Weeks 21 in Fisher: Commandment 10 & Uses of the Law
It’s getting deep here at the end, men, so if you fall overboard, remember to relax, keep your head back, and float on the surface in between the deep dives.
Jeremiah 17:9 comes to mind as I reflect on this week’s reading in Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (KJV) In his handling of the uses of the law, Fisher displays a master’s touch as he exposes the subterfuges the heart employs to smuggle in self-righteousness.
One such subterfuge is the idea that all that is necessary is for a person to do their best, and God, through Christ, will do the rest. I recently heard a sermon by Joel Beeke in which he shared an illustration of Thomas Aquinas along these lines (and I hope my memory serves me here; I welcome any needed correction to those in the know). According to Aquinas, salvation may be compared to a two story house. The first story is a person’s good deeds, and the second story is grace. A person has to climb the stairs from the first story to the second, going as far as possible, and Christ meets him and takes him up to the second story, on the step where his good deeds end. Fisher exposed this synergistic understanding in the dialog by putting the following on the lips of Nomologista (p. 319 of our text): “therefore have I endeavored to do the best I could to keep the law perfectly, and wherein I have failed and come short, I have believed that Christ has done it for me.” (You may find an article on monergism vs synergism at the following: http://www.gotquestions.org/monergism-vs-synergism.html.)
We find much deeper waters where Fisher, through Evangelista, sought to drive the sinner out of his own righteousness to find salvation in Christ alone, the only Surety for fallen man. I’m indebted to Fisher for the way he explained the significance of Christ’s passive obedience. By way of definitions up front, Christ’s active obedience refers to all he did to keep the law in behalf of sinners. His passive obedience refers to all that he suffered in paying the penalty for sin and discharging its debt, including death. Christ’s active and passive obedience cannot be separated, because they accompanied every aspect of our Savior’s life, from the incarnation up to his death. The intertwining of Christ’s active and passive obedience is acutely seen in his physical death, because, on the one hand, he actively and willingly laid down his life in perfect obedience to his Father, and, on the other hand, he functioned as God’s Servant, totally in subjection to the law and its requirements, which meant his death.
The part I’m indebted to Fisher for is his succinct connection of the passive obedience of Christ with a use of the law for driving sinners to Christ, when he pointed out that: “the law and justice of God does not only require the payment of the debt, but also of the forfeiture; there is not only required of him perfect doing, but also perfect suffering.” He went on to say that, “an infinite and eternal punishment is required at man’s hands, or else such a temporal punishment, as is equal and answerable to eternal.” Fisher hit upon the great problem that Adam’s fall brought about, and why it took the incarnation to redeem fallen sinners. Adam sinned against an infinitely holy God, committing cosmic treason. The penalty for that crime is death in all its fullness (physical death, spiritual death, and eternal death). Since fallen man, now devoid of innocence, is unable to reverse the current state of spiritual death in which he finds himself, it is impossible for him to perform any righteous act on his own merit, and hence it is impossible for him ever to work his way back to God. And the only way for fallen man to begin to restore his state of innocence would be to pay an infinite debt of eternal punishment, and hence, there is no way back. The only way back is miraculous, because it will require a man who is completely righteous, the God-Man, untainted by sin, to come and stand as Surety in fallen man’s place to pay the penalty which is otherwise unpayable, and thus redeem fallen sinners from the penalty of sin.
In the past I’ve tried to make the point that self-righteousness is such an affront to God, because such efforts essentially declare that God didn’t know what he was doing when he sent Jesus to die for sinners, because they can get along fine without him. Fisher put it much more succinctly and powerfully, by taking us to the foot of the Cross, to behold his perfect, infinite suffering. We, or at least I, need visits like this more often.
I warned you that the water was deep here at the end. But it is also glorious!