Week 24 (final) in Fisher: Judging the book . . .

The reference to Fisher’s tripartite view of the law by the “Marrow Brethren” in their response to query 11 in the appendix caught my attention such that I had to go back to the outline and table of contents to note what they were, as found in the Marrow, namely: 1) the law of works; 2) the law of faith, or the covenant of grace; and 3) the law of Christ.

Way back at the beginning of chapter three of part one of the Marrow is where we find Fisher’s definition of the law of Christ:

“The law of Christ, in regard of substance and matter, is all one with the law of works, or covenant of works. Which matter is scattered through the whole Bible, and summed up in the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, commonly called the moral law, containing such things as are agreeably to the mind and will of God, that is piety towards God, charity towards our neighbour, and sobriety towards ourselves. And therefore was it given of God to be a true and eternal rule of righteousness, for all men, of all nations, and at all times.”

Fisher’s definition and application of the law of Christ, at its core, simply showed the role of the Ten Commandments in the covenant of works and in the covenant of grace. I think this is why the Marrow Brethren said that this formulation by Fisher was orthodox, but not essential to their purposes since they only sought to maintain the distinction between the law of works and the covenant of grace. Fisher argued that a believer may not receive the Ten Commandments from the hand of Moses as a rule of life (seeking to be justified thereby as pertaining to the covenant of works) but only from the hand of Christ (thus saying “do this from life” as opposed to “do this and live”).

By asserting the “eternal rule of righteousness” of the just the moral law as found in the Old Testament, Fisher kept to the Reformed position which holds that the civil laws of the Mosaic economy are no longer in force, as seen in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 19, sections 2 and 3, and rightly avoided theonomy:

  1. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.
  2. Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws containing several typical ordinances; partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.

In retrospect, we should note that Fisher devoted over half (56%) of part one of the Marrow to chapter two on the covenant of grace alone, and second to that was chapter three on the law of Christ which made up another 31%. So chapters two and three taken together comprised 87% of part one! Hence it is no small amount of labor Fisher undertook to show the continuity and discontinuity between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace and how Christ fulfilled the covenant of works on behalf of his people, in chapter two. And then he came right back in chapter three and did a masterful job of showing how the moral law is still binding on believers today along with its role in sanctification and assurance, all the while avoiding salvation by works throughout. I suspect that the contents of chapters two and three of part one loomed large in Sinclair Ferguson’s appreciation for the Marrow. Those two chapters earned my esteem and appreciation for this fictional but wonderfully instructive and theologically rich dialogue contrived by a seventeenth century English barber, which goes to show that you can’t judge a book . . . by its cutter!


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