Puritanism and the Law of God

Political Theology: Puritanism and the Law of God

What Happens When a Nation Rejects God’s Laws––and What Can We Do About It?

Note: The following is extracted from a series of recent sermons on the topic of Political Theology by Breck Wheelock. To watch or listen to the entire message, go to the links at the end.

   In Deuteronomy chapter 4:5-9, the nation of Israel is being exhorted to keep all of the various statutes and rules of God that Moses had taught them, not only for their own national benefit, but for the benefit of the surrounding nations as well.

 

See, I [Moses] have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children.”

 

  IN THE VERSES THAT FOLLOW, Moses continues to exhort the people to remember the experience that they had at Mount Sinai, when they heard the voice of the LORD proclaim the Ten Commandments to them. He implores this fledgling nation of Israel to keep the law of God and to teach the law to their children, so that it would go well for them and for their children in the land that God was giving to them as an inheritance. Moses then goes on to reiterate the Ten Commandments to the people in chapter 5, and throughout the remainder of the book of Deuteronomy, the centrality of the law of God is impressed upon the people. And this is the subject that we’re going to take up in today’s message—the law of God.

   In Part 1 of the messages on Political Theology, we looked at several different definitions of the word politics, and we saw that the common thread that ran through all of the various definitions that we looked at was: rulership of a structured society according to law. It was said that politics is essentially about societal law and order. Law is at the heart of politics. Thus, it seems only fitting that in a series on political theology there should be at least one message that considers the law of God as it relates to a nation’s sociopolitical theory. If politics is essentially about societal law and order, what role (if any) should God’s law have with regard to the politics of a nation?

   Over the next two messages, we’ve been looking at the concept of sphere sovereignty, which holds that God is the only one with absolute sovereignty, but that He has delegated a certain degree of authority to man that is manifested in many different spheres; e.g., in marriage and family, in the church, in the state, in the world of business, etc. But what is it that unifies all of these diverse spheres of life? The only thing that can unify all of the diverse structures and institutions within society, is the law of God.

   Divine decree (God’s will), not democracy[1] (the people’s will), is the political cement that is necessary for laying a proper foundation for a nation. This is not to say that democracy has no place within the politics of a nation. But democracy (the people’s will) that is devoid of divine decree (God’s will) is dangerous and destructive, and inevitably results in the spiritual demolition of a society. Because of sin, the will of the people—when divorced from the law of God—is always bent towards lawlessness, with everyone wanting to do what is right in their own eyes.

   For this reason, the Puritans believed that the law of God was central to keeping all of the various spheres of life in perfect harmony, that only the law of God can bring about political unity in diversity. They believed that biblical law was to be taken seriously when considering the Great Commission, the Cultural Mandate, the ordering of social relationships, and issues of public justice. And it was this emphasis on the authority and applicability of God’s law to all of life that established the political bedrock of our nation.

   But our society no longer holds the law of God in such high esteem. In fact, as a nation, we have essentially renounced the law of God. Posting the Ten Commandments on the walls of classrooms was common in our public schools up until 1980 when the Supreme Court, in Stone v. Graham, declared the practice to be in violation of the 1st Amendment and therefore unconstitutional. Within the majority opinion it was written that, “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments.” Ironically, the Supreme Court made this decision from the U.S. Supreme Court building where carved into the center of the building’s eastern pediment is Moses holding the two tablets of the decalogue.

   Additionally, a number of states, including our own, have been challenged on the constitutionality of having a monument of the Ten Commandments on public grounds, with some monuments being removed and relocated as a result.

   How did this happen? I believe that one of the reasons why this has happened is that many Christians are not familiar with the Puritan perspective on the law and gospel, despite the fact that the Puritan vision significantly shaped our legal, political, social, and economic landscape. Such historical and theological amnesia has opened up a wide gulf with respect to the relationship between law and gospel. Many Christians today are of the opinion that the law of God is largely irrelevant because we are “no longer under the law, but under grace.” By and large, the contemporary Christian worldview sees law and gospel as being antithetical to each other, that they are incompatible and mutually exclusive. This is certainly not how the Puritans viewed the law and the gospel. Consider, for example, these words from the Puritan Thomas Watson:

 

The moral law…remains a perpetual rule to believers. Though it be not their savior, it is their guide… “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid.” (Rom. 3:31) Though a Christian is not under the condemning power of the law, yet he is under the commanding power…They who will not have the law to rule them, shall never have the gospel to save them.[2]

 

   Our Puritan forefathers believed that the law and the gospel were to be integrated, and that they were to be integrated in every area of life. They reasoned that if Christ is our savior and His law is the rule of life, then law and gospel must be proclaimed and put into practice in every sphere of Christ’s kingdom. Law was seen as central to the building of the kingdom of God, and to bringing justice, peace, and blessing to the nations.

