The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith

by A. A. Hodge

A. A. Hodge

Chapter 19

Of the Law of God

SECTION: I. God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, 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.[1]

1. Gen. 1:26-27; 2:17; Eph. 4:24; Rom. 2:14-15; 5:12, 19; 10:5; Gal. 3:10, 12; Eccl. 7:29

SECTION: II. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables:[2] the first four commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six, our duty to man.[3]

2. James 1:25; 2:8, 10-12; Rom. 3:19; 13:8-9; Deut. 5:32; 10:4; Exod. 34:1
3. Exod. 30:3-17; Matt. 22:37-40


These sections teach the following propositions: -
1. That God, as the supreme moral Governor of the universe, introduced the human race into existence as an order of moral creatures, under inalienable and perpetual subjection to an all-perfect moral law, which in all the elements thereof binds man's' conscience and requires perfect obedience.

2. That God, as the Guardian of the human race, entered into a special covenant with Adam, as the natural head of the race, constituting him also the federal head of all mankind, and requiring from him, during a period of probation, perfect obedience to the law above named, promising to him and to his descendants in him confirmation in holiness and eternal felicity as the reward of obedience, and threatening both his wrath and curse as the punishment of disobedience.

3. This law after the fall, and the introduction of the dispensation of salvation through the messiah, while it ceased to offer salvation on the ground of obedience, nevertheless continued to be the revealed expression of God's will, binding all human consciences as the rule of life.

4. That this moral law has for our instruction been summarily comprehended, as to its general principles, in their application to the main relations men sustain to God and to each other, in the Ten Commandments, " which were delivered by the voice of God upon Mount Sinai, and written by him in two tables of stone; and are recorded in the 20th chapter of Exodus. The first four commandments containing our duty to God, and the other six our duty to man." L. Cat., q. 98.

1. God introduced man at his creation as a moral agent, under inalienable and perpetual subjection to an all-perfect moral law, which binds his conscience and requires perfect obedience. This follows self-evidently and necessarily from the very nature of God as a moral Governor, and from the nature of man as a moral agent.

Of this law we remark -
(1.) That it has its ground in the all-perfect and unchangeable moral nature of God. When we affirm that God is holy, we do not mean that he makes right to be right by simply willing it, but that he wills it because it is right. There must therefore be some absolute standard of righteousness. This absolute standard of righteousness is the divine nature. The infallible judge of righteousness is the divine intelligence. The all-perfect executor and rule of righteousness among the creatures is the divine will. The form of our duties springs from our various relations to God and to man; but the invariable principle upon which all duty is grounded, and which gives it its binding moral obligation, is rooted in the changeless nature of God, of which his will is the outward expression. All the divine laws belong to one or other of four classes. They are either -

(a.) Such as are grounded directly in the perfections of the divine nature, and are hence absolutely immutable and irrepealably even by God himself. These are, such as the duty of love and obedience to God, and of love and truth in our relations to our fellow-creatures. Or,-

(b.) Such as have their immediate ground in the permanent Nature and relations of men; as, for instance, the laws which protect the rights of property and regulate the relation of the sexes. These continue unchanged as long as the present constitution of nature continues, and are of universal binding obligation, alike because of their natural propriety as because of the will of God by which they are enforced; although God, who is the author of nature, may in special instances waive the application of the law at his pleasure, as he did in the case of polygamy among the ancient Jews. Or,-

(c.) Such as have their immediate ground in the changing relations of individuals and communities. Of this class are the great mass of the civil and judicial laws of the ancient Jew, which express the will of God for them in their peculiar circumstances, and which of course are intended to be binding only so long as the special conditions to which they are appropriate exist. Or,-

(d.) Such as depend altogether for their binding obligation upon the positive command of God, which are neither universal nor perpetual, but bind those persons only to whom God has addressed them, and only so long as the positive enactment endures. This class includes all rites and ceremonies, etc.

(2.) We remark in the second place that this moral law, at least in its essential principles, and as far as was necessary for the guidance of men in a state of innocency, was revealed in the very constitution of man's nature; and although it has been greatly obscured by sin, it remains sufficiently clear to render even the heathen without excuse. This is certain - (a.) Because it is asserted and argued by Paul (Rom. i. 19, 20; ii. 14, 15); (b.) From the fact that all heathen do possess and act upon such an innate sense of right and of moral accountability, although they may in various degrees be ignorant of specific moral duties. This moral law written upon the heart was part of Adam's original endowment when he was created, as we saw under chapter iv., section 2.

