In this chapter, we will be looking at the New Covenant Constitution of the Church and Antinomianism. The word antinomian simply means against law. There are various types of Antinomians, but in some way or another, all Antinomians deny that the Ten Commandments as a unit are a rule of life for the Christian. Historically, Antinomians have been labeled differently, depending on the type of Antinomianism to which they adhere. Practical Antinomians not only teach against law in the Christian life, they often advocate lawless living. Doctrinal or Moderate Antinomians, however, do not advocate lawless living, but they deny the third use of the law (i.e., the Ten Commandments as a rule for Christian living) or, at best, advocate it but redefine what law means. 1 The movement within Calvinistic Baptist circles called New Covenant Theology (NCT), for instance, fits within Doctrinal or Moderate Antinomianism. 2 NCT denies the perpetuity of the Decalogue as a unit under the New Covenant and its function as the epitome of the Moral Law throughout redemptive history. NCT as a movement, however, does abominate Practical Antinomianism, and rightly so. The Ten Commandments function as the epitome of the Moral Law in the Bible, as we will see. Many in our day deny this crucial fact. Many Christians in our day are, therefore, Antinomian in some sense.
This Chapter will concentrate on an exposition and application of Jeremiah 31:33. The words, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it," will be the focus of our attention. We will learn of the place of the Ten Commandments and, thus, the Moral Law under the New Covenant. We will also expose the error of Antinomianism in its various forms. Once again, the terms of the Constitution of the Church, the New Covenant, are sufficient to both confirm us in the truth and expose error. We will ask and answer three questions: About what law is verse 33 speaking?; What is meant by the writing of that law on the heart?; What is the reason that the law is written on the heart?
About what law is verse 33 speaking? 3
The clue for resolving this question is found in the contrast and parallel between the Old and New Covenants stated in these verses (cf. vv. 32, 33a, "not like the covenant which I made with their fathers ...But this is the covenant which I will make..."). Clearly, there is a contrast in these verses between the Old and New Covenants. But that very contrast assumes and implies a parallel. Let me state the contrast clearly. The Old Covenant was broken because God wrote His law on stone and not on all the hearts of His people. The New Covenant will not be broken, because God will write His law on the hearts of all His covenant people.
The clear contrast here is the place where the law is written. In the Old Covenant, the place is on the stone tablets. In the New, it is the fleshy heart. But in this contrast there is also clearly a parallel. In both covenants, God writes His law. The contrast clearly assumes and implies this parallel. The contrast in where the law is written, however, assumes that the law under discussion still has a vital place to play in God's New Covenant.
In light of this clear parallel, we may return to our question with a better understanding of its answer. About what law is verse 33 speaking? Two things clearly identify this law.
First, it is the law written by God Himself and by His own finger. This is clear from verse 33, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it..." But the only law so written was the Moral Law of God as summarized in the Ten Commandments. It is the Ten Commandments, and those Ten Commandments alone, which were written by God Himself and with His own finger.
Now the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the law and the commandment which I have written for their instruction." (Exo. 24:12)
And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. (Exo. 31:18)
And the tablets were God's work, and the writing was God's writing engraved on the tablets. (Exo. 32:16)
Now the LORD said to Moses, "Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered." (Exo. 34:1)
At that time the LORD said to me, "Cut out for yourself two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to Me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood for yourself. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered, and you shall put them in the ark." (Deut. 10:1,2)
And He wrote on the tablets, like the former writing, the Ten Commandments which the LORD had spoken to you on the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. (Deut. 10:4)
Other aspects of the Old Covenant law, the Judicial and Ceremonial, were written, not by God Himself, but by Moses. "And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD" (Exo. 24:4; cf. 34:10-27).
