Seed of Abraham and The Old Covenant (With Corollaries)
||[Editor's Note - This
material from Albertus Pieters' The Seed of Abraham (Eerdmans, 1950, 161
pages) should stimulate to further think through the relationship of law to the Old and
New Covenants. The following excerpts are taken from pages 26-40 and 115-121 of this book,
and are printed with the kind permission of the late Dr. Pieters' daughters.
In the context of these excerpts, Pieters made this observation:
The establishment of this Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai
was an event of the first magnitude in the history of the people of God . . . but it has
not caught the attention of the ordinary Bible reader because its importance has been
over-looked in reverence for the Ten Commandments, which form a part of the story. The
glory of a part has in this case dimmed the glory of the whole (p.25).
He then goes on to trace "the chief steps in the
process of instituting this Sinaitic Covenant" (p.26).]
Accompanied by very terrifying manifestations of
earthquake, fire and smoke, God then announced, in an audible voice, in the hearing of all
the people, the ten great fundamental requirements of the covenant. That these were really
spoken so that the people heard and understood what was said, is so repeatedly and
emphatically stated, and forms so essential a part of the story, that it must be accepted
by every one who retains respect for the record as a trustworthy account of what took
place. There is no room here for any figurative or symbolical interpretation. Afterwards
Moses ascended the mountain and received the Ten Commandments in written form, but their
original proclamation was oral, not by Moses but by God Himself.
The people, greatly terrified by thus hearing God speak
to them, approached Moses and begged that he should intercede with the Lord, that this
should take place no more (Exod. 20:19; Deut 5:23-29). This request received the divine
approval, and hence we read nothing further of any direct voice from heaven until it
occurs three times in the life of our Lord.
In accordance with the request of the people, all
further regulations with regard to the covenant were communicated through Moses. They were
written in a book called, "The Book of the Covenant" (Exod 24:4-7; Deut
As recorded in Exodus 24, this book was then
consecrated and confirmed by a solemn sacrifice, the blood of the victims being sprinkled
both on the altar and on the people, when they formally gave their consent to the
covenant. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that Moses sprinkled the blood
also upon the book; but where he got that information we do not know. No such thing is
found in the Exodus account (Heb 8:29).
establishment of the covenant was celebrated by a formal congratulatory dinner, at which
God was the host and the representatives of the people were the guests (Exod 24:9-11).
We find it difficult to conceive exactly what took place, especially in view of the
statement that they saw God (John 1:18), but in all probability there was some sort of
theophany, similar to those in Abraham's day, which made the presence of God palpable and
impressive to the assembled elders.
All of this, of course, was a pedagogical method, in
which God condescended to the mental and moral state of the people. Whether we understand
the details or not, the central significance of the transaction is crystal clear to us, as
it was to the people of Israel at that time. It means that God was making with the seed of
Abraham a new contract of the highest importance, by which their life was henceforth to be
To the original Book of the Covenant other laws and
regulations were added from time to time. Strictly speaking, these were not part of the
Old Covenant, but they were given to Israel as now organized under this Sinaitic Covenant,
and by virtue of it. Dr. John D. Davis, in his "Dictionary of the Bible," aptly
says that the Ten Commandments were the constitution of the theocracy and the other laws
were the bylaws. All of these regulations and ordinances together constituted the Mosaic
Law, called in Hebrew the "Torah"; which term later came to be applied to the
Eight Observations Concerning The
1. That it contained laws in regard
to the moral life, to the manner of religious worship, to civil relations, and to the
personal life in matters not readily classified as moral, liturgical or civil in the
ordinary sense of these terms. The rules in the last four classes are those [such as]
planting a field with two kinds of seed, or wearing a garment woven from two kinds of yarn
(Lev 19:19), to food permitted or forbidden, to personal habits, etc. For some of the
regulations we can now perceive reasons of hygiene, for others no reasons at all. The
chief purpose of their enactment was probably to make the Israelites a disciplined people,
a people conscious almost every hour of their lives of the distinction between right and
wrong, clean and unclean, things permitted and things forbidden; so that those who took
themselves seriously must be continually relating their conduct in its most minute details
to the will of God. This made them a supremely God-conscious people.
