The following is a transcript of a sermon delivered on Wednesday afternoon, October 19th, 2011 during the annual pastor’s conference at Trinity Baptist Church in Montville, NJ. The preacher is Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and this is the sixth session in the conference.
I know that Philip Ross’s book was mentioned yesterday—is it Written by the Finger of God? It’s a wonderful book, I do commend it to you, but I just had a message this morning saying that Philip’s mother has gone to be with the Lord this morning and I’ve been thinking about her because she exhibited everything that we were thinking about in the last hour of the joy and liberty of a believer who loves the law.
Well, you know a plane’s cruising altitude has a cruising altitude at 33,000 feet and the pilot dives to 3,000 feet, as perhaps you have to your alarm experienced, you always feel it’s very difficult to get back up to cruising altitude again and I have a friend who’s tradition is that at the end of the second point in the sermon everything stops and they sing a psalm and then they begin again, and although I admire him greatly, few things I could more admire him for than being able to get up to cruising altitude again after you’ve gone down to 3,000 feet as it were.
But we’ve made some progress, actually, we have covered the whole of the Old Testament in the first hour and a bit so in some senses I should be encouraged and what I’m going to then rearrange our study into is that the first study we think about the law from Creation to Christ and now we’re going to think about the law from Christ to the end of the world and we’ll be able to do that with a little more simplicity I think, but we’ve thought about the law being given as Adam is created as the image of God, in Genesis 1 and 2 and then the evidences of the presence of that law constantly condemning man for his sin between Eden and Sinai but still standing in man’s life as the directive for a life that pleases God and therefore for a life that enjoys God and then, the giving of the law at Sinai and especially the notion that the giving of the law at Sinai in a sense provides grace motivations for holy obedience and is given for a particular period for a particular people with a view to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and so, fourthly we need to stick our probe into the New Testament one more time (although we could do it several more times now) and think about how the law is fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ and it’s this, of course, that Jesus announces in the great words in Matthew 5:17-20, isn’t it? Do not think I’ve come to abolish the law or the prophets. Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is fulfilled so that whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others will be called least in the kingdom of heaven and again, with this striking conclusion, I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees–an impossible notion for most of those who were listening to Jesus—unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
We often think that the Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew chapter 5 and verse 1. In a sense Matthew 5 verse 1 is the continuation of Matthew 4:23 through 25. It’s as He sees the crowds in the context of Matthew 4:23 through 25 that Jesus begins to expound the significance of the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven and several things, therefore, become obvious in this context.
First of all, that Jesus Himself is the King in the kingdom and what He is doing is making personal royal proclamation that in Him the kingdom has come and through His life and ministry the power of God is being released so He not only announces the coming of the kingdom but He demonstrates, exhibits the presence of the kingdom in its power to recreate and so the deaf are made to hear, the blind are made to see, the lame are made to walk and the dead are raised from the dead and its all the indication in the gospels of the powerful in rushing of the kingdom of God, the beginnings of the final restoration of all things that takes place in our Lord Jesus Christ and you know how in Matthew’s gospel, indeed in the gospels generally you can trace this wonderful incursion of divine grace in Jesus Christ in the way in which He gives flashes of illumination about what the final kingdom is going to look like by pressing it down not only by His proclamation of it but also by His demonstration of it in the lives of men and women and in a sense giving them glimpses of what life originally was and where life eventually was destined to be for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and it’s within that context (the presence of the King, the announcement or proclamation of the kingdom’s arrival, the demonstration of its power) that Jesus then, in what we call the beatitudes goes on to expound the character of those who experience this regeneration, recreating, restorative power that brings them back to share in the fellowship of the life of God and so He describes, we might say the citizens in the kingdom.
But all this, clearly as the end of the Sermon on the Mount indicates to us, is so different from the teaching of the Scribes. Remember the little concluding note in Matthew 7:28 when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching for He was teaching as one who had authority and not as their Scribes, and the thing, of course, that is so radically striking to the people is that He is showing the power of the kingdom of God and describing the characteristics of those who belong to the kingdom of God and He hasn’t said a single word about the very things the Scribes give all of their attention to. He has said absolutely nothing so far about the law of God and so the question arises which seems to be the missing link as it were between 1 to 16 of chapter 5 and 17 through 20. Jesus sees what they’re thinking and He tells them the gospel teaches them to think differently. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, rather I’ve come to establish them.
