course
subject to the rebuke, "What are you doing, more than others;" and their
lives can be no proof of the divine origin of their religion.
In the early ages of Christianity one of the most
difficult stations to fill well was that of a Christian wife, who had a
heathen husband; and yet that very position afforded an opportunity of
holding forth the word of life to great advantage. See 1 Pet. 3:1-6. To such
Paul says, "What know you, O wife, whether you shall save your husband?" 1
3. Good works are in themselves pleasing to God; and for
Christ's sake their imperfections are forgiven—and divinely rewarded.
According to Scripture, our happiness hereafter, will in an important sense
be proportioned to our works here. Our good deeds will not be the cause, but
merely the occasions of our receiving great and astonishing blessings. Even
the penitent thief, who died on the cross, and whose public confession of
Christ was one of the most illustrious acts of faith ever performed, shall
not lose his reward. In accordance with these teachings speak the
Scriptures. "Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in
every good work." Col. 1:10. "He who sows sparingly shall reap also
sparingly; and he who sows bountifully shall reap also bountifully." 2 Cor.
9:6. "Say to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall
eat the fruit of their doings." Isa. 3:10. Colquhoun: "Though the law, as a
rule of duty to believers, has no sanction of judicial rewards or
punishments; yet it has a sanction of gracious rewards and fatherly
4. God himself at the last day will determine men's
characters by their works. "God shall bring every work into
judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be
evil." Eccles. 12:14. Jesus himself said, "The hour is coming, in the who
all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they
that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done
evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John 5:28, 29. So says the last
book of Scripture: "The dead were judged out of those things which were
written in the books, according to their works." "They were judged every man
according to their works." Rev. 20:12, 13. Compare also Dan. 12:2, 3, and
5. As both our Creator and our fellow men will judge us
by our works, so also ought we to judge ourselves. No man has any
more true piety—than what controls his practice. He whose life is holy has a
holy heart. He whose life is wicked has a wicked heart. All this is natural
and fair. If the tree is not to be known by its fruits, by what shall it be
known? If the fountain may not be known by the streams it sends forth, then
we can determine nothing. "Don't be deceived: God is not mocked. For
whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh
will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will
reap eternal life from the Spirit." Galatians 6:7-8. We ourselves lay down
the same rule in judging of our fellow-men. We marvel that a man, who,
without subjecting himself to penal consequences, has done all he can to
injure us, should suppose himself possessed of no malignity. Those religious
principles and actions which cannot bear this test are of no value.
God's plan is to subject all his people to severe trials,
not for the sake of giving them pain, but to illustrate his grace and their
character. So says the Psalmist. "You have tested us, O God; you have
purified us like silver melted in a crucible. You captured us in your net
and laid the burden of slavery on our backs. You sent troops to ride across
our broken bodies. We went through fire and flood. But you brought us to a
place of great abundance. Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings to
fulfill the vows I made to you—yes, the sacred vows you heard me make when I
was in deep trouble." Psalms 66:10-14 and onwards. So to Abraham God said,
"Now I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son,
your only son from me." Gen. 22:12.
6. Good works are useful to our brethren.
"These things I have told you are all true. I want you to insist on them so
that everyone who trusts in God will be careful to do good deeds all the
time. These things are good and beneficial for everyone. For our people
should not have unproductive lives. They must learn to do good by helping
others who have urgent needs." Titus 3:8, 14.
7. The Scriptures do clearly assert the necessity of good
works to prove our acceptance with God. "Be doers of the word,
and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.... Pure religion and
undefiled before God and the Father is this—to visit the fatherless and
widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world."
James 1:22, 27. "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the
fat of rams." I Sam. 15:22. "If anyone has material possessions and sees his
brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in
truth." 1 John 3:17, 18. "Herein is my Father glorified that you bear much
fruit; so shall you be my disciples. You are my friends, if you do whatever
I command you." John 15:8, 14.
Every Christian grace is to be judged of by the life we
lead. Thus the fear of God is to be estimated not according to the secret
dread which his majesty creates, but by our holiness of life. "The fear of
the Lord is to hate evil." The sincerity of our benevolence can be safely
tested in no other way. James 2:15, 16. It is only thus we can manifest our
gratitude in a fitting way. Thus only can we be built up in a true assurance
of eternal life. 2 Pet. 1:5-10. Thus only can we put to silence the
ignorance of foolish men. 1 Pet. 2:15; Phil. 1:11. We are bound to maintain
this view of the Moral Law and its obligations at all times and under all
circumstances; especially, let not the pulpit give forth a doubtful
utterance on this point.
There is a class of men who will accuse us of being
Legalists, if we solemnly enforce duty. Stowell: "If by legal preaching is
meant the faithful and fervid enforcements of these commands on every man's
conscience as the standard by which he is to walk now, and to be judged
hereafter; whence we demand, the dread of such a style of preaching? Surely
not from an enlightened regard to the honor of God; we know nothing of that
honor, but as we study and obey his law. Surely not from an enlightened
attachment to the gospel: for we do not understand the gospel, but as it
enlarges our conceptions of the divine law, and constrains us to fulfill
Chapter 10. Salvation Is Not by Our Obedience to the Law.
There are two capital errors respecting the law. One
maintains that we are justified by it. The other asserts that we are under
no obligation to obey it. The last of these will be considered hereafter.
The first now claims our attention. The following things are made remarkably
clear in God's word.
1. All men are sinners. In proof of this
proposition we have the unanswered and unanswerable argument of the Apostle
Paul in the first three chapters of his epistle to the Romans. In the first
chapter he proves that all the Gentiles are sinners. In the second, he shows
that the Jews are involved in the same condemnation. In the third, he shows
that all men indiscriminately have offended God, maintaining that, "There is
none righteous—no, not one." This great argument is but the summing up of
irrefragable statements found in all the Scriptures, and confirmed by
2. All men are under a curse. The reason is
because he is a transgressor. This was declared at the giving of the law.
