This chapter abounds with wholesome instruction; and whoever reads it, under the teachings of its Divine Author, will have great reason to bless God for its seasonable contents. But my intention, at present, is not to enlarge upon the chapter, but to make a few remarks upon the verse before us as a text; in doing which I will, as far as the Holy Ghost shall be pleased to assist,
First,—Endeavour to show what law is not here intended.
Secondly,—What law is intended.
Thirdly,—Why this law is called a law of liberty.
Fourthly,—Why it is called a perfect law of liberty.
Fifthly,—What is intended by looking into it.
Sixthly,—Make a few remarks upon continuing therein.
Seventhly,—Speak a little upon the work that is done.
Eighthly and lastly,—Show that this man shall be blessed in his deed.
And may the Holy Spirit preserve me from error and guide me into truth, and cause the truth to refresh your souls, that, as the saints of the Most High, we may each be abundantly benefitted, and learn to glorify our Divine Master in all things, and live to him who loved us, and gave himself for us. May the Lord grant it, for the Redeemer’s sake. Amen.
FIRST,—I AM TO ENDEAVOUR TO SHOW, WHAT LAW IS NOT HERE INTENDED.
In doing this. I shall endeavour to make it appear that it is not the law of works, commonly called the moral law. Do not start, brethren, at the expression “commonly called the moral law,” for the term moral is not to be found anywhere in the Word of God—at least, I have never seen it there. It is a vague expression, and men of wit can turn it almost which way they please, and make what use of it they think well. They can with one stroke kill it, and in great triumph declare it is dead, and with another they can raise it to life again, only in a different form. In fact, so dexterous are some in this art, that they have justly merited the name of “Moral-Law Transmogrifiers;” but be they as dexterous as they may, it is a mischievous invention, and has been the means of leading many a dear child of God into a sad labyrinth, causing them to heap reproach upon the servants of Christ. For instance, we are frequently told that the moral law is a perfect transcript of the moral perfections of Jehovah, and that, as long as we are under any obligations to God, which will ever be, this law must, in the very nature of things, be the rule of that obligation. Matters being thus stated, it is then observed, “There are some men of an Antinomian cast, who are against this law, and deny its being the Christian’s rule of life. Shocking to relate! What! believers made free from obligation to obey that holy, just, and good law, which is the perfect transcript of all the moral perfections of the eternal God? This is, in effect, saying they are made free from God himself, and under no obligation whatever to the Almighty! Where is the Christian whose soul does not rise up in holy indignation against a sentiment so dreadfully blasphemous in its nature? If you love your own souls; if you have one spark of zeal for the honour of Jehovah; in a word, if you have not fortified your mind with infidelity sufficient to trample under foot the glorious perfections of the infinite God, beware of the Antinomian! never lend him your ears; shun him as you would the greatest danger; as an enemy to all holiness, and, of course, as an enemy to God and truth.”
At hearing this and such like remarks, the weak believer is ready to say, “I will endeavour to scorn their counsel and shun their company. ‘O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united!’ Rather let me live a life of the most contemptible obscurity than be united with men of such base sentiments!” Thus the man whom they call an Antinomian is made to believe and preach what his very soul abhors, viz., that a believer in Christ is under no obligation to love and serve the God of all his mercies. But the greatest part of all this mischief arises from the use made of that little word “moral.”
