Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Moral Law: Elusive, But Not Illusive

Sometimes I wonder if all our boasting as Reformed people in the fact that we refuse to peer behind the veil and steal a glimpse of God's nakedness isn't just a tad self-congratulatory. Sure, we claim to concern ourselves with the Deus revelatus rather than absconditus (the "revealed" rather than "hidden" God), but on the issue of the law our voyeurism tends to rear its head and prove that we're really Peeping Thomases at heart.

Think about it: We affirm wholeheartedly that God cannot be discovered (or in this case uncovered) by his fallen creatures, but that he must reveal himself to us by way of covenant. But then when we start talking about the law we posit a set of timeless principles that we canonize as "The Moral Law," and immediately begin attempting to figure out how "the law" functioned in the covenant of works versus how "the law" functions in the covenant of grace. And once we've plumbed those depths we turn our attention to how "the law" is used (the triplex usus legis): 1. "The law" convicts us of sin; 2. "The law" restrains evil in society; 3. "The law" serves as a guide for holy living.

The only question we haven't tackled is the one about where this so-called "moral law" is in the Bible. Apparently in our zeal to divide and apply "the law" we seem to have forgotten to actually go to the trouble of finding it (talk about taking our suspicion of proof-texting a bit too far).

And no, we can't say that the moral law is found in the Decalogue, for we all agree that the moral law, as an expression of God's unchanging character, must also be unchanging (which the Decalogue clearly is not). Rather, we have traditionally confessed (quite correctly, I might add) that the Ten Commandments summarize the moral law and are not therefore properly equated with it (WLC 98).

So if "the moral law" is an eternal, unchanging, universally binding expression of God's righteous character that lurks behind all the various laws that he has actually revealed in historical covenants throughout Scripture, is there any use discussing it? And if we insist on doing so, are we not speculating about "secret things" that God has not revealed, and that are therefore not our business in the first place?