The greatest difficulty for lost sinners, besides them being at odds with a holy God, is understanding their fallen position. I have heard one popular spiritual teacher say that people don’t need to be told they’re sinners, that they already know, and what they need is the the hope of the gospel. The question, “Is this true?”, hardly gets the root of the problem. The real question is, “Which part of that statement is true?”
Romans 1 articulates three truths: people know that God exists (1:19), people know that there is a divine law (1:32), and they don’t care (1:21). The greater biblical witness is that even if people know they are sinners, they actually don’t give two rips about it. They don’t want the hope of the gospel. They want to go their own way. There is grief over consequences, not over offense. And such were some of us.
That is, until we are regenerated and circumcised in heart. Enter the law of God. There is an enduring law of God which all men and women have flouted. The Confession helps us take this complicated truth and break it down.
The Confession begins, God gave to Adam a law of universal obedience written in his heart, and a particular precept of not eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it, and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
From the very beginning, there was a law to keep. Adam and Eve were obedient creatures, as Ecclesiastes makes clear. “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Eccl. 7:29). If we were upright, that means we kept a divine precept, not our own.
What was this law? While we do not have a “ten commandments of the garden”, we can rightly say that the ten commandments of Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 are a pure distillation of the law of God which all men know. And in eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the "particular precept", the other commandments were broken. God was not honored, and mankind was banished into a cursed world.
God told Adam particularly, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16b-17). The consequence of disobedience was death. Therefore, the blessing would have been life. Until the time of Christ, these were the only two people who had true free will. They could choose obedience or disobedience, and they chose disobedience, thereby bringing down a curse on the ground and punishment on themselves and their posterity.
The Confession then explains the codifying of this law of God. The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall; and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.
Our sinfulness did not negate God’s righteousness, nor his law’s. As Romans 1 told us, recognition of the law of God does not produce a fondness for it. But Romans 2 continues, “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (2:14-15).
No one wants to be wronged, so at times we will do good to others so they will not do evil to us. That in itself is evidence that the law of God is known to us but that our motivations are selfish, not directed toward God.
It is also evidence that morality comes from a transcendent source, not within ourselves. People may argue the relativity of morality, but it is a tactic to disarm those who disagree and obscure the issue further.
Note that transcendent morality, the law of God, is not in conflict with itself. We are in conflict with the law of God. Our consciences accuse us when we are in conflict with the law, but we have developed an incredible ability to excuse ourselves.
It is the grace of God that he codified his law into ten commandments on Sinai. A parent might try to have one rule for his toddler child: don’t get hit by a car. But to communicate that one rule to his child, he might have other rules: don’t go outside by yourself, don’t go past the fence, don’t go in the road, etc.
In a similar way, the ten commandments communicate the two great commandments. When Jesus was asked by a lawyer of the Pharisees to identify the greatest commandment, Jesus responds, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:27-40).
If you keep the ten commandments, you will keep the two great commandments. If you keep the two great commandments, you will keep the ten commandments.
But we know that there are many more laws than just these ten. How does the church read and understand all of those? We’ll learn what the Confession says next time.