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Question 92. What is the law of God?

Answer. God spake all these words, Exod. 20, Deut. 5, saying: I am the Lord thy God, which hath brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 


Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  


Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and showing mercy unto thou sands of them that love me and keep my commandments. 


Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.


Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shall do no manner of work, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man servant nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it. 


Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.


Thou shalt not kill.  


Thou shalt not commit adultery.  


Thou shalt not steal.


Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.



Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour’s.



The doctrine concerning the Law, which is the rule of good works, next claims our attention, in relation to which we shall enquire:

  1. What is the law in general?

  2. What are the several parts of the divine law?

  3. To what extent has Christ abrogated the law, and to what extent is it still in force?

  4. In what does the moral law differ from the gospel?

  5. How is the Decalogue divided?

  6. What is the true meaning of the Decalogue, and of every commandment separately considered?

  7. To what extent can those who are regenerated keep the law?

  8. What is the use of the law?


We shall now proceed to the consideration of the first four questions here proposed. The fifth belongs to the 93d question of the Catechism; the sixth, to the 94th, and those which follow, down to the 114th; the seventh, to the 114th, and the eighth to the 115th question.



The term law (lex) is derived from lego, which means to read, to publish; or, from lego, which means to choose. The Hebrew Thorah, which means doctrine, agrees with the former derivation of the term; because laws are published in order that every one may read and learn them. It is for this reason that ignorance of the law does not excuse any one. Yea, those who are ignorant of the laws which have respect to them, sin in that they are ignorant. The Greek nomoj, which conies from a word that means to distribute, to divide, agrees with the latter derivation of the term law; because the law imposes particular duties upon every one.

Law now, in general, is a rule, or precept, commanding things honest and just, requiring obedience from creatures endowed with reason, with a promise of reward in case of obedience, and with a threatening of punishment in case of disobedience. It is a rule, or precept, commanding things honest and just, otherwise it is no law. Requiring obedience from creatures endowed with reason: the law was not made for those who are not bound to obedience. With a promise of reward in case of obedience; the law graciously promises blessings to those who perform acceptable obedience; because no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God.  Obj. But the gospel also promises blessings freely. Therefore the law does not differ from the gospel. Ans. The law promises freely in one respect, and the gospel in another. The law promises freely upon the condition of obedience on our part; the gospel, on the other hand, promi ses freely without the works of the law. The gospel does not, indeed, promise blessings freely, independent of any condition whatever; but only without such a condition as that which the law lays down. And with a threatening of punishment in case of disobedience; otherwise the law would be an empty sound, and of no effect. Plato says: “The law is a right form of government, which is directed to the best end, by means that are adapted thereto, threatening punishment upon transgressors, and promising rewards to the obedient. The term law is also frequently improperly used to designate the course, and order which God has established in nature. In this sense the law, meaning the order of nature, requires that fruit be produced by a tree. And Paul still more improperly calls original sin, the law of sin, because as a law it leads us to the commission of sin.



Laws are divine and human. Human laws are such as are instituted: by men, and which bind certain persons to certain external duties concerning which there is no express divine precept or prohibition with a promise of reward and threatening of punishment, corporal and temporal. Human laws are either civil or ecclesiastical. Civil are such positive laws as are instituted by magistrates, or by some corporation, or state, in reference to a certain order or class of actions to be observed in the state in contracts, trials, punishments, &c. Ecclesiastical, or ceremonial laws, are those which the church institutes in reference to the order which is to be observed in the ministry of the church, and which lay down certain prescriptions in reference to those things which contribute to the divine law.

Divine laws are those which God has instituted, which belong partly to angels, partly to men, and partly to certain classes of men. These do not only require external actions or obedience, but they also require internal qualities, actions and motives: nor do they merely propose temporal re wards and punishments; but also such as are spiritual and eternal. They are also the ends for which human laws are instituted. Of divine laws, there are some that are eternal and unchangeable; whilst there are others that are changeable; yet only by God himself, who has instituted them.  The divine law is ordinarily divided, or considered as consisting of three parts; the moral, the ceremonial and the judicial.

