PART 6. The Law Is Not Incompatible with Grace!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton

The next part of our query will prove at once to vindicate the law…

…and overthrow the many erroneous opinions that are in conflict with it. Our proposition is that there was no end or use for which the law was given which was incompatible with grace and which was not serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace. This I hope to make good, and then it will be seen how the Gospel is in the law; also that the law is not that which some men make it out to be, that is, opposite to the Gospel and to grace; for I shall show that it may run along with grace, and be serviceable to the advancement of grace.

In the prosecution of this matter we shall follow this method:

(1) We shall first explain the chief and principal ends for which the law was promulgated or given;
(2) We shall explain how those ends are consistent with grace and serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace; and therefore that they may continue under grace;
(3) We shall answer such objections as may be raised against this doctrine;
(4) We shall sum up the matter in few words and make a brief application.

Seven Purposes For Which The Law Was Given

There are two main ends to be observed, one was political, the other theological or divine. The political use is hinted at by the apostle in 1 Tim. 1. 8-9: ‘Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for man-slayers’, etc; that is, it was made for them in such fashion that, if it were not their rule, it should be their punishment. Such is the political use of the law.

Its second great purpose was divine, or theological; and this is two-fold, as seen in those who are not justified, and as seen in those who are justified. In those who are not justified, the law first reveals their sin to them, humbles them for sin, and so drives them to Christ. In those who are justified it acts first of all as a doctrine to drive them to duty, next as a glass to reveal their defects so that they may be kept humble and may fly to Christ, next as a restrainer and corrector of sin, and then again as a reprover of sin (2 Tim. 3. 16).

The principal and chief ends for which the law was promulgated:

(1) To restrain transgression; to set bounds and banks to the cursed nature of fallen man, not only by revealing sin, but also the wrath of God against sin: ‘tribulation and anguish to every soul of man that doeth evil’ (Rom. 2. 8-9). We read in Gal. 3. 19 that ‘the law was added because of transgressions’. This Scripture Jerome and Chrysostom understand to refer to the restraining of transgressions. The law may restrain sinners, though it cannot renew sinners; it may hold in and bridle sin, though it cannot heal and cure it. Before God gave the law, sin had a more perfect reign. By reason of the darkness of men’s understandings, and the security of their hearts (Rom. 5. 13-14), death reigned, and so sin, from Adam to Moses, as the apostle shows. Therefore God might give them the law to show them, not only that they sinned in such courses as they walked in, but to show them also that heavy wrath of God which they drew upon themselves by their sin, the effect of which might be to restrain them in their course of sin, and to hinder sin so that it could not now have so complete and uncontrolled a dominion and reign in the soul. Though it continued to reign – for restraining grace does not conquer sin, though it suppresses and keeps it down – yet it could not have full dominion. The sinners would be in fear, and that would serve to restrain them in their ways of sin, though not to renew them.

If God had not given a severe and terrible law against sin, such is the vileness of men’s spirits, they would have acted all villainy. The Devil would not only have reigned, but raged in all the sons of men. And therefore, as we do with wild beasts, wolves, lions, and others, binding them in chains that they may be kept from doing the mischief which their inclinations carry them to, so the law chains up the wickedness of the hearts of men, that they dare not fulfil those lustful inclinations which are found in their hearts.

Blessed be God that there is this fear upon the spirits of wicked men; otherwise we could not well live in the world. One man would be a devil to another. Every man would be a Cain to his brother, an Amnon to his sister, an Absalom to his father, a Saul to himself, a Judas to his master; for what one man does, all men would do, were it not for a restraint upon their spirits. Naturally, sin is oblivious to sense and shame too. There would be no stay, no bank, no bounds to sin, without the law. Therefore we have cause to bless God that he has given a law to restrain transgression, that if men will not be so good as they should be, yet, being restrained, they become not so bad as they would be. Were it not for this, and for the awe that God has cast upon the spirits of wicked men by means of it, there would be no safety.

The fields, the streets, your houses, your beds, would have been filled with blood, uncleanness, murder, rapes, incests, adulteries, and all manner of mischief. If there were no law, saying, Thou shalt do no murder’, men would make every rising of passion a stab. If there were no law saying, ‘Thou shalt not steal’, men would think theft, deception, cheating, and oppression good policy, and the best life would be ‘ex rapto vivere’ (living by robbery), living by other men’s sweat. If there were no law saying, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, men would defile their neighbour’s bed, and commit all manner of wickedness.

For these reasons God has given a law to set bounds and banks to defend us against the incursions and breaches that sin would make upon us. He that sets bounds and banks to the raging sea, which otherwise would overflow the land, also sets bounds and banks to men’s sins and sinful affections. It is no less wonder that the deluge of lust and corruption in men does not break forth to the overflowing of all banks, than that the sea does not break forth upon us, but He that sets bounds to the one, also binds and restrains the other. This, then, is one purpose God has in giving the law.

(2) Secondly, the law was given to uncover and reveal transgression, and this, I conceive, is the true meaning of the apostle’s words in Gal. 3. 19: The law was added because of transgressions’, that is, chiefly, that the law might be ‘instar speculi’ (like a glass) to reveal and discover sin. Therefore says the apostle: ‘Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet’ (Rom. 7. 7). The apostle seems to say the same thing in Rom. 5. 20: The law entered that the offence might abound’, that is, that sin might appear exceedingly sinful. And this is another end God had in giving the law, to open, to reveal, to convince the soul of sin. And this was with reference to the promise of grace and mercy.

It was for this reason God gave the law after the promise, to reveal sin and to awaken the conscience, and to drive men out of themselves, and bring them over to Christ. Before He gave the law, men were secure and careless. They did not esteem the promise and the salvation which the promise offered. They did not see the necessity for it. Therefore God gave the law to discover sin, and by that to reveal our need of the promise, that in this way the promise and grace might be advanced. In giving the law, God did but pursue the purpose of mercy He had in giving the promise, by taking a course to make His Gospel worthy of all acceptation, that when we were convinced of sin, we might look out for and prize a Saviour; when we were stung by the fiery serpent, we might look up to the brazen serpent – in all this, I say, God was but pursuing the design of His own grace.

(3) Thirdly, the law was given to humble men for sin, and this is a fruit of the former, as we have it in Rom. 3. 19-20:, Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God’, that is, sensible of their own guilt. We were no less guilty before, but now by the law men are made sensible of their own guilt, for, says the apostle, By the law is the knowledge of sin’. It is also written, Where there is no law, there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4. 15), that is to say, no transgression appears where there is no law to discover it, or no transgression is charged upon the conscience where there is no law to discover sin. This seems to be excellently set out in Rom. 5. 13-14:, Until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses’, etc. The meaning is, there was no less sin, or guilt and death, before the law than after; sin reigned, and death reigned over all the sons of men, and it reigned the more because it reigned in the dark; there was no law given by which sin was discovered and revealed to them, and to help to charge sin upon them. And so the apostle says, ‘Sin is not imputed when there is no law’, that is, though sin and death did reign, yet men were secure and careless, and having no law to discover sin to them, they did not charge their own hearts with sin; they did not impute sin to themselves. Therefore God renewed the law, promulgating it from Sinai, to discover and impute sin to men, to charge them with sin. I will explain the matter by means of a similitude.

Suppose a debtor to owe a great sum of money to a creditor, and the creditor out of mere mercy promises to forgive him all the debt, yet afterwards sends forth officers to arrest and lay hold of him; it would be concluded that the man was acting contrary to himself and had repented of his former promises, when actually he had not changed at all and had repented of nothing, his only desire being that his mercy might be the more conspicuous and evident in the thoughts of the debtor; therefore he allows him to be brought to these extremities that he may become the more thankful. The case is the same between God and us. We are deeply indebted to God. To Abraham, and to us in him, God made a promise of mercy, but men were careless and secure, and though they were guilty of sin, and therefore liable to death, yet, being without a law to evidence sin and death to their consciences, they could not see the greatness of the mercy which granted them a pardon. Thereupon God published by Moses a severe and terrible law, to reveal sin, to accuse men of sin, and to condemn men for sin. Not that God intended that the sentence should take hold of the sinner, for then God would be acting contrary to Himself, but in order that thereby guilt might be made evident, men’s mouths stopped, and that they might fall down and acknowledge the greatness and riches of free grace and mercy. Thus it was in Job, as is shown fully in Job 33. 16-31. And again: ‘The Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe’ (Gal. 3. 22).

