The Law of God, as Contained in the Ten
Commandments, Explained and Enforced
By William S. Plumer, 1864
Few things are more commended or less understood, than
Christian liberty. Most men praise it; not many maintain it. The vile
Antinomian boasts of it, and casts off the cords of the moral law. The bigot
praises it, and counts you a fool because you do not adopt his whims. The
superstitious lauds it, and makes himself a slave of some imposture. The
openly profane struts, and swaggers, and is the servant of corruption. What
then is Christian liberty? The comfort and usefulness of many are destroyed
by not understanding this matter.
1. The first element of Christian liberty is freedom from
the ceremonial law of Moses. At this time the Christian world is undivided
respecting this matter. This was not always so. The apostles had much
trouble, and even Peter was involved in dissimulation on the subject.
2. Believers are free from the moral law as a covenant of
works. "You are not under the law, but under grace," Romans 6:14. "You are
become dead to the law by the body of Christ," Romans 7:4.
3. God's people are free from the penalty of the moral
law which we have all broken. "Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the
law, being made a curse for us," Gal. 3:13. The Judge himself, by his own
most precious blood, has opened the prison doors, and said to the prisoners,
4. Christ sets his people free from the torments of a
guilty conscience. They are not crushed with a sense of terrible
condemnation. He, who has a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery
indignation, is indeed in a sad plight. He has a hell upon earth. But the
blood of Jesus Christ speaks as perfect peace to the conscience as it does
at the throne of God.
5. Christ sets his people free from the reigning power of
sin. The unconverted are the slaves of lust, of pride, of malice and of all
iniquity. They are led captive by the devil at his will. But to his people,
Christ makes good the promise, "Sin shall not have dominion over you." He
preaches deliverance to the captives and sets at liberty them that are
bruised, Luke 4:18.
6. Christ frees his people from the evil of afflictions,
though not from afflictions themselves.
7. Jesus Christ also delivers his people, who, through
the fear of death, were all their lifetime subject to bondage--a dreadful
bondage indeed. Such are the chief elements of Christian liberty taken in
the broadest sense. But
8. The liberty of Christians, while it makes them
Christ's freemen, and binds them in chains of love to his service, delivers
them from the traditions and commandments of men in all matters of faith,
worship and morals. This is the sense in which the term Christian liberty is
now most commonly used. If God has made no law in these matters, we can do
as we please. If he is silent, man's word is of no force. That God has set
his people free from the commandments of men in matters of faith, is very
evident. Jesus Christ alike forbade his servants to be called Master, or to
call others Master. He expressly said that even the apostles should not be
lords over his heritage. The apostles disclaimed all dominion over the faith
of Christians. Churches have no power to alter, amend, enlarge, or
diminish the creed given us in Scripture. Nor can any church give
Scriptural authority for claiming the right of ordaining ceremonies,
and imposing forms upon the consciences of people; so that nonconformity
shall be esteemed schism. If some such things were commended as decent or
expedient, they might be comparatively harmless; but when they are exacted,
they are worse than tolerable fooleries; they are engines of wickedness and
The same is true of morals. That, which is not
made sin by God's word, can never become so by the legislation of men. That,
which is not in Scripture prescribed as a part of duty, can never become
such by the canons of church authorities. Sin is a violation of the law of
God, or a lack of conformity to a divine precept. Nothing else is sin. Men
have often forbidden what the decalogue required; and as often required what
it forbade. The rules to be observed respecting all attempts to bind us in
faith, worship or morals, by the commandments of men are such as these:
1. Never yield your liberty with which Christ has made
you free. Whether the laws of men shall be permitted to set aside divine
statutes ought never to be a question among men. To oblige another, Paul
would yield up all but his honor and his conscience; but when there is an
attempt to invade his rights under form of law, he exclaims, "I am a Roman
citizen;" and when they put his life in jeopardy, he exclaims, "I appeal to
Caesar." Rather than offend prejudices or hinder the gospel, he circumcised
Timothy because of the Jews, which were in those quarters. Acts 16:3. This
he did uncommanded. But when an attempt was made to enforce circumcision, he
"gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel
might continue with" the churches. Gal. 2:5.
