XI - THE NATURE OF THE OBEDIENCE THAT GOD REQUIRES OF US — THE ETERNAL OBLIGATION OF THE LAW THEREUNTO
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Nature of the obedience or righteousness required unto justification — Original and causes of the law of creation — The substance and end of that law — The immutability or unchangeableness of it, considered absolutely, and as it was the instrument of the covenant between God and man — Arguments to prove it unchangeable; and its obligation unto the righteousness first required perpetually in force — Therefore not abrogated, not dispensed withal, not derogated from, but accomplished — This alone by Christ, and the imputation of his righteousness unto us Our second argument shall be taken from the nature of that obedience or righteousness which God requires of us that we may be accepted of him, and approved by him. This being a large subject, if fully to be handled, I shall reduce what is of our present concernment in it unto some special heads or observations; —
1. God being a most perfect, and therefore a most free agent, all his acting towards mankind, all his dealings with them, all his constitutions and laws concerning them, are to be resolved into his own sovereign will and pleasure. No other reason can be given of the original of the whole system of them. This the Scripture testifies unto, Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Proverbs 16:4; Ephesians 1:9,11; Revelation 4:11. The being, existence, and natural circumstances of all creatures being an effect of the free counsel and pleasure of God, all that belongs unto them must be ultimately resolved thereinto.
2. Upon a supposition of some free acts of the will of God, and the execution of theme constituting an order in the things that outwardly are of him, and their mutual respect unto one another, some things may become necessary in this relative state, whose being was not absolutely necessary in its own nature. The order of all things, and their mutual respect unto one another, depend on God’s free constitution no less than their being absolutely. But upon a supposition of that constitution, things have in that order a necessary relation one to another, and all of them unto God.
3. It was a free, sovereign act of God’s will, to create, effect, or produce such a creature as man is; that is, of a nature intelligent, rational, capable of moral obedience, with rewards and punishments. But on a supposition hereof, man, so freely made, could not be governed any other ways but by a moral instrument of law or rule, influencing the rational faculties of his soul unto obedience, and guiding him therein. He could not in that constitution be contained under the rule of God by a mere physical influence, as are all irrational or brute creatures. To suppose it, is to deny or destroy the essential faculty and powers wherewith he was created Wherefore, on the supposition of his being, it was necessary that a law or rule of obedience should be prescribed unto him and be the instrument of God’s government towards him.
4. This necessary law, so far forth as it was necessary, did immediately and unavoidably ensue upon the constitution of our nature in relation unto God. Supposing the nature, being, and properties of God, with the works of creation, on the one hand; and suppose the being, existence, and the nature of man, with his necessary relation unto God, on the other; and the law whereof we speak is nothing but the rule of that relation, which can neither be nor be preserved without it. Hence is this law eternal, indispensable, admitting of no other variation than does the relation between God and man, which is a necessary exurgence from their distinct natures and properties.
5. The substance of this law was, that man, adhering unto God absolutely, universally, unchangeably, uninterruptedly, in trust, love, and fear, as the chiefest good, the first author of his being, of all the present and future advantages whereof it was capable, should yield, obedience unto him, with respect unto his infinite wisdom, righteousness, and almighty power to protect, reward, and punish, in all things known to be his will and pleasure, either by the light of his own mind or especial revelation made unto him. And it is evident that no more is required unto the constitution and establishment of this law but that God be God, and man be man, with the necessary relation that must thereon ensue between them. Wherefore, —
6. This law does eternally and unchangeably oblige all men unto obedience to God, — even that obedience which it requires, and in the manner wherein it requires it; for both the substance of what it requires, and the manner of the performance of it, as unto measures and degrees, are equally necessary and unalterable, upon the suppositions laid down. For God cannot deny himself, nor is the nature of man changed as unto the essence of it, whereunto alone respect is had in this law, by any thing that can fall out. And although God might superadd unto the original obligations of this law what arbitrary commands he pleased, such as did not necessarily proceed or arise from the relation between him and us, which might be, and be continued without them; yet would they be resolved into that principle of this law, that God in all things was absolutely to be trusted and obeyed.
