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1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 19: Of the Law of God - Commentary

... never changes.[1]

Moral Law

The Moral Law, on the other hand, is the Law which is revealed and summarized by God in the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, which is the substance of the Natural Law. Richard Muller is quoted in Barcellos on the definition of the Moral Law, saying:

specifically and predominantly, the Decalogus, or Ten Commandments; also called the lex Mosaica …, as distinct from the lex ceremonialis …and the lex civilis, or Civil Law. The lex moralis, which is primarily intended to regulate morals, is known to the synderesis [the innate habit of understanding basic principles of moral law] and is the basis of the acts of conscientia [conscience–the application of the innate habit above]. In substance, the lex moralis is identical with the lex naturalis …but, unlike the natural law, it is given by revelation in a form which is clearer and fuller than that otherwise known to the reason.[2]

And then Dr. Barcellos adds:

As noted above, the Moral Law is summarily comprehended in the Decalogue, not exhausted by it. Though the formal promulgation of the Decalogue had a unique redemptive-historical context and use, it is nothing other than the Natural Law incorporated into the Mosaic Covenant. This is one of its uses in the Bible but not all of its uses.

The Decalogue contains the summary and the essence of the Moral Law, but it does not contain all the moral laws. For example, there is no “thou shalt respect elders”, but we understand that this is comprehended under the fifth commandment to honor our parents, and derived from it.

Positive Law

Positive Law simply said is a moral law which has no basis in nature nor is it self-evident, but is based upon a commandment of God. Dr. Barcellos defines positive laws as:

Positive laws are those laws added to the Natural or Moral Law. They are dependent upon the will of God. These laws are “good because God commands them.” They become just because commanded. The first Positive Laws were given to Adam in the Garden (Gen. 1:28; 2:17), as far as we know. Subsequent Positive Laws are spread throughout the Old and New Testaments. Positive laws can be abrogated for various reasons. They are not necessarily universal or perpetual. Some obvious illustrations of Positive Law in the Old Testament are circumcision and animal sacrifices and two New Testament illustrations are baptism and the Lord’s Supper under the New Covenant...Neither circumcision, animal sacrifices, baptism, or the Lord’s Supper are either universal or perpetual.[3]


§1 God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart

  1. God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; 2 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. 3
    1. Gen. 1:27; Eccles. 7:29; Rom. 2:12a, 14-15[4]
    2. Gen. 2:16-17
    3. Gen. 2:16-17; Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:10,12

Adam was given a law of universal obedience written in his heart (Rom. 2:14-15). Even in his innocence, man was never without the law of God (chapter 4:2). This law is a law of universal obedience, i.e., it concerns everyone. The location of this law was not in stone, but in his heart; it was inward. In addition to this law, he was also given a particular precept of not eatin...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 22: Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day - Commentary

...n of no merely ceremonial or positive law was visited with this penalty. Even the neglect of circumcision, although it involved the rejection of both the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenant, and necessarily worked the forfeiture of all the benefits of the theocracy, was not made a capital offence. The law of the Sabbath by being thus distinguished was raise far above the level of mere positive enactments. A character was given to it, not only of primary importance, but also of special sanctity.[71]

Not only was the death penalty instituted for the Sabbath as part of the Civil Law of Israel, but even the non-Israelite sojourner was to observe the Sabbath day. Exodus 20:10 contains the phrase “shall not do any work…the sojourner who is within your gates” (cf. Ex. 23:12). Even “though they could not take part in the feast or in temple worship”[72], yet the sojourners ought to keep the Sabbath holy. This is also seen in Nehemiah 13:15-21. Dabney observes, after citing Exodus 20:10:

To see the force of the argument from this fact, the reader must contrast the jealous care with which "the stranger," the pagan foreigner residing in an Israelitish community, was prohibited from all share in their ritual services. No foreigner could partake of the Passover—it was sacrilege. He was even forbidden to enter the court of the temple where the sacrifices were offered, at the peril of his life. Now, when the foreigner is commanded to share the Sabbath rest, along with the Israelite, does not this prove that rest to be no ceremonial, no type, like the Passover and the altar, but a universal moral institution, designed for Jew and Gentile alike?[73]

Yes, it does, Dabney.

