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Appendix: The Law and Justice of God
James Buchanan (1804-1870)  

Buchanan's The Doctrine of Justification is a classic of English Protestantism. We highly recommend it to our readers. It is obtained through The Banner of Truth Trust, P.O. Box 652, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013. In this issue of Present Truth, we are placing the lecture on "The Law and Justice of God" in an appendix. No doubt some will not venture to wade through it, but those who do will be greatly rewarded by this masterful presentation.—Ed.

It may be safely affirmed that almost all the errors, which have prevailed on the subject of Justification, may be traced ultimately to erroneous, or defective, views of the Law and Justice of God. His Law has either been supposed to be mutable and variable, so as to admit of being relaxed and modified,—as if its preceptive and penal requirements had no necessary connection with the demands of His eternal justice; or, it has been set aside altogether, as if its claims might be superseded by the divine prerogative of mercy, and as if a sinner could be pardoned and accepted without any provision being made for its fulfillment. It is the more necessary to consider Justification in its relation to the Law and Justice of God, because erroneous or defective views on this point, have been the chief source, not only of many speculative errors, but also of that practical unconcern,—that false peace and carnal security, —which prevails so extensively both in the Church and the world; and which springs, not from faith in the Gospel message, but from unbelief in the divine Law. For this reason, as well as from its close connection with the work of Christ, in fulfilling the Law, and satisfying the Justice of God, this topic is one of fundamental importance.

Prop. VI. As Justification is a forensic, legal, or judicial term, so that which is denoted by it must necessarily have some relation to the Law and Justice of God.

The truth of this proposition, in so far as it relates to the Justification of innocent and holy beings in a state of probation and trial, can scarcely be denied by any one who believes in a righteous moral government. The Law of God, in whatever way it was made known to them, was the rule of His moral government, and consequently the ground of His judicial sentence in regard to them; and His Law being a revelation of His essential and eternal character as a righteous Governor and Judge, His Justice can neither condemn any who are not guilty, nor accept any who are not righteous. To be accepted as righteous in His sight, every subject of that law must have a righteousness answerable to its requirements; for, if it be true that where 'there is no law there is no transgression,' it is equally true that where there is no law, there is no 'righteousness;' and if 'sin is not imputed, where there is no law,' neither can righteousness be imputed without reference to its requirements. The rule in both cases is the same,—and righteousness is nothing else than conformity to the Law, while sin is any want of conformity to it. That Law, considered as the rule of His moral government, requires perfect obedience; and as partial compliance with it is inadmissible, so it is impossible, from its very nature, that there can be any neutral character,
—which is neither godly nor ungodly,—neither righteous nor wicked,—neither innocent nor guilty, — neither justified nor condemned.

Such being the nature of God's Law,—and that Law being an expression of His Justice,—it follows, that Justification must necessarily have some relation to both. In the case of the innocent, Justification would have consisted in the recognition and acceptance of a righteousness, personal and inherent, and amounting to a perfect conformity to the divine Law; in the case of the sinful, Justification,—if it be possible at all,—must still have some relation to the Law and Justice of God; since it includes the pardon of sin, which reverses the sentence of condemnation; and the acceptance of the sinner as righteous, which implies some standard of righteousness as the rule of the divine procedure. What that righteousness is, or can be, in the case of the guilty, is the great problem which is solved only by the Gospel of Christ.

Prop. VII. The rule of Justification, as revealed to man in his state of original righteousness, was the Law of God in the form of a divine covenant of life.

