Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 19 - The Law of God

19.6 So far as the law is a covenant of works under which justification or condemnation is awarded, it has no application to true believers. Yet in certain other ways it is of great use to them as well as to others, for as a rule of life it informs them of the will of God and instructs them in their duty. This done, it directs and binds them to obey it. It also reveals to them the sinful defilement of their natures, their hearts and their lives, so that as they examine themselves by the light of the law, they may be convicted more deeply of sin, and caused to humble themselves on account of it and to hate it the more. At the same time the law also gives them a clearer sight of their need of Christ, and the perfection of Christ's own obedience to the law. Similarly, as the law forbids sin, it causes the regenerate to fight against the evil inclinations to sin that they find in themselves. Furthermore, the threatenings of the law are of value in showing the regenerate what their sins deserve, and what afflictions their own disobedience may cause them in this life, even while they stand delivered from the curse and the unrestricted rigor of the law. In similar manner the promises attached to the law intimate God's approbation of obedience and set forth the blessings which flow from the fulfillment of the law, but with the proviso that those blessings do not accrue to men from the law viewed as a covenant of works. The fact that a man does good and refrains from evil because the law encourages the former and deters from the latter, is no evidence that the man is under the law and not under grace.

Rom. 3:20; 6:12-14; 7:7; 8:1; 10:4; Gal. 2:16; 1 Pet. 3:8-13.

The updated version of the 2LBC cited above changes the wording of the first sentence in a way that produces confusion about what the Confession was saying, in my opinion. It leaves the impression that the law God gave through Moses is a covenant of works under which justification or condemnation is awarded. But this is most definitely not the case. Throughout Scripture, God's commands come on the basis of his saving activity. His people do not keep his commands in order to be justified; they keep his commands because they are justified. Paul said that Israel did not attain righteousness because they sought it based on works and not by faith (Rom 9:30ff). Even under the Mosaic law, Israel was not to seek to be justified by keeping the law. They were to keep the law because they were justified by faith.

The original wording of the 2LBC reads, "Although true Believers be not under the Law, as a Covenant of Works, to be thereby Justified or condemned; yet it is of great use to them as well as to others...." We can see from this that the Confession is not implying that the law of Moses was a means of justification. In this the Confession is correct. I would also affirm with the Confession that the law of Moses is of great use to believers today, as I hope is evident in our current series of messages on the Ten Commandments.

I would argue, however, that the Confession is incorrect in its understanding of what the apostle Paul means when he asserts that believers are "not under the law" (Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 9:20). Paul is not saying that we are not under the law of Moses as a means of justification, but we are under the law as a means of sanctification. He is saying that believers of this time in the outworking of God's kingdom plan, since the coming of Christ, are not subject to the law's jurisdiction. The law of Moses, as a legal code, pertained to that time and that covenant. We are under a new covenant, and we live under the law of Christ.

Now, the law of Moses is still very useful for us, for it still stands as a concrete example of how the eternal moral law of God was applied in that time and place. But we must apply it today in light of the person and work of Christ (Matt 5:17). The law pointed to Christ, and Christ fulfilled the law.


cmhenson said...

Have you read Nehemiah Coxe's "Covenant Theology from Adam to Christ?" Coxe is considered to be one of the framers of the 2LBC and in that work he clearly intimates both a covenant of works (though in different language) and the Mosaic Covenant as a "covenant of peculiarity." Such language is what we today call the republication of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant. It is typical in nature.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Josh Henson

Jason Parker said...

Thanks for the comment and for the reference to Coxe. I have not read his work, so I will put that on my "to read" list.