The Moral Law the Rule of Conduct to Believers
[A Letter to a Friend.]
My dear Brother,
You requested me to give you my reasons, in the brief compass of a letter, for considering the moral law as the rule of conduct to believers. It is painful that a question of this nature should ever have been started among professing Christians; but this, and other things of the kind, are permitted, that they who are approved may be made manifest.
You do not wish me, my dear brother, to encounter the foul dogmas of our pulpit libertines; but to state a few plain, scriptural evidences, which may be useful to some serious minds, who have been entangled in the mazes of their delusions.—Before I proceed to this, however, it will be proper to make a remark or two in a general way.
First, There is no dispute on the ground of our acceptance with God. We are not justified on account of any thing inherent, whether before, in, or after believing; but merely for the sake of the righteousness of Christ, believed in and imputed to us. As a medium of life, or (as our divines commonly express it) as a covenant, believers are dead to the law, and the law to them, being united to another husband.
Secondly, The question is not whether the whole of Christian obedience be formally required in the ten commandments. Certainly it is not. Neither the ordinance of baptism, nor that of the supper, is expressly required by them; and there may be other duties which they do not, in so many words, inculcate;—but the question is, whether it be not virtually required by them, and whether they be not binding on believers. If we allow our Saviour to be a just expositor, the sum of the ten commandments is the love of God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, and of our neighbour as ourselves; and this includes all the obedience that can possibly be yielded by a creature. If we love God with all our hearts, we shall comply with every positive institute and particular precept which he hath enjoined in his word; and all such compliance contains just so much obedience as it contains love to him, and no more. Let an instance of Christian obedience be produced, if it can, which is not comprehended in the general precept of love.
In objecting to the perfection of the ten commandments, our adversaries would seem to hold with an extensive rule; but the design manifestly is to undermine their authority, and that without substituting any other competent rule in the place of them. In what follows, therefore, I shall endeavour to prove both the authority and perfection of the law; or that the commandments of God, whether we consider them as ten or two, are still binding on Christians, and virtually contain the whole revealed will of God, as to the matter of obedience.
First, To prove that the ten commandments are binding, let any person read them, one by one, and ask his own conscience as he reads whether it would be any sin to break them. Is the believer at liberty to have other gods besides the true God? Would there be no harm in his making to himself a graven image, and falling down to worship it? Is it any less sin for a believer to take God’s name in vain than for an unbeliever? Are believers at liberty to profane the sabbath, or to disobey their parents, or to kill their neighbours, or to commit adultery, or to steal, or to bear false witness, or to covet what is not their own? Is this, or any part of it, the liberty of the gospel? Every conscience that is not seared as with a hot iron must answer these questions in the negative.
Secondly, It is utterly inconsistent with the nature of moral government, and of the great designs of mercy, as revealed in the gospel, that believers should be freed from obligation to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbours as themselves. The requirement of love is founded in the nature of the relation between God and a rational creature; and cannot be made void so long as the latter exists, unless the former were to deny himself. The relation between a father and son is such that an obligation to love is indispensable; and should the son, on having offended his father, be forgiven and restored, like the prodigal to his family, to pretend to be free on this account were an outrage on decency. Every one must feel that his obligations, in such a case, are increased, rather than diminished.
Thirdly, It was solemnly declared by our Saviour, “that he came, not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it;” yea, “that heaven and earth should pass away, but not a jot or tittle of the law should fail.” A considerable part of his sermon on the mount is taken up in pointing out the true meaning of its particular precepts, and in enforcing them upon his disciples. To the same purpose the apostle Paul, after dwelling largely on justification by faith in Christ, in opposition to the works of the law, asks, “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.” But if the law ceases to be binding on believers, Christ did come to destroy its authority over them, and faith does make it void in respect of them. The faith of those who set Moses and Christ at variance has manifestly this effect; it is therefore in opposition to the faith taught by our Saviour and the apostle Paul.
Fourthly, In executing the great work of redemption, our Saviour invariably did honour to the law; it was written in his heart. He did not ask for the salvation of his chosen at the expense of the law; but laid down his life to satisfy its righteous demands. Now, the essence of true religion is for the “same mind to be in us which was in Christ Jesus.” Hence he prayed that they all might be one, as the Father was in him, and he in the Father, that they might be one in both. The Lawgiver and the Saviour were one; and believers must be of one mind with the former as well as with the latter: but if we depreciate the law, which Christ delighted to honour, and deny our obligations to obey it, how are we of his mind? Rather, are we not of that mind which is “enmity against God, which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be?”