Second, it is the law written on stone that is rewritten in the New Covenant on the heart of all covenant participants. 4 The emphasis on the place where God's law is written in Jeremiah 31:33 plainly suggests this thought. This is confirmed by the references of the Apostle Paul to this verse in 2 Corinthians 3:1-8. Here Paul uses the very words to speak of the stone tablets in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures [LXX]) of Exodus 31:18 and 34:4. The Judicial Law of Israel was not written on stone, but in a book (Exo. 24:3, 4, 7; contrast these verses with v. 12). The Ceremonial Law of Israel was not written on the heart. Only the Moral Law, as epitomized and summarily contained in the Ten Commandments, was written on stone.
The law being spoken of in Jeremiah 31:33 is obviously and clearly the Moral Law as summarized in the Ten Commandments, and not the Judicial, nor the Ceremonial Law. It is this law that was written on stone. It is the same law, therefore, that is written on the hearts of all New Covenant believers. It is this law alone that was written by God's own finger on the tablets of stone. Thus, it must be this law alone that is written on the hearts of believers under the New Covenant. Another thought which further confirms the identity of this law is found in Romans 2:14, 15. There is an allusion to Exodus 20 and Jeremiah 31 in the phrase, "the work of the Law written in the hearts" (v. 15). According to this passage, it is in substance the law written on stone in the Old Covenant which at the beginning by creation was written on the heart and conscience of Adam. 5 Where it is not perverted and suppressed, it still expresses itself in the conscience of every child of Adam.
Before we move on, there is one issue that we cannot pass by without addressing. The key to understanding the assertion of Jeremiah 31:33 and, indeed, on of the keys to understading the whole biblical doctrine of God's law is the distinction asserted in the 2nd LCF. This distinction is found in almost identical language in both the Presbyterian (Westminster Confession of Faith) and Baptist versions of that Confession. Chapter 19 paragraphs 2-5 state this important distinction this way:
2 The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.
3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end abrogated and taken away.
4 To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that instruction; their general equity only being of moral use.
5 The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.
Many in our day deny this distinction. Both Dispensationalism and some professedly Reformed theologians want us to think that no Israelite could have seen the difference between moral laws on the one hand, and ceremonial-judicial laws on the other. Now, of course, it is true that the Law of Moses was not color-coded in its original edition with blue for moral laws, yellow for ceremonial laws, and green for judicial laws. Yet, as we have seen, God in other ways made clear that there was a big difference between the Moral Law, as summarized in the Ten Commandments, and the rest of the law of Israel. Passages like the ones quoted above, and many others, make clear that godly Israelites were able to distinguish the Moral from the Ceremonial in Israel's law. One great safeguard against the extremist and imbalanced views on God's law, which abound on every side in our day, is a solid grasp on the biblical and confessional distinction between moral, judicial, and ceremonial laws. It is only when we, understanding the Constitution of Christ's Church, realize that we are also to be guided by what was Moral in the law of Moses, especially the Ten Commandments, that we will have a complete and un-mutilated guide for the Christian life and the Christian Church.
What is meant by the writing of that law on the heart?
The key to understanding this concept is the biblical meaning of the heart. This is an important and broad subject. Two important points about the heart will serve our purposes at this point.
The heart is, first of all, the seat and center of our convictions and affections. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life" (cf. Deut. 6:4-7; Prov. 27:19; Matt. 15:18, 19; Rom. 5:5; 9:2; 10:9, 10).
As such, secondly, the heart is the source and spring of our words and actions (Prov. 4:21-23; Matt. 15:18, 19; Lk. 6:44, 45). The heart controls and is inevitably manifested by our words and actions.
What is it, then, to have the law written on our hearts? It is to have God's law installed in us as the ruling power of our convictions, affections, words, and actions. It is, therefore, to be convinced of its holiness and authority, delighted by its justice and goodness, and controlled by its wisdom and instruction. That, and nothing less that that, is having God's law written on our hearts.
Take the father charged with assembling a bicycle. If he is truly convinced of his need for the words, diagrams, and pictures of the instruction manual, what will he do? He will not try to put the bicycle together without consulting it. He will have a conviction that he needs it. He will be grateful when he finds the instruction manual in the box and as its instructions guide him in the assembly of the bicycle. He will carefully follow its instructions as he goes about the task of constructing the bicycle. It is even so with the man in whose heart is written the law of God. "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances" (Eze. 36:26, 27). 6
What is the reason that the law is written on the heart?
