“Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: Yea, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)
In the preceding discourse, we saw the most usual ways of making the law void through faith. These are: first, by not preaching it at all; which makes it all void, under the guise of preaching Christ and magnifying the gospel; second, by teaching that faith supersedes the need for holiness; that this is less necessary now, or that a lesser degree of it necessary than before Christ came; or that it is less necessary for us, because we believe, than it would have been otherwise; which is to say that Christian liberty is a liberty from holiness; or, third, by making the law void in practice, by living as though faith excuses us from holiness; allowing ourselves to remain in sin, “because we are not under the law, but under grace.” Now we will consider how we may follow a better pattern, so that we may be able to say with the Apostle, “Yea, we establish the law.”
We do not establish the old ceremonial law; we know that is abolished forever. Neither do we establish the whole Mosaic system; we know our Lord has nailed this to His cross. Nor do we establish the moral law, as if keeping all the commandments were the basis of our justification. But, all this being agreed, we still, according to the Apostle’s use of the term, “establish the law,” the moral law.
I. We Establish the Law by Our Doctrine
We establish the law, first, by our doctrine; by trying to preach it in its entirety, to explain and enforce every part of it, in the same manner as our great Teacher did while on the earth. We establish it by following St. Peter’s advice: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God;” teaching what the holy men of long ago and the apostles, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke and wrote for our instruction. We establish it when we speak, by holding back nothing from those who hear; by declaring to them, without reservation, the whole counsel of God. And in order to be effective, we use plain language. “We are not as many that corrupt the word of God;” we do not mix, adulterate, or soften it, to make it suit the taste of the hearers.
We establish the law when we declare every commandment, not only regarding the outward action which it either forbids or commands, but also the inward principle; the thoughts, desires, and intents of the heart.
And we do this diligently, not only because the law is so important; but also because it is little understood. We could say that the law in its full spiritual meaning is “a mystery which was hid from ages and generations since the world began.” It was completely hidden from the heathen world. They, with all their supposed wisdom, neither found God, nor His law. “Their foolish hearts were darkened;” while “professing themselves wise, they became fools.” And it was almost equally hidden, as to its spiritual meaning, from nearly all of the Jewish people. Our Lord continually scolded them for their misinterpretations of it. For they assumed that they only needed to make the outside of the cup clean; that outward exactness would atone for inward unholiness, for the total neglect of both justice and mercy, of faith and of love for God.
But, alas! The law of God, as to its inward, spiritual meaning, is not hidden from the Jews or heathens only, but also from a vast majority of what is called the Christian world. The spiritual meaning of God’s commandments is still a mystery to these as well. Nor is this observable only in those lands which are covered with Romish darkness and ignorance. It is certain that even most Protestants are complete strangers to the law of Christ, to its purity and spirituality.
Therefore, to this day, “the Scribes and Pharisees,” those who have the powerless form of religion, and who are wise in their own eyes, and righteous in their own pride, “hearing these things, are offended” when we speak of the religion of the heart; and particularly when we show that without this, even if we were to “give all our goods to feed the poor,” it would be of no benefit to us. But they must be offended, for we must speak the truth. It is our responsibility, whether they will hear or not, to rescue our own souls. We are to declare all that is written in God’s Word, not to please men, but the Lord. At the same time that we proclaim all the blessings and privileges which God has prepared for His children, we are also to teach all the things He has commanded. And we know that all these are useful; either for waking those that are asleep, instructing the ignorant, or building up and perfecting the saints. We know that “all Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, or for instruction in righteousness;” and that “the man of God,” as God works in his soul, needs every part of it, so that he may “be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
It is our responsibility to preach Christ by preaching all that He has revealed. Perhaps we may receive a special blessing from God by declaring the love of our Lord Jesus Christ; we may speak especially of “the Lord our righteousness;” we may describe the grace of God in Christ, “reconciling the world unto himself;” and we may declare His praise, as “bearing the iniquities of us all, as wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, that by His stripes we might be healed:” but we would still not be preaching Christ according to His word if we were to limit ourselves to this. We are not innocent before God unless we proclaim Him in all His offices. To preach Christ is to preach him not only as our great High Priest, “reconciling us to God by His blood” and “ever living to make intercession for us;” but also as a King forever, giving laws to all whom He has purchased with His blood; as reigning in all believing hearts until He has “subdued all things to himself,” until he has utterly cast out all sin and brought in everlasting righteousness.
II. We Establish It By Preaching That Faith Produces Holiness
Second, we establish the law when we preach faith in Christ so as not to replace, but to produce all holiness, negative and positive, of the heart and of the life. In order to do this, we continually declare that Christian faith is only the servant of love. As glorious as it is, it is not the ultimate goal of the commandment. God has given this honor to love alone; love is the purpose of all the commandments of God. And it will endure when heaven and earth pass away; for “love” alone “never faileth.” Faith will be swallowed up in the everlasting vision of God. But even then, love,
Its nature and its work still the same,
Lasting its lamp and unconsumed its flame, —
In deathless triumph shall forever live,
And endless good diffuse, and endless praise receive.
