The Marrow of Modern Divinity is a charming little 17th century work on the Federal structure of the Scriptures. Chapter 2 of the work covers God’s Plan of Grace to redeem fallen man. The outline for the chapter reflects God’s Promise as – Purposed (in eternity), Promised (in Old Testament History), and Performed (in time – Christ).
The Marrow of Modern Divinity tackles one of the most difficult subjects in Biblical Theology – the uses of the Law of God for our present dispensation. Fisher tackles this difficult subject by dividing the law into 3 categories: Law of Works (what man must DO in order to be just), Law of Faith (what *fallen man* must BELIEVE in order to be justified) , and the Law of Christ (how a regenerate man lives in thankful obedience to his Saviour). Fisher uses the Biblical doctrine of Federal Theology as a model to teach God’s unfolding Plan of Salvation through the Scriptures, where the Law of Works becomes what theologians call the Covenant of Works in the Garden of Eden and “God’s Plan of Salvation by Grace” (what Fisher calls Law of Faith – see Rom 3:27), initiated upon Adam’s Fall, is called the Covenant of Grace.
Federal Theology and the Fall of Man
At this point in our study, we have learned about the Federal (i.e. Representative) nature of the Scriptures; how that Adam was the Federal head of all mankind and that in Adam’s sin and rebellion against God, all men have been plunged into a state of sin and misery. All men are still held liable to live a righteous life (born into the Covenant of Works as a slave to the law of God, which is unable to help or regenerate the fallen nature of man). In being born a slave to sin (dead to spiritual light and life), man is unable to live a holy life or help himself savingly.
Salvation, By Grace, In Christ Alone
After teaching us about the Law of Works and the sorry and helpless state that man finds himself in, Fisher teaches us about God’s Plan of Salvation by GRACE through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ – the surety of God’s elect (Heb 7:22); the obedient servant who would live a righteous and holy life ‘under’ the law (Gal 4:4) and bear away it’s curse, in order to satisy God’s just demands. Only by taking hold of Christ by Faith (Law of Faith),can fallen man stand justified before a Holy Judge. This plan of salvation was revealed, in seed form, immediately upon the fall of man (Gen 3:15), and was more fully revealed throughout the Scriptures until a full revelation of it was made in Christ at His first coming. This mercy of God, this Plan (or Covenant) of Grace, is called by Fisher, the Law of Faith (in reference to Romans 3:27).
The Relation of the Believer to the Law of Condemnation
The true believer, then, is now free from slavery to the law of condemnation and death (2 Cor 3) and free to serve God ‘in the Spirit’. Says Fisher:
Truly, as it [viz, the Law] is the covenant of works, you are wholly and altogether delivered and set free from it; you are dead to it, and it is dead to you; and if it be dead to you, then it can do you neither good nor hurt; and if you be dead to it, you can expect neither good nor hurt from it. Consider, man, I pray you, that, as I said before, you are now under another covenant, viz: the covenant of grace; and you cannot be under two covenants at once, neither wholly nor partly; and, therefore, as, before you believed, you were wholly under the covenant of works, as Adam left both you and all his posterity after his fall; so now, since you have believed, you are wholly under the covenant of grace. Assure yourself then, that no minister, or preacher of God’s word has any warrant to say unto you hereafter, “Either do this and this duty contained in the law, and avoid this and this sin forbidden in the law, and God will justify thee and save thy soul: or do it not, and he will condemn thee and damn thee.”
Whose Servant Are You?
According to the Scriptures then, we no longer stand/fall before God based upon OUR works (our legal obedience to God’s condemning Law), but rather we stand based upon the works of Christ, ALONE. Therefore, sin and the condemnation of the law and death can have no power over the believer, either to rule over him, or to terrorize his soul, or to condemn him. Consider what the Apostle Paul has to say regarding sin and the law –
11Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto
God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
12Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in
the lusts thereof.
13Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.