Why is this writing of the law on the heart the very first act of God mentioned in the record of the New Covenant? The answer to this question is contained verse 33 itself. ""But this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people"" (Jer. 31:33).
Notice, first, the preceding phrase. After speaking of the broken Old Covenant (v. 32, "My covenant which they broke"), Jehovah returns to speaking of the New Covenant. He says, "But this is the covenant ...I will put..." There is no covenant with God where His law is not written on the heart. The covenant is, first of all, the writing of the law on the heart. There is no participation in the New Covenant without the writing of the law in the heart. There is no knowing God, no forgiveness of sin, where there is no law written on the heart (v. 34).
Notice, second, the following phrase, "...and I will be their God ..." (v. 33). Pay close attention to the connecting word, "and". The promise, "I will be their God," is the essential promise of all the unfolding covenant dealings of God in the Bible. It is the promise to Abraham (Gen. 17:8). It is the promise that comes to glad fruition in the eternal state. To the son of God, it is said, "I will be his God" (Rev. 21:7). The critical point is that God's law must be written on the heart if this fundamental and all-inclusive promise is to be ours. Without the writing of His law upon our hearts, God is not our God, and we are not His people.
The first and central practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said is this: We learn the delusion and danger of divorcing law and grace. Law and grace must be distinguished, but they must never be divorced.
Not a few in the history of the Church have been guilty of divorcing law and grace and setting them at odds with one another. But in the last century and a half in Britain and America not a little of the blame for this problem must be laid at the feet of Classic Dispensationalism. It is a necessary and very logical outworking of that system. As we noticed in chapter one, it divides Israel and the Church and sunders the Old and New Testament. Thus, it is no surprise that many Classic Dispensationalists divorce law and grace.
This is a serious charge. Let me substantiate it. Matthew 6:12 contains the petition of the Lord's Prayer, which goes, "And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors." Here is the comment of the old Scofield Reference Bible: "This is legal ground. Cf. Eph. 4:32, which is grace. Under law forgiveness is conditioned upon a like spirit in us; under grace we are forgiven for Christ's sake, and exhorted to forgive because we have been forgiven." 7 Such divorcing of law and grace is a frontal assault on the very Constitution of the Church of Christ. As we have seen, the very terms of the New Covenant require the implantation of the Divine law. The first and crucial operation of grace mentioned in the account of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 is the writing of the law of God in the heart. Without this, there is and there can be no grace. First Corinthians 7:19 gives us Paul's version of the same truth. "Circumcision" is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is, keeping the commandments of God."
The divorcing of law and grace is a frontal assault on the very terms of the New Covenant. In light of this, several practical warnings are appropriate for us to consider.
Beware of divorcing law and grace in conversion.
Grace is perverted when it is set over against, or made the opposite of obedience to commands. Faith both rests in Christ and works through love. Though faith does not justify through its obedience to God's law, it is a kind of obedience and leads to obedience (Rom. 1:5; Gal. 5:6). When it is tarught that men may be saved without confessing and submitting to Jesus Christ as Lord, that is a dangerous divorcing of law and grace in conversion. Sad to say, such teaching is not uncommon among many Evangelicals. Speaking of Jesus' conversation with the woman at the well, one such Evangelical says:
It must be emphasized that there is no call here for surrender, submission, acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship, or anything else of this kind. A gift is being offered to one totally unworthy of God's favor. And to get it, the woman is required to make no spiritual commitment whatsoever. She is merely invited to ask. 8
With such teaching so prevalent, it is no wonder that we hear over and over again in Evangelical testimony meetings, "I received Jesus as my Savior first, then several years later, I received Him as my Lord." Those who think this way have divorced grace and faith from having anything to do with practical submission to the laws of Christ, the Lord. They will even tell you that to insist on such submission for salvation is legalism and even heresy. Such teaching is a twisting of Scripture and a turning of the grace of God into a license for sin. It is clearly Antinomianism.
Beware of divorcing law and grace in the regulations of your life.
This happens when men refuse to govern their lives by anything in the Old Testament las. This refusal is often justified by a false understanding of Paul's assertion that we are not under law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14). Such a divorce of law and grace manifests ignorance of two vital and basic Gospel distinctions. First, we are not under the law as a way of justification, but as a rule of life (Rom. 10:4). Second, we are not under the Ceremonial and Judicial Law as a rule of life, but only the Moral Law (Jer. 31:33; Rom. 13:8-10; Eph. 6:1-4; Jam. 2:8-11).
The tragic thing about the neglect of the Moral Law as revealed in the Old Testament and the Gospels is that the mass of biblical teaching on right conduct is found in those parts of the Bible. No wonder the lives of so many Christians manifest so much folly, sin, and misery when modern teachers have so mutilated God's instruction manual for the Christian life.
Beware of divorcing law and grace in the motivation of the Christian life.
People sometimes say, "I want to be motivated by grace and not by the law." They think, therefore, of duty and keeping commandments as fleshly and legalistic. They believe that the only worthy reason to do God's will is because they want to or feel like it. They want to be motivated by love, not law.
There is so much wrong with such thinking that it is hard to know where to start. But certainly one thing that is wrong with such thinking is that it divorces law and grace, duty and love, and duty and desire. These things are friends, not enemies. Though God's law is written in our hearts, it is still law, torah (i.e. authoritative instruction). The words of the wisdom of God are to this effect: "The wise in heart will receive commands." "He who keeps the commandments keeps his soul."
Some think that it is ungodly, carnal, and legalistic to obey God just because He says you should, and it is your duty. The opposite is the case. Romans 8:7 says that it is the mind set on the flesh that does not subject itself to the law of God. The fact is that he who obeys just because he wants to may not be obeying God truly at all, but simply his own desires. The next time Satan comes and says to you, "You are only doing that because it is your duty," you tell him, "That's right! And I love God and my neighbor enough to do what I know I should even though I don't feel like it at times."
Beware of divorcing law and grace in dealing with the reality of sin.
The mentality here is something like this: "I don't want to live according to the law, but according to grace. So when the law reveals my sin, I will just think of God's grace and ignore it. To give way to conviction of sin is legalistic." Even if we don't say it, or think it, sometimes we respond this way to the work of the law. But this is wrong. The heart in which God's law is written must wince at the trasgression of it and will not rest short of confession of sin. Thus, the experience of the ongoing confession of sin called for in 1 John 1:9 is the experience of every believer. If it is not yours, you have reason to question if God's law has ever been written in your heart.
A second practical implication to be drawn from all that has been said comes to us in the form of another warning. Beware of exalting law over grace. Law and grace, as stated above, must be distinguished, but law must never be set over grace. They go together. They complement each other in the Christian life. Law directs but grace empowers and impels the soul to keep the law. There are some tendencies that often accompany thsoe who exalt law at the epense of grace that we must take note of and avoid.
Avoid settling for heartless obedience.
One damaging tendency among some Reformed Christians is to settle for external conformity alone. This distortion of biblical sanctification often settles for a cold, heartless approach to living the Christian life. Externals are promoted at the expense of the internal climate of the soul. Avoid settling for heartless obedience at all costs. It does not adorn the gospel. It sends the wrong message to the lost. It does not please God. It often comes when knowledge is not properly assimilated into the soul and implemented in life. It also comes when the soul loses sense of the constant necessity of the grace of Jesus Christ for daily living. Not only do lost souls need Jesus, but saved ones do as well! Remember Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 3:18. "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit." Keep Christ at the center of your daily life and the soul will not go long in heartless obedience.
Avoid imposing on yourself or others more law than God has.
This is another damaging tendency in those who have exalted law over grace. We must stand for and approve of all the law God has for His children. We must not, however, fall into the trap of imposing upon others or ourselves more law than God has for us. This tendency, often coming from good intentions, actually does harm instead of good. It binds consciences where God does not. It often produces pride and a condescending spirit toward others. It produces pseudo guilt. Those who fall into this way of thinking often confuse God's law with things indifferent. Sometimes this is done due to the pressures of cultural norms and expectations, personal preferences, slippery slope argumentation, or long chains of logical inference from texts that do not speak to the issue being applied. Either way, it is a recipe for disaster. It does not honor God. It makes us proud; and God is opposed to the proud.
Avoid confusing law and gospel.
Those who fall into the trap of exalting law over grace often fall into another very serious error -- confusing law and gospel. This happens when the Christian begins to live as if his obedience to God's law is the ground of his acceptance with God. This, in effect, turns the law into another gospel and is a practical repudiation of the work of Christ. It dishonors Christ, is a practical denial of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, cripples the soul and destroys assurance. In our zeal to uphold the law of God, we must never allow obedience to it to become our basis for initial or subsequent acceptance with God. The Lord accepts us in His beloved Son based on what He did for us and not on what we do for Him.
If God's law has been written on our heart, we will be humble. We will walk in a manner that properly balances law and grace. And when we don't, we will go to the God of the law and the God of all grace for pardon and help in our time of need.
1. See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsberg, PA: P & R Publishing, 1994), II:141ff., where he discusses the fact that Antinomians deny the third use of the law. See Ernest F. Kevan, The Grace of Law (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976, second printing, February 1983), 22 (n. 32), 24, 25, for evidence that those who denied the perpetuity of the Decalogue and hence, the third use of the law, were labeled as moderately antinomian or doctrinally antinomian, even though considered otherwise virtuous.
2. See Jonathan F. Bayes, The Weakness of the Law (Carlisle, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000), 44-46, where he discusses John G. Reisinger (NCT advocate) in the context of doctrinal antinomianism; Richard C. Barcellos, "The Death of the Decalogue," Tabletalk, September 2002, which is a brief discussion of the doctrinal antinomianism of NCT; Richard C. Barcellos, "John Owen and New Covenant Theology", Reformed Baptist Theological Review, I:2 (July 2004), 43,44; and Ian McNaughton, "Antinomianism in Historical Perspective" and James M. Renihan, "Caterpillars and Butterflies," Reformation Today September-October 2003, No. 195, 9-16 and 23-36.
3. See Richard C. Barcellos, In Defense of the Decalogue: A Critique of New Covenant Theology (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress Publishing), 16-22 and Fred A. Malone, The Baptism of Disciples Alone: A Covenantal Argument for Credobaptism Versus Paedobaptism (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2003), 92, 93 for similar treatments of this crucial verse.
4. See Psa. 37:31 and Is. 51:7 for evidence that the law was on the heart of at least some Old Covenant citizens. What the New Covenant promises is the law written on the hearts of all its citizens.
5. NCT denies these crucial points. See the appendix by Richard C. Barcellos, a review of the book New Covenant Theology, for further discussion and Richard C. Barcellos, "John Owen and New Covenant Theology", RBTR, I:2 (July 2004), 24-30 for evidence that Witsius, Owen, Turretin, and Boston reference Jer. 31:33 in contexts arguing for the perpetuity of the entire Decalogue under the New Covenant. This proves that our exegesis of this text is not novel in the history of Reformed interpretation.
6. Note that the promise of the New Covenant includes the sanctification and obedience of all its recipients. Thus, apostasy for New Covenant benefeciaries is impossible (cf. Jer. 32:40).
7. The Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 1002, 1003.
8. Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege (Dallas: Redencion Viva, 1981), 14.
Authors-- Samuel E. Waldron and Richard C. Barcellos
Publisher-- Reformed Baptist Academic Press www.rbap.net
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