39 Articles—The Rule of Faith (2)

We examined last time how Article 6 of the Thirty-Nine Articles states that the Bible is our sole authority for the source of Christian doctrine. It explained the concept of sola Scriptura and listed the books of the Old and New Testaments. Article 7 further clarifies an Anglican’s "rule of faith." It explains the relation of the Old Testament to the New, and in explaining that relationship further explains which Old Testament laws are still binding on the New Testament believer. Thomas Cranmer’s original 42 Articles of 1553 had two separate articles brought together here by Archbishop Parker in 1563 because they dealt with related topics. 
VII — Of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and man. Wherefore there are not to be heard which feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet, notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.
The article makes clear that the unity of the Testaments is an inevitable consequence of the principle of sola Scriptura: the Bible is one book, written by God himself, and it teaches one message of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and men. Therefore, the article says, we should not think that the Old Testament saints “did look only for transitory promises." Taking the principle from the letter to the Hebrews, God’s people in the Old Testament recognized that what they knew was only a foretaste of much better things to come. Abraham was a believer just like us, trusting the promises of God for eternal life. He was “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Anglicans should preach and teach the redemptive-historical nature of the Old Testament, because it is full of the gospel of salvation by God’s grace alone, through Jesus Christ alone, by faith alone. That is the main reason why services in the Book of Common Prayer will include an Old Testament reading and a psalm.
Article 7 refutes those who would build a wall between the Old Testament and the New and in so doing allow the same wall to be built between the New and our era by private inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The reasoning is the same. But Cranmer’s original article 19 on the Old Testament law ended with an extra warning which was not included here, but give us a clue as to the type of error Article 7 sought to refute: "wherefore they are not to be hearkened unto, who affirm that Holy Scripture is given only to the weak, and do boast themselves continually of the Spirit, of whom (they say) they have learned such things as they teach, although the same be most evidently repugnant to the Holy Scripture." North American Anglicans understand all too well how false teachers in The Episcopal Church claimed that “the Holy Spirit was doing a new thing” as their reason for departing from the Bible's unequivocal teaching on same-sex attraction and their rejection of article 7’s doctrine of the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures that gather both the Old and New Testaments together as one. The Spirit and the Scriptures never contradict. The Old Testament and the New Testament always concur. 
The article continues by explaining the differences between the Old and New. The Old and New Testaments' covenant of grace to salvation are the same substance but of differing administration. Therefore there are continuities and discontinuities of administration between them, especially in the application of Old Testament law. Article 7 divides the law using the three medieval categories of ceremonial, civil, and moral. This explanation was well known among the Anglican divines as they thought through the Bible theologically in light of the fullness of Christ.
  • The ceremonial law concerning priesthood and purity, sacrifice and Sabbath, has all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. These rituals were "a shadow of the good things to come" (Heb. 10:1). Jesus is our great high priest who completed the final and ultimate sacrifice. Thus these old ceremonies were a foreshadowing of Christ’s person and work. Therefore, as we will see later, one errs who argues that the nature of the church retains these categories and ceremonies. The articles remind us that there is no place in the Christian church for a special order of priests, altars, ritual washing, and sacrifices. Such practices obscure the glory of Christ’s office as Mediator and the once and for all nature of his sacrifice. The Lord Jesus Christ is our great high priest; the ordained are his ministers, not his priests.
  • The civil law concerning church-state relations and judicial punishments is also no longer binding on the Christian. It is because those laws were intended only for the Old Testament nation of Israel for a specific epoch in salvation history. Christian nations as they were understood at the Reformation are free to develop their constitutions and legal frameworks that reflect the administration of the new covenant.
  • The moral law is retained because it reflects the character of and what he expects of his people, for both Old and New Testaments retain God’s command, "Be holy, as I am holy" (Lev. 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16). The Ten Commandments remain and according to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, Anglicans should recite them on Sundays when the Lord's Supper is observed. The response as each commandment is heard, "Lord, have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law" after each commandment, underlines for us how the Law convicts the sinner of his need of God's grace and affirms his desire by God's grace to pursue holiness as his adopted child. But what of the fourth commandment concerning the Sabbath or Lord's Day? It seems the clearer an Anglican's understanding of the unity of the Old and the New as one covenant of grace, the more readily they are to set aside Sunday as one dedicated to Christian worship. One of the casualties of the liberal hermeneutic that broke the concurrence of Old and New Testament among North American Anglicans is the loss of the Lord’s Day. 

For previous articles in this series, see:

  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
Henry Jansma