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What It Means to be
"Dead to the Law"


by Ralph Erskine (1685-1752)

The following essay from "The Beaties of Erskine," appears as it was orginally printed with the exception of the title. The original title of this chapter heading is as it appears below. The electronic edition of this article was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal for Reformation Ink. It is in the public domain and may be freely copied and distributed.


What sort of Death, this Death to the Law is:
1. It is an universal death: I do not mean that it is common to all the children of men, though it be a common death, to the children of God, and to every one of, them; yea it is a rare death to the children of men. The world lies in wickedness, and are dead in trespasses and sins. Few are dead in this sense: but what I mean by its being universal, is, that the man that is dead to the law in point of justification; he is dead to every part of the law in its old covenant form, to the precept of it, ,to the penalty of it, so as he is not to be justified by the one nor condemned by the other. His gospel obedience thereto is no part of his righteousness for justification before God; if he should obedience to the law as a rule of life in the hand of a Mediator, any part of his righteousness for justification, he so far turns the covenant of grace, and the duties therein required, into a covenant of works, and he seeks to live unto that, to which he is and should be dead. It is true the law as a rule of life does not require obedience for justification; but Yet this corrupt nature is prone to turn to the old bias, and to turn the rule of obedience into a rule of acceptance. If a man make faith itself an act, or any act or fruit of it, the matter of his justification he turns it to a covenant of works: the believer is dead to faith itself in this respect; yea, he renounces itself, and all things else, but the righteousness of Christ for justification. In this sense he is dead to repentance, love, and other graces; he is dead to all obedience to the law as a covenant of works; to his natural legal obedience before his conversion, and to his spiritual gospel obedience after his conversion; which though it be a righteousness which God works, yet because it is the believer that is the subject, and made the actor thereof, it is called his own righteousness, or conformity to the law; all which lie renounces in. the matter of justification, desiring to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness that is after the law, but the righteousness which is of God by faith.
2. It is a lingering death. It is not easy to get the law killed; something of a legal disposition remains even in the believer while he is in this world. Many a stroke does self and self- righteousness get, but still it revives again. If he were wholly dead to -the law, he would be wholly dead to sin; but so far as the law lives, so far sin lives. They that think they know the gospel well enough, bewray their ignorance; no man can be too evangelical; it will take all his lifetime to get a legal temper destroyed. Though the believer be delivered from the law, in its commanding an condemning power and authority, or in its rightful power over all that are under it; yet he is not de. livered wholly from its usurped power, which takes place many times upon him, while here, through remaining unbelief.
3. It is a painful death; it is like the cutting off the right hand and plucking out the right eye. The man hath no inclination to part with the law. It is as natural for him to expect God's favour upon his doing so and so, and to expect life and salvation by his own obedience or doing as well as he can as it is natural for him to draw his breath. If we do our best God will accept us, is the natural language of every one who is wedded to the Do and Live of the first covenant. And, 0 what a pain is it to be brought off from that way? To die to the law is most unnatural, strange doctrine; and legal pangs, and pains of conviction, and humiliation must be borne, before a right thought. of dying to the law can be brought forth.
4. It is an honourable death: to be dead to the law is a death that brings honour to God, to Christ, to the Jaw, and to the believer. It brings honour to God's holiness, which is now satisfied by Christ's dying and honour to God's justice which is now satisfied by Christ's dying. It brings honour to Christ, for now the man values the righteousness of Christ, as being indeed the righteousness of God, and a full, sufficient perfect righteousness. It brings honour to the law, when instead of our imperfect obedience, we bring an obedience better than men' or angels in their best estate could give it, even the Lawgiver's obedience; which indeed doth magnify the law and make it honourable. It also brings honour to the believer himself: he is honoured and beautified with a law-biding righteousness truly meritorious and every way glorious: this is the honour of all the saints.
5. It is a profitable death; it is profitable both for happiness and holiness; profitable both for justification and sanctification. Our legal righteousness is unprofitable; "I will declare thy righteousness and thy works, for they shall not profit thee." Isa. lvii. 12. It is unprofitable for justification; for by the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified it is unprofitable for sanctification; for his filthy rags do rather pollute than sanctify him. But the righteousness which is of God by faith, is profitable every way: they are happy that have it; for they are justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses; they are holy that have it. Being dead to the law, is the way to live unto God.
Thus doth the Husband by his Father's will,
Both for and in his bride the law fulfil:
For her, as 'tis a covenant; and then
In her, as 'tis a rule of life to men.
First all law-debt he most completely pays;
Then of law-duties all the charge defrays,
Does first assume her guilt, and loose her chains;
And then with living water wash her stains:
Her fund restore, and then her form repair,
And make his filthy bride a beauty fair;
His perfect righteousness most freely grant,
And then his holy image deep implant.


This article was made available on the internet via REFORMATION INK (www.markers.com/ink). Refer any correspondence to Shane Rosenthal: Rosenthal2000@aol.com