Andrew Fuller: The Moral Law the Rule of Conduct for Believers

July 30, 2015 | by: Bob Schilling | 2 comments

Posted in: The Law of God Tags: Law, Moral Law, Obedience, Andrew Fuller, Ten Commandments

In the very full volume of “The Works of Andrew Fuller” published by The Banner of Truth Trust (just over a thousand pages or double-columned, small print, quarto-sized book), under a section titled, “Miscellaneous Tracts, Essays, Letters, Etc.” there is a letter of his answering a request regarding whether the moral law of God is the rule of conduct for the believer (pgs. 890-891).

Here’s how he summarizes the aims of his letter:

“In what follows, therefore, I shall endeavor to prove both the authority and perfection of the law; or that the commandments of God, whether we consider them as ten or two, are still binding on Christians, and virtually the whole revealed will of God, as to the matter of obedience.” (emphasis by the author)

Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) is a ‘Master in Israel’, a true theological father to many in the Christian Faith. Charles Spurgeon described him as “the greatest theologian of his time.” He was a close friend of William Carey, Robert Hall, Sr., John Ryland, Jr., and John Sutcliff. His publication of “The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation” in 1785 was foundational to the organizing of the Baptist Missionary Society (1792) which sent their most famous missionary, William Carey, to India in 1793. Andrew Fuller was a Calvinist of the classic position, holding to a universal redemption and a limited atonement (see citations here and here with other links here); he was an orthodox critic of hyper-Calvinism and antinomianism – and a faithful, useful, persistent preacher of true grace.

But one of the theological norms of Reformational theology that is widely abandoned in our day, is the binding nature of the moral law of God summarized in the Ten Commandments, and further distilled in the Two Greatest Commandments. Are Christians obligated to keep the moral law of God? Many would propose that it’s improper to even distinguish “moral laws” from ceremonial or civil laws in the Old Testament (see some earlier blogs on that subject here, here and here). Andrew Fuller begins his response to this request with these telling words,

It is painful that a question of this nature ever have been started among professing Christians…”

But – such is the case, in his day and ours – and so, for the sake of clarity and truth, he offers seven proofs that the Ten Commandments are still binding as a summary of moral duty for believers. I’ll summarize his remarks at points and add a few thoughts of my own along the way.

1. He asks the reader to read through the Ten Commandments and ask his conscience which of these rules are we now at liberty to transgress without sinning?

  - “Is the believer at liberty to have other gods besides the true God?”
  - “Would there be no harm in making to himself a graven image, and falling down to worship it?”
  - “Is there any less sin for a believer to take God’s name in vain than for an unbeliever?”
  - I ask, Is God not to be worshipped publicly, nor His people to gather for such a purpose regularly? (Heb. 10:25).
  - “Are believers at liberty to disobey their parents, or to kill their neighbors, or to commit adultery, or to steal, or to bear false witness, or to covet what is not their own?”

“Every conscience that is not seared as with a hot iron must answer these questions in the negative.”

2. It is utterly inconsistent with the nature of moral government, and of the great designs of mercy, as revealed in the gospel, that believers should be freed from obligation to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbors as themselves.

It is much easier for people to dismiss the Ten Commandments than the summary Two Commandments – but both refer to the same law. Jesus didn’t invent the summary commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourself – these summaries were drawn directly from the Law of the Old Testament. God would have to deny Himself to rescind His commandments that we love Him supremely and love our neighbors instinctively and sacrificially.

For this is the love of God , that we keep His commandments.
And His commandments are not burdensome.”
1 John 5:3

Fuller adds,

“The relation between a father and a son is such that an obligation to love is indispensable; and should the son, on having offended his father, be forgiven and restored, like the prodigal to his family, to pretend to be free on this account were an outrage on decency. Everyone must feel that his obligations, in such a case, are increased, rather than diminished.”

3. It was solemnly declared by our Savior, “that He came, not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”; yea, “that heaven and earth should pass away, but not a jot or tittle of the law should fail” (Luke 16:17; Matt. 5:18).

A large part of the Sermon on the Mount is taken up with explaining the true meaning of God’s commandments as he refutes the traditions and errors of the Scribes and Pharisees.

