“The gospel sweetens the law.”
― Thomas Watson
We are back with our buddy Mr. Watson this week. Last time, we learned of the Beatitudes, and Rev. Watson’s 12 principles on them. This blog is going to focus on his explanation of the differences in the “Moral Law,” and the “Gospel.” In Christianity, theologians understand that there are 3 uses of the law of God. 1. The Ceremonial Law, or all of the 613 commandments given to national Israel through Moses. 2. The Moral Law, or the laws that God has placed on the heart of every human to understand the basic fundamental ideas of what is right and wrong. 3. The Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments. It is the summation of all of the law of God. Thomas Watson makes some key distinctions in his work on the Ten Commandments between what is required to understand the law aright, because it tends to be a very confusing subject for many Christians, as some place too much emphasis on a false sense of grace, to the point that the law of a holy and just God is unnecessary and not required at all for us to understand. Some place so much emphasis on the law to the point that it becomes a burden through legalism, and the gospel of Christ is missed. Here are a few of Watson’s points on the differences in the law and gospel distinctions, and how one is required of the other: (Rev. Watson’s work in quotations; my commentary in regular type)
What is the difference between the moral law and the gospel?
(1) The law requires that we worship God as our Creator; the gospel, that we worship Him in and through Christ. God in Christ is propitious; out of Him we may see God’s power, justice, and holiness: in Him we see His mercy displayed.
(2) The moral law requires obedience, but gives no strength (as Pharoah required brick, but gave no straw), but the gospel gives strength: it bestows faith on the elect; it sweetens the law; it makes us serve God with delight.
So in the law of God we see the justice of God. In the gospel we see Christ’s love for his people. We see that the law gives the requirements of God’s standards, but the gospel the solution to our inability to fulfil the law.
Of what use is the moral law to us?
It is a glass to show our sins, that seeing our pollution and misery, we may be forced to flee to Christ for former guilt, and to save from future wrath. ‘The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ.’ Gal. iii 24.
So here we see the necessity of the law. Even though it cannot do anything for our sinful state, it shows us our NEED for Christ’s gospel power to cleanse us from its bondage of demands.
But is the moral law still in force to believers; is it not abolished to them?
In some sense it is abolished to believers. (1) In respect of justification. They are not justified by their obedience to the moral law. Believers are to make great use of the moral law, but they must trust only to Christ’s righteousness for justification; as Noah’s dove made use of her wings to fly, but trusted to the ark for safety. If the moral law could justify, what need was there of Christ’s dying? (2) The moral law is abolished to believers, in respect of its curse. They are freed from its curse and condemnatory power. ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us.’ Gal 3: 13.
So, again, we see the appeal to the distinctions of the manner in which we are free from the law. We are NOT free from the law itself, but of the CURSE THEREOF. The law of God is eternally holy. It does not simply “vanish” because of Christ’s sacrificial work. His active obedience keeps the law for us in respect to our justification. The law still demands we strive for perfection in life, but we know this is a part of sanctification and the crucifying of our flesh we will daily wrestle with in this life. Until we put on immortality, and are glorified in finality. Until that day, we must allow the gospel to sweeten the law, as Rev. Watson has clearly shown us.