Marrow of Modern Divinity – The Three Laws

In Edward F. Fisher’s charming and practical theology textbook, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, we find 4 characters dialoguing about the law and the gospel.

The four characters are:

EVANGELISTA – a Minister of the Gospel
NOMISTA – a Legalist
ANTINOMISTA – an Antinomian
NEOPHYTUS – a Young Christian

When Nomista and Antinomista reach an impasse regarding the use of the law in the life of the believer, they appeal to Evangelista to help resolve the problem. Evangelista wisely appeals to Scripture to resolve the problem, by explaining to the men that there are multiple laws mentioned in Scripture and to resolve the question, one must define which sense of law he refers. The 3 laws are as follows:

  1. Law of Works – The perfect moral standard of obedience which God demands from His creatures. This law has been violated by all humanity.
  2. “Law” of Faith – The necessary seeking of Christ for mercy, because one has transgressed God’s law. Thus, men have forefeited justification by legal obedience and seek to be justified by the grace of God through Faith.
  3. Law of Christ – Once one is justified by the “Law” of Faith, one lives in thankful obedience to all the just requirements of his Saviour, Jesus Christ.

These three uses of the term law form the outline for the remainder of the book – man falls into sin, Christ delivers them from sin, men live in thankful obedience to the one who has redeemed them. Thomas Boston summarizes them as follows, “The law of works is the law to be done, that one may be saved [i.e. a perfect works righteousness, that all men have fallen from]; the law of faith is the law to be believed, that one may be saved [ie. delivered from the law of works]; the law of Christ is the law of the Saviour, binding his saved people to all the duties of obedience.”

Law of Works

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.  Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

“Law” of Faith

Regarding the use of the word “law” with regard to faith, Boston has this comment: ‘The term law is not here used univocally; for the law of faith is neither in the Scripture sense, nor in the sense of our author, a law, properly so called. The apostle uses that phrase only in imitation of the Jews’ manner of speaking, who had the law continually in their mouths. But since the promise of the gospel proposed to faith, is called in Scripture “the law of faith,” our author was sufficiently warranted to call it so too. So the law of faith is not a proper preceptive law.’

Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. (Romans 3:27)

Law of Christ

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)

Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)

And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:30-31)

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well (James 2:8)

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10>

Regarding Romans 13, Boston says:

To be under the law to God is, without question, to be under the law of God; whatever it may be judged to import more, it can import no less; therefore to be under the law to Christ, is to be under the law of Christ. This text gives a plain and decisive answer to the question, “How is the believer under the law of God?” namely, as he is under the law to Christ. The law of Christ is an “easy yoke,” and a “light burden,” (Matt 11:30); but the law of works, to a sinner, is an insupportable burden, requiring works as the condition of justification and acceptance with God, as is clear from the whole of the apostle’s reasoning, (Rom 3).

If ye love me, keep my commandments. (John 14:15)


4 thoughts on “Marrow of Modern Divinity – The Three Laws

  1. Pingback: Laws for the Christian - Page 14 - Christian Forums

  2. Pingback: Marrow of Modern Divinity – Law of Works Summary « Abraham's Seed

  3. Pingback: Marrow of Modern Divinity – Freedom from Law « Abraham's Seed

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