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Are New Testament Believers Under the Law? (Lesson 7.3)


The Marrow of Modern Divinity is considered to be one of the most important books ever written on the law and the gospel. Penned by Edward Fisher, a Scottish layman in the mid-1600's, it's written as a conversation between four main characters who each represent different kinds of people: Nomista is a legalist, Antinomista is an antinomian, Neophytus is a new Christian, and Evangelist is a minister of the gospel. The book begins with the new Christian, the legalist, and the antinomian, all coming to the minister for help relating to a particular question. And the question is this: Are believers under the Law, or not? Are believers bound to keep the Law, or are they no longer under its authority? As you might guess, the legalist claimed that believers were bound to keep the Law, the antinomian claimed that believers were free from having to keep the Law, and the young Christian was troubled and confused.

Now, we talked earlier about the three categories of the Mosaic Law: the Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil; and we showed there that the Ceremonial and Civil Laws were given to a particular people (the Jews) for a particular time (until the coming of Christ), and thus served only a temporary purpose. We concluded that new covenant Christians are no longer under the Ceremonial and Civil Laws in the same way that God's people were in the old covenant. But the question that was being asked in The Marrow didn't have to do with the Ceremonial or Civil Laws—it had to do with the Moral Law. Has the Moral Law been abrogated for Christians along with the Ceremonial and Civil laws? Are new covenant believers under any of the Law, or have we been released from all of it? Are Christians under the Ten Commandments?

Most of us would shutter to hear someone say that the Ten Commandments were just for Old Testament believers and we don't need to keep them anymore. Not only did Jesus himself tell us plainly: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law” (Matthew 5:17), but His entire ministry is characterized by opening up the true meaning of the Law and then calling His disciples to radical obedience in doing what it says. For instance, in Matthew 5-7, Christ didn't do away with the 6th and 7th Commandments (to not murder or commit adultery) by telling His followers that if they believed in Him they no longer needed to keep these commands. He rather expounded what these commands truly meant and then called His disciples to live and walk accordingly. In another place, Jesus criticizes the scribes and Pharisees for creating man-made rules that in effect nullified the 5th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.” He tells them: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8). Jesus' problem with the scribes and Pharisees, in other words, wasn't that they were too zealous for the Law, but that they didn't actually follow what the Law said at all. And in Matthew 23:23, Jesus says: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Again, Jesus isn't condemning them because they made the Law too central—but because they had neglected the most central teachings of the Law. And when Jesus is asked what commandment is the foremost of all, He not only quotes two passages from the Law, but in doing so gives a wonderful summary of the Law, when He answers that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (a summary of Commandments 1-4), and our neighbor as ourself (a summary of Commandments 5-10). And so, when Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law”, it must be that He tells them this because He knew that some of them would begin to think that He came to do exactly that—but they would be wrong.1

But if all this is true, what do we make of other passages that seem to tell us we're no longer under the Law? Paul says in Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” He writes a little later in Romans 7:4 that we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ” and that “we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound” (v6). And Paul testifies of himself in Galatians 2:19 when he writes: “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.” Again, it would resolve a lot of difficulty to just say that Paul is speaking here of the Ceremonial and Civil Laws of the Mosaic Covenant, and that believers in the new covenant are no longer under those laws in the same way that Old Testament believers were. But it's clear from the context of these passages that Paul is here speaking of something more; he's talking about the Law in a much more general sense. In these Scriptures, Paul isn't speaking about the Ceremonial or Civil Laws but the Moral Law. What do we make of this? What does Paul mean when he tells us that believers are no longer under the Law? Are Christians no longer bound to keep the Law after all?

1. CLARIFYING THE MEANING: In The Marrow, the way in which the minister begins to answer the question is by asking a question of his own. When Nomista, Antinomista, and Neophytus come to ask him whether or not believers were bound to keep the Law, the minister responds by asking: “What law do you mean?”2 Being baffled by his question, the minister began to explain how the same Moral Law—the Ten Commandments—is actually used in Scripture in three different ways. The minister then went on to distinguish between what he called the Law of Works and the Law of Christ, and later returned to refer to a third category called the Law of Nature.3 Another writer summarized these three categories when he wrote: “The law of God. . .is to be considered in a threefold point of view: first, as written on the heart of man in his creation; secondly, as given under the form of a covenant of works to him; and lastly, as a rule of life, in the hand of Christ the Mediator, to all true believers.”4

2. SURVEYING THE SCRIPTURE: It might be helpful to give an illustration here, even if it seems simplistic. We might think of the Moral Law—the will of God for man as revealed especially in the Ten Commandments—as the chemical compound H2O. This compound, H2O, is the chemical formula for water. But it's also the chemical formula for ice and vapor. That's because the exact same chemical formula, H2O, can actually take on three different forms: in its solid form, H2O is ice; but in its liquid form, H2O is water; and in its gas form, H2O is vapor. It's the same chemical formula, but it can take on three different forms. Someone might ask: Can you walk on H2O? But to answer the question, you have to ask: What form of H2O are you speaking of? Because you can't walk on it in its water or vapor forms—but you can when it's ice. Well, we can think of the Moral Law in a similar way. Just like with H2O, the Moral Law—though always itself unchanging—is actually revealed in Scripture in three different forms: As 1) the Law of Nature, 2) the Law of Works, and 3) the Law of Christ. And so, in order to answer the question: “Are believers under the Law?”, the first thing we have to do is ask, “What law do you mean?”

