John Wesley on Christian Practice [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Kenneth Cain Kinghorn
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: "This is the third volume of the Standard Sermons of John Wesley, transcribed into today's English. These volumes accurately transcribe their eighteenth-century language into a form suitable for today's reader. This volume will contain the last twenty sermons, in which Wesley deals with questions and concerns facing the Methodist movement in its early days: the balance of faith and works; the charge that the Methodists were enthusiasts; tolerance (catholic spirit) among believers; Christian perfection; new birth; and others. "
eBook Publisher: United Methodist Publishing House/Abingdon Press, Published: 2003
Fictionwise Release Date: February 2004
Sermon 34 Introduction – The Origin, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law
During the span of John Wesley's ministry, the Methodists had to deal with two kinds of errors concerning the moral law. These errors were propagated by teachers who opposed John Wesley and the revival that moved forward under his leadership. On the one hand, some of Wesley's critics taught that Christians are not obligated to keep the moral law because they live under grace. This belief caused some Methodists to disparage the law, abandon the means of grace, and neglect good works. On the other hand, the error persisted that salvation is based on self-effort and good works. The first error led to Antinomianism, while the second led to legalism. In this sermon, Wesley corrects these two mistakes and clarifies the proper place of the moral law.
During the decade of the 1740s, Antinomianism in England threatened to undermine the gospel by declaring that faith cancels the need to obey the moral law. Wesley recorded a conversation he had with one of the antinomian teachers:
W. Do you believe you have nothing to do with the law of God?
A. I have not. I am not under the law. I live by faith.
W. Have you, as living by faith, a right to everything in the world?
A. I have. All is mine, since Christ is mine.
W. May you then take anything you will anywhere? Suppose, out of a shop, without the consent or knowledge of the owner?
A. I may, if I want it. For it is mine. Only I will not give offence.
W. Have you also a right to all the women in the world?
A. Yes, if they consent.
W. And is not that a sin?
A.Yes, to him that thinks it is a sin. But not to those whose hearts are free.
Wesley summed up his view of this exchange, "Surely these are the first-born children of Satan!"
To another antinomian teacher, Wesley said, "All that is really uncommon in your doctrine is a heap of broad absurdities, in most of which you grossly contradict yourselves, as well as Scripture and common sense. In the meantime, you brag and vapour [boast], as if 'ye were the men, and wisdom should die with you.' I pray God to 'humble you, and prove you, and show you what is in your hearts!' " This sermon corrects the antinomian error and clarifies "the origin, nature, properties, and use of the law."
Wesley also explains that when God created man and woman in his own image and likeness, he stamped the moral law upon their hearts. Due to the Fall, however, humankind forfeited this spiritual benefit, and now in its natural state humankind has only a faint sense of the moral law. Theologians call this condition "original sin." Wesley did not believe that original sin erased the image of God in us, but he did believe that image was defaced. Many people in Wesley's day, however, rejected or ignored the reality of original sin. The Deist and Enlightenment philosophers believed that humankind innately possesses an adequate understanding of right and duty. They insisted that we have both the inborn knowledge of what is right and the natural ability to do it.
Wesley refused to ground our ethical obligations in what human nature thinks or feels is right. He upheld his Church's teaching on the reality of original sin and sin's severe weakening of human understanding and ability. One of the requirements for ordination in the Church of England was agreement with its Articles of Religion. The article on original sin, in part, states that "original sin. . . is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil." Wesley affirms "the eternal fitness of things" -- that is, humankind's innate sense of goodness and order. Yet, Wesley insists that because of the Fall we can know what is right only as God reveals it. God has given this revelation to us through Scripture and Jesus Christ. We cannot determine what is right through intellectual reasoning or human intuition. We can know about God and God's will only as he communicates it to us and enables us to understand and live it.