In a sense what we see here is what we always see when the gospel is fully preached and its fruit become exhibited in the lives of people.
The question inevitably arises, why then the law? Paul raises that question almost involuntarily as he expounds the promise of grace through Abraham and then raises the question, well, what is the function of the law within this context? and the apostle Paul clearly faced the same kind of question:
You’re not preaching the Bible the way we’re used to having the Bible preached. Where’s the place of the law? You’re demeaning the law.
Paul in that great piece of exposition in Romans underscores the fact that rather than denigrate the law the gospel establishes the law and this is what Jesus Himself does in the rest of the fifth chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. He underscores the principle that the law is not destroyed by the gospel, and He demonstrates in that context how, rather than undermine the law, the gospel of the kingdom of God actually confirms the law and in a way that leads to verse 20—the righteousness of those who are Christ’s far exceeding the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees and at the center of all this—this is so glorious—Jesus says, I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill the law. Not a jot, not a tittle will pass from the law until all is accomplished, till all is fulfilled.
And so the question, in what ways does the New Testament teach us, in what ways does our Lord Jesus Christ fulfill the law? and there are, I think at least six ways, you know, there is much discussion of the meaning of fulfillment but what is actually rather clear in Matthew’s gospel is that the meaning of fulfillment is related to the manner of fulfillment and so Matthew is able to say that the Scriptures are fulfilled and the way he uses Scripture indicates to us that the fulfillment in view is integrated to the manner in which the fulfillment takes place, that is to say we understand the significance of the fulfillment from the realization of the fulfillment not from the semantics of the verb that’s used and that’s surely perspicuous when it comes to the way in which Jesus fulfills the law of God.
First of all, clearly, He fulfills its prescriptions by His active obedience.
He fulfills its prescriptions by His active obedience: born of a woman, born under the law, He keeps the law of God. There is, of course, also what Owen in one place calls the law governing the Messiah. He is under a special law of God because His calling is to bring about salvation and so He needs to live in step with God’s law concerning the Messiah but as He does that He lives in step with God’s law for all men because He has come among men as a man and by His active obedience, by His delight in the law of the Lord, by the fact that He really does find food that others know nothing about in the Word of God and in the commandments of God. It’s written in the heart of the Lord Jesus that He fulfills all its prescriptions by His active obedience and then, of course, as our substitute fulfills all of its penalties by His passive obedience and this is the mystery and wonder of where we can scarcely go in understanding what it meant for the sinless Son of God to appear before His heavenly Father as Calvin says in the character and person of a sinner and for His Father—for Jesus to know that His Father would be utterly faithful to His Word, even when—and indeed, especially when, it was His Son who appeared before Him clad in the filthy garments of my sin, there to bear the judgment of God that stands against me and so in that sense He fulfills the law of God by His passive obedience, its commands are fulfilled, its penalties are fulfilled.
And then, as I think it is actually clear in Matthew’s gospel, He fulfills the shadows and the ceremonies of the law by His perfect obedience. This is the argument of Hebrews, isn’t it? The fact that the blood of beasts and goats is an inappropriate blood for the sins of a man and therefore this ceremonial reality must stretch beyond itself, must open out to some other manner in which God will fulfill His own promised law in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the reason for the incarnation. This is the reason why the fathers of the church were so firm because they loved Jesus and the gospel and salvation so much they emphasized that He is not half-man and half-God, He is not man with a little mixture of God that He can draw on, but that the humanity and deity are united together in the Person of the Son of God because He must be really man, fully man and wholly man and Jesus is, in order that once for all by the perfect sacrifice of Himself, a Lamb without blemish, He might not only pay the penalty but be the reality. That’s why that language of Hebrews is so helpful, shadow and reality.