It also continually gave them the feeling that they
were not like other nations, who stood in no such covenant relation to God; and this was,
no doubt, the second very important purpose of all these regulations. They hedged in the
Israelites so that it was difficult for them to mingle in social relations with other
races. Ultimately it was their destiny, under the Abrahamic Covenant, to be a blessing to
the whole world, but that time had not yet come. For the present, the less intercourse the
better. Therefore, Paul calls these ordinances a "middle wall of partition"
between Jew and Gentile (Eph 2:14-15). . . .
It is neither necessary nor impossible, in this
discussion, to enter deeply into the nature of the liturgical and civil laws belonging to
the Sinaitic Covenant. The ... civil laws especially have awakened the admiration of
students of ancient law. They were not absolutely new. Archaeological research has thrown
great light upon this subject, and has taught us that these Mosaic laws were based upon
the legal principles and practices of the Semitic peoples, with significant modifications
and additions. Particularly noteworthy are the provisions for the protection of the poor,
the criminal, the slave, and the resident alien. Human rights are given precedence over
property rights in may cases, in a manner unknown to other ancient law, or even to
European law down to comparatively recent times. Moses was not guilty of the least
exaggeration when he said to the people:
What great nation is there that has statutes and
ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deut 4:8).
2. We further observe that among all
these laws the Moral Law stands distinctly first and supreme. The civil, liturgical
and personal regulations all belonged to the Covenant in a subsidiary sense, but the
Decalogue, having to do primarily, and almost exclusively, with the moral life, was The
As this identification of the Sinaitic Covenant with
the Ten Commandments is not immediately self-evident and has been often overlooked, let us
pay attention to the Scriptural proof of it. In Exod. 34:28 we read:
And He [God] wrote upon the tables of the words of the
covenant, the Ten Commandments (cf. Deut 4:13, 9:9, 9:15).
We may learn the same thing by comparison of two
passages in 1 Kings 8. In the 9th verse we read the following statement, occurring in the
story of the dedication of the temple:
There was nothing in the ark except the two tables of
stone which Moses put there at Horeb, when Jehovah made a covenant with the children of
Israel, when they came out of Egypt.
In the 21st verse of the same chapter Solomon says:
And there have I set a place for the ark, wherein is
the covenant of Jehovah, which He made with our fathers, when He brought them out of the
land of Egypt.
The second verse of these two texts is repeated in 2
From the above Scripture passages we see clearly that
while the civil, liturgical and personal regulations rest upon the Sinaitic Covenant, yet
they are not the covenant itself: that supreme position belongs to the Ten Commandments.
Because they constituted the covenant, therefore the golden casket in which they were
deposited was called "the ark of the covenant" (Num 10:33; Jer 3:16, et al.).
Sinaitic Covenant Made Only With
3. Having seen that the Sinaitic
Covenant is identical with the Decalogue, we must also see clearly the following fact: This
Sinaitic Covenant was made by God with the Seed of Abraham, the children of Israel, and
with them only. No part of it was directed to or intended for those who were outside
the Abrahamic Covenant; nor was any commandment in it, from the least to the greatest of
them, addressed by God to anyone but the Seed of Abraham alone.
This is so evident from the circumstances of the case
that it seems almost absurd to present an argument to prove it: and yet this is not
superfluous, for it has been widely and insistently taught that the Ten Commandments are
the law of God for all men everywhere and in all ages, the immutable, proclaimed at Sinai
for the government of the whole human race.
