Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two Laws, Two Righteousnesses...

I'm reading an excellent book (1814) written by the 18th century Scottish divine, Thomas Bell. I came across it on Nick Batzig's blog Feeding On Christ. This work arguably had influence on the likes of John Colquhoun, someone I have quoted quite a bit on this blog. Below is a small section of the larger first part of the book on the covenants of works and grace in which he goes through Paul's letter to the churches in Galatia. I imagine this excerpt might be seen today as somewhat controversial among some. Yet as I see it, Bell makes sense of Paul as does the rest of what I have read so far.
"6thly. We read of two laws, Rom. iii. 27. The one is called the law of works, the other the law of faith. The one justifies by deeds of obedience to it, i. e. if men would satisfy its demands, it would justify them. The other justifies by faith. The one justifies in such a manner that boasting is not excluded, inasmuch as it promises life to sinners, on condition of their own personal obedience only. For Adam the head of the first covenant having
failed, if any of his posterity will still have life by that covenant, they themselves must yield it perfect obedience in their own persons, and by their own strength; for the law supposeth strength, promiseth none. Now if they could do this, they might boast indeed, as of some mighty achievements performed by themselves. Every one might glory in himself as the cause of his own salvation. And thus, boasting instead of being excluded, would be established. But the apostle expressly tells us that boasting is excluded, and that by the law ot faith. Now faith is not a working, but a receiving of righteousness, the righteousness of another: and therefore it effectually excludes all boasting of personal worth or works. He that is justified by faith, can no more boast of any thing done by himself, than a beggar enriched by the undeserved gift of another, can boast of it as his own acquisition. In the one case, it becomes the poor man to magnify his generous friend; and in the other, the believer glorieth only in the Lord his righteousness. Now these two laws, the one establishing, and the other excluding boasting, what are they? What else can they be, but the two covenants of works and of grace? For by grace are we saved, through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast, Eph. ii. 8, 9.
"These two laws of works and of faith, I take to be the same with those mentioned, Rom. viii. 2. called the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, and the law of sin and death. The covenant of works is called the law of sin and death, because it bindeth sin and death upon us till Christ set us free. The covenant of grace is called the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, because it enables and quickens a man to spiritual life through Christ. (Practical use of Saving Knowledge *). To these two laws of works and of faith, may be referred the two very different answers given by our Lord and the disciples, to sinners enquiring after happiness. The one says to the haughty young man, If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments, Matth. xix. 17. This is the law of works. The others say to the trembling jailor, Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, Acts xvi. 31. This is the law of faith. The law of works saith, the man who doeth those things, shall live by them, Rom. x. 5). The law of faith says, the just by faith, shall live by it, Gal. iii. 1 1. li. 20.
Footnote * If any would rather refer the two laws, Ram. viii. 2. to the two opposite principles in the believer, I should not contradict. For certain it is, that agreeably to the apostle's phraseology, chap. vii. 28. there is a law in the members, the law of sin warring against the law of the mind. What is called the law of sin, may he called the law of death, as well as the body of death, verse 24. inasmuch as to be carnally minded is death, chap. viii. 6.: the law of the Spirit of Life may very fitly be under stood of the law of the mind, chap- vii. 23. inasmuch as to be spiritually minded is life, chap. viii. 6. Taking the passage thus, it has reference to the words immediately preceding, "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." How or whence is it that they who are in Christ do so walk? The apostle answers, The law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. The law of the spiritual mind, which I have from Christ Jesus, delivers me from absolute bondage to the law of sin and death, which is in my members. Though I feel its awful power, and am at times ready to succumb in the conflict, yet I am not brought under its dominion. I walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. This freedom therefore from the law of sin and death is not absolute, as appears from chap. vii. 21, 23. but comparative. The man being dead to sin, liveth no longer in it, chap. vi. 2. though still it liveth and lusteth in him, chap. vii. 17.; he that is dead is freed from sin; it hath not dominion over him, chap. vi. 7, 14. After all, it is obvious that the two laws taken in this sense, necessarily imply the two covenants.
"7thly. We read of two righteousnesses, Rom. x. 5 — 10. The one is called the righteousness of the law, the other, the righteousness of faith. The one is described by Moses, that the man who doeth these things shall live by them. But the righteousness of faith speaketh in a very different strain, viz. that salvation is to be obtained, not by doing, but by a cordial believing unto, or resting upon, a righteousness already wrought out by the Lord Jesus Christ. Here the blessing sought is the same, viz. life and salvation. But two very opposite ways of obtaining it are pointed out, doing and believing. The one according to the law, or covenant of works; the other according to the gos pel, or covenant of grace. The one according to the Sinai covenant, Lev. xviii. .5.; the other according to
the covenant in the land of Moab, which was very dif ferent from it, Deut. xxix. 1. xxx. 11-14. The two righteousnesses here are just as opposite as the law and faith: And we know that the law is not of faith: but the man that doeth them, shall live in them. The law commands doing, in order to obtain Ijife: the gospel directs to believing. The one points out the old way, once practicable indeed, but now impossible. The other reveals a new way to reach the same end, even Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, Rom. x. 4. Thus these two righteousnesses are perfectly consonant to the two covenants. The one is the man's own, who seeks it as it were by the works of the law. And therefore if the least imperfection be found in it, he must be subject to the curse of that law by which he seeks to be justified. The other righteousness is not the sinner's own, that is, it is not wrought out in whole, or in part by him, but by the Surety, the Son of God, and apprehended by the sinner's faith: therefore called the righteousness of God, Rom. x. 3. and the righteousness of faith, verse 6. Phil. iii. 9. And as sure as this righteousness is altogether perfect, so sure shall that sinner's salvation be, who renouncing every other ground of dependence, rests on it alone."
Thomas Bell,  A View of the Covenant of Works and Grace and a Treatise on the Nature and Effects of Saving Faith: pp. 156-159

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