A) The Law of Nature: In the context of speaking about the Law, Paul makes this statement in his letter to the Romans: “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts. . .” (2:14-15). Scripture here teaches that the same Law that God wrote on tablets at Sinai has also been written, in a certain measure, on the hearts of every man. And we can trace it all the way back to creation.5 As the Westminster Confession states: “After God had made all other creatures, He created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, endued with knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness, after His own image, having the law of God written in their hearts. . .”6 In other words, Adam was created with the Moral Law—essentially, the Ten Commandments—written on his heart. And this form of the Moral Law, which God wrote on the heart of man at creation, is normally called the Law of Nature.7 In turn, man was called upon to keep this Law—to love the Lord his God with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength—from the very beginning. But the point of most significance here, is that when the Moral Law was first given to Adam at creation, there were no threats of death for disobedience, nor promises of life for obedience. The content of the Moral Law was the same. But it was originally given entirely free of eternal reward or punishment. It was not: “Do and live”; nor: “Do or die”; but simply, “Do.” Simply: “Obey Me; serve Me; love Me, Adam, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”8

B) The Law of Works: That all changed in Genesis 2:16-17. It's in these verses that the Lord forbids Adam from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and telling him, “for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” Now, there are several things that are absolutely vital for us to understand about these words to Adam. The first thing we need to see is that the command which the Lord gives Adam here in Genesis 2:16-17 is something both subsequent to and distinct from creation. Again, as the Westminster Confession states: “After God had made all other creatures, He created man. . .having the law of God written in their hearts. . .Beside this law written in their hearts, they received a command, not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”9 At creation, God had endowed Adam with the Law of Nature. Later, as something separate and distinct, the Lord also gave him this specific command.

The next thing that's important for us to understand about Genesis 2:16-17 is that this was so much more than simply a command. It was a covenant. Prior to this, God had created Adam—but here, with these words, the Lord enters into a covenant with him. This is what the Westminster Confession is speaking of when, referring to Genesis 2:16-17, it states: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.”10 To summarize then: God had, in the very beginning, at creation, engraved the Moral Law on Adam's heart. Later, here in Genesis 2:16-17, the Lord entered into the Covenant of Works with Adam.

Now, the last thing that we need to see helps us to connect it all together: The content of the Covenant of Works, which God gave to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17, was the Moral Law. Or to put it another way, in Genesis 2:16-17, the Moral Law took on the form of the Covenant of Works.11 Consider the words of the Westminster Confession once more: “God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity, to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience, promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables. . .” The Confession is telling us that the very Law that God gave to Adam as a Covenant of Works is the same Law that was written on two tablets at Mount Sinai. In other words, it was actually the Ten Commandments, the Moral Law, that was being given to Adam as the Covenant of Works in Genesis 2:16-17. How could this be? Because all the commandments were rolled together into one in that single command.12 Earlier, the Confession had told us that the Moral Law was originally written on man's heart at creation. Here it's telling us that this same Moral Law—which was originally given at creation—took on the form of the Covenant of Works in Genesis 2:16-17. At the beginning, the Moral Law was given to Adam as the Law of Nature. But that same Moral Law, originally given to Adam at creation, here in Genesis 2:16-17 took on the form of the Covenant of Works. At Genesis 2:16-17, the command to “Do” took on the form of, “Do and live.”13

So then, in Genesis 2:16-17, the Moral Law took on covenant form. And the Law of Nature became the Law of Works. Adam was still called to love the Lord his God with all his heart, mind, soul and strength; that didn't change (for this love would be proven in and through his obedience to that single command). The difference was that beginning with Genesis 2:16-17, there was now a promise of eternal life added to the command should Adam obey, as well as a threatening of eternal death should he disobey. With this annexing of life and death to the command, the Law of Nature was turned into the Law of Works.

Now, we should note here that the Moral Law is often presented in Scripture in this form.14 Whenever the Moral Law is set forth as promising life in case of obedience, or on the contrary, threatening death for disobedience, it is being presented in its covenant form—as the Law of Works. And the Law in this form, as the Law of Works, is also identical to what we referred to earlier as the Law “strictly taken.”15 It's this form of the Law that is spoken of in Scriptures such as Galatians 3:10-12 and Romans 10:5-6, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10), and, “He who practices them shall live [IE, be justified] by them.” (Galatians 3:12; Romans 10:5).

