My dear Brother,
I am not sorry to know with some distinctness what the views of those are who maintain the law to be the Christian’s rule of life; and what the arguments by which they maintain their opinions.
I desire, but without controversy, to consider the subject, which is really an important one, as calmly as I can. I make allowance, or would endeavour to do so, for theological habits of mind.
Taught myself exclusively by scripture, a multitude of expressions which are never found there appear strange to me, while they are at the base of the habits of thought of those whose views I have here to consider. Thus, “the moral law,” “Christ’s righteousness,” and the like, which lie at the heart of the subject, are never found in scripture. But we must make allowance for these theological habits and expressions, see how far they are scriptural in substance, and hold fast the substance, while preferring, as surely clearer and more excellent, scriptural forms of expression. I have no doubt that unscriptural expressions are the fruit of, and lead to, unscriptural habits of mind; on the other hand it is not good to jeopardize substantial truths by making war on words which express them. The word “Trinity” is not found in scripture; the expression “justified by faith only” is not found in scripture; yet I need not justify them to you as human expressions of essentially fundamental truths. I have no better words, and I use what I find commonly used to express what I believe in my inmost soul; and I would not shake the faith of those who hold fast the truth expressed in these words to quarrel with the words by which thousands of saints have expressed it before me. So with the word “Person” applied to the Godhead. It is not scriptural; but I have no better word for One who sends, is sent, comes, goes away, wills, distributes, and does distinctive acts. The Father sends the Son, the Son does not send the Father. I doubt that any one will give me a better word than that which has clothed the deep divinely given convictions of faith in saints for ages. If a person quarrels with the word always used to express a truth without having a better, I dread a little his quarrelling with the truth it conveys. I say this that you may be assured that I do not seek to unsettle any simple soul by captious difficulties about words, or by resistance to expressions formed in the schools.
If a servant of God merely sought to insist on the danger of what is vulgarly called Antinomianism—that is, the wickedness of making liberty a cloak for maliciousness (and we know from scripture that flesh is perfectly capable of doing so), certainly he would not have me for an adversary. If they called this the moral law, in urging godliness as the necessary fruit of a living faith, I might have regretted the vagueness of an unscriptural phraseology—the want of spiritual point and power in not making Christ the substance of moral teaching, as of doctrinal, as the scripture surely and blessedly does; but, in the root of the matter, I think I may say I should have cordially joined with what was intended. Such exhortations have their place and their necessity. That a Christian should walk according to the precepts of the New Testament, and all the divine light he can gather for his walk from the Old, be it the Ten Commandments or anything else, no consistent or rightminded Christian could for a moment deny. I could not own as being on christian ground one who would. I may not be his judge, but I am bound to judge the principles he professes. But I suppose such are rare, if such are to be found. At any rate he would receive no support from me or from you. I need hardly dwell on it otherwise than to reject it as utterly evil and unchristian.
It is one of the distinctive marks between heresy and any advance in true divine knowledge, that the latter always holds the moral foundation fast, the difference of right and wrong immovable and fixed, as it is in the divine nature and revealed in the word; the heretic slights or loses sight of it. This is remarkably shewn in Rom. 2:6-10, found at the outset of an epistle where justification by faith and by grace is so largely, methodically, and blessedly insisted on. The apostle does not stop to enquire there how the good is to be arrived at, or to weaken fundamental principles by explanations to prove their consistency with other doctrines, so as to enfeeble them. Other scriptures may teach us this, and do, I doubt not, clearly, and these we have to compare; but there is the great truth, in all its immovable and unalterable firmness, founded in the nature of God and responsibility of man. The divine fines bonorum et malorum (if I may use a heathen expression in divine things) are not to be overpassed. I may see that in myself I must, in my state of nature, be condemned on this ground, and flee for refuge to the hope set before me, and find a life which does continue in well-doing, as is here demanded, and find righteousness in Christ, and know I can find these things nowhere else; but immutable righteousness is there to make it necessary I should find them, however unspeakably the grace and glory which I do find may be beyond the measure of the responsibility which has forced me to seek them. These will never destroy nor enfeeble that. My objection to the way in which the moral law is spoken of, where Christians are put under law, is not the maintenance of moral obligations (this is all right); but that, by using the term moral law, and then referring to law as spoken of by the apostle, the teaching of the apostle is subverted and set aside, and that in practically most important points. And as this will lead me to some very vital truths, I desire to take the question up, which for mere controversy’s sake I should not.
If I speak of moral law (which scripture does not), I make it, by the very expression, a fatal thing to be delivered from it. Yet Paul says the Christian is delivered from the law. If I make of the law a moral law (including therein the precepts of the New Testament, and all morality in heart and life), to say a Christian is delivered from it is nonsense or utterly monstrous wickedness; certainly it is not Christianity. Conformity to the divine will, and that, as obedience to commandments, is alike the joy and the duty of the renewed mind. I say, “obedience to commandments.” Some are afraid of the word, as if it would weaken love and the idea of a new creation; scripture is not. Obedience and keeping the commandments of one we love is the proof of that love, and the delight of the new nature. Did I do all right and not do it in obedience, I should do nothing right, because my true relationship and heart-reference to God would be left out. This is love, that we keep His commandments. We are sanctified to the obedience of Christ. Christ Himself says, “The prince of this world cometh and hath nothing in me; but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father hath given me commandment, so I do.” His highest act of love is His highest act of obedience.
But this it is that just makes it so mischievous to put the Christian under the law, and change the scripture phraseology to another, and speak of the moral law being given as a rule of life; and having no passage in which “moral law” is used, quoting Paul’s statements as to “law,” from which he says, and insists on it as one of the chief topics of his teaching, we are delivered. Not merely that we are not justified by its works (yet we should be if the moral law were kept, and so he declares, “the doer of the law shall be justified”); but that we are delivered from it. A Christian is delivered from it, because it is ruinous in its effect, whenever applied to men who are fallen. Not, clearly, the ceremonial law —that he could fulfil, however burdensome it might be. It is the moral law which is ruinous in its effect to every fallen son of Adam. Is it morality that is ruinous, or obedience to Christ’s precepts? That were a blasphemy to say, and shocking to every christian mind. But it is of law the apostle declares, what was ordained to life he found to be to death. (Rom. 7.) It is a ministration of death, and ministration of condemnation. (2 Cor. 3:7-9.) As many as are of its works—on the principle of it—its works are not bad ones—are under a curse. (Gal. 3:10.) That is, law means, in the apostle’s teaching, something else than a rule or measure of conduct. It is a principle of dealing with men which necessarily destroys and condemns them. This is the way the Spirit of God uses law in contrast with Christ, and never in christian teaching puts men under it; but carefully shews how they are delivered from it—are no longer under it.