(3.) We remark that the revelation of this moral law of God made in the human constitution, however sufficient it may have been for the guidance of man before he fell, in the natural relations he sustained to his Creator, is under his present circumstances altogether insufficient, as we saw under chapter i., section 1. Hence God has been pleased to make a more full and explicit revelation of his law to man in the inspired Scriptures taken as a whole, which is the only and the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice, as we saw under chapter i.

(4.) We remark in the fourth place that the Scriptures being the only and a complete rule of faith and practice, whatever is revealed therein as the will of God is part of the moral law for Christian men; and whatever is not revealed therein as his will, either directly or by necessary implication, is no part of our moral obligation at all. See chapter xvi., sections 1 and 2.

2. That God introduced Adam, as the head and representative of the whole human family, at his creation, into a covenant relation to the law, making perfect obedience to it for a probationary period the condition of his character and destiny for ever, we have already discussed, chapter vii., sections1 and 2. After the fall of Adam, both he and all his race became incapable of satisfying that covenant themselves, and it pleased God to send forth his Son, made under the law, being born of a woman, to fulfill as the second Adam all the requirements of the legal covenant in behalf of his elect, and to secure for them all its benefits, as we saw under chapter viii.

3. While the law in its relation of a covenant of works has been fulfilled by our Surety, so that they who are under grace are no more under the law in that capacity (Rom. vi. 14), nevertheless the law as a rule of action and standard of character is immutable, unrelaxable, and inalienable, in its personal relations. Christ fulfilled the law for us vicariously as the condition of salvation, and on that basis we are justified. But no one can be vicariously conformed to the law for us as a rule of conduct or of moral character. Therefore, while Christ fulfilled the law for us, the Holy Spirit fulfils the law in us, by sanctifying us into complete conformity to it. And in obedience to this law the believer brings forth those good works which are the fruits though not the ground of our salvation.

4. That this moral law has been summarily comprehended in the two tables of the law, called the Ten Commandments, is a fact not disputed. By this it is not meant that every duty which God now requires of Christian men may be directly derived from the Decalogue, but that the general principles of the infinite law of moral perfection, as adjusted to the general relations sustained by men to God and to one another, may be found there. This is certain, because -

(1.) The two tables of the law were placed under the mercy-seat, which was God's throne, and were called the testimonies of God against the sins of the people; and over them, upon the " covering" or mercy-seat, the high priest sprinkled the blood of the sin-offering. Deut. x. 1 - 5; Ex. xxx. 6; xxxi. 18; Lev. xvi. 14, l5. They therefore represented that all-perfect law of righteousness which is the foundation of God's throne, and which is the testimony of God against human sin, and which is propitiated by the atoning sacrifice of Christ.

(2.) The Ten Commandments teach love to God and to man; and on these, the Savior said, hang all the Law and the Prophets. Matt. xxii. 37 - 40.

(3.) Christ said, that if a man keep this law he shall live. Luke x. 25 - 28.

(4.) Every specific duty taught in any portion of the Scriptures may more or less directly be referred to one or other of the general precepts taught in the Decalogue.

These commandments were originally written by the finger of God himself on two tables of stone. The first four relate to the duties man owes to God, and the remaining six relate to the duties we owe to our fellow-men. The Romish Church assigns only three commandments to the first table, and seven to the second. She unites the first and second commandments together, in order to make it appear that only the worship of false gods and images of them is forbidden, while the images of the true God and of saints are not excluded from the instruments of worship; and, in order to keep up the number, she divides the tenth into two - making the first clause the ninth commandment, and the remaining clauses the tenth.

The great rule for interpreting the Decalogue is to keep constantly in mind that it is the law of God, and not the law of man - that it respects and requires the conformity of the governing affections and dispositions of the heart as well as of the outward actions. Every commandment involves a general moral principle, applicable to a wide variety of particular conditions, respecting the motives and ends of action, as well as action itself The rules of interpretation laid down in the L. Cat., q. 99, are in substance as follows: -

(1.) The law is perfect, requiring perfect obedience, and condemning the least shortcoming as sin.

(2.) It is spiritual, respecting thoughts, feelings, motives, and inward states of hearts, as well as actions.

(3.) That every command implies a corresponding prohibition, and every prohibition a corresponding command; and every promise a corresponding threatening, and every threatening a corresponding promise.

(4.) That under one sin or duty all of the same kind are forbidden or commanded, together with all that, directly or indirectly, are the causes or occasions of them.

(5.) That we are not only bound to fulfill the law ourselves, but also to help others to do so as far as we can.