It is not difficult to see how such a misunderstanding
arose, for obviously all, or at least almost all of the duties required in the Decalogue
do belong to the universal and immutable Moral Law, and yet thus to identify the two is
truly a misunderstanding, and we shall fall into grave errors unless we recognize it as
such. The duties of the Ten Commandments did not then for the first time become moral
obligations to the Israelites when God proclaimed them from Mt. Sinai; except the
prohibition of the images and the duty of observing the Sabbath upon the seventh day of
the week. We have only to ask whether adultery and murder were not wrong in the days of
Similarly, the ordinary moral duties required in the
Decalogue have been recognized as moral obligations by the rest of mankind from the
beginning, entirely without reference to the Ten Commandments. This is not true, of
course, of the religious duties, which are dependent upon the monotheistic faith. For the
rest, even where the Ten Commandments have never been heard of, men know, and always have
known, that they ought to do what is commanded in them. The Chinese, for example, have not
the Decalogue, but are outstanding in their devotion to what is required in the Fifth
All this is clear from the facts, and is tersely stated
for us by the apostle Paul in the following words:
When the Gentiles that have not the law do by nature
the things in the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves, in that
they show the work of the law written in their hearts (Rom 2:14-15).
The Relationship of Duty To The
Hence, this is the way we must think of the matter:
Whatever in the Decalogue is a duty for us or for
all mankind, is such a duty, not at all because the Ten Commandments make it our duty, but
because it was a duty before they were given, and would have equally been the duty of all
men, even if they had never been given.
This is the same as saying that no moral duty for us
arises out of the Ten Commandments. They were not addressed to us and impose no
obligation upon us. They were for the Seed of Abraham under the Sinaitic Covenant, and for
them alone. There were no others present and addressed nor do we find in the Bible any
command to make them known to other nations; nor are other nations ever blamed for any
violation of them. They constituted a covenant by virtue of which God made Israel to be a
peculiar people for His own possession. Now the very essence of being peculiar is to be
different. The law, therefore, or covenant, which was intended to make Israel a peculiar
people, by that very fact is seen to be something in which other peoples had no share.
The wording agrees with this state of affairs. Listen
to the prologue:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land
of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
This is like the address of a letter. If by accident a
letter falls into my hands addressed to someone else, I know at once that it is not
intended for me. So it is here. In the Fifth Commandment we read: "That your days
may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." What land is that? The
land of Canaan, of course, It is not the United States of America. Read the reason for
observing the Sabbath given in the Deuteronomy form of the Decalogue, and the same thing
The Crucial Difference Between
"Profitable for Instruction" and "Legally Binding"
Now, do not misunderstand me. This insistence of mine
that the Ten Commandments were given to the Seed of Abraham only, and not to the rest of
mankind, is not intended to disparage this grand law, or to discourage the reading of it
in our churches and the use of it for religious instruction. Not at all. The apostle says:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is
profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2
If this is true of the whole Old Testament, manifestly
it is true in the highest degree of the Decalogue, and so has been found to be in use; but
this being "profitable for instruction" is not the same as being directly and
legally binding. The general civil laws of Israel are very much worth studying, and thus
are "profitable for instruction," but no one imagines that they are of legal
force for us.
The Right Use of the Ten
What, then, is the right use of the Ten Commandments?
It is to look upon their contents as, for the most part, a limited and temporary
formulation of universal moral principles, together with some things applicable to Israel
alone. In themselves, and as they stand, they were intended for Israel only and but for a
time. Since they constitute the covenant made at Sinai, they lost their legal force
with the passing away of that covenant; but the moral principles contained therein are
universal and immutable.
We have said that the Ten Commandments contain
universal moral principles "together with some things applicable to Israel
alone." One of those things is the prohibition of making images or pictures....
Another such thing is the position assigned to the wife
in the Tenth Commandment, as a part of her husband's property, together with his slaves,
his ox and his ass.
A third thing is the commandment to observe the seventh
day of the week, which we shall discuss later.
To some people the distinction made above between the
Ten Commandments themselves and the moral principles which they embody will no doubt seem
vague and unimportant, something little better than theological hair-splitting; but this
is far from being the case. If a man recognizes certain moral principles as binding upon
him, without an express commandment, he is free to work out the application of such
principles for himself; but if he believes that a certain divine commandment is addressed
to him, he has no such liberty, but must obey it exactly as given. To be guided by moral
principles is therefore the state of a moral adult; to be told by way of commandment what
he has to do, is the state of a servant or a child, as St. Paul points out in Gal 4:1-3.