In this sermon, Wesley states that the moral law convicts us of sin, points us to our need for Christ, and shows us how God wants us to live. The moral law originates in no other source than God. It constitutes the only way humankind can be holy and happy. God's law is holy, just, and perfect -- and it accords with how God designed humankind to function. Yet, Wesley contends that obedience to the moral law does not earn our salvation. The law is invaluable as God's instruction to those who are saved. This sermon teaches us that Christian liberty is not the freedom to sin but the freedom not to sin. Sermon 34 – The Origin, Nature, Properties, and Use of the Law
The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. – (Romans 7:12)
1. Perhaps there are few subjects within the entire scope of religion that are so little understood as the moral law. Commentators usually tell the readers of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans that by "the law," the apostle means the Jewish ceremonial law. Then, assuming that the Jewish law is not relevant to Christians, the commentators move on without giving further thought to the subject. Some are not satisfied with this explanation, however. They note that the Epistle is directed to the Romans and they suppose that, in the beginning of chapter 7, St. Paul is referring to the old Roman law. Because they have no more interest in this law than in the ceremonial law of Moses, they do not give much thought to it. They assume that St. Paul's occasional mention of the law is only to illustrate something else.
2. However, a careful observer of the book of Romans will not be content with these superficial explanations of the law. The more one considers St. Paul's words, the more convinced one becomes that "the law" mentioned in this chapter does not mean the ancient law of Rome or the ceremonial law of Moses. This conclusion will certainly become clear to all who attentively consider the substance of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans. He begins chapter 7, "Do you not know, brothers and sisters -- for I am speaking to those who know the law -- that the law is binding on a person only during that person's lifetime?" Is St. Paul referring to the law of Rome or to the ceremonial law? Neither one. He is concerned with the moral law.
Saint Paul clearly illustrates his point: "A married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress." In this particular example, by parallel reasoning the apostle moves on to draw a general conclusion. He writes, "In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law [the entire Mosaic legal system] through the body of Christ [offered for you and bringing you under a new dispensation], so that you may belong to another [without any guilt], to him who has been raised from the dead [thereby proving his authority to make this change] in order that we may bear fruit for God."
Now, we can bear fruit, whereas before the coming of Christ, we could not. "While we were living in the flesh," we were under the dominion of our corrupt nature. It was natural that we were under its power because we had not yet benefited from the power of Christ's resurrection. Then, "our sinful passions were aroused by the law," and the law could not overcome our sin; it could only make sin worse for us. In various ways, our sinful desires "were at work in our members bearing the fruit of death." "But now we are discharged from the law" -- that is, to the entire moral and ceremonial law. We are now "dead to that which held us captive." The entire Jewish law is now dead, and it has no more dominion over us than a deceased husband has over his wife. We are no longer slaves to the old written code, which consisted of outward obedience to the letter of the Mosaic law. Now, we have "new life of the Spirit."
3. Saint Paul proved that the Christian dispensation has set aside the Jewish dispensation. He showed how the moral law, although it can never pass away, now rests on a new foundation that differs from its former foundation. Next, St. Paul pauses to raise an objection and to answer it. He asks, "What then should we say? That the law is sin?" Some people might misconstrue these words to mean that the law produces sinful actions. Saint Paul answers his own question: "By no means is this the case!" The law is an irreconcilable enemy to sin, searching it out wherever it is. Paul testifies, "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, 'You shall not covet.' " In the next four verses, St. Paul further explains his point of view. At that point, drawing from the example he uses, he adds a broad conclusion regarding the moral law: "The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good."
4. These profound words are seldom discussed because they are so poorly understood. In order to explain and apply them, I will endeavor to clarify (1) the origin of the law, (2) the nature of the law, (3) the properties of the law (it is holy, just, and good), and (4) the uses of the law.
I. The Origin of the Law
1. First, I will endeavor to explain the origin of the moral law (often called "the law in its highest degree"). The origin of the moral law is not nearly so recent as the time of Moses, even though some people think so. Noah announced it to people long before Moses (and Enoch before him). We can trace its origin much further back, even prior to the foundation of the world. This period is indeed unknown to us mortals, but it is without doubt recorded in the chronicle of eternity "when the morning stars sang together," having been newly called into existence. It pleased the great Creator to make these his firstborn creatures intelligent beings so that they could know the one who created them. For this purpose God gave them understanding so that they could distinguish truth from falsehood and good from evil. As a necessary consequence, God endowed these angelic beings with freedom -- the ability to choose one thing and refuse the other. Because of this endowment, these beings were correspondingly enabled to offer free and willing service to God. This service in itself carried its own satisfying reward, and it was also entirely acceptable to their gracious Master.