The Language Of The Day Being Ceremonial

I agree with Dr. Waldron when he takes care about “ceremonial” language concerning the specific day of the Sabbath. He writes:

It is not accurate to call the seventh day a ceremonial element in the 4th Commandment. The observance of the seventh day originated not with post-fall ceremonial laws, but with pre-fall creation ordinances. Since the observance of the seventh day was part of a creation ordinance, it is right to assert that had there been no fall and no redemption there would have been no change till the end of creation in the seventh day observance. Only a new creation could have abrogated a creation ordinance. It is, therefore, inaccurate and misleading to call such a matter ceremonial.[74]

I share in his criticism as it is not altogether clear what it means that the day is ceremonial. It is more accurate to say that the day is temporal, and is subject to change if God please to do so. But there is no doubt that the Sabbath commandment had ceremonial expansions or parts to it (see below). It is simply my contention and Dr. Waldron’s to speak more accurately about the day being temporal rather than ceremonial. The first day Sabbath will likewise pass away as we enter the eternal Sabbath in the New Creation. The day being “ceremonial” or “temporal” does not present a defect to the nature of the Sabbath as essentially moral. Although it must be noted that most of the people using the “ceremonial” language to the specific day of the Sabbath by it mean that the day is not essentially moral and is subject to change. I believe it is better to use more accurate/clear terminology than that.

Non-Moral Parts

By non-moral, I do not mean that they were not binding upon the people of Israel. All three divisions of ...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 24: Of the Civil Magistrate - Commentary

...il government is “to protect you in your rights; to vindicate your name, person, or property; and to guard your liberty, and secure to you the results of your industry.”[3]

The issue of the death penalty is a strong emotional issue. I don't pretend to have studied it in detail. But I will claim that there is no biblical basis for Christians to object to the death penalty, for example, in cases of murder when the evidence against the murderer is pretty clear. We must remember that the death penalty for murder predated Sinai and thus was not a part of the Mosaic Civil Law which has expired (Gen. 9:5-6). I know that the issue is very emotional, but as to the righteousness of the punishment, it is indeed righteous. How can I say any other, if God has said that a murder ought to be executed? We see here the same principle. The New Testament does not abrogate the death penalty for the civil government, but as we have in the present passage, "he does not bear the sword in vain.” The Lord has put that sword in his hand in order that righteousness may be maintained and wrongdoing be punished. Calvin noted:

This is the same as if it had been said, that he is an executioner of God’s wrath; and this he shows himself to be by having the sword, which the Lord has delivered into his hand. This is a remarkable passage for the purpose of proving the right of the sword; for if the Lord, by arming the magistrate, has also committed to him the use of the sword, whenever he visits the guilty with death, by executing God’s vengeance, he obeys his commands. Contend then do they with God who think it unlawful to shed the blood of wicked men. [5]

This bearing of the sword addresses both the issue of the death penalty and of war. As it is said in the next paragraph of the Confession, it is not directly sinful for civil governments to go to war. But it is sinful only when the war is not necessary and not for a just cause. Likewise, it is with the death penalty or other sorts of punishments. Some governments do in fact bear the sword in vain and use the sword for all kinds of violations and injustices not warranted by the Word of God.

Verse 5

Therefore, on the basis of vv. 1-4, we are to subject ourselves to the government for God's sake, in order to avoid His wrath and “for the sake of conscience.” Obedience to the civil government, when they're in agreement with the laws of the Almighty, is at the foremost, obedience to the Almighty. Hence, “for the sake of conscience.” Barnes notes:

For conscience’ sake - As a matter of conscience, or of “duty to God,” because “he” has appointed it, and made it necessary and proper. A good citizen yields obedience because it is the will of God; and a Christian makes it a part of his religion to maintain and obey the just laws of the land; see Mat 22:21; compare Ecc 8:2, “I counsel them to keep the king’s commandments, and “that in regard of the oath of God.”[3]

Jamieson, Fausset, Brown note that this phrase means “out of conscientious reverence for God's authority.”[6] God is the foremost authority and King Whom we should obey. Therefore Peter writes, "Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1Pet. 2:17). This is significant because of the fact that this Epistle was written to a group of Christians who were being persecuted by everyone around them including the emperor or king, Nero. John Gill notes on this passage:

Caesar, the Roman emperor, though a wicked, pe...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 1: Of the Holy Scriptures - Commentary