   Therefore, if we are to see the gospel thrive once again in our nation, we need to ask ourselves: what place does the law of God have in relation to the gospel and the kingdom of heaven? It’s a sad fact that this question has been the source of much confusion and even controversy. Many Christians are so accustomed to interpreting the term “law” in a negative way, that the idea that God’s law might have a central role in the Christian life and the kingdom of God, seems bizarre and contradictory. Yet for the past several centuries of Western history, the law of God has occupied a critical and central place in the life of the family, the church, and society. And we here in the West have experienced tremendous blessing as a result.

   With this in mind, let’s once again look back to our Puritan heritage to see what we can learn from them in terms of how they viewed the law of God. 

Denying dualism and dichotomies

   First of all, the Puritans totally rejected dualism—the idea that life can be separated into two categories: that which is sacred, and that which is secular. For the Puritans, there can be no duality, no artificial sacred-secular dichotomy, because all areas of life are created, sustained, and governed by God; all things are created through Him and for Him. Thus, there is no “secular arena” with diplomatic immunity from the rule of Christ and His Word.

   This anti-dualistic view of the Puritans would be considered woefully intolerant by the great majority in our culture today. The general consensus today, even amongst many Christians, is that you can’t drag the God of the Bible into every area of life (the classroom, the courthouse, the office, the theatre, etc.) because that’s intolerant of a diversity of perspectives. Well, for those who think this way, I hate to break it to you, but intolerance is a fact of life. Intolerance is inescapable.

   If we are Christians and abide by the law of Scripture then we will be intolerant towards sin, just as God is. God doesn’t tolerate a “diversity of perspectives” when it comes to sin. As Christians, we are intolerant of murder, theft, adultery, bearing false witness, and every other offense against God’s order. Conversely, unbelievers—who are lawbreakers by nature—will be intolerant of God and His people, and intolerant of godly laws and restraints precisely because they tolerate and love sin.

   Jesus states the issue very clearly: “no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24) As regenerated Christians who have had our hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh, it’s in our nature to love God and His Word, and to delight in His law. This means that we hate sin and regard it as an offense against God, an intolerable violation of godly order. Likewise, those who have not been regenerated are by their very nature at enmity with God and His law, and are bitterly intolerant toward His godly order.

   What we find, then, is that what a person tolerates (or doesn’t tolerate) says a great deal about that person. It reveals their true nature. What we tolerate not only reveals our true nature, it also points to our greatest love and identifies our source of authority. Either our greatest love is ourself, and we are therefore governed according to self-law, or our greatest love is the Lord, and we are therefore governed according to God’s law. We cannot be absolutely governed by both self-law and God’s law. We cannot ultimately be ruled or governed in our lives by more than one source of power and authority. No one can serve two masters. All dualism in our lives inevitably leads to the dominance of one influence or power over the other, one of which will eventually be resented or despised. Thus, there is no sacred-secular duality; all things are either subjected to God’s law or man’s self-law.

   This means, therefore, that no sphere of life is inherently profane, including the sphere of politics. Nor is there a sphere of life that is inherently holy, including the sphere of the church. Any sphere of life has the potential to be either holy or profane. Is it impossible that a church could become profane? Of course not! We see it all the time. Neither is it impossible that the government of a nation can be made holy.

   What, then, is the determining factor as to whether or not a particular sphere is holy or profane? Answer: the law of God. To the extent that the law of God is being obeyed by the people group within a particular sphere, that sphere is made holy. Obviously, the opposite is equally true.

   The point here is that no sphere—marriage and family, the church, education, business, politics, the arts—is categorically either holy or profane. There are holy and profane marriages and families, holy and profane churches, holy and profane schools, holy and profane companies, holy and profane governments. Granted, no sphere is ever made completely holy, since sin is always present in everything we do. Nevertheless, any sphere of life has the potential to be made increasingly holy as it is conformed more and more to the Lordship of Christ.