7. “Known unto God are all his works from the foundation of the world.”
In the constitution of this order of things he made it possible, and foresaw it would be future, that man would rebel against the receptive power of the law, and disturb that order of things wherein he was placed under his moral rule. This gave occasion unto that effect of infinite divine righteousness, in constituting the punishment that man should fall under, upon his transgression of this law. Neither was this an effect of arbitrary will and pleasure, any more than the law itself was. Upon the supposition of the creation of man, the law mentioned was necessary, from all the divine properties of the nature of God; and upon a supposition that man would transgress the law, God being now considered as his ruler and governor, the constitution of the punishment due unto his sin and transgression of it was a necessary effect of divine righteousness. This it would not have been had the law itself been arbitrary; but that being necessary, so was the penalty of its transgression. Wherefore, the constitution of this penalty is liable to no more change, alteration, or abrogation than the law itself, without an alteration in the state and relation between God and man.
8. This is that law which our Lord Jesus Christ came “not to destroy, but to fulfill,” that he might be “the end of it for righteousness unto them that do believe.” This law he abrogated not, nor could do so without a destruction of the relation that is between God and man, arising from, or ensuing necessarily on, their distinct beings and properties; but as this cannot be destroyed, so the Lord Christ came unto a contrary end, — namely, to repair and restore it where it was weakened. Wherefore, —
9. This law, the law of sinless, perfect obedience, with its sentence of the punishment of death on all transgressors, does and must abide in force forever in this world; for there is no more required hereunto but that God be God, and man be man. Yet shall this be farther proved: —
(1.) There is nothing, not one word, in the Scripture intimating any alteration in or abrogation of this law; so as that any thing should not be duty which it makes to be duty, or any thing not be sin which it makes to be sin, either as unto matter or degrees, or that the thing which it makes to be sin, or which is sin by the rule of it, should not merit and deserve that punishment which is declared in the sanction of it, or threatened by it: “The wages of sin is death”.
If any testimony of Scripture can be produced unto either of these purposes, — namely, that either any thing is not sin, in the way of omission or commission, in the matter or manner of its performance, which is made to be so by this law, or that any such sin, or any thing that would have been sin by this is law, is exempted from the punishment threatened by it, as unto merit or desert, — it shall be attended unto. It is, therefore, in universal force towards all mankind. There is no relief in this case, but “Behold the Lamb of God.”.
In exception hereunto it is pleaded, that when it was first given unto Adam, it was the rule and instrument of a covenant between God and man, — a covenant of works and perfect obedience; but upon the entrance of sin, it ceased to have the nature of a covenant unto any. And it is so ceased, that on an impossible supposition that any man should fulfill the perfect righteousness of it, yet should he not be justified, or obtain the benefit of the covenant thereby. It is not, therefore, only become ineffectual unto us as a covenant by reason of our weakness and disability to perform it, but it is ceased in its own nature so to be; but these things, as they are not unto our present purpose, so are they wholly unproved. For, —
(1.) Our discourse is not about the federal adjunct of the law, but about its moral nature only. It is enough that, as a law, it continues to oblige all mankind unto perfect obedience, under its original penalty. For hence it will unavoidably follow, that unless the commands of it be complied withal and fulfilled, the penalty will fall on all that transgress it. And those who grant that this law is still in force as unto its being a rule of obedience, or as unto its requiring duties of us, do grant all that we desire. For it requires no obedience but what it did in its original constitution, — that is, sinless and perfect; and it requires no duty, nor prohibits any sin, but under the penalty of death upon disobedience.