C) The Law of Christ: The last way in which the Moral Law is given in Scripture is in the form of what has been called the Law of Christ. Now, we need to begin here by remembering what we saw earlier in our study: far from abolishing the Moral Law, Christ rather opened up to His disciples its true meaning, and called them to radical obedience in living out what it said. So again, Jesus never abolished the Moral Law for New Testament believers. In fact, the Moral Law is put forth as God's will for His new covenant people—not only in the gospels—but throughout Scripture. The Lord had prophesied through Jeremiah about the days of the new covenant church, saying: “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it. . .” (31:33). Here, the Lord is neither saying that He would give His people a new Law, nor that He would abolish the old one, but rather that He would take that same Law He had written on stone tablets—the Moral Law—and write it on the hearts of His people.16 And if we turn to the New Testament epistles, we can find exhortations addressed to God's new covenant people that bring us back to each of the Ten Commandments.17 All this is summarized, once again, by the Westminster Confession when it states: “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it. Neither doth Christ, in the Gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.”18 So then, the Moral Law continues to be the rule of life for God's new covenant people.

But though the same Moral Law is expressed in the Law of Christ that is expressed in the Law of Works, still, there is a vital difference between the two: the content of the Law of Christ is still the Moral Law, but now in Christ, it's no longer given to God's people in its covenant form. In the fullness of time, God sent His Son into the world, as the second Adam. In becoming a curse for us, Christ redeemed us from the curse pronounced in the Law of Works; and in obeying the Law perfectly for us, He merited the blessing promised in the Law of Works. And as a result, all who believe in Jesus, “are, through his obedience and satisfaction imputed to them, freed from eternal death, and become heirs of everlasting life; so that the law of works being fully satisfied, expires as to them, as it would have done. . .in the case of Adam's having stood the time of his trial. . .”19 In other words, because of the work of Christ the second Adam, believers now “are in the very same state. . .in which they [would] have been, had the first Adam fulfilled for himself and his posterity, the condition of life in the covenant of works.”20 Precious truths indeed.

The Law of Works, then, being fulfilled by Christ, expires to us. This doesn't mean that believers are no longer bound to the Moral Law; but it does mean that believers are no longer bound to the Moral Law in its covenant form—as the Law of Works. God's Law is, “from the moment the law of works expires as to believers, issued forth to them. . .in the channel of the covenant of grace. . .”21 What this means is that the Moral Law no longer comes to us from an exacting God as to those outside Christ—but rather from an appeased God who has been reconciled to us in Christ.22 Under the Law of Christ, believers are still bound to keep the Moral Law—only now, not as a law of works, but rather as a rule of life.23 We are still commanded to “Do”, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But the command is no longer, “Do and live”, but rather, “Live and do.” There's no more threatening of eternal death for disobedience or promise of life for obedience, for in Christ, we've already passed out of death and into life. We're still called to keep God's Law, only not in order to obtain life and salvation, but as those who have already obtained it in Christ. So, we still obey; but we obey from life rather than for life. In a sense, it's as if believers in Jesus return to that state of Adam in the garden under the Law of Nature, before it had taken on the form of the Law of Works. The difference is that under the Law of Christ, we have even greater reason to keep God's commands: whereas Adam's motive for obedience was to serve the God who had created him; the believer makes it his aim to serve the God who has redeemed him.24

3. RESOLVING THE QUESTION: We began this section by asking whether or not believers are still under the Law. After surveying the three distinct ways that Scripture speaks of the Moral Law, we're finally ready to give an answer. And we can do so by returning again to our beloved book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, for our response is the same as the one that the minister gave to his friends Nomista Antinomista. When they came to him asking whether or not believers were under the Law, he had asked them in return: “What law do you mean?” In effect he was asking them: “under the Law in what sense?” Well, Nomista claimed that believers were under the Law, but that the Law they were under was the Law of Works. Antinomista, on the other hand, claimed that believers were by no means under the Law, but the Law from which they had been set free was the Law of Christ. As it turned out, the minister indeed had to correct both of them.25 He explained and showed them from Scripture three truths: 1) Believers are most certainly not under the Law of Works as a covenant. Nomista had said that they were, and he was wrong. But also: 2) Believers most certainly are under the Law of Christ as a rule. Antinomista had claimed that they were not, and he was also wrong. The truth is: 3) Though believers have been set free from the Law of Works as a covenant, still they continue to be bound to the Law of Christ as a rule.26