Nor does scripture ever think of saying, You are not under the law in one way, but you are in another; you are not for justification, but you are as a rule of life. It declares you are not under law, but under grace; and if you are under law, you are condemned and under a curse. It must have its own proper force and effect. Remark, it puts it as a principle contrasted with grace. But will a man say, You wrong us in saying we hold that a Christian is under law? I ask, How is that obligatory which a man is not under—from which he is delivered? No; the apostle carefully insists that the law is good, that it is not the fault of die law that we are condemned, if we have to say to it (but he as carefully declares we are if we have); and that, in fact, we are delivered from it; that if led of the Spirit, we are not under law. He uses it to express a principle, a manner of dealing on the part of God, contrasted with grace. That is the way he speaks of law. I repeat it, scripture speaks elaborately of being delivered from the law as ministering death and a curse, declaring that we are not under it. Use the term moral law, and say so, and see where you bring us.
But that this may be before our eyes, I will quote some scriptures, that we may see that this is no light subject nor strained assertion: “As many as are of the works of the law are under a curse.” “The law entered that the offence might abound.” Mark the word entered (pareish'lqe). It was a principle, a system, a way of dealing that came in. “Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace.” “The sting of death is sin; the strength of sin is the law.” “I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Is the apostle speaking of the ceremonial law? Far from it; he is speaking of the law in its moral nature and essence. He says, “I had not known lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (lust).” And when he had said that sin should not have dominion over us, because we are not under the law, he immediately adds, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?” shewing that the introduction of the notion of the ceremonial law has no place at all here. Nor is it justification he is speaking of here; but serving sin, or the contrary. No; he treats the whole question of law in a way totally different, and contrary to that in which it is treated in much evangelical teaching. I continue: “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” “Sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” Is this ceremonial law? It is a principle on which God placed man “four hundred and thirty years after the promise,” which “was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” But now the seed is come to whom the promise was made, and “now we are delivered from the law.” What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God has done in another way. How we are delivered from the law, so as not to allow sin, I shall speak of presently.
I am now shewing that scripture treats the question of law in another way from what I am here examining. Before faith came, we were kept under the law; but after that faith came, we were no longer under the schoolmaster. If the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise; but God gave it unto Abraham by promise. The law was added. Further, if there had been a law given which could have given life, righteousness should have been by the law. “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin.” “I, through law,” says the apostle, “am dead to law, that I might live to God.” “If I am led of the Spirit, I am not under law.” “Ye are become dead to the law, by the body of Christ, that ye might be married to another.” It is “the ministration of death written and engraven on stones.” How is it possible, if law could be used as the moral law, by which a Christian is bound, that the apostle should say, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ?” It would be, as Paul says, making Christ the minister of sin. Let it not be attempted to be said, Oh, but he is speaking of justification by works of law: he is doing nothing of the kind. His words are, “Ye are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that ye might bring forth fruit unto God.” Being dead to the law is the way to bring forth fruit. So in Galatians: “I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God.” If I would bring forth fruit and live to God, I must be dead to law. Law is a principle on which we cannot live to God any more than we can be justified. No doubt, we cannot be justified by works of law; but there is much more than that. It condemns us positively if we are under it. It “works wrath.” It cannot give life: but that is not all; it is a ministration of death—is found to be unto death. It is “the strength of sin.” By it, as an occasion, sin works in us all manner of concupiscence—bringing forth fruit unto death. The motions of sin are by the law. It makes sin exceeding sinful. Is all this scripture, or is it not?
Will it be said that this was the effect of law out of and before Christ? Let the reader remember that the apostle is writing to Christians, and reasoning against a tendency and an effort which beset Christians everywhere to bring in the obligation of the law after Christ. And he shews the working of the law for any that took it up to bring its obligations upon them when they were Christians, and declares that he who had been under law was delivered from it, and that it was a schoolmaster up to faith; but that when faith came men were no longer under it. The subject he is everywhere treating is law in its nature,1 or specifically an attempt to place men under its obligation after they had received the faith.
Law has its own proper effect. This leads me to the text constantly quoted: “Yea, we establish the law.” And here I would pray you to weigh what I say. I declare, according to scripture, that law must always have its effect as declared in the word of God, always necessarily upon whoever is under it; but that that effect is always, according to scripture, condemnation and death, and nothing else, upon a being who has in him a lust or a fault; that it knows no mercy, but that it pronounces a curse upon every one who does not continue in all things written in it; and that whosoever is of the works of the law is under a curse. Now, in fact, the Christian has sin in him as a human being, and alas! fails; and if law applies to him, he is under the curse; for it brings a curse on every one who sins. Do I enfeeble its authority? I maintain it, and establish it in the fullest way. I ask, Have you to say to the law? Then you are under a curse. No escaping, no exemption. Its authority and claim must be maintained—its righteous exactions made good. Have you failed? Yes, you have. You are under the curse. No, you say, but I am a Christian; the law is still binding upon me, but I am not under a curse. Has not the law pronounced a curse on one who fails? Yes. You are under it. You have failed, and are not cursed after all! Its authority is not maintained; for you are under it; it has cursed you, and you are not cursed. If you had said, I was under it and failed, and Christ died and bore its curse; and now, as redeemed, I am on another footing, and not under law, but under grace, its authority is maintained; but if you are put back again under law, after Christ has died and risen again, and you are in Christ, and you fail and come under no curse, its authority is destroyed; for it pronounces a curse, and you are not cursed at all. The man who puts a Christian under law destroys the authority of the law, or puts a Christian under the curse—“for in many things we all offend.” He fancies he establishes law: he destroys its authority. He only establishes the full immutable authority of law who declares that a Christian is not under it at all, and therefore cannot be cursed by its just and holy curse.
What the measure of christian conduct is, I shall shew from scripture before I close. I only remark now, that, in point of fact, what we specially need is, not the rule of right and wrong, though that be most useful and necessary and in its place, but motive and power for our new nature. The law gives neither. The scripture declares it is an occasion for sin’s working concupiscence in me, that the motions of sin are by it, that it is the strength of sin, and that sin shall not have dominion over me, because I am not under it, but under grace. Let a bowl lie reversed on the table: who thinks of it? Say, “No one is to know what is under it:” who is not wishing to know? The law is the occasion to lust. If we only remember that the apostle is speaking of law—is speaking of its effect on every one that is under it, and particularly on Christians putting themselves under it after they are Christians, and not merely (though he does that fully) of being justified by it, but of its own proper and necessary effect in all cases, and the question, if scripture be an authority, is soon decided.
How then is a conscientious man delivered from the law without any allowance of sin? First, they that sin without law shall perish without law, so that he is none the better for setting aside the law in order to sin with impunity. Secondly, the law is no help against sin. Sin has not dominion over us, according to the apostle, because we are not under law but under grace. What then does deliver from sin and law? It is death, and then newness of life in resurrection. We are in Christ, not in Adam.