.... God condescends so as to reveal Himself in human language to us miserable sinners. What an amazing grace! What we have in Scripture, which is “the word of the LORD”, is, in fact, the self-disclosure and revelation of God Himself. He reveals to us things about His character, His promises, His plans, His judgments, His people and so on. It is God Himself Who makes this condescension to reveal His glory to us in verbal revelation. It pleased the Lord not to restrict this revelation of Himself to the persons or nation(s) which He originally gave, but to commit these to writing for future generations. Even in things which are no longer applicable to Christians (e.g. ceremonial law, Civil Law) or prophecies which are already fulfilled, we see a self-revelation of God’s holiness, covenant-keeping and promise-keeping nature. Since Scripture is His Word, we have Him speaking to us and revealing Himself to us.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes to Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God”, θεόπνευστος (Theopneustos, G2315). The word is combined from the two words for God and for breath or spirit, hence the translation “breathed out by God”, or “God-breathed” (ISV, YLT). The idea here is that Scripture is God’s revelation and is given by His mouth. All and the whole of Scripture has that nature of God speaking to us. It is the breath from out of His mouth. When we put our hands before our mouths while we are speaking, we cannot but feel our breath. That is the same way Scripture is described in relation to God. It is God’s breath, it is God’s Word spoken from His mouth. This does not mean that every Word of the Bible is dictated, but rather, the result of all that is in the Bible is exactly what God wanted to have there and is God-breathed. The Bible as (self-)revelation is closely connected with the discussion of its authority, therefore, we will say more on this below.

The Truthfulness, Infallibility, And Inerrancy Of Scripture

We may know and not doubt the truth of the matter which is affirmed in the Scriptures on the basis of the God of Scripture. We know that the world was created in 6 days because Scripture testifies to this. We know and believe that Adam and Eve existed because the Scripture treats them as historical persons. We know that the Flood and Babel occurred because they are treated as historical fact in the Scripture. We know that Christ died for our sins because the Scriptures say so. We know that He rose because Scripture says so. We know He ascended into Heaven because Scripture says so. We know that He will come back to judge the living and the dead because Scripture promises so. This is circular, we know, and every argument for an ultimate standard is circular. But there is a difference between a narrow circle and a wide circle. A narrow circle says the Bible is true because the Bible says that it is true. This is obviously true for Christians, but it is a very narrow circle. On the other hand, you could argue that the Bible is true because of its self-authenticating nature, fulfilled prophecy within itself based on the God that it reveals. Isaiah 53 is an incredible example of fulfilled prophecy within the pages of the Bible. One Testament records the prophecy; the other records its fulfillment against all the beliefs and expectations of the Jews at that time. The Bible is the palace of the King, and we may certainly go into the palace to inquire about what this King has said about Himself.

The trut...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 31: Of the State of Man after Death and Of the Resurrection of the Dead - Commentary

...at, according to some writers, Christ will come back to a Christianized world. There are various forms of Postmillennialism and I admit that I do not know all the nuances. If my eschatology, which is Amillennial, would change, it would change to Postmillennialism.

The most popular form of Postmillennialism in the Reformed world now is Theonomic and Preterist. Theonomy is the teaching that the Law of God must be applied to all things in the culture and this is not only speaking about the abiding validity of the moral law (as in chapter 19), but also the validity of the Civil Law which is said to expire by the Confession (19:4). Theonomists believe that the government should repent, receive Christ, accept Christ as King and they as subjects to Him. This is great. But they also have to use the judicial system as given to Israel in the Pentateuch. There are various nuances obviously, but this is the general idea that I get from Theonomists.

Preterism is the teaching that most of the prophecies of the Bible have already taken place. This is to be distinguished from Full or Hyper Preterism, which says that the Lord Jesus has already returned in 70 A.D., the resurrection and judgment has happened. This is heresy and nowhere confessed by the Church. Rather, every major confession and creed of the Church expects the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection and the judgment. This is not how I’m using Preterism here. Rather, the Preterism I refer to, sometimes called Partial Preterism, teaches that most of the book of Revelation was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and that’s why its advocates argue for a date for the writing of the Apocalypse in the reign of Nero before the actual destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. The “Great Tribulation” of Matthew 24 was likewise fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem, and with this I agree. This means that the persecution of the Church mentioned, among other places, in the book of Revelation was confined to the past. It is a thing that has happened and passed long ago. Therefore, it is now reasonable to expect a time of peace, prosperity and Christianization of the world, if there will be no major persecutions of the Church until the end of the Millennium.

