The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced

By William S. Plumer, 1864


Few things are more commended or less understood, than Christian liberty. Most men praise it; not many maintain it. The vile Antinomian boasts of it, and casts off the cords of the moral law. The bigot praises it, and counts you a fool because you do not adopt his whims. The superstitious lauds it, and makes himself a slave of some imposture. The openly profane struts, and swaggers, and is the servant of corruption. What then is Christian liberty? The comfort and usefulness of many are destroyed by not understanding this matter.

1. The first element of Christian liberty is freedom from the ceremonial law of Moses. At this time the Christian world is undivided respecting this matter. This was not always so. The apostles had much trouble, and even Peter was involved in dissimulation on the subject.

2. Believers are free from the moral law as a covenant of works. "You are not under the law, but under grace," Romans 6:14. "You are become dead to the law by the body of Christ," Romans 7:4.

3. God's people are free from the penalty of the moral law which we have all broken. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us," Gal. 3:13. The Judge himself, by his own most precious blood, has opened the prison doors, and said to the prisoners, Go free.

4. Christ sets his people free from the torments of a guilty conscience. They are not crushed with a sense of terrible condemnation. He, who has a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, is indeed in a sad plight. He has a hell upon earth. But the blood of Jesus Christ speaks as perfect peace to the conscience as it does at the throne of God.

5. Christ sets his people free from the reigning power of sin. The unconverted are the slaves of lust, of pride, of malice and of all iniquity. They are led captive by the devil at his will. But to his people, Christ makes good the promise, "Sin shall not have dominion over you." He preaches deliverance to the captives and sets at liberty them that are bruised, Luke 4:18.

6. Christ frees his people from the evil of afflictions, though not from afflictions themselves.

7. Jesus Christ also delivers his people, who, through the fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage--a dreadful bondage indeed. Such are the chief elements of Christian liberty taken in the broadest sense. But

8. The liberty of Christians, while it makes them Christ's freemen, and binds them in chains of love to his service, delivers them from the traditions and commandments of men in all matters of faith, worship and morals. This is the sense in which the term Christian liberty is now most commonly used. If God has made no law in these matters, we can do as we please. If he is silent, man's word is of no force. That God has set his people free from the commandments of men in matters of faith, is very evident. Jesus Christ alike forbade his servants to be called Master, or to call others Master. He expressly said that even the apostles should not be lords over his heritage. The apostles disclaimed all dominion over the faith of Christians. Churches have no power to alter, amend, enlarge, or diminish the creed given us in Scripture. Nor can any church give Scriptural authority for claiming the right of ordaining ceremonies, and imposing forms upon the consciences of people; so that nonconformity shall be esteemed schism. If some such things were commended as decent or expedient, they might be comparatively harmless; but when they are exacted, they are worse than tolerable fooleries; they are engines of wickedness and cruelty.

The same is true of morals. That, which is not made sin by God's word, can never become so by the legislation of men. That, which is not in Scripture prescribed as a part of duty, can never become such by the canons of church authorities. Sin is a violation of the law of God, or a lack of conformity to a divine precept. Nothing else is sin. Men have often forbidden what the decalogue required; and as often required what it forbade. The rules to be observed respecting all attempts to bind us in faith, worship or morals, by the commandments of men are such as these:

1. Never yield your liberty with which Christ has made you free. Whether the laws of men shall be permitted to set aside divine statutes ought never to be a question among men. To oblige another, Paul would yield up all but his honor and his conscience; but when there is an attempt to invade his rights under form of law, he exclaims, "I am a Roman citizen;" and when they put his life in jeopardy, he exclaims, "I appeal to Caesar." Rather than offend prejudices or hinder the gospel, he circumcised Timothy because of the Jews, which were in those quarters. Acts 16:3. This he did uncommanded. But when an attempt was made to enforce circumcision, he "gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with" the churches. Gal. 2:5.

Wherever there is a clear attempt at domination, the rule of reason, of public spirit, and of Christian duty is one--Never yield an inch. Paul did not.

Life is not desirable, when civil and religious despotism have the sway. To yield a point enforced by no command of God is to admit that there is more than one lawgiver. And to yield to civil wrongs, when the laws protect us, is to admit that the will of one man is above a free constitution.

2. We must never hypocritically plead our consciences, when in fact we are governed only by prejudice or passion. It is a great weakness, and a wickedness to raise doubts where duty is clear, or to wish a purpose defeated by a false plea. Let men never plead conscience where conscience is not involved.

3. Let no man use his liberty for a cloak of maliciousness. 1 Pet. 2:16. Even if we are in fact right, and our brethren through weakness are in error, we may not be reckless of their spiritual interests. We must love them tenderly and seek their good.

4. Beware of lightly esteeming one, who through weakness does not use his liberty as he might. Paul gives the whole law on this subject in Romans 14:1-4. 5. When a thing is lawful, or when it is not forbidden, and the only question relates to the expediency of a given course--the whole decision must be made by every man for himself. This is clearly taught by Paul in Romans 14:10, 12. "Why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nothing your brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.... So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God."

The spiritual despotism of modern times shows itself in nothing more than in judging others, where God has left them free. This whole subject came up repeatedly in the early history of Christianity, and Paul then clearly marked the distinction between the lawful and the expedient. "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any." "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." I Cor. 6:12, 10:23. This distinction should be preserved. Considerable difficulty arose respecting things offered to idols. Animals were slain, and their blood and fat used in idolatrous worship; but the meat was sold in the market. Libations of wine were also offered in heathen temples, and the priests sent to the wine-merchant what they did not wish for their own use. Some contended that it was in itself lawful to buy and eat any meat sold in the markets, and to buy and drink any wine offered for sale. Of this class were Paul and other strong established Christians. But there were weak brethren who doubted the lawfulness of so doing. These were tempted to judge their stronger brethren, and their stronger brethren were tempted to despise them. Paul would not have the strong believe that to be wicked, which was innocent. He would not have the strong to become weak. But he would not have the weak defile their consciences by doing anything, the lawfulness of which they doubted. This would be wicked. "To him that esteems anything unclean, to him it is unclean." "Whatever is not of faith is sin." On the other hand, he would not encourage any to do that which would harden others in sin. "All things indeed are pure: but it is evil for that man who eats with offence. It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak." Romans 14:20, 21.

A similar difficulty arose respecting days. One man esteemed one day above another; another esteemed every day alike. Romans 14:5. Some wholly rejected the Jewish holy-days, while others as yet held on to them. It was not wicked to observe them, if it was done to the Lord. The question whether it was expedient to observe them was left to each man to decide for himself. It is here noticeable that Paul directs us never to violate our consciences. If a man thinks an act wrong, nothing is more clear than that it is sinful for him to do it. To do what we are doubtful about, is always sinful. But it is not always right to do what we think is right. Whatever is not of faith, is sin, but it does not follow that whatever is of faith is holy. For Saul of Tarsus verily thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. While, therefore, a weak brother has no right to require us to adopt his notions, our love to him and to Christ should make us tender of his feelings, careful not to tempt him to violate his conscience, and anxious to edify him.

Thus an effectual stop is put to any attempt of minority or majority, weak or strong, to afflict their brethren, wound their feelings, or defile their consciences. Terms of communion in the church of God are never to be made more or less close than Christ has made them.