(4) The law was given for a direction of life, a rule of walking to believers. This I showed at large formerly: that though the law as a burden to the conscience is removed, yet it is not removed for purposes of obedience. If it were needful, I might pursue this matter further, to strengthen believers. The moral law is certainly perpetual and immutable. It is an everlasting truth that the creature is bound to worship and obey his Creator, and so much the more bound as he has received great benefits. This is a truth which is as clear as the light, and, surely, to be free from obedience is to be servants unto sin, as already showed.

(5) The law was given, not only as a director of duties, but as a glass to reveal the imperfections in our performance of duties, that so we might be kept humble and vile in our own eyes, and that we might live more out of ourselves and more in Christ. It was given so that we might fly to Christ upon all occasions, as a defiled man flees to the fountain to be washed and cleansed, for in Christ there is mercy to cover, and grace to cure all our infirmities.

(6) The law was also given as a reprover and corrector for sin, even to the saints; I say, to discipline them, and to reprove them for sin. ‘All Scripture… is profitable for doctrine and reproof (2 Tim. 3. 16), and this part of Scripture especially for these ends, to be ‘instar verberis’ (like a scourge), to correct and chastise wantonness, and correct a believer for sin. As says Calvin: ‘The law by teaching, warning, admonishing, correcting, prepares us for every good work. ‘

(7) The law was given to be a spur to quicken us to duties. The flesh is sluggish, and the law is ‘instar stimuli’ (of the nature of a spur or goad) to quicken us in the ways of obedience. Thus much, then, for the ends for which the law was given.

Five Reasons Why the Law Is Not Incompatible With Grace

I am next to show that there was no end for which the law was given which was incompatible with grace and which might not be serviceable to the covenant of grace; therefore the law may remain in force to be serviceable under grace.

1. The law was given to restrain transgressions, and it is of the same use now. It restrains wicked men from sin, though it has no power to renew and thus change them. Fear may restrain, though it cannot renew men. Fear may suppress sin, though faith alone conquers and overcomes sin. The law may chain up the wolf, but it is the Gospel that changes the wolfish nature; the one stops the streams, the other heals the fountain; the one restrains the practices, the other renews the principles. And who does not see that this is the ordinary fruit of the law of God now? It was the speech of a holy man that Cain, in our days, has not killed his brother Abel; that our Amnon has not defiled his sister Tamar, that our Reuben has not gone up to his father’s couch; that our Absalom has not conspired the death of his father. It is because God restrains them. For this reason was the law added, and for this purpose it continues, to restrain wicked men, to set bounds and banks to the rage of men’s lustful hearts.

2. Secondly, the law was given to discover and reveal transgressions, and this is not inconsistent with grace; nay, it serves to advance it, and it still continues for this end, even to discover and reveal transgressions in believers, to make sin and misery appear, and by that means to awaken the conscience to fly to Christ. Hence the apostle says: ‘Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made’ (Gal. 3. 19). Some take ‘seed’ here to mean the saints of God, and make this the meaning, that so long as there are any to be brought to Christ, so long will there be the use of the law to reveal sin both in the unregenerate, that they may fly to Christ, and in the renewed, that they may learn to direct all their faith, hope, and expectation on Christ still. Whether this interpretation holds good or not, yet this is firm truth, that the law remains with us for this purpose, to reveal sin to us., Where no law is, there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4. 15), that is, no sin is discovered; where there is no law to perform this work, sin does not appear. But ‘the law entered that the offence might abound’ (Rom. 5. 20), not only to bring sin to light, but to make it appear exceedingly sinful. The words of the apostle put this beyond all question, I had not known sin but by the law’ (Rom. 7. 7). The law was the revealer of sin to him. He says in verse 13: ‘But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. ‘

It is clear, therefore, that the law still retains this use; it discovers sin in us. T had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet (Rom. 7. 7); and similarly with all sins. This it does, after grace has come, as well as before grace; that which was sin before is sin now; grace does not alter the nature of sin, though it does set the believer free from the fruits and condemnation of it.

3. Thirdly, the law was added to humble us for sin. This also agrees with grace, and its usefulness in this respect still remains, though some would deny it. Sin is the great reason for humiliation, and that which is a glass to discover sin, must needs upon the discovery of it, humble the soul for it. In respect of this, read Rom. 3. 19-20 and Gal. 3. 22. In this regard it may be said that the law is not against the promises of God (Gal. 3. 21), ‘but the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe’. The apostle says that the law is not against the promises. The affirmative interrogations which he employs are the strongest negations. And he shows why the law is not against the promise, because it is subservient to the promise.

‘The law serves the cause of the Gospel’, says Chamier, because, convicting men of their works of condemnation, it prepares them to seek the grace which is found in the Gospel.‘

The law concludes men under sin; it humbles them, convinces them of sin, that so the promise might be given. Hence it is said in Gal. 3. 24: ‘Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.’ He speaks of the same law as is mentioned earlier in the chapter, which seems (by verse 22) to be the moral law. And how is this the schoolmaster, but by lashing us, humbling us for sin, and driving us to Christ? Or if it is argued that it was the ceremonial law which is meant by the schoolmaster, yet the moral law was the rod. The master does little without the rod, nor the ceremonial law without the moral law. It is the moral law which drives men to the ceremonial law, which was in former days Christ in figure, as it does now drive us to Christ in truth.

Thus the law remains, an instrument in the hand of the Spirit, to discover sin to us, and to humble us for it, that so we might come over to Christ. If the avenger of blood had not followed the murderer, he would never have gone to the city of refuge, and if God does not humble us we would never go to Christ. An offer of Christ and of pardon before men are humbled is unavailing. Men do by this as those did who were invited to the supper; they made light of it. Just so, men make light of a pardon, and of the blood of Christ. But when once God has discovered sin to them; when the law has come to them, as it came to Paul, with an accusing, convincing, humbling, killing power. Oh then, Christ is precious, the promise is precious, the blood of Christ is precious. I conceive that this was the main end for which God gave the law after the promise, to cause sinners to value the promise. Men would not have known the sweetness of Christ if they had not first tasted of the bitterness of sin.

4. Fourthly, the law was given for a direction of life, and so it does still remain and serve, as I have already fully proved. Though we are sons, and are willing to obey, yet we must learn how to direct this willing disposition. I say, though we are sons and are guided by the Spirit, and though in our love to God we are ready for all service, yet we need the Word of God to be a light unto our feet and a lantern to our paths. God has made us sons and he has given us an inheritance; and now He gives us a rule to walk by, that we may express our thankfulness to Him for His rich mercy. Our obedience is not the cause and ground of His act of adoption, but the expression of our thankfulness and of the duty we owe to God who has adopted us. God therefore did not give the rule, and afterwards the promise; but first the promise, and then the rule, to show that our obedience was not the ground of our acceptance, but a declaration of our gratitude to the God who has accepted us. Thus it remains our rule of walking, yet in Christ. It must be our rule in Christ; we must obey by the strength of Christ. Obedience begins from Christ, not that we work for an interest in Christ, but we get such an interest that we may work.

