No Good Effects By Preaching Law
From a Letter by William Huntington
I have watched narrowly to see what good effects this doctrine of yours produces among those where it is perpetually enforced, and I can see nothing produced to make me fall in love with it, unless it be blindness, confusion, feigned humility, and struggling under bondage; being influenced with malice against the gospel; calling everything that tends to make poor sinners free and happy, Antinomianism, not knowing what they say, but taking it from their teachers. The saints are a people that God has formed for Himself to show forth His praise. If he has created them anew in Christ Jesus unto good works, which He hath before ordained, that we should walk in them. It is therefore their new creation in Christ Jesus, and their abiding in Him, as the branch doth in the vine, that produces these good works which they are to walk in. As they received Christ Jesus the Lord, so they are to walk in Him Every saint must acknowledge as Paul, that, “by the grace of God I am what I am.”
If grace makes them what they are, sending them to the law will never mend this work, nor make the subjects of this workmanship better; God’s work is perfect, nothing can be added to it by the wisdom of men nor by the law of Moses; “The law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did.” The church is subject to Christ; subject to the civil power where they live; and subject to one another: but not subject to Moses, nor to his law; they are no longer under a schoolmaster, Gal. 3:25; no longer under tutors and governors, (Gal. 4:2) they are not under the law but under grace. When the false brethren came in to spy out the apostles’ liberty, that they might bring them into bondage; telling them that they must keep the law of Moses, we gave place to them by subjection, no, not for an hour, says Paul; nor did we reject the truth and admit their yoke of bondage, no, we gave place not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Gal. 2:4-5)
My friend will be ready to say, the way to heaven is a difficult way to find; and I answer it is so, because there is a ditch so close to it, which many fall into, being led by false preachers, deceitful workers, and blind guides, who turn from the truth that came by Jesus Christ, and get groping about Mount Sinai for help, till the old vail and the god of this world blind their eyes; and when they have lost sight of the puzzling mystery of the gospel, for such it is to unconverted men, then they think they see everything in the letter of the law and in themselves, and so become vain in their imaginations, their foolish hearts being darkened, they then follow vain jangling, and make shipwreck of faith, lampoon the power of religion, become haters of those that are good, deceiving themselves and deceiving others, till they get desperate against the truth, and it becomes a vexation only to understand the report of the gospel, but the path of the just hath the light of God’s countenance upon it; he that walks and lives by faith is in the narrow way that leadeth unto life, Matt. 7:14; for the just man shall live by his faith, and he shall walk in newness of life. This is wisdom’s way, “a path which no fowler knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen. The lion’s whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it.” Christ is the way as well as the truth and the life; to live and walk by the faith of Him is to walk safely indeed. “In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway thereof there is no death.” Though this way appears narrow and difficult, yet the poor believing sinner, who is nothing in himself, but looks to his Saviour for all, though he be a fool, he shall not err in this way: the Lord has promised to guide him and uphold him; and I will, says God, lead them “in a straight way Wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.” (Jer. 31:9)
The bad use that ungodly men may make of the truth of the Christian’s liberty in the Spirit is not to silence spiritual ministers, Christ’s yoke must be brought forth; the children of God must be fed; the gospel must be preached; the saints’ liberty must be shewed, and they cautioned not to abuse it, and councelled to stand fast in it; notwithstanding the villainy of those that come in privily to spy it out. Ungodly men will abuse the most High God, and even the Bible itself; therefore no wonder if they abuse the sermons or writings of His servants. The impenitent infidel, whose mind and conscience both are defiled; to whom there is nothing clean; who are condemned already, and under the wrath of God. will turn everything to bane.
But are we to muzzle the truth, yoke the saints of God with Moses’ law, and call the snares of death rules of life, to please them? No, this is putting stumbling blocks before the eyes of the blind, and making men stumble at the law, Mal. 2:8; this is not declaring the whole counsel of God; this is not leaving the work with the Lord, who has power over all flesh, that He may give eternal life to as many as are ordained to it. We are not to make such men as these the objects of our fear in the pulpit, nor keep back God’s word from His people on account of their abusing it: they call the Master Himself Beelzebub; and what can be expected from such men but sin? Ministers are a savour of death unto death to them, and are sent to preach the gospel for a witness against them; and their desperate wickedness against the gospel serves to shew us that they were before of old ordained to this condemnation, Jude 4.