(2.) It is true, that he who is once a sinner, if he should afterwards yield all that perfect obedience unto God that the law requires, could not thereby obtain the benefit of the promise of the covenant. But the sole reason of it is, because he is antecedently a sinner, and so obnoxious unto the curse of the law; and no man can be obnoxious unto its curse and have a right unto its promise at the same time. But so to lay the supposition, that the same person is by any means free from the curse due unto sin, and then to deny that, upon the performance of that perfect, sinless obedience which the law requires, he should have right unto the promise of life thereby, is to deny the truth of God, and to reflect the highest dishonor upon his justice. Jesus Christ himself was justified by this law; and it is immutably true, that he who does the things of it shall live therein.
(3.) It is granted that man continued not in the observation of this law, as it was the ruble of the covenant between God and him. The covenant it was not, but the rule of it; which, that it should be, was superadded unto its being as a law. For the covenant comprised things that were not any part of a result from the necessary relation of God and man. Wherefore man, by his sin as unto demerit, may be said to break this covenant, and as unto any benefit unto himself, to disannul it.
It is also true, that God did never formally and absolutely renew or give again this law as a covenant a second time. Nor was there any need that so he should do, unless it were declaratively only, for so it was renewed at Sinai; for the whole of it being an emanation of eternal right and truth, it abides, and must abide, in full force forever. Wherefore, it is only thus far broken as a covenant, that all mankind having sinned against the commands of it, and so, by guilt, with the impotency unto obedience which ensued thereon, defeated themselves of any interest in its promise, and possibility of attaining any such interest, they cannot have any benefit by it. But as unto its power to oblige all mankind unto obedience, and the unchangeable truth of its promises and threatenings, it abides the same as it was from the beginning.
(2.) Take away this law, and there is left no standard of righteousness unto mankind, no certain boundaries of good and evil, but those pillars whereon God has fixed the earth are left to move and float up and down like the isle of Delos in the sea. Some say, the rule of good and evil unto men is not this law in its original constitution, but the light of nature and the dictates of reason. If they mean that light which was primigenial and concreated with our natures, and those dictates of right and wrong which reason originally suggested and improved, they only say, in other words, that this law is still the unalterable rule of obedience unto all mankind. But if they intend the remaining light of nature that continues in every individual in this depraved state thereof, and that under such additional deprivations as traditions, customs, prejudices, and lusts of all sorts, have affixed unto the most, there is nothing more irrational; and it is that which is charged with no less inconvenience than that it leaves no certain boundaries of good and evil. That which is good unto one, will, on this ground, be in its own nature evil unto another, and so on the contrary; and all the idolaters that ever were in the world might on this pretense be excused.
(3.) Conscience bears witness hereunto. There is no good nor evil required or forbidden by this law, that, upon the discovery of it, any man in the world can persuade or bribe his conscience not to comply with it in judgment, as unto his concernment therein. It will accuse and excuse, condemn and free him, according to the sentence of this law, let him do what he can to the contrary.
In brief, it is acknowledged that God, by virtue of his supreme dominion over all, may, in some instances, change the nature and order of things, so as that the precepts of the divine law shall not in them operate in their ordinary efficacy. So was it in the case of his command unto Abraham to slay his son, and unto the Israelites to rob the Egyptians. But on a supposition of the continuance of that order of things which this law is the preservation of, such is the intrinsic nature of the good and evil commanded and forbidden therein, that it is not the subject of divine dispensation; as even the schoolmen generally grant.
10. From what we have discoursed, two things do unavoidably ensue: —
(1.) That whereas all mankind have by sin fallen under the penalty threatened unto the transgression of this law, — and (the) suffering of this penalty, which is eternal death, being inconsistent with acceptance before God, or the enjoyment of blessedness, — it is utterly impossible that any one individual person of the posterity of Adam should be justified in the sight of God, accepted with him or blessed by him, unless this penalty be answered, undergone, and suffered, by them or for them. The “dikaiooma tou Theou” herein is not to be abolished, but established.