Moses said, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse-- the
blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you
today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn
from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you
have not known." Deuteronomy 11:26-28. "The curse of the Lord is in the
house of the wicked." Prov. 3:33. "The curse is poured upon us, and the oath
that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have
sinned against him." Dan. 9:11. "You are cursed with a curse." Mal. 3:9. "As
many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse." Gal. 3:10.
3. This is not the fault of the law. The
Scriptures abundantly declare that the law is good. Romans 7:16; 1 Tim. 1:8.
"For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness
would certainly have come by the law." Gal. 3:21. "The law was weak through
the flesh;" Romans 8:3, not through any defect inherent in itself.
4. Yet justification by the law is impossible.
It is often and expressly so declared. "By the deeds of the law there shall
be no flesh justified in his sight." "The law works wrath." "Now we are
delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held." "You have
died to the law by the body of Christ." "Israel which followed after the law
of righteousness has not attained to the law of righteousness; because they
sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law" "A man is
not justified by the works of the law" "If righteousness comes by the law,
then Christ is dead in vain." "That no man is justified by the law in the
sight of God, it is evident." Romans 3:20, 4:15, 7:4, 6, 9:31, 32. Gal.
2:16, 21, 3:11.
5. The scriptures reveal an altogether different plan of
justification. They say, We are "justified freely by his grace,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." "The promise is of faith,
that it might be by grace." "There is no condemnation to those who are in
Christ Jesus." "A man is justified by faith in Jesus Christ." "The life
which we now live in the flesh, we live by the faith of the Son of God."
"The just shall live by faith." Romans 3:24, 4:16, 8:1; Gal. 2:16, 20; Gal.
3:11; Romans 1:17.
This scheme of pardoning the guilty and accepting them as
righteous through the merits of the Lord Jesus, suits us exactly. Nor is
this mere theory. It enters into the very life of religious experience.
Jotham Sewell says, "When I was almost twenty-one years of age, I read a
sermon which exposed the insufficiency and folly of self-righteousness. I
felt the force of the reasoning, and was convinced that I had been
self-righteous. I resolved that I would be so no more, but would try to
trust in Christ. I then thought that I had freed myself from this sin,
though I had no idea that I was convicted. Not long after, in giving a
reason for the hope that he was a Christian, I heard a man express the
conviction, that, while in secret and in his family before conversion, he
was hypocritical and self-righteous. I thought with myself—shall I ever have
to say as much as that man says? I am not convicted; but if I should be,
whatever I may have to throw away, it will not be self-righteousness; for I
fancied that I was already free from that. So blind was I to my real
condition I afterwards saw that I had made a righteousness of my
resolution—that I would not be self-righteous! So true it is, that the heart
is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked."
In like manner spoke that godly minister, Owen Stockton:
"I find, that though in my judgment and profession, I acknowledge Christ to
be my righteousness and peace; yet upon examination I observe that my heart
has done quite another thing, and that secretly I have gone about to
establish my own righteousness, and have derived my comfort and peace from
my own actings." Luther: "If I were able to keep the whole moral law, I
would not trust to this for justification."
To the truly pious and humble child of God, however
simple or youthful, there is nothing more unpleasant than the suggestion of
the wicked one or of ignorant guides—that we can commend ourselves to God by
our own works. A lovely young female, whose memoir has been printed, though
not published, has lately departed this life in the triumph of faith. One of
her dying testimonies was, "I would not like to think of my sufferings
having anything to do with my going to heaven, as a cause. If I ever stand
before God, it will be because Jesus Christ has redeemed me by his own
blood—his ransom availed. God was satisfied—I am saved by him entirely."
The best practical writers of all ages have warned men
against seeking justification by the law. Charnock: "Affecting to stand by a
righteousness of our own is natural to us.... Adam was to have lived upon
his own righteousness, in the state of innocence; since we are fallen this
relic of nature is in us to desire to rise by our own strength. We would
find matter of acceptance and acquittance in ourselves.... What pains had
the apostle to work the Romans and the Galatians from their own
righteousness. A desire of a legal justification is inbred.... An imperfect
righteousness cannot afford a perfect peace with God; the righteousness of a
sinful nature is not the righteousness of a pure law."
John Owen: "Take heed of a degeneration into
self-righteousness.... The way is narrow and strait, which lies between the
indispensable necessity of holiness and its influence into our
righteousness. The righteousness of Christ is utterly a strange thing to the
best of unbelievers; and this puts them by all means upon the setting up of
their own. Romans 10:3."
Willard: "The fall has utterly cut man off from ever
obtaining life by the law, as a Covenant."
John Newton: "It is not a lawful use of the law to seek
justification and acceptance with God by our obedience to it; because it is
not appointed for this end, or capable of answering it in our circumstances.
The very attempt is a daring impeachment of the goodness and wisdom of God;
for if righteousness could come by the law, then Christ has died in vain;
Gal. 2:21; 3:21; so that such a hope is not only groundless but sinful; and,
when persisted in under the light of the gospel, is no less than a wilful
rejection of the grace of God."
Colquhoun: "The great error of the Galatians was this:
they did not believe that the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone was
sufficient to entitle them to the justification of life; and therefore they
depended for justification partly on their own obedience to the moral law,
and to the ceremonial law."
6. Salvation partly by the law, and partly by the Gospel,
is impossible. Grace and works are utterly opposed to each other
as schemes of acceptance with God. In two epistles, Paul says as much. He
says that if salvation is "by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise
grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace:
otherwise work is no more work." Romans 11:6. Again, "You who are trying to
be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away
from grace." Gal. 5:4.