I have considered the text you refer me to, “if ye love Me, keep My commandments” and I find His commandments are joyous, not grievous for the commands are that we should believe on Him and love one another. But those that call the law the believer’s rule of life, and me an Antinomian, show but very little of this love. He keeps the Saviour’s commandments who receives the word in an honest and good heart, and keeps it, such receive the word with power in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance such and only such keep the word of Christ’s patience, and He will keep them from the hour of temptation, Rev. 3:10. He that keeps the Lord’s commandments is united to Him by the bond of love in the Spirit; he that keepeth His commandment dwelleth in Him and he in Him. He that is a stranger to this union alive without the law, alive to sin and dead to God for “hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us.”
I have had a world of legal duties formerly pressed upon me, and I know what effect such preaching had and I see the same in others that fear God. It serves to nurse the pride of those that know nothing of the power of godliness. I have heard misers, persecutors, and hypocrites, applaud and admire the doctrine, but they have been dreadfully exasperated at some who are called Antinomians, if they have happened to enforce the necessity of the Spirit’s assistance in the performing of these things, and of their being done in faith. Men may lead people as much as they please with moral, relative, and church duties but if they spring not from union with the true vine; if not performed with the influence of the Spirit of God; if they are not done in faith, and with an eye to God’s glory they amount to nothing more than the works of the flesh, or dead works while the legal performer is as proud as Satan himself and, by resting in these things, is further from God’s kingdom than publicans or harlots.
A devil transformed into an angel of light is more dangerous than when he comes in character that is, as an accuser, a thief, or a robber, nor does Satan do the seeking sinner so much hurt when he throws him down and rends him, Mark 9:20, as he does when he points us to legal preachers, or ministers of the letter, crying out “these men are the servants of the most high God, that shew unto us the way of salvation,” Acts 16:17. He was as much a devil when he promised this world and the glory of it to Christ as he was when he wished him to throw Himself from m the pinnacle of the temple, Luke 4:9.
Satan sometimes turns reformer in times of danger when the gospel makes a stir in his territories; then is the time that he fires the zeal and increases the numbers of moral preachers; he knows what the law can do. . . . “The law worketh wrath, for where no law is there is no transgression.” consequently no transgressors. He knows that “the strength of sin is the law,” better than we do and he knows that those who are under the law of death are under the law of sin, hence it is that he never stirs men up to reproach, revile, belie, scandalize, or persecute, a graceless preacher of moral duties; for it is by the instrumentality of such men that he has brought thousands to his dark dominions: by such preachers as these the devil keeps both the pulpit and the pew; he stirs up the preacher to blind the people, and the people to applaud their blind guide and thus the god of this world holds both the leader and the led. When he stirred up the Jewish priests to reject Christ, and cast out His disciples, he became head ranger both of the temple and the synagogue.
The doctrine that routs the devil consists in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost telling Zion that the King is come. When the disciples preached this the Savior saw “Satan as lightning fall from heaven.” He cast abroad the rage of his wrath and set the world in a blaze. This sort of preachers are the only adversaries that the devil has got, he gains ground by the others. He was very high bringing over the whole church of Galatia by the instrumentality of moral preaching. If God does not uphold His people with His free Spirit, Psa. 51:12, I much question if any other yoke will do when trials come on. For my part, I never found any doctrine that would beget souls to God, keep them alive, make their minds heavenly, their conversation pure, keep their consciences tender, or make their lives exemplary, but that of enforcing regeneration, or a spiritual birth, justification by faith, union and fellowship with Christ by love; and a walk in the testimony and liberty of the Holy Ghost.
However, this I can say, that the religion that God has taught me has been sufficient to make me industrious and willing to live honestly and I must declare, and will with my dying breath, that I never knew what happiness and peace, rest, quietude, comfort, joy, or pleasure, meant until Jesus Christ appeared to my soul: in Him I have seen the perfection of all beauty: I have felt Him to be the foundation of all real happiness: the light of His countenance, and the anticipation of His love, is the quintessence of all that is called pleasure and to have Him is to be possessed of an immortal, incorruptible, undefiled, and never-fading inheritance which has so crucified me to this world, and the pleasures of it, that I have just as much desire to return to it again as Abraham had to return to Ur of the Chaldees, when God had promised to be his shield and everlasting reward in the land of Canaan.
Whatever the law of God enforces the Spirit of God impresses the mind with, and leaves the impression as legible upon the fleshly tables of the believer’s heart, as ever He did on the two tables of stone, 2 Cor. 3:3. The devil is never more to be suspected than when he appears in a pulpit in a large wig and long bands, with a grave countenance, an audible voice, ambiguous speech, zeal mixed with candor, enforcing moral virtue, and bringing in Christ as an example, but not as the root of the matter, nor yet enforcing the need of His Spirit, nor of union with Him.