Jesus is the reality, the law comes through Moses, grace in its reality comes through Jesus Christ and then, of course, because of this He fulfills the interim function of the Mosaic administration. Why? Because He fulfills in Himself the goal of the Abrahamic covenant with a view to which goal being fulfilled, the Mosaic administration was put in place for a whole raft of different reasons to set the people apart, to keep the people on the way of holiness, to make them distinct, to preserve the seed, to uncover the depth of the sinfulness of men and women so that the need of a personal Savior might be so manifested to them, but when the sun shines in the sky, the electricity is turned off, put aside, not because light is no more necessary, but because light has dawned in the full blaze of the sun and this is what happens not only in the s-u-n, but clearly what happens in the S-o-n and Matthew gives us these marvelous hints, he kind of bookends his gospel by deliberate theological, Christological choice by telling us at the beginning that there are visitors from the orient who come to the new born Child to worship and ends with Jesus sending the apostles into the world in order to make disciples. The whole, the whole gospel that from one point of view seems to have such a Jewish flavor to it, seems to be such an echo of the law of Moses, from one point of view is saying this bursts the Mosaic administration, this brings us into the Mosaic fulfillment of the promise given to Abraham, and if that promise given to Abraham is now fulfilled and especially the function that God had intended in the Jewish people as a state-church (with a hyphen) has now come to a consummation. Jesus has gone to the Father on His ascension and said to His Father, Psalm 2:8, Father, You’ve said to Me, ask of Me and You would give me the nations for Your inheritance, You would fulfill the Abrahamic promise to Me, His seed, and this is what happens, isn’t it on the day of Pentecost. What the day of Pentecost says—and actually Peter makes this explicit in a statement that’s very often glided over by the commentaries who don’t see the theological, Christological significance, he says, the meaning of this day is that Jesus has poured out upon us the promised Holy Spirit of the Father.
You see what He’s saying? He’s saying what Jesus told us in the upper room what Psalm 2:8 promised, what Abraham and Genesis 12 looked forward to has now come to a consummation. The Son is gone into the presence of the Father and said, “My Father, all My work is ended. It is finished and You promised Me.”
Surely, the echo that we feel in our own lives when our sons come and say, Can I have this and we say, no. But dad, please let me have this and we say, no and then they say, but Dad, you promised me. That settles everything and here the Son goes to the Father and says, Father, send the Spirit now, You promised Me that You would write Your law into their hearts and that now I would have the nations for My inheritance and the inner logic of that, you see, the inner logic of that is as the best of Christian thinkers have understood is that thereby that kind of vested interest in a particular state with its particular laws for a particular time, that’s just been the tent in which God has been moving His promises on but now that the true tabernacle has come that’s just been the temple but now that the true temple has come, what do you do? You fold up the old, you put it aside and so our Lord Jesus not only fulfills shadows and ceremonies, He fulfills the interim function, the civic function of the law in that sense, but then, as He makes clear in 5:17 to 20 and what follows there’s another sense in which Jesus fulfills the law. He fulfills the law—do you know sometimes you have that wonderful experience at the church door when somebody says to you, you know, I never understood that passage and you’ve made it so clear, and you think to yourself, I hope I did. I hope that’s true, and you see, this is what Jesus does. He’s the Master Teacher. He’s Himself the Giver of the Law and He’s saying here as He goes on in 5:21 through 48, let Me bring out the fullness of the law to you and He does it with that intensity that probes us but its not just the intensity that probes us we should notice in the way in which He handles each of the commandments and distinguishes their true significance from their false application. It’s the fact that He is, He is unwrapping the law for us and holding it out to us and saying, you know, this goes down into the very marrow of your being.