(2.) That unto the same end, of acceptation with God, justification before him, and blessedness from him, the righteousness of this eternal law must be fulfilled in us in such a way as that, in the judgment of God, which is according unto truth, we may be esteemed to have fulfilled it, and be dealt with accordingly. For upon a supposition of a failure herein, the sanction of the law is not arbitrary, so as that the penalty may or may not be inflicted, but necessary, from the righteousness of God as the supreme governor of all.
11. About the first of these, our controversy is with the Socinians only, who deny the satisfaction of Christ, and any necessity thereof. Concerning this I have treated elsewhere at large, and expect not to see an answer unto what I have disputed on that subject. As unto the latter of them, we must inquire how we may be supposed to comply with the rule, and answer the righteousness of this unalterable law, whose authority we can no way be exempted from. And that which we plead is, that the obedience and righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, — his obedience as the surety of the new covenant, granted unto us, made ours by the gracious constitution, sovereign appointment, and donation of God, — is that whereon we are judged and esteemed to have answered the righteousness of the law. “By the obedience of one many are made righteous,” Romans 5:19. “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us,” Romans 8:4. And hence we argue, — If there be no other way whereby the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, without which we cannot be justified, but must fall inevitably under the penalty threatened unto the transgression of it, but only the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, then is that the sole righteousness whereby we are justified in the sight of God. But the former is true, and so, therefore is the latter.
12. On the supposition of this law, and its original obligation unto obedience, with its sanction and threatenings, there can be but one of three ways whereby we may come to be justified before God, who have sinned, and are no way able in ourselves to perform the obedience for the future which it does require. And each of them has a respect unto a sovereign act of God with reference unto this law. The first is the abrogation of it, that it should no more oblige us either unto obedience or punishment. This we have proved impossible; and they will woefully deceive their own souls who shall trust unto it. The second is by transferring of its obligation, unto the end of justification, on a surety or common undertaker. This is that which we plead for, as the substance of the mystery of the gospel, considering the person and grace of this undertaker or surety. And herein all things do tend unto the exaltation of the glory of God in all the holy properties of his nature, with the fulfilling and establishing of the law itself, Matthew 5:17; Romans 3:31; 8:4; 10:3, 4. The third way is by an act of God towards the law, and another towards us, whereby the nature of the righteousness which the law requires is changed; which we shall examine as the only reserve against our present argument.
13. It is said, therefore, that by our own personal obedience we do answer the righteousness of the law, so far as it is required of us. But whereas no sober person can imagine that we can, or that any one in our lapsed condition ever did, yield in our own persons that perfect, sinless obedience unto God which is required of us in the law of creation, two things are supposed, that our obedience, such as it is, may be accepted with God as if it were sinless and perfect. For although some will not allow that the righteousness of Christ is imputed unto us for what it is, yet they contend that our own righteousness is imputed unto us for what it is not. Of these things the one respects the law, the other our obedience.
14. That which respects the law is not the abrogation of it. For although this would seem the most expedite way for the reconciliation of this difficulty, — namely, that the law of creation is utterly abrogated by the gospel, both as unto its obligation unto obedience and punishment, and no law is to be continued in force but that which requires only sincere obedience of us, whereof there is, as unto duties (and) the manner of their performance, not any absolute rule or measure, — yet this is not by many pretended. They say not that this law is so abrogated as that it should not have the power and efficacy of a law towards us. Nor is it possible it should be so; nor can any pretense be given how it should so be. It is true, it was broken by man, is so by us all, and that with respect unto its principal end of our subjection unto God and dependence upon him, according to the rule of it; but it is foolish to think that the fault of those unto whom a righteous law is rightly given should abrogate or disannul the law itself. A law that is good and just may cease and expire as unto any power of obligation, upon the ceasing or expiration of the relation which it did respect; so the apostle tells us that “when the husband of a woman is dead, she is free from the law of her husband”, Romans 7:2. But the relation between God and us, which was constituted in our first creation, can never cease. But a law cannot be abrogated without a new law given, and made by the same or an equal power that made it, either expressly revoking it, or enjoining things inconsistent with it and contradictory unto its observation. In the latter way the law of Mosaical institutions was abrogated and disannulled. There was not any positive law made for the taking of it away; but the constitution and introduction of a new way of worship by the gospel, inconsistent with it and contrary unto it, deprived it of all its obligatory power and efficacy. But neither of these ways has God taken away the obligation of the original law of obedience, either as unto duties or recompenses of reward. Neither is there any direct law made for its abrogation; nor has he given any new law of moral obedience, either inconsistent with or contrary unto it: yea, in the gospel it is declared to be established and fulfilled.
