I. Law in general is defined, either from its End, "an ordinance of right reason for the common and particular good of all and of each of those who are subordinate to it, enacted by Him who has the care of the whole community, and, in it, that of each individual." Or from its Form and its Efficacy, "an ordinance commanding what must be done, and what omitted; it is enacted by Him, who possesses the right of requiring obedience; and it binds to obedience a creature who abounds in the use of reason and the exercise of liberty, by the sacred promise of a reward and by the denunciation of a punishment." It is likewise distinguished into Human and Divine. A Divine law has God for its author, a Human law has man for its author; not that any law enacted by man is choice and good, which may not be referred to God, the author of every good; but because men deduce from the Divine law such precepts as are accommodated to the state of which they have the charge and oversight, according to its particular condition and circumstances. At present we will treat upon the Divine law.
II. The Divine law may be considered, either as it is impressed on the minds of men by the engrafted word; (Rom. ii.14, 15;) as it is communicated by words audibly pronounced, (Gal. ii.17,) or as it is comprised in writing. (Exod. xxxiv.1.) These modes of legislation do not differ in their entire objects: but they may admit of discrimination in this way, the first seems to serve as a kind of foundation to the rest; but the two others extend themselves further, even to those things which are commanded and forbidden. We will now treat upon the law of God which is comprised in writing; and which is also called "the law of Moses;" because God used him as a mediator to deliver it to the children of Israel. (Mal. iv.4; Gal. iii.19.) But it is three-fold according to the variety of the object, that is, of the works to be performed. The first is called the Ethical, or Moral Law: (Exod.20.) The second, the Sacred or Ceremonial. The third the Political, Judicial or Forensic Law.
III. The Moral Law is distributed through the whole of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, and is summarily contained in the Decalogue. It is an ordinance that commands those things which God accounts grateful of themselves, and which it is his will to be performed by all men at all times and in all places; and that forbids the contrary things. (1 Sam. xv.22; Amos v.21-24; Micah vi.6-8.) It is therefore the perpetual and immutable rule of living, the express image of the internal Divine conception; according to which, God, the great lawgiver, judges it right and equitable that a rational creature should always and in every place order and direct the whole of his life. It is briefly contained in the love God and of our neighbour; (Matt. xxii.36-39;) whether partly consisting of those services which relate to the love, honour, fear, and worship of God; (Mal. i.6;) or partly consisting of those duties which we owe to our neighbours, superiors, inferiors, and equals: (Rom.12,13, & 14;) in the wide circle of which are also comprehended those things which every man is bound to perform to himself. (Tit. ii.11, 12.)
IV. The uses of the moral law are various, according to the different conditions of man. (1.) The primary use, and that which was of itself intended by God according to his love for righteousness and for his creatures, was, that man by it might be quickened or made alive, that is, that he might perform it, and by its performance might be justified, and might "of debt" receive the reward which was promised through it. (Rom. ii.13; x, 5; iv, 4.) And this use was accommodated to the primitive state of man, when sin had not yet entered into the world. (2.) The first use in order of the moral law, under a state of sin, is AGAINST man as a sinner, not only that it may accuse him of transgression and guilt, and may subject him to the wrath of God and condemnation; (Rom. iii.19, 20;) but that it may likewise convince him of his utter inability to resist sin and to subject himself to the law. (Rom.7.) Since God has been pleased mercifully and graciously to treat with sinful man, the next use of the law TOWARDS the sinner is, that it may compel him who is thus convicted and subjected to condemnation, to desire and seek the grace of God, and that it may force him to flee to Christ either as the promised or as the imparted deliverer. (Gal. ii.16, 17.) Besides, in this state of sin, the moral law is serviceable, not only to God, that, by the dread of punishment and the promise of temporal rewards, he may restrain men under its guidance at least from the outward work of sin and from flagrant crimes; (1 Tim. i.9, 10;) but it is also serviceable to Sin, when dwelling and reigning in a carnal man who is under the law, that it may inflame the desire of sin, may increase sin, and may "work within him all manner of concupiscence." (Rom. vi.12-14; vii, 5, 8, 11, 13.) In the former case, God employs the law through his goodness and his love for civil and social intercourse among mankind. In the latter case, it is employed through the malice of sin which reigns and has the dominion.
