How do we rightly understand the place of the law in the Christian’s life? Listen to Thomas Boston…

In a note in the introduction of The Marrow of Modern Divinity, the 18th century Scotsman Thomas Boston beautifully explains the distinctions surrounding the place of the law in the believer’s life, before and after conversion:

The law of the ten commandments, being the natural law, was written on Adam’s heart on his creation; while as yet it was neither the law [i.e., the covenant] of works, nor the law of Christ…But after man was created, and put into the garden, this natural law, having made man liable to fall away from God, a threatening of eternal death in case of disobedience, had also a promise of eternal life annexed to it in case of obedience; in virtue of which he, having done his work, might thereupon plead and demand the reward of eternal life. Thus it became the law [i.e., the covenant] of works, whereof the ten commandments were, and are still the matter.

All mankind being ruined by the breach of this law, Jesus Christ obeys and dies in the room of the elect, that they might be saved; they being united to him by faith, are, through his obedience and satisfaction imputed to them, free from eternal death, and become heirs of everlasting life; so that the law of works being fully satisfied, expires as to them, as it would have done of course in the case of Adam’s having stood the time of his trial: howbeit it remains in full force as to unbelievers.

But the natural law of the ten commandments (which can never expire or determine, but is obligatory in all possible states of the creature, in earth, heaven, or hell) is, from the moment the law of works expires as to believers, issued forth to them (still liable to infirmities, though not to falling away like Adam) in the channel of the covenant of grace, bearing a promise of help to obey (Ezekiel 36:27), and, agreeable to their state before the Lord, having annexed to it a promise of the tokens of God’s fatherly love, for the sake of Christ, in case of that obedience; and a threatening of God’s fatherly displeasure in case of their disobedience. John 14:21, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” Psalm 89:31-33, “If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving kindness will I not utterly take away from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.”

Thus it becomes the law of Christ to them; of which law also the same ten commandments are likewise the matter. In the threatenings of this law there is no revenging wrath; and in the promises of it no proper conditionality of works; but here is the order in the covenant of grace, to which the law of Christ belongs; a beautiful order of grace, obedience, particular favors, and chastisement for disobedience. Thus the ten commandments stand, both in the law of works and in the law of Christ at the same time, being the common matter of both; but as they are the matter of (i.e., stand in) the law of works, they are actually a part of the law of works; howbeit, as they are the matter of, or stand in, the law of Christ, they are actually a part, not of the law of works, but of the law of Christ. And as they stand in the law of Christ, our author expressly asserts, against the Antinomian, that they ought to be a rule of life to a believer; but that they ought to be a rule of life to a believer, as they stand in the law of works, he justly denies, against the legalist…

 

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