Let us first see the legitimate effect of law, for it is good if a man use it lawfully. It condemns sins. But known in its spiritual power, it does more—it condemns sin. It first condemns all transgressions of its own commandments. Here, as to outward conduct, a man, as St. Paul, may escape its fangs in the conscience. But known spiritually, it condemns lust. But lusts I have. Yet I see the law is right. I am self-condemned. It judges the working of my nature in lust, but gives no new one. It condemns my will, claiming absolute obedience as due to God; and, if my will be right, I discover that under law I have no power. How to accomplish that which is good I find not. Acts, lusts, will—all I am morally, is judged and condemned to death, and I have no force to accomplish what is good. Such is the effect of the law on one when it does take effect in the conscience. It kills me. I have, as to my conscience, died before God under it. But then law applies to man as a child of Adam living in flesh. It condemns and brings death into me in this way because I am such. As such I have died under it; but, then, that to which it applied is dead under it, and it applies no more. A man is put in gaol for thieving or murder; he dies there; the law can do no more, the life it dealt with is gone. I, through law, am dead to law, that I might live to God. As regards my conscience before God, it has killed me. It can do no more.
But there is more than this, because I got at the intelligence of all this by faith, by being a Christian, and could not else thus see or reason on it. Hence I am dead to the law by the body of Christ. The death it sentenced me to in my conscience has fallen on another. I have died in Him—in Christ. The sin has been thus put away from my conscience. Had this come upon me, it would have been everlasting misery. But Christ having put Himself in this place, it is everlasting love; and I have a right to reckon myself dead, because Christ has died, and I have really received Him into my heart as life; and He is really my life, who died for me and rose again. I am alive by the life of Him who is a life-giving Spirit; and hence have the right, and am bound to account myself dead, since He in whom I live did die. On this the apostle founds all his reasonings and exhortations as to sin and the law. He looks at the Christian as dead and risen again, because his true life, his “I,” the life he has got, and in which he lives as a Christian, is Christ, who has died and is alive again. After saying, “I through law am dead to law,” he adds, “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” “If ye have died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living [alive] in the world, are ye subject to ordinances?”—“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.”
Let us see how he applies this doctrine to sin and the law. In Romans 5 he had applied the resurrection to justification. Christ (chap. 4:25) was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification. It is justification of life; not merely the putting away of sins, but the putting us in a quite new accepted place before God. This connection of life, the power of life in Christ, and justification in Him that is risen after dying for us, it is (and not the law) which, in the apostle’s doctrine, assured also godliness. “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?” (Chap. 6:2.) We cannot if we are dead to it. But such is our place in Christ dead and risen, and that a real thing, by having a wholly new life in Christ who is our life. “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin, for he that is dead is freed from sin.” Then he shews how Christ died and is risen again and lives to God, and adds, “Reckon ye yourselves likewise to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Let not sin therefore reign,” he continues, “in your mortal body,” adding what I have already quoted; “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law but under grace.” He then refers to the abuse the flesh would make of this; but, instead of insisting that the moral law was binding, shews them to be freed from sin, and servants to righteousness and to God, yielding their members servants to righteousness unto holiness. Thus, by being dead and alive in the life of Christ, are we freed from sin.
In chapter 7 he applies the same truth more elaborately to the law. You cannot, he insists, have two husbands at the same time. You cannot be under obligation to Christ and the law. Well, how is freedom to be obtained for the man under the law? He dies in that in which he was held. The law could only assert its claim on the man as a living child of Adam. The “law has power over a man as long as he lives;” but I am dead to law by the body of Christ; the bond to the law has absolutely, wholly, and necessarily ceased, for the person is dead; and the law had power over him only as long as he lived. Hence he says, in such strong and simple language, “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins which were by the law.” The law applies to man in the flesh; but we have died, we are not in the flesh: when we were, it applied. It applied to flesh, provoked the sin, and condemned the sinner. But he died under it, when he was under it—died under it in Christ, and lives delivered from it in a new life, which is Christ risen out of the reach and place of law. He is not tied to the old husband; death has severed the bond, his own death and crucifixion in Christ; for he has owned that that was his affair as a sinner. He is married to another—Christ, who is risen from the dead, that he may bring forth fruit to God. He is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of Christ dwell in him; if not, he is none of His.
You will say, Yes; but the flesh is still there, though he has a right and ought to reckon himself dead; and therefore he needs the law, not to put away sin, but that it may not have dominion. But I read, “Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under law.” When I was in the flesh, the law was the occasion of the working of sin in my members. I have died in that, and the law cannot pass death. Godliness is in the new life, which lives by the faith of the Son of God. It is death— conscious death—in Christ, and my being in Him, so that I am no longer in the flesh at all, but have Him for my life, which is the scriptural way of godliness—righteousness, with its fruit unto holiness—not the being under the law.
Living in a risen Christ as one who has been taken out of the reach of law by death—that is christian life. The measure of that walk is Christ, and nothing else. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk as he walked.” Let us consult scripture as to this point—the scripture rule of life. I have given it: we ought so to walk as Christ walked. Again it is written, “He hath left us an example, that we should follow his steps.” He is life, motive, and example too; He lives in us, and the life which we live in the flesh we live by the faith of Him. He has trod the path before us. He is all, and in all. It is as beholding in His face unveiled the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3); and thus, He being engraved on the heart by the Spirit of the living God, we become the epistle of Christ. (2 Cor. 3.) And mark, it is there in contrast with the law on the tables of stone. We are to put on Christ, to put on the new man. This goes so far that it is said, “Hereby perceive we love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3.) The law knew no such principle, no such obligation as this. Was it the law which made Christ come and lay down His life for us? Does not this example shew the extreme poverty of the thought, that the law is the rule or measure of our conduct? The truth is this—there were two parts of Christ’s life. First, man’s obedience to God’s will, which itself went much farther than law; for law did not require the path of grace and devotedness to man in which Christ walked. He did, as under the law, magnify and make it honourable. But there was another—the manifestation of God Himself in grace and graciousness. This is not law. It is God in goodness, not man in responsibility. It is mischievous to confound the two. Will any one say, But we are not, and cannot be, called upon to follow Christ in the latter? I reply, We are expressly called upon to do so, and never to follow Him under law. What scripture says on this last point is that, if I love my neighbour as myself, I shall fulfil the law, so that I have no need to be under it; and, again, that in walking after the Spirit, the righteousness of the law will be fulfilled in me, and produce what the law could not do, because it was weak through the flesh. The Spirit will produce fruits against which there is no law. It is a new nature, guided by the Spirit and formed by the word, growing up to the Head in all things, which walks worthy of the Lord. The commands of law do not produce this; but looking through grace at Christ does change us into the same image. But in this path of Christ manifesting God, He is expressly set before us as our example. “Be ye followers [imitators] of God as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ hath loved us, and given himself for us as a sacrifice and an offering to God of a sweet smelling savour.” We are called upon to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, that we might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, not according to law. We are renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created us. See this character described: “Put on, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” If any one desire to have a complete exhibition of christian life, the life of Christ risen in us, let him read Colossians 3:1-17.