What men mean by the moral perfections of God, I must leave for better judges than myself to determine. 1 always consider the perfections of God to be Himself, and Himself to be his perfections. Jehovah declares himself to be “I AM THAT I AM;” that is, the self-existent, eternal, immutable, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent JEHOVAH. Now, if the law of works be a perfect transcript of Jehovah’s perfections, in vain do we look anywhere else for a brighter display thereof, for more than a.perfect transcript cannot be given; and, of course, Paul must have been under an awful delusion when writing to the Corinthians. (2 Cor 3) That the law is a transcript of the perfections of God, as far as those perfections relate to that relationship that subsists between God and his rational creatures, is granted; and that the law has not lost its authority over the creatures of God, but will be eternally binding upon all who stand in no higher relationship to God than that of his creatures, I heartily believe; but the believer stands united to God in an infinitely superior relationship than that of creatureship— even in a supernatural relationship; God, as their covenant God and Father, and they as his elect children. But in vain do we look to the law for a transcript of Jehovah’s perfections in this their highest degree; for it knows nothing of a sin-pardoning God. But more of this in another place; my business at present is, to show that the law intended in our text is not the law commonly called the moral law; and in order to make it as plain as I am able, I will take a short view of the various names given to this law in the Word of God. And,
1st, It is called the law of works, as Rom 3:27; that is, the law which requires perfect and perpetual obedience in heart, lip, and life; and that promises the life and blessings it contains to the man who doeth them; “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth these things shall live by them.” (Rom 10:5; Gal 3:12) But it threatens with death, and curses every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them. Do and live, transgress and die. is the constant language of this law; nor does it promise one particle of life and peace but on the ground of desert, as the just reward of works; as it is written, “Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (Rom 4:4) If I understand this passage aright, the meaning is, that whosoever keeps the law with a perfect heart hath as great a right to claim all the blessings it contains as a servant has to claim his just wages, when he has fulfilled his engagements with his master; and the claim is made, not on the ground of grace, but, as a just debt, on the ground of strict justice. Nor can a sinner claim or expect one blessing upon law-principles but upon this basis, for the man that doeth them shall live by them: and the man who is under the law and doeth them not must be damned by them; for. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them.” (Gal 3:10) Mow, as we have all broken this law, for “we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God,” this law cannot be the perfect law of liberty to any of us, whatever it may be to perfect folk who have never broken it. But we go on.
2dly. This law is called a fiery law (Deut 33:2,) and well it may be, for it contains the fiery indignation of Jehovah, in his just wrath against ungodliness and ungodly men. This was figured forth presently after our first father’s fall, for the Lord drove out the man; and he placed at the east end of the garden of Eden, cherubims, and a flaming sword, which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. (Gen 3:24) Adam had broken the law, and this flaming sword was an emblem of the fire of divine wrath revealed in the righteous law of God against transgression, and of the flaming justice of Jehovah, which requires satisfaction; and its guarding the tree of life pointed out the impossibility of sinners obtaining life and peace by any works they can do, for the fire of God’s vengeance forbids their approach. It also proves that no happiness can be expected from the broken law; no, nothing but wrath and vengeance. A holy God and unholy sinners can no more unite upon this ground than fire and gunpowder; for our God is a consuming fire! And whatever sinner ventures to approach him at the great day on the ground of works, he will find himself, with the best of his works, nothing but combustible matter, which will ever exist in dreadful convulsion; for the moment Jehovah lays the finger of his wrath upon him, it will convulse his whole frame, and hurry him down to black despair, where he must spend a vast eternity in the horrors of God’s fiery indignation. O, Sirs, upon what ground do you stand? upon what do you build your hopes of immortal happiness? If upon the works of the law, you have cause to fear and tremble. Hear, Sirs, what the Scripture says, and may the Holy Ghost, if consistent with his will, sink it deep into your hearts: ”As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” Dreadful state indeed!
When God gave the law to Moses, on Mount Sinai, it was in the midst of fire, and lightnings, and thunders; and so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” (Ex 19:18; Heb 12:21) Awful and grand was the appearance of the mountain! It was altogether in a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire, and the smoke thereof as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. If so much as a beast touched the mount, it was to be thrust through with a dart or stoned to death; and lest the people should approach and perish, Moses was sent down, in great haste, to give them a fresh charge. But why must the law be delivered in such awful and tremendous grandeur? and why were the people forbidden to approach? The whole was to show that the law is a magazine of Jehovah’s fiery indignation, unto which no man can approach and live; and whenever this fiery law is brought home to the conscience of a poor sinner, by the power of the Holy Spirit, it sets fire to his whole soul, and burns up all hopes of heaven and happiness upon the ground of his good works; and if the sinner never trembled before, he will now quake and fear too; and every fresh display that Jehovah makes of his divine majesty, as revealed in this fiery law, will produce a fresh shower of wrath and indignation in the sinner’s conscience; for “the law worketh wrath.” All the sinner’s vows, promises, resolutions, mortifications, and determinations, will go to wreck when he attempts to approach unto God upon the ground of the fiery law: in a word, it will burn up to the whole fabric of fleshly hopes and fleshly confidence, and hold the rebel fast in a perishing condition; and in streams of wrath, like forked lightnings, threaten his everlasting destruction, nor once point him to the way of escape. I therefore conclude that this law cannot be the perfect law of liberty. But we observe,