Wonderful things are spoken of faith, and whoever partakes of it may say with the Apostle, “Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift.” But it still loses all its excellence when compared with love. The thing St. Paul observes concerning the glory of the gospel, which is greater than that of the law, may also be said of the glory of love, which is greater than that of faith: “For if that which is done away is glorious, much more does that which remaineth exceed in glory.” The glory of faith is that it serves love. It is the great temporary means by which God accomplishes that eternal purpose.
Faith, then, was originally designed by God to re-establish the law of love. By speaking of it in this way, we are not undervaluing it, but showing its real worth, and giving it that place which the wisdom of God gave it from the beginning. It is the glorious means of restoring that holy love in which man was originally created. Therefore, although faith has no value in itself, but because it leads to that purpose, and because it is the only means under heaven for accomplishing it; it is an unspeakable blessing to man, and of unspeakable value before God.
III. We Establish It in Our Hearts and Lives
The most important way to establish the law is to establish it in our own hearts and lives. Without this, what good would all the rest do? If the law we preached were not established in our hearts, our preaching would only increase our damnation.
How can we establish the law in our hearts so that it may have the greatest influence on our lives? It is faith alone that fulfills this purpose, as we have learned from daily experience. While we look steadily, not at the things which are seen, but at those which are unseen, we are more and more crucified to the world. If our soul’s eye is continually fixed, not on the things which are earthly, but on those which are eternal, then our affections are gradually loosened from earth, and set on things above. And so, faith is the means by which all righteousness and true holiness grows; by which the holy and spiritual law is established in the hearts of those who believe.
And by our faith, our confidence in a pardoning God, we establish His law in our own hearts even more effectively. For there is no motive which so powerfully inclines us to love God as our sense of the love of God in Christ. Nothing enables us to give our hearts to Him who was given for us like a piercing conviction of this. And this principle of grateful love for God causes us to love our brother also. As a result, it is, as the Apostle observes, “the fulfilling of the law.” “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not kill; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, thou shalt love your neighbor as thyself.” Neither is love content with merely not doing evil to our neighbor. It continually motivates us to do as much good as we can to all men, as we have time and opportunity. It is, therefore, the fulfilling of both the positive and the negative law of God.
And faith does not only fulfill the law externally, but it works inwardly by love, purifying of the heart, cleansing it from all evil desires. Everyone that has this faith, “purifieth himself even as He is pure;” purifies himself from every earthly, sensual desire; from all evil and perverse affections; even from that carnal mind which is opposed to God. At the same time, if it completes its work, it fills him with all goodness, righteousness, and truth. It brings heaven into his soul; and causes him to walk in the light, even as God is in the light.
Let us try, in this manner, to establish the law in ourselves; not sinning “because we are under grace,” but rather using all the power we receive from it “to fulfill all righteousness.” Remembering the light we received from God while His Spirit was convicting us of sin, let us be careful that we do not put out that light. Let nothing influence us to rebuild what we have destroyed; to resume anything, great or small, which we clearly once knew was not for the glory of God, or for the benefit of our own soul. And let us not neglect anything, great or small, which we could not have neglected before with a clear conscience. To increase and perfect the light which we had before, let us now add the light of faith. Walking now with joy, and not with fear, in a clear, steady view of eternal things, we see pleasure, wealth, praise, all the things of earth, as bubbles in the water; considering nothing important, nothing desirable, nothing worth a second thought, except that which is “within the veil,” where Jesus “sitteth at the right hand of God.”
Can you say, “You are merciful to my unrighteousness; my sins You remember no more?” Then, in the future, see that you run from sin as from a snake! How exceedingly sinful it appears to you now! How hellish beyond all description! On the other hand, in how attractive a light you now see the holy and perfect will of God! Therefore, work that it may be fulfilled, both in you, by you, and upon you! Watch and pray so that you may no longer sin, so that you may see and avoid the least violation of His law! You see the sins which you could not see before, now that the Sun of Righteousness shines in your heart. Then be careful to walk according to the light you have received! Strongly desire to receive more light each day, more of the knowledge and love of God, more of the Spirit of Christ, more of His life, and of the power of His resurrection! Now use all the knowledge, and love, and life, and power you have already attained. In this way you will continue on from faith to faith; increasing in holy love day by day, until faith is swallowed up in sight, and the law of love is established for all eternity!
This excerpt from John Wesley, edited for conciseness and readability, was originally published in A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century by Stephen Gibson.