I believe I have said enough and quoted enough to shew the mind of scripture on the point that engages us. What its views of law and of its operation and effect are, and what the christian rule of life is too of one who has died and is associated with Christ risen, and who lives through Him. Law is the measure of man’s responsibility as such to God. It is perfect as such and no more, and could not have been more than the measure of man’s walk. Christ was perfect in this as in everything; but He went farther, and displayed God Himself in His own sovereign grace and goodness, and we ought to follow Him here as in His perfect obedience to God. He and He alone is our pattern and example, and nothing else. He is the object for the heart to rest on, and is to govern it, and to which it is to grow like, and nothing else. He is the motive and spring of conduct in us, as well as its perfect model, which the law cannot be; for it is not life, nor gives it, nor feeds it.
But there are other points connected with this subject as to which a great deal of the evangelical teaching seems to me un-sustained by scripture, and not according to its teaching on all material practical points. And first, as to the essential oneness of the Church in all ages and under all dispensations. That a sinner, at all times since the fall, is saved in the same way, no Christian can doubt for a moment. But salvation is not the Church, nor the Church salvation. If it be said, Must not a man belong to the Church of God now to be saved? I say, Surely. That is, if he is saved, he does belong to it, because this is God’s divine order; but what saves him is Christ, not the Church. Christ saved a Jew who was saved; but he belonged to Israel as the order of God at that time, not to the Church; and the Jewish church (as men speak) is an utterly unscriptural idea. So far as an individual was saved, he was always saved by Christ; but that did not constitute the assembly.
There never was a Jewish church. There was a Jewish nation, and to that the man, called by grace as a Jew, belonged by birth, and was bound to adhere. Now he is not, because in the Church there is neither Jew nor Greek. A man was a Jew by birth, and a Jew in orderly fellowship when circumcised. The Church, even in its outward profession, stands by faith, is never composed of natural branches. The Jews were natural branches. They did not, in their divinely ordained place as Jews, stand by faith. A Jewish church is an unscriptural fallacy. Christ gave Himself for the nation, but not for that nation only, but to gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. That formed the Church. The Church or assembly is the gathering together of “such as should be saved.” This was never done in Judaism. The unity was a national unity, and no other. They were a holy people in their calling. When Christianity was founded, the Lord added to the Church such as should be saved. He never did this before. That was the Church—God’s assembly in the world. If before that a Jew came to believe, he was added to nothing. He was a godly Jew instead of an ungodly one; he belonged to what he belonged before—there was nothing to be added to. “By one Spirit we are all baptized into one body.” But the baptism of the Holy Ghost is positively asserted to be after Christ’s ascension; in a word, the day of Pentecost. The church invisible is no scriptural nor tangible idea. It is an invention, particularly of St. Augustine, to conciliate the awful iniquity of the professing church with the truth and godliness necessary to the true Christian. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Ye are the light of the world. What is the value of an invisible light? A church under a bushel? There is no community in the invisible church. That the Church is become invisible, I admit fully; but I admit it as the fruit of man’s sin. But this has no application to Judaism. There the nation—the children of Jacob—were the public visible body, and meant by God to be so; and individual saints were never otherwise gathered. In Christianity they were. He gave Himself, to gather into one the children of God who were scattered abroad. If they were gathered before as a church, an assembly, how could He gather what was scattered abroad? Christ gave Himself to gather together the children of God which were scattered. They were children of God, but were not a church, an assembly. They were scattered, and Christ came to introduce another state of things. If they were a church gathered before, how did Christ come to gather the scattered? If it means that He was to save in one body, at the end of time, all the redeemed, they were never scattered.
But the nation here is contrasted with the scattered children of God, and Christ came to change this state of things—to gather the scattered children of God; that is, to found the Church or assembly. Therefore He says, “On this rock [the confession that He was the Son of the living God] I will build my church.” Had He been doing it before, when it was not, and could not be confessed that Jesus was the Son of the living God? Both Christ and the apostles speak of the Church and the gathering the children of God as a distinct and newly introduced thing.
All the reasoning relative to a Jewish church comes from judaizing Christianity, or rests on the utterly fallacious idea that, because men are saved in the same way, they therefore form a visible community, and even the same community. Why so? Men could be saved without forming a community. Individuality is quite as important as community—nay, more so in divine things. Conscience and faith are both individual; sonship is individual. The Jews were a commumty, but not of saved persons; but a national community of the sons of Jacob. The Church is a community, but not in any way of the same kind, be it profession or reality; it stands by faith. Individual salvation does not affirm the existence of a community, and there may be a religious community which does not imply salvation. The Jewish nation was such.
The whole theory on which the idea of a church in all ages and dispensations rests is utterly false. Facts fail equally. Up to the time of the Jewish nation, there was no community of persons making a credible profession. Abel offers his sacrifice in faith, but there is no community of those who make a credible profession; nor in Enoch, nor in the case of Noah. It is all a dream —the idea of a visible community before the flood. When I turn to the time after it, I find Job alone, and no visible community whatever; and of Abraham it is carefully stated, “I called Abraham alone, and blessed him.” (Isaiah 51:2.) The point there urged is, that he was alone, and that numbers were not necessary for blessing. When I come to the first religious community, I find it founded on a wholly different principle than a credible profession of faith. A man was of it by birth before he could make any profession. He was of it, ipso facto, and could not be anything else: only his parents were bound to circumcise him the eighth day. The principle on which the visible church stands is faith. (Rom. 11.) The principle on which Judaism stood was birthright, though not such as to destroy God’s sovereign rights.
If scripture be true, though salvation was always the same, the Church, or community, or unity of the body of believers, never existed till Pentecost. Nor did its Head, in that condition in which He could be its Head, i.e., the exalted Man who had accomplished redemption. When thus exalted, God gave Him to be Head over all things to the Church, the fulness of Him who filleth all in all. (Eph. 1:20-23.) He has made of twain one new man, builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Chap. 2:14-22.) God dwelt in the nation of Israel in the temple of old. He does dwell, through the Spirit, in a habitation formed as a new man from Jew and Gentile by faith, and that only is the Church; a mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God, to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God. (Chap. 3.) The heavenly powers, at any rate, could not see it, visible or invisible. It was kept secret since the world began (Rom. 16)— was not made known nor revealed to the sons of men before. Men were not builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit; it was a mystery hidden from ages and from generations —did not exist in fact. It is founded on the breaking down the middle wall of partition, and having one new man. The old thing was founded on strictly maintaining the middle wall of partition, and having only the old man. If scripture have any meaning, the Church did not exist till Pentecost, when Christ had been exalted, as Head over all, to the right hand of God, and sent down the Holy Ghost to gather into one body on the ground of faith. All men are saved alike, but all men are not assembled alike. Now “church” means assembly.
