[Here we continue our reprint of Chapter 2 from Richard Baxter's classic tome A Christian Directory.5 This chapter consists of twenty directions to (as Mr. Baxter says) "young Christians or beginners in religion, for their establishment and safe proceeding." Though these studies were written specifically for "young" Christians, I think that you will find (as I have), there is much in here worthy of meditation also for those who have been walking with God for many years.]--Ed.
Direction XVII - On Obeying God's Law
Take heed that you receive not a doctrine of libertiinism as [if it were] from the gospel; nor conceive of Christ as an encourager of sin; nor pretend free grace for your carnal security or sloth; for this is but to set up another gospel, and another Christ, or rather the doctrine and works of the devil, against Christ and the gospel, and to turn the grace of God into wantonness.
Because the devil knoweth that you will not receive his doctrine in his own name, his usual method is to propound and preach it in the name of Christ, which he knoweth you reverence and regard. For if Satan concealed not his own name and hand in every temptation, it would spoil his game; and the more excellent and splendid is his pretence, the more powerful the temptation is. They that gave heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils, no doubt thought better of the spirits and the doctrines, especially seeming strict (for the devil hath his strictnesses), "as forbidding to marry, and abstinence from meats which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving" (I Tim. 4:1,3). But the strictnesses of the devil are always intended to make men loose. They shall be strict as the pharisees, in traditions and vain ceremonies, and building the tombs of the prophet, and garnishing the sepulchres of the righteous, that they may hate and murder the living saints that worship God in spirit and in truth. Licentiousness is the proper doctrine of the devil, which all his strictness tendeth to promote. To receive such principles is pernicious; but to father them upon Christ and the gospel is blasphemous.
The libertines, antinomians, and autonomians of this age have gathered you too many instances. The libertine saith, "The heart is the man, therefore you may deny the truth with your tongue, you may be present at false worship, you need not suffer to avoid the speaking of a word, or subscribing to an untruth or error, or doing some little thing; but as long as you keep your hearts to God, and mean well, or have an honest mental reservation, and are forced to it by others, rather than suffer, you may say, or subscribe, or swear any thing which you can yourselves put a lawful sense upon in your own minds, or comply with any outward actions or customs to avoid offense and save yourselves."
The antinomians tell you that "the moral law is abrogated, and that the gospel is no law; (and if there be no law, there is no governor nor government, no duty, no sin, no judgment, no punishment, no reward); that the elect are justified before they are born, or repent, or believe; that their sin is pardoned before it is committed; that God took them as suffering and fulfilling all the law in Christ, as if it had been they that did it in Him; that we are justified by faith only in our consciences; that justifying faith is but the believing that we are justified; that every man must believe that he is pardoned, that he may be pardoned in his conscience, and this he is to by a divine faith, and that this is the sense of the article, `I believe the forgiveness of sins,' that is, that my sins are forgiven; and that all are forgiven that believe it; that it is illegal and sinful to work or do anything for salvation; that sin once pardoned need not be confessed and lamented, or at least, we need not ask pardon of sin daily, or of one sin oft; that castigations are no punishments, and yet no other punishment is threatened to believers for their sins, and consequently that Christ hath not procured them a pardon of any sin after believing, but prevented all necessity of pardon, and therefore they must not ask pardon of them, nor do any thing to obtain it; that fear of hell must have no hand in our obedience, or restraint from sin. And some add, that he that cannot repent or believe, must comfort himself that Christ repented and believed for him (a contradiction)." Many such doctrines of licentiousness the abusers of grace have brought forth.
And the sect which imitateth the father of pride in affecting to be from under the government of God, and to be the law-givers and rulers of themselves and all others (which I therefore call the autonomians), are licentious and much more. They equally contend against Christ's government, and their own. They fill the world with wars and bloodshed, oppression and cruelty, and the ears of God with the cries of the martyrs and oppressed ones. They tell all that the spiritual and holy discipline of Christ may be suppressed, and seriousness in religion made odious, or banished from the earth and that they themselves may be taken for the centre, and pillars, and lawgivers of the church. They tell that the consciences of all men may be taught to cast off all scruples or fears of offending God, in comparison of offending them; and may absolutely submit to them; and never stick at any feared disobedience to Christ. They are the scorners and persecutors of strict obedience to the laws of God, and take those that fear His judgments to be men affrighted out of their wits; and that to obey Him exactly (which, alas! who can do, when he hath done his best) is but to be hypocritical or too precise. But to question their domination, or break their laws (imposed on the world, even on kings and states, without any authority), this must be taken for heresy, schism, or a rebellion, like that of Korah and his company. This Luciferian spirit of the proud autonomians hath filled the Christian world with bloodshed, and been the greatest means of the miseries of the earth, and especially of hindering and persecuting the gospel, and setting up a pharisaical religion in the world: it hath fought against the gospel, and filled with blood the countries of France, Savoy, Rhaetia, Bohemia, Belgia, Helvetia, Polonia, Hungary, Germany, and many more; that it may appear how much of the Satanical nature they have, and how punctually they fulfil his will.
And natural corruption containeth in it the seeds of all these damnable heresies; nothing more natural to lapsed man, than to shake off the government of God, and to become a lawgiver to himself, and as many others he can; and to turn the grace of God into wantonness. Therefore the profane, that never heard it from any heretics but themselves, do make themselves such a creed as this, that "God is merciful, and therefore we need not fear His threatenings, for He will be better than His word: it belongeth to Him to save us, and not to us, and therefore we may cast our souls upon His care, though we care not for them ourselves. If He hath predestinated us to salvation, we shall be saved; and if He have not, we shall not; whatever we do, or how well soever we live. Christ died for sinners, and therefore though we are sinners, He will save us. God is stronger than the devil, and therefore the devil shall not have the most: That which pleaseth the flesh, and doth God no harm, can never be so great a matter, or so much offend Him, as to procure our damnation. What need of so much ado to be saved, or so much haste to turn to God, when any one that at last doth but repent and cry God mercy, and believe that Christ died for him, shall be saved? Christ is the Saviour of the world, and His grace is very great and free, and therefore God forbid that none should be saved but those few that are of strict and holy lives, sad make so much ado for heaven. No man can know who shall be saved, and who shall not; and therefore it is the wisest way, to do nobody any harm, and to live merrily, and trust God with our souls, and put our salvation upon the venture: nobody is saved for his own works or deservings; and therefore our lives may serve the turn as well as if they were more strict and holy." This is the creed of the ungodly; by which you may see how natural it is to them to abuse the gospel, and plead God's grace to quiet and strengthen them in their sin, and to embolden themselves on Christ to disobey Him.
But this is but to set Christ against Himself, even His merits and mercy against His government and Spirit; and to set His death against the ends of His death; and to set our Saviour against our salvation; and to run from God and rebel against Him, because Christ died to recover us to God, and to give us repentance unto life; and to sin, because He died to save his people from their sins, "and to purify a peculiar people to Himself zealous of good works" (Matt. 1:21; Tit. 2:14). "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (I John 3:8; John viii. 44).