V. (3.) The third use of the moral law is towards a man, as now born again by the Spirit of God and of Christ, and is agreeable to the state of grace, that it may be a perpetual rule for directing his life in a godly and spiritual manner: (Tit. iii.8; James ii.8.) Not that man may be justified; because for this purpose it is rendered "weak through the flesh" and useless, even if man had committed only a single sin: (Rom. viii.3.) But that he may render thanks to God for his gracious redemption and sanctification, (Psalm cxvi.12, 13,) that he may preserve a good conscience, (1 Tim. i.19,) that he may make his calling and election sure, (2 Pet. i.10,) that he may by his example win over other persons to Christ, (1 Pet. iii.1,) that he may confound the devil, (Job 1 & 2,) that he may condemn the ungodly world, (Heb. xi.7,) and that through the path of good works he may march towards the heavenly inheritance and glory, (Rom. ii.7,) and that he may not only himself glorify God, (1 Cor. vi.20,) but may also furnish occasion and matter to others for glorifying his Father who is in Heaven. (Matt. v.16.)
VI. From these uses it is easy to collect how far the moral law obtains among believers and those who are placed under the grace of Christ, and how far it is abrogated. (1.) It is abrogated with regard to its power and use in justifying:
"For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by that law." (Gal. iii.21.) The reason why "it cannot give life," is, "because it is weak through the flesh:" (Rom. viii.3) God, therefore, willing to deal graciously with men, gave the promise and Christ himself, that the inheritance through the promise and by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But the law which came after the promise, could neither "make the latter of none effect," (for it was sanctioned by authority,) nor could it be joined or super-added to the promise, that out of this union righteousness and life might be given. (Gal. iii.16-18, 22.) (2.) It is abrogated with regard to the curse and condemnation: For "Christ, being made a curse for us, hath redeemed us from the curse of the law;" (Gal. iii.10-13;) and thus the law is taken away from sin, lest its "strength" should be to condemn. (1 Cor. xv.55, 56.) (3.) The law is abrogated and taken away from sin, so far as "sin, having taken occasion by the law, works all manner of concupiscence" in the carnal man, over whom sin exercises dominion. (Rom. vii.4-8.) (4.) It is abrogated, with regard to the guidance by which it urged man to do good and to refrain from evil, through a fear of punishment and a hope of temporal reward. (1 Tim. i.9, 10; Gal. iv.18.) For believers and regenerate persons "are become dead to the law by the body of Christ," that they may be the property of another, even of Christ; by whose Spirit they are led and excited in newness of life, according to love and the royal law of liberty. (1 John v.3, 4; James ii.8.) Whence it appears, that the law is not abrogated with respect to the obedience which must be rendered to God; for though obedience be required under the grace of Christ and of the Gospel, it is required according to clemency, and not according to strict [legal] rigor. (1 John iii.1, 2.)
VII. The Ceremonial Law is that which contains the precepts concerning the outward worship of God; which was delivered to the Jewish church, and was accommodated to the times in which the church of God was "as a child" under "the promise" and the Old Testament. (Gal. iv.1-3.) It was instituted not only to typify, to prefigure and to bear witness by sealing; (Heb. viii.5; x, 1;) but likewise for the discipline, or good order which was to be observed in ecclesiastical meetings and acts. (Col. ii.14; Psalm xxvii.4.) Subservient to the former purpose were circumcision, the Pascal Lamb, sacrifices, sabbaths, sprinklings, washings, purifications, consecrations and dedications of living creatures. (Col. ii.11; 1 Cor. v.7.) To the latter purpose, [that of church discipline,] were the distinct functions of the Priests, the Levites, the Singers, and the porters, or door-keepers, the courses or changes in their several duties, and the circumstances of the places and times in which these sacred acts were to be severally performed. (1 Chron.24, 25, & 26.)
VIII. The use of this ceremonial law was, (1.) That it might retain that ancient people under the hope and expectation of the good things which had been promised. (Heb. x.1- 3.) This use it fulfilled by various types, figures and shadows of persons, things, actions, and events; (7, 9, & 10;) by which not only were sins testified as in "a hand-writing which was against them," (Col. ii.14,) that the necessity of the promise which had been given might be understood; but likewise the expiation and promised good things were shewn at a distance, that they might believe the promise would assuredly be fulfilled. (Heb. ix.8-10; Col. ii.17; Heb. x.1.) And in this respect, since the body and express form of those types and shadows relate to Christ, the ceremonial law is deservedly called "a school-master [to bring the Jews] unto Christ." (Gal. iii.24.) (2.) That it might distinguish from other nations the Children of Israel, as a people sanctified to God on a peculiar account, and that it might separate them as "a middle wall of partition;" (Ephes. ii.14, 15;) yet so as that even strangers might be admitted to a participation in it by circumcision. (Exod. xii.44; Acts ii.10.) (3.) That while occupied in this course of operas religious services, they might not invent and fabricate other modes of worship, nor assume such as were in use among other nations; and thus they were preserved pure from idolatry and superstition, to which they had the greatest propensity, and for which occasions were offered on every side by those nations who were contiguous, as well as by those who dwelt amongst them. (Deut.12; xxxi, 16, 27-29.)
