Completed by the Spirit: Excursus — Bunyan’s ‘Of the Law and a Christian’

June 8, 2011 — Leave a comment

John Bunyan

John Bun­yan

Lest any­one think we’retreading on new ground in the blog series “Com­pleted by the Spirit” that we are anthol­o­giz­ing here, let’s take a moment and visit John Bunyan’s “Of the Law and a Chris­t­ian.” (This arti­cle is avail­able as part of John Bunyan’s Mis­cel­la­neous Pieces as a free down­load from Project Guten­berg or from Ama­zon in hard­cover, paper­back or Kin­dle formats.)

Unlike those who would say, “Moses will drive you to Christ to be jus­ti­fied and Christ will send you back to Moses to be sanc­ti­fied,“[1] it is the office of God the Holy Spirit and not the pur­pose of the writ­ten code to sanc­tify us. (The law-for-sanctification view is dis­cussed fur­ther in Part 4 of this series.)

In the late 1600’s, Bun­yan made the rela­tion­ship of the Chris­t­ian to the law as clear and plain as prob­a­bly any­one ever has in “OF THE LAW AND A CHRISTIAN” (empha­sis in bold­face mine):

The law was given twice upon Mount Sinai, but the appear­ance of the Lord, when he gave it the sec­ond time, was won­der­fully dif­fer­ent from that of his, when at the first he deliv­ered it to Israel.

1. When he gave it the first time, he caused his ter­ror and sever­ity to appear before Moses, to the shak­ing of his soul and the dis­may­ing of Israel; but when he gave it the sec­ond time, he caused all his good­ness to pass before Moses, to the com­fort of his con­science and the bow­ing of his heart.

2. When he gave it the first time, it was with thun­der­ings and light­nings, with black­ness and dark­ness, with flame and smoke, and a tear­ing sound of the trum­pet; but when he gave it the sec­ond time, it was with a procla­ma­tion of his name to be mer­ci­ful, gra­cious, long– suf­fer­ing, and abun­dant in good­ness and truth, keep­ing mercy for thou­sands, for­giv­ing iniq­uity, trans­gres­sions, and sins.

3. When he gave it the first time, Moses was called to go up to receive it through the fire, which made him exceed­ingly fear and quake: but when he went to receive it the sec­ond time, he was laid in a clift of the rock.

4. From all which I gather, that, though as to the mat­ter of the law, both as to its being given the first time and the sec­ond, it binds the unbe­liever under the pains of eter­nal damna­tion (if he close not with Christ by faith); yet as to the man­ner of its giv­ing at these two times, I think the first doth more prin­ci­pally intend its force as a covenant of works, not at all respect­ing the Lord Jesus; but this sec­ond time not (at least in the man­ner of its being given) respect­ing such a covenant, but rather as a rule or direc­tory to those who already are found in the clift of the rock Christ; for the saint him­self, though he be with­out law to God, as it is con­sid­ered the first or old covenant, yet even he is not with­out law to him as con­sid­ered under grace; not with­out law to God, but under the law to Christ.

5. Though, there­fore, it be sad with the unbe­liever, because he only and wholly standeth under the law as it is given in fire, in smoke, in black­ness, and dark­ness, and thun­der; all which threaten him with eter­nal ruin if he ful­fil not the utmost tit­tle thereof; yet the believer stands to the law under no such con­sid­er­a­tion, nei­ther is he so at all to hear or regard it, for he is now removed from thence to the blessed moun­tain of Zion—to grace and for­give­ness of sins; he is now, I say, by faith in the Lord Jesus, shrouded under so per­fect and blessed a right­eous­ness, that this thun­der­ing law of Mount Sinai can­not find the least fault or diminu­tion therein, but rather approveth and alloweth thereof, either when or wher­ever it find it. This is called the right­eous­ness of God with­out the law, and also said to be wit­nessed by both the law and the prophets; even the right­eous­ness of God, which is by faith in Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference.

6. Where­fore, when­ever thou who believest in Jesus, dost hear the law in its thun­der­ing and light­ning fits, as if it would burn up heaven and earth, then say thou, I am freed from this law, these thun­der­ings have noth­ing to do with my soul; nay, even this law, while it thus thun­ders and roars, it doth both allow and approve of my right­eous­ness. I know that Hagar would some­times be dom­i­neer­ing and high, even in Sarah’s house, and against her; but this she is not to be suf­fered to do, nay, though Sarah her­self be bar­ren; where­fore, serve it also as Sarah served her, and expel her out from thy house. My mean­ing is, when this law with its thun­der­ing threat­en­ings doth attempt to lay hold on thy con­science, shut it out with a promise of grace; cry, The inn is taken up already; the Lord Jesus is here enter­tained, and here is no room for the law. Indeed, if it will be con­tent with being my informer, and so lov­ingly leave off to judge me, I will be con­tent, it shall be in my sight, I will also delight therein; but oth­er­wise, I being now made upright with­out it, and that too with that right­eous­ness which this law speaks well of and approveth, I may not, will not, can­not dare not make it my Sav­iour and judge, nor suf­fer it to set up its gov­ern­ment in my con­science; for by so doing, I fall from grace, and Christ Jesus doth profit me nothing.

7. Thus, there­fore, the soul that is mar­ried to him that is raised up from the dead, both may and ought to deal with this law of God; yea, it doth greatly dis­hon­our its Lord and refuse its gospel priv­i­leges, if it at any time oth­er­wise doth, what­ever it seeth or feels. “The law hath power over the wife so long as her hus­band liveth, but if her hus­band be dead she is freed from that law; so that she is no adul­ter­ess though she be mar­ried to another man.” Indeed, so long as thou art alive to sin, and to thy right­eous­ness which is of the law, so long thou hast them for thy hus­band, and they must reign over thee; but when once they are become dead unto thee—as they then most cer­tainly will when thou clos­est with the Lord Jesus Christ—then, I say, thy for­mer hus­bands have no more to med­dle with thee; thou art freed from their law. Set the case: A woman be cast into prison for a debt of hun­dreds of pounds; if after this she marry, yea, though while she is in the jailor’s hand, in the same day that she is joined to her hus­band, her debt is all become his; yea, and the law also that arrested and impris­oned this woman, as freely tells her, go: she is freed, saith Paul, from that; and so saith the law of this land.

The sum, then, of what hath been said is this—The Chris­t­ian hath now noth­ing to do with the law, as it thun­dereth and bur­neth on Sinai, or as it bindeth the con­science to wrath and the dis­plea­sure of God for sin; for from its thus appear­ing, it is freed by faith in Christ. Yet it is to have regard thereto, and is to count it holy, just, and good; which, that it may do, it is always, when­ever it seeth or regards it, to remem­ber that he who giveth it to us “is mer­ci­ful, gra­cious, long-suffering, and abun­dant in good­ness and truth,” &c. [2]


[1] John Reisinger wrote this oppo­si­tion to the law-for-sanctification view in a review of Wal­ter Chantry’s 1980 book God’s Right­eous King­dom: John Reisinger and Ran­dall Seiver, “God’s King­dom Unright­eously Defended: A Review of Wal­ter Chantry’s God’s Right­eous King­dom,” accessed 8 June 2011, Solo Christo: http://solochristo.com/theology/nct/reisinger.seiver-chantry.htm.

[2] John Bun­yan, Mis­cel­la­neous Pieces accessed 8 June 2011, Project Guten­berg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3613.