The ways in which a self-righteous spirit gains fearful
power over man are such as these:
First. 'Do and live' is the law of nature. "For Moses
wrote that the law's way of making a person right with God, requires
obedience to all of its commands." Romans 10:5. Righteousness by works is
the natural method of justification. Until the fall, Adam stood accepted of
God on this ground. To this day the holy angels are justified by works
alone. The heart of man is wedded to the law.
Secondly. Self-righteousness requires no humility, but
leaves the heart under the full control of self-delight. Pride is natural to
man; and the expectation of life by his own works feeds his self-esteem. The
first and great demand of the gospel is humility. Matt. 18:4, 23:12; Luke
14:11, 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:6.
Thirdly. It is of the very nature of sin to blind the
mind respecting all spiritual good. The sinner naturally perceives neither
the holiness of the law, the sinfulness of his own heart, nor the glory of
God in the gospel scheme. "The God of this world has blinded the minds of
those who believe not." 2 Cor. 4:4.
Fourthly. Men are often led to indulge self-righteous
hopes by comparing themselves with others. 2 Cor. 10:12. This, indeed, is
not wise. The rule of final judgment will not be the life of our fellow
man—but the perfectly holy law of God. Yet many say, If I am lost, what will
become of these sinners around me? The correct answer is—Repent and believe
on the Lord Jesus Christ, or you shall all perish together! Yet how many are
found full of self-righteousness, saying like the Pharisee, 'God, I thank
you, I am not as other men, or even as this publican.'
Fifthly. Probably not a few mistake gifts for graces; and
because they are fluent in prayer, they think they have the spirit of
prayer; or because they have prophesied in the name of the Lord, and in his
name done many wonderful works, or commended his gospel with great
earnestness to their fellow-men, they think themselves safe.
Sixthly. Others say, "We have Abraham as our father."
They expect to go to heaven because of their pious ancestry, or relations.
They cannot conceive how the descendants of so good people as their parents
should ever come short of heaven. Let us, therefore, not imitate the
wretched example of those, of whom Paul speaks, when he says, "They being
ignorant of God's righteousness and going about to establish their own
righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."
Romans 10:3. Let us rather follow the example and utter the prayer of David
when bowed down with a just sense of his heinous guilt, he cried, "Enter not
into judgment with your servant: for in your sight shall no man living be
Chapter 11. Antinomianism.
Antinomianism is opposition to law. The word has,
however, become tolerably precise in its meaning. Strictly speaking,
Antinomianism is the doctrine, which asserts that under the gospel,
dispensation the moral law is not binding. In a more extended sense it is
any system of doctrine, which, if fairly carried out, would destroy belief
in the necessity of good works, or of a holy life. The sect, called
Antinomians, arose in the 16th century. Their founder was John Agricola. He
reduced libertine principles to a system. His followers were at one time
numerous. They were pests to society in many places. They can hardly be said
to have a separate existence now. But opposition to the law as a rule of
life is coexistent with the fall of man. Antinomianism has its seat in the
deep depravity of the human heart. "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It
does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so." Romans 8:7. Its spirit is
of the essence of sin. The Old and New Testaments, and indeed all histories,
are full of records showing the deadly hostility of men to the restraints of
the divine precepts. Solomon, Jeremiah, Hosea and many others tell us of
men, who by anticipation, were followers of Agricola. Pr. 7:14-18; Jer. 7:9,
10; Hos. 12:7, 8.
The principles of Antinomians are variously stated. A
thorough Antinomian holds that if Christ finished his work, there is nothing
left for us to do—that the moral law is no rule of duty to Christians, that
the transgression of its precepts by God's people is not sinful; that the
law is of no use under the gospel, and that of course it is not of binding
obligation. The reasoning of Antinomians is something like this: salvation
is wholly by grace; man is impotent to good himself; God's grace is
sovereign, so that it is not of him that wills nor of him that runs;
therefore we are not under law, even to Christ; all our endeavors are
useless, and we may give a loose rein to all our corruptions.
The world abounds with Antinomians. These are of three
1. Speculative Antinomians. They are such as
embrace some of the leading principles set forth above. They may hold but
one or two of them; or they may receive the whole system.
2. There are Antinomians in desire. These feel the
restraints of the law to be irksome. They would gladly cast off its cords
and burst its bands asunder. And yet they have been too well instructed, and
have too much conscience to be able to do so at once. But as the process of
hardening the heart is going on rapidly, they may yet be able to say, "We
will have none of God's ways."
3. Then we have the practical Antinomians. They
care little about systems. They hardly avow a creed. But "the worst heresy
is a wicked life." This they lead always. They practically and continually
say, "Who is the Lord that we should obey him?"
In every form of Antinomianism, and especially in the
systematic form it sometimes assumes, we can hardly fail to notice its utter
contrariety to Scripture. Paul says, "Shall we continue in sin that grace
may abound? God forbid." Romans 6:1,2. He declares that it was a slanderous
report against him and his brethren that they taught, that we may do evil
that good may come. He says that the "damnation" [condemnation] of those who
hold such a principle is "just." Romans 3:8. "Any doctrine inconsistent with
the first principles of morals must be false, no matter how plausible the
metaphysical argument in its favor. Paul assumed, as an ultimate fact, that
it is wrong to do evil that good may come."
How clearly the Scriptures testify against all Antinomian
tendencies will appear by citing even a few passages. Paul says, "There are
many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, who subvert whole houses,
teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake." Titus 1:10,
11. John says, "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in
darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth." 1 John 1:6. "He who says,
I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not
in him." 1 John 2:4. "Every man that has this hope in him, purifies himself,
even as he is pure." 1 John 3:3. Peter also tells us of such: "They will be
paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is
to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in
their pleasures while they feast with you. With eyes full of adultery, they
never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed--an
accursed brood!" 2 Peter 2:13-14. Jude also says of such: "These men are
blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest
qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain,
blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted--twice
dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering
stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever." Jude 12, 13.
