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The Ten Predicaments

Therefore Peter Martyr did well resemble the Decalogue to the ten Predicaments, that, as there is nothing that has a being in nature, but what may be reduced to one of those ten; so neither is there any Christian duty, but what is comprehended in one of these, that is, consequentially, or reductively.

-Anthony Burges, A Vindication of the Moral Law, Kindle Loc. 161.

Everything boils down to the 10. This idea lines up nicely with Samuel Bolton’s contention that all of the Levitical laws serve as appendices to the 10 Commandments.

Law and Liturgy

Liturgies of the Western Church, by Bard Thompson, has been invaluable to me over the past few years as I consider the worship of the church. One of the more interesting things I gleaned from this book, with the help of a professor, comes from the liturgy of John Calvin’s churches in Strasbourg and Geneva.

Calvin, following Bucer, emphasized what has come to be known as the ‘third use’ of the law in worship:

In the main, however, as one can see in the liturgy of Grund und Ursach, Bucer used the law as Calvin also used it in worship: not to accuse sinners, but to bring the faithful to true piety by teaching them the divine will and exhorting them to obedience (p. 164).


In his Strassburg text, Calvin appointed the Ten Commandments be sung after Confession, even as Bucer had suggested in Grund und Ursach. Here he employed the Law according to its ‘third and principle use’; not to accuse and convict the sinner (in which case the Commandments would likely precede Confession) but to bring the penitents to true piety by teaching them the will of God and exhorting them to obey. ‘In this way the saints must press on’ (Institutes 2:7:12) (p. 191).

This seems like an insignificant point, but it had a marvelous effect on me. My home-church, for years, had a practice which has recently been changed. I really wish it hadn’t been changed; and I fear the reason it was changed was out of ignorance to this point. Let me explain.

During a service that involved the Lord’s Supper, we would recite the Apostles’ Creed followed by the Ten Commandments. Having learned the intentionality of Calvin’s liturgy, this bore a certain weight with me. I would reflect each service on the glory of faith before obedience, of accepting the gospel as the sole enabling for the keeping of the law, and as the sole source of forgiveness in my constant failure to do so.

The problem lies in the fact that many only see the law as either a) condemning and pointing us to Christ or b) something we can keep in our own strength. The Creed before the Law emphasizes that it is faith in Christ that leads to sanctification; that the gospel enables us to keep the law; that all our power for obedience is derived from what Christ has done for us. It drives us to Christ for forgiveness to be sure, but it also drives us to him to gain strength for obedience.

Calvin’s liturgy began with a confession of sin, yet the creed was sung before the law. This reflects a note that is missing in the modern church: the law condemns us and drives us to Christ, but once it has done so, faith in Christ now empowers us to new obedience. As John Flavel, Samuel Bolton, and others have said: the law sends us to Christ to be justified, and then Christ sends us back to the law to frame our way of life. But he never bids us keep the law under our own power. It is only Holy Spirit-wrought faith in him, living, dying, rising, that will empower us.

This is the indicative before the imperative played out in worship: to confess the faith before reciting the law; to confess our sins, to confess our faith, and then to confess the law anew as believers in Christ. Reciting the law before faith and reciting the law after faith are two totally different things.

A Theology of the Sabbath (3): John Owen on Christ’s Fulfillment of the Sabbath in the Covenant of Works and Mosaical Elements of the Fourth Commandment

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)
The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

This is the third post in a four part series. See part 1 (The Sabbath as Moral and Mosaical) HERE, part 2 (The Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE, and part 4 (the Sabbath in the New Covenant) HERE.For a broader summary of Owen’s argument and a fuller list of quotations see HERE.

All Owen quotations are from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980.

Owen’s basic principle regarding the fulfillment of the Sabbath (at least in my opinion) is not that Christ fulfills and abrogates the fourth commandment per se, but that he fulfills the Sabbath principle given in the Covenant of Works, which was re-stated in the fourth commandment. This could be complicated if we’re not careful, so let me give some explanation.

Let’s get our terms straight up front. Owen believes, like many of the Puritans, that when God created Adam, he entered into a Covenant of Works with him. The idea of the Covenant of Works is that God enters into an administration of his Lordship (to use Meredith Kline’s phrase) involving blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. In regards to the Sabbath, this entails the promise of eternal sabbath (rest, satisfaction, blessedness) with and in God:

Thirdly, Man is to be considered with special respect unto that covenant under which he was created, which was a covenant of works; for herein rest with God was proposed unto him as the end or reward of his own works, or of his personal obedience unto God, by absolute strict righteousness and holiness. And the peculiar form of this covenant, as relating unto the way of God’s entering into it upon the finishing of his own works, designed the seventh day from the beginning of the creation to be the day precisely for the observation of a holy rest (p. 338, emphasis added).

