Boston: Believers Are Not Under The Moral Law As A Covenant Of Works But As A Rule Of Life

Objection: But does not the apostle say, Rom. 6:14. ‘Ye are not under the law but under grace?’ and Gal. 5:22, 23. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, &c.—against such there is no law?’

Answer: Believers are not under the law as a covenant of works, to be either justified or condemned thereby. For the apostle says, ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,’ Gal. 3:13; and that there is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ They are neither under the commanding nor the condemning power of that law, seeing Christ has given perfect obedience to it as a covenant of works, so that under that character it can have nothing to demand of them; and has fully satisfied all its demands in point of punishment, having suffered the very penalty threatened therein. So that as a covenant of works they are entirely delivered from it. And as to the fruits of the Spirit in them, they are the product of the Spirit, agreeable to the will and law of God; and no law can be against them, seeing they are agreeable to the very letter and spirit thereof. But believers are still under the law as a rule of life, according to which they are to regulate their hearts and lives. It is the pole star that must direct their course to heaven, and is of singular use to provoke and excite them to gratitude to Christ, who hath perfectly fulfilled it in their room and stead.

Thomas Boston, The Whole Works of Thomas Boston: An Illustration of the Doctrines of the Christian Religion, Part 2, ed. Samuel M‘Millan, vol. 2 (Aberdeen: George and Robert King, 1848), 64.


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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Trying to soften Law by calling it a “Rule of Life” seems to be making a distinction without a difference. If I can’t keep the Law, is it any more likely that I can keep the Rules of Life? At least it can salve my conscience knowing that I am not breaking the Law but rather a Rule of Life. Didn’t the Galatians have a lot of Rules of Life?

    • Bob,

      Boston was by no means trying to soften the law. He was explaining the function of the law for the Christian. Outside of Christ, the law demands that we fulfill it personally as the condition for eternal life. That is the covenant of works. Christ has fulfilled the covenant of works, however, so that whoever is united to Christ, grace God’s free favor alone, through faith alone, is regarded as having fulfilled the covenant of works personally. The law remains in effect, however, for the Christ as the norm of the Christian life. To violate God’s holy law is still sin but the penalty, the sting of the law has been removed from believers for Christ’s sake, on account of his obedience rendered for us.

      To deny that the law remains the rule of life for the believer is antinomianism, i.e., the denial of the “third use of the law.” Paul condemns antinomianism throughout his epistles. Ironically, it is typically those who believe that they have mastered the law who become the most antinomian, e.g., the Pharisees, who sought to murder Jesus even as they paraded their “obedience” before the world. The antinomian softens the law by lowering its requirements.

      To affirm that the believer is still under the covenant of works is nomism or the very sort of Judaizing legalism that Paul condemned in Galatians. Some have called this “easy obeyism.”

      There remain temporal consequences for disobeying God’s law, even for the Christian. God mercifully chastises his believing children but we, who believe, are no longer under wrath since Christ has wonderfully borne the full weight of the punishment that was due our disobedience.

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