Week 21 in Fisher: Uses of the Law – Deep Water

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!

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Week 21 in Fisher: Uses of the Law – Deep Water

  1. An Excerpt of the Dialogue in The Marrow of Modern Divinity, by Edward Fisher, available online at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/fisher_e/marrow.iii.xiii.html:

    Nom. That is very strange to me, sir, for what can be required more, or what can be done more, than yielding of perfect and perpetual obedience?

    Evan. That is true indeed; there is no more required, neither can there be more done; but yet you must understand, that the law does as well require passive obedience as active, suffering as well as doing; for our common bond entered into for us all, by God’s benefits towards the first man, is by his disobedience become forfeited, both in respect of himself and all mankind; and, therefore, ever since the fall of man, 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. “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt die the death,” says the Lord, (Gen 2:17). Nay, let me tell you yet more; in order of justice, the forfeiture ought to be paid before the debt; perfect suffering should go before perfect doing, because all mankind, by reason of that first and great transgression, are at odds and enmity with God; they are all of them children of his wrath, and therefore God, as we may speak with holy reverence, cannot be reconciled unto any man, before a full satisfaction be made to his justice by a perfect suffering, (Col 1:21): perfect suffering, then, is required for the reconciling of man unto God, (Eph 2:3), and setting him in the same condition he was in before his fall, and perfect doing is required for the keeping of him in that condition.

    Nom. And, sir, is man as unable to pay the forfeiture as he is to pay the debt? I mean, is he as unable to suffer perfectly, as to do perfectly?

    Evan. Yea, indeed, every whit as unable; forasmuch as man’s sin in eating of the forbidden fruit was committed against God, and God is infinite and eternal, and the offence is always multiplied according to the dignity of the person against whom it is committed: man’s offence must needs be an infinite offence, and the punishment must needs be proportionable to the fault; therefore an infinite and eternal punishment is required at man’s hands, or else such a temporal punishment, as is equal and answerable to eternal. Now, eternal punishment man cannot sustain, because then he should never be delivered—he should ever be satisfying, and never have satisfied; which satisfaction is such as is the punishment of the devils and damned men in hell, which never shall have an end. And for temporal punishment, which should be equivalent to eternal, that cannot be neither, because the power and vigour of no creature is such that it may sustain a finite and temporal punishment, equivalent to an infinite and eternal; for sooner should the creature be wasted, consumed, and brought to nothing, than it could satisfy the justice of God by this means; wherefore we may certainly conclude, that no man can satisfy the law and justice of God, either by active or by passive obedience, and so consequently no man shall be justified and accepted in the sight of God by his own doings or sufferings.

  2. Oh, consider, in the first place, what a great number of duties are required and what a great number of sins are forbidden in every one of the ten commandments! And in the second place, consider, how many of those duties you have omitted, and how many of those sins you have committed. And in the third place, consider, that there has been much corruption mixed with every good duty which you have done, so that you have sinned in doing that which in itself is good; and that you have had an inclination of heart and disposition of will to every sin you have not committed, and so have been guilty of all those sins which you have not done. And in the fourth place, consider, that the law denounceth a curse unto every one which continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. And then, in the fifth place, make application of the curse unto yourself, by saying in your heart, if every one be cursed which continueth not in all things, then surely I am cursed that have continued in nothing. And then, in the sixth place, consider, that before you can be delivered from the curse, the law and justice of God requires that there be a perfect satisfaction made both by paying the debt and the forfeiture to the very utmost farthing; perfect doing and perfect suffering are both of them required. And then, in the last place, consider, that you are so far from being able to make a perfect satisfaction, that you can do nothing at all towards it, and that therefore, as of yourself, you are in a most miserable and helpless condition.

    http://www.chapellibrary.org/pdf-other/marrow/use.html

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