It is true, as was observed before, that this law was made the instrument of a covenant between God and man; and so there is another reason of it, for God has actually introduced another covenant inconsistent with it, and contrary unto it. But yet neither does this instantly, and “ipso facto”, free all men unto the law, in the way of a covenant. For, unto the obligation of a law, there is no more required but that the matter of it be just and righteous; that it be given or made by him who has just authority so to give or make it; and be sufficiently declared unto them who are to be obliged by it. Hence the making and promulgation of a new law does “ipso facto” abrogate any former law that is contrary unto it, and frees all men from obedience unto it who were before obliged by it. But in a covenant it is not so. For a covenant does not operate by mere sovereign authority; it becomes not a covenant without the consent of them with whom it is made. Wherefore, no benefit accrues unto any, or freedom from the old covenant, by the constitution of the new, unless he has actually complied with it, has chosen it, and is interested in it thereby. The first covenant made with Adam, we did in him consent unto and accept of. And therein, not withstanding our sin, do we and must we abide, — that is, under the obligation of it unto duty and punishment, — until by faith we are made partakers of the new. It cannot therefore be said, that we are not concerned in the fulfilling of the righteousness of this law, because it is abrogated.
15. Nor can it be said that the law has received a new interpretation, whereby it is declared that it does not oblige, nor shall be constructed for the future to oblige, any unto sinless and perfect obedience, but may be complied with on far easier terms. For the law being given unto us when we were sinless, and on purpose to continue and preserve us in that condition, it is absurd to say that it did not oblige us unto sinless obedience; and not an interpretation, but a plain depravation of its sense and meaning. Nor is any such thing once intimated in the gospel. Yea, the discourses of our Savior upon the law are absolutely destructive of any such imagination. For whereas the scribes and Pharisees had attempted, by their false glosses and interpretations, to accommodate the law unto the inclinations and lusts of men (a course since pursued both nationally and practically, as all who design to burden the consciences of men with their own commands do endeavor constantly to recompense them by an indulgence with respect unto the commands of God), he, on the contrary, rejects all such pretended epieikias (accommodations) and interpretations, restoring the law unto its pristine crown, as the Jews’ tradition is, that the Messiah shall do.
16. Nor can a relaxation of the law be pretended, if there be any such thing in rule; for if there be, it respects the whole being of the law, and consists either in the suspension of its whole obligation, at least for a season, or the substitution of another person to answer its demands, who was not in the original obligation, in the room of them that were. For so some say that the Lord Christ was made under the law for us by an act of relaxation of the original obligation of the law; how properly, “ipso viderint.” But here, in no sense, it can have place.
17. The act of God towards the law in this case intended, is a derogation from its obliging power as unto obedience. For whereas it did originally oblige unto perfect, sinless obedience in all duties, both as unto their substance and the manner of their performance, it shall be allowed to oblige us still unto obedience, but not unto that which is absolutely the same, especially not as unto the completeness and perfection of it; for if it do so, either it is fulfilled in the righteousness of Christ for us, or no man living can ever be justified in the sight of God. Wherefore, by an act of derogation from its original power, it is provided that it shall oblige us still unto obedience, but not that which is absolutely sinless and perfect; but although it be performed with less intension of love unto God, or in a lower degree than it did at first require, so it be sincere and universal as unto all parts of it, it is all that the law now requires of us. This is all that it now requires, as it is adapted unto the service of the new covenant, and made the rule of obedience according to the law of Christ. Hereby is its receptive part, so far as we are concerned in it, answered and complied withal. Whether these things are so or no, we shall see immediately in a few words.