   And by the way, this is how the kingdom of God is made manifest. We know that Christ is sitting on the throne now, ruling and reigning from heaven. But obviously we can’t see Him. We know that the entire cosmos falls within the jurisdiction of Christ’s Lordship, that nothing is exempt from His dominion, that the whole world—including every sphere and every authority—is encompassed by His kingdom. But by and large, His kingdom reign is invisible, though not entirely. How is the kingdom of Christ made visible here and now? How is it made manifest, visibly? His kingdom is visibly manifested whenever people acknowledge His kingship and submit to His law.

   Every marriage that strives to glorify God—the husband loving, nourishing, and cherishing his wife, and the wife submitting to her husband as unto the Lord—is a visible manifestation of the kingdom of God. In such marriages, the rule of Christ is made recognizable in a practical way. Every family that seeks to honor Christ’s order for the home is a visible manifestation of the kingdom. Every local church congregation that is ruled by the Word of God, every Christian school, every Christian company, every Christian association in which God’s Word is acknowledged and Christ’s dominion is respected is a manifestation of the kingdom of God, no matter how weak. Every nation state that, in principle and practice, functions out of the acknowledgement of Christ’s kingship, is a visible manifestation, no matter how weak, of the kingdom of God.

   Again, there’s always a certain degree of sin that is present in any sphere; thus, at best, only glimpses of the kingdom of God are manifested by a particular sphere. But these glimpses are unspeakably more than nothing, just as even the smallest beam of light is unspeakably more than total darkness.

   All that to say, no sphere within the kingdom of God is inherently or intrinsically holy or profane. Every sphere has the potential to be made increasingly holy according to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Like the Puritans, we must wholeheartedly reject any sacred-secular duality.

   And along these lines, we must also reject any false dichotomy with respect to the law and the gospel. As we’ve already seen, the Puritans believed that the law and the gospel are completely complementary, not completely contradictory.

   But this not how many Christians view the law today. Many Christians seem to understand the law as being something of a pejorative term, and many pastors fail to teach on the law because they mistakenly think that the gospel has somehow nullified the law. Broadly speaking, most churches in America have a disparaging and dismissive attitude when it comes to the law of God, and if the American church is generally disparaging and dismissive of the law of God, is it any wonder that our nation is becoming increasingly lawless?

   It’s high time that we reject the false dichotomy that would have us believe that the law and the gospel are mutually exclusive or incompatible. This is clearly not Scriptural. When a person is regenerated through the preaching of the gospel, they enter into the New Covenant under Christ. And what does this entail? Jeremiah tells us:

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord [He is referring to the New Covenant here, the Covenant of Grace]: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31:33).

 

   “So, when we respond to the Gospel and are saved, God puts His law within us?” Yes! Again:

 

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

 

   The law and the gospel are not diametrically opposed or antithetical to one another. Indeed, Christ Himself says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) “Yeah, well that’s just talking about us as Christians. That doesn’t apply to unbelievers or to the broader civic sphere.” Really? Not according to Paul. Consider what Paul writes in 1 Tim. 1:8-11:

 

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers [kidnappers; man-stealers], liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.

 

   Here, Paul makes an undeniable connection between the gospel and the law; specifically, the Ten Commandments. He references those who strike their fathers and mothers (the 5th Commandment); murderers (the 6th Commandment); the sexually immoral, including homosexuals (the 7th Commandment); enslavers (the 8th Commandment), and liars and perjurers (the 9th Commandment). Moreover, it’s abundantly clear from this text that the gospel does not exclude the law of God within the civic sphere, for Paul explicitly links the gospel with the Ten Commandments and their judicial application to unbelievers—the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane. Thus, if we deny the law of God in its civil application or explanation, we’re denying a key to understanding the truth of the gospel—the righteousness, holiness, and justice of God.

   What we learn from both Paul and the Puritans, is that there is no artificial dichotomy between the law and the gospel. We must therefore repudiate dualism in all its forms if we would see a recovery of gospel effectiveness and the fullest extension of the kingdom of God in our generation.     

