John Foreman on Duty Faith (Complete)

8 The Two Permanent Covenants

The distinction between the two permanent covenants—the law of works and the law of faith.

Of the several covenants mentioned in the word of God, there are but two which we may properly call uncircumstantially permanent, and of eternal consequences to the soul of man. The one being the nature covenant with Adam and all the human race in him, having the law of works for its ministry; and which, through man’s sin, is called the ministration of death. And the other, the covenant of grace with Christ and all his seed in him, having the law of faith for its ministry, called the ministration of life, because it is the gospel of the grace of God only. And every man of the whole human race is under one or the other of these two laws; either by legal right and contract under the former, or by favor it only under the latter.

If a man by the Holy Spirit, and regenerating grace and favor of God, be under grace, and so under the law of faith, he is not, nor can he be under the law of works at the same time; even so the natural man being under the law of works, cannot be under grace and the law of faith at the same time. And a man’s duties and obligations, both in the nature and extent of them, are prescribed and determined by the law that he is under. The truth of this, I consider the apostle most clearly sets forth, by comparing the law that the soul is under to a husband, and the soul to be bound to the law exclusively under which it is; and so much so, that the soul must be dead to the one law, before it can be under the other, either in a way of obligation or of privilege, see Rom 7. So that every natural man is under the law of works, and is bound thereby exclusively to it, as a woman is bound by the law of her husband to him exclusively, so long as he lives. And while we receive this apostolic argument in the force of infallible truth, it must fairly amount to this, that it can no more be the natural man’s duty under the law of works, by the law of faith to believe unto salvation, than it is a woman’s duty to think of, yield her person and affections to, and secure to herself, a second husband before her first be dead; she having no liberty whatever from her first obligations, nor another husband any demand whatever, till she be freed from her first husband; and then by marriage only to another, does she come under the new obligations to a second husband. But no natural man is dead to the law of works by the body of Christ, and consequently is not married to Christ: and so neither Christian duties nor privileges are his province or his property; but to keep the whole law of works, and be as naturally pure as Adam was at the first, or death eternal is all that belongs to him as a sinful natural man.

Perhaps this mode of argument will be considered too rigid an adherence to covenant distinctions, order and arrangement; but I feel confident that it Is no more than the word of God intends and fully supports, to the very utmost exactness and unfaltering certainty, in drawing the line of order and distinction, between the living by grace, and the dead in sin; the man who is under the law, and the man who is under grace; and also between the law of works and its claims, and law of faith and its blessings; and in the systematic terms and characters also by which those distinctions are denominated. For beside the above-cited scripture from Rom 7, the apostle is very clear and pointed on those distinctions in Rom 4: 14, saying, ‘For if they which are of the law be heirs, faith is made void, and the promise is of none effect. I think from this text nothing can be more plain than the fact, that that which is of the law, is not of faith; and that that which is of faith, is not of the law; and that these premises of law and faith are as perfectly distinct, as they are different in their nature; and so perfect is the distinction, that the same thing cannot belong to both. And how then duty faith unto salvation can grow out of ‘the essence of God’s law,’ I am at a loss to know, and believe I shall remain so to eternity; for the law has no power, nor is it any way in its nature or design to command any man to believe the promise of mercy unto salvation. And whatsoever can be found to be the natural man’s duty toward God, is, in truth, most certainly of the law of works only, and is what the word of God would call a work of the law; and to say therefore, that faith unto salvation is the natural man’s duty, is at once to say, that faith unto salvation is of the works of the law; for that it cannot be otherwise, to be the duty of the natural man, because all his duties are of the works of the law, and not of grace. But we are sure that nothing can be more opposite to the truth, sound and sense of the word of God, than to say that faith in the promise of God unto salvation is of the law of works; for the law was never given nor entered to command faith in a Saviour, but directly to the contrary, ‘That the offence might abound,’ Rom 5: 20, and that ‘sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful’ Rom 7: 13. And that law which arrests, convicts, and condemns the guilty man, can never make it that guilty man’s duty to escape from its hand and power to punish him; and then make it further crime, and punish him much more for not escaping.

Whatever is man’s duty is God’s claim; and whatever is man’s duty is demanded to be of him; and consequently if faith unto salvation be the natural man’s duty, then faith is accordingly demanded of man, and should be of him, and a great and grievous fault must lie against the natural man for not having faith of himself. This is how the matter must stand for faith to be of man, and to be the natural man’s duty. But this is altogether opposed to the apostle’s inspired testimony of faith, saying, ‘By grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast, Eph 2: 8,9. These words were not spoken in any way to find fault with the Ephesians because their faith was not as a matter of duty produced of themselves, nor yet to say that it should have been of themselves, but to commend the great love and free favour of God, and to cut off all occasion of boasting after the flesh, either about the matter of their salvation, or the means by which they obtained and enjoyed it; shewing that the one was as perfectly of grace, and of grace only from first to last, as the other is; saying, that faith is not only the gift of God, but that it is not Of man, either by human production, or by divine requirement; for that God had determined that it should not be of works, and so not of duty, lest any man should boast.

When faith is named descriptively, it is always stated as expressive of grace, in opposition to the duties and works of the law, in the matters of salvation; and it is spoken of as God’s own method of grace, to make the promise of his grace sure to all the seed; saying, ‘Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed,’ Rom 4: 16. Now nothing can be more uncertain than duty faith unto salvation, except it be of a certain failure altogether; and so that can make no promise sure; and therefore duty faith cannot be the faith named in the above text, nor any thing related to it. And as the faith named in the sacred word is named in a way to commend and set forth the perfectly free grace salvation of the Lord, above all law duties and works of the law, that cannot be duty faith; because instead of commending the richness, freeness, fullness, infallibility, and absolute sovereignty of the grace of God to whom he will be gracious, duty faith goes to generalize all the matters of the gospel and grace of God into a loose, indefinite uncertainly; and by introducing impracticable obligations, turns the ministry of eternal love into eternal hatred, of free favor into wrath, of pure mercy into condemnation, of life into death, of peace into hostility, of redemption into a sentence of imprisonment, and of free grace salvation into final banishment to darkness and endless ruin. And all this, properly speaking, so far as I can understand it, because the natural man does not, beyond all power that ever was in him, believe unto salvation; and because the Lord will only have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will hide the salvation matters of the gospel and of his kingdom from whom he will, even from ,the wise and prudent;’ and will reveal them only to whom he will, ‘even unto babes,’ Matt 11: 25; and will call by his grace to the life and faith of the gospel only those whom he hath chosen by his grace, I Cor 1: 26-29.

And for these two reasons, as real and sole causes, so far as I can see, duty faith goes to say that all where the gospel comes, who do not universally believe unto salvation shall be damned! And this conclusion does but fairly accord with the expressed sentiments of the late Mr. A Fuller, who, on some public occasion, speaking on duty faith, told his hearers ‘that every gospel sermon which they heard and did not savingly profit by, the same would rise up in judgment against them, and be to their greater condemnation at the last great day.’ And after the service, a person present said to the late Mr. E Vorley, (many years minister of the gospel at Leicester,) ‘Well, brother Vorley, and what do you think of Mr. Fuller’s sermon?’ when Mr. Vorley replied, ‘If I could believe all Mr. Fuller has said, I would never hear another gospel sermon as long as I live.’ And to this I must add, that my opinion is, that if the above remarks of Mr. Fuller were the truth of God, it would be safest for all people, against the last great day, to keep out of the reach of the gospel sound; and that it would be as heavy a judgment as it would be any sort of mercy, for the Lord to send his gospel into any country, or among any people; and that all people might justly look upon all gospel ministers as upon men likely to be to them the greatest of all evils, and most dreadful mischief-makers to their souls. Alas, for duty faith while it brings us to this!

John Foreman (1792-1872) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. He was appointed the Pastor of Hill Street Chapel, Marylebone, serving this position for close to forty years.