2. To enable these angelic beings to use all the abilities he had given them -- especially their intelligence and freedom -- God gave them a law. This law was a complete reflection of all truth, so far as it could be understood by finite beings. The law mirrored all good, insofar as angelic minds were capable of grasping it. Through the law, their gracious Governor planned to provide a way for the ceaseless growth of the angels' happiness. Every act of obedience to God's law would add to the perfection of their nature and entitle them to a higher reward, which the righteous Judge would give at the appropriate time. 3. Then, according to his plan, God created a new order of intelligent beings -- humankind. He formed the first human beings from the dust of the earth and breathed into them the breath of life, causing them to become living souls who were endued with power to choose good or evil. In the same way that he gave his law to the firstborn angelic beings, he also gave his law to humankind, as the free, intelligent creatures they were. God did not write this law upon tablets of stone or any permanent material substance. Rather, the finger of God engraved this law upon the inmost spirits both of angels and of human beings. God's purpose was that the law would never be far from us or difficult to understand. Instead, his moral law was always at hand, shining with clear light, just as the sun in the midst of heaven.
4. Such is the origin of God's law. With reference to humankind, this moral law was compatible with human nature. With reference to the older sons of God (the angels), the law shone in its full splendor "before the mountains were brought forth, or God had ever formed the earth and the world."
However, in the case of humankind, it was not long before the man and the woman rebelled against God. And by breaking this glorious law, the man and the woman almost obliterated it from their hearts: "They became darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God." Still, God did not spurn the work of his own hands. Because of the reconciling work of Jesus Christ, in some measure God rewrote his law on the hearts of his dark, sinful creatures. Once again, "He has told you, O mortal, what is good" (although not to the same extent as at first). "The Lord requires you to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."
5. God revealed this moral law to our first parents and to all their offspring. God spoke to us through Jesus Christ, "the true light, which enlightens everyone coming into the world." Nonetheless, as time passed, all people have walked away from this light and "all flesh corrupted its ways upon the earth." Then, God elected from out of humankind a chosen people -- the Jews. He gave them a more perfect knowledge of his law. Due to their slowness in grasping this law, God wrote its main divisions -- the Ten Commandments -- on two tablets of stone. He commanded the parents to teach this law to their children through all succeeding generations.
6. God also revealed his law to those heathen who did not know him. Through their consciences, they "heard" God's law -- those things that were "written in former days for our instruction." However, this way of learning God's law through our consciences is not adequate to allow us to comprehend "the breadth and length and height and depth" of his law. God alone can reveal this law by his Spirit. And as an outgrowth of that gracious promise given to all the Israel of God, the Holy Spirit does so in all who truly believe:
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel. . . . This is the covenant that I will make. . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer. 31:31, 33)
II. The Nature of the Law
1. The second thing I propose to explain is the nature of the law that God originally gave to the angels in heaven and to the man and the woman in paradise. It is the same law that God has so mercifully promised to write afresh in the hearts of all true believers. To explain the nature of this law, first, I will point out that "the law" and "the commandments" are sometimes understood as being different. Some believe that the commandments are only a part of the total law. However, in the text of this sermon, the terms "law" and "commandments" are used as equivalent terms, each meaning the same thing.
Neither of these terms refers to the ceremonial or the ritualistic laws. When St. Paul writes, "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin," it is easy to see that he is not referring to ceremonial law. It is not the ceremonial law that says, "You shall not covet." Therefore, the ceremonial law does not pertain to our present discussion.
2. Furthermore, in our text, the law does not refer to the Mosaic dispensation. It is true that the word is sometimes understood this way, as when Saint Paul writes to the Galatian Christians, "The law [the Mosaic dispensation] which came four hundred thirty years later [after Abraham] does not annul a covenant previously ratified." Even so, in Romans 7:12 (our text), "the law" cannot be understood to refer to the Mosaic law. Saint Paul never bestows such high commendations upon that imperfect and shadowy dispensation as he does in this text. The apostle nowhere affirms the Mosaic law to be a spiritual law; nor does he say that it is "holy, just, and good." It is not true that God will write that law on the hearts of those whose "iniquity and sin he no more remembers"? Again, in our text, "the law" refers to the moral law.
