The Staunch Calvinist

"Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God." - Jonathan Edwards


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

...w? What is the moral law and is it binding on all people? What are the Ten Commandments? Were the Ten Commandments known before Sinai? What is the relationship between the believer and the Ten Commandments? What is the doctrine of the Law and the gospel?

There is a lot of work to be done in this chapter and I think that this is a crucial chapter, one that I want to study myself. I do believe what is confessed here, but I do also want to be able to make a biblical case for it. The case that I will lay down is obviously convincing to me, I will not be able to address every objection that may come up. What I want to lay down here is the binding authority and nature of the Decalogue on all people, whether saved or unsaved; what the relationship of the Christian is to the Law and such questions.

Defining Our Terms

Natural Law

The Natural Law is the Law of God as revealed in creation and which man knows by virtue of the fact that he’s a creature made in the image of God (see here on the image of God). Natural Law may be discovered by reason and innate knowledge. The Reformed Baptist theologian Richard Barcellos writes the following concerning the substance and form of the Moral Law:

Protestant Scholasticism taught that the Decalogue summarily contains the Moral Law and is the inscripturated form of the natural law, as to its substance. A distinction was made between substance and form. Substance is one; form (and function) may vary. For example, when the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 98 says, “The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments,” it refers to the fact that the substance (i.e., the underlying essence) of the Moral Law is assumed and articulated in the propositions of the Decalogue as contained in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The form (and function) fits the redemptive-historical circumstances in which it was given. The substance, or underlying principles, are always relevant and applicable to man because he is created in the image of God. The application may shift based on redemptive-historical changes, such as the inauguration of the New Covenant, but its substance and utility 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...

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

... imitate God in those things wherein he would have us imitate him. So that I account this command to be moral-positive: moral, in that it requires a due portion of our time to be dedicated to the service and worship of God: positive, in that it prescribes the seventh day for that especial service which the light and law of nature did not prefix; and mixed of both, in that it gives a reason of this prescription, which hath somewhat of natural equity in it, but yet such as could not have been discovered without special and divine revelation.[66]

Unity Of The Decalogue

But the stronger, and in my opinion, the most conclusive argument for the essentially moral nature of the Sabbath “is its inclusion in the Decalogu[e].”[68] As it is clear and admitted by both Sabbatarians and non-Sabbatarians that all the nine commandments are essentially moral, then, in the words of John Murray, “It would require the most conclusive evidence to establish the thesis that the fourth command is in a different category from the other nine.”[52] The unity of the Decalogue dictates that the fourth commandment, like all the other nine, has its basis in the moral nature of God and is ever-binding on all. Murray is completely right that there needs to be overwhelming argumentation and evidence to prove that while commandments one through three, five through ten are essentially moral, that the fourth commandment, on the other hand, is merely or essentially ceremonial. There is no such evidence. The unity of the Decalogue and the inclusion of the Sabbath therein demand its morality. Moreover, the basis given for the Sabbath in the Decalogue (Ex. 20:8-11) goes back to Creation and has its grounds in the Creator’s example and is therefore moral. Archibald Alexander observes:

Now, it is admitted, that all the other precepts of the Decalogue are moral; and would it not be an unaccountable thing that a ceremonial, temporary commandment should be inserted in the midst of these moral precepts? This is the law which Christ says he came not to destroy, but to fulfill. None of these commandments have been abrogated; and therefore the fourth, as well as the others, remains in full force. And it is remarkable that the prophets, in denouncing the sins of the people, always mention the violation of the Sabbath in the same catalogue with the transgression of moral precepts.[43]

The Sabbath is a big deal in the prophets and its profanation a great sin. Furthermore, the unity of the Decalogue demands that all the commandments thereof be equally binding upon all men. Dr. Martin cites Daniel Wilson as saying:

As Daniel Wilson says, “Whatever authority any have, that authority is possessed by this. Whatever obligation the first, the second, the third, or any other carry with them, the same obligation carries with it the fourth. If men are bound in every age and under all dispensations to acknowledge only one God, to worship Him, not with graven images, but in spirit and in truth, to reverence the divine name, to obey their parents, to abstain from murder, adultery, theft, false witness, concupiscence, they are equally bound to consecrate a Sabbath to their Maker’s service, after six days of ordinary labor and toil.”[69]

We must not forget that the Sabbath commandment “is an element of that basic law which was distinguished from all else in the Mosaic revelation by being inscribed on two tables of stone.”[52] This reveals the everlasting character of all the Ten Com...