Dikaiosuné, and deductions from the decalogue

   Now, in addition to denying the sacred vs. secular duality, along with the false dichotomy of law vs. gospel, the Puritans positively asserted that in order for any society to be truly free, righteousness and justice must be upheld according to God’s law. They contended that from the biblical standpoint, law and righteousness and justice are interconnected and inseparable, and any attempt to define righteousness and justice apart from God’s law will inevitably lead to moral relativism, in which laws are based upon whimsical and highly variable social beliefs that have no connection with true righteousness and justice.

   The Puritans recognized that in the Bible, righteousness and justice are interchangeable themes that often come together in the same verse. For example, Job 37:23 says, “Justice and righteousness He will not violate.” Ps. 33:5, “He loves righteousness and justice.” Ps. 89:14, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.” Ps. 103:6, “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.” Jer. 22:3, “Thus says the LORD: do justice and righteousness.”

   A particularly notable Old Testament passage in this regard is Genesis 18:16-33, in which Abraham intercedes for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In verses 17-19 the LORD says,

 

Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has promised him.

 

   The LORD had promised that Abraham’s offspring shall become a great and powerful nation; thus, beginning with its father, Abraham, this nation must learn righteousness and justice. The LORD demonstrates His justice to Abraham in the judgment of the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. God investigates the accusations thoroughly, hears the pleas of the defense (“will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked; will not the judge of all the earth do what is just?”), and promises to spare the city if He can find only 10 righteous people there. All of this is meant to teach and demonstrate to Abraham—and the nation that would later come through his offspring—what righteousness and justice looks like.

   The same interchangeable theme of righteousness and justice is likewise seen in the New Testament. The Greek word dikaiosuné can be legitimately translated as either “righteousness” or “justice.”[3] Accordingly, one could adequately translate Matt. 5:6 as referring to the blessed ones who hunger and thirst after justice. Similarly, Matt. 6:33 could be translated, “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice.” Translating these verses in this way brings to light the judicial aspect of the word dikaiosuné, and highlights the fact that the word clearly has both a vertical (God-oriented) dimension and a horizontal (people-oriented) dimension because it’s tied to God’s law.

   Consequently, the Puritans held that one’s concerns for righteousness and justice must be properly informed by God’s law, and particularly the decalogue (the Ten Commandments), which represents the moral character and nature of God.

   However, we are not to limit God’s law only to the Ten Commandments. God’s law also includes the applied meaning of the Ten Commandments as set forth in the Mosaic case laws. The Mosaic case laws were illustrations of how the Ten Commandments were to be applied in the civil sphere of Israel. These various case laws illustrate, for example, what constitutes dishonor of one’s parents, or what constitutes murder over against manslaughter, or criminal negligence.

   Furthermore, logical deductions from the decalogue and the Mosaic case laws are valid, and such deductions can be applied to any society at any time because the truths of Scripture come from a transcendent source, and therefore cannot be relativized.

   For example, God’s law is most protective of marriage, family, and the sanctity of human life. This is easily deduced from the Ten Commandments. The first table of the law (the first 4 Commandments) concern our relationship with God. And what immediately follows? Honor your father and your mother (family), do not murder (sanctity of human life), do not commit adultery (marriage). And indirectly, Commandment 8 (do not steal) and Commandment 10 (do not covet) also relate to marriage and family because they both largely deal with family-owned private property (you shall not covet your neighbor’s house [real estate], nor his servants [personal household staff], nor his ox or donkey [resources and capital], nor anything else that belongs to your neighbor [general wealth and assets]).

   Accordingly, the law of any society (including our own) should place the highest priority on protecting marriage, family, and the sanctity of human life because this is God’s highest priority. Laws should not attempt to redefine marriage; laws should not permit the murdering of human life within the womb under the guise of “reproductive health” or “women’s rights”; inheritance laws and death taxes should be condemned as theft of family-owned private property and wealth; etc. These are simple deductions from the decalogue that are applicable to our own day and age.

