Sunday, February 15, 2009

0 Ames on the Law's Function

In his Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, recently released by Reformation Heritage Books, William Ames provides 52 studies on the themes of the Heidelberg Catechism, as traditionally organized into 52 Lord's Days. I so much appreciate the translation and publication of this work - it is concise and at the same time profound. Ames's method in doing this I much appreciate - he takes texts which address the theme, and exposits them - as a means of bringing forth the doctrine summarized by the Heidelberg Catechism. In Lord's Day Two, the following questions are included:
3.Question: From where do you know your sins and misery?

Answer: From the law of God.

4. Question: What does God's law require of us?

Answer: Christ teaches us this in a summary in Matthew 22: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.[1] This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.

5. Question: Can you keep all this perfectly?

Answer: No, I am inclined by nature to hate God and my neighbor.
In his exposition, Ames addresses Romans 7:7 - What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

Ames draws from this verse the following points: that we are blinded by our own nature, inherited from our first father Adam, such that we don't even recognize our own sinfulness and our own misery. The Law of God must be before us if we are to recognize God's ways and our own departure from them. As Ames notes,
"The entire person (totus homo), ravaged by a type of spiritual frenzy (intemperie), as if in an inebriated and lethargic stupor of death, can sense nothing rightly and spiritually. (p. 13, Sketch of the Christian's Catechism)
His "uses" for this doctrine are well worth considering:
1. For admonition, so that by this name we may truly humble ourselves and cast ourselves down in the presence of God, because indeed we are wretches, since we are not able of our selves to perceive our own misery.

2. For direction in renouncing all of our natural wisdom. Let us flee to God in such a manner and seek wisdom from Him, so that we may properly know ourselves as He does. (p. 13, Sketch of the Christian's Catechism)
This sets up Ames's Lesson 2, which is that "the Law of God is a unique ground for rightly perceiving our sin and the grounds of our misery." (p. 14, Sketch of the Christian's Catechism) Indeed, without the Law, we have no sense of how far short we fall - and what is required of us in God's sight. We have no understanding of the perfection of God's holiness and the defection of our own natures.

His very helpful discussion of Romans 7:7 concludes with some uses for us as we consider the Law in its revelatory function. God's Will indeed is shown to us in the Law and Gospel - in the Prophets and Apostles. (and we need search no further than God's word - no divination, no extra-sensory perception required. God's will is revealed in His Word... shall we not seek it out fully instead of looking for signs and wonders to direct us in our paths?) Ames directs us thusly to use the Law in this way:
1. For direction, so that in passing judgment concerning our life we may not follow either our own imaginations or the opinion of the general public, but the law of God only.

2. For admonition, so that we may continually make an examination of our life according to this law over the previous events o four life for our greater humiliation and into the future events for our more certain caution and correction in every part of our conversation. (p. 15, Sketch of the Christian's Catechism)
We will not understand our standing in God's eyes, and the means of renovation, if our understanding of it is grounded in our own imaginings. God alone reveals His will, standard and the solution to our sin and misery. He alone reveals the duties we have before Him - it is not in our power, or purview, to dictate what those duties are. If we are left to ourselves, we are left to vain imaginings that are of no more use in the rough seas of this world than a boat without a rudder.



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