Nov 2, 2008

Campbell on "The Law"

Although Alexander Campbell went off into some grave errors in doctrine, nevertheless he was correct in his views on "the law" as he preached it first before the Redstone Baptist Association.

Here are some good comments analyzing that sermon. (emphasis mine)

"Content Of The Sermon"

"What is meant by “the law”? Campbell argued that it signifies the whole Mosaic dispensation. He rejected the generally accepted distinctions between the moral law, the ceremonial law, and the judicial law."

Note: I recently saw where Turretinfan, a blogger of repute, takes the view that the law is to be divided so. My dad also does.

I left a comment (for the 1st time) on Turretinfan's blog on this issue, seeing he was promoting the three kinds of "law" view. I have often challenged my dad on this issue, asking him to give biblical authority for such a division and distinction.

Also, I agree with Campbell that such things as tithing and sabbath keeping are NOT laws for New Covenant Christians. But, more on this in future posts.

The analysis continues:

"To refer to the Decalogue as the “moral law,” he argued first of all, is contradictory, seeing that only six of them are moral--that is, relating to our conduct toward men.

Second, Campbell argued against calling the ten commandments the “moral law” on the ground that all morality is clearly not contained in them.

Campbell’s third objection to this division in the law is based on the words of Paul, who denominated the ten commandments the “ministration of condemnation and of death” (2 Cor. 3:7), and further taught that they were to be done away. It is inconsistent, reasoned Campbell, to refer to the “moral law” in such terms. The epistles to the Romans, Galatians and Hebrews become perplexing to the person who continues to maintain the moral/ceremonial/judicial distinction.

Campbell concludes this section of his sermon by observing that there were certain universal and immutable principles such as, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, soul, mind, and strength; and thy neighbor as thyself,” which did not originate with the law of Moses. Rather, these principles are timeless principles, written in the hearts of all men, which formed the basis of the law.

The second major section in the sermon was to point out those things which the law could not accomplish. Here Campbell cites three fundamental failings.

First, it could not give righteousness and life. In Galatians 3:21 Paul wrote,”for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” “...for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Gal. 2:21). In Romans 7:10, Paul said, “And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.” This was what the apostle once mistakenly thought of the law. The law was merely “added to the promise of life, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19). “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound” (Rom. 5:20). “For through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).

Second, the law could not exhibit the malignity or demerit of sin. It taught that certain actions were sinful, gave names to those actions, and showed that they were offensive to God, hurtful to men, and deserving of death. But to show the extent of their malignity the law could not do.

Third, the law could not be a suitable rule of life to mankind in this imperfect state. The law was given to the Jewish nation only. It was designed for them only. But it was inadequate for universal application. To attempt to apply it beyond what it was intended would be as unjust and improper, Campbell explained, as trying to convey the contents of a letter to a person to whom it was not directed, or to enjoin a proclamation made by the President of the United States on the subjects of France. And even to the Jews it was not the most suitable rule of life, in that what it lacked most was an example of living perfection.

Campbell then moves on to his third major objective — to demonstrate the reason why the law could not accomplish these objects.

Paul taught that the law failed to accomplish these thing due to human weakness — “in that it was weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Though some part of the law was holy, just and good, even that failed in that it was “too high, sublime, and spiritual, to regulate so weak a mortal as fallen man.”

On the other hand, the oblations and sacrifices were in themselves too weak and carnal in nature to effect anything so vast and sublime. “So that as the Apostle saith, the law made nothing perfect, it merely introduced a better hope” (cf. Heb. 7:19). The law was not faultless, otherwise there would be no place found for the gospel (Heb. 8:7).

Campbell summed up the deficiencies in the words of Ezekiel 20:25 — “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live.”

In the fourth head of his discourse, Campbell set out to illustrate the means by which God has remedied the relative defects of the law. All those defects of the law God remedied by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemning sin in the flesh. “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4).

The first deficiency of the law was that it could not give righteousness and life. Now Christ brings righteousness through His obedience unto death, through the work the Father gave Him to do. All believers – the seed of Abraham – thus find righteousness and life in Christ, not by works of law but by grace.

The law could not give a full exhibition of the demerit of sin. But Christ shows the fullness of the nature and demerits of sin. God condemned sin in Him. He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up (Rom. 8:32). At length Campbell explains how we have the greatest demonstration and most enduring monument of the demerit of sin in the suffering and death of the Savior on the cross.

And where the law failed in not providing a suitable rule of life, Christ remedied by giving a perfect example. “He spake as never man spake.” He was the greater Prophet, the perfect teacher. Of Him the voice from the cloud declared, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.” Concluding his remarks on this point from the transfiguration of Christ, Campbell said, “The plain language of the whole occurrence was this – Moses and Elias were excellent men – they were now glorified in heaven – they had lived their day – the limited time they were to flourish as teachers of the will of Heaven was now come to an end. The morning star had arisen – nay, was almost set, and the Sun of Righteousness was arising with salutiferous rays. Let us, then, walk in the noon-day light – let us hearken to Jesus as the Prophet and Legislator, Priest and King. He shall reign over all the ransomed race. We find all things whatsoever the law could not do are accomplished in him, and by him – that in him all Christians might be perfect and complete – ‘for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.’”