And this is exactly what Scripture is telling us in those passages we quoted at the beginning of this section. When Paul writes to believers in Romans 6:14, telling them, “you are not under law but under grace”, this is exactly what he's speaking of. Paul isn't saying that the believers in Rome don't need to keep God's commandments any more. He's not talking about the Moral Law in general, but the Moral Law as it is expressed in the form of the Law of Works.27 And it's the same thing in Romans 7:4-6, where Paul tells us that we “were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ” (v4), and again, that “we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound” (v6). Paul isn't saying that believers have died to the authority of the Law and are now released from any obligation to keep it. He's speaking of the Law in a specific sense—as the Law of Works. He draws a parallel with marriage, telling us that the Law of Works was our first husband, to whom we were bound by covenant. This Law promised life if we obeyed its precepts perfectly, and pronounced damnation on us for the least failing. But now, because of what Christ has done for us as the second Adam, we have been released from this Law. Just as when one spouse dies, the other is released from the marriage covenant—so too, through Christ—we have also been released from the Law in its covenant form, as the Law of Works. It can no longer make any claim on us.28 It's the same truth in Galatians 2:19, where Paul writes: “For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God.” Again, Paul isn't saying that he's not obligated to keep God's Law anymore as a Christian. It's not the Moral Law itself that he's died to—but the Moral Law in the form of a covenant; the Law of Works.29 And notice the connection: It was his dying to the Law of Works that enabled him to begin living to God. It was dying to the Law as a covenant that set him free to truly live to it as a rule.30

It's clear from these Scriptures that, as believers in Christ, we have died to the Law in its covenant form, as it is the Law of Works. But as we've seen from other Scriptures, the Moral Law is still to be our rule for life as Christian pilgrims passing through this world. These two truths are expressed beautifully in comparing together two Scriptures in particular. We've already looked at Romans 6:14, where Paul tells us that we “are not under law. . .” Now, if we turn to 1 Corinthians 9:21, we find Paul describing his evangelistic ministry to the Gentiles in this way: “to those who are without law, [I became] as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ. . .” Between these two verses, Paul expresses three truths about the relationship of the believer to the Law. They are the same three truths we noted above: 1) Believers are not “under [the] Law” (Romans 6:14); that is, they are not under the Law as it is the Law of Works. This corrects the error of legalism. At the same time: 2) Believers are also not “without the Law of God” (1 Corinthians 9:21a); that is, they are still under the binding authority of God's Law in a very real and important sense. This corrects the error of Antinomianism. In what sense are they still under the Law? 3) Believers are “under the Law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21b). Not under the Law of Works, nor free to live however they please, but under the Law of Christ.31

Returning one last time to the Westminster Confession, we have a beautiful summary of everything we've been affirming in this clause: “Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin, together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of His obedience.”32 This statement not only confirms what we've been learning about the relationship of believers to the Law, but it also gives us extremely practical counsel for how to read such passages in Scripture. When the precepts of Scripture call us to obey the Lord with all our hearts, the first thing we remember is that this commandment comes to us not in the form of the Law of Works, but as the Law of Christ. We seek to obey the command, but we do it from life rather than for life, knowing that Christ, through His sufferings and perfect obedience, has redeemed us from the curses of the Law and merited for us its blessings. This, in turn, gives us the freedom to be completely honest before the Lord about the ways we've failed to live up to His command as a rule of life; and brings us to renewed praise and thanksgiving for Jesus' finished work on our behalf.

I'm so thankful for all the things that the Lord has taught me personally through this study. My prayer is that He would use it in powerful ways to continue strengthening His people and extending His kingdom throughout the world and among all the nations. I hope you have been encouraged. Our God is a holy God, as He has revealed in His Law. But His heart also bursts with mercies towards His people. For He did not simply give us a Law from heaven; but when that Law was shattered, He gave us His Son. And He did it all for this singular purpose: “to grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.” (Luke 1:74-75).

1 Calvin makes this observation in his Institutes: “[The Lord] would not have refuted the notion that he would abolish the law (Matthew 5:17) if this opinion had not been prevalent among the Jews. But since without some pretext the idea could not have arisen by chance, it may be supposed to have arisen from a false interpretation of his teaching, just as almost all errors have commonly taken their occasion from truth.” (2.7.14). This error of saying that the Law on the whole has been abrogated for Christians (not just the Ceremonial or Civil aspects) is called Antinomianism. Calvin describes it in this way: “Certain ignorant persons, not understanding this distinction, rashly cast out the whole of Moses, and bid farewell to the two Tables of the Law. . .Banish this wicked thought from our minds!” (Institutes, 2.7.13). And again: “many persons, wishing to express such liberation from that curse [of the Law], say that for believers the law—I am still speaking of the moral law—has been abrogated.” (2.7.14). As an example of this teaching, Kevan cites John Eaten, who makes the statement: “The Law. . .terrifies the conscience. . .therefore let us not suffer the Law in any case to bear rule in our conscience. . .let the godly learn therefore, that the Law and Christ are two contrary things. . .when Christ is present, the Law may in no case rule, but must depart out of the conscience.” (quoted in Kevan, p147). Tobias Crisp was likewise said to hold that “a believer has no more to do with the Law of Moses than an Englishman has with the 'Laws of Turkey.'” (Kevan, p147). And Robert Towne contended that “if believers are not under the Law in its damnatory aspect, they cannot be under it in the mandatory.” (Kevan, p148).