There is a difference between the Moral Law, or the Law of Nature, considered simply as such, and the first revealed covenant of life: for although this covenant presupposed that law, and was founded upon it, the one cannot be identified, in all respects, with the other. The Moral Law, considered simply as the law of man's nature, was a rule of duty, which prohibited all sin, and required perfect obedience; and, considered as the instrument of God's righteous government, it necessarily implied the sanctions of reward and punishment, for these are the indispensable conditions of all government, and without them any rule of obedience would have been a mere exhortation or advice, rather than a formal law. But a Moral Law, however perfect, and although armed with the sanctions of reward and punishment, is not necessarily a covenant of life. It could only denounce punishment in the event of disobedience, and secure entire exemption from punishment, with such blessings as might be connected with obedience, while man continued in a state of holy innocence; but, considered simply as a law, or an instrument of government, it could give no assurance, either that he would continue in that state, or that, by continuing in it, he would ever become a confirmed heir of eternal life. Man might be naturally immortal, as a being destined,—not by the necessity of his nature, but by the sovereign appointment of God,—to an eternal existence; and yet as a subject of His government, the law under which he was placed could give him no assurance, that he could persevere in obedience, either in time or in eternity, so as to be exempt from its penalties, and entitled to an everlasting reward. The tenure by which life should be held, and the conditions of a holy and happy immortality, could not be discovered by the mere light of nature, even in a state of pristine innocence; and could only be made known by a revelation of God's sovereign will.

We find, accordingly, that this precise point was one of the earliest subjects of divine revelation. God is said to have promulgated a positive command, as the test of man's obedience; and to have annexed to it the threatening of death, in the event of transgression, with the promise of eternal life, which was signified and sealed by its sacramental symbol 'the tree of life'— in the event of his continued obedience during the term of his probation. The threatening, in the one case, included the whole penalty of sin; and the promise, in the other, the whole reward of obedience: and both had reference to the same life which Adam then possessed, as having been created 'in the image and likeness' of God. The penalty might contain many distinct privations and sufferings; but the worst part of it, and that which embittered every other, was the curse of God,—the instant forfeiture of His favour, and the inevitable subjection to His wrath. The promise might comprehend many distinct benefits, temporal, spiritual, and eternal; but the best part of it, and that which sweetened every other, was the blessing of God,—the enjoyment of 'His favour, which is life, and of His lovingkindness, which is better than life.'

By the addition of a positive appointment as a test of man's obedience to God as the supreme Lawgiver, Governor, and Judge, whose will man was bound to obey by the law of his moral nature, that law was converted into a divine covenant of life. It was not, like many covenants between man and man, a mutual agreement between equal and independent parties,—for this had been at variance with the rightful supremacy of God, and the dutiful subjection of the creature; it was a constitution authoritatively imposed, as a test of man's obedience: for 'the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat'—including 'the tree of life in the midst of the garden,' which was the symbol and sacrament of His covenant promise,—'but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.' And yet it was more than a mere law; it was a law in the form of a covenant. In the words of Bishop Hopkins, 'If God had only said, "Do this," without adding, "Thou shalt live," this had not been a covenant, but a law; and if He had only said, "Thou shalt live," without commanding "Do this," it had not been a covenant, but a promise. Remove the condition, and you make it a simple promise; remove the promise, and you make it an absolute law: but, both these being found in it, it is both a law and a covenant.' In this form, the law continued to be binding on man by its precept, but God condescended, also, to bind Himself by His promise, and became, in the expressive words of Boston, 'debtor to His own faithfulness' to make that promise good. A new element was thus introduced into man's relation to God: he was still a creature dependent on the power, and subject to the law, of his Creator; but he was now advanced to be a 'confederate' with Him, and, as long as he continued to obey, could look to Him as his covenant God.

But there is a wider difference still between the Moral Law, considered simply as the law of man's nature, and the law in its positive form, as a divine covenant of life. The law, as it was originally inscribed on the moral nature of man, was a personal rule of duty,—it laid an obligation on each individual singly,—and held him responsible only for himself; but the law, as it was subsequently promulgated in the form of a divine covenant, was a generic constitution imposed by supreme authority on the first father of the human race, as the representative of his posterity,—and extending far beyond his individual interests, so as to affect the character and condition even of his remotest descendant. He was constituted, by divine appointment, the trustee for the whole race which should spring from him; and was placed in the deeply responsible position of their covenant head, and legal representative. He was a party to the covenant, not simply as a private individual, acting for himself alone, but as a public person, invested with an official character, and acting also for others. He could not have assumed this office, or acted in this capacity, of his own will; he must have been constituted the legal representative of his posterity by the same supreme will, which enacted the law under which he was placed.