The moral law is a doctrine harmonising with the eternal and unchangeable wisdom and justice of God, distinguishing right from wrong, known by nature, engraven upon the hearts of creatures endowed with reason in their creation, and afterwards often repeated and declared by the voice of God through his servants, the prophets; teaching what God is and what he re quires, binding all intelligent creatures to perfect obedience and conformity to the law, internal and external, promising the favor of God and eternal life to all those who render perfect obedience, and at the same time denouncing the wrath of God and everlasting punishment upon all those who do not render this obedience, unless remission of sins and reconciliation with God be secured for the sake of Christ the mediator.  Harmonising with the eternal and unchangeable wisdom of God: That the law is eternal is evident from this, that it remains one and the same from the beginning to the end of the world. We were also created, and have been redeemed by Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that we might keep this law, or love God and our neighbor as it requires, both in this and in the life to come. “I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.” (John 2:7.) Afterwards often repeated: God repeated the law of nature which was engraven upon the mind of man:1. Because it was obscured and weakened by the fall. 2. Because many things were entirely obliterated and lost. 8. That what was still left in the mind of man might not be regarded as a mere opinion or notion, and so at length be lost.

Ceremonial laws were those which God gave through Moses in reference to ceremonies, or the external solemn ordinances which were to be observed in the public worship of God, with a proper attention to the circumstances which had been prescribed; binding the Jewish nation to the coming of the Messiah, and at the same time distinguishing them from all other nations; and that they might also be signs, symbols, types and shadows of spiritual things to be fulfilled in the New Testament by Christ. Ceremonies are external solemn actions which are often to be repeated in the same manner and with the same circumstance, and which have been instituted by God, or by men to be observed in the external wor ship of God, for the sake of order, propriety and signification. The ceremonies which have been instituted by God, constitute divine worship absolutely; whilst those which have been instituted by men, if they are good, merely contribute to divine worship.

The judicial laws were those which had respect to the civil order or government, arid the maintenance of external propriety among the Jewish people according to both tables of the Decalogue; or it may be said that they had respect to the order and duties of magistrates, the courts of justice, contracts, punishments, fixing the limits of kingdoms, &c. These laws God delivered through Moses for the establishment and preservation of the Jewish commonwealth, binding all the posterity of Abraham, and distinguishing them from the rest of mankind until the coming of the Messiah; and that they might also serve as a bond for the preservation and government of the Mosaic polity, until the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, that they might be certain marks by which the nation which was bound by them, might be distinguished from all other nations, and might at the same time be the means of preserving proper discipline and order, that so they might be types of the order which should be established in the kingdom of Christ.

All good laws, which alone deserve the name of laws, are to be traced to the moral law as their source, which agrees in every respect with the Decalogue, and may also, by necessary consequence, be deduced from it, so that he who violates the, one, violates the other likewise. As it respects ceremonial and judicial laws, however, whether they be divine or human, if they are only good, they do, indeed, agree with the Decalogue, but can not be deduced from it by necessary consequence, as the moral law, but are subservient to it, as certain specifications of circumstances. From this we may easily perceive the difference which exists between these laws: for it is one thing to flow out of the Decalogue necessarily, and another thing to agree with it, and contribute to its observance. Yet this difference varies, because the government of the church and the state is not the same; nor do these have the same end, nor are they abrogated in the same way.

But the chief difference between these laws lies in their obligation, manifestation, duration and use. The moral law is known naturally, binds all men, and that perpetually; it is different, however, with the ceremonial and judicial law. The moral law requires obedience which is both internal and external; the others merely require that which is external. The precepts of the moral law are general, having respect to all men whoever they may be; the others are special, and do not thus apply to all men.  The precepts of the moral law are the ends of the others; whilst they again are subservient to those which are moral. The ceremonial and civil laws were also types and figures of other things for which they were instituted; it is different, however, with the moral law. The moral law does not give place to the ceremonial; it, on the other hand, gives place to the moral.  We must also observe, in passing along, the difference which exists between the moral law, the natural law, and the Decalogue. The Decalogue contains the sum of the moral laws which are scattered throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The natural, and moral law were the same in man before the fall, when his nature was pure and holy. Since the fall, however, which resulted in the corruption and depravity of our nature, a considerable part of the natural law has become obscured and lost by reason of sin, so that there is only a small portion concerning the obedience which we owe to God still left in the human mind. It is for this reason that God repeated, and declared to the church the entire doctrine and true sense of his law, as contained in the Decalogue. The Decalogue is, therefore, the renewal and re-enforcing of the natural law, which is only a part of the Decalogue. This distinction, therefore, which we have made between the several parts of the divine law must be retain ed, both on account of the difference itself, that so the force and true sense of these laws may be understood, and that we may also have a correct knowledge and understanding of the abrogation and use of the law.