“To the same purpose, the apostle Paul, after dwelling largely on justification by faith in Christ, in opposition to the works of the law, asks, ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law’ (Rom. 3:31). But if the law ceases to be binding on Believers, Christ did come to destroy its authority over them, and faith does make it void in respect of them. The faith of those who set Moses and Christ at variance has manifestly this effect; it is therefore in opposition to the faith taught by our Savior and the apostle Paul.”

4. In executing the great work of redemption, our Savior invariably did honor to the law; it was written in His heart.

By this we know that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him
ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.”
1 John 2:5-6

Fuller:

“Now the essence of true religion is for ‘the same mind to be in us which was in Christ Jesus.’ …The Lawgiver and the Savior are one; and believers must be of one mind with the former as well as with the latter: but if we depreciate the law, which Christ delighted to honor, and deny our obligation to obey it, how are we of His mind? Rather, are we not of that mind which is ‘enmity against God, which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be?’ (Rom. 8:7).

5. In the books of Romans and Galatians (two Epistles in which he largely explodes the idea of justification by the works of the law) Paul enforces brotherly love as a requirement of the law.

“‘Love one another,’ says he, ‘for love is the fulfilling of the law’ – ‘Brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty as an occasion for the flesh, but by love serve one another; for all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-14) If the liberty of the primitive Christians consisted in being delivered from an obligation to obey the precepts of the law, the reasoning of the apostle was self-contradictory: ‘Ye are not obliged to love one another because God in His law requires it; therefore love one another, because God in His law requires it!!’"

Why do we care what the law says if we’re not under the law? But we are under the law as a guide of holiness, a moral code of conduct pleasing to God – we have never been without this law. The beauty and glory of the New Covenant is that we now have His law internalized and the Spirit given so as to empower us to now keep what we now love (Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:27). The antinomian position, the idea that we are not obligated to keep the perfect precepts of God ends up contradictory and foolish. This is highlighted beautifully in Fuller’s sixth point:

6. If the law be not a rule of conduct to believers, and a perfect rule too; they are under no rule; or, which is the same thing, are lawless. But, if so, they commit no sin; for ‘where there is no law, there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4:15; 5:13).

“And in this case they have no sins to confess, either to God or to one another, nor do they stand in need of Christ as an Advocate with the Father, nor of daily forgiveness through His blood. Thus it is that, by disowning the law, men utterly subvert the gospel…Sometimes they will profess to make the gospel their rule; but the gospel, strictly speaking, is not a rule of conduct, but a message of grace, providing for our conformity to the rule previously given. To set aside the moral law as a rule, and to substitute the gospel in its place, is making the gospel a new law, and affords a proof of how Antinomianism and Neonomianism, after all their differences, can occasionally agree.”

“The Scriptures teach us that ‘by the law is the knowledge of sin;’ which clearly implies that there is no sin but what is a breach of that rule. Hence sin is defined as ‘the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3:4). But if sin be the transgression of the law, the authority of the law must be still binding; for no crime or offense attaches to the breach of a law which is abrogated or repealed; nor can it be known by such a law, how much any man hath sinned, or whether he hath sinned at all. Moreover, if there be no sin but that which is a transgression of the law, there can be no rule binding on men which is not comprehended in that law.”

Our admission of sin is our confession of the applicability of the law. Even Gentiles, who did not have the law of Moses, betrayed the work of the law written on their hearts - in their sinning against it (Rom. 2:12-16). Thus, Paul can conclude at the end of Romans 3, that all are under the law, and all under sin: 

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law,
So that every mouth may be stopped,
And the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
Romans 3:19

7. The apostle writes as if there were no middle ground between “being under the law to Christ” and being “without law” (1 Cor. 9:21).

“…not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ…”

“If we be not the one, we are the other. Paul declares himself under the law to Christ, which implies that Christ has taken the precepts of the moral law as the first principles of his legislative code. Believers, therefore, instead of being freed from obligation to obey it, are under greater obligations to do so than any men in the world. To be exempt from this is to be without law, and, of course, without sin; in which case we might do without a Savior, which is utterly subversive of all religion.”