The fact of this federal arrangement is revealed, —the reason of it must be resolved ultimately into the sovereign will, and supreme wisdom, of the Most High. His absolute supremacy, as the Creator and Lawgiver of the universe, is necessarily implied in His ,eternal power and Godhead;' and, while we may rest assured that it will ever be exercised in accordance with His holiness, Justice, goodness, and truth, we are utterly incompetent to determine what methods might be adopted by His omniscient wisdom, either for the creation, or for the government of His subjects, in the different parts of His universal empire. His sovereignty was displayed in the work of Creation. He constituted different orders of being,—inanimate, living, sentient, animal, intellectual, moral, and responsible,—and endowed them with their several properties and powers. But besides this, He brought them into being in different ways; and the constitution, under which they were respectively placed, was adapted to the method of their creation. Several classes, for example, of intellectual, self-conscious, moral, and responsible, creatures were brought into being, such as angels and men. But all angels were brought into being individually, as our first parent was, by the direct exercise of creative power; there was, in their case, no birth, no hereditary descent, no paternal or filial relation, for 'they neither marry, nor are given in marriage;' whereas, in the creation of man, God called into being a single pair, and made them the natural root of the race which should spring from them; He placed them under a family constitution, and called their descendants into being mediately through them. There was a radical difference, therefore, between the angelic hosts, and the human race, in respect to the position in which individuals, belonging to each of them, were severally placed, and the relations which they sustained to one another: in the one, every individual was directly created,—connected with others by a common nature, and placed in social relations with them,—but not derived from any created being, and not dependent on any, as a child must be on his parents;—in the other, every individual is created mediately,—brought into being in a state of helpless infancy,—committed in trust for years to parental care,—dependent for his life, and health, and comfort on domestic aid, —endowed with faculties which are slowly developed, under the influence of instruction and example,—and liable, therefore, to be largely influenced, for good or evil, by the condition and character of those with whom he is so necessarily and closely related. Such was the radical difference between angels and men in respect to the natural constitution under which they were severally placed,—and there was a corresponding difference between them in respect to the law which was imposed upon them, as moral and responsible beings. The law, as prescribed to angels, was personal, and recognized only individual responsibility; for however they might be connected by social relations, or even subordinated, one rank to another, as 'principalities and powers,' in a hierarchical government,—and however they might be liable, in consequence, to the influence of each other's example,—they were so far independent that each stood or fell for himself according to his own conduct; and both those who 'kept,' and those who 'left,' their first estate, did so by their own voluntary act, and not by the act of any legal representative. Such a law was suitable to the condition of moral and responsible beings created directly each by himself, and probably like our first parent, in the full maturity of his powers. But the law, as prescribed to man, was generic, and recognized representative, as well as individual, responsibility: for while, as it was the law of man's moral nature, it required—and must always continue to require—personal obedience, on the part of every individual as soon as he is capable of moral agency,—yet as a revealed covenant of life, it was imposed on Adam as the representative of his race, and made them dependent, for good or evil, on his conduct as their federal head.

Thoughtful men, considering the actual condition of the human race,—the universal and constant prevalence of moral and physical evil,—the certainty that every child born into the world will sin as soon as he is capable of sinning,—the sufferings which are entailed upon him by his birth,—and above all, the inevitable doom of death, have felt that it is difficult, if not impossible, to account for these facts occurring under the moral government of God, by referring them to any mere personal law, such as implies only individual responsibility; and that their minds were relieved, rather than oppressed, by being told of a generic law, which was imposed on the father of the human race as the legal representative of his posterity, and which warrants them in regarding all their hereditary evils as judicial penalties on account of his actual sin, and not as capricious or arbitrary inflections proceeding from mere sovereignty. So strongly has this been felt, that some, who have rejected the doctrine of federal representation and imputed guilt, have been compelled to acknowledge that the actual state of men, under the moral government of God, cannot be satisfactorily accounted for except on the supposition of 'a forfeiture prior to birth,' and to take refuge, as the only way of evading that doctrine, in the theory of a state of pre-existence, in which every man sinned and fell by his own personal disobedience. But if there be no scriptural evidence for this theory, the actual condition of the race can only be accounted for,—either by their relation to Adam as their natural root,—or by their relation to him also as their legal representative,—or to both these relations combined; for the latter is not exclusive, but comprehensive, of the former. Had Adam been created merely as the natural root of his posterity, and not constituted also their legal representative, many evils might, or rather must, have flowed from his sin, to all his descendants, in the way of mere natural consequence, by reason of their hereditary connection with him; for his immediate offspring were dependent on him, and their children again on them, both for instruction and example; but some of the consequences of his fall cannot be accounted for at all,—such as the universal and irrevocable sentence of death,—and none of them can be accounted for so satisfactorily,—except on the supposition that, besides being their natural root, he was also their federal head. And this supposition is in evident accordance with the analogy of the constitution of nature: for if God manifested His sovereignty in creating angels individually 'without father, without mother, without descent,' and placing them under a personal law, adapted to this constitution, and recognizing only individual responsibility; and if He also manifested His sovereignty in creating Adam as the root of a race which should spring from him, and placing him, as their representative, under a generic law, adapted to the family constitution, and recognizing representative as well as individual agency,—in either case, the legal is adapted to the natural constitution; and there is such an analogy between the two, as serves to make the former credible, by reason of the undeniable certainty of the latter.