   Moving out beyond the spheres of the individual and marriage and family, the law of God also lays great emphasis upon protecting the poor and disadvantaged within the broader society. Because poor people are often without the social status or influence that money can offer, they’re more vulnerable to being deprived of justice in the courts and the general political sphere (for example, they can’t offer bribes or hire top lawyers). And so, the Bible frequently refers to the poor and disadvantaged as those at greatest risk of oppression, especially the orphan and the widow, since their weakness might be taken advantage of by virtue of being without a provider and protector in the figure of a father or a husband. Any injustice perpetrated against people because of their disadvantaged state is abhorrent to God. Thus, a nation must give special attention to ensure the rule of law for those citizens who are most vulnerable to injustice.

   However, at the same time, this does not mean that God takes up every “cause” of marginalized or powerless people groups, or the cause of those who are of low incomes. Powerlessness and poverty do not make a cause just or righteous by definition.

   For example, if a man who is poor plans to steal from those who have more than him—whether by outright burglary, or more subtly through the long arm of the state—will God take up his cause? Does God bless the “Robin Hood” cause of stealing from the rich to give to the poor? No. Scripture teaches that God takes up the cause of the righteous, whether they are rich or poor, president or peasant (Ps. 9:7-8; 18:20; 34:15-16; 37:25-40).

   God certainly pleads the cause of the poor when they are deprived of justice by virtue of their poverty, but God doesn’t plead a man’s cause simply because that man is without wealth and power. Such an idea is ridiculous because the poor are perfectly capable of oppressing the poor! As it says in Proverbs 28:3, “A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food.” If a poor man oppresses a poor man, whose side does God take? Is He left with an insolvable ethical dilemma because unjust structures led the poor to steal from the poor? No. God takes up the cause of the righteous. If a poor man’s lack of wealth deprives him of access to justice in his case, God takes up his cause according to the Bible. But judges are not to show partiality in hearing the case of the poor or powerless.

   The concern of God’s Word is with impartial justice and with righteousness. Nowhere does God permit partiality in men’s dealings with men based on their economic status, whether they are rich or poor; such an attitude is a perversion of justice. As we learn from Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.” This verse is a good summary statement of the Puritan’s understanding of the role of God’s law in society. The Puritan’s believed that the purpose of law is to uphold and promote righteousness and justice, and that special care is to be taken to protect the sanctity of human life, marriage and the family, and the poor and disadvantaged. 

Disaffirming the depraved

   Now, with regard to God’s law as it relates to matters of public justice, there’s one more aspect that I think is important for us to consider.

   Based upon the doctrine of the total depravity of man, the notion that unbelievers can add any moral insights beyond God’s law is to be rejected. When it comes to righteousness and justice, God has disaffirmed the depraved. To disaffirm, in a legal context, is to declare or make legally invalid or void.  Accordingly, the opinions and philosophical musings of unbelievers with regard to righteousness and justice are legally invalid or void because they originate from a depraved or reprobate mind. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 1:28-29a, “And since they [mankind in general] did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a depraved mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness [injustice].”

   Because fallen man is totally depraved, it’s impossible for non-Christian accounts of justice and righteousness to be “partly right.” Far from suggesting that sinful man is “partly right” about righteousness and justice, God’s Word emphatically declares, “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them. Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” (Prov. 28:4-5)

   A Christian in possession of God’s Word and with the help of the Holy Spirit can understand justice completely according to the Bible; they need no lessons from the so-called “wisdom” of the world. But those who neglect and reject the law of God praise wickedness—calling evil good and good evil.

   This is not to say that all unbelievers are as evil as they could be. No. God’s common grace restrains sinful man from reaching his full sinful potential. Nor is to say that unbelievers have no concept of righteousness and justice whatsoever. No. Rom. 2:15 tells us that all men have “the work of the law written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts either accuse or even excuse them.”

   It’s not that fallen man doesn’t know what is righteous, he’s simply unwilling and unable to practice it without the transforming power of the gospel. Fallen man is in rebellion against God and suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (injustice). (Rom. 1:18) Paul declares that it’s impossible for unregenerate man to truly pursue righteousness and justice, “None is righteous [just], no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Rom. 3:11-12)

   Consequently, the visions of justice of the unregenerate cannot be “partly righteous” or “partly just.” This is a flagrant contradiction of the Word of God, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot! Those in the flesh cannot please God!” (Rom. 8:7-8) This is unambiguous and categorical. Sinful man cannot truly do justice (righteousness) because he cannot submit to God’s law! This is the very foundation of the gospel. Only Christ can make us just in order that the, “righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” (Rom. 8:4)

   None of this means that Christians and non-Christians can’t cooperate on social projects, or work to a common purpose within the political sphere—we can and should do these things. But not because we share “values” that unbelievers can embrace as well; not because humanistic visions of justice are “partly right” as far as they go; and not because we can learn more about what justice is from unbelievers’ competing visions of justice. We do it because God requires it; we do it to glorify Him by letting our light shine before men; we do it out of our love for God and our love for neighbor, which is the fulfillment of the law.