Welcome To The Staunch Calvinist

...>Of Good Works
  • Of The Perseverance Of The Saints (A positive case for the Reformed doctrine and responses to passages such as Hebrews 6 and the like)
  • Of The Assurance Of Grace And Salvation
  • Of The Law Of God (Threefold Division of the Law, the Decalogue before Moses, a brief exposition of the Decalogue, ceremonial and civil laws, the abiding moral law under the New Covenant in the OT prophecy and the NT, Threefold Uses of the Law, The Law and the Gospel)
  • Of The Gospel, And Of The Extent Of The Grace Thereof
  • Of Christian Liberty And Liberty of Conscience
  • Of Religious Worship And the Sabbath Day (A case for the Regulative Principle of Worship and the Christian Sabbath)
  • Of Lawful Oaths And Vows
  • Of The Civil Magistrate
  • Of Marriage
  • Of The Church
  • Of the Communion of Saints
  • Of Baptism And The Lord’s Supper
  • Of Baptism
  • Of The Lord’s Supper
  • Of The State Of Man After Death And Of The Resurrection Of The Dead (Intermediate State Hades, Sheol, Heaven; A Case for Amillennial Eschatology; critique of Premillennialism)
  • Of The Last Judgment (Endless punishment in Hell contra Annihilationism)
  • ...

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 2: Of God and of the Holy Trinity - Commentary descendant Saul was. Therefore, Saul had to be rejected so that the promise to Judah could be fulfilled in David (and ultimately in the Greater David). God knew and had promised that the kingdom would belong to Judah, therefore, this makes it all the more necessary for Saul to be rejected and a descendant of Judah to sit upon the throne. Had Saul been obedient then the kingdom would have been established in his name, but he was not because his line was not promised to have the scepter.

    Exodus 32:14

    The last passage which I want to look at is the intercession of Moses and the “repentance” of God in Exodus 32. Moses has gone up to Mt. Sinai to receive the Decalogue from the hand of God. He has been there forty days and forty nights and then God tells him, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves” (Ex. 32:7). Notice how God distances Himself from the idolatrous Israelites. He does not say “My people whom, whom I brought up…,” but rather He associates the people with Moses because of their sin. Then we read of God’s determination to destroy Israel in these words:

    Exod 32:9-10 And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.

    God wants to destroy the idolatrous Israelites and start a new nation with Moses and his line. God is angry and He has had it with this idolatrous and disobedient people, therefore, He decides to blot of out this people and start over again. God requests to be left alone (v. 10), but then comes Moses’ intercession before the Lord for Israel. Moses, on the other hand, reminds the Lord that contra to the Lord’s declaration in v. 7, it is “your people, whom you have brought out of Egypt” (v. 11), not Moses’. He also reminds the Lord about His reputation among the heathen. What will the Egyptians say when they hear about the Lord wiping Israel out? Did He bring them out to destroy them in the desert (v. 12)? Therefore, Moses implores and begs the Lord, saying, “Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” (v. 12). Finally, Moses reminds the Lord of one final thing: the promises to the Patriarchs with special emphasis upon the fact that God swore by Himself to establish the promises concerning innumerable offspring and the Promised Land (v. 13). Three things does Moses remind the Lord of: 1) Israel is His people; 2) God’s reputation, and 3) the promises to the Fathers. It is without question that the use of “remember” in v. 13 is meant to be figurative, as in applying things common to man to God so that we would be able to understand Him. In other words: God did not forget about these things.

    Now to make a few observations about this incident. Based on the actions of the Israelites, which were sinful and rebellious, God wanted to wipe out Israel and start all over again with Moses. Had Moses not interceded, the Lord would have wiped out Israel. The Lord said to Moses, “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them…” (v. 10). Had Moses left God alone, i.e., not interceded, the Lord would have consumed Israel. But Moses did intercede and therefore, God relented from the disaster which He had pronounced. Here, as with the account of Jonah, we see the principle of Jeremiah 18:7-10 in action. God will only wipe ou...

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 7: Of God's Covenant - Commentary it; that is, it will not be breakable. This is obvious from the text. The New Covenant is not breakable like the Mosaic, which the people over and over broke, or like the Abrahamic which people could break by not being circumcised (Gen. 17:14). Unlike those covenants, the New Covenant cannot be broken. This is one of the main weaknesses of the Mosaic, but this new covenant is unlike the Mosaic in this and other aspects. This is an aspect which is mentioned of the Mosaic Covenant and the New is said to be like it. The New Covenant will not be broken. The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant, i.e., the “covenant that they broke”.