No wonder that in the strong language of Scripture, such men are "abominable
and disobedient, and to every good work reprobate." Titus 1:16.
When we open the gospel we find the most urgent calls to
holiness founded on its gracious proposals: "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." 2 Cor. 7:1.
Indeed, Paul expressly declares that "the grace of God that brings
salvation," that is, the gospel, "teaches us that, denying ungodliness and
worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this
present world." Titus 2:11, 12. Again, "God has not called us to
uncleanness, but unto holiness." John says: "Let no man deceive you: he who
does righteousness is righteous... He who commits sin is of the devil." 1
John 3:7, 8.
The following propositions laid down by John Flavel
are abundantly supported by Scripture:
1. The Scriptures "frequently discover God's anger, and
tell us his castigatory rods of affliction are laid upon his people for
their sins." 2 Sam. 12:9-14; Ex. 4:13, 14; Jer. 30:15; Lam. 3:39, 40; Psalm
38:3-5; Micah 7:9, etc., etc.
2. They "represent sin as the greatest evil; most
opposite to the glory of God and good of the saints; and are therefore
filled with cautions and threatenings to prevent their sinning." Jer. 5:30,
44:4, 18:13. 23:14; Hosea 6:10; Psalm 14:1, 53:1; Titus 1:16; 1 Pet. 4:3;
Romans 6:23; Dan. 5:23; Romans 3:23; Heb. 4:1, and many other places.
3. "The Scriptures call the saints frequently and
earnestly, not only to mourn for their sins before the Lord, but to pray for
the pardon and remission of them in the blood of Christ." Matt. 6:12; 1 Pet.
5:6; James 4:10, etc., etc.
4. "They earnestly and everywhere press believers to
strictness and constancy in the duties of religion, as the way wherein God
would have them to walk." Romans 12, throughout, 1 Cor. 15:58, etc., etc.
Many other Scriptures might be cited to the same effect. He, who has read
thus far, and who shall read the next chapter also, can be at no loss for
prooftexts. Of all errors in religion, perhaps none is more revolting to
the truly pious than the grosser forms of Antinomianism. It is hardly
more shocking to deny the divine existence altogether, than it is to teach
that God is the patron of iniquity. Those pious men, who seem to have had
most fellowship with Antinomians, regard their principles and practices with
extreme abhorrence. They were doubtless right in expressing in many forms
the belief that nothing more imperils the soul than any religions principle,
which releases us from the government of God.
Perhaps the most shocking thing in Antinomianism is that
ordinarily it makes Christ the minister of sin. It impudently marches up to
his cross, and says, "O you bleeding Lamb, who did live and die for me, I
will neither live nor die for you; but I will serve divers lusts and please
myself." The testimony of sound and pious writers in all branches of the
church of Christ against Antinomian laxity of life and doctrine, has been
clear and uniform. The best writers of the 17th century have lifted up their
united voices in the most solemn manner against it. Hopkins says:
"Antinomianism is to be abominated, which derogates from the value and
validity of the law, and contends that it is to all purposes extinct to
believers, even as to its preceptive and regulating power; and that no other
obligation to duty lies upon those who are in Christ Jesus, but only from
the law of gratitude: that God requires not obedience from them upon so low
and sordid an account as the fear of his wrath and dread severity; but all
is to flow only from the principle of love and the sweet temper of a
grateful and ingenuous spirit... This is a most pestilent doctrine, which
plucks down the fence of the law, and opens a gap for all manner of
licentiousness and libertinism to rush in upon the Christian world."
Robert Leighton: "The gospel does not set men free to
profaneness: no, it is a doctrine of holiness. 'We are not called unto
uncleanness, but unto holiness.' 1 Thess. 4:7. Jesus has indeed taken off
the hardness, the iron yoke, and now, his commandments are not grievous. 1
John 5:3. His yoke is easy, and his burden light. Those who are most
sensible, and have most assurance of their deliverance, are ever the most
active and fruitful in obedience: they feel themselves light and nimble,
having the heavy chains and fetters taken off. 'Lord, I am your servant; you
have loosed my bonds.'" Psalm 116:16.
John Flavel: "God preserves all his people from the gross
and vile opinions of Antinomian libertines, who cry up grace, and decry
obedience: who under specious pretenses of exalting a naked Christ upon the
throne, do indeed strip him naked of a great part of his glory, and vilely
dethrone him. My pen shall not write what my eyes have read. Tell it not in
Stephen Charnock: "Libertinism and licentiousness find no
encouragement in the gospel. It was made known to all nations for the
obedience of faith. The goodness of God is published, that our enmity to him
may be parted with. Christ's righteousness is not offered to us to be put
on, that we may roll the more vilely in our sins. The doctrine of grace
commands us to give up ourselves to Christ to be accepted through him, and
to be ruled by him. Obedience is due to God, as a sovereign in his law; and
it is due out of gratitude, as he is a God of grace in the gospel.... The
gospel frees us from the curse, but not from the duty and service. We are
delivered from the hands of our enemies, that we might 'serve God in
holiness and righteousness.' Luke 1:74, 75. This is the will of God in the
gospel, even our sanctification. When a prince strikes off a malefactor's
chains, though he delivers him from the punishment of his crime, he frees
him not from the duty of a subject... Christ's righteousness gives us a
title to heaven; but there must be holiness to give us a fitness for
Thomas Watson: "Those who cast God's law behind their
backs—God will cast their prayers behind his back. Those who will not have
the law to rule over them—shall have the law to judge them. If God spoke all
these words—then we must hear all these words. As we would have God hear all
our words when we pray—so we must hear all his words when he speaks. He who
stops his ears when God cries—shall cry himself and not be heard."
