Robert Shaw On Republication In The Westminster Confession

It may be remarked that the law of the ten commandments was promulgated to Israel from Sinai in the form of a covenant of works. Not that it was the design of God to renew a covenant of works with Israel or to put them upon seeking life by their own obedience to the law but the law was published to them as a covenant of works to show them that without a perfect righteousness answering to all the demands of the law they could not be justified before God and that finding themselves wholly destitute of that righteousness they might be excited to take hold of the covenant of grace in which a perfect righteousness for their justification is graciously provided. The Sinai transaction was a mixed dispensation. In it the covenant of grace was published as appears from these words in the preface standing before the commandments “I am the Lord thy God which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt out of the house of bondage” and from the promulgation of the ceremonial law at the sametime But the moral law as a covenant of works was also displayed to convince the Israelites of their sinfulness and misery to teach them the necessity of an atonement and lead them to embrace by faith the blessed Mediator the Seed promised to Abraham in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The law therefore was published at Sinai as a covenant of works in subservience to the covenant of grace And the law is still published in subservience to the gospel as a schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ that they may be justified by faith Gal iii 24.

Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1845) on WCF chapter 19 (HT: HB reader Sean)


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  1. Shaw’s is the most concise and clearest one paragraph explaining the republication of the law that I have read. Thanks for posting this. I don’t recall his name being mentioned in “The Law is Not of Faith.” Is he one that has been widely read? I want to check out the book of his you reference. Thanks, again.

    • Thanks Jack.

      Shaw summarizes what was probably the most widely held approach to republication from the end of the 16th century, that the law was given as a pedagogical re-statement of the covenant of works.

  2. How does the doctrine of republication relate to Christ’s active obedience (he perfectly obeyed the law on our behalf)?

    • The republication of the law reminds us of the demand for perfect obedience. Christ rendered that perfect, whole obedience for us actively suffering all his life and especially at the end. All that is credit to those who believe. The demand to “do all the words of this law” (e.g., Ex 24) is an OT testimony of the righteous demands of the law not only for bloodshed but for obedience. There’s a chapter on this in CJPM.

  3. As a ruling elder in the OPC, I’m observing a good amount of confusion and disagreement about the function of the law in the Christian’s life. I believe that I can affirm all that Shaw says but does he have the right scripture reference? How about the significance of the ” —until Christ came — ” in the text?

    • Hi A.M.

      Gal 2:24 in the ESV says:

      So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.

      He’s elaborating on what he said in 3:12, “But the law is not of faith….”

      I understand the confusion. Part of it is due to the unfortunate unfamiliarity many of us have today with the broader, older Reformed tradition, for whom this idea was a commonplace. In our context we think about continuity with Moses because of our justifiable reaction against Dispensationalism. But there is discontinuity with Moses too. We are in the new covenant and Moses represented the “old covenant” strictly speaking. Paul is saying that “the law” (the old covenant) was intended to point us to Christ. The law itself did not bring salvation. It was a ministry of condemnation, a pedagogue. Now, however, the reality to which the Mosaic covenant pointed has come.

      It’s not, as some fear and other think, that the moral law is no longer in effect. That would be antinomian and flatly contrary to Paul. The moral law, however, is not grounded in Moses. It’s grounded in creation and re-stated in typological terms under Moses. The types and shadows are fulfilled. The moral law remains but the job of old covenant (Moses) is finished. It was, Paul says, a temporary addition to the Abrahamic covenant. That’s a great point in Gal 3-4.

      The Mosaic law (613 commandments and the Mosaic form of the moral law) served to teach them and us our sins and our need for a Savior. In that sense, Moses is law and Abraham is Gospel. That’s why Paul points to Abraham as the father of all who believe (Rom 4). In another sense, Moses works for Abraham, insofar as, after the fall, the only way for us sinners to stand before God is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. That was true under Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, et al. Moses was also an administration of the covenant of grace. Now, however, in Christ, in the new covenant, we have the reality without the types.

      I hope this helps.

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