2 The Marrow, p22.

3 Boston in his footnotes afterwards alludes much to the Law of Nature (cf. p26, etc); Fisher alludes to it a little later, calling it by its other name, the “law of creation” (pp30-31). Fisher in The Marrow has the minister initially describe three laws which he calls “the law of works, the law of faith, and the law of Christ” (p22). Going on to describe them, Boston notes: “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 Savior, binding his saved people to all the duties of obedience, Gal. 3:12; Acts 16:31.” (p23). This is also a wonderful way of thinking about it. For our purposes though, only the “law of works” and the “law of Christ” relate to our discussion regarding the authority of the Moral Law. And since both Fisher and Boston speak later in The Marrow (see pp26,31,108-109) of the Law of Nature, recognizing it to be rightly included as a third aspect of the Moral Law as well as the Law of Works and the Law of Christ, we've tried our best to shorten and summarize what's most important for our discussion.

4 Colquhoun, p7.

5 Haldane notes on Romans 2:15: “This is an allusion to the law written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, and afterwards recorded in the Scriptures. The great principles of this law were communicated to man in his creation, and much of it remains with him in his fallen state.” (p91). And Murray also says of Romans 2:15: “The Law referred to is definite and can be none other than the law of God specified in the preceding verses as the law which the Gentiles in view did not have, the law the Jews did have and under which they were, the law by which men will be condemned in the day of judgment. It is not therefore a different law that confronts the Gentiles who are without the law but the same law brought to bear upon them by a different method of revelation.” (p74). Roberts says that the Moral Law proclaimed at Sinai is “conform and answerable to the Law of Nature written in Adam's heart at his creation.” (p663). And again: “for Sum and Substance the Moral Law and the Law of Nature are the same” (Roberts, p686). Fisher likewise affirms: “the Ten Commandments [were] the substance of the law of nature engraved in the heart of man in innocency. . .” (p176). And Boston says: “the Ten Commandments were. . .in their perfection engraved on the heart of man, in his creation” (in his notes in The Marrow, p177). Kevan likewise notes: “It was commonly held among the Puritans that the Law enshrined in the Mosaic Covenant was identical with the Law of Nature. . .John Flavel takes it as generally understood that 'the very matter of the Law of Nature' is found in the Ten Commandments, and Richard Baxter likewise teaches that the Mosaic Law contains the 'preceptive and directive part of the Law of Nature.'” (pp117-18). If this is so, why was there any need to declare this same Law again at Sinai? “The answer to this is found in the Puritan belief that the Law of Nature was so 'expunged' that the special revelation of the Moral Law became necessary in order to renew fallen man in the knowledge of it. Men of all points of view concurred in this opinion.” (Kevan, p118). As Roberts also explains: “The fall of Adam and of all mankind in him did miserably deface and obliterate the Law of Nature. . .Sin disrobed man of God's image, dimmed the light, and defaced the Law of Nature so extremely in him, that very few and small sparks thereof remained. . .God therefore published his Moral Law, which for Sum and Substance is the same with the Law of Nature, that the expunged Law of Nature might be perfectly restored. . .” (p714). See also Calvin, 2.8.1-2. We might also give the same answer to the question: If this is so, why then does the Moral Law of the Ten Commandments seem to require more than we inherently know by nature? Do we know by nature we ought to keep the Sabbath? And does not Paul tell us he would not have known coveting (the 10th Commandment) was a sin if he had not read in the Law, “You shall not covet” (Romans 7:7)? It seems that the answer here is the same: What the Fall had defaced, Sinai again has renewed.

6 WCF 4.2. Burgess distinguishes this from regeneration in this way: “There is. . .a two-fold writing in the hearts of men; the first, of knowledge and judgement, whereby they apprehend what is good and bad; the second is in the will and affections, by giving a propensity and delight, with some measure of strength, to do this upon good grounds. This later is spoken of by the Prophet in the Covenant of Grace, and the former is to be understood here [IE, of the Law of Nature].” (Burgess, p60).

7 It's referred to by other names as well, which Colquhoun explains beautifully: “The law, as written on the heart of the first man, is often styled the law of creation; because it was the will of the sovereign Creator, revealed to the reasonable creature; by impressing or engraving it, on his mind and heart. To this law, so inlaid in the mind and heart in creation, as to the natural instinct, and moral rectitude, of the rational creature, every person, as a reasonable creature, is indispensably bound. It obliges to perfect and perpetual obedience. . .The same law, is also denominated the law of nature; because it was founded in the holy and righteous nature of God, and was interwoven with the nature of the first man. . .It is sometimes called the moral law; and it is so called, because it was a revelation of the will of God as his moral Governor, to the first man, and was the standard and rule of all the man's moral qualities and actions. . .and because, it is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments, which are usually styled the moral law. The ten commandments, are the sum and substance of it.” (Colquhoun, pp9-11).