3dly. This law is called the killing letter, and the ministration of death and condemnation (2 Cor 3:6-7,9;) and so it is, for it can administer nothing but death and condemnation to a transgressor. It is true, I have heard men who have had ingenuity, not to say infidelity, enough to affirm that the ceremonial law is here intended; but such men will do well to consider what they are about, before they affirm again. Paul roundly declares it to be the ministration of death written and engraven on stones; but was the ceremonial law written and engraven on stones? and was it the ceremonial law that the children of Israel transgressed when they worshipped the golden calf? for, without doubt, their conduct was an awful breach of this very law, be it what law it will: hence it is written, “And it came to pass, as soon as he (Moses) came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” (Ex 32:19) Now this act of Moses carried its own evidences with it; which was, that rebellious Israel had transgressed against, or broken, that very law written on the tables of stone, in setting up and worshipping a god of their own making, in direct opposition to the express command of Jehovah, in this law; and, indeed, it proved the ministration of death to three thousand of them that same day. (verse 28) Paul found it the ministration of death to him when the Lord brought it home to his heart. Prior to this, he was alive, and lively too, in the various branches of fleshly religion, and had a tolerable share of fleshly zeal for God; for he verily thought he did God service in persecuting the church; and he as verily thought he had no small share of holiness; for, as touching the law, he considered himself blameless. But the whole of his religion went to wreck when the commandment came; for, says he, “I was alive once without the law;’* mind that, without the law—he was quite a stranger to the holiness, power, authority, and extent of the law; he had never been at the place of stopping of mouths; nor had his fleshly confidence been brought to the standard of God’s holy law—”but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” When the commandment came, observe that! for there is a material difference between a man going to the commandment, and the commandment coming to him.
Suppose, for instance, you owe a man twenty pounds; you go to him, and tell him you are very sorry that you cannot pay him at present, but you hope to be able to do so in a short time; and your creditor says nothing to you, but waits the event. Well; you still get deeper and deeper in debt, and are still in the habit of going to your creditor with fair promises. As long as this will stand, all is pretty peaceable; that is, as long as you can go to your creditor, and he appears to be satisfied with your fair promises; but, bye and bye, your creditor comes to you; that is, he takes out a writ against you, and will have nothing short of full and present payment, or to prison you must go. This brings matters to a point; promises will do no longer; you must either pay or suffer. In this case, methinks, you will perceive a wide difference between your going to your creditor, and your creditor coming to you. And so it is in a spiritual sense; for, as long as a sinner can satisfy his mind with what he has done, and what he means to do, and the law does not exert its authority, all seems well; but, when the commandment comes with a “Pay me what thou owest,” and threatens with eternal imprisonment if full payment is not made, and “He that offends in one point is guilty of all;” and “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the book of the law to do them;” when this is the case, it brings condemnation and death into the conscience, and kills the sinner to every hope of obtaining heaven by the deeds of the law: it slays his false confidence, stirs up wrath and guilt, frets and aggravates his tormented mind, stops his boasting mouth, and confounds him before God; and thus it is the ministration of death and condemnation. So says Paul, ‘”I through the law am dead to the law, for the letter killeth.”
To me it appears, that one great reason why some professors make their boast of the law is, they are still in the habit of going to it, and it has never come to them, nor proved the ministration of death to their legal hopes; but the poor sinner who has been killed by it will be ready to say, “Let not the Lord speak unto me any more;” that is, by the mouth of this killing letter; nor will a covenant God be angry at his request, but approve of his petition, and answer him in love, by saying, “Thou hast well done that thou hast said, Let not the Lord speak unto us any more, but a prophet will the Lord your God raise up unto you from among your brethren, him ye shall hear;” and Peter tells us this Prophet is Christ. (Acts 3:23) Therefore, I consider, this killing letter cannot be the perfect law of liberty. But we pass on,
4thly. To show that this law is called a. schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ (Gal 3:24;) not, as some would wish it to be rendered, a schoolmaster in (he hands of Christ, but a schoolmaster unto Christ; for the words “to bring us” are not in the original text. Some think the ceremonial law is here intended; but for my part, 1 am at a loss to know how this can be, if we are allowed to take in the connexion. The apostle observes, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” (verse 10, and Deut 27:26) Now, is this curse connected with the ceremonial law? If it be, it can have nothing to do with the Gentiles, because they are not under it, nor ever were. Besides, the ceremonial law was the gospel to the Jews, and preached Christ, the end of the law for righteousness, and, therefore, could not be the law to which the curse is connected. But Paul goes on to say, “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, The just shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (verses 11-12) Now it is evident that this law is the law of works; for, it is the law of works that is Do and live; but the ceremonial law was of faith, for by faith in Christ, the truth of those sacrifices, the real worshippers of God offered them up to the Lord, as typical of the blood of Christ. We are informed (verse 13) that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us;” but if the ceremonial law is intended, the redemption of Christ can be of no avail to us; for we were never under it; and, therefore, we never could, in any sense, be under its curse; so that to call this the ceremonial law is to say, we have no part in the precious redemption of Christ; for it is the same law that is intended in verse 24, as in verses 10 to 13, for the connexion is not broken; and, therefore, the law of works must be what the apostle has in view, as a schoolmaster unto Christ.