The law, say some of our divines, was given with evangelical purposes, that is, with purposes subservient to the Gospel. And I say it must be obeyed from evangelical principles, principles rooted in Christ. The law shows us what is good, but gives us no power to do it. It is ‘lex spiritualis’ (a spiritual law), holy, just and good; but it is not ‘lex spiritus’ (the law of the spirit); this is alone in Christ, as the apostle speaks in Rom. 8. 2: ‘The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’. The law shows us what is holy, but cannot make us holy, as long as it is a rule outside of us. It cannot make us holy, for that necessitates a rule within us.

The law is a principle within us first, and then a pattern without us. We are not made holy by imitation, but by implantation. But that principle found within sends us to the law as to the rule without, after which we are to conform our lives without. When the law is once our principle, it then becomes our pattern.

5. Fifthly, the law was given us as a glass to reveal our imperfections in duty, and for this purpose the law remains with us. Through it we perceive the imperfections of our duties, our graces, and our obedience. By this means we are kept close to Christ and kept humble. The law takes us away from reliance on ourselves and casts us upon Christ and the promises.

Thus have we seen God’s purposes and ends in introducing the law; we have also seen how these ends are not only consistent with grace, but also serviceable to the advancement of the work of grace. 

PART 5. The Law Remains as a Rule of Walking for the People of God

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton


The law, in the substance of it, remains in force as a rule of walking to the people of God.

By the law is meant the moral law comprehended in the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. By the substance of it, I mean the things commanded or forbidden which are morally good or evil, and cannot be changed or abolished. For what is the law in the substance of it but that law of nature engraven in the heart of man in innocency? And what was that but the express idea or representation of God’s own image, even a beam of His own holiness, which cannot be changed or abolished any more than the nature of good and evil can be changed? And that the law thus considered remains as an unchangeable rule of walking to believers I am now to prove.

The Testimony of the New Testament

We read in Matt. 5:17-18: Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfil; for verily I say unto you. Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ This seems to be very full and very plain for the continuance of and obligation to the law. And yet there are corrupt readings of these words, and as sinister interpretations. Some would have it to be understood that Christ would not abolish the law until He had fulfilled it. Indeed, He was ‘the end of the law’, as the apostle speaks in Rom. 10:4, but we must understand this to mean ‘the perfecting and consummating end’, not ‘the destroying and abolishing end’ of the law. In Christ the law had an end of perfection and consummation, not of destruction and abolition. It is to be noted that in this verse Christ gives a stricter exposition of the law, and vindicates it from the corrupt glosses of the Pharisees, which surely speaks the continuance, not the abrogation, of the law. And agreeable to this is the language of the apostle in Rom. 3:31: ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.’ How? Not for justification, for in this respect faith makes it void, but as a rule of obedience, and in this respect faith establishes it. Further, the apostle tells us ‘that the law is holy, just and good’ and that ‘he delighted in the law of God after the inward man’ and also that ‘with the mind I myself serve the law of God’ (Rom. 7:12, 22, 25). With this agrees James 2:8: ‘If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture… ye do well’. What law this was, he shows in the eleventh verse to be the Decalogue or moral law. Likewise: ‘He that saith I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar’ (1 John 2: 4); also: ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3: 4).

Therefore, since Christ, who is the best expounder of the law, so largely strengthens and confirms the law (witness the Sermon on the Mount, and also Mark 10:19); since faith does not supplant, but strengthens the law; since the apostle so often presses and urges the duties commanded in the law; since Paul acknowledges that he served the law of God in his mind, and that he was under the law to Christ (1 Cor. 9:21); I may rightly conclude that the law, for the substance of it, still remains a rule of life to the people of God.

But I would add further arguments, beginning with this: If ever the law was a rule of walking, then it is still a rule of walking: this is clear. Either it is still such a rule, or we must shew the time when, as such, it was abrogated. But no such time can be shewed. If it is said that it was abrogated in the time of the Gospel by Christ and His apostles, we reply that no such thing can be proved. It was not so abrogated at that time. If Christ and His apostles commanded the same things which the law required, and forbade and condemned the same things which the law forbade and condemned, then they did not abrogate it but strengthened and confirmed it. And this is what they did: see Matt. 5:19: ‘He that breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but he that shall teach and observe them shall be called (not legal preachers, but) great in the kingdom of heaven.’

Therefore, in that Christ Himself expounded and established the law, by His word and authority, as shown in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew, it shows us the continuance of it; for had it been His will utterly to abolish it, He would rather have declared against it, or have suffered it to die of itself; and would not have vindicated it, and restored it to its purity from the glosses of the Pharisees. All this clearly speaks to us of the continuance of, and obligation to, the law.

As with Christ, so with the apostles: instead of abolishing, in their doctrine they establish it, frequently urging the duties of the law upon the churches and people of God: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves’ (Rom. 12. 19). Why? ‘For it is written. Vengeance is mine’. Likewise, in Rom. 13. 8-10. there the apostle repeats the commandments of the second table, not to repeal or reverse any of them, but to confirm them as a rule of walking for the saints. He comprehends them all in this: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, for love is the fulfilling of the law.’ As Beza writes: Love is not perfected except as the fulfilling of the law.’ See also 1 Thess. 4. 3, 4, 7: ‘This is the will of God… that ye should abstain from fornication… that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter; because that the Lord is the avenger of all such.’ See also Eph. 6. 1: ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord.’ The apostle here presses this duty from the authority of the precept, and persuades to it from the graciousness of the promise, ‘for this is the first commandment with promise’ – a conditional promise (as Beza says), as are all such promises as are found in the law. As full and plain are the words of the apostle in Rom. 3. 31: ‘Do we abrogate the law? No, we establish it by faith.’ Though it carries another sense, it bears this sense also, that though we disown the law in respect of justification, yet we establish it as a rule of Christian living.

Again, in Matt. 3. 10 we read: ‘the axe is laid to the root of the tree; every tree which brings not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire’; and in Matt. 5. 22: Whosoever shall say to his brother; Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.’ In these and sundry other places, so some learned and holy divines tell us, the comminations and threatenings of the New Testament are not of the nature of the Gospel, but are confirmation of the law, and plainly demonstrate to us the continuance of the law under grace. Thus Daniel Chamier distinguishes in the Gospel between the doctrine of the Gospel and the grace of the Gospel, between the preaching of the Gospel by Christ and the apostles and the law of faith or spirit of life in Christ. The preaching or doctrine of the Gospel, he tells us, contains two things, first the promise of grace, and second, the confirmation of the law. And he shows that all those commutations and threats which we read in the Scriptures of the New Testament in no way belong to the nature of the Gospel properly so called, but are the confirmation of the law, and declare the continuation of it now under the Gospel as an exact rule to direct Christians in their walk and obedience.

Five Proofs of the Binding Nature of the Law

Before I proceed to the rest of the arguments, I will mention what objectors say to this. Some of them say that, though the law is a rule, yet it is a rule which we are free to obey or not to obey: it is not a binding rule. There are various opinions about this. Some say that it binds us no further than as we are creatures. I answer: if so, why then are they not bound? I hope they are creatures as well as Christians. Others say that it binds the flesh but not the spirit; it binds the unregenerate part, but not the regenerate part of a man, to obedience, for the regenerate part is free. I answer: here is a dangerous gap, open to all licentiousness; witness the opinions of David George and the Valentinians. Others say that the law is not a binding rule at all and that believers are no more under the law than England is under the laws of Spain; that Christians are no more bound to the obedience of the law than men are bound to the obedience of the laws of another commonwealth than their own; to speak otherwise, they say, overthrows Christian liberty.

