Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 05/30/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. Explores the continuity the Old Testament law in the life of the New Covenant believer.
The relation of the Old Testament to the New Covenant Gospel is a topic fraught with conflict, and shows no sign of abating anytime soon. Back in 1980, to answer this thorny theological issue and to shore up Reformed opposition against dispensationalism (the teaching that God treats both His people and the world differently at different points in history) and reconstructionism/dominionism (the teaching that all social, moral, and ceremonial Old Testament laws should apply to the nations), Walter Chantry wrote this deceptively small volume containing a mother lode of quality biblical teaching. By and large, Chantry is encouraged about the direction the Reformed wing of the Church is taking. He sees an influx of multitudes returning to “Biblical religion” throughout the world, who are finding in “experimental Calvinism…God-exalting and man-humbling truth.” At the same time he warns against the draws of legalistic and antinomian tendencies in those who have discovered the doctrines of grace. To combat these extremes, Chantry maintains we must have a biblical apprehension of the kingdom of God, of which he offers this stirring definition:
Where grace has mightily conquered, the state of things is called the kingdom of God. Where hearts are transformed, where sin and error have been defeated, where truth and righteousness advance, where communion with God is begun and deepened – all through Jesus Christ our Lord – there the kingdom has come and is advancing. Souls made willing subjects by his grace become the citizens of the great kingdom.
Chantry is prophetic; on one hand he cautions against “a false mysticism” that draws us away from attending to the practical everyday needs of earthly life, but on the other hand he warns against undue political involvement – the Moral Majority springs to mind. Any Christian who pursues the chief end of installing heaven on earth before the return of Christ is mistaken, Chantry says. “Nowhere in the New Testament are the ideas of kingdom and millennium equated.” So what is the kingdom? It is a spiritual rather than material reality, but in this life the Christian is called to arrange both his spiritual pursuits and material belongings in a kingdom manner. In other words, the kingdom of Christ touches on everything the Christian does, owns, and is. Communion with God through an active spiritual life and the emanation of that spiritual life in external witness to the reality of Christ’s kingdom is the natural outworking of kingdom life. Being salt and light is demanding, Chantry admits, but Christians are not called to shed more light in a room already lit, but in the midst of darkness.
Chantry goes on to a discussion of the points of continuity between the Old and New Testaments: “Only as this is understood can you rightly use the Old Testament or fully understand the New. What in the Old Testament is of perpetual obligation and to be applied today? What in the Old Testament was discontinued with the coming of the kingdom?” No easy rule of thumb is patently applicable, Chantry says, but he does assert a few biblical points of reference:
· Christ’s kingdom is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises
· Christ came to fulfill the law, not to abrogate it nor abolish it
· At all times, even before the Fall, the arrangement between God and humanity was by grace
· In the kingdom of God the people of the kingdom now perceive reality by the Spirit
· In the kingdom of God the primary outworking occurs in the invisible locale of the heart
The largest section in the book concerns the application of God’s moral law to Christians, a law that is rooted in the divine character rather than a codified body of laws, and as such remains applicable to the Christian. Now that Christ has been crucified and the Comforter has come, the Christian is empowered by the Spirit to keep the moral law, although sin still exerts its influence. “God’s righteousness and man’s iniquity dawn upon the soul as concurrent perceptions…To feel poverty of Spirit and to hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God are but two sides of one coin.” The law showed us our sin, but is powerless to enable righteousness; thus the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice and the Spirit’s empowerment. Chantry explains further:
Christ met the terms of the moral law for man. Even more, he fully discharged every requirement of the moral law to establish God’s righteousness in pardoning sinners. Jesus died to satisfy the moral law’s demands. His death for ever establishes the inviolability of the moral law. Rather than scrap the moral law, the Father heaped wrath upon his Son as the only way of saving sinners. On Calvary Jesus Christ confirmed the eternal validity of the moral law. Jehovah has promised to ‘magnify the law, and make it honorable’ (Isa. 42:21). Never was the law more exalted and honored than at the cross.
Notice that Chantry is not saying the law was exalted and honored above Christ, above the Father, or above the power of the Trinity over sin and death. To say that the law was more exalted and honored at the cross than it was ever before is simply to honor the purposes and plan of God in redemption.
The remainder of the main section concerns the views and use of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) in Christ’s Church, specifically the perennial furor surrounding the existence of an abiding Sabbath. The book is far more comprehensive and clear on these topics than mere reporting in a review could ever hope to be. Suffice to say that Chantry’s main thesis of unity and continuity still stands, but always in view of Christ’s fulfillment of the law and the spiritual essence of the kingdom. No mere outward displays of ceremonial righteousness will admit people into the kingdom. Ultimately, Chantry says, the eschatological reality is that the identity of the kingdom is bound up in the identity of the Church.
To quote the hosts of Pop Idol (the United Kingdom’s old version of American Idol), which laws stay and which laws go? Do we get to decide? The answer is fraught with antimony. Yes, in that careful study and application must go into differentiating the laws of the Mosaic economy from the essentially spiritual moral laws of the kingdom of God. No, in that ultimately the Spirit empowers the believer to keep the moral law out of fidelity to Christ.
As you have probably gathered from this review, undertaking this book is not for the fainthearted and may generate as many questions as answers. It is not a quick read and will have you reaching for your commentaries often (particularly regarding Galatians 3 and 4), not to mention the many times you are bound to lay down the book and stare faraway into space, your mind working a mile a minute.
Certainly for some it is tempting to become legalistic about discerning the areas of continuity and discontinuity between the covenants, but this is another form of legalism. We can only proceed as the Spirit directs, through the agency of His Word in the Scripture. God’s Righteous Kingdom, although a meaty little volume, is a helpful resource in discerning the kingdom and the laws of the realm, but this issue should never replace nor threaten a vital relationship with Christ. Solus Christus.