The Example of the Sabbath
Let us take the Fourth Commandment as an illustration
of these principles. Say that this commandment embodies something of universal and
permanent value, namely that the welfare of men and the public worship of God require a
weekly day of rest, and our Sunday is as good an observance of it as the seventh-day
Sabbath. Call that a commandment, on the other hand, a divine order addressed to us, and
there is no excuse for substituting another day of the week. Upon that basis the
Sabbatarian position of the Seventh-Day Baptists and Adventists is, in my judgment,
impregnable; but their premise is wrong. They rest their whole case upon the contention
that the Ten Commandments, in manner and form as given, are permanent and are God's law
for the whole world, not understanding that they are identical with the Old Covenant, made
with Israel only, and that this covenant has been done away in Christ. . . .
The Mosaic Covenant Not Opposed
To The Abrahamic Covenant
4. This Sinaitic Covenant, being given
to the Seed of Abraham, did not in any way alter the terms of the Abrahamic Covenant,
under which they already were, nor did it supersede or annul that covenant. For this
we have the word of the apostle Paul:
Now this I say, a covenant confirmed beforehand by God
the law, which came 430 years after, does not disannul, to make the promise of none effect
The statement of the Scofield Reference Bible,
already referred to, that by their acceptance of the Sinaitic Covenant the people of
Israel "exchanged grace for law," is directly contrary to this apostolic
doctrine. Whatever grace they enjoyed before the institution of the Sinaitic Covenant was
their portion unaltered after that had taken place.
5. The next point to be remembered is
this: As the covenant at Mt. Sinai was made with the Seed of Abraham only, and with no one
else, so it was made with all the Seed of Abraham. No one under the Abrahamic
Covenant could refuse to accept this new supplementary contract without losing his
standing as a member of the Abrahamic group.
The Sign of the Mosaic Covenant Was
6. Our next observation concerning the
Sinaitic Covenant is that it had a sign, and that this sign was the seventh-day Sabbath.
As the covenant with Noah had a sign - the rainbow; and as the
Abrahamic Covenant had a sign - circumcision; so the Sinaitic Covenant also had its sign,
and it was the observance of the Sabbath according to the Fourth Commandment. This is
another thing that is commonly overlooked, but it is definitely stated in the Holy
Scriptures. We read as follows:
Verily you shall keep my sabbaths, for it is a sign
between me and you throughout your generations; that you may know that I am Jehovah who
sanctifies you (Exod 31:13; cf Exod 31:16; Ezek 20:11-12; 20:19-20).
What is a sign, or badge? Is it not a mark of some kind
to distinguish people who have the right to wear it from others who have not? No one but a
soldier has the right to wear the uniform of a soldier, for it is a sign that he is a
soldier. No one but a policeman has the right to wear a policeman's badge. No one but a
member of a certain fraternal order has the right to display the badge or distinguishing
sign of that order.
So it is here. The Sabbath of the Fourth Commandment
was a sign of the Sinaitic Covenant, and it was definitely intended, not for the world,
but to be the distinguishing mark of the Seed of Abraham under the Old Covenant, to be
observed by them and not by others, so long as that covenant lasted. Hence we see
that Calvin was absolutely right, after having spoken of the creation Sabbath, in saying:
Afterwards, in the Law, a new precept concerning the
Sabbath was given, which should be peculiar to the Jews, and but for a season (Commentary
on the Book of Genesis, chapter 2:1. Trans. by the Rev. John King. Published by the
Calvin Translation Society, Edinburgh, 1847, Vol. I., p. 106. Republished by Eerdmans,
Not only is no one under any obligation to observe the
Fourth Commandment who is not an Old Covenant Israelite; no one else has the right
to observe it. It is the sign, the distinguishing badge, of that covenant.