   We need to rid ourselves of the notion that working with unbelievers requires or implies shared visions of righteousness. All that is required is God’s common grace.  We are to be salt and light in the world, and when a given social project or endeavor has an end that is consistent with God’s Word, using means that do not violate God’s Word, we can participate gladly. We are to work to conform all of life to the Word of God and His law, so that increasingly, the laws and structures of our social order reflect the law of God, and the influence of the gospel changes communities.

   In the end, only Christians truly know the meaning of justice, and are able to lead the way on the path of righteousness in our world. This is why it’s such a travesty that so many Christians today are so disparaging and dismissive of the law of God. If Christians retreat from the culture and fail to shine the light of God’s law before men in the political sphere, what chance is there of unbelievers identifying and opposing unrighteousness and injustice?

   In any society, justice requires the diffusing of the full gospel, with Christian men and women manifesting and applying the law of God in every sphere of life, for the glory of God and His kingdom. This was the Puritan vision, and I believe it is the biblical one, and therefore the correct one. 

Dominion or domination

   In summary, what we learn from the Puritans is that if men will not submit to God’s law, they will become slaves of men and Satan. Freedom apart from the Lordship of Christ—at any level, whether individual or national, whether private or public—is impossible. This is because the door that opens to true freedom hinges upon obedience to God’s law.

   Christ kept the law perfectly, and died to make atonement for the sins of His people, to restore them back to the position of being able to righteously represent God upon the earth. Those who have been redeemed in Christ are called back to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, and to fulfill “the righteousness of the law.” (Rom. 8:4) The law remains central to God’s purpose. Although we are not saved by good works according to the law, nevertheless, we are saved for good works according to the law (Eph. 2:8-10). Lawless Christianity is a contradiction in terms. The purpose of grace is not to set aside the law, but to fulfill the law and enable man to keep the law.

   Think about this: if the law was so serious in the sight of God that it would require the death of His only begotten Son in order to make atonement for sinners, it seems absurd to think that God would then proceed to abandon the law!

   Thus, for the Puritans, there was no neutrality. We will either work toward a society of Satan and be dominated as slaves of sin, or we will pursue the kingdom of God, and be free to exercise dominion as sons and daughters of righteousness. It’s either dominion according to God’s law, or domination according to self-law; it’s either the city of God, or the city of man. There is no middle ground, for what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?   

Exhortations/Applications

   In light of this, I shall conclude this sermon with two exhortations, one for believers, and one for unbelievers. First, for you who are in Christ, I exhort you to… 

  1. Know God’s law and apply His law to every sphere of life.

 

   Like the Puritans before us, we must reject any sacred vs. secular dualistic thinking. As we learned earlier, the law is what unifies all of the various spheres of life and keeps them in harmony. We must therefore know the law as it relates to every sphere of life, and we must apply the law to every sphere of life.

   We must also reject the idea that the law is somehow in opposition to the gospel. The law and the gospel go together and reinforce one another. The law points to the gospel and the gospel points to the law. Indeed, the law can actually serve as an evangelistic tool that attracts unbelievers to the light of God’s wisdom and righteousness.

   Recall the passage in Deuteronomy that we considered at the beginning of this sermon. Moses exhorted the nation of Israel to keep the law in order to attract the attention of the surrounding nations.

 

Keep and do [the commandments that you’ve been given], for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ …[For] what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deut. 4:6,8)

 

   The law of God invites and even welcomes public inspection and comparison. And the expected result of such comparison is that God’s law will be found superior in wisdom and justice. This is a monumental claim. It grants to the nations and to any reader of this text, including ourselves, the liberty to analyze God’s law in comparison with other social systems, ancient and modern, and to evaluate its claim. The point that is being made in these verses is that if God’s people would live as God intended, then the nations would take notice.