IX. The ceremonial law was abrogated by the cross, the death and the resurrection of Christ, by his ascension into heaven and the mission of the Holy Ghost, by the sun's dispersion of the shadows, and by the entrance of "the body which is of Christ" into their place, (Col. ii.11, 12, 14, 17,) which is the full completion of all the types. (Heb. viii.1-6.) But the gradations to be observed in its abrogation must come under our consideration: In the first moment it was abrogated with regard to the necessity and utility of its observance, every obligatory right being at once and together taken from it: in that instant it ceased to live, and became dead. (Gal. iv.9, 10; 1 Cor. vii.19; ix, 19, 20; 2 Cor. iii.13- 16.) Afterwards it was actually to be abolished. This was ejected partly, by the teaching of the Apostles among believers, who by degrees understood "Christ to be the end of the law," and of that which was then abolished; they abstained therefore voluntarily from the use of that law. Its abolition was also ejected in part, by the power of God, in the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, in which was the seat of religion, and the place appointed for performing those religious observances, against the contumacy of the unbelieving Jews. From this period the legal ceremonies began to be mortiferous, though in the intermediate space [which had elapsed between the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem,] these rites, even in the judgment of the apostles themselves, might be tolerated, but only among the Jews, and with a proviso, that they should not be imposed on the Gentiles: (Acts xvi.3; xv, 28; xxi, 21-26; Gal. ii.3, 11, 12;) which toleration must itself be considered as being tantamount to a new institution.
X. The Judicial Law is that which God prescribed by Moses to the Children of Israel, of whom He was in a peculiar manner the king. (Exod.21, 22, 23, &c.) It contained precepts about the form of the political government to be exercised in civil society, for procuring the benefit both of natural and spiritual life, by the preservation and exaction of the outward worship and of the external discipline commanded in moral and ceremonial law, such as concerned magistrates, contracts, division of property, judgments, punishments, &c. (Deut. xvii.15.) These laws may appropriately be referred to two kinds: (1.) Some of them, with regard to their substance are of general obligation, though with regard to some circumstances they are peculiar to the Jewish commonwealth. (2.) Others belong simply to a particular right or authority. (Deut. xv.1, 2; vi, 19.)
XI. The uses of this judicial law also were three: (1.) That the whole community of the Children of Israel might be regulated by a certain rule of public equity and justice; that it might be "as a city that is compact together," (Psalm cxxii.3,) [or as a body] "which is knit together" according to all and each of its parts," "by the joints and sinews" of the precepts prescribed in this law. (2.) That the Israelites might, by this law, be distinguished from other nations who had their own laws. Thus was it the will of God, that this his people should have nothing in common with other nations, wherever this was possible according to the nature of things and of man himself. These two uses related to the existing condition of the Jewish commonwealth. (3.) It had reference to future things, and was typical of them For all that state, and the whole kingdom and its administration, the chiefs of administration, the judges and kings, prefigured Christ and his kingdom, and its spiritual administration. Psalm 2; Ezek. xxxiv.23, 24.) In this respect also the judicial law may be called "a schoolmaster [to bring the Jews] to Christ."
XII. This law, so far as it had regard to Christ, was universally abrogated. No kingdom, no nation, no administration, serves now typically to figure Christ and his kingdom or administration. For his kingdom, which is the kingdom of heaven and not of this world, has already come, and he has come into his kingdom. (Matt. iii.2;xvi, 28; John xviii.36; Matt. xi.11.) But with respect to its simple observance, this Judicial Law is neither forbidden nor prescribed to any people, nor is it of absolute necessity to be either observed or omitted. Those matters are accepted which are of universal obligation, and founded in natural equity. For it is necessary, that they be strictly observed, in every place and by all persons. And those things [in the judicial law] which relate to Christ as it respects the very substance and principal end, cannot be lawfully used by any nation.
The doctrine of the Papists respecting Councils and of Works of Supererogation, derogates from the perfection of the Divine commands.