Some speak as if the servant were greater than the Master, and the disciple above his Lord; as if the Lord Jesus honoured the Law, and His people were to set it aside; as if He fulfilled it for us, that we might not need to fulfill it; as if He kept it, not that we might keep it, but that we might not keep it, but something else in its stead, they know not what.
The plain truth is, we must either keep it or break it. Which of these men ought to do, let those answer who speak of a believer having nothing more to do with Law. There is no middle way. If it be not a saint's duty to keep the Law, he may break it at pleasure, and go on sinning because grace abounds.
The word duty is objected to as inconsistent with the liberty of forgiveness and sonship. Foolish and idle cavil! What is duty? It is the thing which is due by me to God, that line of conduct which I owe to God. And do these objectors mean to say that, because God has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, therefore we owe Him nothing, we have no duty now to Him? Has not redemption rather made us doubly debtors? We owe Him more than ever; we owe His holy Law more than ever; more honour, more obedience. Duty has been doubled, not cancelled, by our being delivered from the Law; and he who says that duty has ceased, because deliverance has come, knows nothing of duty, or the Law, or deliverance. The greatest of all debtors in the universe is the redeemed man, the man who can say, 'The life that I live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.' What a strange sense of gratitude these men must have, who suppose that because love has cancelled the penalties of the Law, and turned away its wrath, therefore reverence and obedience to that Law are no longer due! Is terror, in their estimation, the only foundation of duty, and when love comes in and terror ceases, does duty become a bondage?
'No,' they may say, 'but there is something higher than duty, there is privilege; it is that for which we contend.'
I answer, the privilege of what? Of obeying the Law? That they cannot away with; for they say they are no longer under Law, but under grace. What privilege, then? Of imitating Christ? Be it so. But how can we imitate Him whose life was one great Law fulfilling, without keeping the Law? What privilege, again we ask? Of doing the will of God? Be it so. And what is the Law but the revealed will of God? And has our free forgiveness released us from the privilege of conformity to the revealed will of God?
But what do they mean by thus rejecting the word 'duty', and contending for that of 'privilege'? Privilege is not something distinct from duty, nor at variance with duty, but it is duty and something more; it is duty influenced by higher motives, duty uncompelled by terror or suspense. In privilege the duty is all there; but there is something superadded, in shape of motive and relationship, which exalts and ennobles duty. It is my duty to obey government; it is my privilege to obey my parent. But in the latter case is duty gone, because privilege has come in? Or has not the loving relationship between parent and child only intensified the duty, by superadding the privilege, and sweetening the obedience by the mutual love? 'The love of Christ constraineth.' That is something more than both duty and privilege added.
Let men who look but at one side of a subject say what they will, this is the truth of God, that we are liberated from the Law just in order that we may keep the Law. We get the 'no condemnation', in order that 'the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us' (Rom. 8:4). We are delivered from 'the mind of the flesh', which is enmity to God, and not subject to His Law, on purpose that we may be subject to His Law (Rom. 8:7), that we may 'delight in the Law of God after the inward man' (Rom. 9:22), nay, that we may 'with the mind serve the Law of God' (Rom. 7:25),that we may be 'doers of the Law' (James 4:11). These objectors may speak of obedience to the Law as bondage, or of the Law itself being abolished to believers; here are the words of the Holy Ghost. The Law of God is just the Law of God, that very Law which David loved, and in which David's Son delighted; and it would be well for such men meekly and lovingly to learn what delighting in it, serving it, doing it are.
'Do we make void the Law by faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the Law' (Rom. 3:31), that is, we set it on a firmer basis than ever. That Law, 'holy, and just, and good,' thus doubly established, is now for us, not against us. Its aspect towards us is that of friendship and love, and so we have become 'the servants of righteousness' (Rom. 6:18), yielding our members servants to righteousness (Rom. 6:19). We are not men delivered from service, but delivered from one kind of service, and by that deliverance introduced into another, 'that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter' (Rom. 7:6), as 'the Lord's freemen' (1 Cor. 7:22), yet Christ's servants (1 Cor. 7:22). Thus obligation, duty, service, obedience still remain to the believing man though no longer associated with bondage and terror, but with freedom, gladness and love. The Law's former bearing on us is altered and, with that, the nature and spirit of the service are altered, but the service itself remains, and the Law which regulates that service is confirmed, not annulled.
Some will tell us here that it is not service they object to, but service regulated by law. But will they tell us what is to regulate service, if not law? Love, they say. This is a pure fallacy. Love is not a rule but a motive. Love does not tell me what to do; it tells me how to do it. Love constrains me to do the will of the beloved one; but to know what that will is I must go elsewhere. The Law of our God is the will of the beloved One, and were that expression of His will withdrawn, love would be utterly in the dark; it would not know what to do. It might say, 'I love my Master, and I love His service, and I want to do His bidding, but I must know the rules of His house, that I may know how to serve Him.' Love without law to guide its impulses would be the parent of will-worship and confusion, as surely as terror and self-righteousness, unless upon the supposition of an inward miraculous illumination, as an equivalent for law. Love goes to the Law to learn the divine will, and love delights in the Law, as the exponent of that will; and he who says that a believing man has nothing more to do with Law, save to shun it as an old enemy, might as well say that he has nothing to do with the will of God. For the divine Law and the divine will are substantially one, the former the outward manifestation of the latter. And it is 'the will of our Father which is in heaven' that we are to do (Matt. 7:2), or proving by loving obedience what is that 'good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God' (Rom. 12:2). Yes, it is 'he that doeth the will of God that abideth for ever' (1 John 2:17). It is to 'the will of God' that we are to live (1 Peter 4:2), 'made perfect in every good work to do His will' (Heb. 13:21), and 'fruitfulness in every good work' springs from being 'filled with the knowledge of His will' (Col. 1:9,10).
God's Way Of Holiness. Horatius Bonar. Evangelical Press 1979, 12 Wooler Street, Darlington, Co. Durham, DL1 1RQ, England. First Published 1864. Pages 68-88.
The Saint and the Law. Horatius Bonar.