I recently came across an online discussion that revealed some people’s misunderstandings about the law and another term, preparationism. For consideration was the following quote from Spurgeon. (The full quote is available in this sermon, from January of 1886. The conversation included only the bolded parts of the full quote — but the excerpt still makes Spurgeon’s point well enough):
I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the law. The book of Leviticus and all the other typical books are valuable as gospel-teaching to us, because there is always in them most clearly the law of God. The law is the needle, and you cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart, unless you first send the needle of the law through the center thereof, to make way for it. If men do not understand the law, they will not feel that they are sinners; and if they are not consciously sinners, they will never value the sin offering. If the Ten Commandments are never read in their hearing, they will not know wherein they are guilty, and how shall they make confession? If they are not assured that the law is holy, and just, and good, and that God has never demanded of any man more than He has a right to demand, how shall they feel the filthiness of sin, or see the need of flying to Christ for cleansing? There is no healing a man till the law has wounded him, no making him alive till the law has slain him.
Clearly, Spurgeon is here referencing the “second use” of the law (the pedagogical use): to point out to sinners what God’s holy standard is, to show that they are sinners and that they cannot keep God’s law on their own and they need a savior. Yet the people in this conversation instead concluded (incorrectly) that this is an example of preparationism — which they defined as, that a certain “work” of preparation needs to be done in a person’s heart, or else the Holy Spirit is not able to bring conviction of sin to that person.
Such reasoning shows two problems: first, an incorrect definition of what preparationism is; and second, attributing that error (preparationism) to Charles Spurgeon. As explained in this lesson in the 1689 Baptist Confession exposition series, as well as in this previous post about one of Spurgeon’s sermons, preparationism is the idea that a sinner must show a certain amount of repentance, a certain level of sorrow for his sin such as some of the “great saints” experienced, before he can come to Christ — an error that amounts to “justification by repentance” rather than “justification by faith.”
Quoting Spurgeon again on the error of preparationism:
In our day the evil has taken another, and that a most extraordinary shape. Men have aimed at being self-righteous after quite an amazing fashion; they think they must feel worse, and have a deeper conviction of sin before they may trust in Christ. Many hundreds do I meet with who say they dare not come to Christ, and trust Him with their souls, because they do not feel their need of Him enough; they have not sufficient contrition for their sins; they have not repented as fully as they have rebelled! Brothers and Sisters, it is the same evil, from the same old germ of self-righteousness, but it has taken another and I think a more crafty shape. Satan has wormed himself into many hearts under the garb of an angel of light, and he has whispered to the sinner, “Repentance is a necessary virtue. Stop until you have repented, and when you have sufficiently mortified yourself on account of sin, then you will be fit to come to Christ, and qualified to trust and rely on Him
The post about Spurgeon, linked above, includes additional quotes from Spurgeon in which he “named names” of specific Puritan authors who taught preparationism. So it is established that Spurgeon did not teach preparationism; the original Spurgeon quote above is instead in reference to the second use of the moral law, that which is clearly taught in the New Testament – the law as our teacher, to teach us the knowledge of sin.
For some reason, many evangelicals today, especially of the New Calvinist group, dislike any mention of “law,” as though the gospel is all and only about grace; to suggest anything about “the law” gets a response of “legalism!” and rhetoric about how we’re saved by grace and “not under law.” Much of this attitude, directed at those in the Reformed Covenant Theology camp, comes from failing to distinguish and to understand the difference between the second and third use of the law; an article from a couple years back well notes this problem as seen in actual posts from the Gospel Coalition blog (Tullian Tchividjian’s misunderstanding).
As seen with the above example conversation, some within New Calvinism are taking their anti-law idea even further, going to the extreme of rejecting not merely the third use of the law, but even the second use of the law – and equating it with the unrelated error of preparationism. To reject both the second use and the third use is to take a position outside of the Christian Protestant tradition. For all evangelical groups – Reformed/Calvinist, Reformed/Lutheran, and even classic, revised and progressive dispensational Calvinists – have affirmed at least the second use of the law. To reject the second use, and misunderstand what Spurgeon was saying as legalistic error, is to join company with the early Protestant-era antinomians and their leader John Agricola, a position described in this article about the 16th century antinomian controversy:
This Lutheran confessional consensus concerning mandata dei as guides for sanctified living nearly crumbled in the mid sixteenth century amid the Antinomian Controversy. Antinomianism, or a rejection of any use of the Law for Christians, found a prominent spokesperson in John Agricola. While serving as an instructor in Eisleben during the 1520s, Agricola taught that the mercy of God revealed in the Gospel alone suffices to cause a person to repent of his sins. In addition to rejecting the second use of the Law, he also discarded the third. Agricola, who had trouble accepting that Melancthon, rather than he, received an appointment to the new theology post at Wittenberg in 1526, criticized the distinction that Melanththon made on these points between Law and Gospel. “Agricola took an extremely antinomian position, virtually rejecting out of hand the whole Old Testament, as well as injunctions of the Law in the lives of the regenerate.” Confusion compounded the controversy when Melancthon’s followers noted that their teacher had, at times, ascribed a Law function to the “Gospel,” using that term in its broader sense to include both the Law and the narrow definition of the Gospel. “But Melancthon’s followers did not make this distinction. They insisted that the Gospel in its narrow, proper sense worked contrition and rebuked sin.” Luther and Agricola argued back and forth in print during the late 1530s. After Luther’s death, Agricola took major part in drafting the Augsburg Interim (1548), which forged a compromise between Rome and the Lutheran theologians by equivocating on the distinction between Law and Gospel.
In Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, the section on the 8th commandment looks at the overall issue, the precept behind the wording “do not steal,” of ownership and property. A study of this topic in both the Old and New Testaments affirms God’s purpose that people own individual property. The fact that we are commanded to not steal, means that some items must belong to another person and that those items do not belong to you.
As pointed out in this lesson, Genesis 1:26 gives the dominion mandate to the human race
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Implied in this command is the reality that this could not be done by Adam alone: Adam is a finite individual with limited resources. Genesis 2 follows up with the specific situation for Adam: he as an individual, along with Eve, would have responsibility for one specific location, the garden – a particular location. He was made the proprietor of a particular piece of land with defined boundaries. The overall mandate of Genesis 1 could only be fulfilled through the mechanism of property ownership, of giving particular pieces of land to specific individuals.
Then, with the only country that truly could be called “God’s Country” – the Old Testament nation of Israel – we again see God’s concern and interest in individual property. Leviticus 25 in particular tells us that the land belongs to God (“the land is mine,” verse 23) – and God’s ownership of the land was the basis on which the Israelites would own the land, and very specific laws were setup concerning the buying and selling of their property, within the context of the year of Jubilee. The people of Israel were to live as the people of God, living out the commands, the moral precepts, of God. Their living out these commands required that they have dominion over something, in order to use it for God and to bring glory to God. As also brought out in scripture, the Israelites had to be free men – freeholders; they were not to be slaves, as slaves cannot fulfill this purpose of possessing something in order to use it for God.
To own something is not to grasp at something. There is no practicality, and no virtue, in giving away all right and title to what is ours. This brings the study to the issue of what was going on in the early church in Acts – a case which some have cited to claim support for communism and communal living. After all, so the claim goes, the text says that the believers “had all things in common.”
But a close look at the texts – Acts 2:44, then Acts 4:32-33, and the first part of Acts 5 – clears away two common errors: 1) an assumption that the Acts texts are providing a legal definition of property, and 2) the idea that this situation was normative. The first idea – a legal definition of property – ignores the use of language. For instance, when someone visits us in our home, and we say “my house is your house” or “make yourself at home,” such expressions do not mean that we are relinquishing ownership – but rather a show of hospitality. Peter’s words to Ananias in Acts 5 make it clear that Ananias’ sin was of lying, and not anything pertaining to the property itself. The land, while unsold, belonged to Ananias, to do with as he pleased – it was his own, at his disposal; and when Ananias sold it, he then owned some money, which also was at his own disposal. Thus, scripture itself proves that the early church was not a commune and was not some type of cult in which everyone gave up ownership to the “common pool.”
The early church in Acts was also a unique and unusual situation – and an opportunity for those who were wealthy to be generous and give of what they owned in order to help others. At this point the church consisted of Jewish converts: people who had been part of the Jewish system and belonged to synagogues, yet now experienced persecution– which included excommunication from Judaism and possibly having their means of livelihood taken from them. Thus the need to care for many poor people, including many only recently impoverished. The situation opened a ministry need, which Barnabas (in Acts 4) and likely others as well, stepped into with their generosity.
Chantry also observes another aspect I had not considered, that perhaps is true; the early church had received the prophecy, the words from Jesus, that Jerusalem would be judged and destroyed at some point in the relatively near future. Thus, the people who sold land had knowledge that the place would be destroyed, and that now was a good time to sell their property while it was still worth something. Certainly if the land they sold was in or around Jerusalem, this well may have been the case. Study through commentaries and historical research would better answer this question, of whether the people in Jerusalem were actually selling land that existed in that area or if they were engaging in sales of property that existed outside of that area.
Even aside from the question of the impending judgment upon Jerusalem, though, this lesson is a good study on the biblical issue of individual ownership and support for this point throughout the Bible: from earliest creation for all mankind, in Israel’s own government and civil laws, and the same teaching for us in the New Testament era.
