Turretin’s Seven Rules For Understanding & Applying God’s Law

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This Sunday I will be preaching on the topic of the 10 Commandments, what is often referred to as the Moral Law. In his Institutes, Francis Turretin, one of the greatest Systematic Theologians of history, wrote seven rules that should fill the mind when reflecting on God’s Moral Law. I have outlined these below and provided a short quote from Turretin for each rule in order to foster better understanding.

Note: There is much confusion today around the Moral Law of God, specifically how the 10 Commandments are to be applied in a Christian’s life. In short, while the 10 Commandments are not to be followed as some kind of work to earn our salvation, they are to be followed and adhered to as faithful Christians working from our salvation in Christ who fulfilled the law on our behalf. We are to delight in God’s perfect Moral Law, and seek our sanctification (growing in Christ likeness) as our hearts, minds, and wills are brought into alignment with God’s law through the excercise of faith in Christ.

I will do my best to teach on this with thoroughness this weekend, and so for a more thorough review of this topic, come back for notes on that sermon after this Sunday. For now, reflect on these seven rules written by Francis Turretin.

Rule 1: The Laws are Both Physical & Spiritual

The laws of God govern both the willful choices that we make, as well as the conditions of the heart that give rise to the willful choices. God is concerned with our whole being, and thus his law governs our whole being.

"Thus he speaks to the soul no less than to the body and demands an internal no less than an external obedience. Christ plainly teaches this when he extends homicide to hatred of a brother and adultery to lust and looks (Mt. 5:22, 28)." 

Rule 2: In Each Prohibition, the Opposite Affirmative is Contained

While the explicit words of the Ten Commandments often prohibit a particular action as immoral, the opposite action is simultaneously deemed as moral.

"Thus in the precept “thou shalt not kill” reason sees nothing else than that we must abstain from every evil deed, but it is certain that in addition love is recommended that we should cherish our neighbor’s life in every way we can." 

Rule 3: Each Precept Includes All the Various Types of Sins Associated Within that Category

Each of the Ten Commandments serves as a sort of Category Heading, whereby all sins associated with that particular heading are acknowledged as sinful. So, underneath the sixth commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” is discovered all types of sexual sin including: fornication, homosexuality, polygamy, lust, etc.

"What are most base and capital in each species of sin are forbidden, under which all the others are included, either because they flow thence or because they lead at length to it; or because what appear the smallest to men are in the most accurate judgment of God rated more severely" ‌

Rule 4: The Causes That Lead to Each Precept Are Included in the Precept

We are to understand that life is a vast connection of interrelated causes and effects. We are to understand these interrelated causes and find sinful and immoral those things that cause or lead to sinfulness.

"When children are commanded to honor their parents, parents are in turn commanded to cherish their children paternally and to bring them up in the nurture of the Lord." 

Rule 5: The Laws in the First Table Take Preference Over the Laws of the Second Table

The law of the first table relate to how we are to “love God,” while the laws of the second table relate to how we are to “love others.” In any area of conflict between the two, we are to prioritize our love of God.

"Thus the love of our neighbor ought to be subjected to the love of God. We are bound to hate father and mother for Christ’s sake (Lk. 14:26), when the love of parents is incompatible (asystatos) with the love of Christ. Human commands are to be neglected when opposed to the commands of God (Mt. 10:37; Acts 4:19)." 

Rule 6: A Distinction Exists Between Affirmative Precepts & Prohibitive Precepts

Some laws instruct us on what we ought to do, “Love God.” Other laws instruct us on what we ought not to do, “Do not steal.” While the prohibitions will always stand, there may be times when the affirmations are impossible to practice.

"The virtues and duties commanded by the affirmative precepts cannot be exercised every moment together at once, and suppose certain conditions (which being absent, there is no place for them); for example, parents are not always alive or near us, so that we can render them their due respect." 

Rule 7: The Beginning and the End of the Law is Love

Jesus instructed us that the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” All Ten Commandments can be summarized by this instruction.

"The love of God is rightly called the “first” commandment because as there is nothing before God, so his worship ought first to be attended to by us in order that all things may begin from and end in it."‌

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