Thomas Boston: "All men are obliged to keep these
commandments, for God is Lord of all; but the saints especially; for besides
being their Lord, he is their God and Redeemer too. So far is the state of
the saints from being one of sinful liberty that there are none so strongly
bound to obedience as they, and that by the strongest of all bonds, those of
love and gratitude."
Nor have modern divines of high character been more slow
or less sweeping in expressing their abhorrence of this corrupt system of
faith and practice. May it not rather be called a system of unbelief and of
lack of practice?
John Newton: "It is an unlawful use of the law, that is
an abuse of it, an abuse both of law and gospel—to pretend that its
accomplishment by Christ releases believers from any obligation to it as a
rule. Such an assertion is not only wicked, but absurd and impossible in the
highest degree: for the law is founded in the relation between the Creator
and the creature, and must unavoidably remain in force so long as that
In his lectures in divinity, George Hill speaks of
Antinomianism as "this horrible doctrine," and guards his readers against
the impression "that the disrepute into which Antinomian preaching has begun
to fall is owing to a departure from Calvinism;" and declares that there is
"no room to suppose that Calvinism is inconsistent with rational, practical
preaching." Dr. Dwight well says: "Why is the law no longer a rule of
righteousness to Christians? Is it because they are no longer under its
condemning sentence? For this very reason they are under increased
obligations to obey its precepts. Is it because they are placed under a
better rule—or a worse one? A better rule cannot exist: a worse rule, God
would not prescribe."
Robert Hall: "The principles which compose the Antinomian
heresy, are as much opposed to the grace, as to the authority of the great
head of the church."
Chapter 12. The Gospel Does Not Supersede the Moral Law.
A great desire of the adversary of souls in every age has
been to effect a divorce between doctrine and practice. Probably in no other
way has more harm been done. Owen: "There is no way whereby the whole rule
of duty can be rendered more vain and useless unto the souls of men, than by
the separation of the duties of the law from the grace of the gospel." If
men can be brought to believe that morality will save them without piety,
the gospel is at once rendered of no effect. On the other hand, if men
believe that any species of piety towards God renders unnecessary the great
principles of morality towards men, they will of course turn the grace of
God into lasciviousness. That the apostles saw a happy harmony existing
between our duties to God and our duties to man, and that in their view
doctrine and practice were not hostile—is evident from their writings.
The epistle to the Romans makes a near approach to a
systematic body of evangelical doctrine. It consists of sixteen chapters.
The first eleven assert the highest doctrines of grace. The last five
contain a better code of morals than can be found in the writings of the
whole heathen and infidel world. The epistle to the Ephesians is one of the
sublimest ever written. It contains six chapters. One can hardly imagine how
an apostle standing at the gate of heaven could utter sublimer doctrine than
is found in the first three. Yet the last three give directions for the
guidance of our conduct before men, which, if honestly carried out, would
make a heaven upon earth. It would indeed be very remarkable if the Son of
God should have done anything against the law of which he himself was the
author. This matter is made entirely clear by Stephen, in his last address
to the Jews. Speaking of the great prophet promised to them like unto Moses,
he says of Christ, "God will send you a prophet like me from your own
people. He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to
him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to
pass on to us." Acts 7:38. See also Heb. 12:24-26.
That the gospel does not supersede the law is explicitly
taught in the word of God. Having stated the doctrine of a gratuitous
justification for Jew and Gentile, Paul says, "Do we, then, nullify the law
by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." Romans 3:31. That
this is so will appear if we but remember that no one, not even an angel of
heaven, ever magnified the law and made it honorable, as Christ has done in
his life of obedience and suffering, and that all his genuine followers make
it their great concern to walk in his footsteps. That Jesus Christ taught
nothing contrary to a perfect obedience to the moral law, and made no war
upon it, he expressly asserts: "It is easier for heaven and earth to
disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law." Luke
Much more at length in the sermon on the mount, the Lord
says, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I
have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth,
until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least
stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything
is accomplished. Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called
great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your
righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,
you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:17-20.
Besides this explicit declaration of our Lord, it is manifest on the very
face of the sermon on the mount that the great aim of much of it was to
rescue the law from the glosses and false interpretations of the Scribes and
But the object at present is, to consider somewhat at
length the four verses already quoted. Stier thinks that the choice of a
mountain, as a place for the delivery of Christ's great sermon, had
reference to something more than merely a fitting pulpit. He says, "We
naturally think of that mountain of the law which preached
condemnation. The Old Testament placed foremost the curse; the New, being
glad tidings, begins with a blessing." The question naturally arises, how
did our Lord come to introduce this subject? Was there any popular error
which required this refutation? The very first words, "Do not think..."
would intimate either that they had thought, or were in great danger of
thinking erroneously. If no error on this point was publicly taught, our
Lord knew the heart of man too well to doubt that it would endeavor to
pervert the doctrines of grace, as promulged by himself, to the purposes of
a wicked life. The two words, the Law and the Prophets,
evidently denote the whole of the Scriptures. We have the same phrase in
Matt. 7:12, 22:40; Luke 16:16; Acts 13:15; Romans 3:21. In all these cases
the phrase evidently designates the entire word of God then written.
In no sense did Jesus Christ come to introduce lawlessness. He himself
submitted to the rite of circumcision and to baptism also, that he might
fulfill all righteousness. He had not come to release mankind from the
municipal laws under which they lived; much less had he come to wage a war
of destruction upon the great principles of piety and morality as taught in
the moral law.
The whole sense of the passage must very much turn upon
the meaning of the words rendered destroy and fulfill. In
giving the sense of this passage, commentators have been remarkably agreed.
