Friday, 8 January 2010

was the mosaic law gracious?

I've been trying to do a (very) wee bit of reading up on the Federal Vision (FV) controversy recently in order to understand the issues. In so doing, I came across this quote by Doug Wilson, a big player in the FV conversation, in describing the Mosaic Law during his dialogue with interlocutor Lane Keister (aka Green Baggins):
For the regenerate heart, it is all grace, nothing but grace, grace from top to bottom. All God's words, all God's intentions, all God's promises. For the unregenerate, it is all demand, all law, all "do this and live." Now, who understands God and His Word rightly? And who distorts it? Correct, the regenerate man understands it all correctly. But God anticipates and uses the incorrect understanding, and He uses it to bring people to Himself. The Law works them over, and Christ saves them.
Elsewhere, Doug quoting the WCF in support for his views says:
"This covenant [of grace -- DW] was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament "(WCF 7.5).

An OT Israelite who did not have the faith of Abraham was abusing the covenant of grace. He belonged to the covenant of grace, so that if he did not have evangelical faith, this meant that he was a covenant breaker.
He makes some interesting points about the Mosaic Law, but I'm unsure that his arguments prove that the Mosaic Law was a gracious covenant. Let me tentatively offer reasons for my doubts:

Firstly, it's interesting to note in WCF 7.5 that there is no mention of the covenant of grace being administered through moral commands. It seems that the covenant of grace is administered through the types, prophesies and promises of the law. How is the covenant of grace administered through, for instance, "the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name"?

Secondly, and related to the above, surely the fact that there are gracious elements to the Mosaic Law (i.e. pointers to Christ) does not nullify the fact that the over-arching covenantal structure is one of works, i.e. "do this and live"?

Third, perhaps the works principle of Moses was related to the continuance of Israel in the promised land and referred to temporal blessings in order to highlight gospel truth? The works principle demonstrated that there was none righteous (no not one!) and that salvation was always through faith alone. The law was a school master, showing Israel (and thus the world) of the need for Christ. So for instance, even Moses failed to enter the promised land (despite the fact that we know he will enter the heavenly Jerusalem). If even this giant failed to keep the ordinances of the law, it is no wonder that the land vomited Israel into exile.

Fourth, if Moses is gracious to the regenerate man, why does Paul say that "the law is not of faith" (Gal. 3:12)? Note, Paul doesn't say that the law is abused by the unbelieving. The law itself is not of faith. IMHO, I've yet to read a NPP/FV advocate who knows what to do with that verse.

Fifth, if Moses is gracious to the regenerate man, why does Peter describe him as "a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear" (Acts 15:10 ESV)? Could the experience described here (i.e. of the godly under Moses prior to the eschatological Spirit) provide interpretation to that described in Romans 7? I suspect so.

Doubtless there are some holes in my arguments here and there, and I, for my profound thickness, cannot see them. Yet, with this disclaimer in place, I can't see past the above. The issues are weighty and deserve careful pondering.

1 comment:

John Thomson said...

Good blog. Arguments seem sound to me. 'Law is not of faith' is critical.