Understanding the Christian worldview through looking at contemporary events is often helpful, providing good application of Bible truth to the “real world”– as observed from time to time in Christian blog topics. While reading a recent Spurgeon sermon, number 641 (from July 1865), I was reminded of a Pyromaniacs blog post on this same topic a few years ago: relating “real world” news events to Christian doctrine, through a look at high profile news cases of criminals and their confessions. The Pyromaniacs post considered a few issues in reference to the rape/murder confession of John Gardner III in California a few years ago. Spurgeon in 1865 included two news events of criminal cases in a sermon that contrasted the two very different confessions as “types” of two types of people in their attitude of repentance and confession before God.
The first example noted by Spurgeon is the type we usually see (how human nature is the same in every age!), the criminal that — in spite of the overwhelming evidence and strong case for the charges (and popular opinion, from following the news events, also generally affirms that the person did this crime) — puts forth the plea of “not guilty” and shows no repentance or remorse for his or her actions. Spurgeon well noted this type of confession in reference to unbelievers, the damned who refuse to repent and refuse to confess their sins before God (though as scripture tells us, one day every knee will bow and confess that Christ is Lord, and this includes the ungodly).
The second part of the sermon, about a young woman named Constance Kent, featured the relatively rare event of someone who freely confesses to a crime, with no reservations, exceptions or excuses for the deed. As Spurgeon related the story then still in progress, we can note one key difference in our criminal justice system as compared to Spurgeon’s day. At that time even criminals who confessed to a crime did not automatically get a change in sentence, a reprieve from the death penalty of hanging in the gallows — a stark contrast from the current day confession of John Gardner, where entering a guilty plea meant saving his life, accepting a life-term prison sentence instead of death row. Yet Constance’s case, as Spurgeon describes, does (and did then) bring forth sympathy from others for her honesty and willingness to suffer the consequences of her action. The full story of the crime is now available in our online encyclopedias, such as this article about Constance Kent: she was not executed after all, but served twenty years in prison, later moved to Australia, and lived to be 100 years old, dying in 1944.
Spurgeon’s focus was a point-by-point type correspondence between aspects of Constance’s confession and the repentant sinner before God. A sampling of Spurgeon’s teaching here:
though the question is repeated and time is given her to retract, her reply is still the one self-condemning word, “GUILTY!” Even so before the Lord, whenever we come to confess, we must approach Him with this cry, “Guilty. Guilty! Lord, I cannot say anything else. If hell is my eternal portion for it, I dare say no other. The stones in the streets would cry out against me if I denied my guilt. . . .
Constance Kent was anxious to free all others from the blame of her sin. … This is well spoken. I know nothing of this young woman’s heart, but using her as an illustration rather than an example, we are safe in saying that it is a very blessed sign of true repentance when the sinner cries out with David, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done this evil in Your sight.” There will be, in a gracious penitent, no attempt to lay the blame upon the tempter, or upon providence; no dwelling upon circumstances, the suddenness of the temptation, or the hastiness of one’s temper. . . .
The unhappy young woman now condemned to die needed no witness to come forward to prove her guilt and assure her conviction. No one saw the deed; it was done so secretly that the most expert detectives were not able to find a satisfactory clue to the mystery. … It will never suffice for us merely to confess to the Lord what other people have seen, and to feel guilty because we know that the case is reported in the neighborhood. Many people who have fallen into sin, have felt very penitent because they knew they would damage their names, or lose their employment; but to have your private sin brought before you by conscience, and voluntarily, without any pressure but the burden of sin itself and the work of the Holy Spirit, to come before God and say, “Lord, You know in this matter I have offended, and though none saw me except Your eyes and mine; yet Your eyes might well flash with anger at me, while mine shall be wet with many a tear of penitence on account of it”—that is what you need. . . .
She confessed all. It was a solemn moment when the judge said, “I must repeat to you, that you are charged with having willfully, intentionally, and with malice killed and murdered your brother. Are you guilty or not guilty?” Yes, she was guilty, just as the judge had put it. She did not object to those words which made the case come out so black. The willfulness?—yes, she acknowledged that. The intention, the malice?—yes, all that. The killing, the murdering—was it just murder?—was it nothing less? No, nothing else. Not a word of extenuation. She acknowledges all, just as the judge puts it. She is guilty in very deed of the whole charge. Sinner, will you confess sin as God puts it? Many will confess sin after their own fashion, but will you confess it as God puts it? Are you brought to see sin as God sees it? As far as mortal eye could bear that dreadful sight, and do you confess now just what God lays at your door—that you have been His enemy, a traitor, full of evil, covered with iniquity? Will you confess that you have crucified His dear Son, and have in all ways deserved His hottest wrath and displeasure—will you plead guilty to that? If not, you shall have no pardon; but if you will do this, He is merciful and just to forgive you your sins through Jesus the great atoning sacrifice. . . .