Bill Hughes, my friend who’s here, and I probably both remember as youngsters when we went away on vacation, usually to seaside places all our friends expected when we came back we would bring them a stick of rock which was kind of a cylinder of candy that would break your teeth and there were actually two kinds of rock. There was the cheap kind and the expensive kind and all of this rock would have the name of the seaside town round the edges, you know, it would say Blackpool round the edges. Now, if you bought your pals the cheap kind, if they broke it in the middle it was just white inside, but the expensive kind, no matter where you broke open the rock at the end it would say Blackpool. It was Blackpool all the way through, all the way down. It was, that was the real thing and Jesus in the face of all that horrible rigorous bondage into which the Scribes and the Pharisees had fallen (adding regulation after regulation after regulation in order to kind of safeguard them from ever breaching the law of God) and Jesus is, Jesus is saying, what extraordinary rigor but of no value whatsoever because it hasn’t touched the heart and He’s fulfilling the law in the sense of expounding it. There’s another sense—this is more a theological, Christological comment than an exegetical comment, but there is another sense in which the Lord Jesus fulfills the meaning of the law and I’m thinking particularly of the fourth commandment because He makes it clear and it’s made clear in the New Testament church that they understand that Jesus has taken that fourth commandment and brought it to its glorious consummation by His resurrection and that’s the meaning of the change of the day. The significance of the change of the day to the first day of the week is not a convenience or an accidental matter, it’s a profoundly Christological matter because what Jesus does in fulfilling the law is come as the second man and the last Adam as it were to invade the whole world with His gardening and having invaded the whole world with His gardening, the whole way in which we perceive time and life has to be thrown into a kind of new gear in which instead of laboring and then resting, we live in Jesus Christ as those who rest in Christ and then labor for Christ. It’s all part of the fact that He is not just the second Adam as our hymns say, but He’s the last Adam, He’s the eschatological Adam. I love to think of that encounter on the morning of the resurrection which the Lord Jesus has with Mary and she doesn’t recognize Him and John (who does have some double entendres in His gospel, doesn’t He?), John says, supposing Him to be the gardener. I smile and I say, are you saying what I think you’re saying? That on this morning of the resurrection, although she was profoundly mistaken to think that He was the gardener of the garden, she’d seen something, she didn’t recognize it but she didn’t know what kind of Gardener He was. He was the resurrection Gardener, He was the last Adam and now, as it were, He’s turning—by the preaching of the gospel and ultimately by His coming in glory—He’s turning the whole earth into a garden, a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness, righteousness will dwell! Righteousness! That’s a law-type term—righteousness will dwell—and so in that sense our Lord Jesus Christ fulfills the meaning of the fourth commandment not by its abrogation as a command written into the heart of Adam or given in tablets of stone on Sinai, but in the sense, not just of the consummation of Sinai, in the consummation of Eden. It’s our, it’s our weekly reminder, isn’t it? It’s all kind of things but it’s our weekly reminder that the whole of our lives are lived in fellowship with the resurrected Christ that He has come that we live in the new age, that the powers of the world to come have been released into our lives and so, when we gather together for worship together, we—I remember one of the men in our congregation in Glasgow as I went to the church door, end of a Sunday evening service and the great street opened up before us, and he looked out into the street and he looked back into the church and he said to me, it’s a different world in there isn’t it? And that’s what happens, that’s what Hebrews goes on to say that when we worship, we are participating in some sense in the only true worship there is. We come to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant and it’s all part and parcel of the glory of the Lord’s day for the Lord’s people and then sixthly He fulfills—first its prescription, second its penalties, third its shadows, fourth its interim function, fifth its meaning, and, also, by the power of the Holy Spirit He fulfills its goal in us so that when He says, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven, He is also saying, as it were, we could stick in, in brackets there, I could see on His face He was saying, and your righteousness will and more, as it were, than imputed righteousness, imparted righteousness by the Holy Spirit. What a glorious word Romans 8:3 and 4 is, isn’t it, that what the law couldn’t do because it was weakened through our flesh, God has done. He’s done it Himself for us. Could it be more generous than that? What the law couldn’t do, weakened because of my flesh, what does He do? Our God doesn’t break the bruised reed or quench the dimly burning wick as we would do. He comes in Jesus Christ and condemns sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us as we walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. It was the promise, wasn’t it, in Jeremiah? It was the promise, too, in Ezekiel, that as we were sprinkled with clean water and given the Spirit we would become careful to observe His commandments.
You know, if you’re a sinner, you can never be a consistent sinner.
I suppose, partly because I’m Scottish. I play golf—don’t play it much and I play at it now rather than play it, but one of the most interesting things—and this may be true of other sports—one of the most interesting things about the game of golf is, it’s got a small book of rules. It’s got a small book of rules and many people I know who have played golf with men who are cheating on their wives, those very men will cry foul if any of their playing partners even thinks about breaking the law of golf.
Those laws have to be observed very precisely and actually, it’s very interesting that the United States Golf Association (you didn’t want to hear this, but I’m going to tell you anyway), the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews every two years produce a book of applications of the laws—and that book is usually about that thick—so that you may know precisely how the rules apply.
What if I’m playing with somebody and I don’t want anything to do with that legalism? I just want to play golf. That is such legalism. You follow those rules and you’ll never get the ball into the hole. You’ll become neurotic. It will spoil everything and curiously the man who is cheating on his wife will still say to me, “You cheat on those rules and we can no longer happily play golf together.”
We can’t be consistent sinners.