I now turn to the ground of a common justification giving a common place with Christ. It is alleged from Romans 3:20, and affirmed, that the righteousness of Christ is the only ground of our justification. This is incorrect. The apostle has proved as a fact, that on their own ground all—Jew and Gentile—are under sin, and that no flesh is justified by deeds of law. But the righteousness of Christ is not spoken of at all, but that “God hath set him forth to be a propitiation [propitiatory] through faith in his blood, to declare his [God’s] righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time, his righteousness; that he [God] might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” That it is God’s righteousness in justifying is declared positively, and that as distinguished from Christ, in verses 21, 22. The righteousness of God is manifested, the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ, towards all and upon all them that believe. God was proved righteous in forgiving Old Testament saints, as to whom He had exercised forbearance, and this righteousness was now manifested for our souls to build on: yea, we are it in Christ. To say that all saints from the fall are righteous in the same way is scriptural; to say that they are all the Church is contrary to scripture. God forbore with them, knowing what He would do; but righteousness was not manifested. Now at this time it is manifested, that God may be just and the justifier of him that believes on Jesus. The difference made by the manifestation of righteousness is a serious one as to our practical state.
I now turn to another point, that the same rule of conduct must be given of God at all times. It is a theory founded on a theory. No doubt God’s nature is immutable, and certain principles are immutably true in one who is a partaker of the divine nature; but to say that the law is this, or that the rule given to us to follow is the same, is false. This is the effect of an unscriptural use of the term “moral law.” God did give another rule to His creatures for their obedience. Did He not give the law of Moses? —the only law, remark, He ever gave (save the prohibition to eat the forbidden fruit). That is, the only law God ever gave to His creatures for their obedience was another from the present rule of walk. It had commandments given, because of the hardness of their hearts, which Christ abrogated. “The law made nothing perfect” (Heb. 7:19); and therefore “there is a disannulling of the commandment going before.” It was said of old, so and so, “but (says the Lord) I say unto you.”
To allege that it is impossible that a holy, just, good, and perfect God can give us any rule but one, is contrary to the plain facts and declarations of scripture. God did give another, which He has disannulled because it made nothing perfect; and there is the bringing in of a better hope, by which we draw nigh to God. Christ knew how to draw out from the inner chambers of this law the two great principles on which all hung, and these do present the perfection of the creature—supreme love to God, and loving our neighbour as oneself. But even this is not in any way “the transcript of the divine character;” and it is a mere fallacy to talk in an abstract way of love, as commanded in it. I deny altogether that the law is a transcript of the divine character. It is the absolutely perfect expression of what the creature ought to be; and that is evidently what ought to be given as a law to the creature. I believe the angels in heaven fulfil it, and are blessed and happy in fulfilling it. But because it is the perfection of a creature, it is not the transcript of the divine character. Can God —I would speak with reverence—love His neighbour as Himself, or even (in the sense here used rightly of a creature) Himself with all His heart, and all His mind, and all His strength? These two commandments are the perfection of a creature in blessedness, and not the transcript of the character of God. The idea is fundamentally false.
And further, it is not in this that the perfection of divine love is shewn, or the nature of divine love as commended in its own excellency to us. The love required—commanded by the law— is a duty flowing from the relationship in which the objects of love stand to us, and in virtue of which they have a claim upon our love—God supremely and my neighbour as myself. It is the adequate measure of accomplishing a duty which is perfect happiness, from an adequate motive. God’s love, as specially known and commended to us, has its excellency therein that there was no motive, no claim, no worthy object, but, on the contrary, an utterly unworthy object.
He loved sinners; He sent His Son when we were dead in sin that we might live through Him. “Herein is love, not that we loved God [that is what law required], but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In a word,” God commendeth his love to us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Legal love is based, as law must be, on this—that there is a claim. Divine love, as revealed to us, has its essence in this—that there was none, yea, the very opposite to one. The only possible analogy to such love (and that it becomes us not to introduce in what we are speaking of here) is “the Father loveth the Son,” or “therefore doth my Father love me;” but this is infinitely above all our place and thoughts; and if we are in any sense admitted into it, as (blessed be God) we are, it is only by sovereign grace, which has given us a place in Him and with Him.
The law is not the transcript of the divine character. It is the perfect rule for a creature, and cannot therefore, in the nature of things, apply to God Himself, because He is not in the relationship of a creature, and law is the expression of what becomes these relationships. If it is the expression of what we owe to God, it cannot be that of God’s character. Adam was put under a law which required no knowledge in his mind of what was good and evil, or right and wrong in itself. There was no evil in eating the forbidden fruit, save as it was prohibited. It was not good or evil in itself: he acquired the knowledge of good and evil by eating it. The introduction of sin and conscience came together. God did not allow man to go out as a sinner from Paradise to commence this world without carrying a conscience with him. It may have been corrupted—hardened; but it is there to be corrupted and hardened. Hence the apostle reasons as to the Gentiles on the ground of conscience, though not on that only; but he speaks of no law written on the Gentiles’ heart. If that were so, they would be under the new covenant. It is not the law, but the particular work which their natural conscience approves or reproves, that is written on their hearts, a work found in the law too.
It is often said that Adam was created in righteousness and holiness. This is all erroneous. He was created in innocence. It is the new man which is created in righteousness and true holiness, which we are called to put on: Christ, not Adam. (Eph. 4:24.) It is wholly new (kainovn), created. We are therein created again in Christ Jesus: at least so scripture says. So in Colossians 3:10, We “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” The common statements on this subject confound Christ and Adam—the new creation and the old. Adam was innocent—had not the knowledge of good and evil. As to this the testimony of scripture is positive, it is the essence of the history of the fall. Hence he could not have righteousness or holiness, which imply the knowledge of good and evil. If God declares “the man is become as one of us, knowing good and evil,” he did not know good and evil before. Hence what is commonly stated is equally erroneous, namely, that Adam was righteous and holy, made after the image of God in righteousness and holiness. By the fall man acquired a knowledge of good and evil, which gives him, or rather is, a sense of right and wrong, suited to the state in which he is, the duties of various relationships in which he stands. These, in the main, the Mosaic law maintains, though not all in their details, according to God’s original institution. From Adam to Moses men were not placed under law, but they had the knowledge of good and evil—were a law thus to themselves.
But we must not confound this with a revealed or given law; because in a law revealed or given of God there is the express authority of the Lawgiver; and the disobedient is guilty of express transgression of the Lawgiver’s authority. Yet sin was there from Adam to Moses, but not transgression; for where no law is, there is no transgression. Hence it is said (referring to Hosea, where it is said of Israel, “They like men [Adam, in Hebrew] have transgressed the covenant”). “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them who had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression.” Israel had broken the law as Adam had, and had not only sinned—done what their conscience condemned —but violated the authority of God exercised in imposing the law.