Prop. VIII. The breach of the Law in its covenant form by the sin of our first parents, rendered it for ever impossible that either they, or any of their descendants, should be justified on the ground of their personal righteousness.

If Adam was the legal representative and federal head of the race, then all its members 'sinned in him,' as such, 'and fell with him in his first transgression;' and they were involved along with him in the guilt which he had incurred, and the condemnation which he had deserved. This is necessarily implied in the fact, that, by sovereign divine appointment, he acted for them, and was dealt with as one with them, so that, according to his obedience or disobedience, they, as well as he, should be accepted, or rejected, of God. The direct imputation of the guilt of his first sin to all his descendants is necessarily involved in the public character which he sustained as their representative; and it is confirmed by the consideration that the penal consequences of his transgression have been entailed on every generation of his race. It does not imply that they committed the sin, or that they were personally accessory to it; for the transgression, considered as an actual sin, was his, and his only; but it was committed by him as their legal representative, and the guilt of it is theirs simply as they were represented by him. If representative, as distinct from personal, agency, be admissible at all under the divine government,—if it was expressly recognized in the first covenant of life,—and if it be also recognized in the new and better covenant, the covenant of grace,—then we reach the great general principle, that both righteousness, and guilt, may be imputed to others on account of the obedience, or disobedience, of those by whom they were severally represented. But the principle does not imply, in either case, that the obedience was personally rendered, or the sin actually committed, by those to whom they are respectively imputed; for this were to overlook the fundamental difference between personal, and representative, action.

