Continuing through the 1689 Exposition series, in chapter 19 on the Law of God, comes this lesson: a look at the different ways in which the word “law” is used in the New Testament. Our English words can have various meanings depending on the context (as for example the word “set,” many different meanings); a look at New Testament scriptures shows seven different uses/meanings of “law.”
- To refer to all of the scriptures (which at that time was the OT). Here, consider John 10:34 — Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? – Yet He quotes from a Psalm. Also Romans 3:10-21: quotations of numerous Old Testament scriptures, including several from the Psalms; then Paul refers back to these quotes: Now we know that whatever the law says. Both Christ and Paul in these texts are using the term law in its broadest sense, all of scripture.
- To refer to the Pentateuch (the books of Moses, which are not all actual laws), as seen in wording of “the Law and the Prophets.” Examples here include Luke 24:44 and Romans 3:21.
- To refer to the time period of the Old Covenant, the whole Mosaic economy. Examples here include Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3 – note Galatians 3:17-24, and references to “the law” as that time period when the law was a guardian.
- Referring to the ceremonial / sacrificial law: Hebrews 10:1 “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come”
- As the penalty of the law – similar to how we refer to a fugitive, that “the law is after him,” or “his is running from the law.” Romans 6 includes this use of the law. Per Romans 6:14 we are “not under law but under grace.” But as 1 John says, sin is lawlessness. Paul is not saying we are not “under law” in any sense, that we are lawless. The context of Romans 6 is the penalty of the law.
- The word “law” as a rule, principle, or an axiom. Romans 7 contains multiple meanings of law, and in some of these verses “law” is an axiom. Consider Romans 7:21-23: in verse 21, “So I find it to be a law” (a principle or axiom), and again in verse 23, “but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind.”
- To refer to the moral law, the Decalogue. This is seen in passages which cite one or more of the moral laws, as in Romans 3:19-21: Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Other references to the law as the moral law: Romans 7:22 (I delight in the law of God, in my inner being), also Romans 7:7-14 (reference to the commandment about not coveting), Romans 13:8-10, and Ephesians 6:1-4.
Spurgeon is of course well known as one of the great Reformed/Puritan-style preachers that still has influence today, and his name frequently comes up in theological discussions. Seemingly every position wants to claim him as one of theirs—even Arminians like him; the Seventh Day Adventists cite Spurgeon for “support” from his use of types regarding Jesus and the archangel Michael; and amillennialists/postmillennialists to this day want to have Spurgeon on their side (he was historic premillennial, of the classic type with future restoration of Israel, as well documented in Dennis Swanson’s essay here) or at least claim that Spurgeon was inconsistent and “optimistic like a postmill.”
Those well-studied in Spurgeon – his preaching, writing, and overall life – recognize that even Spurgeon was not perfect; he had his weaknesses. Arden Hodgins, in one of the 1689 Confession series lectures, observed that Spurgeon so over-worked himself and neglected his own physical health—(from the human perspective) had he not neglected his own health, he would have lived longer, for more years or service. I can certainly see some validity in that observation, having read for myself places where Spurgeon – still in his late 20s – was so focused on doing God’s work that he disdained the idea of even any time on the Sabbath being put to simple physical rest; he must be busy doing the Lord’s work on that day as well, to not allow any time to go to waste.
Similarly, Tom Chantry, in a blog series dealing with one of the points in the 1689 London Baptist Confession, addressed Spurgeon’s weaknesses and limitations—in response to others who brought Spurgeon into the discussion of Divine Impassibility. Examining Spurgeon’s contradictory statements at two different points of his life, Chantry well observed the following regarding Spurgeon:
Yet knowing that no man is perfect, we know on some level he must be worthy of criticism. He rejected consecutive exposition, choosing instead to preach on random verses each Sunday. His sermon preparation was no model for young preachers, relying on his copious memory and prodigious talents rather than on careful, disciplined labor. As a result, probably, of both of the above, he occasionally dabbled in fanciful exegesis; read through Morning and Evening and see if you don’t repeatedly come to entries of which you say, “That cannot be what that text means!”…
… Spurgeon had certain disadvantages in his use of the Confession. He did not live in the London of the 17th century, when men from many congregations gathered to discuss the doctrines found in the confession. He did not even live in our day, when a resurgence of confessionalism has led to similar discussions. Instead, he labored more or less alone. It is hard to imagine who could have been Spurgeon’s peer, given his unique influence. He had many disciples, but few teachers. On the other hand, he observed the collapse of Baptist doctrine during his own lifetime. By the time he was called home, the Baptist movement was a ruin of its former self.
While reading one of Spurgeon’s sermons this last Lord’s Day (sermon #626, The Waterer Watered, from April 1865), I was reminded of another type of Spurgeon-criticism I observed a few months ago in a pastor’s sermon remarks. I say “another type of criticism” because the comments simply do not ring true–comments which instead indicate very superficial and incorrect understanding regarding this subject (Spurgeon and his ministry). This false criticism was the idea that “Spurgeon was such a genius,” and everyone just loved to hear him, and because he was so gifted, so extraordinary, thus Spurgeon was the cause for the idea that “everything centers on the preacher” instead of recognizing that all of the people in the church need to do their part.