But it is the great mistake, as to the reasoning of the Apostle Paul, or the Christian’s relationship to law, to make the difference which is attempted to be made between moral and ceremonial commandments. There is a difference assuredly. What natural conscience condemns as wrong makes guilt, if done without a law; a ceremony does not, as is evident. But the apostle goes much deeper into the question, and shews the effect of all law as a principle of relationship when a sinner is concerned in it. Hence he mingles up moral and ceremonial all together, not as indifferent to the distinction (for he is not), but as treating another question; using the law to convict of sin and kill the soul when it is looked at morally, and is known spiritually, and delivering from it as so known, by death and resurrection; and shewing that it puts man, if applied after redemption, under a fatal responsibility. It is a system, viewed as a whole, of which circumcision was the initiatory pledge, and man must do all or be cursed; for such were the terms of the law. Law, according to the reasoning of the apostle, was a distinct and definite dispensation of God, according to which life was promised consequent on obedience, and had its whole nature from this—a righteousness characterized by this principle; obedience first, then life therein—righteousness.
The gospel goes on an opposite principle. It does not give life as a consequence of obedience; nor is righteousness obtained in this way, or on this principle. To bring law in after divine righteousness is made ours by faith, is to upset and annul divine righteousness. It is, as we have seen, bringing in the law after Christ that the apostle resists. It is not merely ceremonies he sets aside: doubtless they fell as the shadow of good things to come, of which the body is Christ. But the apostle reasons on the application or use of what is called the moral law, of the use of the ten commandments, or tables of stone, as ruinous to the Christian, its use being to convict and condemn. He sets aside the dispensation of the law, referring specifically to the ten commandments, and yet mixes up the whole system with them as inseparable, as parts of one great whole, to the end of which Israel could not look, and which was to be abolished. It was given to have life by, but was found, from man’s sinful state, to be death. To put man under it after redemption is to destroy (not man but) redemption itself, and bring in final ruin.
Hear now what he says, “But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: how shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? … For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious… And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished.” (2 Cor. 3.)
Besides the contrast of law and gospel, I have two things collaterally here. The separation of the tables of stone, the ten commandments, as a dealing of God, from all the rest that Moses gave, is negatived. The apostle speaks of the tables of stone as a ministration of death, and of the whole system received by Moses, and which the glory on his face accompanied, as one whole. Any distinction made between the first tables broken and the second placed in the ark is futile. It was when Moses came down the second time that his face shone, not the first. The first time Israel never got the tables of stone. That is, what is abolished, because it was deathful, is that which was put in the ark. Let the reader consult 2 Corinthians 3. And the fact here referred to is one of no small importance. For, though the apostle distinctly refers to law, yet the ministration of grace does not help out the case if man be put under law afterwards. God had revealed grace (I do not say redemption) when Moses went up the second time, but put Israel back under law because Moses could not make atonement. (See Exodus 32:32, 33.) And it is this putting man under law after grace, when the law was in the ark, that the apostle says is condemnation and death. For Israel was only thus definitely put under law (gracious forbearance in sovereign mercy), and life consequent on obedience or blotting out of God’s book—this was condemnation and death. Israel never received the tables the first time: they never came into the camp. After God had spoken to them out of the midst of the fire, Israel had made the golden calf; and Moses’ face did not shine at all the first time he came down. Law after grace and provisional forgiveness is death and condemnation.
As to gaining life by the law, as put forth by Moses, the apostle says, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man that doeth these things shall live by them.” (Rom. 10.) That is, Moses proposed righteousness and life by the law; Paul but contrasts it with the righteousness of faith. Hence, in Romans 7, the apostle says, in his experience, “The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” The reader may also consult Hebrews 7, already quoted, and chapter 8, where the apostle insists on the disannulling the commandment going before, for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof, and bringing nothing to perfection—“made nothing perfect;” that the first covenant (for covenant it was) of Sinai was not faultless, and hence a new one was to be made with Israel. No Christian supposes he is at liberty to kill or steal. That is not the question. But does he refrain from killing or stealing because it is forbidden in the law? Every true Christian, I am persuaded, will answer, No; though he recognizes the prohibition as quite right. The man who refrained from killing simply because it was forbidden in the law would be no Christian at all. I have only to add, that the apostle does not refer to the law as the great standard, nor do all the duties they enjoin form part or parcel of it; for they enjoin duties which flow from grace. And grace is not law.
We must not then confound the law with duties to God and our neighbour, imperfectly given in the law, and perfectly given in Christianity, along with the duties which the knowledge of God’s love in Christ added to the others, the duty to be an imitator of God as manifested in grace in Christ. Being under the law gave sin dominion over me. The grace of God (is that law?) has appeared, and teaches me to live soberly and righteously and godly. But that is just the reason why I do not want law, because I am better taught by grace, which gives me power as well as rule. Under grace we are taught of God to love one another in the very nature and spirit we have. Hence, loving my neighbour as myself, I fulfil the law; not by having it, but by having love wrought in me by grace, and not being under law.
That the written word, from one end to the other, guides this new nature, and leads it in obedience, that is blessedly true. That when born of God—which I am not by the law, for a law cannot give life—this life is formed, directed, instructed, yea, commanded, by every word that comes out of the mouth of God, and especially by those of Christ, as the actual expression of that life in its own perfectness in man, I own with my whole heart. But that is not the law. It tells me I am risen with Christ, and that I am to seek those things which are above, where Christ sits; that I am an epistle of Christ, graven in my heart by the Spirit of the living God, in contrast with the law graven on tables of stone.
But there is another portion of scripture which is relied on to put Christians under the law, I mean the sermon on the mount, and in particular Matthew 5:17; but I apprehend the Lord’s words are wholly misapprehended here. I do not believe the law or the law’s authority is destroyed. I believe those who have sinned under it will be judged by it. I believe it will be written in the heart of Judah and Israel hereafter under the new covenant, the substance of which we have in spirit though not in the letter. It will never pass till it be fulfilled. But Christ is the end of it— the tevlo", the completion and end of it—for every one that believes. We are not under it, because we are dead and risen in Him, and the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives— applies to man in flesh; and we are not in flesh, but in the Spirit in Christ risen: “If ye be dead with Christ … why as though living [alive] in the world,” &c, says the apostle. In flesh a man must be under law (which is indeed death and the curse, because the flesh is sinful) or lawless, which is surely no better; but in Christ he is neither. He is led by the Spirit in the obedience of Christ.
But we must remember that the kingdom of heaven was not come when the sermon on the mount was given. Redemption is not touched on in it. The kingdom of heaven was at hand. And here the Lord gives the character of those who would get in, in no wise of the revelation given to a Christian as in the Church. That this is not merely an idea of mine will be at once evident to the reader, if he continues the verse after those quoted, where the Lord gives the application of what He has been saying, “For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom was going to be set up. It was neither for lawless ones nor Pharisees, but for the poor in spirit and such like. But this is not the description of the state and responsibilities of those who are dead and risen in Christ. It is not the language of the gospel to a sinner to say, “Except your righteousness exceed … ye shall in no case enter;” though this remains always true in principle. Then it was the humble, godly, converted remnant who would enter; not the lawless nor the proud. When the kingdom is set up, sovereign grace to sinners is preached. Yet it is certain, that he who really enters will have a practical godliness which is of the character here described, because he receives a new nature; and that the precepts here given will suit and guide him, because they suit Christ, and are His mind; but not as putting him under law. Hence, when it is said, “I am not come to destroy but to fulfil,” it is a false deduction to say that I am come to call upon Christians to fulfil it. Christians are associated with Christ where He is now. The apostle’s statement is, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.” The law itself is not abrogated, but we are not under it. “It is good if a man use it lawfully;” but “it is not made for the righteous, but for ungodly and profane.” That is not for Christians surely. Useful to convict of sin, to bring in death and condemnation on the sinner, to make the offence abound, and sin exceeding sinful. Christ is all for the believer; while every word of God is good, rightly used.
