Thomas Boston on the Law of works, the Law of faith and the Law of Christ and their proper interpretation (1726)

On the law of Works, the Law of faith and the Law of Christ, and how these three might be properly distinguished with a focus upon Romans 3:27 “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No indeed: but by the Law of Faith.”- CN


“These terms are scriptural, as it appears from the whole texts quoted by our author, namely, Rom. 3.27, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No indeed: but by the Law of Faith.” — Gal. 6.2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ.” By the Law of Works is meant the law of the Ten Commandments, or the Covenant of Works. By the Law of Faith is meant the gospel, or Covenant of Grace; for justification being the point on which the apostle states the opposition between these two laws, it is evident that only the former is the law that does not exclude boasting; and that only the latter is that by which a sinner is justified in a way that does exclude boasting.

By the Law of Christ is meant the same law of the Ten Commandments, as a rule of life in the hand of a Mediator, to believers who are already justified, and not any one command of the law only; for “bearing one another’s burdens” is a “fulfilling of the Law of Christ,” as it is loving one another: but according to the Scripture, that love does not fulfill one command only, but of the whole law of the Ten Commandments, Rom. 13.8-10. — “He that loves another has fulfilled the law. For this law — you shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not covet; and if there is any other commandment — is briefly comprehended in this saying: namely. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” It is a fulfilling of the second tablet directly, and of the first tablet indirectly and consequentially. Therefore, by the Law of Christ is meant not only one command, but the whole law.

The Law of Works is the law to be done so that one may be saved; the Law of Faith is the law to be believed, so that one may be saved; the Law of Christ is the law of the Saviour, binding his saved people to all the duties of obedience, Gal. 3.12; Acts 16.31.

The term law is not used here unequivocally; for the Law of Faith is neither in the Scripture sense, nor in the sense of our author, a law, properly so-called. The apostle uses that phrase only in imitation of the Jews’ way of speaking, who had the law continually in their mouths. But since the promise of the gospel proposed to faith, is called “the Law of Faith” in Scripture, our author was sufficiently warranted to call it so too. So the Law of Faith is not a proper preceptive law.

The Law of Works, and the Law of Christ, are but one law in substance — the law of the Ten Commandments — the Moral Law — that law which was from the beginning, and continues still the same in its own nature, but vested with different forms. And since that law is perfect, and sin is any lack of conformity to it, or transgression of it, whatever form it is vested with — whether as the Law of Works or the Law of Christ — all commands of God to men must be comprehended under it; particularly the command to repent. This command is common to all mankind, pagans not excepted, who doubtless are obliged, as others are, to turn from sin to God; just as the command to believe in Christ is also binding on all to whom the gospel revelation comes; though in the meantime, this law stands under different forms for those who are in a state of union with Christ by faith, and those who are not. The Law of Christ is not a new, proper, preceptive law, but the old, proper, preceptive law which was from the beginning, but under a new incidental form.

The distinction between the Law of Works and the Law of Faith cannot be controverted, since the apostle so clearly distinguishes them in Rom. 3.27.

The distinction between the Law of Works and the Law of Christ, as explained above, according to the Scriptures and in the mind of our author, is in effect the same as the Covenant of Works; it is a rule of life to believers, and it ought to be admitted (Westm. Confess. chap, 19, art. 6). For (1.) Believers are not under, but dead to the Law of Works, Rom. 6.14, “For you are not under the law, but under grace.” — Chap. 7.4, “Wherefore my brethren, you also have become dead to the law, that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead.” — 1Cor. 9.21. “Being not without law to God, but under the Law of Christ.” Some copies read here “of God,” and “of Christ;” which I mention, not out of any regard for that different reading, but that the sense of it is admitted by the learned to be the same either way.

To be under the law to God, is without question to be under the law of God; whatever it may be judged to import more, it can import no less; therefore to be under the law to Christ, is to be under the Law of Christ. This text gives a plain and decisive answer to the question, ‘‘How is the believer under the law of God?” namely, as he is under the law to Christ. (2.) The Law of Christ is an “easy yoke,” and a “light burden,” Mat. 11.30; but the Law of Works, to a sinner, is an unsupportable burden, requiring works as the condition of justification and acceptance with God, as is clear from the whole of the apostle’s reasoning in Rom. 3 (and therefore it is called the Law of Works, for otherwise the Law of Christ requires works too), and cursing “everyone that does not continue in all things written in it, to do them,” Gal. 3.10.

The apostle assures us that “whatever things the law says, it says to those who are under the law,” Rom. 3.19. The duties of the Law of Works as such, as I conceive it, are called by our Lord himself, “heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne,” Mat. 23.4. — “For they,” namely: the Scribes and Pharisees, “bind heavy burdens, grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” These heavy burdens were not human traditions and rites devised by men; for Christ would not have commanded us to observe and do these, as in this case he did, verse 3, ‘‘ Whatever they ask you to observe, observe and do that;” nor were they the Mosaic rites and ceremonies which were not yet abrogated.

For the Scribes and Pharisees were so far from not moving these burdens with one of their own fingers, that the whole of their religion was confined to them — namely to the rites and ceremonies of Moses’ law, and those of their own devising. Yet in their own practice, they had no conscience about the duties of the Moral Law that they laid on others, binding them on with the tie of the Law of Works; nevertheless, our Lord Jesus commanded they be observed and done (Mat 23.3).

“He who has believed on Jesus Christ (though he is freed from the curse of the law) is not freed from the command and obedience of the law, but is tied to it by a new obligation, and a new command from Christ. This new command from Christ imports help to obey the command.” — Westm. Conf., Practical Use of Saving Knowledge, “The Third Warrant to Believe,” fig.5.

What this distinction amounts to is that thereby a difference is constituted between the Ten Commandments as coming from an absolute God apart from Christ unto sinners, and the same Ten Commandments as coming from God in Christ unto them; a difference which the children of God, assisting their consciences before him to “receive the law from his mouth,” will value as their life, however they may disagree about it in words and manner of expression. But that the original indispensable obligation of the law of the Ten Commandments is in any measure weakened by the believer’s taking it as the Law of Christ, and not as the Law of Works — or that the sovereign authority of God the Creator, which is inseparable from it for the ages of eternity, in whatever channel it is conveyed to men, is thereby laid aside, — will appear utterly groundless, upon an impartial consideration of the matter.

For is not our Lord Jesus Christ, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jehovah, the Sovereign, Supreme, Most High God, Creator of the world? Isa. 47.4; Jer. 23.6; with Psalm 83.18; John 1.3; Rev. 3.14. Is not the name (or sovereign authority) of God in Christ? Exo. 23.21. Is he not in the Father, and the Father in him? John 14.11. Indeed, does not all the fulness of the Godhead dwell in him? Col. 2.9. How, then, can the original obligation of the law of the Ten Commandments, arising from the authority of the Creator — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — be weakened by its being issued to the believer from and by that blessed channel, the Lord Jesus Christ?

As for the distinction between the Law of Faith and the Law of Christ, the latter is subordinated to the former. All men by nature are under the Law of Works; but taking the benefit of the Law of Faith, by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are set free from the Law of Works, and brought under the Law of Christ. — Mat. 11.28, 29, “Come to me, all you that labour and are heavy laden — take my yoke upon you.”

Thomas Boston, 1726. (From, the special notes written for the reissue of “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” by Edward Fisher, 1645)

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