The direct imputation of the guilt of Adam's first sin to his descendants is not necessarily exclusive of their personal guilt, as individuals. The doctrine of mediate imputation, as taught by Placaeus and Stapfer, is erroneous in its negative, rather than in its positive part,—in what it denies, rather than in what it affirms. It denies the direct imputation of the guilt of Adam's first sin, and thus virtually sets aside his representative character; for if he acted as their representative, his conduct must directly affect the condition of all who were related to him, as such, under the covenant: but it affirms the imputation of personal guilt, arising from inherent depravity or actual transgression, and in this respect it teaches a solemn and momentous truth. For the direct imputation of the guilt of Adam's first sin is not exclusive of the additional charge of personal guilt in the case of every individual of his race; and it i's of the utmost practical consequence that this fact should be distinctly realized. For the doctrine which affirms that 'God visits the iniquities of the fathers upon their children' has often been perverted and abused, and even applied as an opiate to soothe the conscience into a deep slumber, which may prove to be the sleep of death. We find, for example, two of the prophets expostulating with the Jews at Babylon on account of their sinful perversion of that doctrine: 'What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge? As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son, is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.' This, and the corresponding statement of Jeremiah,1 have often been urged as a scriptural argument against the doctrine of original sin; for although there is an important difference between the relation which Adam sustained to his posterity as the legal representative or covenant head, and that which other parents bear to their children, yet the general principle of individual responsibility which is so clearly announced when it is said, 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die,' is equally applicable, it has been said, to both cases, and is sufficient to set aside the whole doctrine of hereditary guilt, and inherited suffering. But neither of the prophets meant to deny that the Jews in their capacity suffered in consequence, and on account, of the sins of their fathers; what they meant to teach was, that they did not suffer on account only of their fathers' sins,—that if their captivity was brought on them, as they knew it had been, by the guilt of their rulers and people in the land of Israel, it was prolonged by their own continued impenitence and rebellion in Babylon, —and that as soon as they repented and returned to the Lord with their whole heart, He would remember no more against them either their fathers' sins or their own, but 'receive them graciously, and love them freely.' It is expressly said that they did suffer partly on account of their fathers' sins;2 and in the Decalogue itself, God had revealed Himself as 'a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me. '3 But they had not duly considered these last words; they imagined that they suffered only because of their fathers' sins, and were unmindful of their own; and the prophets were sent to remind them of both, that by godly repentance they might be graciously restored. And it is deeply interesting to mark that both are included in the confessions and prayers of those among them who were suitably impressed and affected by the prophet's message: 'Our fathers have sinned and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.' 'The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned.' 'Turn thou us unto Thee, 0 Lord! and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.' 4 A similar perversion may be, and has been, made of the doctrine of original sin, as if we suffered only on account of Adam's guilt, and not also on account of our personal depravity and disobedience; and it is the more important to counteract this fatal error, because it is chiefly by the consciousness of his own inherent depravity, and the conviction of his actual transgressions, that a sinner is first impressed, as by that which is nearest to him, with a sense of his fallen and ruined condition, and is thereafter led up, like David, to the consideration of his birth-sin, saying first, 'I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me; against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight;' and then, but scarcely till then, 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." 5

There can scarcely be a greater or more dangerous error than to suppose that the guilt of Adam's first sin is the only guilt with which we are chargeable, or that it is exclusive of the personal guilt of individuals. Such an idea could only be entertained on one, or other, of these two suppositions,—either, that there is no law to which man is now subject,—or, that there is no want of conformity to that law, and no transgression of it. But the doctrine of Scripture, while it affirms the direct imputation of the guilt of Adam's first transgression to his posterity,—and of that only, for he was their representative with reference merely to the one precept of the covenant,—affirms also the transmission of hereditary depravity, arising from his loss of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature by sin. It follows that, as sinners, neither Adam, nor any of his descendants, could ever be justified on the ground of their personal obedience. This is self-evident so far as their Justification depended on the Law in its covenant form; for by breaking its precept, Adam forfeited its promise, and incurred its penalty for himself, and for all whom he represented; and this conclusion is so inevitable, that it can only be evaded by denying, as some have been bold enough to deny, his representative character altogether. It is equally certain that, in so far as their Justification might be supposed to depend on the Law as a permanent rule of duty, which continued to be binding on him and all his descendants after the fall, they could not be justified on the ground of their personal obedience to it; for, besides being already subject to the penalty of the broken covenant, the corruption of their nature which immediately ensued, made it certain that they would individually contract fresh guilt, and be for ever incapable of fulfilling the righteousness which the Law required. It is the nature of the tree that determines the quality of its fruit, although the quality of its fruit maybe an evidence of the nature of the tree. But if all men are born in the image of their fallen parent,—if 'that which is born of the flesh is flesh,' and if 'he that is in the flesh cannot please God,'—it follows that 'no man since the fall can perfectly keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed;' and consequently that no man can be justified by his personal obedience to that law, simply because 'the law is weak through the flesh,' or fallen state of man,—and although it was originally 'ordained unto life,' is now 'found to be unto death.' There is something that 'the law cannot do' (to adunaton tou nomou) —it cannot justify a sinner,— 'it condemns sin in the flesh,' 6 and is no longer 'the ministration of righteousness,' but has become, through sin, 'the ministration of condemnation.' It thus appears that, whether the Law be considered as the original covenant of life, or as a permanent rule of duty, the breach of it rendered it for ever impossible that any man should ever be justified on the ground of his personal righteousness.