Wherever there is a clear attempt at domination, the rule
of reason, of public spirit, and of Christian duty is one--Never yield an
inch. Paul did not.
Life is not desirable, when civil and religious despotism
have the sway. To yield a point enforced by no command of God is to admit
that there is more than one lawgiver. And to yield to civil wrongs, when the
laws protect us, is to admit that the will of one man is above a free
2. We must never hypocritically plead our consciences,
when in fact we are governed only by prejudice or passion. It is a great
weakness, and a wickedness to raise doubts where duty is clear, or to wish a
purpose defeated by a false plea. Let men never plead conscience where
conscience is not involved.
3. Let no man use his liberty for a cloak of
maliciousness. 1 Pet. 2:16. Even if we are in fact right, and our brethren
through weakness are in error, we may not be reckless of their spiritual
interests. We must love them tenderly and seek their good.
4. Beware of lightly esteeming one, who through weakness
does not use his liberty as he might. Paul gives the whole law on this
subject in Romans 14:1-4. 5. When a thing is lawful, or when it is not
forbidden, and the only question relates to the expediency of a given
course--the whole decision must be made by every man for himself. This is
clearly taught by Paul in Romans 14:10, 12. "Why do you judge your brother?
or why do you set at nothing your brother? for we shall all stand before the
judgment-seat of Christ.... So then everyone of us shall give account of
himself to God."
The spiritual despotism of modern times shows itself in
nothing more than in judging others, where God has left them free. This
whole subject came up repeatedly in the early history of Christianity, and
Paul then clearly marked the distinction between the lawful and the
expedient. "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient:
all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of
any." "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all
things are lawful for me, but all things edify not." I Cor. 6:12, 10:23.
This distinction should be preserved. Considerable difficulty arose
respecting things offered to idols. Animals were slain, and their
blood and fat used in idolatrous worship; but the meat was sold in the
market. Libations of wine were also offered in heathen temples, and the
priests sent to the wine-merchant what they did not wish for their own use.
Some contended that it was in itself lawful to buy and eat any meat sold in
the markets, and to buy and drink any wine offered for sale. Of this class
were Paul and other strong established Christians. But there were weak
brethren who doubted the lawfulness of so doing. These were tempted to judge
their stronger brethren, and their stronger brethren were tempted to despise
them. Paul would not have the strong believe that to be wicked, which was
innocent. He would not have the strong to become weak. But he would not have
the weak defile their consciences by doing anything, the lawfulness of which
they doubted. This would be wicked. "To him that esteems anything unclean,
to him it is unclean." "Whatever is not of faith is sin." On the other hand,
he would not encourage any to do that which would harden others in sin. "All
things indeed are pure: but it is evil for that man who eats with offence.
It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby
your brother stumbles, or is offended, or is made weak." Romans 14:20, 21.
A similar difficulty arose respecting days. One
man esteemed one day above another; another esteemed every day alike. Romans
14:5. Some wholly rejected the Jewish holy-days, while others as yet held on
to them. It was not wicked to observe them, if it was done to the Lord. The
question whether it was expedient to observe them was left to each man to
decide for himself. It is here noticeable that Paul directs us never to
violate our consciences. If a man thinks an act wrong, nothing is more clear
than that it is sinful for him to do it. To do what we are doubtful about,
is always sinful. But it is not always right to do what we think is right.
Whatever is not of faith, is sin, but it does not follow that whatever is of
faith is holy. For Saul of Tarsus verily thought he ought to do many things
contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. While, therefore, a weak brother
has no right to require us to adopt his notions, our love to him and to
Christ should make us tender of his feelings, careful not to tempt him to
violate his conscience, and anxious to edify him.
Thus an effectual stop is put to any attempt of minority
or majority, weak or strong, to afflict their brethren, wound their
feelings, or defile their consciences. Terms of communion in the church of
God are never to be made more or less close than Christ has made them.