In the Second London Confession, each chapter begins with a foundational, introductory statement, which forms the opening paragraph. If we fail to grasp the teaching of this summary, we will misunderstand the remainder. As we focus on chapter 19, Of The Law Of God, we will therefore focus our attention primarily on paragraph 1.
It begins with the statement: God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart.
The first thing to grasp about this law is that it was for Adam’s good, God’s good gift in kindness to him. Due to Paul’s later teaching on the law in Romans, many Christians have a negative perspective on the law of God, as if it is always against us and harming us – but that is not the case at all. God gave Adam a law written upon his heart for his benefit. Possessing such a law was not Adam’s right or prerogative. However, a benevolent and kind condescension on the part of God towards man is that he did not write this law on the hearts of the fish, birds, or animals; it only belonged to Adam out of the goodness and lovingkindness of God. This law separates us from the animal kingdom and makes us moral creatures in essence. It enables us to commune with God and distinguishes us as those made in God’s image.
Law lies at the heart of our humanity from the beginning. It did not come into being at Mount Sinai but was in the garden; it is paradisal, utopian, glorious, heavenly, even divine. Law will not cease in heaven, but instead, God will establish it. God’s law is not opposed to his love, being the very manifestation of his character, made known from the very beginning. It is through obedience to the law that we can experience, express and share in the character of the divine. Law is God’s gift to Adam for his good.
The law in the garden had two aspects. First, the law of universal obedience written in his heart, which is the moral law, later identified with the ten commandments (see paragraph 2). Although marred and distorted by the fall, this law is still written upon the hearts of men today to some degree, as Paul makes clear in Romans 2:14-15. What our forefathers are at pains to establish is that the moral law written upon the heart of Adam is universal. It applies in the same way throughout history, in all places and all cultures – it has not changed, does not change and can never change! The moral law, by definition, cannot change in time and eternity since it is the expression of an immutable God’s character.
The second aspect of law in the garden is the particular precept of not eating the fruit. This aspect is distinct from the law written upon the heart, not immediately evident in his heart, but added externally by divine decree.1 In other words, the non-eating of the tree’s fruit was not evident to Adam internally through conscience or anything within him; it was only evident based on the external commandment or precept of God. Thus, the Confession distinguishes between the law written upon the heart that makes us human and the law given by the decree of God that brings us into covenant communion with him. As Richard Barcellos clarifies in his book, Getting the Garden Right:
“Positive” refers to that which is in addition to nature or creation. The law written on the heart of man at creation and the obedience owed to the Creator is natural; the positive law, being in addition to nature, brings man formally into covenant with his Creator. (p46n17)
He goes on to quote from Nehemiah Coxe as follows:
It pleased the Sovereign Majesty of Heaven to add to this eternal law [i.e., the internal law written on man’s heart via the creative act of God] a positive precept in which he charged man not to eat of the fruit of one tree in the midst of the garden of Eden… In this lies the mystery of the first transaction of God with man and of his relationship to God founded on it. This did not result immediately from the law of his creation but from the disposition of a covenant according to the free, sovereign, and wise counsel of God’s will. (p47)
Thus, there are two aspects to the law of God in the garden, the first being essential to our humanity (the universal moral law written upon the heart). The second aspect is integral to our covenant relationship with God (the external positive precept concerning the tree’s fruit).
Since no aspect of God’s moral law can ever change, our present inability to keep that law does not remove our responsibility or our culpability (see paragraph 5). As our forefathers state so clearly, speaking of Adam, God bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. Here the concept of federal headship becomes critical. The same Adam who was obliged to keep the law for all humanity broke it and thereby disabled all humanity from keeping the law perfectly. It can be a depressing truth! Yet, the practical outworking of federal headship, which is so much against us in Adam, makes possible the glorious deliverance from sin’s consequences and power. This deliverance happens in the change of federal head when we put our faith in Christ (see Romans 5:12-21). Suppose we reject the federal headship of Adam? In that case, we lose the possibility of deliverance in Christ, which means we lose the gospel altogether.
All this matters so much because the law carries a promise and a threat. God promised life upon the fulfilment of the law and threatened death upon the breach of it. This point is abundantly clear in Genesis 2:15-17, where the breach of the positive law concerning the tree leads to the covenant curse of death. It is interesting to note in Genesis 3 that when Adam took and ate the fruit, there is no mention that he had YET broken any of the moral laws written on his heart. Yet, the breach of positive law unleashes the covenant curse and implies violating ALL the moral law. As James states, whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10). The point, of course, is not that this may be possible (keeping almost all and breaking just one), but that the breach of one law is a denial of them all since they are all connected in God. This connection is especially evident in the positive law of the tree and the breach of the covenant of works in Adam.
Because we have broken covenant in Adam, we have no way of enjoying covenant communion with God unless it is by faith in Christ. He keeps the covenant of redemption and pays the price for our breach of the covenant of works. Paul explains this using the language of law and covenant in Galatians 3:10-14. This payment is why law-breakers can only be saved from the curse of covenant breach by faith in Christ, the great law-keeper, curse-consumer and covenant-keeper. Truly Christ is the fulfilment of the law (see paragraph 3).
Based on this summary statement in paragraph 1, we need to reassess our view of the law. Law is good, holy, necessary, glorious, blessed, positive, gracious, pure, paradisal, utopian, righteous, just, loving and divine.
This explains why the rest of the chapter presents such a positive view of the law. It is our rule of life informing [us] of the will of God (paragraph 6), the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully which is the will of God, revealed in the law (paragraph 7).
Additionally, viewing the law as something paradisal and Edenic should influence our gathered worship. Having corporate worship regulated by God’s word in all that we do will not be burdensome or restrictive but truly liberating. Our gatherings will be places where heaven and earth come together, not because we are free from a law that confines us, but because we are free from the curse of the law. Thus, we will become law-lovers and law-keepers by grace. Consequently, God’s word, which Adam despised in the garden, but Christ established on the cross, will direct everything. Each time we gather, we will renew covenant with God and one another in Christ. Moreover, we will restore his law to its rightful place in our hearts and lives, rejoicing to become law-lovers and law-keepers by the power of the Spirit. Amen!
Saturday 28th August 2021
1 This distinction appears in the following paragraphs: 2 LCF 2.2- “To him is due from Angels and men, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience as Creatures they owe unto the Creator, and whatever he is further pleased to require of them.”; 2 LCF 2.4-3- “…having the Law of God written in their hearts…besides the law written in their hearts, they received a command not to eat…”; 2 LCF6.1- “did wilfully transgress the Law of their Creation, and the command given unto them…”