devotional

30DEC
2019

LBCF 1689 Reflections. Part 170

Reflections on the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689

 

23 Aug 14 began a perhaps unbroken, orderly, and personal journey through my favorite written confession of faith. These are my personal reflections on this beloved historic Particular Baptist confession of the Christian Faith.

 

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Chapter 19. “Of the Law of God.” Paragraph 6a: “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, 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 natures, hearts, and lives, so as examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against, sin…”

A focus on the Law is so very much needed today! It’s needed in every generation. Mine is no different. As a Baptist, I call the Mosaic Covenant a “Covenant of Works.” This was a formal covenant between God and Israel that actually underscored all of mankind’s condition and only remedy. Israel thus became God’s evangelism program to the nations. It still is in ways.

The Law is “of great use to” us today, dear reader. I say that the main message of the covenant of works was/is its adherent’s need of God’s free grace. Please take a moment and read that last sentence again. This message isn’t incidental to the Law. It was instead the highest intent of it. Circumcision similarly pointed to a needed remedy of SIN in Israel’s progeny that clearly went far beyond circumcision itself. The Law was not an end in itself. When seen as such in the grand scheme the Law is only then actually able to be seen as a means of grace. Grace was married to the Law and inherited its rights by Christ. Grace was made more gracious by the Law. This was true at its institution, but made only far more definite in Christ. Jesus did not destroy it. He fulfilled it. God long ago, however, did not fail to make Israel his special people in the Old Covenant (OC) by the Law. The Law that governed the OC was never assumed by God as able to make a man heaven-level righteous. God alone could do that, supernaturally. Soli Deo Gloria! The Law was not misunderstood by God in its abilities. So, the Law must have been implemented to another ultimate end. That end was its illumination of Christ’s person, message and works. I’m certain that the true OC person’s position in heaven was always a gift of God’s free grace. The true Jew was seated in Christ as much as anyone who would come to God after the calendar days of Jesus’ earthly life. They looked forward to God’s mercy like I invite you to look back to it today. Today, we know that it’s the Cross we are all looking to. The Law showed Israel precisely how much SIN had affected mankind. Dead in Adam all. Job was made to see his need of God’s own pardon with his hands over his mouth. Job’s heart was lifted in life and eternity by this. Job 9:32-35; 40:4. Job’s suffering and the false counsel of his friends functioned like the Law that came later. Not that the Law is bad counsel, but it reveals a condition remedied only in God from it/in it/by it/beyond it. Job was made to see God through what God showed him. In Lamentations 3 (focus on vv. 19-24) we see the heart of God’s people shaped by the covenant. Shaped by the Law. Simeon was a later result of this same focusing effect of the Law in Luke 2:25-32. Simeon was in white-hot passionate pursuit of the God of Israel. He was righteous and devout. The godly Jew obeyed God’s Law out of a love for God. Out of a hope and trust in God’s promised covenant mercies to their people that long-preceded their life’s feeble works. This need of grace was made clear with Abraham. The Law was thus always meant to instruct God’s people as to their true hope—the free and generously granted mercy of a holy God of promise and truth. God promised to be Israel’s God. He actually swore by himself to be so! Hebrews 6:13-14. Wow! The true Israelite hoped fully therefore in God. David cried, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul will make its boast in the Lord; the humble will hear it and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” Psalm 34:1-3. For the NC counterpart to this same praise to God see: 1 Corinthians 1:30-31; Galatians 6:14. The Law, only less than the Gospel, produced worship not deadness. Life in Christ only multiplied exponentially this worship and life.

Paul understood the Law of Moses as a tool in God’s hand always teaching his own of his holiness and truth. This gives all of life meaning. It puts the flavor in our food. In Christ, himself the fullness of revelation, Paul saw the Law as a sharpened pencil only more clearly articulating the same need of grace. God didn’t “fail” to sanctify a people by giving them the Law. Its intention was to teach them that righteousness always only comes by a free and wholly un-merited gift from God. And it worked (cf. Romans 9:6). Grace never once came to a fallen child of Adam in Israel (or anywhere else for that matter) because of one’s performance. Listen to Galatians 3:21: “…if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.” He’s saying that no “works” (often a synonym for Law) can produce righteousness. If any law could, he’s saying, it would’ve been this Law. But even this Law cannot produce righteousness. Again I say, God knew this full well. Paul’s understanding of the plan of grace from God began with Adam’s fall, was seen in Noah, inscribed more precisely beginning with Abraham, extended through the Law, the Prophets and the writings, culminated in Christ, and was now, by the teaching of the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant (NC), being fully expounded by the Lord Jesus himself and its Apostles among the nations. Ephesians 2:20. Hebrews chapter 7-10 expound the covenant’s transition in Christ and says, “…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” in 10:4. “Impossible.” This was not unknown by God. Why was it impossible? Because only God could do it for mankind and by another type of sacrifice altogether planned from before the foundation of the world. Only by incarnate Deity. Only by Jesus. Genesis 3:14-15.

This part of the confession declares their view that believers are not under the Law. Paul’s theology is an all or none view of the Law. There are no scales under it. God could’ve just given one law to show this, but he chose to give us more. You’re either guilty of the Law having shattered its perfection or you’re sinless. James expounds the same when he exclaims, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” James 2:10. Cf. Galatians 3:10. The confession is wonderfully clear of how NC believers are not under the Law. Thanks in large part to the articulations of Christian theology by Philip Melanchthon and Martin Luther, the Christian church’s understanding of justification took a quantum leap backward to Christ. Ad fontes. Justification is God himself declaring over someone that the claims of the Law no longer hold a sentence over us. Regenerate men appear before God and are declared righteous by God in this, confessing their newfound faith freely, having already been crucified with Christ. God alone can declare a man justified. His Law only gleans its jurisdiction over his world so he alone can absolve us of the debt.

The Law’s greatest function in my life as a Christian has been an explanation of my need for the Cross. The Law terrifies me. In Christ, that terror, always holding hands with the Law (Proverbs 1:7) is the beginning of NC wisdom for us as it’s written about Jesus that, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Colossians 2:3. The dust of the inscribed tablets of the Law piles at the foot of the Cross. The ink is in the soil. Outside of Eden now, the Law takes us to Sinai so that our hearts can show us how God’s covenant people have gone from Moriah to Calvary. I understand Jesus and his teaching only because of the Law. I believe this is exactly Paul’s point over all of the Law in Galatians 3:23-24 when he says, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” I’m not under the Law if I’m a Christian as Paul and the confession here says, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still as much with me in modified NC form as it was with Moses or David.

The Law shows me in its inimitable way by my own conscience concurring that sin is not an unclear thing. I see sin’s pervasive nature in my heart by the diagnosing tool of God’s Law clearer than any blood test has produced a diagnosis in my life. I’m a liar. The commandment against lying shows it. Romans 7 shows how the Law revealed SIN in Paul’s heart by his sins. It’s done the same in my own life today. I love the Law. I need it to teach me still. I’m not under it (which is what it means ultimately to be “saved”) but I want it with me. It helps me hate my sin while simultaneously defining the love of my sweet and gracious Savior.

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:1-2.

 

Happy new year!

 

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