In other words, according to Owen, if Adam is faithful to God in perfect obedience for whatever set time God has appointed, Adam, having worked, will then enter into perfect rest – heavenly rest. But if Adam violates the terms of the covenant, he will be cut off from the rest (satisfaction, blessedness) of God. As a token of that promise of rest, God sanctifies the Sabbath and commands its remembrance and observation (Gen. 2:3).

A major question that often arises here is precisely what terms Adam had to keep in regards to obedience. We know for certain that he was forbidden to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We also have a clear indication that God sanctified the seventh day and instituted the hallowing of it as a command from the beginning. We also know, from the text of Genesis 1-2, that Adam is charged to ‘work’ and to ‘keep,’ or ‘tend’ and defend,’ the Garden of Eden. A strong exegetical case can be made that this entailed a priestly service. I wrote about this in one of my very first posts on this blog a few years ago:

As G.K. Beale notes in The Temple and the Church’s Mission, the terms of Adam’s ‘labor’ in the garden, ‘work it’ and ‘keep it’ (Gen. 2:15, ESV) are used elsewhere in the Pentateuch to denote priestly service. As the Levitical priests were to do the ‘service’ of, and ‘guard,’ the tabernacle, so Adam was to do the service of and guard the Garden. Since we hold that the same author wrote each of the books in the Pentateuch, it seems likely that he is intentionally demonstrating a parallel between the Garden work of Adam and the Temple/Tabernacle work of the priests. Therefore we may legitimately deduce from Genesis 2:15 the idea that the Garden of Eden was the first earthly temple and Adam the first earthly priest (cf. Beale).

In connection with the second deduction, i.e. Adam’s priesthood, we might ask the question, ‘what was his function as a priest?’ It is apparent from the text that his function was to serve God by caring for the garden both in its cultivation and protection. Yet it may also be inferred from Moses’ other writings pertaining to priests that, as a priest, Adam would stand as a representative before God. In the natural, physical sense, Adam would represent his wife as her covenant head by his actions. This would entail his remaining holy before God for her sake, his leading her in the worship of, and obedience to, God, as well as his service and protection of her. Yet, in the view of the Apostle Paul, as set forth in Romans 5, Adam’s covenant head responsibility extended not only to Eve, but to all of his natural descendents.

Therefore, we may deduce that Adam, in his priestly role, stood before God as the covenant representative of all those who would descend from him by natural birth. His position was such that he could either lead all future generations into worship, obedience, and blessing or into a state of curse by his failure as priestly covenantal representative, leaving all of his descendents without mediation unto God (i.e. utterly cut off from his [blessed] presence or pleasure). This line of reasoning is one proof for the existence in Scripture of what has traditionally been called the Covenant of Works.

This much we know. This is the big idea of the Covenant of Works. Now to the Covenant of Grace.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the apostle Paul sets forth the Lord Jesus Christ as the ‘second Adam’ (v. 45), who stands as our Mediator before the Father. In Christ’s obedience, as the second Adam, (taking Owen’s framework) he becomes our new Covenant of Works-representative. He perfectly keeps the commandments of God and therefore keeps/earns the right, as a man, to enter into God’s perfect rest. The good news (gospel) is that Christ has perfectly kept the Covenant of Works, but instead of entering into God’s rest, voluntarily chose to be cut off and suffer the curse of death (and a cursed death at that, Gal. 3:13) for his people. Therefore, those who trust in him are credited with his righteousness as he is credited (on the cross, in the grave) with their sin. That is what the theologians call ‘double imputation’ (our sin to Christ, his righteousness to us).

Moving back to the Covenant of Works, Owen believes that the principles of the Covenant of Works (I suppose you could call it ‘natural law,’ though I personally wouldn’t) are re-stated in the 10 Commandments as God’s rule of righteousness:

Now, the original covenant of works being, in this representation of it on Sinai, not absolutely changed or abolished, but afresh presented unto the people, only with a relief provided for the covenanters against its curse and severity, with a direction how to use it to another end than was first given unto it, it follows that the day of the sabbatical rest could not be changed (p. 391).