This conclusion can only be evaded on one, or other, of these two suppositions,—either that the law of God has been abrogated altogether, so as to be no longer binding,—or that it has been so modified and relaxed, as no longer to require perfect obedience, but to admit of our being justified on easier terms. There is a third supposition, indeed, but it is so untenable that no man with a conscience in his breast can entertain or defend it, namely, that the law is still binding as a rule of perfect obedience, and that men are able to fulfill it. To those, if there be any, who are willing to take this ground, the Lord Himself has said, 'This do, and thou shalt live.' But He also said, 'The whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick;' and that 'He came to call, not the righteous, but sinners to repentance.' If there were any 'just men who need no repentance,' they would be beyond the range of His commission, for 'He was not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' But discarding this supposition as unworthy of a moment's notice in a world of universal ungodliness and sin,—and looking only to the other alternatives, shall we say that the law of God has been abrogated? Then all duty has been abolished along with it,—our duty to God, our duty to men, our duty to ourselves; sin has disappeared, and even the possibility of sin has been annihilated,—for 'where there is no law, there is no transgression;' we are no longer the subjects of a moral government,—for where there is no law, there can be no reward or punishment; and even the voice of conscience, to which every man is compelled to listen, and by which he is made to feel that 'he is a law to himself,' is a mere chimera or illusion. Better far to be condemned by a righteous law, which, like God Himself, is 'holy, and just, and good,' than to live in a lawless world, or in universal anarchy!

But if the law of God has not been, and never can be, entirely abrogated, may it not be, and has it not been, modified and relaxed? This question has been answered in the affirmative by two distinct parties,—first, by some who hold that in the case of men who are unable, either from their natural infirmity, or the corruption of their nature by sin, to fulfill it, it must necessarily be accommodated to their weakness, and cannot reasonably require perfect obedience; and secondly, by others, who affirm that one object for which Christ came into the world was to procure for us a new law, or easier terms of acceptance with God, so as to supersede the perfect obedience which the original law required, and to substitute for it imperfect obedience, if it be only sincere, as the immediate ground of our Justification. These are distinct positions, and they rest, in some respects, on different grounds.

Those who speak of the law of God being modified or relaxed, in accommodation to the present infirm and depraved state of human nature, must be held to proceed on a general principle, applicable to all orders of moral and responsible creatures, angels as well as men, and amounting, in substance, to this,—that wherever, and from whatever cause, they have become depraved, their inability or unwillingness to render due obedience, must relieve them, in proportion to the extent in which they prevail, from the obligations of duty, and deprive God Himself of the right to require it. From such a principle it would follow, that His law can no longer be regarded as a fixed rule of righteousness, or an invariable test of sin, but only as a sliding scale of duty, whose requirements would become less in proportion as wickedness increased; and that while holy angels, and the spirits of just men made perfect, are 'not without law to God,' but bound to love and obey Him 'with their whole hearts,' evil spirits and wicked men, whose minds are filled with 'enmity against God,' would be relieved, by that very enmity which makes them unable or unwilling to serve Him, from all obligation to do so. That principle, consistently carried out to the full extent of its legitimate application, leads inevitably to this conclusion,—that the more wicked any creature becomes, the more must the law be relaxed in accommodation to his inability to comply with it, until he reaches a point at which he ceases to be a moral and responsible agent at all. The law of God is not thus dependent on the will of the creature, nor can its requirements be relaxed by the increasing power of sin.