Luther: "I have not come to make of none effect, but to complete." To
destroy the law and the prophets, says Diodati, is, "To derogate from their
authority, to cause them to be thought false or unprofitable, to propound a
doctrine contrary to them." To fulfill he paraphrases thus: "Observing the
law in all points myself, and bringing to pass all that was foretold by the
prophets, and putting in force the right view of the law; namely, to require
a perfect obedience, and its promise, which is to give life to those who
fulfill it, and is effected in me alone for all my church."
Matthew Poole thinks that by Christ's saying he came not
to destroy the law, we are to understand that he came not to "put an
end to the moral law," and by fulfilling it we are to understand "by
yielding himself a personal obedience to it, by giving a fuller and stricter
interpretation of it than the Jews formerly had, and by taking the curse of
it, and giving a just satisfaction to divine justice for it."
Adam Clarke: "I have not come to make the law of no
effect—to dissolve the connection which exists between its several parts, or
the obligation men are under to have their lives regulated by its moral
precepts; nor have I come to dissolve the connecting reference it has to the
good things promised. But I have come to complete—to perfect its connection
and reference, to accomplish everything shadowed forth in the Mosaic ritual,
to fill up its great design, and to give grace to all my followers, to fill
up or complete every moral duty."
Thomas Scott: "Christ assured the Jews that he had not
come to teach anything inconsistent with the true meaning of their sacred
writings, which would still continue in force as a part of divine
revelation.... The moral law he came to fulfill—by perfectly obeying it as
the surety of his people, in his life, sufferings, death and doctrines; to
establish it in its fullest honor and authority; and to make the most
effectual provision for men's loving and obeying it."
Tholuck: "The Savior says—My coming has not a negative,
but a positive end: I have come not to do away, but to fulfill."
Stier: "Has Christ, then, in any sense, brought a new, a
better, a more perfect law, than the law, to fulfill which he avows himself
to be come? By no means, as the whole sermon on the mount, his whole word,
and the virtue of that law itself in our consciences attest.... If you
expect a Messiah, such as the prophets foretold, and yet suppose that he
will come as a relaxer of the law, you do greatly err, not understanding the
prophets in their central harmony with the law. If I did not fulfill the
law, then would the prophets also fail of their fulfilment.... Let not the
world think, even the Christian world down to this day, that he came for any
other end than to establish the whole will of God, as the law and the
prophets in Israel especially enforced and foretold it. Let this be declared
to the world continually in the Lord's own words, both for its encouragement
There is not the slightest ground for the opinion that to
fulfill means no more than to teach; and that to destroy means
no more than not to teach or to teach the contrary. The early fathers, the
reformers and the best writers in the seventeenth century dwell much upon
the perfection of the fulfilling of the law by Christ. Melancthon says,
"In four ways has the law been fulfilled by Christ:
1. By the obedience he showed to it in his own behalf.
2. By suffering for us its penalty.
3. Inasmuch as he fulfills the law in us through the Holy
4. Inasmuch as le has confirmed it, and given his
testimony to the necessity of keeping it."
Maldonatus says, "Christ fulfilled the law:
1. In his own person;
2. By rightly interpreting it;
3. By giving us grace to keep it;
4. By realizing in his person the types of the law."
No doubt a Jew of those days by the law understood
the whole of the dispensation as settled in the Old Testament; but as the
Decalogue constituted the center and indeed the very heart of that system,
so far as precept is concerned, the moral law is unquestionably here
included. In the eighteenth verse, our Lord reiterates in the most explicit
terms what he had asserted in the seventeenth. "I tell you the truth, until
heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of
a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is
accomplished." Diodati says, that the form of expression here used is a
proverbial kind of speech, as much as to say, Never while the world lasts.
He thinks it is equivalent to that phrase in Job 14:12, "Until the heavens
be no more;" or to that in Psalm 62:5, "As long as the sun and moon endure."
No doubt this is the Savior's real meaning.
Tholuck: "This expression of Christ is an emphatic
designation of the law in its most minute parts." Stier: "That this strong
expression refers figuratively, in its special meaning, to the least
important of its contents, is plainly to be understood." This verse is
characterized by the solemn word, Amen, in English Verily; and by that
peculiar form of speech employed by Christ, I say unto you—as if he
had said, I, the Alpha and Omega, the infallible Teacher and final
Judge of the living and dead.
"Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called
great in the kingdom of heaven." The 19th verse is of somewhat difficult
interpretation as to its precise meaning in two points. The first relates to
the phrase, one of these least commandments. These words themselves
have been taken in three senses.
Some suppose they refer to the provisions of the
Ceremonial Law. But this is not admissible, since Christ himself speaks
of David as blameless, though he ate the show-bread. And everywhere in the
Old Testament, no less than in the New, acts of justice, mercy, and
dutifulness to parents receive a decided commendation over any attention to
religious ceremonies, though prescribed by God. And in the 15th chapter of
Acts, the council of the apostles and elders did not hesitate to declare
that the Mosaic ritual was not binding upon the Gentiles.
Others think the reference is to the commands of our
Savior as given in the New Testament. This can hardly be its meaning,
because it was not the topic of his discourse.
The other opinion, which is most probably the correct
one, is that by commandments here, we are to understand the precepts
of the Decalogue. This is the usual sense of the word commandments in the
New Testament. See Matt. 22:40; Mark 10:19; Luke 1:6, 18:20; 1 Cor. 12:19.
When the peculiar precepts of our Savior are spoken of by himself, he calls
them my commandments; when they are spoken of by others, they are called the
commandments of the Lord, or his commandments. 1 Cor. 14:37; 1 John 2:4,
3:24. The New Testament admits that all the commandments are not of equal
importance. Matt. 22:36, 38, 40; Mark 12:30. The Savior admits the same in
this verse. The Scribes and Pharisees had greatly abused this principle.