The Distinction Between
"Moral," "Ceremonial," and "Civil" Laws Is Not Valid As Used
By Most Theologians
7. The entire Mosaic legislation,
being all included under the Sinaitic Covenant, is one body of law, and every part of it
rests upon the same divine authority. It has been very commonly divided into three
codes: the Moral Law, the Ceremonial Law, and the Civil Law. To this there can be no
objection if it is thereby meant that there are moral, civil and ceremonial elements in
the Mosaic legislation. Certainly there are. They may be found side by side in almost
every part of it; but if it is intended to affirm that these are three separate codes, the
Moral Law, by which is meant the Decalogue, the Civil Law, which was applicable to the
civil life of Israel, and the Ceremonial Law, by which their public worship was regulated,
it is not correct. Such a division is then made the basis for holding that the
civil law, of course, became obsolete when the Israelites lost their civil independence,
and that the ceremonial law passed away in Christ, but that the Moral Law, the Decalogue,
remains in force and is binding upon us today.
Now the trouble with this line of reasoning is that there
is absolutely no Scriptural basis for it. No such division into three distinct codes
can be discovered in the text. The three element lie side by side, all having the same
origin and the same authority. The 19th chapter of Leviticus will be found to be an
interesting example of such a commingling of these elements. Moreover, in the New
Testament the indivisibility of the law is strongly insisted upon. St. James says:
He that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not
kill. Now if you do not commit adultery but kill, you are become a transgressor of The Law
Similarly, St. Paul says to those who wished to be
Yes, I testify to every man who receives circumcision
that he is a debtor to do the whole law (Gal 5:3).
That is to say: Place yourself under the law at one
point, and the indivisibility of the law forces you to accept the whole. Quite so, the
argument is unimpeachably sound. Therefore, we may with equal right say: "He that
said, Do not commit adultery also said, You shall not round the corners of your heads,
neither shall you mar the corners of your beard" (Lev 19:27). It is all commanded by
the same God, with one and the same authority. The reason for this untenable and
artificial division of the Mosaic legislation into the Moral Law, the Civil Law, and the
Ceremonial Law is the misunderstanding of the Ten Commandments and the over-estimate of
their significance to which reference has already been made. This distinction then
seems to justify the teaching that the civil and ceremonial laws, to be sure, have passed
away and need not be observed by us, but that the Decalogue abides as God's law for us.
The underlying idea is substantially right, but it cannot be justified by this kind of
reasoning. All of the Mosaic legislation stands or falls together, and the Decalogue is
the center of it. If the permanence and the universal authority of the Moral Law is to
be maintained, it must be done, not by identifying it with the Ten Commandments, but by
distinguishing it from them, which were only temporary and elementary moral precepts
for the Seed of Abraham under the Old Covenant.
The Elementary Morality In The
It may surprise some to have me call the Decalogue
elementary morality, but I have good authority for it. When the Lord Jesus was asked,
"What is the greatest commandment of the Law?," He did not reply by quoting any
one of the Ten Commandments, but by taking one passage from Deuteronomy 6:4 and another
from Leviticus 19:17. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the
prophets." These two commandments overtop the Decalogue as the Rocky Mountains
overtop the foot-hills.
Often it is said that these great commandments are a
summary of the Decalogue, and possibly the idea is taken from Rom 13:9:
For this, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not
kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and if there be any other commandment, it
is summed up in this word, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The apostle does not say that to love your neighbor is
the sum of all the commandments, but that they are summed up in it, that is to say,
are included in the scope of it. The two great commandments are much more than a summary
of the Ten, and this is evident, for a summary is always derived from the document that is
summarized, is of less authority than it, and can never contain anything that is not
included in it; where as the two great commandments quoted by Christ far exceed the
Decalogue in every way. You might as well say that the Pacific Ocean is a summary of San
Francisco Bay as to say that the two great commandments . . . are a summary of the Ten
given at Mt. Sinai.
The Old Covenant Temporary
8. One more observation: The Sinaitic
Covenant, while it was a grand work of God for a high and holy purpose, namely to train
for Himself a people in whom and through whom He might carry on His redemptive enterprise
for the whole world, was in its nature and purpose temporary, to be superseded
when its work had been accomplished. This bold statement I should not dare to make on my
own authority. It is made for me in the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31ff., where it was
announced that a new covenant should be made, not after the manner of the
covenant made at the exodus . . . . it belongs to a complete discussion of the Sinaitic
Covenant to point out its temporary as well as its strictly national character.