“I have been told that believers are not be ruled by the law, but by love; and that it is by the influence of the Spirit that they are moved to obedience, rather than by the precepts of the law. To this I answer:”

“1. If a believer be ruled by love in such a way as to exclude obligation, this is the same as if a son should say to his father, ‘I have no obligation to oblige you, sir: I will do your business from love; but I will not be commanded!’ That is, what he pleases he will do, and no more. – No Parent would bear with such an answer from a child; and how can we suppose that God will bear it from us? ‘If I be a Father, where is my honor?’ (Malachi 1:6)”

“2. The question is not what moves or causes obedience; but, what is the rule of it? It is allowed that all true obedience is caused by the influence of the Holy Spirit; but that to which He influences the mind was antecedently required of us: He leadeth us ‘in the way that we should go.’”

On persuading people who have embraced and antinomian position – that the law does not apply to the Christian as a standard of moral conduct, Andrew Fuller writes in conclusion:

“…Where men have found out the secret of happiness without holiness, there is something so bewitching in it, that you might almost as well encounter insanity as hope by reasoning to convince them.”

-----

It is presumed as a moral given in the broad stream of historic Reformed Christianity, that the law of God is perfect (Psalm 19:7: Psalm 119:96; Rom. 7:12). That it is unimprovable and reflective of the eternal perfections of God Himself.

The “torah” of God is the teaching of Yahweh.

It is the lamp to our feet and the light to our path. God’s moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments written in stone by the finger of God, and distilled further in the two great commandments. It is the rule of conduct for believers.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:36-40

2 COMMENTS

Bob Schilling says

Nov 2, 2015

Hi Wes,

Sorry for not getting back to this for a while – I wrote a response and it got lost in the blogosphere – I should have saved it in a Word document – so here’s another stab.

I would highly recommend that you read Tim Keller’s, “Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency’”:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/making-sense-of-scriptures-inconsistency

I think that’s going to answer the bulk of what you’ve asked above.

He has a great line in the middle of his article: “In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live.” The ceremonial laws having to do with ritual purity and tabernacle/temple worship are clearly fulfilled in Christ (book of Hebrews). But Christ explicitly says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). He goes on to say in v. 20, that we are not to “relax” even “the least of these commandments” but we are “to do them” and “to teach them.” We “fulfill the law” by keeping it. Did Paul view the law as irrelevant?

Romans 13:9-10, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Are we still to love our neighbor as ourselves?

Are we still to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?

The summary of something doesn’t do away with what it summarizes. The particulars still flesh out the summary. God’s moral law is the reflection of His eternal, moral character.

In the Old Testament, after the laws were given, they all applied. They aren’t done away with even if people failed to keep them – but some did keep them (even though they weren’t sinless (Ecc. 7:20), they were blameless (2 Chron. 15:17, NASV):

It is said of Joshua, “He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses” (Josh. 11:15).

It is said of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the father and mother of John the Baptist, before the birth of Christ, “And they were both righteous before God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6).

Have you seen my earlier blogs on the law?

http://www.graceandtruthcc.com/blog/post/the-three-fold-division-of-biblical-law

http://www.graceandtruthcc.com/blog/post/the-three-fold-use-of-moral-law

http://www.graceandtruthcc.com/blog/post/the-summary-of-moral-law:-the-ten-commandments

I do try to work through these issues in those blogs.

And then in the NT, we have repeatedly, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

“For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor. 7:19).

Paul describes himself as “not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21) – there is no dichotomy between “God’s law” and “Christ’s law” – it is one and the same – the perfect reflection of God’s moral excellence – summarized for us in ten commandments, further summarized in the two great commandments, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

Solomon’s conclusion is no different than the teaching of the NT:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecc. 12:13-14).

Again – the Keller article I think you will find most helpful.

Wes

Sep 20, 2015

So, where do the laws regarding food (and other laws) fit into this? That's always been my question. I have a view but I always want to know more. It seems odd that the 10 commandments and the golden rule(s) are accepted but we still eat pork and we don't perform the Numbers 5:11-31 adultery test. (odd I know)

What I often find when I look into these things is that these laws were rarely followed even immediately after they were delivered. The law of jubilees, for instance, was never followed. So, I guess a question to me is, did these laws ever apply? And how do we parse them now?

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