I have often thought that Moses, in some respects, was a striking figure of what the apostle has here in view. Forty years he led the people in the wilderness, and many painful lessons were they taught. Sometimes they appeared almost at Canaan, or rest; but soon were they in fresh distress, surrounded with guilt, wrath, and death, and ready to wish themselves in Egypt again; but, after a long and fatiguing journey, they arrive at the borders of rest; but can Moses take them into it? No; he only brings them unto, or to the borders of it, and there he delivers up his charge, and says, “Yea, he loved the people: all his saints are in thy hand: and they sat down at thy feet: every one shall receive of thy words.” (Deut 33:3) As though he had said, “I have brought the people thus far, but into rest I am not able to bring them; therefore, I must leave them in this place, short of rest.” And so he did, and Joshua brings the tribes to rest.
So that Moses was a schoolmaster, or a leader, unto or to the borders of rest, but farther than this he could not get them: and so, the law is our schoolmaster unto rest; but it is only by faith in Christ that we enter into rest: “For we which have believed do enter into rest.” (Heb 4:3)
But what are we taught by the law as a schoolmaster? By the law, as a schoolmaster, we are taught the holiness, justice, and tremendous majesty of the great God, as revealed in the law; also our own sin, guilt, and misery; for when the Holy Ghost takes a sinner in hand, and reveals in his conscience the true nature and extent of the law of works, the sinner is taught that God is a holy and just God, who will by no means clear the guilty; and the more he attempts to please the Almighty with his good works, the more he is taught the impossibility of obtaining God’s favour by works of righteousness which he can do; for when God begins to reckon with him, and try his best works by the holy law, he is taught both to see and feel that “Tekel” is written upon his best performances; his sins stare him in the face, like an armed troop; yea, they come pouring in upon him in tremendous showers; sins, that had been long buried or forgotten, pay his conscience a thundering visit; for, he is made to possess the sins of his youth; “by the law is the knowledge of sin;” he is taught something of the nature of a sin- offended God, and that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: “For our God is a consuming fire.”
It is one thing to talk about the law, and another to be taught by it. Elihu told the truth when he said, “With God is terrible majesty!” (Job 37:22;) and every sinner who has been tutored by this schoolmaster knows this truth for himself. When Job lost sight of Jesus, and got under the tutorage of this schoolmaster again, even after he had enjoyed peace with God, he was taught lessons that overwhelmed him with horror; hence we hear him say, “The arrows of the Almighty are within me, the poison whereof drinketh up my spirit: the terrors of God do set themselves in array against me.” (Job 6:4.) In another place he says destruction from God was a terror to him, and by reason of his highness he could not endure. (31:23) Thus he was taught terrible things in righteousness. Nor is he alone; for David, the man after God’s own heart, was taught the same lessons. Hence he says, “I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while 1 suffer thy terrors I am distracted: thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off: they came round about me daily like water, they compassed me about together.” (Ps 88:15-17) When the Psalmist spake these things, he felt what he said, and, at the same time, personated the Lord of the house too; for, though Christ is God over all, yet in his incarnate state, as the Surety of his people, made of a woman, made under the law, he knew well what it was to be taught the nature of a sin- avenging God, as revealed in his righteous law. The law Having fast hold of him, taught him that abatements it could not make, and that divine justice could not acquit upon any ground short of full payment being made. The great God cannot be bribed; no! “For the Lord God is God of gods, and Lord of lords: a great God, a mighty and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.’ (Deut 10:17)
A soul at this school, and under the close tuition of this schoolmaster, will have many lectures which he never can forget; and some of them will be delivered in such thundering majesty that they will shake his conscience to the very centre, and convulse his whole frame. The thought of meeting Jehovah, to give an account of deeds done in the body, fills the mind with such wrath and horror, that he is ready to wish himself a beast, a toad, or anything which has not a soul that must live for ever. He envies the happiness of everything he sees, and supposes himself the most miserable being living, and is ready to cry with Job, “How long wilt thou not depart from me, nor let me alone till 1 swallow down my spittle? I have sinned: what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men?” (Job 7:19-20) And after all, he is taught that sin has brought him into such a ruined state, that he is completely destitute of any power to help himself; so that if his salvation depend upon the least exertion of his own, he feels that damnation must be his doom. He is taught, by painful experience, that a corrupt tree cannot being forth good fruit. And thus the law is a schoolmaster unto Christ.