Some, however, speak of the law of God as having been relaxed and modified in consequence of the incarnation, sufferings, and death, of Christ, so as no longer to require perfect obedience, but to accept such as is imperfect, provided it be sincere. But here several questions arise, to which distinct and definite answers may be reasonably expected from those who make our eternal welfare to depend on our obedience to this relaxed law. Where is it revealed in Scripture that Christ became incarnate, suffered, and died upon the Cross,—not to fulfill the law, but to alter it,—not to 'magnify the law and make it honourable,' but to modify its demands, and supersede it by a new law with easier conditions? Besides, what is that new law? What does it require? What does it forbid? What are its sanctions? Is it possible, in the nature of things, that any law can require less than perfect obedience, at least, to itself? Why, then, is the obedience which is required said to be imperfect? Is it imperfect with reference to the old law only, or also to the new? If it be imperfect with reference to the former, is there no sin in that imperfection? If it be imperfect with reference even to the latter, how can it justify according to the rule of that law? What is the sincerity which is connected with this imperfect obedience? Is it more perfect than the obedience which springs from it? Does the new law require any definite amount of obedience? And if not, what is the graduated scale of duty, and what is its minimum? If the original law required perfect obedience, could it be abrogated, or even relaxed, otherwise than by God's authority? If it was not abrogated, but republished, at Sinai, was it relaxed by Christ, when He repeated it, saying, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,—for on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets,' or when He expounded its spiritual meaning in His sermon on the mount? Did He come to abrogate, or relax, that eternal rule of righteousness, of which He said,—'I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets, but to fulfill,'—'Heaven and earth shall pass away, but one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled?' Or did His Apostles exceed their commission when they said, 'Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! yea, we establish the law'?

It is true that the graces and duties of believers, although imperfect, are 'acceptable to God,' but only through Jesus Christ,—' they are the fruits of His Holy Spirit, but they are not in themselves, during the present life, an adequate fulfillment of any law, whether old or new; and they fall so far short of perfection, while they are so defiled by remaining sin, that they are but as 'filthy rags' when compared with the righteousness which the law requires. They cannot, therefore, constitute a justifying righteousness, and must themselves be accepted through the atoning sacrifice and perfect obedience of Christ. So far from relying on them as the ground of their acceptance, believers renounce them altogether, and repair continually 'to the fountain which has been opened for sin and for uncleanness;' and it is a sense of the imperfection of their obedience, arising from the constant presence and remaining power of indwelling sin, that imbues them, more and more as they advance in the divine life, with a 'broken and a contrite spirit,' and deepens their consciousness of personal unworthiness. For believing the divine law in all its perfection to be still binding on them as a rule of duty, even when they have been delivered from it as a covenant of works, and comparing its pure and spiritual requirements with all the obedience which they have ever been able to render, they are more and more deeply convinced of their own sinfulness, and their absolute dependence on the grace of God, and the righteousness of Christ. For, in the words of Archdeacon Hare, 'they who have ever had a deep spiritual conviction of sin, and of their own sinfulness, retain that conviction to the end. Their growth in holiness does not stifle it, but on the contrary renders it livelier and more piercing; and thus, ascending step by step, we come to that singular phenomenon, that the holiest men would be the most oppressed by the conviction of their sinfulness were it not for their conviction of Christ's righteousness, of which they become partakers through faith, incorporating them as living members in His body; and through which, being "clothed upon" by it, they may humbly hope to stand in the presence of God.' This gracious frame of mind,—this 'broken and contrite spirit,'—this growing humility and self-abasement, is one of the most characteristic marks of a true believer, and it is fostered by an abiding sense of the spirituality and perfection of the divine law; but could it exist, or would it not be supplanted by a very different feeling, were that law supposed to be so relaxed and modified, as to admit of our personal obedience to it being the ground of our Justification in the sight of God?

Prop. IX. The law of God, which is the rule of man's duty, is also a revelation of God's eternal Justice and Holiness.

Men talk lightly of His law being abrogated, modified, or relaxed, not considering that, besides being an authoritative expression of His supreme will, it is also a revelation of His essential nature, as the Holy One and the Just, and the rule of His universal empire, as the Governor and Judge of all. It is not the mere product of what Cudworth called 'arbitrary will omnipotent;' His will is determined by the infinite perfections of His character, and His character is the real ultimate standard of 'eternal and immutable morality.' His positive precepts may be resolved into the sovereignty of His will, regulated in its exercise by His omniscient wisdom; and these may be imposed, abrogated, or modified, according to His mere good pleasure; but His moral law, while it is an expression of His will, is also the image and reflection of His own moral perfection. God is 'holy, and just, and good;' and therefore His law also 'is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.' 'Be ye holy,'—this is the voice of His law, the expression of His supreme will: 'for I am holy, ' 7 —this is the ground' or reason of that law, and it is derived from His essential and unchangeable nature. 'The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works;' and, therefore, 'the righteous Lord loveth righteousness,' but 'He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity. ' 8, God is holy, and the law of the universe is 'holiness to the Lord;' God is just, and the law of the universe is 'justice;' God is true, and the law of the universe is 'truth;' God is love, and the law of the universe is 'love.' It reveals what He is, and what His creatures ought to be. Its precept requires obedience as a duty, or as what is due to Him, and its threatening declares punishment to be the desert, or the 'wages,' of sin. His law can never require more or less, either of obedience or of punishment, than is just and right; for 'a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is He.' 9 To suppose that it ever required more than was due, or threatened more than could be justly inflicted, would be derogatory to all His attributes—His wisdom, His holiness, His justice, His goodness, and His truth.