Now if this be true, it strikes down all. If it be a rule, but not a binding rule, a rule binding to obedience, it will be of small use. We will end this cavil, therefore, before we go any further, and show that the law is indeed a binding rule, and that it binds Christians, not as men, but as Christians. I will give five arguments in proof of this:

  1. That which being observed, causes the consciences of regenerate men to excuse them, and which, not being observed, causes their consciences to accuse them, is binding on the conscience. But it is the law of God which thus causes the consciences of the regenerate to excuse or else to accuse them. Therefore the law of God is that which is binding on the Christian conscience.
  2. That which has power to say to the conscience of the regenerate Christian, This ought to be done, and that ought not to be done, is binding on the conscience. But the law of God has this power. Therefore, though it cannot say that this or that ought not to be done on pain of damnation, or on pain of the curse; or this or that ought to be done in reference to justification or the meriting of life; yet it shows it ought to be done as good and pleasing to God, and that this or that ought not to be done, as things displeasing to Him.
  3. The authority by which the apostles urged Christians to duty binds the conscience to obedience. But the apostles used the authority of the law to provoke Christians to their duty (as in Eph. 6. 1-2). Therefore the law is the rule by which Christians must walk.
  4. If the law of God does not bind the conscience of a regenerate man to obedience, then whatever he does which is commanded in the law, he does more than his duty; and so either merits or sins, being guilty of will-worship. But in obedience to the law he is not guilty of will-worship, neither does he merit: ‘When ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do’ (Luke 17. 10).
  5. Either the law binds the conscience of Christians to obedience, or Christians do not sin in the breach of the law. But they sin in the breach of it, as says 1 John 3. 4: ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’. Therefore, the transgression of the law is sin. Or look at it thus: If Christians are bound not to sin, then they are bound to keep the law. But Christians are bound not to sin; therefore they are bound to keep the law. I know that objectors will agree that Christians are bound not to sin, but that they will deny that they are bound to obey the law; but I will prove my point in this way: If he that breaks the law sins, then Christians are bound to keep the law if they are not to sin. But he that breaks the law does sin, as says the apostle: ‘Sin is the transgression of the law’ (1 John 3. 4), and ‘Where no law is there is no transgression’ (Rom. 4. 15). Therefore Christians are bound, if they would avoid sin, to obey the law.

And now, being driven against the wall, the objectors have no way to maintain the former error but by another. They tell us plainly that believers do not sin: ‘Be in Christ and sin if you can. ‘But the apostle tells them that they sin in saying this: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1. 8). Nay, We ‘make him (that is, God) a liar’ (v. 10). ‘If we say’, includes the apostles as well as others, for ‘there is no man who sins not’ (1Kings 846). ‘In many things we offend all’ (James 3. 2).

Five Further Arguments for Obedience to the Law

But if this will not silence them, then they say that God sees no sin in those who are believers. But what is this? It is one thing to sin, and another for God not to see sin. Indeed, He sees not sin, either to condemn believers for sin, or to approve and allow of sin in believers. He sees not sin, that is, He will not see sin to impute it to us when we are in Christ. But if this does not convince the objectors, then they say: Though believers sin, and though God sees it, for He sees all and brings all into judgment, yet God is not displeased with the sins of believers. I reply:

  1. Certainly, perfect good must forever hate that which is perfect evil, and the nearer it is to Him, the more God hates it. In a wicked man, God hates both sin and sinner, but in a believer. He hates the sin, though He pities and loves the poor sinner. He is displeased with sin, though He pardons sin through Christ. But we will follow this no longer. Thus much must suffice for the proof and vindication of the first argument.
  2. If the same sins are condemned and forbidden after Christ came as were forbidden before He came, then the law, in respect of its being a rule of obedience, is still in force; but the same sins are thus condemned and forbidden. That which was sin then is sin now. I speak of sin against the moral law. Therefore the moral law is still in force to believers as their rule of obedience.
  3. If the same duties which were enjoined in the law are commanded believers under the Gospel, then the law still remains as a rule of direction and obedience. But the same duties are commanded under the Gospel as were enjoined under the law, as I have already shown (e.g. Rom. 13. 9-10 and Eph. 6. 1). Therefore the law still remains as a rule of obedience under the Gospel.
  4. If the things commanded in the law are part of holiness and conformity to God, and if this conformity to the law is required of us, then we conclude that the law is still in force. But the things commanded are part of Christian holiness, and conformity to the law is required of us. Therefore the law is still in force. That the things commanded are part of our holiness, I suppose is granted. If so, that this conformity to the law is required of us, it is easy to prove. That which we are to aspire to, and labor for, and after which we are to endeavor both in our affections and actions, in our principles and practices, that, surely, is required of us. But this is all the same with conformity to the law of God. That we are to aspire to such conformity in our affections is clear from Rom. 7. 22, 25, where the apostle shows us that he delighted in the law of God, and that he served the law in his mind. Nay, it was his purpose, aim, desire, and endeavor of heart, to be made conformable to that law which he says is ‘holy, just, and good’. Though he fell short of it, yet he aspired after it; which shows we too are to aspire after it in our affections. And it is equally plain that we are to endeavor after conformity to it in our actions. Take both together: ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes! Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments’ (Ps. 119. 4-6). He has respect to them in his heart and affections; and he seeks conformity to them in life and actions. And this was his duty, because God had commanded: ‘Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts. O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!’
  5. It cannot be part of our freedom by Christ to be freed from obedience to the law, because the law is holy, just, and good. Surely it is no part of our freedom to be freed from that which is holy, just, and good! Consider it in this way: That cannot be part of our freedom which is no part of our bondage. But obedience and subjection to the moral law in the sense I have shown was never part of our bondage. Therefore to be freed from obedience to the law cannot be part of our freedom. I will prove that it was never part of our bondage.

That cannot be part of our bondage which is part of our glory…

But obedience and conformity to the law, both in principle and in practice, is part of our glory; therefore it cannot be part of our bondage. Again, that cannot be said to be part of our bondage which is part of our freedom. But to obey the law is part of our freedom, as we read in Luke 1:74: ‘That we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.’ I shall proceed no further upon this. It is plain enough, that the law in the substance of it remains a rule of walking or obedience to them in Christ.

PART 4. THE MORAL LAW… A RULE OF OBEDIENCE: Boundaries? Yes! Christian Freedom? Absolutely!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton


“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

–John 8:36

Question: Are Christians freed from the moral law as a rule of obedience?

Our text (John 8: 36) is the main basis whereon this doctrine of Christian freedom is built.

But many have endeavored to build their own superstructures, hay and stubble, upon it, which the foundation will never bear. Indeed, there are so many opinions which plead patronage from this doctrine that I conceive it is my great work to vindicate so excellent a doctrine as this is – true Christian freedom – from those false, and I may say licentious, doctrines which are fastened and fathered upon it. I must show you that neither this doctrine, nor yet this text, will afford countenance to, or contribute any strength to the positions and opinions which some would seem to deduce from it and build upon it.

The work is great, for I am to deal with the greatest knots in the practical part of divinity, and men’s judgments are various. Scripture is pleaded on all hands. The more difficult the work, the more need of your prayers, that the Father of lights would go before us, and by His own light lead and guide us into the ways of all truth. In this confidence we shall venture to launch into these deeps, and begin the examination and trial of those doctrines which are deduced from, and would seem to be built upon, this text. The first doctrine, and the main one, that they would seem to build upon this text is, that believers are freed from the law. And this shall be the first question we will examine.

In answer to this query as it is propounded, we must confess that we are not without some places of Scripture which declare the law to be abrogated, nor without some again that speak of it as yet in force. We will give you a taste of some of them; and shall begin with those that seem to speak of the abrogation of the law.

Jeremiah 31. 31-33: ‘Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they break, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.’

Romans 7. 1-3: ‘Know ye not, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman which hath a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.’

That the apostle here speaks of the moral law is evident from the seventh verse; and that believers are freed from it, see the sixth verse and others. See also Rom. 6. 14: ‘For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace’; Gal. 3. 19, The law was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come’; Gal. 4.4-5, ‘God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons’; Rom. 8. 2, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death’; Gal. 5.18, ‘But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law’; Rom. 10.4, ‘For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth’; 1 Tim. 1. 8-10, the law is good if a man use it lawfully, knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man’, etc.

