Machen: The Gospel Makes Men Love The Law

The gospel does not abrogate God’s law, but it makes men love it with all their hearts.

How is it with us? The law of God stands over us; we have offended against it in thought, word and deed; its. majestic “letter” pronounces a sentence of death against our sin. Shall we obtain a specious security by ignoring God’s law, and by taking refuge in an easier law of our own devising? Or shall the Lord Jesus, as He is offered to us in the gospel, wipe out the sentence of condemnation that was against us, and shall the Holy Spirit write God’s law in our heart, and make us doers of the law and not hearers only? So and only so will the great text be applied to us: “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.”

The alternative that underlies this verse, then, and that becomes explicit in Galatians also, is not an alternative between an external or ceremonial religion and what men would now call (by a misuse of the New Testament word) a “spiritual” religion, important though that alternative no doubt is; but it is an alternative between a religion of merit and a religion of grace. The Epistle to the Galatians is directed just as much against the modern notion of “salvation by character” or salvation by “making Christ Master” in the life or salvation by a mere attempt to put into practice “the principles of Jesus,” as it is directed against the Jewish ceremonialists of long ago: for what the Apostle is concerned to deny is any intrusion of human merit into-the work by which salvation is obtained. That work, according to the Epistle to the Galatians and according to the whole New Testament, is the work of God and of God alone.

J. Gresham Machen | What Is Faith?


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One comment

  1. Why shouldn’t some of us be free to “adminstratively” circumcise if that external order helps us to keep the “substantial” commands of ‘the covenant”? And if our confessions conclude that circumcision is fulfilled by water, why not? And for those who want both circumcision and water, maybe they don’t need both, but since both are merely “administrative”, none of it matters one way or the other as long as they believe the substance and do the works to prove that they believe it?

    Galatians 6: 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

    mark: But IF you can do what the administration says, AND still keep the law, then the ceremonies are not a problem? I very much agree with Machen that the more basic problem (other than ceremonies) is that none of us can keep the covenant, not even when Spirit-enabled to do so, and therefore we need a covenant which Christ has kept for us. So the need is to a. do what the “administration” says to do, but then b. not trust this OR any of our other believing or doing but to trust what Christ has done.

    But how could those who won’t even do the “adminstrative” possibly trust what Christ has done? I can see how there can be folks who do the “administrative” but don’t trust Christ. But how can those who won’t even be watered and do the “external” ever really trust Christ? In other words, not all in the visible church will be in the parousia church (the invisible church, of the age to come). But is it even conceivable that any outside the visible church could ever be in that future church?

    Thus Galatians has a “substantial” rule about boasting only in the death of Christ, which is what ultimately divides saved from lost. As for other divisions between lost but “in the covenant administratively” and lost “but outside the covenant administratively”, does it really ultimately matter ?(as much as I seem to think it does) If water has no efficacy for some inside ” the covenant”, how can there possibly be any gospel efficacy for those without water who are born “outside the covenant”?

    But is this the comfort and rest of the new covenant? That we need to pay attention to the curses of the new covenant, because covenantal vengeance will be worse for us than it is for pagans or heathens or baptists?

    Galatians 5:2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ,you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

    mark: but to clear that up–if you accept it “administratively” and know that it says nothing about the “substance”, then Christ will still be of profit to you. Keep that distinction, and you won’t be severed from Christ?

    Bahnsen: The signs of the covenant, whether circumcision or baptism, declare the objective truth that justification comes only by faith in God’s promise. Circumcision and baptism are NOT an individual’s personal, subjective testimony to having saving faith for himself. So, those who are in the visible church but not elect are nevertheless within the covenant of grace but under its curse.

    Scott Clark writes: “Fundamentally, baptism is to strengthen our faith, not replace it. It is a seal to those who believe, that what baptism promises is actually true of them.” (p 8, “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ”, Confessional Presbyterian 2, 2006)

    p 12: “Paul’s interest is not to argue that baptism confers Christ’s benefits, but rather to appeal to it as illustration of the union that already exists.”

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