Question 114. But can those who are converted to God perfectly keep these commandments?
Answer: No: but even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; (a) yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God. (b)
Re-cap — small beginning (Illustration — advance in an infinite ocean)
(b) Rom.7:22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
This teaching of the Catechism, following Scripture as it does, ought to put an end to all forms of antinomianism in the Church. Antinomianism is the teaching that the law has no role in the Christian’s life. The idea is that the believer has been saved by God from the law and so the law no longer has a role in their life and instead of the law as their standard for “how shall they then live,” the standard becomes the Holy Spirit, as abstracted or divorced from the law guiding them, or they will contend that it is love” that directs their behavior but again, it is a love that is more informed by their instinct then it is by God’s revelation.
The Catechism brings to the fore that, “that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God.” And they lodge this observation in the teaching of Scripture,
Ps.1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
You see some folks want to pit the NT against the OT and so they will go to passages like
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
And reading that they will then interpret it to mean that the law has ended for the Christian who trusts in Christ. But end in “R. 10:4″ means goal, purpose, or culmination and what it is teaching is not that the law no longer has a role in the Christian’s life but rather that Christ is the one who gives all that the law required.
So, our walking in the way of God’s law revelation is not a means to gaining something we do not already have (peace with God and God’s approval) but rather our walking in God’s law revelation is a manifestation that we are a people who are now, as Paul says in Ephesians, “light in the Lord.” Our walking in God’s law revelation is the placarding of the truth that Christ has redeemed us and made us a people unique unto Him. This is so true that if it is the case, by God’s grace that we make advance in this walking in God’s law revelation that announces that we are being conformed to Christ, that we glory in the Lord because we know it is the Spirit of Christ that causes us to go from Christ-likeness unto Christ-likeness.
And so because of that we pay attention to God’s Revelation as it teaches us how to walk as Disciples of Christ. We agree with the Apostle Paul,
2 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
So, we understand that the experience of the Grace of God in our lives that finds us redeemed and set apart as God’s Holy people, in no way detracts from the permanence and authority of God’s law.
There is a long record in our history of trying to squeeze out the role of God’s law in the believers life as a rule of conduct.
In the 17th century one Robert Towne could say
“To faith, or in the State or things of faith, there is no obligation, nor use of the law.”
John Saltmarsh disliked,
those who say “that duties are to be done because commanded,” and in his book, “Free-Grace” he reveals his contempt for those whose Gospel preaching is ‘over-much heated by the Law, and conditions and qualifications,’ and who hold the believer in the poverty of spirit by keeping him ‘both under Grace and Law at the same time.” Saltmarsh said that to urge believers to ‘Repent … and walk according to the Law of God’ is a legal way of bringing comfort to the soul, and that preachers who do this give ‘rather something of the Law than Gospel,’ for ‘nothing but the taking in of the law … can trouble the peace and quiet of any soul.’
“The Gospel is … a perfect law of life and righteousness … and therefore I wonder at any that should contend for the ministry of the law or the Ten Commandments under Moses. The believer is under grace, and there is ‘no Moses now.”
Now as we continue to consider we say again, that as Christians our “sincere resolution to begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God,” is a resolution that is born of gratitude for the righteousness and peace with God that we have because Christ is our acceptability before the Father. “Our sincere resolution to begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God,” is a sincere resolution that starts from being forgiven and not from trying to earn forgiveness by our behavior.
Well, the Reformed of the day had an answer for those who even those many years ago wanted to deny the role to the law as a rule of conduct for the believer,
John Sedgwick considered,
“The antinomian war-cries of Free Grace, Christ’s Righteousness, and Gospel Liberty, to be “Baits and Snares … to cast down Obedience, to keep Christians from their dutie to God,” and Sedgwick deplored the “Law destroying, Dutie casting down course of the Antinomians.”
Another Puritan minister, James Durham affirmed that this rejection of the principle of obligation was itself a breach of the 1st commandment.
Thomas Gataker defended the principle of obligation by reference to the Greek word in I John 2:6 and the occurrence of the same verb in Romans 7:12. Gataker could say,
“To deny the Moral law to be of any more use to believers, or to be so much as a rule of conversation, or that they owe obedience unto it in point of duty and conscience; this strikes at the very root, and cuts in sunder the knot, not only of Christian Charity, but even of all civil society.”
Now the reason I’m giving these quotes and going over this issue is because we have needs to see that we are not the first generation to deal with antinomianism. And we have needs to see that the objections that we might see today have been seen before and have been dealt with before. We can be confident that the Catechism is correct when it teaches us, following Scripture, that we begin to live not only according to some but all the commandments of God. And the catechism is correct to enjoin upon us the law as a rule of conduct for the Christian’s life.
And for this section, to underscore this, we will finish with a quote from 17th century Reformed Minister Samuel Rutherford,
“The Law is yet to be preached, as tying us to personal obedience, whatever antinomians say on the contrary … Antinomians judge that by the Gospel, Christ hath done all for us, which is most true in the kind of meritorious and deserving cause, satisfying justice, but they do loose us from all personal duties, or doing ourselves, or in our own persons, so as we should be obliged to do, except we would sin. We think the same law obligation, but running in a Gospel-channel of Free-Grace, should act as now as if we were under a covenant of works, but not as if the one were Law-debt, and the other wages that we sweat for, and commeth by law debt; Antinomians make all duties a matter of courtesy.”