A sinner having been thus taught the holiness, justice, and majesty of Jehovah, together with his own sin, guilt, misery, and helplessness, is led by the Holy Ghost to cry, from his very soul, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “Save, Lord, or I perish.” He has no ground of hope, unless Christ be a complete Saviour, and unless this salvation be wholly of grace. The matter with him now is, not whether he will repent and be holy, but whether God will be gracious to give him true repentance—not whether he will believe, but whether God will give him faith, and reveal Christ in him the hope of glory; for, being taught that he cannot save himself—that there is no other name given under heaven among men whereby a sinner can be saved, but the Lord Jesus Christ, and that whosoever believeth in him and is baptized shall be saved, he finds himself as unable to believe as he is to keep the law, and proves the truth of Christ’s own words, “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” (Jn 6:44) I will not pretend to say that all God”s people have the same measure of distress of soul, but I cannot believe that any man will ever rejoice in a complete salvation by Christ till he has felt himself a ruined sinner, condemned by the holy law of God; for, “They shall all be taught of God;” and, “Every one that hath heard and learned of the Father cometh unto me.” (Jn 6:45) But, whatever the law teaches, it can give no strength to the weak, nor power to the faint, neither can it give peace to the guilty conscience, nor unloose the bands of sin, Satan, and unbelief, nor proclaim liberty to the captives, nor the opening of the prison to them that are bound; consequently cannot be the perfect law of liberty. We, therefore, pass on,
5thly. To show that this law is called the law of the husband, which hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth: as it is written, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?” (Rom 7:1-6) The design of the apostle, in this connexion, is to show that the law is in full force against the sinner as long as the sinner is alive to its claims; but when the sinner is killed to the law, the law has no more authority over him. Hence in verse 4 he observes, “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also 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 we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Thus, the union being dissolved by the death of one of the parties, viz., the sinner, (for it is not the law that dies, but the sinner that dies unto the law,) he, being made free from the law, is at liberty to be married unto another, even Jesus, who is Lord and law-giver. That it is the sinner and not the law that dies, appears clear from the whole connexion; for when the apostle begins the figure, he observes, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth,” not as long as it (the law) liveth, but as long as he (the man) liveth. “But,” say you, “does not the apostle, in verse 6, say, ‘But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we are held?’ and does it not from hence appear that the law is dead?” To which 1 reply, that the margin reads, ‘We being dead to that wherein we were held,” and this appears to me to be the pure sense of the apostle; for it perfectly agrees with what has been already said, viz., that the sinner is become dead to the law by the body of Christ, and married to another, even Jesus.
Some have made a distinction between the husband and the law of the husband, and consider sin to be the husband, supposing that the sinner is bound by the law to sin, as a husband; so that when the husband (sin) dies, the sinner is made free from the law by which he was united, or bound, to sin. But if sin be the husband, it must be either a lawful or an unlawful husband; and since the sinner and sin are bound together by the law, as man and wife, it follows, of course, that sin is a lawful husband, consequently, all its claims must be lawful; and I cannot see, upon this ground, how the sinner can be obedient to this lawful husband, but by fulfilling the lust of the flesh and the desires of the mind. (Eph 2:3) So that, for a sinner to obey sin, and yield his members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, must be a true obedience to the law; which would be dreadful to suppose; nevertheless, dreadful as it appears, this must be the case if sin be the sinner’s lawful husband; for the sinner is bound by the law to obey the husband, and nothing but the works of the flesh can be obedient to sin. If this principle be admitted, it follows that adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like (Gal 5:19-21,) are true and lawful obedience; and this being the case, I am at a loss to know what is unlawful or contrary to the law. I can scarcely believe but a spiritual mind, upon due inspection, will spurn from them such a sentiment, as being contrary to the truth, and pregnant with mischief.
