Of the Law of God
By David Dickson
Truth’s Victory Over Error, from which the following excerpts were taken, was the first published commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith. It was written by David Dickson (1589-1662), a contemporary of the Westminster Assembly, and a close ministerial associate of the Scottish commissioners to the Assembly. In 1640 Dickson was appointed Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University. In 1650 he was transferred to the corresponding chair of theology at Edinburgh University, which he held until his death in 1662. It was in the first two years at Edinburgh, 1650-1652, that Dickson delivered his lectures on the Westminster Confession of Faith. These were apparently the basis for his printed commentary on the Confession, which was published posthumously in 1684. The book has not been reprinted since 1726. What follows are Dickson’s comments respecting the ceremonial and judicial laws of Moses. They appear on pp. 141-145 and pp. 198-201 of the 1684 edition.
Are the ceremonial laws now abrogated under the New Testament? Yes, Col. 2:14 , 16-17, Dan. 9:27 , Eph. 2:15-16 . Well then, do not the Judaisers err, who maintain that all the ceremonial laws remain in their former strength and vigour, and are obliging to believers under the gospel, and not abrogated or disannulled by Christ? Yes.
By what reasons are they confuted? (1) Because Christ hath abolished the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might gather together both Jews and Gentiles into one new man, Eph. 2:14-15 , Col. 2:14 . Note that the apostle here speaks of all believers, both of Jews and Gentiles, as of one man, because they being all under Christ the Head, as members of one spiritual body, are made up as one renewed man. (2) Because the apostle says, let no man judge you in meat or in drink or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: all which are shadows of things to come, but the body is of Christ, Col. 2:16-17 . This verse is a conclusion of the apostles’ foregoing discourse against ceremonies, and things commanded by the ceremonial law, which by the coming of Christ are abolished. He calls them in the 17th verse, a shadow of things to come, but the body (says he) is of Christ. That is, the thing signified is of Christ: for all the shadows of the Old Testament had respect to Christ and his benefits, by whose coming they also have an end, John 1:17 , Gal. 4:3-5 .
(3) Because, the apostle says, believers are dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world: that is, from the ceremonial commands, as is evident from the context. Why, says he, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances? That is, as if your life and happiness consisted in these outward worldly principles, but suffer yourselves to be burdened by such teachers, with human institutions and ordinances. The apostle indeed, in these last words, is reasoning against the institutions and ordinances of men from this medium, which is an argument from the greater to the lesser: if ye be dead with Christ from the ceremonies of the law instituted in the Old Testament by God himself, much more are ye free from the institutions and ordinances of men which are only grounded upon their own good pleasure, Col. 2:20-21, Gal. 4:10-11 .
(4) Because the apostle affirms that the observation and using of circumcision cannot consist with true faith in Christ, now after the gospel is fully published. And he exhorts the Galatians to abide in their liberty purchased by Christ, and not to submit themselves to the yoke of Mosaical ceremonies, Gal. 5:1 . (5) Because those teachers who pressed the believing Gentiles to be circumcised and to observe the law of Moses (I mean the ceremonial law) were condemned by the council of apostles, Acts 15:24 . (6) Because ceremonial commands are neither of the law of nature, nor are they enjoined to believers under the gospel as things moral.
(7) Because these appointed ceremonies were figures only of things to come, imposed on the Jews until the time of reformation, but taken away by Christ, Heb. 9:9-12 and Heb. 10:9 , where it is said, He taketh away the first, namely all sorts of propitiatory offerings which were used in the Old Testament, to settle the second, namely his obedience to the will of his Father. (8) Because they were given to the Israelites to foresignify and represent Christ and his death, and to be marks of difference between them and the unbelieving nations, Col. 2:17 , Eph. 2:14, where it is said, Who hat made both these, namely Jews and Gentiles, one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition, whereby the ceremonial law is understood, which made a difference between the Jews and the Gentiles. Now since Christ hath suffered death and the Gentiles are called, all these ceremonies which did foresignify his death and made that difference must of necessity cease. (9) Because the temple of Jerusalem, to which the ceremonies were restricted, is destroyed, and could never since be re-builded.
Did the Lord by Moses give to the Jews, as a body politic, sundry judicial laws, which expired together with their state? Yes. Do they oblige any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require? No. Exod. 21 from the first to the last verse, Exod. 22:1 to verse 29, Gen. 49:10, I Cor. 9:8-10, I Peter 2:13-14, Matt. 5:17 , 38-39. Well then, do not some err, though otherwise orthodox, who maintain that the whole judicial law of the Jews is yet alive, and binding all of us, who are Christian Gentiles? Yes.
By what reasons are they confuted? (1) Because the judicial law was delivered by Moses to the Israelites to be observed as a body politic, Exod. 21 . (2) Because this Law, in many things, which are of particular right, was accommodated to the commonwealth of the Jews, and not to other nations also, Exod. 22:3 , Exod. 21:2 , Lev. 25:2-3 , Deut. 24:1-3 , Deut. 25:5-7. (3) Because in other things, which are not of particular right, it is neither from the law of nature, obliging by reason, neither is it pressed upon believers under the gospel to be observed. (4) Because believers are appointed under the gospel to obey the civil laws, and commands of those under whose government they live, providing they be just, and that for conscience sake, Rom. 13:1 , I Peter 2:13-14, Titus 3:1 .
Is an oath warranted by the Word of God, under the New Testament as well as under the Old, in matters of weight and moment? Yes, Heb. 6:16 , Isa. 65:16 , Gal. 1:20 , Rom. 1:9 , Rom. 9:1 , II Cor. 1:18, 23, and II Cor. 11:31 with II Cor. 2:19, I Thess. 5:27, Rev. 10:6 . Well then, do not the Quakers and Anabaptists err, who maintain that there is no lawful use of an oath under the New Testament? Yes. Do not likewise the Papists err, who make it a degree of perfection to abstain from all oaths? Yes.
By what reasons are they confuted?….(2) Because the calling upon the name of God with due fear and reverence in swearing is commanded in the third command, as the profanation of his name is forbidden: but Christ came not to abolish the moral law….(6) Because there being an express law for swearing (to wit rightly, Deut. 10:20 ), it must either belong to the moral law, to the judicial law, or ceremonial law. The adversaries will not call it a part of the judicial law, which was given to the Jews as a body politic, which expired together with the state of that people. It is no part of the ceremonial law, for what was purely ceremonial was purely typical, but the law concerning an oath was not a type of anything to come. And if it was a type, where will you find its antitype in all the gospel, or the thing represented by it? Therefore it must be a part of the moral law, Deut. 6:13 , Jer. 4:2 , and consequently perpetual, which Christ came not to destroy.