3. The moral law is a reliable reflection of "the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy." No mortal or angel has seen or can see the fullness of God's essence. We can see the unveiled face of God (and live) only if God manifests himself to give us life and not destroy it, enabling us mortals to receive the life he gives. The moral law is the heart of God disclosed to humankind. In some sense we may apply to this law what the apostle says about God's Son: He is "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being."
4. The ancient heathen Cicero said, "If virtue could assume a form that we could see with our eyes, what wonderful love it would arouse within us!" God's moral law has already accomplished whatever "virtue" might inspire if it were to take visible form! The law of God contains a summary of all virtues in a form that people whose eyes God has enlightened can clearly apprehend with "unveiled faces" (2 Cor. 3:18). What is the law other than divine virtue and wisdom assuming a discernible form? What is it but God's own declaration of truth and good that from eternity were lodged in his uncreated mind? Now, in the moral law, these ideas of truth and good are available to us in a form that we can understand.
5. If we consider the law of God from another point of view, it is supreme and enduring good sense. It is the fixed moral virtue and the eternal suitability of everything that is or ever was. When we try to illustrate the depths of God with feeble analogies, I am aware of their inadequacy and impropriety. Nevertheless, we have no better language. Indeed, we have no other way to express ourselves so long as we are in our childlike state of existence. Because we know only in part, we are also obliged to speak only in part. We who live in houses of clay "cannot draw up our case because of darkness." As long as I am a child, I must speak as a child, "but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end."
6. Now, let us return to our immediate subject. The moral law of God (to use a human analogy) is a portrait of God's eternal mind; it is a copy of his divine nature. Yes, this law is the most beautiful demonstration of the will of the everlasting Father, the brightest emanation of his basic wisdom and the visible beauty of the Most High God. The law is the delight and amazement of the cherubim and seraphim and all the fellowship of heaven. It is the glory and joy of every wise believer who is an enlightened child of God upon earth.
III. The Properties of the Law
1. We have described the ever-blessed moral law of God. Now, in the third place, I will explain the characteristics of that law. I cannot describe all the law's properties because to do so would exceed the wisdom of an angel. I will, however, discuss those characteristics mentioned in the text, of which there are three -- the law is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12). To begin, "the law is holy."
2. In this expression, St. Paul is speaking not of the law's effects, but of its nature. Referring to the law under another name, St. James says, "The wisdom from above is first pure." James is referring to God's law written on our hearts. First, it is pure, meaning chaste, spotless, and inherently and essentially holy. Consequently, when the law is reproduced in our lives and souls, it is "religion that is pure and undefiled." Obeying the moral law is the pure, clean, unpolluted worship of God.
3. Indeed, this religion is pure, chaste, clean, and holy in the highest degree. Otherwise it could not be the direct offspring and explicit likeness of God, who is the essence of holiness. This religion is innocent of all sin; it is unstained and unblemished by any taint of evil. It is a chaste virgin, incapable of any defilement or mixture with what is corrupt or unholy. It has no association with any kind of sin because "what fellowship is there between light and darkness?" As in its very nature, sin is hostile to God, so God's law is antithetical to sin.
4. Therefore, with intense abhorrence, St. Paul rejects the blasphemous conjecture that the law of God is either sin or the cause of sin. By no means should we think that God's law produces sin! The law uncovers sin because it detects "things now hidden in darkness" and drags them out into daylight. The apostle observes that "sin is shown to be sin" because of the law. All of sin's disguises are ripped away, and it appears in its inherent ugliness. It is true that "through the commandment sin becomes sinful beyond measure." Because sin is shown to be set against light and knowledge, it is stripped even of the poor pretext of ignorance, and it loses both its excuse and its disguise. Through the law, sin becomes far more despicable both to God and to us.
Thus, it is true that the law, which in itself is pure and holy, "works death in us." Sin, when forced out into the light, rages all the more. When it is forbidden, sin breaks out with greater fury. Therefore, St. Paul, speaking for the person who is convinced of sin but not yet delivered from it, said, "Sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness." That is, when one detects sin and tries to restrain it, one finds that the self dislikes the restraint. Consequently, so much the more, sin produces all kinds of temptations in us. Sin causes "many senseless and harmful desires" that the law tried to restrain. So Paul said, "when the commandment came, sin revived." Because of the law, sin fumed and rampaged all the more. However, this consequence of the law brings it no dishonor. We may abuse the law, but we cannot depreciate it. The law only proves that "the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse." Nonetheless, "the law of God is holy."
