Saturday, March 28, 2009

0 Ames on Lord's Day 5: What the Law and the Sinner Cannot Do

In Ames's exposition for Lord's Day 5, found in A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, the author exposits Romans 8:3, which he translates as "For what was the impotence of the law, since in regard to strength it was destitute in the flesh, God sent His very own Son, in an entirely similar form of flesh liable to sin, and thus for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh." In this exposition, Ames makes some critically important points for our understanding of the Law of God and of the Gospel; in it, he praises God for His wisdom in willing both that His Law be perfectly satisfied, AND that His redemption of His elect be complete. It is because of these compelling decrees, Ames writes, that Paul could characterize the Law as "impotent".
"The apostle ... explains the means or cause of this defect, or impotence, which is not properly in the law itself but in our flesh or corruption, by which it happened that we may not fulfill the law, still less through the law climb up from death to life." (p. 27, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
God's justice must be satisfied - and in this sense, the Law is powerless to save any, because it lies broken at the feet of Adam (and as Ames has previously described, all humanity shares in the guilt of that broken law, that broken covenant). Hence, Christ - the one and only means of salvation for lawbreaking sinners.
"From the immutability of His decree, it was necessary in some way for God to procure the deliverance from death of those whom He had elected and predestined to life. This double necessity of restoration or deliverance of the human race is established by the [immutability of His decree]: from our part, of course, the necessity of our indigence, and from the part of God, the necessity of His immutability." (p. 28, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
The Law, then is impotent to deliver - and for this Ames offers several reasons which are worthy of consideration. We must note that because of the things Ames offers here, the Law as to our compliance with it and upholding of it can in no way play any role in our justification. Ames offers these reasons for "refutation against those who place their hope in their works and expect salvation from their good intentions and attempts." (pp. 28-29, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames) We are SO apt to place some hope in our own works, because we know we ought to obey God in all things, and in our flesh expect reward when we do... but we forget our failings and the fact that we lie under a pile of sin that we're already guilty of, and which the Law cannot expunge, even if we were to live perfectly from here on. Ames's reasons for arguing that the Law cannot deliver us from misery:
"1. The law promises no good thing to miserable sinners; it promises good only to those who observe it.
2. The law has no force in itself for removing sins; it has force only for punishing.
3. The law cannot be fulfilled by any sinner, as it says in the text, on account of the feebleness (imbecilitatem) of the flesh.
4. If the law could be fulfilled in the future, nevertheless past sins would destroy all hope of receiving a reward from the law. For this cause, the law is called the slaying letter, the ministry of death, and also the ministry of condemnation (2 Cor. 3)." (p. 28, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
I can't add to these words - we must understand this, or we fail to understand the glory of the Gospel, and to understand the place of works in our lives.

Ames further adds additional reasons for the necessity of wholly externally applied redemption - the necessity of a perfect and complete substitute - of Christ's righteousness in FULL, as he discusses the proposition, "No sinner can free himself from this misery." (p. 29, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames) The law cannot free us, Ames says, on account of our flesh - and it follows, then, that because of our flesh, we cannot free ourselves either. Among the reasons he offers is one that connects to the previous thoughts: "If a person cannot save himself, and he has not preserved himself in the integrity in which he was created, it must not be thought that he will be able to restore himself anew." (p. 29, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)

We are so apt to place hope and trust in our obedience - that somehow we can claim a higher level of satisfaction of God's demands by our own level of conformity to God's Law... yet we fail, in thinking in this way, to recognize the enormous load of debt that we have piled up and continue to pile up daily against God and His standards. We either want to lower the standards, and accept some sort of neonomian ideal that says we can fulfill the Law by "evangelical obedience", or we want to puff up our own works, and pretend that they do in fact not carry the stain of sin. Either way, we denigrate God's complete atoning sacrifice given for His people in Christ. Ames closes with this direction, which I appropriate today for our exhortation:
"that we may not place any faithfulness or strength in ourselves, but that by denying ourselves we may wholly depend on the grace of God and His mercy in Christ." (p. 29, A Sketch of the Christian's Catechism, William Ames)
Brothers and sisters, we cannot do it. Simply and plainly, we cannot satisfy God's Law - there never has been a way in which a sinner can be found guiltless before the Law of God apart from the free and complete imputation of Christ's righteousness to his account. There is only one means of satisfying the Law's demands - one standard - and only one has ever met that standard, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our obedience is our means of worship and honoring God - but it is NEVER part (ANY PART) of our standing just before Him. That is accomplished only through a wholly gracious act on the part of God in sending His Son for us. Let us be clear on this as we walk before Him each day, and place our obedience in an appropriate light.



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