Fifthly, The apostle, in what he writes to the Romans and Galatians, (two Epistles in which he largely explodes the idea of justification by the works of the law,) enforces brotherly love as a requirement of the law. “Love one another,” says he, “for love is the fulfilling of the law—Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another; for all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” If the liberty of the primitive Christians consisted in being delivered from an obligation to obey the precepts of the law, the reasoning of the apostle was self-contradictory: Ye are not obliged to love one another because God in his law requires it; therefore, love one another, because God in his law requires it!!
Sixthly, If the law be not a rule of conduct to believers, and a perfect rule too, they are under no rule; or, which is the same thing, are lawless. But, if so, they commit no sin; for “where no law is, there is no transgression;” and in this case they have no sins to confess, either to God or to one another; nor do they stand in need of Christ as an Advocate with the Father, nor of daily forgiveness through his blood. Thus it is that, by disowning the law, men utterly subvert the gospel. I am aware that those who deny the law to be the rule of a believer’s conduct, some of them, at least, will not pretend to be lawless. Sometimes they will profess to make the gospel their rule; but the gospel, strictly speaking, is not a rule of conduct, but a message of grace, providing for our conformity to the rule previously given. To set aside the moral law as a rule, and to substitute the gospel in its place, is making the gospel a new law, and affords a proof how Antinomianism and Neonomianism, after all their differences, can occasionally agree. The Scriptures teach us that “by the law is the knowledge of sin;” which clearly implies that there is no sin but what is a breach of that rule. Hence sin is defined “the transgression of the law.” But if sin be the transgression of the law, the authority of the law must be still binding; for no crime or offence attaches to the breach of a law which is abrogated or repealed; nor can it be known by such a law how much any man hath sinned, or whether he hath sinned at all. Moreover, if there be no sin but what is a transgression of the law, there can be no rule binding on men which is not comprehended in that law.
Seventhly, The apostle writes as if there were no medium between being under the law to Christ and without law, 1 Cor. 9:21. If we be not the one, we are the other. Paul declares himself under the law to Christ, which implies that Christ has taken the precepts of the moral law as the first principles of his legislative code. Believers, therefore, instead of being freed from obligation to obey it, are under greater obligations to do so than any men in the world. To be exempt from this is to be without law, and, of course, without sin; in which case we might do without a Saviour, which is utterly subversive of all religion.—I have been told that believers are not to be ruled by the law, but by love; and that it is by the influence of the Spirit that they are moved to obedience, rather than by the precepts of the law. To this I answer—
- If a believer be ruled by love in such a way as to exclude obligation, this is the same as if a son should say to his father, I have no objection to oblige you, sir: I will do your business from love; but I will not be commanded! That is, what he pleases he will do, and no more.—No parent could bear such an answer from a child; and how can we suppose that God will bear it from us! “If I be a father, where is my honour?”—
- The question is not, What moves or causes obedience?—but, What is the rule of it? It is allowed that all true obedience is caused by the influence of the Holy Spirit; but that to which he influences the mind was antecedently required of us: He leadeth us “in the way that we should go.”—
- If the influence of the Holy Spirit on the mind be made the rule of obligation, and that influence be effectual, it will follow that believers are without sin; for whatever they are effectually influenced to do they do; and if this be all they are obliged to do, then do they comply with their whole duty, and so are sinless. Thus, methinks, we have arrived at a state of sinless perfection by a sort of back way! But let us not deceive ourselves: “God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”
After all, my dear friend, evidence, even that which is drawn from the word of God, will have little or no influence on minds which have drank deeply into these corrupt principles. Where men have found out the secret of happiness without holiness, there is something so bewitching in it, that you might almost as well encounter insanity as hope by reasoning to convince them. Indeed, I know of no character to whom the words of the prophet, though spoken immediately of idolaters, will more fully apply: “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” There are, however, degrees in this kind of infatuation; and I doubt not but many sincere minds have been infected with it. If some of this description should be recovered, it is worth our utmost attention; and even those whose prejudices are the most inveterate are not beyond the reach of omnipotent grace.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 585–588). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.