Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton
Freedom from the Law…
Christ has freed us from the law: that is another part of our freedom by Christ. We are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter’ (Rom. 7. 6).’ I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’ (Gal. 2.19). ‘If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law” (Gal. 5. 18). We are not under the law, but under grace’ (Rom. 6. 14). This then is another part of our freedom by Christ: we are freed from the law. What this is we shall now consider.
We are freed from the ceremonial law, which was a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear (Acts 15. 10). Yet this is but a small part of our freedom.
I. Freedom from the law as a covenant.
We are freed from the moral law: freed from it, first, as a covenant, say our divines. It would save a great deal of trouble to say we are freed from the law as that from which life might be expected on the condition that due obedience was rendered. But take it, as do many, in the sense that we are freed from the law as a covenant.
The law may be considered as a rule and as a covenant. When we read that the law is still in force, it is to be understood of the law as a rule, not as a covenant. Again, when we read that the law is abrogated, and that we are freed from the law, it is to be understood of the law as a covenant, not as a rule. But yet in all this it is not yet expressed what covenant it is. The apostle calls it the old covenant (Heb. 8. 13) under which they were, and from which we are freed. It could never give us life; it cannot now inflict death on us. We are dead to it, and it is now dead to us. We read in Romans 7. 1-6: The law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth. For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her ￼husband as long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.’ Among other interpretations which might be set down, I shall suggest this one only: the law is your husband; you are under subjection to it as you are looking by your subjection to be justified and saved. And until the law as a covenant or husband is dead to you, and you to it (for the apostle makes them both one), you will never look for righteousness and life in another. Until the law kills you, and you are dead to it, you will look for righteousness and life through obedience to it. But when once the law has killed you, and showed you it is dead to you and can do you no good, so that you can expect nothing from it, then will you look for life by Christ alone.
Such was the apostle’s own case. He was once one that expected (as well he might) as much good from the law and his obedience to it as any man. Says he: ‘I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death’ (Rom. 7. 9, 10). That is to say, I found that instead of saving me it killed me; it gave death instead of life. And again he says: ‘For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me’: that is, the law came in with an enlightening, convincing, accusing, condemning power, and laid me on my back, and did clean kill me. I saw I could expect nothing there, nothing from it as a covenant.
As for the apostle, therefore, the law was now dead to him, and could afford him nothing; likewise was he also dead to the law. He expected nothing from it afterwards. As he tells us later: ’I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God’ (Gal. 2. 19): that is, the law having now slain me, I am forever dead to it. I expect nothing from it as a covenant – all my life is in Christ. I look now to live by another. I through the law, that is, through the convincing, enlightening, condemning, killing power of it, see that it is dead to me and I ￼to it. I can expect nothing from it, that is, as a covenant of life and death. It is dead to me arid I to it, and I look for all from Christ.
Thus are we freed from the law as a covenant. I shall speak more largely of this in the answers to the queries later. Meanwhile we come to deal with other branches of our Christian freedom from the law, the next in order being our freedom from the maledictions and curses of the law.
II. Freedom from the curses of the law
The law requires two things of them who are under it: either they must obey the precepts, which is impossible with the degree of strictness and rigidness which the law requires (Gal. 3); or they must bear the penalties of the law, which are insupportable. Either they must obey the commands or suffer the curses of the law, either do God’s will or suffer God’s will in forfeitures of soul and body. In this sad dilemma are those who are under the law as a covenant: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already … the wrath of God abideth on him’ (John 3. 18, 36). Unbelievers must needs be under the curses of the law.
But believers are freed from the law as a covenant of life and death. Therefore they are free from the curses and maledictions of the law. The law has nothing to do with them as touching their eternal state and condition. Hence the words of the apostle: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8. 1), that is, to them who are not under the law. Were you indeed under the law as a covenant, condemnation would meet you, nothing else but condemnation. Though the law is not able to save you, yet it is able to condemn you. Unable to bestow the blessing, yet it can pour the curse upon you: ‘As many as are of the works of the law’ – that is, those under the law as a covenant, and that look for life and justification thereby -‘are under the curse’ (Gal. 3. 10). And he continues with the argument:, For it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them’. It is not possible for a man to obey in all things without failing in any; hence he is left under the curse. So that I say, if you are under the law, the law is able to condemn you, though it cannot save you (Rom. 8. 3).
But Christ has brought freedom to those in Him, freedom from the curses of the law, and that by bearing this curse for them, as it is written: ‘Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3. 13). The apostle not only says that Christ bore the curse for us, but that He was made a curse for us, for: ‘It is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’. This is another of the benefits which flow from Christ’s work. The believer is freed from the law as a covenant, and so from the curse of the law. The law cannot pass sentence upon him, it cannot condemn him. He is not to be tried in that court. Christ has satisfied the law to the full.
This privilege belongs not only to the present; it lasts forever. Even though the believer falls into sin, yet the law cannot pronounce the curse on him because, as he is not under the law, he is freed from the curse of the law. A man is never afraid of that obligation which is rendered void, the seals torn off, the writing defaced, nay, not only crossed out and cancelled but torn in pieces. It is thus that God has dealt with the law in the case of believers, as touching its power to curse them, to sentence them and condemn. The apostle tells us: Tie hath blotted out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out-of-the-way, nailing it to his cross’ (Col. 2. 14). By ‘the handwriting of ordinances’ I conceive is not meant the ceremonial law alone, but the moral law also, so far as it was against us and bound us over to the curse.
We can here observe the successive steps which the apostle sets out. ‘He hath blotted out.’ But lest this should not be enough, lest any should say. It is not so blotted out, but it may be read, the apostle adds. He took it out-of-the-way. But lest even this should not be enough, lest some should say. Yea, but it will be found again and set against us afresh, he adds, ‘nailing it to his cross.’ He has torn it to pieces, never to be put together again forever. It can never be that the law has a claim against believers on account of their sins. Indeed it brings in black bills, strong indictments against such as are under it; but it shall never have anything to produce against those who have an interest in Christ. I may say of believers, as the apostle does in another sense, ‘Against such there is no law’. As there is no law to justify them, so there is no law to condemn them.