5. Second, the law is just. It returns to all people what is due them. God's law prescribes exactly what is right. It assigns precisely what should be done, said, or thought, with regard to us and our Creator and everyone he has created. In all respects, the law is suited to the nature of everything and everyone -- the entire universe. It is suited to all our circumstances and mutual relationships, whether they exist from creation or have a beginning in a subsequent time. The law is exactly fitting for everything, whether essential or incidental. It does not clash with anything in any way; it is never irrelevant in any respect. Even though the law and all its parts depend completely on God's will, we can accurately say that there is nothing in it that is arbitrary. Therefore, the supreme universal law in heaven and earth is the prayer: "Your will be done."
6. Some people may raise the following questions: "Is the will of God the basis of his law? Is his will the source of right and wrong? Is something right because God wills it, or does he will it because it is right?"
I fear that these famous questions are more curious than useful. Probably posing the question in this way does not reflect the proper reverence that created beings should show toward the Creator and Governor of all things. It is not fitting for us mortals to call for the supreme God to explain to us his will or his ways! Nevertheless, with awe and reverence, we may comment on the matter. And may the Lord pardon us if we speak incorrectly!
7. It appears that the entire problem arises from considering God's will as something separate from God himself. Keeping God and his will together resolves the matter. No one can doubt that God is the source of his own law. The will of God corresponds with who God is. God's law is what God wills concerning what he has created. Consequently, it is one and the same thing to say that the law is the will of God, and that God himself is the cause of the law.
8. If God's law -- the unchangeable rule of right and wrong -- depends on the nature and necessary relationships of things to each other, then it must depend on God or his will. (I did not say their eternal relationships, because the eternal relationships of things that exist in time constitute a veritable contradiction.) Again, if God's law depends on the nature and relationships of things, then because all things and their relationships are the work of God's hands, the law arises out of God's will: "For God created all things, and by his will they existed and were created."
9. At the same time, it may be granted that in every particular case God wills something because it is right. He wills it because it corresponds to the rightness of things in their relationships. For example, we are to honor our parents because it is entirely appropriate and fitting to the structure of things.
10. Therefore, God's law is right and just concerning all things. As well as being pure and just, the law is also good. That God's law is good, we can conclude from its source. What source is there for God's law other than his goodness? What else other than goodness alone prompted God to impart to the holy angels his law as a divine reflection of himself? To what other source can we attribute God's bestowing upon humankind this reflection of his own nature? What else other than compassionate love constrained God still again to reveal his will to fallen mortals -- either to Adam or any of his progeny, who like him "have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God"?
After human understanding became corrupted, was it not mere love that moved God to declare his law? God sent his prophets to disclose his law to blind and unthinking people. Doubtless, it was God's kindness that raised up Enoch and Noah to be preachers of righteousness and that caused Abraham (a friend of God), Isaac, and Jacob to bear witness to his truth. When "darkness covered the earth, and thick darkness the people," it was God's goodness alone that gave the written law to Moses and through him to the nation that God had chosen. Love prompted God to explain his living revelation through David and all the prophets that followed after him. At last, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his only-begotten Son. Jesus came "not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." Christ confirmed every stroke of the letter of the law. He writes God's law on the hearts of all his children, and "he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet." And "when all things are subjected to him," he will present his mediatorial kingdom to the Father so that "God may be all in all."
11. God, out of his goodness, originally gave the law and preserved it through all the ages. As the fountain from which the law springs, the law is full of goodness and generosity. It is compassionate and kind. The psalmist paid respect to God's law by saying it is "sweeter. . . than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb." God's law is attractive and agreeable. It includes "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable." It also pertains to whatever is excellent and worthy of praise before God and his holy angels. In God's law are hidden all the treasures of his wisdom, knowledge, and love.