He then goes on to point out that Antinomians ‘contend for a Christian liberty wherewhith Christ hath made us free, and we contend for the same, but the question is, wherein the liberty consisteth, in concerns us much that we take not license for liberty.
Well, I could go on with many more quotes. But you get the sense. The problem that we have in the Church today of antinomianism, is a problem that has been in the Church in the past. And yet our Catechism solves that problem by insisting that.
That while no Christian can keep God’s law perfectly and though even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience; yet so, that with a sincere resolution they begin to live, not only according to some, but all the commandments of God. ,
And we would close this question by observing that it is precisely at this point why we will be hated by men. It was Christ’s keeping of the law and his exposing of God’s enemies false treatment of the law that found Him crucified. If we seek to walk in God’s law revelation as a rule of life, out of gratitude for a forgiveness freely given, we will be walking convictions to those who insist that the only law is that there is no law, or to those who live by other autonomously created law orders that are inconsistent with God’s revelation.
Well, then this takes us to question 115 and with this we finish up our look at the law.
Question 115. Why will God then have the Ten Commandments so strictly preached, since no man in this life can keep them?
Answer: First, that all our lifetime we may learn more and more to know (a) our sinful nature, and thus become the more earnest in seeking the remission of sin, and righteousness in Christ;
(b) likewise, that we constantly endeavor and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come. (c)
Know our sinful nature
We preach the law the Catechism says so that we may know our sinful nature and find ourselves keep returning to Christ as our only righteousness.
Rom.3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
There are two dangers here.
1.) Knowing our sinful nature so thoroughly that we lament of God’s grace to us or we become so defeated because of our knowledge of our sinful nature that we become ineffective.
To those who fall into this trap we must remind them that God has forgiven them in Christ and that though they are sinners that ought not to stop them from attempting mighty things for God. They need to have impressed upon them and be reminded that even though they may be great sinners, Christ is a greater savior.
2.) The other danger here is that our sinful natures would lie to lightly upon us and so we would begin to think of ourselves more highly than we ought and in thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought we would fail to be impressed with Christ being our acceptability before the Father.
If the previous group of people need to be constantly taken back to God’s provision in Christ, this group of people need to be taken back to God’s absolute standard of righteousness. None of us have any reason to be impressed with ourselves. If we could for one second see our sin as it really is we would know in that one second why,
Our hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
We dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
Paul understood how the law took men back to Christ,
Rom.7:24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Rom.7:25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now, as a minister, let me say that I far more often see contemporary Christians plagued with the second danger of having their sinful natures lie on them too lightly then I meet people who are plagued with the first danger of their sinful nature lying on them too heavily. I know my own danger is the former and not the latter.
The second reason they give for preaching of the law is that we “constantly endeavour and pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, that we may become more and more conformable to the image of God, till we arrive at the perfection proposed to us, in a life to come.
Here they cite Paul from his letter to the Philippians on the importance of this pursuit of God
Philip.3:11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Philip.3:12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Philip.3:13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, Philip.3:14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
It is interesting that what the Catechizers are doing here with this answer is in the first reason they are emphasizing looking outside of ourselves to Christ who is our righteousness, while in the second reason they emphasize the aspect of increasingly becoming in our daily lives what we have freely been declared to be.
These always go together and in this order. The objective reality of who we are in Christ is the foundation from which we operate to increasingly become what we have been freely declared to be. The outward look creates and sustains our inward becoming. Much is wrong with the Church today in the West because we forget the necessity of both of these reasons for preaching the law or because we reverse the order of these reasons for preaching the law.
The Catechism, following Scripture, instructs that there is a connection between preaching the law and our conformity to the image of God. By putting it this way there is direct linkage made between the law and God’s image. The law is strictly preached that we may become increasingly conformable to God’s image. How is it that the strict preaching of God’s law could lead to our becoming increasingly conformable to God’s image unless it were the case that the law is God’s image?
Notice here though, that we are not thrown upon our own autonomous efforts. It is the case that we are looking to God for increasing conformity to His image. As the catechism teaches, we pray to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit that we might increasingly become more conformable to the image of God that is set forth by the strict preaching of God’s law. This is not “lift yourself up by your bootstraps and trust in your own efforts” sanctification. This is God’s grace from beginning to end.
Here we see a fantastic coming together of several themes. The strict preaching of God’s law, the reality that Christ is our righteousness, and the fact that our increasing conformity to the image of God is related to the strict preaching of God’s law, the reality that Christ is our righteousness and the place of the Holy Spirit and prevailing prayer in the life of the believer.
But that perfection we all desire … that being done with the sin that we are all too familiar with is not something that transpires in this life. Our perfection that is proposed to us is for the life to come. This keeps us humble and dependent upon Christ for our righteousness. This keeps us from being self satisfied. This keeps us always looking for the sin that needs to be put off in our own life, regardless of how far God has brought us in Christ. And finally, this makes heaven precious.
Sometimes disgust with myself makes me pine for heaven so I can be done with the sinful nature I carry around and see all too often. The thought of death scares me but the thought of heaven makes the thought of death tolerable because I know that once death is past, what lies in front of me is the perfection proposed. I will be done with the old man and the newness I already know as down payment and promise will be known in full.