There seems therefore to be a great deal of strength in the Scripture to prove the abrogation of the law, that we are dead to the law, freed from the law, no more under the law.

These Scriptures we shall have to deal with afterwards. For the present, I only quote them, to let it be seen with what strength the Scriptures seem to hold out for the first opinion, that is, for the abrogation of the law.

On the other hand, there are some Scriptures which seem to hold up the law, and which say that the law is still in force: I say, some which seem to support the obligation, as the others the abrogation, of it. Thus there is Rom. 3. 31: ‘Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.’ This seems contrary to the former; the verses previously given seem to speak of the abrogation, this of the establishment, the obligation, of the law. So also Matt. 5. 17-18: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ Upon these varieties of texts, men have grounded their varieties of opinions for the abrogation of, or the obligation of, the law. There is no question but the Scripture speaks truth in both; they are the words of truth; and though they seem here to be as the accusers of Christ, never a one speaking like the other, yet if we are able to find out the meaning, we shall find them like Nathan and Bathsheba, both speaking the same things.

In order to find out the truth under these seeming contraries, and for the purpose of answering the query, lest we should beat the air and spend ourselves to no purpose, it will be necessary to make two inquiries:  First. What is meant by the word ‘law’?  Second. In what sense is the word used in Scripture? When this has been done there will be a way opened for the clearing of the truth and for the answering of the queries.

The Scriptural Uses of the Word Law

  1. What is meant by the word ‘law’? I answer: the word which is frequently used for ‘the law’ in the Old Testament is Torah’. This is derived from another word which signifies ‘to throw darts’, and comes to signify ‘to teach, to instruct, to admonish’; hence it is used for any doctrine or instruction which teaches, informs, or directs us: as, for example, in Proverbs 13. 14: ‘The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.’ Here ‘law’ is taken in a large sense for any doctrine or direction which proceeds from the wise; so, too, in Proverbs 3. 1 and 4.2. In the New Testament the word ‘law’ is derived from another word which signifies ‘to distribute’, because the law distributes, or renders to God and man their dues. In brief, this word ‘law’, in its natural signification both in the Old and New Testaments, signifies any doctrine, instruction, law, ordinance, or statute, divine or human, which teaches, directs, commands, or binds men to any duty which they owe to God or man. So much, then, for the first matter.
  2. In what senses is this word ‘law’ used in Scripture? I shall not trouble the reader with all the uses of the word, but shall confine myself to the chief of the m:
    1.  It is sometimes taken for the Scriptures of the Old Testament, the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets. So the Jews understood it in John 12. 34: ‘We have heard out of the law that Christ abides forever’. So also in John 15. 25: This cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause’ (Ps. 35. 19). Similarly, we have 1 Cor. 14. 21: ‘In the law it is written’, where the apostle is repeating the words of Isaiah 28. 11, and he says they are written in the law.
    2. The term ‘law’ is sometimes used as meaning the whole Word of God, its promises and precepts, as in Ps. 19. 7: the law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul’. Conversion is the fruit of the promise. Neither justification nor sanctification is the fruit of the law alone. The law commands but gives no grace, so that here the psalmist includes the promise of grace in his use of ‘law’; or else conversion, as he speaks of it here, does not mean regeneration.
    3. ‘Law’ is sometimes taken for the five books of Moses, as in Gal. 3. 21: ‘If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law’. Likewise, in John 1.45: ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law… did write’. Similarly in Luke 24.44: ‘All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses’, meaning the five books of Moses; see also Gal. 4. 2 1.
    4. ‘Law’ is used for the pedagogy of Moses, as in John 5. 46: ‘Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. ‘See also Josh. 1. 7-8.
    5. Sometimes ‘law’ is used for the moral law alone, the Decalogue, as in Rom. 7. 7, 14 and 21.
    6. Sometimes ‘law’ refers to the ceremonial law, as in Luke 16. 16.
    7. Sometimes ‘law’ refers to all the laws, moral, ceremonial, and judicial, as in John 1. 17: The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’: ‘grace’ in opposition to the moral law, ‘truth’ in opposition to the ceremonial law which was but a shadow. Thus Chrysostom comments on this passage: ‘The ceremonial law was given right up to the time of the coming of the seed promised to Abraham.’

Among all these different usages, the controversy lies in the last-mentioned, where the word, law’ signifies the moral, judicial, and ceremonial law. In respect of two of these varieties of law, we find considerable agreement; the main difficulty concerns the moral law.

The ceremonial law was an appendix to the first table of the moral law. It was an ordinance containing precepts of worship for the Jews when they were in their infancy, and was intended to keep them under hope, to preserve them from will-worship, and to be a wall of separation between them and the Gentiles. This law, all agree, is abrogated both in truth and in fact.

As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table, it was an ordinance containing precepts concerning the government of the people in things civil, and it served three purposes: it gave the people a rule of common and public equity, it distinguished them from other peoples, and it gave them a type of the government of Christ. That part of the judicial law which was typical of Christ’s government has ceased, but that part which is of common and general equity remains still in force. It is a common maxim: those judgments which are common and natural are moral and perpetual.

However, in respect of the ceremonial and the judicial law we find few dissenters. All the controversy arises from the third part, the moral law. And so we come to speak of the moral law which is scattered throughout the whole Bible, and summed up in the Decalogue. For substance, it contains such things as are good and holy, and agreeable to the will of God, being the image of the divine will, a beam of His holiness, the sum of which is love to God and love to man.

It is one of the great disputes in these days, whether this moral law is abrogated, or, in the words of the query, whether believers are freed from the moral law. All agree that we are freed from the curses and maledictions, from the indictments and accusations, from the compellings and irritations, and other particulars which we named before. But the question is, to put it in plain terms: Are believers freed from obedience to the moral law, that is, from the moral law as a rule of obedience?

Some there are who positively or peremptorily affirm that we are freed from the law as a rule, and are not, since Christ came, tied to the obedience of it. Others say that it still remains in force as a rule of obedience, though abolished in other respects, as Beza says: ‘Christ fulfilled the law for us, but not in order to render it of no value to us.’ We are still under the conduct and commands of the law, say these Christians, though not under its curses and penalties.

Again, others say that we are freed from the law, as given by Moses, and are only tied to the obedience of it, as it is given in Christ: and though, they say, we are subject to those commands and that law which Moses gave, yet not as he gave it, but as Christ renews it, and as it comes out of His hand and from His authority: ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another’ (John 13. 34). It is a commandment, for Christ is both a Savior and a Lord; and it is a new one, not that it did not exist before, but because now renewed, and because we have it immediately from the hands of Christ.

I shall not much quarrel with this. Acknowledge the moral law as a rule of obedience and Christian walking, and there will be no falling out, whether you take it as promulgated by Moses, or as handed to you and renewed by Christ.

Indeed, the law, as it is considered as a rule, can no more be abolished or changed than the nature of good and evil can be abolished and changed.

The substance of the law is the sum of doctrine concerning piety towards God, charity towards our neighbors, temperance and sobriety towards ourselves. And for the substance of it, it is moral and eternal, and cannot be abrogated. We grant that the circumstances under which the moral law was originally given were temporary and changeable, and we have now nothing to do with the promulgator, Moses, nor with the place where it was given, Mount Sinai, nor with the time when it was given, fifty days after the people came out of Egypt, nor yet as it was written in tables of stone, delivered with thunderings and lightnings. We look not to Sinai, the hill of bondage, but to Zion, the mountain of grace. We take the law as the image of the will of God which we desire to obey, but from which we do not expect life and favor, neither do we fear death and rigor. This, I conceive, is the concurrent opinion of all divines. For believers, the law is abrogated in respect of its power to justify or condemn; but it remains full of force to direct us in our lives. It condemns sin in the faithful, though it cannot condemn the faithful for sin. Says Zanchius: The observance of the law is necessary for a Christian man, and it is not possible to separate such observance from faith.’ And as Calvin says: ‘Let us put far from us the ungodly notion that the law is not to be our rule, for it is our changeless rule of life.’ The moral law, by its teaching, admonishing, chiding, and reproving, prepares us for every good work. The law is void in respect of its power to condemn us, but it still has power to direct us; we are not under its curse, but yet under its commands.