The ordinary and correct answer to this Question is, that the ceremonial and judicial law, as given by Moses, has been abrogated in as far as it relates to obedience; and that the moral law has also been abrogated as it respects the curse, but not as it respects obedience. That the ceremonial and judicial laws have been so abrogated by the coming of Christ, that no longer bind any to obedience, and that they have not the appearance and force of laws in respect to the present time, is proven, 1. From the fact that the prophets even declared and foretold this abrogation in the Old Testament. “Christ shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek. (Dan. 9:27. Ps. 110:4.) 2. Christ and his Apostles, in different places in the New Testament, expressly assert this abrogation. (See Acts 7:8. Heb. 7:1118; 8:813.) Instead of adducing a number of testimonies in confirmation of this point, we shall merely cite the decree passed by the Apostles when assembled in Jerusalem: “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us to lay upon you no greater burden, than these necessary things,” &c. (Acts 15:28, 29.)

3. When certain causes are once changed, the laws which are based upon these causes are also changed. One cause now of the ceremonial and judicial law was that the form of worship and civil polity which existed among the Jews, from whom the Messiah was to be born, might distinguish them from all other nations until the Messiah would come. Another cause was that they might be types of the Messiah and of his benefits. These causes now since the coming of the Messiah, have been done away with: for the Apostle declares that the middle wall of partition between the Jews and other nations has been broken down: “He is our Peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us,” “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. (Eph. 2:14. Gal. 6:15.) It is also every where taught in the New Testament Scriptures that the rites and ceremonies of the old dispensation have been fulfilled in Chris?. “The Holy Ghost, this signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while the first tabernacle was yet standing.” “The law and the prophets were until John.” “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink,” &c. (Heb. 9:8. Luke 10:16. Col. 2:16?)

The Jews are wont to bring forward the following objections against the abrogation of the laAv:1. The Mosaic ritual and the Jewish kingdom were to last forever; the former according to the command, the latter according to the promise of God. Circumcision is an everlasting covenant. The Passover was to be observed for an ordinance forever. This is my rest forever. The sabbath is a perpetual covenant. Thy throne shall be established forever. (Gen. 17:13. Ex. 12:24. Ps. 132:14. Ex.31:16. 2 Sam. 7:16.) Therefore the form of religion and civil polity instituted by Moses, has not been abrogated by Christ. Ans. The chain of reasoning in this syllogism is incorrect, for it proceeds from that which is declared to be true in a certain respect, to that which is absolutely true. The major proposition speaks of an absolute perpetuity; whilst the minor speaks of a perpetuity that is limited, inasmuch as an unlimited continuance of the Jewish rites and kingdom is not promised in the above references, but one that was merely to continue until the coming of the Messiah who was to be heard after Moses. For the particle Holam signifies, every where in the Scriptures, not eternity, but the continuance of along, though definite period of time. Thus it is said in Ex. 26:6, “And he shall serve him forever,” meaning until the year of jubilee, as we may easily prove, by a comparison of this declaration with the law respecting the jubilee, as recorded in Lev. 25:40. Again: We may also grant what is affirmed in the minor proposition, that an absolute perpetuity is promised; but this is a continuance, not of the types and shadows, but only of the things signified thereby, which are spiritual, the truth of which will continue forever in the church, even though the types and signs them selves be abolished by Christ. In this respect the signification of circumcision remains in force even to this day: so there is also a perpetual sabbath in the church, and it shall be perpetual in everlasting life: so also the kingdom of David is established forever in the throne of Christ.  Obj. 2, The worship which Ezekiel describes, from the fortieth chapter to the end of his prophecy, has respect to the kingdom of the Messiah, and is to be retained in it. But that worship is merely typical and ceremonial.  Therefore a typical and ceremonial worship is to be retained in the king dom of the Messiah; from which we may infer that the Jewish religion and polity was not to be done away with, but restored by the Messiah. Ans.  The major of this syllogism, if understood absolutely, is not true; because whilst the prophet speaks of the kingdom of the Messiah, he does not prophesy concerning this alone: for he at the same time speaks of the restitution of the ceremonial worship in Judea, after their return from Babylon, and foretells that it would continue until the Messiah would come. We also deny the minor proposition; for the prophet, under the description of types, did not only promise the restoration of Jewish types, but he more particularly foretold and promised the spiritual condition and glory of the church under the reign of the Messiah, which should be commenced in this life, and perfected in the life to come; which may be proven by the following considerations:1. The history of Ezra teaches that this restoration would n0t take place before the coming of Christ; neither will the other prophecies which are contained in the Old Testament, respecting the coming and reign of the Messiah in this world, allow us to believe that there will ever, even after the manifestation of the Son of God in the flesh, be such a glorious state and condition of the church on earth as the Jews dream of. Hence this restoration of Jerusalem, or the church, must be understood spiritually, or else we shall be compelled to admit, what is absurd, that this prophecy never has been, nor will be fulfilled. 2. The promise, in which the prophet declares that neither the house of Israel, nor their kings, would any more defile the holy name of God, must necessarily be understood in a spiritual sense, as referring to the perfection of the life to come. (Ex. 43:7.) And it is by no means uncommon for the prophets to connect the commencement of the reign of Christ with the perfect establishment of it. 3. The waters issuing out of the temple can not be understood of elementary water, but shadow forth and signify the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which were to be poured out in large measures in the kingdom of Christ. (Eph. 47:1.) 4. Lastly, we have for our interpreter the Apostle John, who, in the twenty-first and second chapters of the book of Revelation, describes the spiritual and heavenly Jerusalem, by which is meant the glorified church of the New Testament, in words taken, as it were, from the description given by the prophet Ezekiel. This prophecy, therefore, affords no proof whatever in favor of the observance of Jewish rites in the kingdom of Christ.