In mathematics a corollary is a proposition that is
obviously and certainly true if the main proposition, to which it is attached, is itself
true. In this chapter we desire to point our certain corollaries of our main proposition.
We have found that God established, through His
covenant with Abraham, a certain visible community, consisting of men, women and children,
to be known as His own people. Also, that, six hundred years later, He made with that
community a second contract, or covenant, imposing upon them numerous ordinances to
regulate their lives. Further, that He made in Christ with the same group still a third
contract, known as the New Covenant, in which that made at Sinai was abolished: which New
Covenant community is now commonly known as The Christian Church.
We have now to see what follows if this main doctrine,
as outlined, is accepted to be true.
Because of the abrogation of the Old Covenant,
nothing in the Old Testament Scriptures has any legal authority in the Christian life.
This has already to some extent been pointed out,
especially with regard to the Decalogue . . . . but it belongs here also, as a corollary
of the doctrine set forth. There is much in the Old Testament that is profitable to the
Christian for instruction (2 Tim 3:16), but nothing that is legally binding as a
command of God to Him. It will be understood that we speak now of regulative
ordinances, not of the fundamental moralities that belong to human life as such. These do
not depend for their validity upon any kind of covenant law, but are written in the nature
of man and are acknowledged as such by all mankind (Rom 2:14-15). Becoming a Christian
makes a man more sensitive to these fundamental moral obligations, not less so.
"Is Christ a minister of sin? God forbid!" The reference is to the things
commanded in the Mosaic law that have nothing to do with morality as such, but were
instituted in the time of spiritual childhood, for disciplinary training: such things as
what foods might be eaten, what kind of clothes might be worn, regulations about bathing,
fasts and feasts, the cleansing of houses, various washings of pots and pans, the use of
animals in work, the sowing of different kinds of seed in one field, the reaping and
threshing of grain, the giving of tithes, the observance of the Sabbath, the offering of
sacrifices, relationships within which marriage is permitted or forbidden. . . .
All such regulations, whether found in the Decalogue or
elsewhere, must be regarded as having lost their legal force as commandments to be kept,
when the Old Covenant was done away in Christ. This is very distinctly taught in the New
Testament. Christ did away with the "middle wall of partition" between Jew and
Gentile, "having abolished in His flesh the law of commandments contained in
ordinances" (Eph 2:14-15; Col 2:14). In Gal 4:1-11, Paul, with the utmost clearness
and earnestness, draws a contrast between conditions under the Old Covenant and the New,
by the figure of the position occupied by a child or servant, as compared with that of an
adult man. The child and the servant are told what to do and must do as they are told;
while the adult son decides for himself how to please the father. It is not that the son
is less eager to do the will of the father - he is more so - but that he must decide for
himself what course of action this requires.
The Doctrine of Christian Liberty
This is that great doctrine of Christian liberty which
is so prominent a feature of the New Testament, which the early Christians prized so
highly, which has been so abused and perverted by the antinomians, which was lost in the
Roman Catholic Church, and recovered (although partially and imperfectly) by the
Reformation, and which is still so poorly understood by the majority of Christian people.
That the early church did prize it highly is evident.
It was the thing at stake at the Council of Jerusalem, and St. Peter there called the law
of the Old Covenant "a yoke, which neither our fathers nor we were able to
bear." St. James is equally conscious of the new state of affairs, for he says:
So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a
law of liberty (James 2:12).
What is this strange thing, "a law of
liberty," according to which men are to be judged? It is the obligation to right
conduct coupled with the duty of judging one's self, in existing circumstances, what the
obligation to right conduct demands.
St. Paul will have nothing to do with regulations made
to govern the life of a Christian.
If you died with Christ from the rudiments of the
world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to ordinances: handle
not, nor taste, nor touch? (Col 2:20-21; cf. Col 2:16; Gal 5:1, 4:13-14).
