The Marrow of Modern Divinity is a charming 17th Century book by Edward Fisher that provides a dialogue by a new Christian, Neophytus, and two nominal ‘Christians’ – Nomista and Antinomista, a legalist and libertine, respectively, regarding the use of the law in the life of a believer. The men appeal to Evangelista, a minister of the Gospel, to explain the true Gospel. Nomista explains to the men the Federal nature of the Scriptures by making use of three ways by which the Apostle Paul uses the word ‘law’ in his writtings –
- Law of Works (Rom 3:19-20) – The perfect moral standard of obedience which God demands from His creatures. This law has been violated by all humanity.
- “Law” of Faith (the Gospel, Rom 3:27) – 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.
- Law of Christ (Gal 6:2) – Once one is justified by the “Law” of Faith, one lives in thankful obedience to his Redeemer and Saviour – Jesus Christ.
The three uses of the law in Scripture (according to Fisher) form the outline for the book. What we have covered so far are listed below…
Law of Works
A summary of the ‘Law of Works’ as presented in The Marrow is listed below.
- Two Representative Heads of Mankind – Adam and Christ
- God created the world with a perfect moral law
- Adam created in perfect Holiness and Righteousness; conformable to God’s law in every way
- God requires Adam (and all mankind) to live in perfect moral obedience in order to remain in fellowship with Him
- Mankind, through Adam, rebelled against God, and in so doing, we fell from our unblemished state of holiness
- Through Adam, we all stand morally wicked and condemned before God
- Though Man is fallen, he is still bound to live a morally perfect life before God in obedience to His law
- Because Man is fallen, he is wicked and an enemy of God. No amount of good deeds done by man can restore his fallen condition or atone for his sin.
- The only hope for the restoration of man is a propitiation for his past sin and a perfect moral obedience to all of God’s Holy Law, both of which, men are not able to provide for themselves.
So all mankind are now fallen, wicked, and contrary to the holiness that God requires. Not only are all men liable to holiness, but we are also in debt to God in that we have sinned against him. Says Fisher, “he was now become liable for the payment of a double debt, viz: the debt of satisfaction for his sin committed in time past, and the debt of perfect and perpetual obedience for the time to come; and he was utterly unable to pay either of them.”
To this, Nomista, a legalist who has great confidence in his will-power and one who is deceived by his own self satisfaction (perhaps he could have been called Papist), asks a logical question for an unregenerate man: Why is man ‘unable to pay the debt of satisfaction for his sin committed in time past?’
Evan. Because his sin, in eating the forbidden fruit was committed against an infinite and eternal God, and therefore merited an infinite and eternal satisfaction; which was to be either some temporal punishment, equivalent to eternal damnation, or eternal damnation itself. Now Adam was a finite creature, therefore, between finite and infinite there could be no proportion; so that it was impossible for Adam to have made satisfaction by any temporal punishment; and if he had undertaken to have satisfied by an eternal punishment, he should always have been satisfying, and never have satisfied, as is the case of the damned in hell.
In other words, a finite creature such as we, have no capacity to pay an infinite debt such as we have occurred against so infinite one such as Almighty God. It would take the act of a being of infinite worth to satisfy such a debt as this.
To this, there is but one logical question left for Nomista, if God is so powerful and almighty, might he not have an all powerful ability to forgive. Could not God just simply forgive man for forgiveness sake and pardon Adam’s (and our) sin without satisfaction? (NOTE: this is the argument of the agnostic) – To this Evangelista responds…
Evan. O no! for justice is essential in God, and it is a righteous thing with God, that every transgression receive a just recompense: and if recompense be just, it is unjust to pardon sin without satisfaction…
In other words, God is Holy, and as such, his love is for that which is holy and righteous. To make an illustration, would a secular judge in a civil court be just who would forgive every criminal to stand in his courtroom without requiring any satisfaction for the law which has been broken? Can a man be just by setting aside the law and allowing murder, rape, theft, etc. to go unpunished? Of course not! A judge who does not punish crime is a criminal himself. And so, a God who does not punish in is not Holy!
But, God has made a way to be both gracious and merciful, to freely forgive sin, AND to fulfill all the righteous demands of justice. This is the gospel and it is only found in Jesus Christ. This is, indeed, what the Bible means when it says that, by the Gospel, God is “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom 3:26).
In the next installment…
In future posts, we will delve into the ‘law of faith’ or the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world.