12. If God's law is good in its nature, it follows that it is good in its consequences. As the tree is, so are its fruits. The fruit of God's law written in the heart is righteousness, peace, and trust forever. The law itself is righteousness, filling the soul with "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" and causing us to "rejoice always" in the testimony of a good conscience toward God.
God's law is not precisely a promise of things to come. It is a present installment of our purchased inheritance already begun within us. The law is God made manifest in our flesh, bringing with him eternal life and assuring us by that pure and perfect love that we are "marked with a seal for the day of redemption." " 'They shall be mine,' says the LORD of hosts, 'my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them.' " There remains for us "the crown of glory that never fades away."
IV. The Uses of the Law
1. Fourth and finally, we will examine the uses of the law. Without question, the first use of the law is to convince the world of sin. This responsibility is indeed the special work of the Holy Spirit. He can accomplish his work without any means at all or by whatever method he pleases to use. To produce his work, God may even use means that seem inadequate or even ill-suited.
Accordingly, either in sickness or in health, some people's hearts have been broken down without any visible cause or outward means. On rare occasions, others have been awakened to a sense of God's wrath by hearing the message that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself." However, the usual method of the Holy Spirit is to convict sinners through the law. Ordinarily, it is the law brought to bear on the conscience that "breaks a rock in pieces." The law is the part of God's word that is "living and active" and "sharper than any two-edged sword."
This word in God's hand and in the hands of those whom he has sent pierces through all the layers of a deceitful heart and "divides soul from spirit" and, as it were, "joints from marrow." In this way, sinners discover their true condition. All their fig leaves are ripped away, and they see that they are "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." The law brings flashes of lightning to convict throughout their souls. People feel themselves entirely sinful. They have nothing to pay. Their mouths are silenced, and they stand "accountable to God."
2. Thus, the first use of the law is to slay the sinner. The law destroys the life and power of those things in which sinners trust. The law convinces them that they are dead even while they live. We are not only under sentence of death, but actually dead to God and void of all spiritual life. As St. Paul stated, "We are dead through trespasses and sins."
The second use of the law is to bring sinners into life -- into Christ -- so that they can live. It is true that in convicting sinners and bringing them to Christ the Holy Spirit acts as a strict schoolmaster. It seems as though God's Spirit drives us by force rather than draws us by love. Yet love is the fountainhead of everything that God does. It is in the spirit of love that God uses painful means to separate us from our confidence in the flesh, thus leaving us no broken reed on which to lean. The law drives sinners, stripped of everything, to cry out in bitterness of soul, or groan from the depth of their hearts:
I give up every plea beside, "Lord, I am damn'd, -- but Thou hast died."
3. The third use of the law is to maintain our spiritual life. The law is the foremost means by which the blessed Spirit prepares the believer for larger measures of the life of God.
I am afraid that this great and important truth is little understood by the world and by many Christians. The latter are genuine children of God by faith, and God has taken them out of the world. Many of them believe that when we come to Christ, the law has no further significance for us. In one sense, "Christ is the end of the law. . . for everyone who believes." In the sense that we are not saved by the law, the law does indeed come to an end. For all who believe, Jesus Christ becomes their righteousness and justification. The law justifies no one; it only brings them to Christ. In another respect, Christ is the end, or goal, of the law, toward which it constantly aims. However, after the law has brought us to Christ, it has yet a further office -- to keep us in him. The more believers understand "the breadth and length and height and depth" of the law, the more the law constantly inspires them to encourage one another.
Closer and closer let us cleave To His beloved embrace; Expect His fulness to receive, And grace to answer grace.
4. Thus, every believer is free from the Jewish ceremonial law and the entire Mosaic dispensation. In this sense, Christ is "the end of the law." Yes, Christians are free from the moral law as a means of procuring their justification, because we "are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." In another sense, though, we are not free from the moral law. It still remains for us an indescribable benefit. First, the moral law works to convince us of the sin that remains in our hearts and lives, thereby keeping us close to Christ so that his blood can cleanse us every moment.
Second, from Christ our head we receive strength into ourselves as living members of his body. His strength empowers us to do what his law commands. Third, the moral law confirms our hope that whatever it requires, but which we have not yet attained, we can "receive grace upon grace" until we actually possess the fullness of his promises.