The great difference, however, is that God is gracious in his re-stating of the Law on account that he explicitly provides means for the forgiveness of sin (as Exodus 20 through the end of Deuteronomy demonstrates). In addition to this, the Moral Law (i.e. the Law that corresponds to the Covenant of Works) is mingled with ceremonial law meant specifically for the people of Israel in the context in which they lived before the coming of Christ.

Owen’s position is that Christ therefore performs a double fulfillment: 1) He fulfills the Covenant of Works ‘proper’ – that is, he keeps the Moral Law perfectly, thus serving as the perfect Substitute for our own failures and 2) He fulfills the ceremonial elements of the Law, thus causing them to cease as a requirement for obedience. On Christ’s fulfillment and abolishing of the ceremonial aspects of the fourth commandment, Owen writes,

The representation of that covenant, with the sanction given unto it amongst the judgments of righteousness in the government of the people in the land of Canaan, which was the Lord’s, and not theirs, made it a yoke and burden; and the use it was put unto amongst ceremonial observances made it a shadow: in all which respects it is abolished by Christ. To say that the Sabbath as given unto the Jews is not abolished, is to introduce the whole system of Mosaical ordinances, which stand on the same bottom with it. And particularly, the observation of the seventh day precisely lieth as it were in the heart of the economy (pp. 392-393).

The general Puritan position was that the Moral Law (not ceremonial), in our present age, having been fulfilled by Christ, serves a threefold purpose: 1) to show us our sin and failure and thus drive us to Christ in order to seek his substitution and mercy, 2) to show us how God would govern the world (civil), and 3) as the standard of Christian living. The Christian is meant to be conformed to the image of Christ; Christ revered, honored, and kept the Moral Law; if we would be like Christ we must honor, revere, and keep the Moral Law (realizing that we will fail on account of our sinful natures, and that our actual righteousness depends wholly on the righteousness of Christ as our Representative – thus living by faith).

As a final note, in anticipation of our next and final post, it is interesting that Owen asserts the observation of the sabbath on the seventh day (not in general) as wholly fulfilled and changed. This fact is interesting because, as James Dennison notes in The Market Day of the Soul, many of the Puritans believed that the actual ‘day’ of the original Sabbath (in creation, thus in the Covenant of Works) could not be known because God does not specify which day is the seventh day of creation. The day of the sabbath of the Mosaic covenant is clear, for God gave a double portion of manna to the children of Israel on a certain day, mandating the sabbath on the day that followed (Ex. 16:5). (It is interesting to note, however, that the sixth and seventh days represented in Exodus 16 predate the establishment of the ‘seventh’ day in Exodus 20. It seems the day was already clear and set). On account of this idea, Dennison argues, many of the Puritans held that the important principle of the sanctification of the Sabbath in Genesis is that ‘one day in seven’ be set apart for worship, not that the ‘one day’ be a specific day. We only observe the sabbath on the first day in the present age because it was the tradition of the apostles, not because of some other biblical/theological principle. Owen, however, departs from this line of reasoning, and sees the origin of the Sabbath on the seventh day and its change to the first day as supremely significant. We will look at that fact in the next post in this series.

A Theology of the Sabbath (1): John Owen on the Fourth Commandment as Moral and Mosaical

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of GodFor the One who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10).

The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)
The Law Written on the Tablet of the Heart: Image from Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom (Banner of Truth)

All quotations are from John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews: Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker), Reprinted 1980. For a list of relevant quotations, see HERE.

Update: See Part 2 (The Sabbath in the Covenant of Works) HERE.

John Owen makes a distinction between ‘moral’ and ‘Mosaical’ elements in the fourth commandment:

For whereas some have made no distinction between the Sabbath as moral and as Mosaical, unless it be merely in the change of the day, they have endeavored to introduce the whole practice required on the latter into the Lord’s day (p. 441).

In the above quote, he is making the point that he believes the Christian interpretation of the fourth (sabbath) commandment which requires the entire commandment to be seen as presently binding is wrong. He sees, in the fourth commandment, two distinct elements: the moral and the Mosaical. The moral essence of the command remains binding: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Ex. 20:8). The Mosaical elements, which are ‘explicatory’ of the commandment in the distinct setting in which they are given to Israel are no longer in force: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:9-11).