That people by nature do tend to focus on the church leader, of course did not begin with Spurgeon. Yet Spurgeon’s own view was quite the contrary, and he frequently exhorted his people to action and praised them for the work they were already doing: the Sunday School teachers and other laborers at the church, as well as their outreach in the community. He fully recognized that the success of his church was due not only to himself, but to the work of many others there with him, including the many young men raised up to plant other churches. The people in attendance at Spurgeon’s church likewise would not have believed such–as evidenced from Spurgeon’s own words to his congregation, about the great outreach done by people at his church. Sermon #626 is not the first one in which Spurgeon spoke of this, but here are excerpts from this sermon, words specifically directed to the people at his church:
Now, dear friends, up to this time the policy which we have pursued has been this—if members of other churches want to know, we tell them, we have endeavored to water others. Your minister has journeyed all over the three kingdoms preaching the word, and you have not grumbled at his absence. We have undertaken many enterprises for Christ; we hope to undertake a great many more. We have never hindered our strength; we have undertaken enterprises that were enough to exhaust us, to which, by God’s grace, we became accustomed in due season, and then we have gone on to something more. We have never sought to hinder the planting of other churches from our midst or in our neighborhood. It is with cheerfulness that we dismiss our twelves, our twenties, our fifties, to form other churches. We encourage our members to leave us to found other churches—no—we seek to persuade them to do it! We ask them to scatter throughout the land to become the goodly seed which God shall bless. I believe that as long as we do this, we shall prosper. I have marked other churches that have adopted the other way, and they have not succeeded. This is what I have heard from some ministers—“I do not encourage village stations or, if I do, I do not encourage their becoming distinct churches and breaking bread together. I do not encourage too many young men going out to preach, for to have a knot of people who can preach a little, may, very soon cause dissatisfaction with my own preaching.” . . .
While I speak thus much in your praise, my brethren, let me say, we must keep this up. We must not say, “We have the college to support, and we do as much as other churches for various societies, and we can be content to sit still.” This church will begin to go rotten at the core the moment we are not working for God with might and main. Sometimes I get a pull at my coattail by very kind, judicious friends, who think I shall ask you to do too much. My brethren are welcome to pull my coattail, but it will come off before I shall stand back for a moment!
So let us continue to appreciate Spurgeon and his remarkable insights–while recognizing that he did have faults. Yet we should understand his actual weaknesses–instead of superficial, incorrect ideas which miss the real story regarding Spurgeon.
Continuing in Tom Chantry’s Ten Commandments series, comes the issue of how morality is defined (reference this lesson). One of the arguments put forth by some who deny that the 4th commandment is moral, comes from the reasoning that our idea of what’s right and wrong must be innate, the things that we knew even in our pre-Christian life. After all, someone will say, “even as a lost man I knew that murder was wrong, that stealing and adultery are wrong; but I didn’t innately know the 4th commandment (of setting aside one day out of seven unto the Lord) – therefore, this commandment must not really be part of the moral law.” But is this really so?
In any society, children do not innately know that stealing or lying is wrong, or that it’s a good thing to share with others—these things must be taught. Furthermore: many adults today (in our society as well as elsewhere in the world) do not “innately” understand the 1st or 2nd commandments either – the fact that there is one God, and that we should not bow down to an idol. The tenth commandment (do not covet) is also often not innately understood. The conscience is a wonderful gift from God–that which can convict us of sin. But it alone, apart from revelation, cannot inform us of what is right or wrong. In unsaved people, the conscience becomes hardened as the truth is suppressed. As Hodgins noted in the 1689 Confession series regarding the conscience, we need to “gospelize” our conscience, to educate and correctly inform it regarding right and wrong; reference here also such passages as 1 Corinthians 8: someone can think that they are sinning when they eat meat that was sacrificed to idols.
As Chantry pointed out in this post from last year, Americans of a few generations ago DID have a sense of doing wrong and violating the 4th commandment. The children’s historical fiction story “Johnny Tremaine,” written in the mid-20th century, even includes this conscience regarding the 4th commandment, in the actual plot of a Revolutionary War story.
If your awareness of Christian practice goes back more than one generation, you’ll have to admit that the Sabbath once pricked the conscience of men. We are all familiar with the now-despised “blue laws” which prohibited certain activities on Sunday. Yes, America was once a place in which work on Sunday was not only uncommon, but illegal. Did such a practice have any relationship to the conscience?
If you haven’t read Johnny Tremain you really should; only rarely does children’s literature reach such heights. What is fascinating, though, is that Esther Forbes, an unbeliever writing in mid-20th century Boston, so clearly recognized that even the impious in her own city just two centuries before had known the pangs of conscience when they broke the Sabbath. She actually turned that guilt into a major plot device!
We also know well the myth of the noble savage, versus what primitive civilizations – without the influence of Christianity – are actually like. This further makes the point that our ideas of morality, what our conscience thinks of as right and wrong, actually come from our society and what we are taught. It is actually societal standards, and not our own general ideas, that provide the basic understanding of morality to unbelievers.
As Christians, then, we are not to look to our own conscience, what we “innately” realize about right and wrong, but to study the word of God. Biblical morality is the morality set forth by revelation from God, what is contained in the word of God.