They had put ceremonies above moral duties. They had declared that "Whoever
after eating, washes not his hands, is no better than he who has committed a
murder." By their traditions, they had in many ways made void the
commandments of God.
Our Savior does not deny that one commandment may be more
important than another. But he guards against the infraction of the very
least, in the solemn manner now to be considered. He says, "Anyone who
breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the
same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven." Here is the second
point of difficulty mentioned above. This is very alarming language, and
should be well weighed by every man. If the evil here threatened is suited
to strike terror, the blessing promised to those who do and teach these
commandments is very glorious; they shall be called great in the kingdom of
heaven. Commentators are not agreed whether by the kingdom of heaven we are
to understand the visible church on earth as constituted by Christ, or the
invisible kingdom of glory in heaven. But we need not perplex ourselves on
this matter, inasmuch as he who is really unfit to be a member of the church
on earth, is not fit to enter heaven. So we may give to the phrase the most
The views of commentators on the import of the phrase,
the least in the kingdom of heaven, are such as these: Diodati: They
"shall lose much of God's approbation and of the good esteem of true
believers." Henry: "Those who extenuate and encourage sin, and
discountenance and put contempt upon strictness in religion and serious
devotion, are the dregs of the church." Doddridge: "He shall be accounted
one of the least and unworthiest members in the kingdom of heaven, or in the
church of the Messiah; and shall soon be entirely cut off from it as unfit
for so holy a society." Whitby: "He shall be unworthy to be reckoned one of
the members of my kingdom." Clarke: "He shall have no place in the kingdom
of Christ here, nor in the kingdom of glory above." Scott: "Either no true
disciple at all, or one of the most inconsistent and base of the whole
company." Poole: "Shall be accounted of the least value and esteem in the
church of God, and shall never come into the kingdom of glory." Tholuck: "We
are obliged to conclude that it is not exclusion, but inferiority of
station, which is here spoken of." Stowell: "Christ assures his disciples
that he who in the slightest degree departs from the most rigid demands of
that rule, and either directly or indirectly teaches others so to do, shall
scarcely be esteemed as belonging to the Christian church, or, if belonging
to it, as the least worthy and consistent of its members; while, on the
other hand, he who is obedient in all things, and by his instruction,
persuasion, or example, influences others to the same obedience, shall be
honored as an enlightened, decided, and useful subject of "the kingdom of
heaven." Hare: "He shall be considered a most unworthy member of Christ's
kingdom even here, and therefore, I need not add, can have no chance of
being admitted into Christ's glorious and everlasting kingdom hereafter."
Whatever, therefore, may be the precise meaning of the
phrase, least in the kingdom of heaven, we cannot doubt that it
contains an solemn warning against the error of lightly esteeming any one of
the Ten Commandments. In the 20th verse, the Lord says, "For I say unto you,
that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes
and Pharisees, you shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven." "The
righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees," says Diodati, "was all set upon
vain ceremonies, arbitrary disciplines, false shows, and dead works without
God's Spirit." The Scribes and Pharisees were very highly esteemed by the
people for their piety; but Jesus Christ says his disciples must exceed
them, both in their principles and practice.
"Their interpretation of the moral law," says Poole, "was
so short and surface, that it is manifest that their righteousness was not
only a righteousness not of faith, but of works, and those works that were
very imperfect, and short of what the true sense of the law required."
Scott: "The zeal and strictness of the Scribes and Pharisees, both in
doctrine and practice, was chiefly shown about their own traditions, by
which they 'made void the law of God;' and about minute observances by which
they covered over their neglect of judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of
God and man."
It was always true that the letter of the law killed. It
is the Spirit who makes alive. The most exact observance of a ritual, and
the most decent, though heartless conformity to the precepts of the moral
law, never did meet the demands of God's word. Those, therefore, whose piety
goes not beyond externals, however faultless in the eyes of men, will never
secure the smiles of God. Of such the Savior says, "they shall never enter
into the kingdom of heaven;" that is, they shall not be accepted members of
his visible church, nor reign with him in glory. Yes, truly, our obedience
must vastly excel that of any formalist that ever lived.
Stowell: "Your righteousness must exceed theirs in the
principle from which it springs—not like theirs, from pride and
self-sufficiency, but from love. Your righteousness must exceed theirs in
the motives by which it is influenced—not the applause of mortals,
but by the approbation of God, and the promotion of his glory. Your
righteousness must exceed theirs in the standard by which it is
regulated—not the traditions and questionable explanations of the Scribes
and Pharisees themselves, but by the full and spiritual meaning of the law.
Your righteousness must exceed theirs in the extent to which it is
carried—not merely to the visible observance, but also to the secret
thoughts and feelings. Your righteousness must exceed theirs in the
effect it produces on others—not securing their admiration of your
ostentatious virtue, and forcing them to submit to your usurped authority,
but leading them to admire the grace of God, to adore him in the purity and
goodness of his law, and to emulate the example you have set them."
The conclusion is, nothing is said or done in the gospel
to depreciate the law; but much to honor and magnify it. The apostasy gave
no license to rebellion. Sinning can never make sinning lawful or excusable.
Nor does the grace of God in the gospel open a door to unholy living.
Chapter 13. Detached Remarks.