14For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but
15What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
- The Law of Condemnation does not rule over the believer
- Grace is the reigning principle in the believer’s life
- The believer that is saved by Grace lives a holy life
The Crisis of the Church Today
A modern religious innovation that has made much of this doctrine for better and worse is Dispensationalism. The good of dispensationalism is that these brothers (for the most part) rightly publicize the free gift of salvation by God’s grace to all men. On the bad side, these brothers err in ignoring the Federal nature of the Scriptures and seem to be very confused about the relationship between law and gospel. These men attempt to divide the word of truth regarding law/gospel by dividing the Bible into time periods defining epochs of God’s dealing/testing of man. The two most prominent ‘dispensations’ of this sytem are the dispensations of law (Moses to Christ) and grace (Paul to present day). Sadly, by ignoring the eternal covenant transaction between the Father and the Son, by missing the Federal nature of the history of redemption (I Cor 5), and by dividing the Scriptures based on time periods instead of understanding the Scriptures as a series of unfolding Covenants, dispensationalism creates confusion:
- It creates confusion regarding the salvation of Old Testament Saints
- It creates confusion regarding the eternal nature of the moral law
- It creates confusion regarding the essential nature of sanctification
- It creates confusion regarding the true nature of grace – relegated to a time period vice God’s Plan from Eternity Past
- It creates confusion regarding the true nature of Old Covenant
- It creates confusion regarding the nature of our Lord’s ministry
A while back I was listening to a sermon series by the late S. Lewis Johnson on God’s Divine Purpose in history. The initial lectures in the series give a simple overview of Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. As part of the contrast, Dr. Johnson accused Covenant Theologians of teaching that men are bound to the ‘law of Moses’, whereas Dispensationalism does not. The statement was so astoundingly simple-headed and misinformed, I was shocked that anyone with any familiarity with historic Protestant Theology could make such a false accusation. We all understand how theologians, in a moment of unrestrained zeal, can overstate their case, but I was very disappointed to hear such a statement from such an eminent scholar as SLJ. So what is the truth regarding the law and the saint?
The dispensationalist believes that the Law of God can be relegated to a specific time period and has no applicability for today (at least the consistent dispensational theologian believes that – there is much confusion and lack of consistency in the system today, sadly). Because of this, these good brothers accuse the historic reformed brothers as teaching that men today are ‘under’ the law of Moses.
A Right Understanding
For the ‘reformed’ (as best as I understand, not being a theologian myself), the law of Moses, as it is the law of Israel and the law of the Old Covenant, is totally abrogated. The moral law, however, meaning the very definition of the righteousness of God, a portrait of the majesty of Christ, which is not exactly equal to, but is rather briefly summarized in the Ten Commandments, is universal and for all time. This law is a law of condemnation and can only convict men and (hopefully) drive them to Christ. Believers are in no sense under’ this law, as Dispensationalists falsely accuse. Once believers are regenerated and have this law written on their hearts (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16), they do live out obedience to Christ, not by force or as a law of works, but rather freely, by walking in the Spirit – but we’ll eave that for the next chapter of the Marrow.
Says Thomas Boston on this topic:
Concerning the deliverance from the law, which, according to the
Scripture, is the privilege of believers purchased unto them by Jesus Christ,
there are two opinions equally contrary to the word of God, and to one
another. The one of the Legalist, That believers are under the law, even as it
is the covenant of works; the other of the Antinomian, That believers are not at
all under the law, no, not as it is a rule of life. Betwixt these extremes, both
of them destructive of true holiness and gospel-obedience, our author, with
other orthodox divines, holds the middle path; asserting [and in the proper
place proving] that believers are under the law, as a rule of life, but free
from it as it is the covenant of works.
Next in Our Series
In the next chapter of The Marrow, we will begin looking at the life in the
Spirit. But, before we conclude looking at Christ’s Provision of Grace, we’ll
take a quick look at how believer’s can receive the grace of God – Conversion.
Conversion = Faith + Repentance
We’ll examine what faith and repentance are, and more importantly, are not.
Again, as in all the Marrow, we’ll try to steer clear of the two extremes of
error – that of the legalist and that of the libertine – a topic very
contemporary and relevant to our own time, to be sure.