Again, the moral law is perpetual and immutable. This is an everlasting truth…

…that the creature is bound to worship and obey his Creator, and so much the more bound as he has received the greater benefits. If we claim to be free from obedience, we make ourselves the servants of sin. But these matters I shall speak more largely upon in the discourse that follows.

Therefore, against that opinion which holds forth the abrogation of the law, and says that we are freed from obedience to it, I shall state and endeavor to make good two propositions which will serve fully to answer the query, and to refute the false notions. The propositions are these:

  1. That the law, for the substance of it (for we speak not of the circumstances and accessories of it), remains as a rule of walking to the people of God.
  2. That there was no end or use for which the law was originally given but is consistent with grace, and serviceable to the advancement of the covenant of grace.

If these two propositions are made good, the doctrines of the abrogation of the law and of freedom from the law will both fall to the ground.

PART 3D. FREED FROM THE ACCUSATIONS OF THE LAW: Boundaries? Yes! Christian Freedom? Absolutely!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton

satan-tempting-jesus (1)

Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’
 –Romans 8. 33

This may be thought a strange question, ‘who shall?’, for there are several such accusers…

Satan is ready to lay things to their charge. He is called ‘the accuser of the saints … night and day’ (Rev. 12. 10). He is the great Calumniator, ever bringing forward bills of indictment against the saints. Sometimes he accuses God to man, as in the case of our first parents, where he charged God with envy to His creatures, as if He had forbidden the tree lest they should become too wise. It is ordinary with Satan, either to accuse God’s mercy by telling men they may sin and yet God will be merciful, or to accuse His justice by saying that, if they sin, there is no mercy for them. As he stretches God’s justice above the bounds of the Gospel, so he stretches God’s mercy above the bounds of His truth.

And as Satan accuses God to man, so he accuses man to God. Sometimes he does this by way of complaint, as appears in the case of Joshua (Zech. 3. 1-4). In this fashion he is ever charging crimes home, and introducing bills of indictment against the saints. So that, in all his temptations, we may say, as the man said to Joab when he was asked why he had not killed Absalom: Thou thyself didst hear what the king commanded, that Absalom should not be hurt; and if I had done this thing, thou thyself would have been the first to accuse me to the king’ (2 Sam. 18. 12-13). So may we answer Satan: Thou thyself dost know that God hath forbidden this thing; and if I should have done it, wouldst not thou have been the first to accuse me to God? Such is Satan’s way; he is first the tempter to draw us to sin, and then an accuser to accuse us to God for sinning.

At other times Satan uses the method of suspicion and conjecture. It was so in the case of Job. God commends Job; Satan condemns him, as if he knew Job better than God Himself. Nay, and though he could not condemn Job’s actions, yet he would quarrel with his affections. Surely, whatever his actions are, yet Job’s intentions are not good! This was as much as to tell God that He was deceived in Job; it was as if Satan said, Certainly, whatever Thou thinkest of Job, yet Job doth not serve Thee for nothing. He is a mercenary fellow, one that serves Thee for loaves, for belly blessings. Thou hast heaped outward favors on him and hast made a hedge about him, fenced him in with Thy favors so that nothing can annoy him. Thus it is that Satan brings his accusations.

But Satan cannot condemn. The issues of life and death are not in his hands, nor will his accusation against us before God take effect. A man who is himself condemned, though he has the voice of accusation, yet he has no power to condemn. His testimony against another is invalid. Satan is a condemned wretch, and all his accusations against the saints before God have no effect. Joshua’s case shows this: though the accusation was true that he was clad in filthy garments, yet God would not receive it: The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’ (Zech. 3. 2).

But it is not only Satan who accuses us; wicked men may do the same. Sometimes they do so justly, for sins committed, but forgiven, and in this they show their malice and lack of love in not forgetting that which God has forgiven. Sometimes they accuse the godly unjustly, laying to their charge things they never did, as Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of uncleanness because he would not be unclean. David, too, complains that men laid to his charge things he never did; so also, Daniel. But none can condemn the truly godly.

Again, not only Satan and wicked men, but conscience itself may accuse; and then, is it possible for us to say. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Conscience, I say, may accuse, sometimes bringing true light, sometimes false information, sometimes reviving old bills cancelled and crossed long ago. In the first case, we are to listen to the accusations of conscience when it charges us truly. Joseph’s brethren were accused by their consciences when they were evil treated in Egypt, and told by them that they were verily guilty of the wrong done to Joseph. After David had numbered the people, his heart smote him. Conscience had not been a bridle, and it was now a whip; it had not been a curb, therefore it was now a scourge. David did not hearken to the warnings, and therefore he feels the lashings of conscience. And when conscience justly accuses us, when it comes in with evidence according to the Word, we must hear it, for there God speaks. If a sun-dial be not set by the sun, it is no matter what it says; but if it is correct by the sun, we must hearken to it. So, if conscience does not speak according to the Word, we need not give heed to its accusations, but if it speaks according to evidence there, it is good to listen to it.

Sometimes conscience charges us falsely. It will perhaps tell us that those things are sin which are not sin. In this case it is an erroneous conscience and we are not to listen to it. At other times conscience will revive old cases, answered and satisfied long ago. Then it is a quarrelsome conscience, like a contentious troublesome fellow at law, and God will deal with it as an honest judge with such a fellow; He casts the charges out of court as matters not worth hearing, or as things that have been settled long ago. These accusations must not take hold of the soul. In this case, I say, when conscience condemns, God is greater than conscience, to acquit and absolve the soul.

But there is a fourth party which is ready to lay sin to the charge of God’s people, and that is the law. The law may come as accuser. How then can it be said, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’, for if the law may accuse, we cannot be said to be free from the indictments and accusations of the law. I answer thus: if we speak of sins pardoned, neither conscience, nor Satan, nor law, has any right to accuse the people of God. God has justified them, and who then shall accuse?

Indeed, before faith, while we are under the law, we are subject to the accusations, judgments, and sentences of the law. The law not only accuses us then, but its sentence and curse take hold of us. It accuses us, as Christ told them that would not believe in Him, but looked for justification by the law: ‘Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuses you, even Moses, in whom ye trust’ (John 5. 45). The law by which they looked to be justified would accuse them. The law also sentences the sinner, and the sentence and curse take hold of him: ‘He that believeth not is condemned already… the wrath of God abides on him’ (John 3. 18, 36). So that while a man is under the law, before faith and interest in Christ, the law not only accuses but also condemns him.

As for those, however, who have an interest in Christ, the law cannot accuse them of sin committed before grace saved them, because it is pardoned, and thus this accusation is made void. Nor can the law accuse them of sin after grace saved them, sin after pardon.

They are not subject to the accusations, arrests, and sentences of the law. The law cannot so accuse believers as to call them into the court of the law; so the word signifies, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’; or rather. Who shall call them into court? The word not only signifies to accuse, but to summon to court (jus vocare). Yet the believer is freed from the law as a covenant, and hence from its judgments, sentences, condemnations, curses, and accusations. If it sends any of its officers to accuse us and arrest us for sin, we may refuse to obey and to appear in its court, for we are to be tried by another court; we are to be tried by the Gospel. If God’s people, when they have sinned, go to the right court, they will both sooner get sorrow for sin, and assurance of the pardon of sin; they will find more sorrow and less dismay for sin.