   Here we find that at least one aspect of the Abrahamic blessing of the nations would be to provide such a model of public justice that the nations would observe and ask questions. The people of God were (and still are) to be a light to the watching world, so that the nations alienated from the covenant (which is now the new covenant under the Lordship of Christ) would be drawn into it and would come to obey His law. Is this not the Great Commission, to disciple all the nations, teaching them to observe all that Christ commands?

   The law of God was explicitly given for the blessing and health of the nations; for without God and His law, there is only misery and the way of death. But in order for such blessing and health to take place within a nation, God’s people must heed the words of Moses—to keep and do all the commandments in every sphere of life. And obviously we cannot keep and do that which we do not know.

   Therefore, we must strive to know the law of God, and a good place to start is the Ten Commandments, which represents the moral character and nature of God. The Ten Commandments reveal the heart of God to us, what He loves and what He abhors. Thus, to not know the Ten Commandments is to be incredibly ignorant of our God.

   Do you know the Ten Commandments? Not just what they are and their order, but do you know the breadth and depth of the Commandments? If not, then something is seriously wrong. If I was to ask a married man to tell me about his wife—what is she like, what is her character, what does she love, and what does she abhor—if that man stumbles for words and cannot give a ready answer, would it not cause me to wonder how much that man really knows and loves his wife?

   Brethren, the Ten Commandments reveal the heart of God to us, that He cherishes faithfulness, honor, life, loyalty, truth, and that He abhors unfaithfulness, dishonor, disloyalty, and lies. Study the Ten Commandments. Listen to the series that Justin did on the Ten Commandments a few years back, read Thomas Watson’s book on the Ten Commandments, or use some other resource.

   And if you are a parent, teach the Ten Commandments to your children. Again, as we read from Deut. 4:9, “Make [the commandments] known to your children and your children’s children.” Remember, the goal is multigenerational faithfulness. Therefore, teach the Ten Commandments to your children and even your grandchildren. A great way to do this is by using a catechism book that teaches the Ten Commandments. Our church has one that we use in our children’s Sunday school classes. Get a copy and use it in family worship.

   Know the law of God, and learn to apply the law of God in every sphere of life. Currently, we are at a point of cultural crisis, largely because we’ve forsaken our first love by forsaking His law. It’s high time that we turn back to our first love.

   In the days of king Josiah, “the Book of the Law” was found in the temple (2 Kings 22:8), and scholars generally agree that the book being referenced was the book of Deuteronomy. Because “the Book of the Law” had not been read or kept in many years, the nation had provoked the anger of God as a result. But when king Josiah heard the words of the book, he repented and a period of reform began until his death. Such reform naturally occurs when God’s people take His law seriously. And I believe that this is our cultural moment. Our nation is in an analogous position as the nation of Israel was in the days of king Josiah. If cultural reform is to take place, we need to rediscover the book of the law and repent.

   We need to know the law of God, and learn to apply the law of God in every sphere of life. For this is how the kingdom of God is visibly manifested, which causes the world to take notice and provides the most fertile soil for planting the seeds of the gospel.

   And for those of you here who have not yet responded to that gospel, I exhort you to…

 

  1. Know the grace of God and submit to Christ, or be condemned by the law.

 

   Apart from Christ, you’re still under the condemnation of the law, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Though you cannot see Christ sitting at the right hand of the Father, He’s there, ruling and reigning until every last enemy is made His footstool. Though you cannot see it, His sword of judgment is hanging over you this very moment like the blade of a guillotine. And you don’t know the day or the hour in which that blade might be released to take your life.

   All of us are born at enmity with Christ, and all of us shall become His conquered enemies. We shall either be conquered by the grace of the gospel, or we shall be conquered by the sword of justice for having broken His law. Know the grace of God and submit to Christ, or be condemned by the law. Bow the knee and confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord. Repent and believe and enjoy the freedom that results from having His law written upon your heart.

 

[1] The word “democracy” comes from the Greek word demokratia, which is derived from dēmos (“the people”) and kratia (“power, rule”); i.e., “people power.” The basic underlying idea of radical democracy is sovereignty of the populace.

[2] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (Banner of Truth, 2009), 44.

[3] The root word, diké, indicates “a judicial verdict.” Thus, the idea behind the word dikaiosuné is the judicial approval of God.

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