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Lecture XII: The Ordinance Governing the Christian Life

(Art. 14)

We confesse and acknawledge, that God hes given to man his holy Law, in quhilk not only ar forbidden all sik warkes as displeis and offend his godly Majestie, but alswa ar commanded al sik as pleis him, and as he hes promised to rewaird. And thir warkes be of twa sortes. The ane are done to the honour of God, the uther to the profite of our Nichtbouris; and both have the reveiled will of God for their assurance. To have ane God, to worschip and honour him, to call upon him in all our troubles, reverence his holy name, to heare his word, to beleve the same, to communicate with his holy Sacraments, are the warkes of the first Tabill. To honour Father, Mother, Princes, Rulers, and superiour powers; to love them, to support them, zea to obey their charges (not repugning to the commaundment of God), to save the lives of innocents, to represse tyrannie, to defend the oppressed, to keepe our bodies cleane and halie, to live in sobernes and temperance, to deall justlie with all men both in word and deed; and finally, to represse all appetite of our Nichbouris hurt, are the gude warkes of the secund Tabill, quhilk are maist pleising and acceptabill unto God, as thir warkes that are commanded be himselfe. The contrary quhairof is sinne maist odious, quhilk alwayes displeisis him, and provokes him to anger: As not to call upon him alone, when we have need; not to hear his word with reverence, to contemne and despise it; to have or worschip idols, to maintene and defend Idolatrie; lichtlie to esteeme the reverend name of God; to prophane, abuse, or contemne the Sacraments of Christ Jesus; to disobey or resist ony that God hes placed in authoritie (quhil they passe not over the bounds of their office); to murther, or to consent thereto, to beare hatred, or to let innocent blude bee sched, gif wee may withstand it. And finally, the transgression of ony uther commandement in the first or secund Tabill, we confesse and affirme to be sinne, by the quhilk Gods anger and displesure is kindled against the proud unthankfull warld. So that gude warkes we affirme to be thir onlie, that are done in faith, and at Gods commandment, quha in his Lawe hes expressed what the thingis be that pleis him. And evill warkis we affirme not only thir that expressedly ar done against Gods commaundement: bot thir alswa that in matteris of Religioun, and worschipping of God, hes na uther assurance bot the inventioun and opinioun of man: quhilk God fra the beginning hes ever rejected, as be the Prophet Esay, and be our Maister Christ Jesus we ar taught in thir words, In vaine do they worschip me, teaching the doctrines the precepts of men.


The Christian life is an ordered life. We have seen that it has its basis in the fact that true knowledge of God is itself, as such, service of God. We have seen that it has its power in the fact that Jesus Christ through faith becomes the crisis of our human existence. And we have seen that it has its essence in daily repentance, rooted in thankfulness, as man's return to God, who makes amends for the evil we do. By this it is settled that the Christian life is a life determined and regulated by its basis, its power and its essence, and cannot be a life at the mercy of chance or individual will. Do we satisfy the demands of the Christian life thus defined? Do we do justice to this ordinance which governs it? We are to deal with that in the following lecture. But whatever our answer may be, it is certain that the Christian life is a life subject to the claims of an ordinance, a life in which obedience of a quite specific character is required of man. Service of God means that our life receives an orientation. Faith means that one thing is enjoined us and another forbidden us. Thankfulness means that we wish to seek the one and shun the other.

Again, the basis, the power and the essence of the Christian life settle another matter too—namely that the ordinance which governs the Christian life cannot be our private concern. When the Scottish Confession speaks of the Law of “good works” it, like the Reformed churches of the sixteenth century in general, has in view two forms of ostensible service of God, both of which fail to understand the fact that the Law and consequently the ordinance governing the Christian life is the divine Law. On the one side we have the Roman church which, on the basis of natural rights and its own tradition, both of which it alleges to be divine, dares to subject Christian life to a statute devised and formulated by man and consisting in regulations dealing with cult, law and morals. And on the other side—the opposite extreme—are the varying courses taken by a religious enthusiasm, which wishes to submit Christian life to the dictation of what is called the Spirit, or of an “inner light” which is alleged to be divine, or simply to the dictates of the conscience of every individual. Both these extremes are based on the erroneous belief that the ordinance governing the Christian life is committed into man's hands. For it obviously amounts to the same thing whether the place of the Divine Lawgiver is usurped by a church which decides with divine authority, or by an individual who decides with divine freedom. In the one case as in the other we have to do with a form of false service of God. In both forms man is secretly his own master; in both forms the apparent order of the Christian life is really disorder and in both forms the Christian life is in fact at the mercy of chance and individual will. When viewed from the standpoint of the basis, the power and the essence of the Christian life, and from the standpoint of the true service of God, neither form can be substantiated or justified.