But, at the same time, 1 think a proper distinction may be made between the husband and the law of the husband; and that, by the husband the great God is intended, as revealed in the covenant of works, in the relationship that subsists between him and his rational creatures, merely as such, without any consideration of him being a covenant God and Father in Christ Jesus, but as the God of nature, upon the ground of the old covenant: and here we may justly say that all his rational creatures, merely as such, are bound to him by the law, and bound to obey him in thought, word, and deed, or be sentenced to condemnation for their disobedience. Nor does this view of the subject appear to contradict, but rather to harmonize with the language of Jehovah, when speaking of the new covenant, as it is written, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt (which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord); but this shall be the covenant that I will make with house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people: and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for. I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.'” (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:7-13) Now, according to this statement, it appears that although Jehovah revealed himself in the character of an husband under the covenant of works (verse 32,) it was an husband that could not, in the very nature of things, forgive the iniquity nor pass by the sins of his wife; for the same law that binds the one to obey, binds the other, in strict justice, to punish for disobedience; so that, if iniquity is to be pardoned and sins are to be remembered no more, a new covenant must be revealed, and Jehovah must appear in a new relationship, in which he can be both a just God and Saviour.
Something of this nature is strongly hinted at in Hosea 2:16: “And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishi, and shalt call me no more Baali.” In what day? The gospel day! when the new covenant is broken open to the mind of the sinner, and its blessings made manifest to the conscience; in that day thou shalt call me Ishi, a loving husband, or my loving husband; and shalt call me no more Baali, which signifies a husband too, but then it is a lordly, imperious husband; and this latter is the character that Jehovah must appear in under the covenant of works, no mercy being promised on that ground; but in the new covenant he is a sweet, loving, sin-pardoning husband. As long as the sinner stands before God upon the ground of the old covenant, and as long as the old covenant relationship subsists between them, Jehovah must appear as a lordly, imperious husband, and the sinner is bound by the law of the husband to obey in all points, or be exposed to his righteous frowns; and every fresh display that Jehovah makes of himself in the covenant of works produces in his wife, terror and guilt. Not one smile from his countenance, not one kiss of his lips, nor one word of consolation, can be given upon the ground of this union. Whenever the husband speaks in power, it is in terrible majesty, for the wife is always sinning, and so comes short of his glory. ‘Therefore,” saith the Lord, “I will be unto them as a lion; as a leopard by the way will I observe them: I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion.” (Hosea 13:7-8) When the Lord thus appears, his voice is tremendous; the sinner quakes for fear, and dreads his approach; but in vain does he attempt to hide himself from him, for “His eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings: there is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” (Job 34:21-22) “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord; do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord/’ (Jer 23:23-24) Glad would the sinner be to sink into nothing, but whatever he seeks for, it is all in vain, for Jehovah is a God of holiness, and his power is infinite; and though in this relationship he appears awfully severe, his severity is strictly just; his very nature is all holiness, and therefore he must, of necessity, spurn sin from his presence; nor can any unclean thing enter into his awful presence and live. A glimpse of his majesty and glory (separate from Christ) will produce a whole troop of fears; and the more the sinner sees of his majesty and power, the works of his hands and the wonders he performs, the greater is his alarm; for he is led to conclude that the whole of this is point blank against him, and is ready to say, ”When 1 heard my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself.” (Hab 3:16)
I have often thought that those who are in the habit of enforcing duties upon the Christian, upon the ground of the relationship that subsists between God and his rational creatures, have lost sight of that infinitely higher relationship that subsists between God and his people, on the ground of the covenant of grace. For instance, I have frequently heard it observed that the law of works must by the believer’s perfect rule of life, as long as God is God, and they are his creatures; and to me it appears that this would be strictly- true, if Christians stood in no higher relationship to the great God than that of his rational creatures; for this must, in the very nature of things, necessarily be. But when we consider that the old covenant is dissolved and done away, and that believers are united to the Lord in the bond of a new and everlasting covenant, which can never be done away, it strikes me very forcibly, that obedience must be required upon the