Obj. 3. The best and most wholesome form of government is always to be retained. The form of government established among the Jews was the best and most wholesome, for the reason that it was instituted by God.  Therefore it is to be retained. Ans. There is here a fallacy in taking that to be absolutely true, which is true only in a certain respect. The form ^)f government established among the Jews was the best, riot absolutely, but only for that time, that country and nation: for there were many things in it adapted to the state and condition of that nation, country, time, and ceremonial worship, the observance of which would now neither be proper nor profitable, because the causes on account of which those laws were given to the Jews are now changed or removed; as giving a writing or bill of divorcement, marrying the widow of one s kindred, &c. God did not, for this reason, institute this form of government that all nations and ages might be bound by it; but only that his own people might, by this disci pline, be separated for a time from the surrounding nations.  If any one should object and say, that if Christians are permitted to observe and conform to the laws of other nations, such as the Greeks or Romans, &c., much more ought we to observe those which were given by Moses, the servant of God; we readily grant the argument, if this observance is rendered without attaching to it the idea of necessity; or if these laws are observed, not because Moses commanded and enjoined them upon the Jewish nation, but because there are good reasons why we should now comply with them; and if these reasons should be changed, to retain the liberty of changing these enactments by public authority.  We have thus far spoken merely of the abrogation of the ceremonial and judicial law. We must now proceed to speak of the moral law.  The moral law has, as it respects one part, been abrogated by Christ; and as it respects another, it has not. It has been abrogated, as it respects the faithful, in two ways: 1. The curse of the law has been removed as it respects those who are justified by faith in Christ, in consequence of having his merits imputed unto them; or it may be said that the law has been abrogated as touching justification, because judgment is not pronounced in reference to us according to the law, but according to the gospel. The sentence of the law would condemn and give us over to destruction. Its dreadful language is, “In thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Ps. 143:2.) The sentence of the gospel is different: its language is, u He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” (John 3:36.) This abrogation of the law is the first and principal part of Christian liberty, of which it is said, “There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “Ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 8:1; 6:14.) 2. The law has been abrogated in reference to Christians, as it respects constraint. The law no longer forces and wrests obedience as a tyrant, or as a master compels a worthless servant to render obedience to his behests; because Christ commences in us by his Spirit a free and cheerful obedience, so that we willingly comply with whatever the law requires from us. The Apostle says, concerning this part of Christian liberty: “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom. 6:14.) What this liberty is, the Apostle explains in the seventh chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. “The law is not made for a righteous man; but for the lawless and disobedient,” &c.  “Against such, there is no law.” (1 Tim. 1:9. Gal. 5:23.)

Obj. The law and the prophets were until John. (Matt. 11:13.) Hence if the law was then first abrogated, as it respects condemnation, when Christ appeared in the flesh, it follows that the faithful who lived before the coming of Christ must have been under condemnation. Ana.  The law was abrogated, as touching condemnation, no less to the faithful v under the Old Testament, than to those who live under the New Testament: to the former as to efficacy and power; to the latter as to fulfillment and manifestation.