The true ordinance governing the Christian life is Jesus Christ, and it is therefore superior to both the church and the individual in the church. The authority and freedom which are valid in the Christian life are the authority and freedom by which Jesus Christ makes His Word heard and obeyed among men—and His Word means Himself. It is He who says what is good or evil, enjoined or forbidden. It is He and He alone who is also the judge, before whom we have to justify ourselves. Article 14 speaks of the Ten Commandments. Now the Ten Commandments are the Divine Law of the Christian life, because in their two parts—not to be separated nor confused—in the Commandments of the two Tables, they bear witness to Jesus Christ as our Lord, by claiming us for God and our fellow-men. “Both [tables]” as the Scottish Confession says, “have the reveiled will of God for their assurance.” Therefore their authority does not rest on natural rights, nor on church tradition, nor on the voice of the individual conscience either, but on the revealed will of God. And the revealed will of God is Jesus Christ. In Him (according to Ephesians 2, 10, quoted at the beginning of Article 13)—in Him “we are created unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them.”


The Divine Law regulates the Christian life in the relationship of man to God. The Divine Law enjoins us to give God the glory, to call on Him as helper in every time of need, to fear His name, to hear and obey His Word, to make use of the means of His grace. And the Divine Law forbids us to seek help from other powers, to despise His Word, to worship idols, to take His name in vain, to falsify in any way or still worse to ignore the means of His grace. Such, according to the Scottish Confession, is the first table, the ordinance governing the Christian life in its relation to God. The thankfulness of faith inevitably and invariably takes the form that we in our relation to God do certain things and leave others undone, not because we believe some to be good and others to be evil, but because some are enjoined us and others forbidden by the revealed will of God. But what we have to understand and explain at this point is how far this command and prohibition is the revealed will of God and therefore the ordinance from which we cannot escape. To understand and explain this we must go back to that knowledge of God which comprises and determines true service of God, and we must return in particular to the knowledge of the renewing of our nature which has been fully accomplished in Jesus Christ, as is presented in Articles 7–10 of the Confession (Numbers 7 and 8 of our lectures). We saw there that this renewing of man and consequently the Christian life consists in Jesus Christ, as true God, having taken our place. Our election and salvation, our whole existence, preserved from judgement and on its way towards eternal life, rests entirely on the perfection of the eternal God, who has made Himself in Jesus Christ our Representative, Counsel and Advocate. If we stand firm, we do so by means of God's decision which has already taken place, and by means of God's work which has already taken place in Jesus Christ and is real to-day and for ever. We could only fall headlong into the bottomless pit, if this decision had not been made and this work not taken place, if it had not been God Himself who had decided here, and acted, and if Jesus had not been God's own eternal Son. We are sustained by God's grace because it is the grace of God and not some kindly piece of help, enlightenment or alleviation, such as one creature can receive from another, but the omnipotent and perfect support of Him who alone is great enough to support us effectively in the plight of our existence. Were God not for us, everything could not but be against us. But Jesus Christ has come as true God to us and has taken our place. This is the reason why we—and with us the Christian life—are bound with so strong a bond to God in accordance with the commandments of the first table. In and with the Gospel of God's great faithfulness and grace there is laid on us the command which bids us do everything which can glorify God as God, and which forbids us to do anything which would rob God of His glory as God. We are God's in Jesus Christ. That involves one thing being commanded us and another forbidden. Thus the law of God does not require us to do something which we might equally well leave undone or to leave undone something which we might equally well do. It requires from us nothing more nor less than that we should be what we are, namely, men elected and saved by God in Jesus Christ—and correspondingly that we should not be what we are not, namely, men lost without God and forsaken by Him. Nothing would therefore be further from the truth than to desire to see in the commands and prohibitions of the first table a demand for a particular form of piety and for certain exceptional religious activities. To serve God by giving Him the glory according to the direction of these commands and prohibitions means not to do something special but to remain in a place where we can breathe and not to enter a place where we would inevitably be suffocated, to be what we are and not to be what we are not. To obey means to assent to the truth and in the truth to assent to our salvation. Not to obey would mean to lie and therefore to assent to our destruction. But we may exist in the truth and so assent to our salvation. For this reason we may and must obey and for this reason our reverence towards God is not something special but the natural expression of the freedom He has given us of being His children.