ground of this new covenant and this relationship; and that the new covenant must contain a sufficient rule of obedience too. Hence we read of the “obedience of faith,” and that “the law is not of faith.” Christians should be addressed, not merely as rational creatures, but as new creatures in Christ Jesus; not merely as servants, but as sons; not as slaves and the seed of the bond-woman, but as the seed of the free-woman—as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; yea, as kings and priests unto God; as the spouse of Christ (in the best sense,) his queen, his love, his undefiled, his portion, and the lot of his inheritance; as life of his life, bone of his bone, body of his body, and flesh of his flesh: as it is written, “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal 4:7) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male of female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal 3:28-29; see also Eph 5:29-32) When the apostle exhorts the Philippians to esteem each other better than themselves, and to attend to other things becoming them as Christians, he introduces the subject, and urges the necessity of their compliance therewith, upon new covenant principles: “If,” says he, “there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Phil 2:1-2) And indeed this appears to be the apostle’s drift, both in this chapter and elsewhere: but we find nothing about consolation in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, nor bowels of mercies, in the old covenant. No; there Jehovah can only be seen upon his commanding throne, in strict justice and awful majesty; and as long as a sinner is under this old covenant, bound to the Lord as a lordly, imperious husband, terror and guilt will be the effect of every visit the husband makes; and the moment the sinner begins to feel upon what ground he stands, he dreads the approach of the great God, nor once wishes to behold him. Therefore I conclude that this law cannot be the perfect law of liberty. But,
6thly and lastly. This law is called the yoke of bondage. (Gal 5:1) It has been observed, that the ceremonial law is here intended; but they must be men of very keen sight who can see this to be the ceremonial law; for, in the first place, they are Gentiles who are the subjects of this address, and, as such, were never under the ceremonial law; and the address is. “Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” which supposes they had once been under this yoke and were now delivered from it; but appeared, in some respects, to be in danger of being entangled again. Some men, being aware of this difficulty, inform us that part of the Galatian churches were Jews, and that the address is to them, and not to the Gentile part of the church; and as they (the Jews) had been under the ceremonial law, the apostle might, with the greatest propriety, say to them, “Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage,” seeing they were once under this yoke; but this wants proof. Besides, if we look into the next verse, it proves the reverse; for if the subjects of this address were Jews, brought up in the Jewish religion, the male part of them must have been circumcised; but the characters of this address do not appear to have been circumcised; hence, says the apostle, “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For 1 testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Gal 5:2-3) In another place Paul says, “By the deeds of the law no flesh living can be justified.” But does he mean the ceremonial law? Surely not. Now the plain English of the matter is, Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye submit to the power and government of these Judaizing teachers, who tell you ye must be circumcised and keep the law, or ye cannot be saved, (Acts 15:5,) ye lay yourselves under the yoke again; yea, ye despise and set at nought Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; for this same Lord, the believer’s righteousness, will, by your conduct, be set at nought, as of no effect unto you, for ye are professing to be justified by the deeds of the law, and not by faith in Christ, the end of the law; and, as far as your minds are captivated with these things, so far ye are fallen from the doctrines of grace. If the law of works is intended in the 3rd, 4th, 14th, and 18th verses of this chapter, which I think cannot be denied, then, of course, this yoke of bondage is the law of works.
But, why is the law called a yoke of bondage? The metaphor appears to be taken from oxen put under a yoke, and entangled with it, and from which they cannot disengage themselves; and very fitly sets forth the state of a sinner under the law, especially a sensible sinner, who has got the sentence of death in his conscience: for, by the law he is bound down to hard labour, even to sinless, perfect, and perpetual obedience, as has been before observed; the law making no abatements, nor providing any provision for the helpless. Without cessation, and with unrelenting breath, it is urging, “Do and live; leave undone and die.” And when the sinner begins to feel the galling yoke, and attempts to get from under it, however strong his efforts may be, he finds it all ineffectual; the bounds are fixed; “He that doeth them shall live in them.” And such is this yoke, that beyond these bounds he cannot take one step: turn which way he will, he finds himself hemmed in and being sure that he has not done, nor is able to do, the things the law requireth, bondage of soul takes place, wrath and guilt fill his conscience, and he trembles with fear.