5. How certainly does this process agree with the experience of all true believers! They cry out, "Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long." Daily, in the divine mirror of the moral law, they understand more and more of their own sinfulness. They see ever more clearly that they are still sinners in everything and that neither their hearts nor ways are right before God. Moment by moment, this awareness drives them to Christ. These experiences reveal to them the meaning of what has been written: "You shall make a rosette of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, 'Holy to the LORD.'. . . It shall be on Aaron's forehead" (a type of Christ our High Priest), "and Aaron shall take on himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering that the Israelites consecrate as their sacred donations" (our prayers and religious activities cannot atone for our sins); "it shall always be on his forehead, in order that they may find favor before the LORD."
6. A single illustration will explain this point: The law says, "You shall not murder." Our Lord applied this commandment not only to outward acts but also to every unkind word or thought. The more I explore this perfect law, the more I sense how far I come short of it. And the more I feel my shortcomings, the more I feel my need of Christ's blood to atone for all my sin. All the more I feel my need of the Holy Spirit to purify my heart and make me "mature and complete, lacking in nothing."
7. Consequently, I cannot for one moment omit the law any more than I can omit Christ. I need the law to keep me in Christ as much as I ever needed the law to bring me to Christ. Otherwise, my "evil, unbelieving heart" would cause me to "turn away from the living God." Indeed, God and his law each send me to the other. The law sends me to Christ, and Christ sends me to the law. On the one hand, the height and depth of the law compel me to fly to the love of God in Christ. On the other hand, the love of God in Christ endears the law to me. God's commandments become for me "more than gold, more than fine gold," because I know that they are gracious promises that my Lord will fulfill in me in his time.
8. Who are you to "speak evil against the law and judge the law"? Who are you to compare the law with sin, Satan, and death, thereby assigning them all to hell? The apostle James considered "speaking evil against the law and judging it" as an enormous act of evil. He knew no better way to increase the guilt of judging our sisters and brothers than by explaining that it pertains to this truth. Concerning you who judge, James said, "You are not a doer of the law but a judge" -- a judge of what God has established to judge you! In doing so, you have put yourself in the judgment seat of Christ and spurned the standard by which he will judge the world! Become aware of the advantage Satan has gained over you! From now on, never think or speak disparagingly of the moral law, the blessed instrument of the grace of God. Much less should we ever dress the law in ridiculous garments so as to satirize it. Indeed, love and value the law, for the sake of him from whom the law came and to whom it leads. Next to the cross of Christ, let the moral law be your glory and joy. Give it due respect and declare its value to everyone.
9. Do not reject the moral law if you are completely convinced that it comes from God, that it is a copy of all his perfections, and that it "is holy and just and good" (especially for Christian believers). Rather, cling to it ever more strongly. Never let mercy and truth; love for God and others; and the virtues of humility, meekness, and purity forsake you. "Bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart." If you want to keep close to Christ, keep close to the law. Cling to it, and never let it go. Let it continually lead you to the atoning blood and confirm your hope, until "the just requirement of the law is fulfilled" in you and you are "filled with all the fullness of God."
10. If your Lord has already fulfilled his word by "writing it on your heart," then stand firm in the freedom that Christ has given you. You have been made free from Jewish ceremonies, from the guilt of sin, and from the fear of hell. These freedoms do not constitute the entirety of Christian liberty; they are the least of the liberties that Christ has given us.
Of infinitely greater importance is the freedom we have from the power of sin, serving the devil, and transgressing against God. O, stand firm in this liberty. By comparison, all your other freedoms are not even worthy to be mentioned. Remain steadfast in loving God with all your heart and serving him with all your strength. (His service leads to perfect freedom.) Being faithful means to "live blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord." "Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." I do not mean the bondage of the Jewish law or even slavery to the fear of hell. I trust that these enslavements are far from having any hold on you.
I am warning against becoming entangled again in the bondage of inward or outward sin. Hate sin far more than death or hell. Despise the act of sin far more than the punishment of sin. Beware of the bondage of pride, lust, anger, and every evil attitude, word, or deed: "Look to Jesus." In order to do so, increasingly "look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere in it." By using the law in this way, daily you will "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
Copyright © 2003 by Kenneth Cain Kinghorn