8 As Colquhoun notes: “The law of God is to be taken, either materially, as merely directing and obliging the rational creature to perfect obedience; or formally, as having received the form of a covenant of works. Now it is the law, not formally, but materially considered, that was inscribed on the heart of man in his creation. Man, therefore, as the creature of God, would have been obliged to perform perfect obedience to the law, in this view of it, though a covenant of works had never been made with him. This law, and sufficient power to obey it, were included in the image of God, according to which he created man.” (pp7-8). Explaining the reason for this, Colquhoun later writes: “The obligation of the natural law upon mankind. . .as resulting from the nature of God, and from the relations between God and man, is such, that even God himself cannot dispense with it. It cannot cease to bind, so long as God continues to be God, and man to be man. . .Since the authority of that law is Divine, the obligation flowing from it, is eternal and immutable. It must continue forever, without the smallest diminution; and that, upon all men, whether saints or sinners; at all times from the moment of man's creation: before the covenant of works, under the covenant of works, under the covenant of grace, and even through all eternity.” (p11).

9 WCF 4.2.

10 WCF 19.1.

11 As Boston explains in his notes in The Marrow, “The law of the ten commandments, being the natural law, was written on Adam's heart on his creation; while as yet it was neither the law of works, nor the law of Christ, in the sense wherein these terms are used in Scripture, and by our author. But after man was created, and put into the garden, this natural law, having made man liable to fall away from God, a threatening of eternal death in case of disobedience, had also a promise of eternal life annexed to it in case of obedience; in virtue of which he, having done his work, might thereupon plead and demand the reward of eternal life. Thus it became the law of works, whereof the ten commandments were, and are still the matter.” (p26). And again, “the promise of life, and threatening of death, superadded to the law of the Creator, made it a covenant of works to our first parents. . .the law of nature was turned into a covenant by the addition of a promise of life and threatening of death. Of the same mind is Burgess and the London ministers. . .” (p350). Shaw says of WCF 19:1 in his commentary on the Westminster Confession, “The law, as thus inscribed on the heart of the first man, is often styled the law of creation, because it was the will of the sovereign Creator, revealed to the reasonable creature, by impressing it upon his mind and heart at his creation. It is also called the moral law, because it was a revelation of the will of God, as his moral governor, and was the standard and rule of man's moral actions. Adam was originally placed under this law in its natural form, as merely directing and obliging him to perfect obedience. He was brought under it in a covenant form, when an express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, was annexed to it. . .The law, as invested with a covenant form, is called, by the Apostle Paul, 'The law of works' (Rom.3:27); that is, the law as a covenant of works. In this form, the law is to be viewed as not only prescribing duty, but as promising life as the reward of obedience, and denouncing death as the punishment of transgression.”

12 In The Marrow, Fisher explains this in a way that's both clear and helpful: “Nomista: But sir. . .it seems to me, you hold that the Law of the Ten Commandments was the matter of the Covenant of Works, which God made with all mankind in Adam before his fall. Evangelist: That is a truth agreed upon by all authors and interpreters that I know. . .Nomista: But sir, how could the law of the Ten Commandments be the matter of this Covenant of Works, when they were not written, as you know, till the time of Moses? Evangelist: Though they were not written in tables of stone until the time of Moses, yet were they written in the tables of man's heart in the time of Adam. . .And indeed, in that one commandment [IE, Genesis 2:16-17] the whole worship of God did consist. . .so that, as a learned writer says, Adam heard as much (of the law) in the garden, as Israel did at Sinai; but only in fewer words, and without thunder. . .Nomista: Did he break all the Ten Commandments, say you? Sir, I beseech you show me wherein. Evangelist: 1) He chose himself another God when he followed the devil. 2) He idolized and deified his own belly; as the apostle's phrase is, 'He made his belly his God.' 3) He took the name of God in vain, when he believed him not. 4) He kept not the rest and estate wherein God had set him. 5) He dishonored his Father who was in heaven; and therefore his days were not prolonged in that land which the Lord his God had given him. 6) He massacred himself and all his posterity. 7) From Eve he was a virgin, but in eyes and mind he committed spiritual fornication. 8) He stole, like Achan, that which God had set aside not to be meddled with; and this his stealth is that which troubles all Israel—the whole world. 9) He bare witness against God, when he believed the witness of the devil before Him. 10) He coveted an evil covetousness, like Amnon, which cost him his life, and all his progeny.” (The Marrow, pp28, 30-31, 35-36).