But the moral law, or Decalogue, has not been abrogated in as far as obedience to it is concerned. God continually, no less now than formerly, requires both the regenerate and the unregenerate to render obedience to Ms law. This may be proven:1. From the end for which Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. This was that he might make us, who were delivered from sin and the curse of the law, the temples of God; and not that we should persist in sin, and hatred to God. 2. We are bound to render obedience and gratitude to God in proportion to the number and greatness of the benefits which he confers upon us. But those who are united to Christ by faith, receive from the hands of God more and greater benefits than all others: for they do not merely enjoy, in common with others, the benefit of creation and preservation, but enjoy in addition to this the grace of regeneration and justification. Therefore we are more strongly bound to render obedience to the divine law than others, and that more after our regeneration and justification than before. 3. From the testimony of Scripture: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt. 5:17.) This is spoken, indeed, of the whole law, but with a special reference to the moral law, which Christ has fulfilled in four respects:

1. By his own righteousness and conformity with the law. It behooved him to be perfectly righteous in himself, and to be conformable to the law according to each nature, that he might make satisfaction for us, as it is said: “For such an High Priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners,” &c. (Heb. 7:26.)

2. By enduring a punishment sufficient for our sins: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” (Rom. 8:3.)

3. Christ fulfills the law in us by his Spirit, by whom he renews us in the image of God. “Our old man is crucified with Christ, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” “If the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies, by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Rom. 6:6; 8:11.)

4. Christ fulfilled the law by teaching it and restoring its true meaning and sense, which he did by freeing it from the corruptions and glosses of the Pharisees, as appears from his sermon on the. mount, and from other portions of his teachings. If Christ, therefore, teaches and restores in us obedience to the law, he does not abolish the law in respect to obedience. Paul teaches the same thing when he asks: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law.” (Rom. 3:31.)

The law now is established by faith in three ways:1. By confessing and approving the sentence which it passes in reference to ourselves, that we do not render the obedience which is due from us to the law, and are, therefore, deserving of eternal condemnation. We also confess the same thing by seeking righteousness without ourselves in Christ. 2. By satisfaction. By faith we apply unto ourselves the satisfaction of Christ, which is equivalent to everlasting punishment, which the law requires from us in case we do not render a full and perfect obedience to its claims. It is by means of this satisfaction now that we are justified, not indeed by the law, nor yet contrary to the law, but with the law, which Christ has fully satisfied by his perfect obedience in our room and stead. 3. By new obedience.  This obedience is commenced in us in this life by the Spirit of Christ, and will be perfected in the life to come. The same thing may be expressed more briefly, thus: The law is established by faith, both because the doc trine concerning the righteousness which is by faith, teaches that we are righteous, not in ourselves, and that we cannot be justified unless the per fect satisfaction which the law requires intervene, and also because the restoration of obedience to the law in us is brought about by faith.  The sum of what we have now said, touching the abrogation of the law is this: That the ceremonial and judicial laws instituted by Moses have been entirely abolished and done away with by the coming of Christ, as far as it relates to obligation and obedience on our part. The moral law, however, has not been abolished as it respects obedience, but only as it respects the curse, justification and constraint.

The objections of the Antinomians, Libertines, and others of a similar cast, who contend that the moral law has no respect to Christians, and that it ought not to be taught in the church of Christ, will be noticed when we come to the exposition of the 115th Question of the Catechism where we shall speak of the use of the law.



The exposition of this Question is necessary for a variety of considerations, and especially that we may have a proper understanding of the law and the gospel, to which a knowledge of that in which they differ greatly contributes.  According to the definition of the law, which says, that it promises rewards to those who render perfect obedience; and that it promises them freely, inasmuch as no obedience can be meritorious in the sight of God, it would seem that it does not differ from the gospel, which also promises eternal life freely.

Yet notwithstanding this seeming agreement, there is a great difference between the law and the gospel. They differ, 1.       As to the mode of revelation peculiar to each. The law is known naturally: the gospel was divinely revealed after the fall of man. 2. In matter or doctrine. The law declares the justice of God separately considered: the gospel declares it in connection with his mercy. The law teaches what we ought to be in order that we may be saved: the gospel teaches in addition to this, how we may become such as the law requires, viz: by faith in Christ. 3. In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ. With this faith is also connected, as by an indissoluble bond, the condition of new obedience. 4. In their effects. The law works wrath, and is the ministration of death: the gospel is the ministration of life and of the Spirit. (Rom. 4:15. 2 Cor. 3:7.)

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