As to the nature of the Millennium, some old Postmillennialists believed in a literal one thousand year earthly kingdom of Christ when many Old Testament prophecies and promises in the Psalms will be fulfilled. Most on the other hand nowadays believe, like the Amillennialists, that the Millennium is the whole time between the first and second coming of Christ. They take the Millennium symbolically as indicating a long time when the world will be evangelized and Christianized. This will include advancement in the culture and the rise of the Christian worldview. Christ reigns from heaven with His saints over the world.

Postmillennialism is appealing because of its optimism and belief in Christ’s power. They do not believe that the world will get better because of man’s power, but because of God’s promises to Christ and about Christ’s Kingdom. They do not look to the mess that the world is in and say “see, Postmillennialism is wrong.” Rather, what is encouraging is that they’re trying to believe the promises of God about Christ’s kingdom.

Postmillennialists expect a huge conversion of Jews in the future along with Gentiles. When Christ comes in glory at the end of the Millennium, all the dead will be raised, an...


1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 26: Of the Church - Commentary

...11, 19-20);
  • those who seek divisions (Rom. 16:17-18; Titus 3:9-11);
  • idolatry (Rev. 2:14-16),
  • disobeying what Paul wrote (2Thess. 3:14-15),
  • laziness and refusing to work (2Thess. 3:6-10).
  • Also, the list given in 1 Corinthians 5:11:

    But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of [1] sexual immorality or [2] greed, or is an [3] idolater, [4] reviler, [5] drunkard, or [6] swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

    We also get a general principle from 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 that sins to which the death penalty applied under the Mosaic Civil Law, have excommunication applied to them in the New Covenant. Such sins include:

    • false prophets (Deut. 13:5);
    • idolaters (Deut. 17:2-7);
    • the one disobedient to the priest or the judge (Deut. 17:12);
    • a false witness (Deut. 19:19);
    • a stubborn and rebellious son (Deut. 21:18-21);
    • a girl who is not a virgin (Deut. 22:20-21);
    • a man and a woman committing adultery (Deut. 22:22);
    • a betrothed virgin and a man who had sexual intercourse (Deut. 22:23-24);
    • a man who steals and sells one of his people (Deut. 24:7).

    See for more on this here.

    This discipline when it comes to the Church should also be decided by the Church as a whole. This is in accordance with 2 Corinthians 2:6 where Paul writes of “punishment by the majority” which refers to discipline and excommunication. This is likewise in accordance with our Lord’s words in Matthew 18:17, the third step of pursuing church discipline. The church officers should, not independently of the church members, decide on the discipline and excommunication of the erring or sinning person and pronounce their judgment as a church. John GIll notes on 2 Corinthians 2:6, writing:

    was inflicted by many; not by the pastor only, or by the elders or more eminent persons in the church, but by the multitude, by the whole congregation, at least υπο των πλειονων, "by the more"; the greater, or major part; and not by one, or a few only: in inflicting this punishment, or laying on this censure in the public manner they did, they were certainly right, and to be commended; but inasmuch as there appeared signs of true repentance, it was sufficient, it had answered the purpose for which it was inflicted, and therefore it was high time to remove it: from whence we learn, that in case of gross enormities, there ought to be a public excommunication; and that this is to be done by the vote, and with the consent of the whole church, or the major part of it; and that in process of time, when the person thus dealt with has given the church satisfaction as to the truth and genuineness of his repentance, the censure ought to be taken off and he be cordially received into the communion of the church again.[4]

    Church is an Organized Body

    As we move to consider membership, elders, and deacons we come to the organizational part of the church. There is order in the church and a way in which things must be done. Concerning this, it is very beneficial to note the following quote and the biblical references from A. H. Strong:

    That there was such organization is abundantly shown from (a) its stated meetings, (b) elections, and (c) officers; (d) from the designations of its ministers, together with (e) the recognized authority of the minister and of the church; (f) from its discipline, (g) contributions, (h) letters of commendation, (i) registers of widows, (j) uniform customs, and (k) ordinances; (l) from the o...