1. Ignorance of the Law. The evils of
ignorance of the law are very great. They are such as these: Where the law
is not well known, there is but little knowledge of sin. Of course
convictions, if any, are slight. The fallow-ground of the human heart is not
well broken up. Where the law is not well known, repentance is slight. We
are called upon to mourn for our sins; but if we do not know how numerous
and vile they are, our sorrow will not bear any just proportion to their
enormity. Besides, where there is general ignorance of the law, false
confidence will abound. Multitudes will presume upon God's mercy where none
is promised; and multitudes will lie in carnal security. When such ignorance
becomes general, society assumes its very worst forms. Lawlessness runs
riot. The carnal nature of man fearfully prevails. Impirty becomes general,
and all godly men cry out—what are we coming to? The gospel itself begins to
be loathed, like the manna to the Israelites; for "without an experimental
knowledge and an sincere faith in the law and the gospel, a man can neither
venerate the authority of the one, nor esteem the grace of the other."
2. How the law is made void. The error of many
ancients, and of not a few moderns, consists, not in a formal denial of the
obligation of the moral law, but in inventing various devices for evading
its force. The Scribes and Pharisees superadded a great mass of the
traditions of the elders, which they regarded as equal and even paramount to
the law of God. Against this capital error our Savior directed much of his
discourse. He charged them directly with transgressing the commandments of
God by their traditions. The fifth commandment said—Honor your father and
mother. The tradition of the elders said—If a parent was suffering with
hunger, and if the son wished not to relieve the distresses of his parent,
all that was necessary was to say—It is a gift; it is Corban; it is devoted
to religious uses. Thus Christ declares—They made the commandments of God of
no effect by their traditions. The worship of such is an offence to God.
Jesus but expresses the tenor of the Old Testament when he says of such; "In
vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men."
Others render null and void the law by not sufficiently
discriminating between it and the gospel. Colquhoun: "To blend or confound
the law and the gospel has been a fatal source of error in the Christian
church; and has much hindered many believers in their exercise of faith and
practice of holiness."
The church of Rome follows both these devices fully. An
old commentator says: "The Scriptures teach that there is no difference to
be put between foods, in regard of holiness, but that every creature of God
is good. This the Papists make void, by teaching that it is matter of
religion to abstain from meats at certain seasons. The Scripture teaches
that we should pray to God alone. This they make void by their manifold
prayers to departed saints. The Scripture teaches Christ alone to be
our Mediator, both of redemption and intercession. This they make void by
making saints intercessors. The Scripture teaches Christ to be the only head
of the church. This they abrogate by the doctrine of the Pope's supremacy.
The Scripture teaches that every soul should be subject to the higher power.
This they abrogate by exempting the Pope and popish clergy from subjection
to the civil power of princes and magistrates. Lastly, to instance in the
same kind as our Savior here against the Pharisees, whereas the word of God
commands children to honor their parents, the papists teach that if the
child have vowed a monastical life, he is exempted from duty to parents."
3. A right temper. If in anything, surely in
the study of the law, a right temper is exceedingly important. The law is
not to be looked upon as the word of man, but is to be received as it is in
truth—the word of God, spoken in most solemn circumstances. We are as much
bound to look back to the solemn scenes of Sinai, as if we ourselves had
been present at the giving of the law. Whoever would study the law aright,
must have a teachable temper. He must be willing to learn whatever God would
teach him. His language should be, "Speak, Lord, for your servant hears."
We would know the law of God better if we would more
zealously practice what we have already learned. Perhaps nothing more
impedes our spiritual progress—than refusing to do, as well as we
know. James 4:17. We ought also to delight, and think much on the
commandments. One mark of a godly man, as laid down in the First Psalm is,
that "his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate
day and night." Although the word law here includes more than the ten
Commands, even all Scripture, yet the law is an excellent part of the sacred
writings; so that it is not excluded. If we would study the law profitably,
we must be open to conviction. We must not be scared away from beholding sad
sights in our own hearts, habits and lives revealed to us by the law. We
must be willing to borrow light from all proper sources. Not a book of
Scripture is there but that it throws some light on the Commandments. Above
all, we must ask for the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Without his
teaching we shall labor in vain. Let us, therefore, cry mightily to God,
asking him to quicken us in his way, and not to hide his commandments from
us, to teach us the way of his statutes, and not to take his Holy Spirit
4. How should the law be divided?
No particular importance attaches to the numbering of the
commandments, provided every word that God has spoken be faithfully
delivered to the people. It is not reckoning the commandments aright, but
keeping them—which is pleasing to God. And yet Roman Catholics have availed
themselves of their mode of numbering the commandments entirely to omit from
their short Catechisms all allusion to image worship. This is maiming
and mutilating the word of God.
5. The PREFACE to the Moral Law. "I am the
Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery."
The first title here claimed by God is "Lord"—in the
Hebrew, Jehovah. It teaches the self-existence, independence, eternity and
immutability of God.
The second title here claimed by the lawgiver is "God"—in
the Hebrew Elohim, which is in the plural form. There is no satisfactory
explanation of the use of these plurals concerning God, except that they
were intended to recognize a plurality of persons in the godhead. Being in
the singular, Jehovah expresses the divine unity. Being in the plural,
Elohim points to the trinity. The Lord says, I am your God; by which he
claims to have that people in covenant relation with himself.
The remainder of the preface is a direct appeal to the
gratitude of those to whom the law was first given, on the score of God's
amazing mercies to them personally and nationally, temporally and
spiritually. It reminded them of all that God had done for their fathers as
well as for themselves. It specially pointed to the deliverance from
Egyptian bondage—as a type of the greater redemption promised to our first
parents in the garden of Eden. To us this preface teaches that "because God
is the Lord, and our God and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all
While claiming that these words are a preface to the
whole law, we may yet admit that they have a particular relation to the
first commandment. This preface then clearly points to the authority of the
Most High, as the Creator and Governor of the world, as possessed of
infinite and independent excellence, as having bound all his creatures to
himself by bonds which they may not innocently disregard, and holding all
who profess his name truly and firmly bound to his service by a covenant
which he will not break, and which they must highly esteem. God's
sovereignty is entire and absolute; and is so declared in Scripture. Romans