And so, the promise of Ezekiel is—and, you see, this is the difference between seeing God as the God of infinite goodness who gives His good law so that it’s not the law that’s sin but it’s me that sin and what I need is to go through that great reversal in which I understand that because the natural man sees it the other way round. It’s the law that will spoil my life. The gospel tells you it’s not the law that spoils your life, it’s sin that spoils your life. You need to go through the great reversal. So, you see, it’s all for your good. It’s all for your blessing and you begin to delight in it and Jesus says this is the goal, I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.
You know, American women tend to wear more makeup than Scottish women, how careful the women are? Aren’t they? What, they have to—if you see them going on a plane, they’ve got an extra case. They’re very careful about what at the end of the day is totally superficial, isn’t it?
How would you ever complain about one saying, I want to be careful? Why you doing this? Because I want to be attractive to my husband; I want to find a husband; or I don’t want to feel inferior.
Why are you keeping the law of God carefully? Because I love My Master and I would not go free. My ear is pierced. My heart is opened and I embrace Him and His gospel in Jesus Christ has not only brought about the fulfillment of the law in terms of redemptive history, in terms of my penalty, but in terms of my inward transformation and I say again, how I love Your law; it is my meditation day and night.
Let me close out this first part of the rest of history from the end of the old covenant to the beginning of the new by a personal word of testimony. I was brought up in Scotland, the early 1950’s in a house where the Ten Commandments were sacrosanct. My father washed out my mouth with soap once because he knew I had breached a commandment, but my family never went to church, until, by God’s grace, after I was converted, and so we rigorously, as boys we were rigorously, it was ingrained in us—how thankful I am for that, actually—it was ingrained in us these are God’s commandments, but there was no gospel and so, Sunday was the worst day of the week. It was the worst day of the week for me, because I wasn’t allowed to do anything. After my mother had come to faith and I think I was probably a minister by this time so she thought it was safe to tell me what my past life had been like, I came running to her one Sunday afternoon and I said, Mummy, Mummy, Douglas Jarvey (just in parenthesis, this Douglas Jarvey reappeared in my life thirty years later, having, I think, done all kinds of things and he came to see me because he’d been brought to faith in Jesus Christ) anyway, I’m saying, Mummy, Mummy, come here, Douglas Jarvey is out in the street and he’s playing football. (That is, soccer, real football.) He’s playing football, and Mummy—this is what my mother told me, I was seven years old—Mummy, it’s Sunday! So I, I was a quintessential Presbyterian Pharisee, I imagine, and then the gospel came to me and from the day the gospel came to me until this day the very best week of all my life has been a week in which the best day has been the Lord’s day and it’s written into the heart by His Spirit. I will write My law in their hearts.
Well, I have a few minutes left to deal with two thousand years and let me do it in this way, focusing attention on the inheritance that is ours.
The inheritance that is ours theologically when we think about the law is derived, in a sense from two different streams and I think you can see this, broadly in evangelicalism.
Part of it is derived from the theology and, undergirding that, the experience of Martin Luther. Sometimes said about Martin Luther, that he always remained a Medieval man and in some senses I think that’s true, so that Luther’s theology was very much driven by his own discovery of the gospel and perhaps you know ministers like that. (The man who was my minister when I was a student and my spiritual mentor was exactly like that. His theology was much driven by the way in which he had eventually come to discover and embrace reformed theology and so he dragged the congregation with him all through his theology discovered in terms of his own experience) and partly as a result of that, Martin Luther had a particularly distinctive view of the law that tended to focus first on the law as an alien power and secondly in a sense on the law as functioning in an enemy fashion solely to expose sin and so Luther, especially the early Luther, makes some very radical comments about the fact that the Christian no more has anything to do with the law, so for example, in his commentary in Galatians that full of purple passages and some of them magnificent, he says, even as Christ is free from the grave and Peter from the prison, so is a Christian free from the law, and such a respect there is between the justified conscience and the law as between Christ raised from the grave and Peter from the prison. So is a Christian free from the law.
Now, obviously, it’s New Testament teaching to teach that we are free from the law, but Luther sees that without setting it in a broader biblical framework and therefore distorts the picture with the implication that—you probably know the story of how his erstwhile friend and student Johannes Agricola said, well, if that’s the case then the law has no role whatsoever in the life of the Christian believer and reading Luther you almost get the sense, that he thought, I never thought of that implication. As those whose theology is driven by their own serial discovery of the gospel often is true, they speak the word before they think through the implications and so you find later Luther kind of trying to retract his position, but the end of the day, he sees virtually no real positive role for the law in the life of the Christian except that the law functions to expose the Christian’s sin. So he says, for example in his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, the law when it is in this true sense does nothing else but reveal sin, engender wrath, accuse and terrify men so that it brings them to the very brink of desperation, this is the proper use of the law and here it has an end and it ought to go no further.