He explains:

It is by all confessed that the command of the Sabbath, in the renewal of it in the wilderness, was accommodated unto the pedagogical state of the church of the Israelites. There were also such additions made unto it, in the manner of its observance and the sanction of it, as might adapt its observation unto their civil and political estate…So was it to bear a part in that ceremonial instruction which God in all his dealings with them intended. To this end also the manner of the delivery of the whole law and the preservation of its tables in the ark were designed. And divers expressions in the explicatory parts of the decalogue have the same reason and foundation. For there is mention of fathers and children to the third and fourth generation, and of their sins, in the second commandment; of the land given to the people of God, in the fifth; of servants and handmaids, in the tenth. Shall we therefore say that the moral law was not before given unto mankind, because it had a peculiar delivery, for special ends and purposes, unto the Jews? (p. 314).

This view is predicated on the idea that the original Sabbath command was a part of the pre-Fall (Adamic) covenant of works. We will deal with that issue in another post (Update: see HERE). For our present purpose here, I will draw from a contemporary of Owen (and a Westminster Divine): Samuel Bolton. Bolton held a very similar view to the nature of Old Testament Law. He describes the relationship of the moral and Mosaical (which he divides into two parts, ceremonial and judicial; these have also regularly been called ‘ceremonial’ and ‘civil’) in this way:

The ceremonial law was an appendix to the first table of the moral law. It was an ordinance containing precepts of worship for the Jews when they were in their infancy…As for the judicial law, which was an appendix to the second table, it was an ordinance containing precepts concerning the government of the people in things civil…(The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, p. 56).

I have written on Bolton’s interpretation HERE. In that post, I shared a diagram (that I created, poorly I might add) that summarizes Bolton’s view:

Here is the explanation: the great commandment and the second which is ‘like unto it’ (Matthew 22:37-39) are further elaborated in the moral law of the 10 Commandments (or to put it another way, ‘Love God’ and ‘Love your neighbor’ serve as a summary of the moral law). The Moral Law is then applied specifically to Israel by way of the Ceremonial and Civil Laws (which Bolton likens to appendices, something added after the initial laws). The Cleanliness laws are placed in the middle of the appendices, between the Civil and Ceremonial, because they can fall into either or both categories (see the original post linked above for further explanation).

With this in mind, what we find in Owen is this: he believes that appendices to the commandments not only exist after the initial giving of the 10 Commandments, but in the giving of the 10 Commandments themselves. Restating the relevant parts of the quotation above relating to ‘Mosaical’ (Ceremonial/Civil) additions to the Moral Law:

There were also such additions made unto it, in the manner of its observance and the sanction of it, as might adapt its observation unto their civil and political estate…

He lists a few examples of such additions:

…There is mention of fathers and children to the third and fourth generation, and of their sins, in the second commandment; of the land given to the people of God, in the fifth; of servants and handmaids, in the tenth. Shall we therefore say that the moral law was not before given unto mankind, because it had a peculiar delivery, for special ends and purposes, unto the Jews?

While this interpretation might seem strange upon first reading, upon careful review it will be clear that Christians have always made such a distinction (and continue to make such a distinction) in parts of the 10 Commandments. For example, consider the 2nd Commandment (according to the Protestant numbering of the Commandments):

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.(Ex. 20:4-6).

The NAS, for instance, makes the point clear by translating ‘carved image’ as an ‘idol.’ Christians understand that the commandment applies to more than carved images. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, describes the requirements of the second commandment in this way:

Q. 50. What is required in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment requireth the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word.

Q. 51. What is forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The second commandment forbiddeth the worshiping of God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word.

We also, at least it seems to me, tend to stray away from the idea of direct, judicial generational curses, realizing that this element of the commandment was tied to the Mosaic administration of the Law.

Next, consider the fifth commandment:

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Ex. 20:12).

The land promise tied to obedience is, at least, radically changed under the New Covenant. It is clear that this promise (based on obedience) was in direct reference to the Promised Land of Canaan.

So then, Owen argues that the the majority of what is known as the fourth commandment is essentially an appendix meant for the children of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant; those elements, he will argue, are fulfilled in Christ, while the moral essence of the commandment, ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy,’ abides.

We will look at the rest of the argument in detail in future posts. Subjects included will be Owen’s view of the Mosaic Law (with the Sabbath in particular) as a restatement of the Covenant of Works, how Christ’s Law-keeping, death, and resurrection relate to the Sabbath command in relation to the Covenant of Works, and how Christ, fulfilling the Law, begins, in the resurrection, a new creation with a new (Christian) Sabbath – the Lord’s Day.