I have spoken of Romans 7. The apostle is contrasting the Christian’s state with that of a man under the law. I am carnal, sold under sin; never once doing the thing I would, always the thing I hate. To say, “To will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not,” is not the christian state; or is not the christian state rather described when he says, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death?” The apostle is comparing the state under two husbands, the law and Christ; and the doctrinal statement is that, being dead by the body of Christ, we are delivered from the law—no longer bound by it. Subjection to the first husband is the experience, practically, of Romans 7, though viewed from a higher point—when a man is out of it; chapter 8, the experience of one who is married to Him who is risen from the dead, to bring forth fruit unto God. Mind, I do not say chapter 7 is not a converted man; but it is one who has yet to say, Who shall deliver me? Chapter 8 is one delivered. In chapter 7, consequently, the Spirit is not named; chapter 8 is full of it.
To quote “under the law to Christ,” is mere want of reference to the Greek. It is e[nnomo" Cristw'/, duly subject to Christ. “Fulfil the law of Christ” is a plain appeal against the law. The Galatians would have the law after Christ, and the apostle would not hear of it—hardly knows whether he is to own them as Christians—will not salute one at the end or at the beginning—is severer than with all the abominations at Corinth. They were, it seems, biting and devouring one another about it. And he says, “Bear rather one another’s burdens.” If you want a law— that is Christ’s, that is what He did; that will suit you better. It is exactly the contrary of bringing them back to the law.
The same neglect of the original has alone given occasion to making sin the transgression of the law. It is ajnomiva, lawlessness; not paravbasi" novmou, transgression of the law. It is a defective, very defective view of Christ indeed to see only fulfilment of law in His walk. God’s grace, and man’s obligations, as such, are not the same; nor was even the obedience of Christ limited to fulfilling the law. The law forbad sin, but could not command the Son of God to give Himself for sinners. This whole view of Christ’s life is, it seems to me, an exceedingly low one. It is true, that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” But to say that following Christ, in laying down our lives for the brethren, is fulfilling the moral law, is an unscriptural and unhappy confusion of terms.
It will be alleged that Psalm 119 speaks of the law in a general way (and I desire to weigh all scripture, as far as I am able, for the good of our souls, and not merely reason as a controversialist), as to what may be expressed by the term moral law, and speaks of the saint’s delight in it. This seems to me to be the strongest ground which can be taken. Psalm 19 also may be referred to. I apprehend that this is much more than the moral law being a rule of life. The whole power of the word of God is referred to in Psalm 19 as the means of conversion—giving light to the simple. It refers in some passages to the law written in the heart, the true desire of a godly Israelite. The promises are trusted in; the threatenings of God’s word, His judgments, looked at and counted on in the world; the word, as furnishing an answer to the reproach of men—it is looked at as quickening the soul. It is the word of God, the confidence and guidance of the saint in Israel, not the rule of life of a saved Christian. What I would insist on is (not that the word of God is not used by God now for every effect in the soul, but) that it is not as law. It is a different thing from the law being a rule of life. The word of God is called “law” there. This is plain if we look at Psalm 19. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.” It is quite evident that this speaks of the word of God, as then known, as the law, in a much wider sense than a mere rule of life. So Christ says, “Is it not written in your law?” whereas the passage quoted was in the Psalms. It was the word of God, known in its capital and characteristic designation.
If an objector complain that I speak of the form and character of the word as then given to Israel (while admitting in the fullest way, yea, with the most earnest insistence, the divine inspiration and authority of all), I answer unhesitatingly that I do, looking to be guided by the Spirit, view it as adapted to Israel, because given to Israel. I must rightly divide the word of truth. And I think it very important that we should so view it. Am I to say, “Of thy mercy slay mine enemies”—“Happy he that taketh and dasheth thy Mttle ones against the stones” (Psalm 137:9)— “That thy foot may be dipped in the blood of enemies, the tongue of thy dogs in the same”? (Psalm 68:23.) When the earthly government of God is executed, this has its place. I, a Christian, see, as a general truth, the righteousness of it; and, as regards that government, when God’s patience has done everything, as it will, I can rejoice in wickedness being removed. Still this language is not, nor is meant to be, the present language of the Christian. Christ is presented in Psalm 69 as demanding the most dreadful vengeance and judgment on His enemies. (Ver. 22-28.) Did He, when revealed in the gospels as a pattern for us according to grace, ever express such a wish? His words were, at the very time the psalm speaks, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Is that, “Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold upon them”? Both will be fulfilled. One is the gracious personal desire of Christ, as we know Him revealed in the gospels; and to this the Holy Ghost answers by Peter, “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and he shall send Jesus,” &c. And this will surely be accomplished in the end of the days.
The other is the association of Christ by the prophetic spirit with the Jewish remnant connected with the government of God, which will bring a just and righteous vengeance on the nation who rejected Him, and with all who clung and shall cling to the word of His servants. And this shall be accomplished too, fully, as the foretaste of it has already come upon them—wrath to the uttermost, eij" tevlo". But if we confound the Jewish spirit of the Psalms with the gospel, and take it as the expression of our feelings, we shall falsify Christianity. No doubt I shall find lovely confidence in the Lord in respect of His government of this world, the comfort of forgiveness, the happy confidence of integrity of heart, and remarkable prophecies as to Christ; but where shall I find heavenly hopes, or the union of the Church with a glorified Christ, or even the outflowings of divine grace, as manifested in His person on earth, or the blessed affection which flows from hearts acquainted with these? Where the blessed Spirit of adoption? Every saint knows the touching expressions of piety which the Psalms furnish to us; but no intelligent Christian can turn from the writings of John to the Psalms without finding himself in a different atmosphere.
It is monstrous to suppose, if the disciples in seeing Jesus were blessed as no prophet or king had been, and yet that it was expedient for them that He should go away, because otherwise the Comforter could not come; that when He is come He should not have given us in joy, piety, intelligence, motives, knowledge of God, even of the Father and the Son, the Spirit of sonship, consciousness of being in Christ and Christ in us, communion with the Father and the Son, which the Old Testament saints did not possess. “The heir, as long as he was a child, differed nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all.” This, the apostle diligently teaches, is the difference of the state of Old Testament saints—“God having reserved some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect,” so that the least in the kingdom of heaven should be greater than the greatest of those before born of women. Life and incorruptibility are brought to light by the gospel. I do not see piety or respect for the word in denying or undervaluing the revealed gifts of God unfolded to us in the New Testament. Is it nothing that the Comforter is come? Where in the Old Testament are saints called on to yield themselves to God as those that are alive from the dead? Is this no rule of life? Is it the law? It is a mere abuse of words to say so.
