Two Types of Divine Law

Jerry C. Brewer

Man was created morally, spiritually, and physically perfect—morally because he was created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27), spiritually because he was in fellowship with his Maker, and physically because he was given the tree of life to sustain him (Gen. 2:9). Before sin entered the world, man was unmarred by it and knew what was morally right. That was manifested when Adam and Eve sinned and realized their nakedness should be covered (Gen. 3:7-10). They were given only one law when they were created—a law that brought no moral condemnation in its violation (Gen. 2:16-17). But it did bring a recognition of moral rectitude. Thus, from the beginning, God had—and still has—two types of divine law, which are the subject of this study.

Moral Law

The moral law of God is impressed upon the human race because man is in God’s image and that law regulates man’s conduct toward his fellow man. To violate this law is to sin against God. The tenets of this impressed law are right in the very nature of the case; they have been so from the creation, and they are universal, unchanged, and unchangeable. God’s moral law is not right because God gave it. God gave it because it is right. For instance, it was wrong from the very beginning of man’s existence to commit murder, and when Cain murdered Abel, he was cursed (Gen. 4). The prohibition against murder was never written until the Ten Commandments were given, but it was morally wrong to commit it and Cain paid a price for his action. Murder is not wrong because it was forbidden in the Mosaic Law, but because it was always wrong from the beginning, and it remains morally wrong in every society upon the earth. God’s moral law has always been in force, whether expressed in writing or not. Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). In order for murder to be sin, there had to be a law against it, but a law does not have to be written down to be in force. Concerning God’s moral law, Guy N. Woods made this point:

We are not to fall into the error of assuming that these laws had their origin on Mt. Sinai. …It was just as wrong to kill, and to steal, and to covet, and so on, before God gave the law on Sinai, as it was after. Why, then, were these laws given? Paul, in the seventh chapter of Romans, in discussing the purpose of the Law, tells us that it was for the purpose of making sin exceedingly sinful, that is, for the purpose of sharpening the people’s concept of sin—in order to make the people more aware of what it means to transgress God’s law (Rom. 7:13). …It was for this reason that God gave the Law on Sinai—in order to make the people more aware of wrong doing—to set it out in simple and outline form so the people would possess a consciousness of wrong doing. But get it please: It was just as wrong to kill before Sinai as it was afterwards (“Tests of Faith,” Sermons On Salvation, Gospel Advocate Co., pp. 123, 124).

It is a near universal belief among religious people, who profess to be Christians, that morality is the means through which sinners are saved from sin. That is not true. If that belief were so, Jesus would never have come to the earth to die for our sins. Mankind was amenable to God’s moral law before Jesus came, while He was here, and mankind remains amenable to it in our day. Neither did Jesus bring any new moral precept into the world. There is another kind of law, given by God, that cleanses man from his sins and brings him into fellowship with God.

Positive Law

Moral law was given because it is right. God’s positive law is right only because He gave it. This is a stumbling block for most men because God’s law of salvation is of a positive nature—not moral. For instance, the first law God gave to mankind was to Adam and Eve. “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). When they ate of that tree, they did not commit an immoral act, but they died for violating a positive law of God. Benjamin Franklin was a preacher in the 1800s who wrote two volumes of sermons entitled, The Gospel Preacher. Of God’s positive law, brother Franklin wrote,

…positive divine law is of a higher order than this [moral law]. It has the force to make that right which is not right in itself, and is the highest test of respect for divine authority known to man. It is also the greatest trial of faith ever applied to man. It is intended to penetrate down into the heart, and try the heart, the piety, the devotion to God. The very acts that some men have irreverently styled, ‘mere outward acts,’ ‘mere external performances,’ are the Lord’s tests of the state of the heart, intended to penetrate deep down into the inmost depths of the soul, try the heart, the piety, the devotion to God. They try the faith. The man that will obey a commandment, when he cannot see that the thing commanded can do any good, or, it may be, that he can see pretty clearly that it cannot do any good in itself, does it solely through respect to divine authority; does it solely to please God; does it solely because God commands it. This has no reference to popularity, pleasing men, or to the will of man, but it is purely in reference to the will of God. This is of faith; it is piety, devotion to God. It rises above mere morality, philosophy, or the pleasure of man, into the pure region of faith, confidence in the wisdom of God, and in submission to the supreme authority—yields to it reverently when no other reason can be seen for it only that the divine will requires it. The man in his heart says, ‘It must be done, because the absolute authority requires it’ (Vol. 2, p. 151).

God’s positive law tests one’s faith not his morality, because in positive law there is no logical connection between what God commands and what He promises as a result of obeying positive law. To Adam and Eve, there was no logical connection between eating fruit and dying. Guy N. Woods further noted that, “There is no necessary connection between a person’s keeping the moral law and his desire to honor God. In fact, a person may, and many people do, keep all of the moral law, and yet have not the slightest intention of honoring God” (Ibid, pp. 125, 126).

Man’s faith is tested today—as it has been from the beginning—by positive law, not moral law. The command to, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38) is a positive law of God. It tests man’s faith and one who refuses to be baptized for the remission of sins fails the test. He does not really have faith that saves. He may believe in God—that God exists—but he does not believe God (Rom. 4:3). In refusing to be baptized, he violates no moral law but, in so doing, he remains lost in his sins. To be a child of God ”by faith” is to be baptized into Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26-27).

Men carp, complain, and rail against God’s command to be baptized because they cannot see a logical connection between baptism and the remission of sins. Neither could Naaman could see a logical connection between God’s command to him to dip in Jordan to have his leprosy cleansed, and that command angered him (2 Kings 5:10-15). But when he finally did so, his leprosy left him.

So it is with baptism. It is a positive command of God that tests man’s faith, unrelated to any moral precept. (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). Baptism is absolutely necessary for one who desires to have his sins forgiven and go to heaven at last. It makes no difference how morally upright he may be. He is still lost unless, and until, he obeys this positive command of God.

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Author: Editor

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