SECTION: III. Beside this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits;[4] and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties.[5] All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.[6]

4. Heb. 10:1; Gal. 4:1-3; Col. 2:17; Heb. 9:1-28
5. Lev. 19:9-10, 19, 23, 27; Deut. 24:19-21; see I Cor. 5:7; II Cor. 6:17; Jude 1:23
6. Col. 2:14, 16-17; Dan. 9:27; Eph. 2:15-16; Heb. 9:10; Acts 10:9-16; 11:2-10

SECTION: IV. To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.[7]

7. Exod. 21:1-23:19; Gen. 49:10 with I Peter 2:13-14; I Cor. 9:8-10

SECTION: V. The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof;[8] and that, not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it.[9] Neither doth Christ, in the gospel, any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.[10]

8. Rom. 3:31; 7:25; 13:8-10; I Cor. 9:21; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 6:2-3; I John 2:3-4, 7; Rom. 3:20; 7:7-8 and I John 3:4 with Rom. 6:15
9. Deut. 6:4-5; Exod. 20:11; Rom. 3:19; James 2:8, 10-11; Matt. 19:4-6; Gen. 17:1
10. Matt. 5:17-19; Rom. 3:31; I Cor. 9:21; Luke 16:17-18

These sections teach: -
1. That besides the moral law summarily expressed in the Decalogue, God gave the Jews a ceremonial law, wherein, by means of types and symbols, (1,) Christ and his work were set forth, and (2.) certain moral truths inculcated.

That he also gave to them, as a body politic, a system of judicial laws.

3. That both the ceremonial and judicial laws of the Jews have ceased to have any binding force under the Christian economy.

4. That on the other hand the moral law continues of unabated authority, not only because its elements are intrinsically binding, but because, also, of the authority of God, who still continues to enforce it. And Christ, instead of lessening, has greatly increased the obligation to fulfill it.

We have already stated, under the preceding sections of this chapter, the principles which distinguish the different classes of divine commands.

Those commands which have their ground or reason either in the essential principles of the divine nature or in the permanent constitution of things, of course have not been abrogated by the introduction of the Christian dispensation. On the contrary, it was precisely the law of perfect moral rectitude that Christ vicariously fulfilled as our representative, and thus became "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Rom. x. 4. Christ also redeemed his people "from all iniquity," that they might be "zealous of good works" (Tit. ii. 14); and we have seen under chapter xvi. that those only are good works which are done in obedience to the law. By redemption, also, Christ has brought his people under new and higher obligations to obedience; he furnishes new motives, and in the graces of regeneration and sanctification he communicates to the soul new powers and encouragements for the same. Some of these original laws, founded on the constitution of things, God was pleased under the Mosaic dispensation to relax to a degree, as in the case of marriage and divorce; but in every case the original law, instead of being abrogated, has been restored to its pristine breadth and authority by Christ and his apostles. The Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew, is an example of the manner in which the spirit of Christianity exalts and expands the letter of the law beyond any revelation of it which had previously been made.

The principles by which we are to determine what element of the law enacted under the old dispensation is abrogated, and what element remains in full force under the new dispensation, are the following: -

(1.) When the continued obligation of any commandment is asserted or practically recognized in the New Testament, it is plain that the change of dispensations has made no change in the law. Thus the provisions of the moral law are constantly recognized in the New Testament. On the other hand, when the enactment is explicitly repealed, or its abrogation implied by what is taught in the New Testament, the case is also made plain.

(2.) Where there is no direct information upon the question to be gathered from the New Testament, a careful examination of the reason of the law will afford us good ground of judgment as to its perpetuity. If the original reason for its enactment is universal and permanent, and the law has never been explicitly repealed, then the law abides in force. If the reason of the law is transient, its binding force is transient also.

The Mosaic institute may be viewed in three different aspects: -

(1.) As a national and political covenant, whereby, under his theocratic government, the Israelites became the people of Jehovah and he became their King, and in which the Church and the State are identical.

(2.) In another aspect it was a legal covenant, because the moral law, obedience to which was the condition of life in the Adamic covenant, was now prominently set forth in the Ten Commandments and made the basis of the new covenant of God with his people. Even the ceremonial system, in its merely literal and apart from its ceremonial aspect, was a rule of works; for cursed was he that confirmed not all the words of the law to do them. Deut.. xxvii. 26.

(3.) It contained also an elaborate system of symbols, wherein spiritual truths were significantly set forth by outward visible signs, the vast majority of which were types, or prophetic symbols, setting forth the person and work of Christ and the benefits of his redemption.