And what’s absent from that is setting the law of God in the context of creation, setting the law of God in the context of its redemptive embodiment in the Sinaietic administration and hearing the Lord Jesus Christ and especially hearing the Lord Jesus Christ say, if you love Me, you will keep My commandments, but the gospel is not alien to law nor the law to gospel, but the gospel and the law for the Christian have become friends and, if one can put it this way in the hands of the Spirit, even the convicting power of the law which is a reality in the life of the believer is the conviction of a friend, not the conviction of an enemy and so we love the law as believers and of course, it was this that Calvin grasped so well, Calvin who was not a Medieval man, in fact he was virtually from his early twenties never a Medieval man but a man who had learned, partly in the providence of God, by his renaissance education, he had learned, as one of the scholars in our congregation will say to me occasionally (and because he says it to me occasionally it gives me pause for thought) when he says, I’m so grateful to you for keeping your finger on the text, following the text and Calvin did this so marvelously, understood the role of God’s law in the life of Adam, understood its role at Sinai and, of course, he—that wasn’t novel for him in some ways, whereas Luther thought the whole Medieval project had been a disaster, Calvin saw that there were glimmers of light. He had a distaste for aspects of the theology of Thomas Aquinas, but he also knew what I think most people don’t know that Thomas Aquinas wrote reams of biblical exposition and because that biblical exposition was more carefully done, Aquinas had grasped the multi-structural character of the law of God, its threefold division and its threefold use and, of course, what Calvin does with this is to put it in a frame that’s characterized by his grasp of the covenant of grace, his grasp of the Trinitarian character of God and therefore of the Christian life and his grasp of the way in which Christ fulfills the law for us in order that He might fulfill the law in us and for that reason when Calvin handles some of the more difficult passages in Scripture to exegete, he particularly illumines them. He has hermeneutical principles that derive from within the text itself and he understands, for example, that when there is the sharp antithesis between gospel and law that is at times to be understood in terms of an antithesis between bare law and law set within the context of the grace of God in the gospel, the contrast that he sees in Paul’s thinking between the bare letter and the Spirit so that when the Spirit works in order to reveal Christ to us and we begin to be transformed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another, something very significant in Paul and 2nd Corinthians 3 about that expression because while it probably does involve my experience of the glory of the Lord which will come to its consummation, he’s actually been speaking about the two different administrations, the Mosaic administration and the administration in Christ and he’s saying there was a glory about the Mosaic administration. There was glory there, but by comparison with the glory that there is in the administration which actually effects the life which the previous administration commanded in terms of that, it seems to have no glory at all and when you grasp that you’ve got this, as I called earlier on, this comparative framework of reference that enables you to understand in a sensitive way what it is that the apostle Paul is actually driving at here and, of course, a great principle for Calvin is that if all the Scriptures come in their tributaries to Jesus Christ to sever the law from Christ either by seeing it apart from Christ or by seeing Christ apart from it, or myself apart from it in Christ to do that is to destroy the very telos of the law in our Savior Jesus Christ and it’s this perspective that in due course was passed over in the late sixteenth early seventeenth century to the tradition to which we belong with its exploration of the law and its understanding of the glory of the law and Calvin’s Institutes were translated into English, I think, in the 1560’s. Within forty years it had gone through seven editions. Arthur Golding who was one of the sixteenth century translators of Calvin’s commentaries and lectures virtually wrote himself, or translated himself out of debt just by translating Calvin, so Calvin’s work was manna from heaven for late sixteenth century preachers, early seventeenth century preachers and it’s a very interesting thing, that most of the Puritans refer to Augustin about three times as often as they refer to Calvin. You can sense that it’s this biblical perspective that Calvin had worked out in the great Calvin project: preach it, teach it, write it.
