Belgic Confession, Article 25: The Threefold Law Given to Israel
by Rev. Martyn McGeown, Missionary-pastor, Limerick Reformed Fellowship
Psalm 147:19: “He sheweth His word unto Jacob, His statutes and His judgments unto Israel”
Belgic Confession Articles 22-24 have dealt with faith, justification, and sanctification and good works. The question naturally arises—what about the law? In Reformed theology the law of God has an important place and role to play in the life of the church and of the Christian. The law, although as we have seen in no way contributes to our justification or righteousness before God, remains binding upon all sinners, and remains the rule by which Christians are called to live. “As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12). Paul quotes many of the Ten Commandments as binding upon New Testament believers (Rom. 13:9-10; Eph. 4:25, 28, 6:1-3).
But we need to understand what the law is. First, the law refers to the Torah, the first five books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy). Second, the law refers to all the commandments, statutes and ordinances contained in the Old Testament. Third, the law refers to the threefold division of the Law—the moral law, the civil law and the ceremonial law. All of these laws were received while Israel camped at Mount Sinai. It is especially the ceremonial law which is the focus of Belgic Confession Article 25.
Israel’s sojourn at Mount Sinai was memorable. Who could forget the smoke, the fire, the thundering, the lighting, the terrible quaking of the entire mountain and the awe inspiring voice of the Almighty which sounded like a long trumpet blast? (Ex. 19:18, 20:18). Even Moses confessed, “I exceedingly fear and quake” (Heb. 12:21). At the same time, Israel sinned grievously at Sinai by making and worshipping a golden calf. But the highlight of Sinai was the giving of the law. To no other nation did God give such a righteous law. This law was designed to regulate every aspect of Israel’s life, to teach her how God was to be worshipped and what a life of thankfulness should look like.
Two parts of the law have passed away. The first is the civil law. These are the laws which pertained to Israel as a nation. For example, God legislated through Moses how the Israelites should do farming—do not sow fields with mingled seed; do not crossbreed cattle (Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:9-10). God legislated concerning property rights and laws of indemnity—if your animal causes damage to another man’s property or destroys his life you must make restoration (Ex. 21:28-36). God gave laws concerning punishment for various crimes—including the death penalty (Lev. 20:8-22). The second is the ceremonial law. These are the laws which pertained to Israel’s worship. There were instructions on constructing the tabernacle (Ex. 25-31); there were detailed instructions on the different kinds of sacrifices, apparel for the priests, laws concerning cleanness and uncleanness, and laws concerning the special feast days. Most of these laws are detailed in the book of Leviticus—a book which impresses upon us the holiness of God.
New Testament believers do not need to—indeed they may not—observe these Old Testament ceremonial laws. They were all fulfilled in the coming of Christ of whom these laws were but a shadow.
We live in full gospel light. We have no need to keep those laws.
Rev. Martyn McGeown (Larisa)
Pastorates: Missionary-pastor in Limerick, Ireland for the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Northern Ireland - 2010; Providence PRC (Hudsonville, MI), Sept. 2021Website: www.prca.org/current/news/churches/usa-canada/providence-prc-hudsonville-mi
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