We come now to the Commandments of the second table. The divine law regulates the Christian life in the sphere of man's relation to his fellow man. It enjoins respect, love and readiness to help in our relations to father and mother and all superiors. It enjoins obedience to them so far as that would not be contrary to obedience to God. It enjoins defiance to tyrants, defence of the weak, chastity and temperance, and an attitude of fairness and consideration to all. And the divine law forbids rebellion against lawful authority, murder and what leads to murder and hence even the persisting in wrath, and it forbids looking on inactively where innocent blood is being shed. So runs the second table in the exposition given by the Scottish Confession. We see with particular clearness at this point the decidedly masculine, not to say warlike, spirit of the document. When we come to discuss Article 24, in our last lecture but one, we will have to return to the particularly impressive and original statements it makes here in connection with the sixth commandment. It is no accident that just at this point the Confession reminds us with peculiar clearness of the fact that it was made not by angels but by men in this world in the midst of the rather turbulent Scotland of the sixteenth century. But it is just to the things of this world that the Confession has something to say at this point and not only at this point. What is dealt with here is the ordinance governing the Christian life in its relation to our neighbour. The thankfulness of faith—and let us note that at this very point disobedience is described as unthankfulness—necessarily and invariably takes this further form of doing one thing and forbearing another in relation to our fellow men as well as to God. Once again we do so not because we hold the one to be good and the other evil and so act out of a sense of humanity, but because the one is enjoined us and the other forbidden us by the revealed will of God.

But here too understanding and explanation are called for. To what extent and for what reason is this command and prohibition the revealed will of God and consequently the ordinance from which we cannot escape? And here also we must go back to that knowledge of God which precedes all true service of God, back to the knowledge of our renewing in Jesus Christ, and hence we must turn back to Articles 7–10 of the Confession. It should be clearly noted that here, in the Christology of the Scottish Confession, we find the source without which it is impossible to understand, let alone to adopt, its doctrine of the divine commandment. We saw in our seventh and eighth lectures that our renewing consists in Jesus Christ as true man taking precisely our place. Our election and salvation and so once again our whole existence is absolutely dependent on the fact that the Son of God came down to us, and became like us and became therefore a man: a poor, weak, mortal and dying man, such as we. At the very place where we would have had to stand, God stands as the bearer of the burden which we could not bear, in order that His glory might remain for us. We owe it to His human nature that there is election for man on the basis of God's decision and that there is salvation for man through the action of God. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8, 9). If God had not given up His Son for us, we would be and would continue to be most miserable creatures. But because Jesus Christ has come to us as true man and hence has really taken our place, we are bound to our neighbour also. In and with the Gospel of God's condescension to man, the commandment is laid upon us which enjoins us to do all things for our neighbour and nothing against him. We are God's in Jesus Christ. We are therefore and thereby bound to our neighbour. Hence once again it is not true that God's law demands that we do something which we could leave undone or that we leave undone something which we could just as well do. It demands from us neither more nor less than ourselves, as those who have been elected and saved in the poor man Jesus. It demands only that we should be in truth men thus elected and saved. If we are such, then we cannot but recognise in the poor men with whom we have to live—and they really are poor men—the brothers of Jesus, whose presence reminds us all the more of Him, the greater their weakness. They therefore, in their need as men, have a message to bring us from Him for which we owe them thanks and are therefore under an obligation to them. Our relation to them is the sign and the test of our relation to God. “He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4, 20). The God whom we do not see has become in Jesus Christ a man whom we do see. We have thereby come to owe every man honour, service and help. Once again the commands and prohibitions of the second table are not to be understood any more than those of the first as the demand for a particular morality or for exceptional achievements of some kind or another in relation to our fellow men. Christianity is not morality. We are not intended to be benefactors or instructors, much less gods to one another. We are not doing anything special when we love one another. In doing this we are simply doing the one thing most natural for those chosen and saved in Jesus Christ, we are simply doing the one thing necessary, which we as brothers owe one another, because we owe it to Jesus Christ. In doing this we are simply being obedient. And once again our obedience will be not something special but only the natural expression of the freedom which is bestowed upon us by God Himself becoming our brother in Jesus Christ.


The subject of our enquiry has been the ordinance of the Christian life, the true way of thankfulness and of repentance and the criterion of good and evil. The Ten Commandments which we have expounded are the testimony to this ordinance, this way and this criterion. They are this in so far as they, as the ordinance governing the life of the people of God, bear witness to the Lord of this people and hence to our Lord and to His will with us. Jesus Christ, by making us free, binds us to God and man. As God's Son He binds us to God, and as Mary's son, born in the manger and crucified on the Cross, He binds us to man. This is the claim, twofold but indivisible, which is laid upon us. The Law, the rule and the first principles underlying all service of God are—Jesus Christ. And we say nothing other than this, when we say faith in Jesus Christ. For by faith in Him it is true for us and it becomes true for our life, that Jesus Christ as true God and true man stands in our place. By faith He dwells in our hearts and rules our thoughts, words and deeds. Our faith is certainly weak and small. But Jesus Christ, who by faith dwells in our hearts, is strong and great. And because of this, however weak and small our faith may be, it is none the less true to say, that by faith is bestowed upon us the ordinance of the Christian life, the way of thankfulness and repentance and the criterion of good and evil, and further that faith will never be without love and hence without the fulfilling of the divine law, and finally that all our works which proceed from faith will be good works.