When I say that we are freed from the accusations of the law, I mean such accusations as are subordinate to condemnation. There is a twofold accusation, first, an accusation leading to conviction and humiliation for sin, second, an accusation resulting in sentence and condemnation for sin. All the accusations of the law against those who are under the law come under the second head. But all its accusations against the godly for sin are with a view to conviction and the humiliation of the godly under it, and so are subordinate to life and salvation. And so I conceive the law may accuse those who are, notwithstanding, the freemen of Christ. It may show them how far they come short of the glory of God, and how far they have wandered from the paths of righteousness, and may accuse them for it; but this results in humiliation, not condemnation. As I shall show hereafter, either this must be so, or else it must be denied that the law is a rule for believers.

But there are two queries that arise here. The first is whether the law may justly accuse us, seeing that we are not under it. Briefly I answer that we are not under its curses, but we are under its commands. We are not under the law for judgment, but we are under the law for conduct. So far as we walk not according to it, as a rule, it has an accusing power, though we are taken from under its condemning power. There is no further power left in the law than is for our good, our humiliation, our edification, and this is intended to lead to our furtherance in grace.

The second query is whether the law is just in its accusations against us, seeing we do not sin. This is founded on the previous query; if it be true that we are freed from the law as a rule or as a direction of life – were this so, it would be our bondage rather than our freedom – then our breaches of the law are not sin. If we are not subject to law, then we do not sin in the breaking of it, any more than we do if we break the laws of Spain or of any other nations, which are no laws to us.

I shall show later the invalidity and the danger of these two queries. In the meantime I must tell you that the law in its directive power remains with the believer. This must needs be plain from the words: ‘The law, which was four hundred and thirty years after (the promise), cannot disannul (the promise), that it should make the promise of none effect’ (Gal. 3. 17). For if the law, as the apostle says, was given 430 years after the promise, then it was given either as a covenant or as a rule. But as a covenant it could not be given, for then God would have acted contrary to Himself, first in giving a covenant of grace and then one of works. Therefore He gave it as a rule, to reveal to us, after our justification by the promise, a rule of walking with God so that in all things we might please Him.

Furthermore, that can never be said to be a part of our freedom which is a part of our bondage; nor can that be said to be part of our bondage which is part of our holiness. But conformity to the law, and subjection to the law of God, is part of our holiness. Therefore it can never be said to be a part of our bondage. There is, indeed, a twofold subjection – the subjection of a son, and the subjection of a slave. We are freed from the one, namely, the subjection of a slave, which was a part of our bondage, but not from the other, namely, the subjection of a son, which is a part of our freedom. But I shall speak of this at greater length in the discourses that follow.

PART 3C. FIVE REASONS WHY THE LAW CANNOT CONDEMN THE BELIEVER: Boundaries? Yes! Christian Freedom? Absolutely!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton

Three Crosses and Silhoutted Person in Prayer at SunriseFive reasons why the law cannot condemn the believer:

All this the apostle puts plainly: ‘Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died’ (Rom. 8. 34). He sets the death of Christ against all the charges that can be brought. It is evident that the court of the law cannot condemn the believer:

I.     Because that court is itself condemned

…its curses, judgments, and sentences are made invalid. As men that are condemned have a tongue but no voice, so the law in this case has still a tongue to accuse, but no power to condemn. It cannot fasten condemnation on the believer.

II.   Because he is not under it as a court.

He is not under the law as a covenant of life and death. As he is in Christ, he is under the covenant of grace.

III. Because he is not subject to its condemnation.

He is under its guidance, but not under its curses, under its precepts (though not on the legal condition of ‘Do this and live’), but not under its penalties.

IV. Because Christ, in his place and stead, was condemned by it that he might be freed

…Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us’ (Gal. 3. 13). It may condemn sin in us, but cannot condemn us for sin.

V.  Because he has appealed from it.

We see this in the case of the publican, who was arrested, dragged into the court of justice, sentenced and condemned. But this has no force because he makes his appeal, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18. 13). He flies to Christ, and, says the text, ‘He went down to his house justified’. So the court of the law (provided that your appeal is just) cannot condemn, because you have appealed to the court of mercy.

There are many who make a false appeal.

They appeal in part, not wholly, for they trust partly on Christ and partly on themselves.

Many appeal to Christ for salvation who do not appeal to Him for sanctification. This is false. Many appeal to Christ before they are brought into the court of lie law, before they are humbled, convinced, and condemned by the law. The case of the publican shows what kind of appeal will do a man good. Condemned in the court of the law, he makes his appeal to Christ in the Gospel. Read the words spoken of him: ‘He stood afar off, and would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner’. Here was a threefold demeanor, answering to a threefold work within him. First, he stood afar off; this answers to his fear and consternation. Then, he would not so much as lift up his eyes; this answers to his shame and confusion. Again, he smote his breast; this answers to his sorrow and compunction. And being in such a case he then appeals: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’.

In brief, then, if your appeal is a right one and such as will do you good, it must be a total, not a partial, appeal. You must not come to Christ for some relief only, but for all. Christ must have the honor of all. Also, it must be an appeal for grace as well as mercy, for sanctification as well as salvation, an appeal to be made holy by Christ as well as to be made happy by Christ. Again, it must be the appeal of a man humbled and condemned in himself. No man will appeal to another court until he is found guilty and condemned in the former. So here, we cannot appeal to Christ until first we are found guilty and condemned by Moses. This the apostle shows: ‘We have proved both Jews and Gentiles to be all under sin; as it is written. There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none that understands, none that seeks after God’ (Rom. 3. 9-11).

Thus demonstrates the indictment and the accusation of the law, and in verse 19 is found the sentence or judgment upon it, and there the apostle tells us the reason why the law says this: ‘That every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God’. It is when the law has accused and sentenced us, when it has stopped our mouths and we become guilty, that the sinner comes to make his appeal from the law as a covenant to Christ as a Savior. He looks for nothing from justice, but all from mercy. And when he has thus appealed, the law has no more to do with him; he is not under the sentence, the penalties of the law; he is out of the law’s reach. The law can take no hold of him for condemnation; he has fled to Christ, and taken sanctuary in Him.

What a privilege is this, to be free from the curses and penalties of the law, so that if the law threatens, Christ promises; if the law curses, Christ blesses. This is a high privilege. If God did but let one spark of His wrath and displeasure fall upon your conscience for sin, you would then know what a mercy it is to be thus freed.


PART 3B. Freedom From the Covenant and Curse of the Law: Boundaries? Yes! Christian Freedom? Absolutely!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton

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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.

PART 3A. Branches of Christian Freedom: Boundaries? Yes! Christian Freedom? Absolutely!

Taken and adapted from, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom
Written by Samuel Bolton


Freedom in general has two branches…

First, there is inchoate freedom, that is, the freedom we enjoy during the days of our pilgrimage, freedom in grace.

Second, consummate freedom, that is, the freedom of our Father’s house, freedom in glory. We shall speak chiefly of the first – inchoate freedom.

Freedom in its Negative Aspects

I.  Freedom from Satan

To begin with, it is clear that believers are free from Satan. Christ has wrested us and delivered us from Satan’s hands. We were prisoners to Satan, in his chains, and Christ has brought us deliverance. This is set down by way of a parable in the Gospel of Luke: ‘When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils’ (ch. 11. 21-22). But it is plainly stated in Heb. 2. 14, 15: Christ came into the world ‘that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil’. Christ freed us from the wrath of God, from the devil’s power, by purchase. By a strong hand He delivers us from Satan, just as He delivered the children of Israel out of Egypt by a strong hand.

II. Freedom from Sin

Secondly, we are freed from sin, by which I mean the guilt, the defilement and the dominion of sin. That none of our sins shall condemn us or bring wrath upon us, Christ interposes Himself between us and wrath, so that no one shall be able to condemn us: There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 8. 1). Christ Himself shall as soon be called to account for your sin as you yourself. If you have an interest in Him, sin shall never condemn you, for Christ has made satisfaction for it. Those whose standing is in Christ have made satisfaction in Christ to all the requirements of God and His law’ (Piscator).

It would not be righteous of God to require payment from Christ, nay, to receive the full satisfaction of Christ, and to require anything from you. This is what God has done: He laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa. 53. 6). This is what Christ has done: He paid God till God said He had enough. He was fully satisfied, fully contented: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matt. 3. 17 and 12. 18), that is, ‘in whom I am fully satisfied and appeased’. Hence the apostle writes: God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself… for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor. 5. 19-21). God was paying Himself out of the blood, scourgings, and sufferings of Christ; and in that, Christ made a full payment. Hence Christ says: I send my Spirit, and he will convince the world, as of sin so of righteousness, because I go to the Father and ye see me no more’ (John 16. 7-10). That is, you shall see Me no more after this fashion. You shall never see Me again as a sufferer, as a satisfier of God’s justice for sin. I have completed this work. Indeed we should have seen Christ again if He had not satisfied justice. If the guilt of but one of those sins He bore had remained on Him unsatisfied for, it would have held Him under chains of death and the power of the grave forever. He could never have risen, much less ascended and gone to the Father, if He had not met the claims of justice to the full. For this reason the apostle throws down a challenge. He sets the death of Christ against whatever sin, Satan, justice, and the law can say: ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us’ (Rom. 8. 33-34). He does not say, Who shall accuse? but, Who shall condemn? Indeed, we may have accusers enough – sin, Satan, conscience, and the rest – but none can condemn. The issues of life and death are not in their hand. And as none of our sins shall condemn us, so none of our sins shall ever bring us into a state of condemnation again, ever put us under the curse or under wrath again.

Likewise, none of our sins can bring upon us the consequences of Divine wrath.

We are freed from all miseries, calamities, afflictions, and punishments which are the fruits of sin, so far as they have wrath in them. If you take away the substance, the shadow must needs depart also. Sin is the substance, punishment the shadow that attends it and follows it. Take away sin and then the punishments are also taken away. All God’s dispensations are in mercy.

It is agreed by all that eternal punishments can never come upon any of those whom Christ has freed from sin, those whom He has justified. From other punishments that have something of eternal punishment in them, believers are also freed. Nothing in the nature of Divine wrath can touch them.

I grant that God does afflict those whose sin He pardons, but there is a great deal of difference in respect of the hand from which the afflictions proceed, the persons who bear the afflictions, the reasons for afflicting, and the ends that God aims at in sending the afflictions, as I shall show later.

It is clear that, so far as afflictions are part of the curse for sin, God does not and cannot afflict His people for sin. Nor does God afflict His people for sin as if such afflictions were payments or satisfactions for sin, and as if God’s justice was not fully satisfied for sin by Christ; as if Christ had left something for us to bear by way of satisfaction. The Papists say this (and therefore they perform penances and punish themselves) but so do not we.

Again, so far as afflictions are the sole fruits of sin, God does not bring them upon His people, for in this respect they are part of the curse. Afflictions upon wicked men are penal, a part of the curse; there is nothing medicinal in them; they are the effects of vindictive justice and not of Fatherly mercy. But afflictions which come upon the godly are medicinal in purpose, and are intended to cure them of sin.

Whether, then, we have regard to punishment eternal, spiritual, or temporal, Christ has freed the godly from all: from eternal punishment as the wrath which is due to sin, from spiritual punishment as it is related to eternal, and from temporal as far as it is related to both the others, and as far as it has anything of God’s wrath in it.

God has thoughts of love in all He does to His people.

The ground of His dealings with us is love (though the occasion may be sin), the manner of His dealings is love, and the purpose of His dealings is love. He has regard, in all, to our good here, to make us partakers of His holiness, and to our glory hereafter, to make us partakers of His glory.

But it is not so in regard to God’s punishment of wicked men. Neither is the ground love, nor the manner love, nor the purpose love. All His dealings with them in this respect are parts of the curse and have regard to the demerit of their sin. Christ has also freed the believer from the dominion of sin: ‘Sin shall not have dominion over you’ (Rom. 6. 14). Why? For ye are not under the law, but under grace’. Indeed, while we were under the law, sin had full dominion. It had not only possession of us, but dominion over us. And that dominion was a voluntary, a willing, a free subjection and resignation of ourselves to the motions and services of sin. Then we went down stream, wind, and tide. There was both the power of lust, and lustful inclinations, to carry us: this was the tide, the other was the wind. But now, being under grace, a covenant of grace, and being interested in Christ and set free by Him, we are freed from the dominion and power of sin.

We still have the presence of sin, nay, the stirrings and workings of corruptions.

These make us to have many a sad heart and wet eye. Yet Christ has thus far freed us from sin; it shall not have dominion. There may be the turbulence, but not the prevalence of sin. There may be the stirrings of corruption. It was said of Carthage that Rome was more troubled with it when half destroyed than when whole. So a godly man may be more troubled with sin when it is conquered than when it reigned. Sin will still work, but it is checked in its workings. They are rather workings for life than from life. They are not such uncontrolled workings as formerly. Sin is under command. Indeed, it may get advantage, and may have a tyranny in the soul, but it will never more be sovereign. I say, it may get into the throne of the heart and play the tyrant in this or that particular act of sin, but it shall never more be as a king there. Its reign is over; you will never yield a voluntary obedience to sin. Sin is conquered, though it still has a being within you.

Augustine describes man under four different conditions.

  1. Before the law he neither fights nor strives against sin.
  2. Under the law he fights but is overcome.
  3. Under grace he fights and conquers.
  4. But in heaven it is all conquest, and there is no combat more to all eternity.

It is our happiness here in grace that there is a conquest, though a daily combat: we fight, but we get the victory; sin shall nevermore have dominion over us. Those sins that were kings are now captives in us; sins that were in the throne are now in chains. What a mercy is this! Others are under the authoritative commands of every passion, of every lust; every sin has command over them; no temptation comes but it conquers. A sinful heart stands ready to entertain every sin that comes with power; it is taken captive at pleasure and with pleasure.

But the believer is free from the dominion of sin.

  1. In temptation sin is broken.
  2. There is no allowing of sin in the understanding.
  3. The soul is not willing to allow of sin as sin under any shape or form.
  4. There is no closing with it in the will, no embracing of it in the affections.
  5. Its workings are broken and wounded.

O believers, you will never be willing captives to sin again; you may be captives, never subjects; sin may tyrannize, never reign. The reign of sin describes a soul under the power of sin and in a state of sin. But sin rather dies than lives in you. A sickly man who is pining away is said rather to be dying than living; to live implies a getting of strength, and sin does not do this. It is in a consumptive state, dying daily.

Sin is dead judicially;

Christ has sentenced it. Christ has condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8. 3). Sin met its death-blow in the death of Christ. And it is dying actually. As was the case with the house of Saul, it is decreasing every day. But notice that God has chosen to put sin to a lingering death, to a death upon the cross, and this for the greater punishment of sin, that it might die gradually. But also, it is for the further humiliation of saints that they might be put upon the exercise of prayer and cast upon the hold of their faith. It is intended to exercise their faith for the daily breaking of the power of sin and corruption in them.

Thus much then upon our deliverance from sin by Christ.


Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Samuel Bolton (1606 – 15 October 1654) was an English clergyman and scholar, a member of the Westminster Assembly and Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge. 

Samuel Bolton was the son of William Bolton, of Lancashire. He was born in London in 1606, and educated at Christ’s College, Cambridge. In 1643 he was chosen one of the Westminster assembly of divines. He was successively minister of St. Martin’s, Ludgate Street, of St. Saviour’s, Southwark, and of St. Andrew’s, Holborn.

He was appointed, on the death of Thomas Bainbrigg in 1646, master of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and served as Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University in 1651. He has been identified with the Samuel Bolton who, in 1649, attended Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland on the scaffold. He died after a long illness on 15 October 1654. Edmund Calamy preached his funeral sermon.