Wednesday, June 16, 2010

0 Isaac Ambrose on the Christ-centeredness of Scripture

Just a quote for today, cited in Richard Barcellos, The Family Tree of Reformed Biblical Theology, p. 75:
"Keep still Jesus Christ in your eye, in the perusal of the Scriptures, as the end, scope and substance thereof: what are the whole Scriptures, but as it were the spiritual swaddling clothes of the holy child Jesus?"

Sunday, June 06, 2010

1 The Marrow, The Law (of Works, Faith and Christ) and the often misunderstood 'heavy burdens'

Well, it's been FOREVER since I posted much of substance other than Covenant Radio updates, but I think, maybe, after a long time away from blogging, I might be able to get back into it more regularly.

I bought the new Christian Focus version of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, by Edward Fisher (with notes by Thomas Boston) - a VERY nice hardbound copy that has Boston's notes formatted in a much more readable manner than in the older version I have quoted from previously.

Because it's been a while, and because I picked up the new copy recently and have begun my read of this work a second time, I'm backtracking a little from the last post on the Marrow, last year.

The first major note that Thomas Boston has in the Marrow regards the distinction among "The Law of Works", "The Law of Faith" and "The Law of Christ" - a distinction that, it seems to me, is very frequently misunderstood. In talking with people, I've often heard "The Law of Christ" denoted as something that is clearly viewed as less demanding in terms of ethical standards - people seem to think that "The Law of Christ" has 'more to do with trying to do good than satisfying the letter of the law', or 'a requirement of the heart's attitude rather than a requirement of satisfying the ten commandments'. I'm not sure where this comes from, but it seems to stem from the idea that Christ replaced the ten commandments and their strict standards of ethics with "the law of love", which more or less seems to mean "be nice and don't offend anyone".

Boston deals with this notion head on in this note, making clear the distinction between "The Law of Works" and "The Law of Christ" - and dispatching with any notion that the Law of Christ is somehow a "law-lite" high-jump bar that we need to clear with a Fosbury Flop:

By the law of works is meant the law of the ten commandments, as the covenant of works. By the law of faith, the gospel, or covenant of grace; for justification being the point upon which the apostle there states the opposition betwixt these two laws, it is evident that the former only is the law that doth not exclude boasting; and that the latter only is it, by which a sinner is justified in a way that doth exclude boasting. By the law of Christ, is meant the same law of the ten commandments, as a rule of life, in the hand of a Mediator, to believers already justified, and not any one command of the law only; for "bearing one another's burdens" is a "fulfilling of the law of Christ," as it is a loving one another: but, according to the Scripture, that love is not a fulfilling of one command only, but of the whole law of the ten commands, (Rom 13:8-10).—"He that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." It is a fulfilling of the second table directly, and of the first table indirectly and consequentially: therefore, by the law of Christ is meant, not one command only, but the whole law.

The law of works is the law to be done, that one may be saved; the law of faith is the law to be believed, that one may be saved; the law of Christ is the law of the Saviour, binding his saved people to all the duties of obedience, (Gal 3:12, Acts 16:31).

The term law is not here used univocally; for the law of faith is neither in the Scripture sense, nor in the sense of our author, a law, properly so called. The apostle uses that phrase only in imitation of the Jews' manner of speaking, who had the law continually in their mouths. But since the promise of the gospel proposed to faith, is called in Scripture "the law of faith," our author was sufficiently warranted to call it so too. So the law of faith is not a proper preceptive law.

The law of works, and the law of Christ, are in substance but one law, even the law of the ten commandments—the moral law—that law which was from the beginning, continuing still the same in its own nature, but vested with different forms. And since that law is perfect, and sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of it, whatever form it be vested with, whether as the law of works or as the law of Christ, all commands of God unto men must needs be comprehended under it, and particularly the command to repent, common to all mankind, pagans not excepted, who doubtless are obliged, as well as others, to turn from sin unto God; as also the command to believe in Christ, binding all to whom the gospel revelation comes, though, in the meantime, this law stands under different forms to those who are in a state of union with Christ by faith, and to those who are not so. The law of Christ is not a new, proper, preceptive law, but the old, proper, preceptive law, which was from the beginning, under a new accidental form. (p. 48, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, by Edward Fisher (with notes by Thomas Boston))

The Law of Christ, then, is to be distinguished from the Law of Works not by the content - but by the delivery and application. The substance of the Law is the same... the prescription of ethical standards is the same, exactly, as the moral law - the Ten Commandments. The Law of Works is that law delivered as an absolute standard by which men would be judged acceptable or unacceptable before God Almighty, the Lawgiver. Under the Law of Works, one tiny slip is sufficient to condemn.

Where Paul refers to the Law of Christ, however, he refers to the same Law delivered as a rule of life for those who already stand justified before God, and in union with Christ. In this sense the Law is NOT a law of justification or condemnation, for as Paul writes in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".

When believers are said to be "dead to the law" (Rom. 6:14) it is the former sense that Paul is working with - the law of Works - the Ten Commandments as a covenant of works unto justification.

When believers are said to be "under the Law of Christ" - we are being described as those who stand in Christ, justified before God, having the good law of God as our guide for glorifying and honoring God in our relations to Him and to others.

Secondly, in this extensive note, Boston deals with the Pharisees and the "heavy burdens" that Christ describes in Matthew 23:4 as that which they bind people with, "lay[ing] them on men's shoulders," while "they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers."

Oftentimes the things the Pharisees laid upon men, the works of the Law that men must uphold in order to be just in God's sight, are argued to be acts of the ceremonial Law. Paul condemns the Pharisees for this - and those who argue for justification by works often argue that when Paul says "works of Law" he means only the ceremonial.

Boston obliterates this idea by going immediately to Christ - where Christ in the passage cited above condemns the Pharisees for laying burdens on the people that the people cannot bear. If the "justification by works" crowd is correct (that is, if Paul condemns only "justification by the ceremonial works", but affirms "justification by obedience to the moral law) then what Christ says about the Pharisees in Matthew 24:3 makes no sense.

Boston explains:
"These heavy burdens were not human traditions, and rites devised by men; for Christ would not have commanded the observing and doing of these, as in this case he did, (verse 3), "Whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do"; neither were they the Mosaic rites and ceremonies, which were not then abrogated, for the Scribes and Pharisees were so far from not moving these burdens with one of their own fingers, that the whole of their religion was confined to them, namely to the rites and ceremonies of Moses' law, and those of their own devising. But the duties of the moral law they laid on others, binding them on with the tie of the law of works, yet made no conscience of them in their own practice: the which duties, nevertheless, our Lord Jesus commanded to be observed and done." (p. 49, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, by Edward Fisher (with notes by Thomas Boston))
What Christ condemned was the Pharisee's enjoining of obedience to the moral law as not merely the rule of life for God's people, but as a means of justification by their obedience. Christ's condemnation of this use of the Law clearly supports Paul's later condemnation of the same thing, and is a thorny item for modern moralists to handle.

If you've not got this new version of The Marrow, and/or have never read it before - I'd strongly recommend it to you. It's well worth the time to drink deeply from, and to be encouraged by in your walk with Christ. More later, from IPD.

In Principio ... Deus Copyright © 2011 - |- Template created by O Pregador - |- Powered by Blogger Templates