Campbell, under the final heading of his sermon, comes to the conclusions to be deduced from the premises he has presented.

First, there is an essential difference between the law and the gospel – between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He cites 2 Corinthians 3 as clear demonstration of the essential difference. The law is called “the letter,” “the ministration of condemnation,” “the ministration of death,” “the old testament,” and “Moses.” The gospel is called “the Spirit,” “the ministration of the Spirit,” “the ministration of righteousness,” “the new testament,” “the law of liberty,” and “Christ.” As Hebrews 8 declares, the former is called “that which is done away,” whereas the latter is called, “that which remaineth”; the former was faulty, the latter faultless; the former waxed old and vanished away, the latter remains, lives and is everlasting.

There is “no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” We are not under law; we are freed from it (Rom. 6-7; 8:1). Campbell points out the confusion of modern teachers, who profess that we are not under the law as a covenant of works, but we are under the law as a rule of life. To those who would object that teaching that Christians are not under the law in any sense would lead to licentious living, Campbell responds with Paul’s answer in Romans 6:15: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” If the apostle Paul ever would have wanted to say that we are still under the law in any sense, this would have been the time to do so. But instead, he says, “God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2). Antinomianism is no part of the New Testament, the gospel, Campbell says, but because of the true Christian’s relationship as a servant, and not because we are still under the law of Moses in some sense, including even the ten commandments or part of them. Furthermore, the Gentiles were never regarded as under the law of Moses, though the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (Rom. 1:18).

There is no necessity for preaching the law in order to prepare men for receiving the gospel. Jesus said, “Go into all the world, and preach the gospel unto every creature” (Mark 16:15). “Teach the disciples to observe all things whatsoever I command you.” Thus, Campbell says, they were authorized to preach the gospel, not the law, to every creature. As such, they were constituted ministers of the New Testament, not of the Old.

All the preaching of the apostles in Acts consisted of proclaiming the gospel, but not the law. The very nature of the church as God’s kingdom and the means by which it is to be built up is based on the power of the Spirit in the gospel, not the law of Moses.

The gospel, not the law, is best suited to convincing men of sin so as to prepare them to receiving saving truth. It is only the discovery of Christ exalted, as in the case of Paul, that will convict man of sin, righteousness and judgment. Campbell acknowledges that the law was necessary to convince sinners of sin, but only before Christ came. From Romans 6-7, he shows that we, like Paul, are now delivered from the law. The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Campbell shows clearly that, contrary to countenancing law-preaching, this passage (Gal. 3:23) proves that whatever use the law served as schoolmaster previous to Christ, it no longer serves that use.

There is therefore no scriptural basis for using the Old Testament as authority for various common religious practices such as infant baptism, tithing, observance of holy days or religious feasts, Sabbath observance, entering national covenants, or the establishment of religion by civil law. All such “reasons and motives” are borrowed from Jewish law, but are not authorized by Jesus Christ.

Finally, it means that we should venerate the Lord Jesus Christ above all. He is the Great Prophet spoken of by Moses. We should receive Him as the Lord our righteousness and observe all His teachings. “Let us as his disciples believe all he teaches, and practice all he enjoins in religion and morality; let us walk in all his commandments and ordinances; and inquire individually, What lack I yet!” Campbell concludes the sermon with these words: “May he that hath the key of David, who openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and none can open, open your hearts to receive the truth in the love of it, and incline you to walk in the light of it, and then ye shall know that the ways thereof are pleasantness, and all the paths thereof are peace! AMEN.”

The same views were set forth in the Christian Baptist, the paper that Campbell edited from 1823 to 1829. In one issue, Campbell observes how some have charged him with heresy. “Because we have said, that we christians are not under Moses, but under Christ; not under the law as a rule of life, but under the gospel, we are said to have spoken ‘blasphemous words against Moses and the law’.” These critics were particularly accusing Campbell of denying “the moral law, the Christian Sabbath, and experimental religion.” Campbell responds to these charges by reviewing his “Sermon on the Law” delivered seven years previously (The Christian Baptist I:6 (1824): 115-119).

In the following issue we find Campbell writing on the Sabbath. He argues that Sabbath-keeping was part of the law of Moses and that since that law was set aside, then the Sabbath was also set aside (The Christian Baptist I:7 (1824): 127-133).

Campbell said in 1846 (30 years later) that if it were not for this sermon and the opposition it aroused, he might never have launched his reformation.

Certainly the sermon represented a fresh approach to interpreting and applying the Scriptures. The approach of recognizing that God deals with man in covenants and making a clear distinction between the old and the new was certainly Biblically sound and was a significant step in the efforts of Campbell and many others as they sought to find their way (and to help others find theirs) out of the maze of religious confusion and to work toward the goal of restoring New Testament Christianity."

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