The Benefit of the Commandments for the Believer and the Unbeliever
I don’t like taking up all our space with the questions themselves, but in the case of this week it was hard to separate these particular Q/A’s into their own groupings. Reason for that is it is important for when we get into the Ten Commandments (which is the summary of the moral law) that we already have a foundation to understand how each of the statutes apply to everyone, regardless of whether or not they believe in Jesus. So we’ll dispense with a lot of introductory work this week and get straight into the WLC’s for today:
Q. 94: Is there any use of the moral law to man since the fall?
A. Although no man, since the fall, can attain to righteousness and life by the moral law; yet there is great use thereof, as well common to all men, as peculiar either to the unregenerate, or the regenerate.
Q. 95: Of what use is the moral law to all men?
A. The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience.
Q. 96: What particular use is there of the moral law to unregenerate men?
A. The moral law is of use to unregenerate men, to awaken their consciences to flee from wrath to come, and to drive them to Christ; or, upon their continuance in the estate and way of sin, to leave them inexcusable, and under the curse thereof.
Q. 97: What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?
A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.
We spent much time last week talking about the Covenant of Works and how it still applies to men today. No matter who you are if you are a human being you must keep the law perfectly in order to go to Heaven. The smallest sin is to sin against the whole law and you therefore need to provide some type of sacrifice to pay for the debit that you now owe for the breaking of it. The problem is that even the good works you do, that is your keeping of the law, are not in and of themselves merits to offset the demerit. You are to follow and obey due to the nature of your existence. It’s like breathing oxygen and thinking your boss should grant you a bonus at the next pay period. That’s not a part of the contract you signed, and you would be daft to be angry when you do not receive it.
The weight of that inability to pay back what you owe is part of how the law is a gift even to the unbeliever, maybe especially to them. In Q. 95 and 96 we hear that as men who hate God are confronted by the law in their sin it further inflames both their disobedience and their unwillingness to be bound by it. As they are moved to rebel and as they thrash around and look for things to fill the hole in their holiness the gospel work of the law reminds them regularly that these false idols and unworthy works cannot do what they promise, yet the blindness of their heart does not allow them to admit the truth before their eyes. No matter how hard they try they cannot hide from the requirements of the covenant of works.
Psalm 19 talks about general revelation and special revelation. Each in their own way illustrates the truth of which we have been speaking. A man need not have a Bible to know that there is a God and that He demands obedience and worship. Nature itself declares the glory of the Creator. The law written on the heart accuses daily.
In the church one of the things we learn from these catechism questions is that preachers of God’s word can never and should never cease proclaiming the law and calling all men to repentance. Sermons which are little more than moral lessons for spiritual uplift will never accomplish the purpose for which the Lord has called men to the office of minister. They might coddle the conscience of sinners and give people feelings of goo in their heart, but that just means they will die and face an eternity in Hell without any fear. Far too many people pass with a false assurance of Heaven precisely because the whole counsel of God was never presented by the men called to shepherd them unto Christ. A Jesus who never condemns is a Jesus that is not the Jesus of the Bible. Men and women regardless of their covenant membership need to be reminded of the requirements of the covenant of works so that they may be brought into the blessings of the covenant of grace by faith in the finished and perfect work of Christ alone, in and through the imputation of His righteousness (what we need in order to pay what is due for sin). The law is righteous and good when used rightly. A law which is merely a list of “do this and live” will only bring human beings to despair, or grant to them a false conception of their place in the kingdom. It will be an inoculation against the preaching of the Gospel.
“I am a good person” when in response to the question of why you think you are going to Heaven is the mantra of a man or woman destined for eternal destruction. As the catechism notes we who are bound to Christ in redemption see the law and are reminded of not only our inability to keep it as it is in the covenant of works, but knowledge of the glory and praise of resting in the fact that Jesus, the Son of the Living God, has kept the law on our behalf, so that we might bear the fruits of gospel obedience as a sign of our thanksgiving for His saving grace. As the preface to the Ten Commandments prompts us to meditate upon, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. . .” therefore, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
That is the message of the gospel. Christ has done what you could not, not in a million lifetimes. The Law points you to this truth.
Pay attention, and find rest in who alone gives life.
Here’s a word to help you better understand:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church