I have only a few words to add in closing. I am quite aware that it will be said, and is said, that it is not just to confound seeking justice and life by the law with making it a rule of life; but the whole theory on which this distinction is based is a delusion. Who has authorized us to take the law for one thing, and leave it for another, when God has presented it specifically for one? The apostle’s statement is that, if we have to do with the law, it takes us, it puts us, under a curse, ministers to us death and condemnation. It does not ask us how we take it; it pronounces its own sentence on us. Is it transgressed? It curses. The effect of the law on all under it is the curse. I see no allowance in scripture for saying, I do not put myself under it in that way: Scripture puts you under it in that way, if you are under it. If indeed faith is come, we are no longer under the schoolmaster, and, of course, not under its curse. To be under the law, and not be under its curse when broken, is an unscriptural fancy and pretension of men. “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.” “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” Such is the language of the word of God.
But I have a yet happier aspect of the subject to touch on before I close—the positive side of it. What is the rule of life? I answer, Christ. Christ is our life, rule, pattern, example, and everything; the Spirit our living quickener, and power to follow Him; the word of God, that in which we find Him revealed, and His mind unfolded in detail. But while all scripture, rightly divided, is our light as the inspired word of God, at least to those who have an unction from the Holy One, Christ and the Spirit are set before us as the pattern, life, and guide, in contrast with law; and Christ is exclusively everything. And power accompanies this (see 2 Cor. 3), we are “declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart… But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” I ask, Is not Christ here in contrast with law? and if this be not exactly what I am to be, an epistle of Christ? and if there be not power in looking at Christ to produce it, which cannot be in a law? So Galatians 2:20; 5:16, where, in contrast with law, he shews the Spirit to be the power of godliness; that if led of it, we are not under law; and that against the fruits it produces there is no law. We are to walk in the Spirit; but this is not law. So Romans 13, “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfil it in the lusts thereof.” It is an object governing the heart, which is life, and at the same time the object of life—One to whom we are promised to be conformed, and One to whom we are earnestly desirous of being as conformed as possible now; One who absorbs our attention, fixing it to the exclusion of all else. We are predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He may be the firstborn among many brethren. My delight in Him is the spring of action and motive which governs me. I cannot separate the person who is the example and the motive. My love to the person, and the beauty I see in Him, is the spring of my delight in being like Him. It is not a rule written down, but a living exhibition of One who, being my life, is to be reproduced by me; always bearing about in my body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may be manifested in my mortal body. No doubt the written word is the means of shewing me what His mind and will is. But it is not a law which is a rule, and Christ only an example how to follow it. It is the word, shewing me what the perfection of this heart-ruling example is. “As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy; and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” “We know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; and he that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
Then He is a source to me of all in which I long to be like Him. Beholding with open face the glory of the Lord, I am changed into the same image. No rule of life can do this. Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. A rule of life has no fulness to communicate. Hence He says,” Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth… . And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” It is the Spirit taking the things of Christ which thus forms us into His image. What a blessed truth this is! How is every affection of the heart thus engaged in that which is holiness, when I see it in One who not only has loved me, but who is altogether lovely! Hence I am called to “walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,” to “grow up into him in all things who is the head.”
Paul seeks to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. Christ is all, and He is in all saints as life to realize the all that is in Him. I am called, moreover, by glory and virtue. The object I am now aiming at is not now on earth; it is Christ risen. This makes my conversation to be in heaven. Hence he says, “If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” It is by looking at Christ above, that we get to be like Him as He was on earth, and walk worthy of Him, for so He walked. We get above the motives which should tie us to earth. We are to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding to walk worthy of the Lord. No mere rule can give this. The law has no reference to this heavenly life. So we are to discern things that are excellent. Even Abraham did not, in the most excellent part of his life, walk by rule. He looked for a city which hath foundations, and was a stranger and a pilgrim in the land of promise. Reduce me to a mere rule of life, I lose the spring of action.
The discernment of a Christian depends on his spiritual and moral state, and God means it to be so. He will not be a mere director, as it is expressed. He makes us dependent on spirituality even to know what His will is. It is not that there are counsels of perfection, for the discernment of the inward life makes what it discerns at once a delight and a duty; and the perfection of Christ we are not very likely to get above. Yet that is set before us as attainment; the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, our measure, our model, our rule, our strength, and our help in grace, the object of our delight, and our motive in walking, and One who has an absolute claim on our hearts.
I see, in reading this over, a thought wanting which may make one point more clear. We must not confound obedience and law. The character of Christ’s obedience was different from legal obedience. When a child desires anything, as to go anywhere, and I forbid, and it at once obeys, I speak of its ready obedience. Christ never obeyed in this way; He never had a desire checked by an imposed law. It was never needed to say to Him, Thou shalt not, when He willed to do anything. He acted because His Father willed it. That was His motive, the only cause of His acting. He lived by every word that proceeded out of the mouth of God. When there was none, He had nothing to do. Hence the will of God, whatever it was, was His rule; obedience to sovereign will is not a limited law. There may be no revelation to us of particular duties; but such things are recorded in scripture, and the readiness to do whatever God’s will may be is right; and spiritual discernment becomes a command.
St. Paul was not to go into Mysia and Bithynia. He used also Isaiah 49, and called it a command when it applied. We may have none of the first as he had it, and much less of the discernment; but the principle of readiness to any will of God is right. Again, there is the active bringing forth of fruit to God which characterizes Christianity in contrast with the law—the fruits of the Spirit, the bringing forth fruits, and much fruit (Gal. 5:22), which is impossible to ascribe to law. Romans 7; John 15; so Philippians 1:11, “Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Surely these are not according to a rule of law.
I would just refer with more preciseness to Galatians 2. Its reasoning is this. “If I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor in destroying them.” Now I have left the law, argues the apostle, to come to Christ. If I set it up again, I was wrong in destroying it; but Christ led me to do it; and thus He has brought me into what is wrong. Thus, in setting up the law again, you make Christ a minister of sin. It is setting up the law again after Christ that the apostle has to combat everywhere. We have seen that it was not only justification which was in question. They had abandoned the law because it could not justify, but they had left it altogether. And they were charged with Antinomianism. Thereupon the apostle answers, not by setting up the law in another shape again, but by declaring that there is a new nature, and walking according to this rule—Christ, looking to Him and walking as He walked, and the Spirit, in following which they were not under law, but produced fruits against which there was no law. Patience with sincere souls who are under law, is all right: God only can deliver them; but clear scriptural truth is all-important for the glorifying of Christ, even for their sakes who are under law.
1 The reader who understands Greek will see that, in a multitude of instances, where “the” law would seem to refer to Jewish law, the apostle is speaking of law as a principle. In fact, Judaism was the only case where God had tried this principle, so that it comes in the main to the same thing.