Paul, knowing this to be the case, felt much for the Galatians, when he perceived them to be gendering again to bondage, and writes this epistle with a view to prevent so great an evil. Hence, in another part of it he says, “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it written, that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bond-maid, the other by a free-woman: but he who was of the bond-woman was born after the flesh; but he of the free-woman was by promise; which things are an allegory; for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar: for this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.” (Gal 4:21-25) The whole of this allegory tends to prove, that to be under the law is to be in bondage, and dreadful bondage too! not a mere circumstantial matter that avails little, but a bondage that can admit of no real rest nor peace of mind, no liberty nor freedom with God, no sweetness in devotion, no communion nor fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ; no, the whole of the devotion performed under this yoke is hard bondage and slavery. In this case, the heir himself “differeth nothing from a servant, though he be Lord of all.” (Gal 4:1) The inheritance can only be obtained and enjoyed by faith in Christ, the new-covenant head. Till the bond-woman is cast out, and the free-woman rules the house, as the only mistress of it, there can be no quiet nor solid rest to the mind. The highest state a sinner can get to under this yoke is a servant, and a servant that is always in debt too; nor can he ever meet his master, or take one glimpse of his majesty, but he beholds the debt-book in his hand; and every time a reckoning takes place, instead of receiving wages, he receives frowns, and just frowns too! for he every day gets deeper and deeper into debt. This increases his bondage and adds to his distress, till his life becomes a burden to him, and he is ready to say with Job, “‘When I say, My bed shall comfort me, my couch shall ease my complaint; then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: so that my soul chooseth strangling and death rather than my life.” (Job 7:13-15)
While under the power and dominion of this yoke, there cannot, in the very nature of things, be any drawing near to God as dear children, or coming boldly to the throne of grace, in the spirit of adoption, saying, “Abba, Father;” no sweet songs of deliverance through a precious Redeemer; no heart-ravishing, sin-subduing, Satan-vanquishing, world-overcoming, sinner-exalting, soul-humbling, mind-cheering, and God-glorifying view of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! No, it is quite the reverse; for instead of drawing near to God, as dear children, and calling him “Father,” they dread to approach him, and can only view him as an awful, though a just. Judge! Instead of sweet songs of deliverance, they are lamenting their wretched state, in the doleful cry of ‘”Undone! undone!” Instead of the heart being ravished with holy pleasure, it is overwhelmed with guilt and distress! Instead of sin being subdued, it is stirred up to a greater degree! Instead of Satan being vanquished, he rages like an angry lion or a troubled sea! Instead of the world being overcome, the poor sinner is overcome by it every day, do what he may to prevent it! and instead of him enjoying a precious view of that divine dignity conferred upon poor sinners, through rich grace, which raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory (1 Sam 2:8,) he believes himself to be more wretched than the beasts that perish, and envies their happiness: and now, instead of being clothed with humility, he is filled with rebellion; and instead of glorifying God, as the effect of a faith’s view of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, he is tormented with his almighty displeasure, and is ready to wish there was no God. In this case it may be said, that “‘instead of a sweet smell, there shall be a stink; and instead of a girdle, a rent; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher, a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.” (Is 3:24) In a word, the sinner sensibly under this yoke, will find that his chief companions are sin, guilt, wrath, rebellion, hardness of heart, contraction of soul, fear, and torment; and every saved sinner will find this to be his lot, just in proportion as he is left to swerve from the finished work and glorious fulness of a dear Redeemer, and clings to the law, or yoke of bondage. Therefore I conclude that this law is not the perfect law of liberty.
“But,” say you, “is not this law called a holy, just, and good law?” I reply, Yes; nor are these fictitious titles given to it, but expressive of its very nature; for it is, in its own nature, holy; nor does it require anything but what is good, or prohibit any thing but what is evil; and its very sentence of condemnation is just—nay, in strict justice it can do no less than condemn for sin; but wrath and indignation are no parts of the law, strictly considered as the law of our Creator. No; it is sin that has armed it with its damning power.
While our first parents stood in that state and perfection of holiness in which Jehovah created them, the law was suited to their nature, and it was their pleasure and delight to obey it; but even then, all new-covenant blessings were concealed; the law knew nothing of them; these blessings must be revealed through another channel, for “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The law only revealed the perfections of God as far as these perfections shine forth as the God of nature; nor could our first parents know anything but as the God of nature; for even angels learn the manifold wisdom of God by the church (Eph 3:10,) or by the opening of the divine mystery which was hid in God. But the law knew nothing of this mystery. This, God concealed in himself, and gave man a law suited to his nature; and the moment our first parents fell, the law was filled with righteous indignation against their ungodly deeds. And as by the offence of one man judgment came upon all men to condemnation, and as all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, this holy, just, and good law must pass sentence of condemnation upon all who are left under it; for “as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” The very design of the law being given, appears to be because of transgression, “that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” (Rom 3:19; 5:20; Gal 3:19) The introduction of sin was not a mere circumstantial matter that might or might not have taken place. He that knows the end from the beginning certainly knew what the creatures of his power would do, and the way he would glorify himself both in the condemnation of them that perish and in the justification of the elect; and the law never was designed to give life to a guilty world, but to stop their mouths and bring them in guilty, that God might be justified in his sayings: “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (Gal 3:21) But the law could not give life nor liberty either; therefore, these things by no means tend to prove this law to be the perfect law of liberty.
I now come to the next general head, to show…(to be continued in the next chapter)
William Gadsby (1773-1844) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher, writer and philanthropist.