In Romans 14, the apostle argues elaborately for the
right and duty of private judgment. Some Christians think it wrong to eat meat, others do
it; some think it a religious duty to observe certain days, other think God is to be
served equally on all days. St. Paul does not say that these things are
"adiaphora," matter of no moral significance. Had he so ruled, he would have
decided the dispute, which he pointedly refuses to do. Every such problem must be decided
by the individual Christian for himself, because he is a renewed creature, and therefore,
if he seeks it, will be given wisdom "to prove what is the good and acceptable and
perfect will of God" (Rom 12:2). . . .
This is not doctrine tending towards loose living, but
to very careful and godly living. It is a very high ideal, yet without any regulative
external ordinance. This is Christian Liberty, not license to do right and wrong
indiscriminately, but liberty to decide for one's self in the presence of God what is
right and wrong.
An Example of Confusion Brought
About By A Misunderstanding of "Law"
That Christian men have often not understood this, and
that many do not understand it today, is evident from the wrong use of the Old Testament
that is constantly made by devout and earnest men. A good illustration of this is an
incident that occurred in pioneer days in the Classis (Presbytery) of Holland. A man had
died, leaving a young wife, one or two children, and an unmarried brother. His brother
proposed to marry the widow, which was an excellent way of providing for her and her
children, under the circumstances; but the question was raised whether this was lawful.
Upon the basis of Lev 18:16, the Classis decided that it was not. The man did it anyhow,
and was excommunicated. No one thought to inquire whether all the ordinances of the Mosaic
law are still binding upon Christians, and if not all of them, why this one? The
Classis evidently proceeded upon the theory that the Old Testament as well as the New
remains authoritative in detail for the Christian community. It was in the Bible,
therefore it must be the law of God for us!
The Seventh-Day Adventist Church, with its insistence
upon observing the seventh day of the week and its demand that people pay tithes, is of
the same order, but by no means the only offender. To use the Old Testament ordinances as
"profitable for instruction" and as inspiring examples, or to discern in them
permanently valid moral principles is one thing; to insist upon them as regulative
ordinances governing the life of the child of God, is quite another. Of those who do this,
we make bold to say in the language of the Bible that although they desire to be teachers
of the law, they understand neither what they say nor whereof they confidently affirm (1
Tim 1:7). And also: "Do they not therefore err, because they know not the
Scriptures?" (Mark 12:24).
As the ordinances that governed the life of the Seed
of Abraham under the Old Covenant are abrogated; and as God has neither imposed new
ordinances of that kind nor appointed any one else to make them, every attempt by church
assemblies, bishops or Pope to establish such ordinances, binding upon the conscience, is
usurping, and ought to be resisted
The Roman Catholic Church has not offended against the
first corollary, as has the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, but is has offended greatly
against the second. It recognizes fully the abrogation of the Mosaic law; but it has
arrogated to itself the right to make other laws, more burdensome that those of the Old
Testament, and to bind them upon the conscience by the most awful sanctions. . . .
Other churches, however, have done the same thing in
lesser measure. Frequently Protestant churches have made rules forbidding card playing,
dancing, attendance upon the theatre, Sabbath desecration, the wearing of jewelry, smoking
tobacco, drinking alcoholic liquor, membership in secret societies, etc., etc., and have
made these tests of church membership, as if the church had the right to decide moral
questions for the individual. Church discipline there must be, certainly, when the
fundamental moralities are outraged by scandalous conduct, and on such points there is no
difference of opinion among Christians, but for the church - any church - to make rules
for the private Christian life is usurpation, and ought to be resisted. To make
rules for the transaction of its own affairs is the right of every such body, of course,
and so long as a person is a member of such a body ought to respect and observe such
rules; but it is not within the authority of any church to decide what is right or wrong
in personal conduct. I have never smoked tobacco, and do not desire to smoke, but if my
church should be so ill-advised as to forbid it, I should make a bee line to a tobacconist
and turn myself into a smoke stack, as do others, in indignant protest against such an
invasion of Christian Liberty.