Preach it, teach it, write it. And so, what we find in the Puritans is a fulfillment of this and if you’ll pick up the Trinity Hymnbook just for a moment, I’d love to say we’re going to sing, but I want you just to look at the—I just realized, in this Trinity Hymnbook it’s the London Baptist Confession of Faith, but in this respect it’s, in every respect most marvelous, you’ll see the fruit of this, and if thinking through the subject of the law of God is something you’re only beginning to do, there is no better place you could turn to, I think, than to this nineteenth chapter either of the Westminster Confession of Faith (which of course I would prefer you to do) or the nineteenth chapter of the London Baptist Confession—they are brother and sister in respect of the law of God.
You see how marvelously they worked this through, the sense of the law written in Adam’s heart, the same law given at Mount Sinai, the sense of the three-foldness of this law, its moral dimension, its ceremonial dimension, its judicial dimension. Not denying—it would just be so foolish actually to think that these men were denying that these distinctions are porous. They sense that there are moral obligations on God’s people in this stage in both the ceremonial and the civil law, so it’s not as though they are saying there are actually three different laws but there are these three different—clearly, these three different dimensions. This is the reason why the Decalog’s in the ark, isn’t it? It’s the foundation and they understand this and then, the explanation in chapter 19, section 5 of the perpetuity of the moral law for justified persons as well as others and then this beautiful expression: and that not only of the matter contained in it but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator and meditate on that because it’s a hugely significant statement, because it refuses to sever the Creator’s law from the Creator, the goodness of the law from the goodness of God and then in it’s terminology that as believers we are not under law as a covenant of works to be justified or condemned. We realize that we’ve broken the covenant of works, but Christ has fulfilled the covenant of works in our place. Does that mean we overthrow the law? No, the divines say and the fathers of the baptist confession here emphasize that the law informs us of the will of God. It binds us to walk according to His will. It discovers our sinful pollutions. It gives us a clearer sight of our need of Christ. That’s the whole of the Christian life, my friends, isn’t it? I sometimes say to our congregation, I’ve only two things to say in every sermon, two words: sin and grace, sin and grace, sin and grace. You find grace in Jesus Christ because you’re a sinner and then because of the grace of law your sin is exposed all the more and it drives you back to Christ and Christ, as Bolton says so beautifully: the law drives us to Christ to be saved and Christ sends us back to the law to learn how to live and we fail Him again and we return to Him again; we fail Him again, we return to Him again and the promises of the law that are so, so savory to our taste, that, show us that He is our heavenly Father and that in no way are these uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel but do sweetly comply with it. The Spirit of Christ, oh, the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully.
You know, it’s not Reformed to do the will of God gloomily but cheerfully. Here I don’t know what your ordination vows are, my ordination vows commit me to doing the work of the Lord cheerfully. I don’t know what Presbyterian thought that one up, but it sure is biblical and it’s here, enabling us to do freely and cheerfully what the will of God revealed in the law requires to be done. I love my Master; I do not ever want to go free.
What’s so fascinating—it’s not in the London Baptist Confession and it’s not actually in the Westminster Confession but it’s in the catechisms. I calculated once that I think about a third of the Shorter Catechism and about forty percent of the Larger Catechism, devoted to the law. I have a guess, that you know, if you got a group of evangelicals in a room together and asked them to write a confession or a catechism there might be no place for the law at all and so they see this and they hold up their hands and say, legalism, legalism. Amazing the people that say that, you know, computer whiz kids, people who actually have baseball statistics in their memories. You know, they say we don’t want all this detail. I can’t understand how it is that an American Christian—have you any idea how absolutely obsessive American sports fans are about statistics? I don’t even know you could have an assist in soccer. At home you either score the goal or you don’t score. They don’t get assists! All these details! All these details!
It’s because of our sinful hearts that we balk at the fact that these men said to us, now listen, He’s just given you ten things, you can memorize them. They’re not long, but He wants you to take the whole of your life to work them out in detail to your fingertips and I want to help you to do that.
That’s what they’re saying and, you know what? It produces people like Elma Ross, Phillip Ross’s mother who have it in their fingertips so that as Newton says in beautifully in one of his letters, at the end of the day the child of God who is instructed in this law develops something akin to the instinct of a great pianist who sits down at the piano. Where is the score? You ever wonder at that? People say to you, I don’t know how you can preach so long without, you know—but in that world, you know them, the conductor doesn’t even have a score. How does he have all that in his head? ’Cause he’s soaked himself in it and it’s literally coming out his fingertips and so it is with the law of the Lord in which, by God’s grace we all so happily delight.