13 Colquhoun helps to summarize: “The law of creation, or of the Ten Commandments, was, in the form of a covenant of works, given to the first Adam, after he had been put into the garden of Eden; and it was given him, as the first parent, and the federal representative, of all his posterity by ordinary generation. An express threatening of death, and a gracious promise of life, annexed to the law of creation, made it to Adam, a covenant of works. . .As formed into a covenant of works, it is called by the apostle Paul, 'the law of works' (Romans 3:27), that is, the law as a covenant of works. It requires works or perfect obedience, on pain of death, spiritual, temporal, and eternal; and it promises to the man who performs perfect and personal obedience, life, spiritual, temporal, and eternal. The law of creation, requires man to perform perfect obedience, and says 'Do', but the law as a covenant of works, requires him to 'Do and live'; to do, as the condition of life; to do, in order to acquire by his obedience, a title to life eternal. The command, to perform perfect obedience merely, is not the covenant of works; for man was, and is, immutably and eternally bound to yield perfect obedience to the law of creation, though a covenant of works had never been made with him; but the form of the command, in the covenant of works, is, perfect obedience as the condition of life. The law in this form, comprised, not only all the commandments peculiar to it as the law of nature; but also a positive precept, which depended entirely on the will of God [Genesis 2:16-17]. This positive precept [Genesis 2:16-17] was, in effect, a summary of all the commands of the natural or moral law; obedience to it, included obedience to them all, and disobedience to it, was a transgression of them all at once. The covenant of works, accordingly, could not have been broken otherwise, than by transgressing that positive precept. . .The natural law, given in the form of a covenant of works, to Adam and all his natural descendants, required them to believe whatever the Lord should reveal or promise, and to do whatever he should command. All Divine precepts, therefore, are virtually and really comprehended in it.” (pp15-17). And again: “Seeing the natural law was promulgated to Adam, who though a holy, was yet a mutable creature, liable to fall away from God; not only was a promise of eternal life, in case of obedience, but a threatening of eternal death, in case of disobedience, superadded to it. Thus, it was turned into a covenant or law of works, of which, the law of the Ten Commandments was, and is still, the matter. Accordingly, in its covenant form, it not only says to every man who is under it, 'Do and live,' but, 'Do or die'. . .This law of works has a twofold power; a power to justify persons, if they yield perfect obedience, and a power to condemn them, if in the smallest instance they disobey. . .It is evident, then, that the promise of life in case of obedience, and the denunciation of death in the event of disobedience, annexed to the law of creation, made it to Adam, a covenant of works. . .” (pp26-28). Roberts also connects the Law of Nature with the Law of Works in a profound way when he writes: “According to the general Sum and Substance of the Moral Law, it seems to be the same with the Law of Nature written in Adam's heart in innocency. For. . .The same Law for Substance which the first Adam broke, to the ruin of all his natural posterity; did Christ the last Adam perfectly keep and fulfill, enduring the curse and penalty thereof, to the recovery of his elected supernatural posterity. Otherwise the remedy had not been full, proper, and pertinent to the malady. But the first Adam broke the Law of Nature, in violating that positive Law about the forbidden fruit; and Christ the last Adam kept the charge, and endured the curse of the Moral Law, death. Therefore the Moral Law, and the Law of Nature were the same, for Sum and Substance.” (pp686-87).

14 As Colquhoun says, “the moral law, in the revelation which is given of it in Scripture, is almost constantly set forth to us, in its covenant form, as proposed to the first Adam.” (p31). We see it in this form both in the Old and New Testaments.

15 See the second Objection: How do you explain what Scripture says about the Requirement of the Mosaic Covenant?

16 “The Law which God promises here to write in their hearts [Jeremiah 31:33], is God's Moral Law formerly written upon tables of stone. . .So that Jesus Christ, and the Moral Law are not (as some weakly imagine), inconsistent, incompatible and irreconcilable; but most consistent, suitable and sweetly agreeable one to another. . .Had God intended by His New Covenant to have abolished His Moral Law, He would not have new written it, but utterly have expunged it. But in that God undertakes to write His Laws again, and to write them more durably and indelibly than they were written before, not in the long-lasting tables of stone, but in the everlasting tables of mind and heart; hereby He eminently confirms and establishes the Moral Law, as that which shall never be reversed or repealed till the end of this world. . .” (Roberts, pp1392-93).

17 For example: 1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world”, which hearkens back to the 1st Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” And 1 John 5:21 says, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols”, recalling the 2nd Commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol. . .” When James tells us: “prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (1:22), he's calling us back to the 3rd Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. . .” When the author of Hebrews exhorts us to not forsake assembling together (10:25), he's hearkening back to the 4th Commandment, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” In Ephesians 6:1-2, Paul writes: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord”, bringing us back to the 5th Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother. . .” 1 John 3:15 says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him”; hearkening back to the 6th Commandment. The author of Hebrews tells us that, “the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge”, bringing us back to the 7th Commandment. Paul says in Ephesians 4:28, “He who steals must steal no longer”, binding us to the 8th Commandment. Paul says in Colossians 3:9, “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices”, recalling the 9th Commandment. And in 1 Peter 2:1-2, we're exhorted to put away envy, hearkening back to the 10th Commandment. (See The Marrow, pp179-80). These are just a few examples, but they show well how the New Testament epistles uphold the Moral Law for new covenant believers.

