Reformed Baptist Fellowship

The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 on the Decalogue

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on March 8, 2013 at 10:31 am

Of the Law of God

The theology of the Confession concerning the Ten Commandments begins at creation (2nd LCF 4). However, the first explicit mention of the Ten Commandments is not in the chapter on creation but the chapter on the law of God (2nd LCF 19:2). Therefore, we will use chapter 19, Of the Law of God, as a guide to unfold the theology of the Confession concerning the Ten Commandments. Four themes will emerge which will function as the outline for our study of the Confession: 1. The Ten Commandments and Creation; 2. The Ten Commandments and Sinai; 3. The Ten Commandments and Christians; and 4. The Ten Commandments and Non-Christians.

The Ten Commandments and Creation

 In chapter 19 of the Confession, we are faced with language which asserts that the function of the Ten Commandments predates Mount Sinai and the giving of the law to Old Covenant Israel. The pertinent language of the Confession is as follows:

God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart… (2nd LCF 19:1)

The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. (2nd LCF 19:2)

Besides this law, commonly called moral, … (2nd LCF 19:3)

The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, 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; neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (2nd LCF 19:5)

Several observations are necessary at this time for our purposes. First, notice the Confession asserts that Adam was given “a law of universal obedience written in his heart” (2nd LCF 19:1). Chapter 4 of the Confession, Of Creation, asserts that Adam and Eve had “the law of God written in their hearts” (2nd LCF 4:2; cf. also 4:3 “…the law written in their hearts…” and 6:1 “…the law of their creation…”).

Second, this law, written in the heart of Adam, remained in men subsequent to Adam’s sin and functioned “as a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall” (2nd LCF 19:2).

Third, “[t]he same law that was first written in the heart of man …was also delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…” (2nd LCF 19:2).

Fourth, this law is called moral law and applicable to all men–saved and lost–because all men have at least one thing in common–creation in the image of God. The Confession asserts: “The moral law doth forever bind all …in respect of the authority of God the Creator” (2nd LCF 19:5).

 The Ten Commandments and Sinai

 The claims of the Confession concerning the Ten Commandments and Sinai are very clear.

 The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man. (2nd LCF 19:2)

Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws… (2nd LCF 19:3)

To them [Old Covenant Israel] also he gave sundry judicial laws… (2nd LCF 19:4)

Four observations will assist us at this point. First, “[t]he same law that was first written in the heart of man” (2nd LCF 19:2) via the creative finger of God was delivered by the redemptive-historical revelatory finger of God on Mount Sinai.[1] It is important to note that it is the same law revealed in a different way.

Second, this law “was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…” (2nd LCF 19:2; emphasis mine). The form God chose to reveal this law in was “in ten commandments” (2nd LCF 19:2). This is important to note as well. The essence of the law is the same, though the form may differ.

Third, this law, “delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…” (2nd LCF 19:2) is “commonly called moral” (2nd LCF 19:3).

Fourth, the Ten Commandments played a unique, central role in the life of Old Covenant Israel. “Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws…” (2nd LCF 19:3). “To them [Old Covenant Israel] also he gave sundry judicial laws…” (2nd LCF 19:4). The “ceremonial laws”[2] and “judicial laws”[3] are viewed as supplementary to the Ten Commandments. Therefore, the Confession sees the Ten Commandments functioning as a specially revealed law for Old Covenant Israel and, at the same time, as a specially revealed form of the natural law,[4] which is written on the hearts of all men (2nd LCF 4:2-3; 6:1; 19:1, 2, 3, 5, 6).

The Ten Commandments and Christians

 The position of the Confession concerning the Ten Commandments and Christians is very clear as well.

The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, 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; neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (2nd LCF 19:5)[5]

Consider these observations. First, the Confession sees the Ten Commandments as applicable to Christians because of their [i.e., the Ten Commandments’] content. “The moral law[6] doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, …in regard of the matter contained in it…” (2nd LCF 19:5).

Second, the Confession sees the Ten Commandments as applicable to Christians because they are creatures. “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator” (2nd LCF 19:5).

Third, the Confession sees the Ten Commandments as applicable to Christians because they are Christ’s. “[N]either doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation” (2nd LCF 19:5). Cleary, the Ten Commandments, according to the Confession, have a unique place in the Christian life.

 The Ten Commandments and Non-Christians

 Finally, the position of the Confession concerning the Ten Commandments and non-Christians is also very clear.

 The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, 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; neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation. (2nd LCF 19:5)

Consider these observations. First, the Confession sees the Ten Commandments as applicable to non-Christians because of their content. “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, …in regard of the matter contained in it…” (2nd LCF 19:5).

Second, the Confession sees the Ten Commandments as applicable to non-Christians because they are creatures. “The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator” (2nd LCF 19:5). Because the Confession views the Ten Commandments as a specially revealed form of the law written on the heart, the natural law, it sees them as binding upon Christians and non-Christians alike. This is due to the content of the Ten Commandments and the fact that all men are creatures and, therefore, under this law.

Conclusion

This study has been devoted to the place of the Ten Commandments in the theology of the 2nd LCF. According to the Confession, the Ten Commandments function as follows: 1) as the law written on man’s heart at creation, 2) as the heart and soul of the Old Covenant’s law, and 3) as the basic, fundamental law for all men–the moral law. The Ten Commandments began to function in the life of man in the Garden of Eden. They were then written by God upon stone tablets in Ten Commandments and functioned as the heart of His law for Old Covenant Israel and as the specially revealed form of the law written upon man’s heart. Since the coming of Christ, they are still applicable to both Christians and non-Christians. The Ten Commandments are, therefore, trans-covenantal because they are basic and fundamental.

Richard Barcellos
Grace Reformed Baptist Church
Palmdale, CA
www.grbcav.org
.

[1] I do not mean to deny that God’s creative finger is revelatory. General revelation is based on creation (i.e., God’s creative-revelatory finger). The finger of God refers to divine power in historical execution.

[2] According to Richard A. Muller, ceremonial law, lex ceremonialis is “specifically, the ceremonial or religious regulations given to Israel under the Old Testament, alongside the moral law of the Decalogue and the civil law of the Jewish nation, such as the Levitical Code. Whereas the lex moralis [moral law] remains in force after the coming of Christ, the lex ceremonialis has been abrogated by the gospel.” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (1985; second printing, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 173.

[3] The civil law of the Jewish nation under the Old Covenant.

[4] According to Muller, the natural law, lex naturalis, is “the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica [Mosaic law] … with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins, convicted by conscientia [conscience] …  The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica or lex moralis [the moral law, especially the Decalogue] quoad substantiam, according to substance, and distinguish them quoad formam, according to form. The lex natuaralis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure, whereas the lex Mosaica is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.” Muller, Dictionary, 174-75.

[5] The functions of the law in the life of the Christian are delineated in 2nd LCF 19:6.  However, it is beyond the scope of this study to deal with the way the law functions in the life of the believer. I am simply attempting to show that the Confession teaches the law functions not how.

[6] The moral law, in the context of the Confession, refers to the essence of the Ten Commandments as a specially revealed form of the law written on the heart (i.e., the natural law) via the creative act of God.

  1. Richard, this is great and very helpful! My only question is why the final point in the section on the Law of God is not elaborated on in your section on “The Ten Commandments and the Christian”.

    That point says:

    “7. Neither are the aforementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the Gospel, but do sweetly comply with it, 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. (Gal. 3:21; Ezek. 36:27)”

    Could a fourth point be “The confession sees the Ten Commandments as applicable to Christians because they are empowered (or made alive or have the law written on their heart) by the Spirit”?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,413 other followers

%d bloggers like this: