Confessing Our Faith In the Culture – Chapter 19, Pt. I


Chapter 19 Of the Law of God

A. Three-fold division of the law

1. dates from Augustine

But as the remarks of Faustus were then about the promises of the Old Testament, and now he speaks of the precepts, I reply that he displays ignorance of the difference between moral and symbolical precepts. For example, “Thou shalt not covet” is a moral precept; “Thou shalt circumcise every male on the eighth day” is a symbolical precept. Augustine, Contra Faustus (Manichaean), vi.2, A.D. 400

We must therefore distinguish three kinds of precept in the Old Law; viz. “moral” precepts, which are dictated by the natural law; “ceremonial” precepts, which are determinations of the Divine worship; and “judicial” precepts, which are determinations of the justice to be maintained among men. Wherefore the Apostle (Romans 7:12) after saying that the “Law is holy,” adds that “the commandment is just, and holy, and good”: “just,” in respect of the judicial precepts; “holy,” with regard to the ceremonial precepts (since the word “sanctus”–“holy”–is applied to that which is consecrated to God); and “good,” i.e. conducive to virtue, as to the moral precepts.

Both the moral and the judicial precepts aim at the ordering of human life: and consequently they are both comprised under one of the heads mentioned by Augustine, viz. under the precepts of the life we have to lead. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q. 99, A.D. 1265-1274

We must attend to the well-known division which distributes the whole law of God, as promulgated by Moses, into the moral, the ceremonial, and the judicial law, and we must attend to each of these parts, in order to understand how far they do, or do not, pertain to us. Meanwhile, let no one be moved by the thought that the judicial and ceremonial laws relate to morals. For the ancients who adopted this division, though they were not unaware that the two latter classes had to do with morals, did not give them the name of moral, because they might be changed and abrogated without affecting morals. They give this name specially to the first class, without which, true holiness of life and an immutable rule of conduct cannot exist. Calvin, Institutes, 4:20:14

2. moral

a. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Ex. 20:8

The moral law, then, (to begin with it), being contained under two heads, the one of which simply enjoins us to worship God with pure faith and piety, the other to embrace men with sincere affection, is the true and eternal rule of righteousness prescribed to the men of all nations and of all times, who would frame their life agreeably to the will of God. For his eternal and immutable will is, that we are all to worship him, and mutually love one another. Calvin, Institutes, 4:20:15

3. ceremonial

a. And on the Sabbath day two lambs in their first year, without blemish, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour as a grain offering, mixed with oil, with its drink offering – this is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, besides the regular burnt offering with its drink offering. Num. 28:9-10

4. judicial

a. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. Ex. 35:2

B. Ceremonial law – LBCF 19.3

The ceremonial law of the Jews was a tutelage by which the Lord was pleased to exercise, as it were, the childhood of that people, until the fulness of the time should come when he was fully to manifest his wisdom to the world, and exhibit the reality of those things which were then adumbrated [described briefly] by figures, (Gal 3: 24; 4: 4). Calvin, Institutes, 4:20:15

1. prefiguring Christ

a. tabernacle/temple furnishings

i. light of the world

ii. bread of life

b. sacrificial requirements

i. without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Heb. 9:22

2. pointing out corruption and the duty to avoid it

a. the bronze laver Ex. 30:18-21

b. You are therefore to make a distinction between the clean animal and the unclean, and between the unclean bird and the clean. Lev. 20:25

c. leprosy Lev. 13

3. in force only until Christ

a. I came not to overthrow the law but to fulfill it. Matt. 5:17-19

b. They are only visual aids that point to the real thing. Heb. 8:4-5

C. Judicial law – LBCF 19.4

The judicial law, given them as a kind of polity, delivered certain forms of equity and justice, by which they might live together innocently and quietly. And as that exercise in ceremonies properly pertained to the doctrine of piety, inasmuch as it kept the Jewish Church in the worship and religion of God, yet was still distinguishable from piety itself, so the judicial form, though it looked only to the best method of preserving that charity which is enjoined by the eternal law of God, was still something distinct from the precept of love itself. Therefore, as ceremonies might be abrogated without at all interfering with piety, so also, when these judicial arrangements are removed, the duties and precepts of charity can still remain perpetual. But if it is true that each nation has been left at liberty to enact the laws which it judges to be beneficial, still these are always to be tested by the rule of charity, so that while they vary in form, they must proceed on the same principle. Those barbarous and savage laws, for instance, which conferred honour on thieves, allowed the promiscuous intercourse of the sexes, and other things even fouler and more absurd, I do not think entitled to be considered as laws, since they are not only altogether abhorrent to justice, but to humanity and civilised life. Calvin, Institutes, 4:20:15

1. given to govern the state

2. represented specific examples

a. how to implement moral principles

3. given in a specific context

a. semi-nomadic pastoral culture

4. expired with dissolution of the state

a. begun in 586 BC with fall of Jerusalem to Babylon

b. completed in 70 AD and destruction by Titus

5. principles of equity, justice, goodness and righteousness are timeless

a. inspired application of moral law serves as still-relevant pattern

b. while principles apply, specifics do not necessarily


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