18. Hence it follows, that the act of God with respect unto our obedience is not an act of judgment according unto any rule or law of his own; but an acceptilation, or an esteeming, accounting, accepting that as perfect, or in the room of that which is perfect, which really and in truth is not so.
19. It is added, that both these depend on, and are the procurements of, the obedience, suffering, and merits of Christ. For on their account it is that our weak and imperfect obedience is accepted as if it were perfect; and the power of the law, to require obedience absolutely perfect, is taken away. And these being the effects of the righteousness of Christ, that righteousness may on their account, and so far, be said to be imputed unto us.
20. But notwithstanding the great endeavors that have been used to give a color of truth unto these things, they are both of them but fictions and imaginations of men, that have no ground in the Scripture, nor do comply with the experience of them that believe. For to touch a little on the latter, in the first place, there is no true believer but has these two things fixed in his mind and conscience, —
(1.) That there is nothing in principles, habits, qualities, or actions, wherein he comes short of a perfect compliance with the holy law of God, even as it requires perfect obedience, but that it has in it the nature of sin, and that in itself deserving the curse annexed originally unto the breach of that law. They do not, therefore, apprehend that its obligation is taken off, weakened, or derogated from in any thing.
21. They are both of them doctrinally untrue; for as unto the former, —
(1.) It is unwritten. There is no intimation in the Scripture of any such dispensation of God with reference unto the original law of obedience. Much is spoken of our deliverance from the curse of the law by Christ, but of the abatement of its receptive power nothing at all.
(2.) It is contrary to the Scripture; for it is plainly affirmed that the law is not to be abolished, but fulfilled; not to be made void, but to be established; that the righteousness of it must be fulfilled in us.
(3.) It is a supposition both unreasonable and impossible. For, —
(2.) It would leave no standard of righteousness, but only a Lesbian rule, which turns and applies itself unto the light and abilities of men, and leaves at least as many various measures of righteousness as there are believers in the world.
(3.) It includes a variation in the center of all religion, which is the natural and moral relation of men unto God; for so there must be, if all that was once necessary thereunto do not still continue so to be.
(4.) It is dishonorable unto the mediation of Christ; for it makes the principal end of it to be, that God should accept of a righteousness unto our justification inexpressibly beneath that which he required in the law of our creation. And this in a sense makes him the minister of sin, or that he has procured an indulgence unto it; not by the way of satisfaction and pardon, whereby he takes away the guilt of it from the church, but by taking from its nature and demerit, so as that what was so originally should not continue so to be, or at least not to deserve the punishment it was first threatened withal.
(5.) It reflects on the goodness of God himself; for on this supposition, that he has reduced his law into that state and order as to be satisfied by an observation of it so weak, so imperfect, accompanied with so many failures and sins, as it is with the obedience of the best men in this world (whatever thoughts unto the contrary the frenzy of pride may suggest unto the minds of any), what reason can be given, consistent with his goodness, why he should give a law at first of perfect obedience, which one sin laid all mankind under the penalty of unto their ruin? 22. All these things, and sundry others of the same kind, do follow also on the second supposition, of an acceptilation or an imaginary estimation of that as perfect which is imperfect, as sinless which is attended with sins innumerable. But the judgment of God is according unto truth; neither will he reckon that unto us for a perfect righteousness in his sight which is so imperfect as to be like tattered rags, especially having promised unto us robes of righteousness and garments of salvation.
That which necessarily follows on these discourses is, That there is no other way whereby the original, immutable law of God may be established and fulfilled with respect unto us, but by the imputation of the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness unto all that do believe.