It cannot, therefore, be modified or relaxed, since these perfections are unchangeable; and it cannot be abrogated, unless His moral government is to be abolished altogether.

The Moral Law,—considered as the rule of His government, and also as a revelation of His character,—must, still further, be viewed in connection with what is declared to be His great ultimate end in all His works,—the manifestation of His own glory by the actual exercise of all His perfections. He reveals His character in the Law; but it is the constant administration of that Law in His providence,—the application of it even to the works of Grace and Redemption,—and the final execution of it in the work of Judgment,—by which He will be most signally glorified. He has made Himself known by a series of divine revelations; but these are to be followed up by a series of divine works, in which the unchangeable perfections of His nature, on which His Law is founded, will be manifested in their actual exercise, according to the tenor of that Law. The fulfillment of His promises, and the execution of His threatenings, seem to be equally necessary for this end. The non-fulfillment of the one, or the non-execution of the other, would be derogatory to the honour of His Law, and to the glory of His perfections, which it was designed to reveal. In the exercise of His sovereignty, He may form a purpose of mercy towards the guilty; but in carrying that purpose into effect, some provision is necessary, such as His own omniscient wisdom alone could devise, and His own infinite love suggest, for vindicating the majesty of His Law, and securing the ends of His moral government. If punishment was justly due to sin, and if it was ordained as a manifestation of His eternal justice and holiness, it must either be inflicted on every sinner with a view to that end, or the same end must be equally, or better, accomplished in some other way.

It thus appears that the Law, besides being an authoritative expression of God's will, is also a revelation of His eternal justice and holiness,—that it is the unchangeable rule of His moral government, and that, however it may consist with a sovereign purpose of mercy towards sinners, it can never be abrogated, modified, or relaxed, but must be executed or fulfilled, in such a way as shall be manifest, in their actual exercise, the same divine perfections which it was designed to reveal, and secure the end of punishment itself—the glory of His great name.

Prop. X. The doctrine of the Law is presupposed in that of the Gospel, and the justifying righteousness which is required in the one, is revealed in the other.

That the doctrine of the Law is presupposed in that of the Gospel, has been already shown; and that the justifying righteousness which the Law requires has been revealed in the Gospel, will be proved hereafter, in discussing the questions which still remain to be determined,—namely, What that righteousness is, which is revealed as 'the righteousness of God?' How, and by whom, it was wrought out? Why it is available for our Justification? By what means we become partakers of it? And by what agency it is effectually applied? In the meantime, the proposition is merely stated for the purpose of indicating, in the first place, the indissoluble connection, and yet the radical difference also, between the Law and the Gospel; and, in the second place, the indispensable necessity of a careful study of the one, in order to a right apprehension of the other.

Reprinted from James Buchanan, The Doctrine of Justification (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1961), pp. 282-305. Used by permission.

1 Ezek. xviii. 1; Jer. xxxi. 29, 30.
2 2 Kings xxi. 9, 16, xxiii. 26; Jer. Xv. 4; 2 Chron. Xxxiii.9.
3 Ex. xx.5.
4 Lam. V. 7. 16, 21
5 Ps. Ii, 3-5.
6 2 Cor. iii. 7.
7 1 Pet. i. 15, 16; also, Lev. xix. 2, xx. 7, xxi. 8.
8 Ps. Cxlv. 17, xi. 7; Hab. i. 13.
9 Deut. Xxxii. 4.