    The Law of God, the Decalogue (see for more here), will no longer be given on tablets of stone, rather, it will be written upon our hearts where we will obey it. No longer will it remain so far off, but it will be near and God would write it in our inner being, even giving us the ability to love it and desire to obey God (Rom. 7:24). With the result that He will be our God and we will be His people.

    This Covenant will be made with the eschatological Israel and Judah of God, which is the Jewish-Gentile church of Christ (Rom. 2:25-29; 9:6-7; Gal. 3:15ff; 6:16, see also above). With the result that all those who are in the covenant will know God. They will have a relationship with God. Indeed, all in Israel knew about the true God, but they obviously did not all know Him. The Lord promises that all the members of this covenant will know Him, from the least to the greatest, children and adults will know the Lord Who has called them.

    They are promised that their sins and iniquities will be forgiven. A promise that is not made in any other covenant. The Lord will forgive the sins of all its members. All the members of the New Covenant will savingly and truly know the Lord. It will not be a mixed community as in the days of old with Israel. No longer will there be a true Israel within fleshly Israel. As a Reformed Baptist, I do not believe that just because a person is a member of a church that also makes him a member of the Covenant of Grace in substance or administration. I don’t associate church membership with covenantal membership. Notice how vv. 34 gives a reason for the assertion that the members of the New Covenant will know the Lord. The last part of v. 34 begins with the word “for” which gives us the reason as to why everyone in this covenant will intimately and savingly know God, and it is because He has granted complete forgiveness of sins.

    It is indisputable that this covenant was ratified in Christ’s blood. It is also without a doubt that this is the New Covenant which the New Testament speaks of. This is clearly seen in the full citation of the promise in Hebrews 8.

    Heb. 8:6-13 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. 10 For this is the covenant...

    1689 Baptist Confession Chapter 8: Of Christ the Mediator - Commentary

    ...strong and here). Both Jews and Gentiles are under the Law and possess it, yet in a different sense. Jews possess the fullness of the written Law, while Gentiles only have the moral law written on their hearts. Therefore, the way that I understand Galatians 4:4-5 is that the Lord Jesus was indeed born under the Mosaic Law to redeem those who were under the Law. But the Law of Moses is itself an expansion of the Law of Creation given to us through Adam our federal head. In essence, it is the same as the Mosaic and has the same moral law as the Decalogue. Therefore, both Jews and Gentiles could properly be said to be under the law and thus were redeemed through Christ. Matthew Poole comments on this phrase:

    This makes it appear, that Christ’s being under the law must be understood as well of the moral as of the ceremonial law, that is, subject to the precepts of it, as well as to the curse of it; for if the end of this being born under the law, was to redeem those that were under it, that he had not reached by being merely under the ceremonial law; for the Gentiles were not under that law, but only under the moral law; and they also were to be redeemed, and to receive the great privilege of [adoption.][4]

    The Expositor’s Greek Testament puts it in this way:

    The description under Law includes Gentiles as well as Jews: for though they had not the Law, they were not without Law to God (cf. Romans 2:14…): they have indeed been expressly specified in Galatians 3:14 as included in the redemption from the curse of the Law.[15]

    The Lord Jesus fulfilled the Law on our behalf. This is part of His active obedience. The Lord Jesus, the federal head of the New Covenant people of God, was fulfilling the Law for us and in our place. Since we could not fulfill the Law, we were doomed, but when Christ fulfilled the Law for us, both in its commandments and curses, we were set free! The purpose of Christ’s coming was not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it.

    Matt. 5:17-19 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For 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 accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

    Perhaps in the context that the Lord, as the new Moses, was giving a Law to His people on the mountain, people might have gotten the idea that He was doing away with the Mosaic Law. The Lord is emphatic. He by no means is destroying, abrogating or doing away with the Law. Rather He is come to fulfill the Law. To do it and to be the true representation of it. To be a true keeper of the Law of God and work the Law in the hearts of His people. The Lord also speaks of the Scriptures in the phrase “Law or the Prophets.” He has come so that the many types, shadows, and prophecies from the Old Testament may have their fulfillment in Him and His people (2 Cor. 1:20). He had to identify Himself with His people and that is why He was baptized. To identify Himself with His people who needed to repent. He tells John that it was “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). Christ summarized the Law with two things, 1) loving God and 2) loving your neighbor. Who but Christ the Lord has perfectly f...