She had not, nor had her counsel for her, a single word to say by way of excuse. … Her counsel might have said she was very young—it was hoped that her youth might plead for her. Being young, she might be readily led astray by an evil passion—might not that excuse her? It was long ago, and her confession was her own; she had brought herself there into that dock—might not this be a reason for mercy? Nothing of the kind; the judge might think so if he pleased, but there was nothing said for her about that, nor did she desire that it should be suggested. She might secretly hope, but her confession was so thorough, that there was not a single word to sully its clear stream. So, sinner, if you come before God, you must not say, “Lord, I am to be excused because of my position—I was in poverty, and I was tempted to steal.” Or, “I had been in bad company, and so I learned to blaspheme.” Or, “I had a hard employer, and so I was driven to sin to find some pleasure there.” No; if you are really penitent, you will find no reason whatever why you should have sinned, except the evil of your own heart—and that you will plead as an aggravation, not as an excuse. “Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! I am, O God, before Your face, guilty; I offer no excuse, no extenuation. You must deal with me upon pure mercy, if You do save me, for justice can only award me my well-deserved doom.”
Further thoughts from continued study in the 1689 Confession series, regarding the Law of God as a unit – we cannot separate one from the rest and say that only nine are still in effect. It is a package set, not individual parts that we can “pick and choose” from.
In response to those who try to claim that Jesus’ summary statement regarding the two “greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40) is NOT actually a summary of the Ten Commandments (but really something else unrelated to the Decalogue): further New Testament scripture does provide that direct connection, with Paul’s words in Romans 13:8-10, where he first mentions several of the Commandments from the second table (the 7th, the 6th, the 8th, and the 10th) to show what he has in mind, adding “and any other commandment,” are “summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
The claim that all of the commandments are repeated in the New Testament “except the fourth” also does not hold up to sound hermeneutics. As noted in this lesson from the 1689 Confession exposition series:
No, the fourth commandment is not omitted in the New Testament. There are some who would say that the ten commandments are all reiterated in the New Testament, except the fourth one. You can only say that if you believe that the first four books of the New Testament are not the New Testament. You can only say that if you make Matthew, Mark, Luke and John something other than applicable to Christians today. That is impossible to do hermeneutically, because the disciples were being trained by Jesus to be WHAT? To be authoritative teachers in the New Testament church. He was laying the foundation of the New Testament church. And so the question is, why would Jesus have spent SO MUCH TIME, talking about the Sabbath day and its Pharasaical abuses, merely to say, a few months later, ‘well, guys, all that teaching I gave you was really for nought, because it’s over and done with now, there’s no such thing as the fourth commandment.’ That doesn’t make sense.
It’s like what J.C. Ryle says, it’s sort of like a person who cleans off the roof of their house, takes all that time and energy to make sure that he has a pristine roof–only to burn his house down the next day. Why would he do that? The Sabbath day IS very clearly reiterated, and taught very extensively and perhaps even more so than the others in the New Testament.
The J.C. Ryle reference comes from this J.C. Ryle article, Sabbath: A Day to Keep, a helpful resource that points to many scriptural reasons for the continuing 4th commandment, including observations from the book of Ezekiel, what I had noted from my own reading through that prophet:
I turn to the writings of the Old Testament Prophets. I find them repeatedly speaking of the breach of the Sabbath, side by side with the most heinous transgressions of the moral law (Ezek. 20:13, 16, 24; 22:8, 26). I find them speaking of it as one of the great sins which brought judgments on Israel and carried the Jews into captivity (Neh. 13:18; Jer. 17:19-27). It seems clear to me that the Sabbath, in their judgment, is something far higher than the washings and cleansings of the ceremonial law. I am utterly unable to believe, when I read their language, that the Fourth Commandment was one of the things one day to pass away.
The contrast between someone cleaning their roof and destroying their house:
I turn to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ when He was upon earth. I cannot discover that our Savior ever let fall a word in discredit of any one of the Ten Commandments. On the contrary, I find Him declaring at the outset of His ministry, “that He came not to destroy the law but to fulfil,” and the context of the passage where He uses these words, satisfies me that He was not speaking of the ceremonial law, but the moral (Matt. 5:17). I find Him speaking of the Ten Commandments as a recognized standard of moral right and wrong: “Thou knowest the Commandments” (Mark 10:19). I find Him speaking eleven times on the subject of the Sabbath, but it is always to correct the superstitious additions which the Pharisees had made to the Law of Moses about observing it, and never to deny the holiness of the day.He no more abolishes the Sabbath, than a man destroys a house when he cleans off the moss or weeds from its roof.
Much more could be said, and has been said by others, but the above observations and references are for today’s consideration.