18 WCF 19.5.

19 Boston's notes in Fisher's, The Marrow, p26.

20 Colquhoun's entire passage is well worth quoting at length: “since Christ the second Adam performed perfectly all that, according to the covenant of works, was to have been done by man himself, to entitle him to life, and that, seeing all that he did and suffered, is imputed to sinners who believe, believers therefore are justified in the sight of God. They are in the very same state, with respect to righteousness entitling them to life, in which they should have been, had the first Adam fulfilled for himself and his posterity, the condition of life in the covenant of works. Accordingly we read that, 'the just by faith,' are entitled to the same life, to which, man, by his fulfillment of that condition, would have been entitled (Hab.2:4; Rom.10:5). If Adam had continued to yield perfect obedience, until the time appointed for his trial had elapsed, he as the representative of his descendants, would have entered upon a state of confirmation in holiness and happiness, or in the begun possession of eternal life; and the covenant of works, as a contract fulfilled on his part, would henceforth have continued to be an everlasting security to him, for his own, and his posterity's enjoyment of the eternal life promised him for himself and them. But, in his state of confirmation, the law as a covenant, could not have continued to be the rule of his obedience; because to subject him still to the law in its federal form, as the rule of his duty, would have been, to reduce him again to a state of trial, and to require him to work over again, for that life to which he was already entitled, by his having performed the condition of the covenant. At the same time, as man could, in no state whatever, be released from his obligation to obey his Creator, he must have had a rule of obedience. And, as the law as a covenant could not, for the reason now mentioned, have been a rule to him; it follows that, in his state of confirmation, the law of nature, divested of its covenant form, or of its promise of life and threatening of death, would have been the immutable rule of his obedience, both in time and in eternity. As the first Adam, then, upon his having fulfilled the condition of the covenant of works, for himself and his posterity, would have been released from the obligation of the law in that form; so they, to whom, the righteousness of the second Adam, is imputed for the justification of life, are delivered from the law in its federal form, and, at the same time, they continue under it as the law of Christ, and as divested of that form.” (Colquhoun, pp218-219; cf. Boston's notes in The Marrow, pp108-09, which are nearly identical).

21 Boston's notes in The Marrow, p26. Fisher notes: “The law of Christ, in regard of substance and matter, is all one with the law of works, or covenant of works. Which matter is scattered through the whole Bible, and summed up in the decalogue, or Ten Commandments, commonly called the Moral Law. . .And therefore was it given of God to be a true and eternal rule of righteousness, for all men, of all nations, and at all times. So that evangelical grace directs a man to no other obedience than that whereof the law of the Ten Commandments is to be the rule.” (p172). Thus Fisher shows that the substance of the two is the same. But as Boston helps to clarify: “By the law of works is meant the law of the ten commandments, as the covenant of works. . .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. . .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. . .but vested with different forms. . .The distinction between the law of works and the law of Christ. . .is the same in effect with that of the law, as a covenant of works, and as a rule of life to believers. . .What this distinction amounts to is, that thereby a difference is constituted betwixt the ten commandments as coming from an absolute God out of Christ unto sinners, and the same ten commandments as coming from God in Christ unto them.” (pp22-25).

22 As Colquhoun explains it: “Considered as the law of Christ's justified, sanctified, and peculiar people, it is not the law of an absolute God, or of God out of Christ, but the law of God in Christ.” (p36). More on this also in the footnote below.

23 Burgess says: “The Law may be considered as it is a Covenant, or as it is an absolute Rule, requiring conformity unto it. Now it may be truly granted, that the Law is abolished in the former notion, though not in the later. . .” (p213). Colquhoun also: “No sooner does the law as a covenant, urge men to Christ, for deliverance from the dominion of it in that form; than Christ leads them back to the law as a rule, for the regulation of their heart and conduct; in order that they may express their gratitude to him, for his perfect obedience to it as a covenant, in their stead, by their sincere obedience to it as a rule.” (pp146-47). And again: “The command of the law as a rule, is materially the same, as that of the law as a covenant. . .And as the command is materially the same, so the authority which enjoins obedience, is originally the same, and yet vastly distinct; for the commandment of the law as a covenant, is, the command of God out of Christ; but the command of the law as a rule, is, the precept of God in Christ. . .” (p268). Kevan also notes this distinction: “The inquiry into the subject of the abrogation of the Law calls, first, for the separation of the two ideas of commandment and covenant. . .There can be commandment without covenant, and there can be covenant without commandment. . .they are not only distinguishable, but separable.” (p148).