That the ceremonial law introduced by Moses was typical of Christ and his work is taught throughout the New Testament, and especially in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It was declared to be a "shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ." The tabernacle and its services were "patterns of things in the heavens," and figures, antitypes, of the true tabernacle, into which Christ has now entered for us. Col. ii. 17; Heb. ix. 23, 24. Christ is said to have effected our salvation by offering himself as a sacrifice and by acting as our high priest. Eph. v. 2; Heb. ix. 11, 12, 26, 28; xiii. 11, 12. That the coming of Christ has superseded and for ever done away with the ceremonial law is also evident from the very fact just stated - that its ceremonies were types of him, that they were the shadows of which he was the substance. Their whole purpose and design were evidently discharged as soon as his real work of satisfaction was accomplished; and therefore it is not only a truth taught in Scripture (Heb. x. 1 - 14; Col. ii. 14 - 17; Eph. ii. 15, 16), but an undeniable historical fact, that the priestly work of Christ immediately and definitely superseded the work of the Levitical priest. The instant of Christ's death, the veil separating the throne of God from the approach of men "was rent in twain from the top to the bottom" (Matt. xxvii. 50, 51), thus throwing the way open to all, and dispensing with priests and their ceremonial for ever.

That the judicial laws of the Jews have ceased to have binding obligation upon us follows plainly, from the fact that the peculiar relations of the people to God as theocratical King, and to one another as fellow-members of an Old Testament Church State, to which these laws were adjusted, now no longer exist.

SECTION: VI. Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned;[11] yet is it 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;[12] discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives;[13] so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin,[14] together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience.[15] It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin:[16] and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law.[17] The promises of it, in like manner, show them God's approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof:[18] although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works.[19] So as, a man's doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law; and, not under grace.[20]

11. Rom. 6:14; 7:4; 8:1, 33; Gal. 2:16; 3:13; 4:4-5; Acts 13:38-39
12. Rom. 7:12, 22, 25; Psa. 119:1-6; I Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:14-23
13. Rom. 3:20; 7:7, 13
14. James 1:23-25; Rom. 7:9, 14, 24
15. Gal. 3:24; Rom. 7:24-25; 8:3-4
16. James 2:11-12; Psa. 119:101, 104, 128
17. Ezra 9:13-14; Psa. 89:30-34; Gal. 3:13
18. Exod. 19:5-6; Deut. 5:33; Lev. 18:5; 26:1-13; Matt. 5:5; 19:17; II Cor. 6:16; Eph. 6:2-3; Psa. 19:11; 37:11
19. Gal. 2:16; Luke 17:10
20. Rom. 6:12-15; cf. I Peter 3:8-12 with Psa. 34:12-16; Heb. 12:28-29

SECTION: VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it;[21] the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely, and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.[22]

21. Rom. 3:31; Gal. 3:21; Titus 2:11-14
22. Ezek. 36:27; Heb. 8:10 with Jer. 31:33; Psa. 119:35, 47; Rom. 7:22

In these sections it is affirmed: -
1. That since the fall no man is able to attain to righteousness and eternal life through obedience to the law. This is beyond question, because all men have sinned; because men's natures are depraved; because the law demands perfect and perpetual obedience; and because ." if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain." Gal. ii. 21.

2. That those who have embraced the gospel of Christ are no longer under the law as a covenant of life, but under grace.

3. That nevertheless, under the gospel dispensation, and in perfect harmony with its principles, the law is of manifold uses for all classes of men, and especially in the following respects: -

(1.) To all men generally the law is a revelation of the character and will of God, a standard of moral excellence, and a rule for the regulation of action.

(2.) To unregenerate men, considered in relation to the gospel, the law is of use to convince them of the holiness and justice of God, of their own guilt and pollution, of their utter inability to fulfill its requirements, and so to act as a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. Rom. vii. 7 - 13 Gal iii. 24.

(3) With respect to incorrigible sinners, the law is of use to restrain the outbursts of their evil passions, to render their disobedience without excuse, to vindicate the justice of God in their condemnation, and to render their cases a warning to others. 1 Tim. i. 9; Rom. i. 20; ii. 15; John iii. 18, 3.

(4.) In respect to regenerate men, the law continues to be indispensable as the instrument of the Holy Ghost in the work of their sanctification. It remains to them an inflexible standard of righteousness, to which their nature and their actions ought to correspond. It shows them the extent of their obligations to Christ, and how far short, as yet, they are from having apprehended that whereunto they were apprehended in Christ Jesus. It thus tends to set up in the regenerate the habit of conviction of sin and of repentance and faith. Its threatenings and its promises present motives deterring from sin and assuring of grace, and thus leading the soul onward to that blissful attainment when the sovereignly imposed law of God will become the spontaneous law of our spirits, and hence that royal law of liberty of which James speaks. James i. 25; ii. 8, 12. See L. Cat., qs. 94 - 97.

Scanned and edited by Michael Bremmer

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