Law Opposed to Law

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2


In our circles today, it is not popular to speak about the Gospel as Law or the Law of the Gospel. The Gospel message is one that is received by faith and the division between Law and Gospel is often driven so sharply that there is no room for Law in Gospel or Gospel in Law.

The Puritans, including Thomas Manton, saw grace in law and law in grace, all while maintaining a rigorously Christ-centered Gospel of free grace. There was no hint of the errors of Federal Vision, and yet speaking in terms of law was common parlance for the time.[1] Manton demonstrated in his treatment of the greatest chapter that law is able to be opposed to law—with the Gospel’s law triumphing.

Where does Manton get the idea of the Gospel’s law? Citing several verses which use the language of the law of the Gospel, Manton finds law used positively in the Scriptures. Speaking of the coming Gospel age, Isaiah looked forward to the time when “many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob…for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:3). Matthew 28:20 also uses language of law as Jesus sends his ministers into the nations preaching the Gospel. Jesus says, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” The Apostle would speak of believing the Gospel in terms of obedience when he condemned those “that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”  (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Paul also reminded the Christians in Galatia to press on in the Christian life: “ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 5:7).

The language of law in reference to the Gospel age is much more connected than we are comfortable with today.

Manton helped his readers to see their connectedness to law as well as their disconnectedness in his exposition of Romans 8:2 as he divided the law opposed to the law.

Two Laws

The two laws that are described in the second verse of Romans 8 are the law of sin and death and the law of the Spirit of life. Manton does not imagine these laws as the 10 Commandments versus the Gospel, but clearly articulates that the laws are the two covenants that we find in the Scriptures: the law of “sin and death” is the Covenant of Works and the law of the “Spirit of life in Christ” is the Covenant of Grace.

The Covenant of Works became a law of sin and death when Adam sinned and brought the curse on himself and “for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation…(Westminster Shorter Catechism, 16).” Man, by the Covenant of Works, is not only convinced of sin, but is bound to death, according to Manton. He said, “Now, because it seemeth hard to call a law given by God himself, a law of sin and death, I must tell you it is only called so, because it convinceth of sin, and bindeth over to death” (Works of Manton, 11.396). So the one law—the Covenant of Works, binds to death; and the other law, the Covenant of Grace, binds to life: “Here is law against law, and the spirit against sin, and life against death” (Works of Manton, 11.395). Romans 3:27 says, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” The law of faith binds one to the Covenant of Grace.

Manton is comfortable with the language of two laws, as it is reflective of the Scriptures—Manton finds law opposed to law in these two covenants. “What is there called a law of works and a law of faith, is here called the law of the spirit of life, and the law of sin and death; in short, by these two laws is meant the covenant of works and the covenant of grace” (Works of Manton, 11.395).

Law of the Spirit

The language of law concerning the Covenant of Grace is defended, by Manton, in four propositions.

The first defense of the language of law connected to the Covenant of Grace is that it has all “the requisites” of a law, a precept and a sanction. Manton sees Jesus Christ in the fullness of his kingdom as connected to the covenant, hence legal language being appropriate for the Gospel age. He said, “They err certainly which tell us that the gospel is no law; for if there were no law, there would be no governor, and no government, no duty, no sin, no judgment, no punishment, nor reward (Works of Manton, 11.395).”

Secondly, the Covenant of Grace is a “law of the spirit.” The Spirit of God has instituted this covenant and applies it to the lives of men and women who believe. Manton said that Christ himself speaks of covenant in terms of spirit and truth. He says, “Not only because of its spiritual nature, as it cometh nearer and closer to the soul than the law of outward and beggarly rudiments; and therefore Christ called the ordinances of the gospel, spirit and truth (Works of Manton, 11.395).”

It is the power of the Spirit that accomplishes the application of this covenant. Manton cites John 4:24, Hebrews 9:10 and Hebrews 10:1 as evidence of this spiritual application.

Thirdly, spiritual means are used to bring one into the Covenant of Grace. The Spirit of God applies the preaching of the Word of God, in the fulness of the Spirit, to hearers as the means to bring life. “Tis called the spirit of life, because through the preaching of the gospel we are renewed by the Holy Ghost, and have the new life begun in us” (Works of Manton, 11.396). 

The fourth reason that that Manton puts forward in defense of the language of law of the Spirit is that “the spirit of the life in Christ Jesus, partly because he is the author and foundation of this new covenant; and partly, also because from him we receive the spirit, as from our head (Works of Manton, 11.396).” The recipients of this law receive the Spirit and Christ is the author and foundation of the covenant—the law of spirit of life.

The Apostle Saith “Me”

Manton was a preacher. It was said that he not only “inspired a sudden flame” but that he preached that life would have a “lasting change.” (Works of Manton, 1.xxii).” As he preached Romans 8:2, he did so, not merely with the desire to see the hearer convinced of the distinctions between covenants, but that believers would hang on the phrase “made me free” and to see the great liberty that Christ has purchased through the cross. Manton said,

“By one law we are freed from the other. The apostle saith me, but he personateth [sic] every believer; they are all freed by the covenant of grace, from the bond and influence of the covenant of works; so it is a common privilege; what belongeth to one belongeth to all” (Works of Manton, 11.397).

The law opposed to law, in the mind of Manton, is one that brings life in Christ. The Puritan points his readers and hearers to important doctrinal distinctions as well as to the comfort in the word “me.”

Read more on Manton and Romans 8 here.

Nathan Eshelman is the pastor of the Orlando Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPCNA). He studied for ministry at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Nathan co-hosts The Jerusalem Chamber” podcast, a paragraph by paragraph exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith; writes for Gentle Reformation; and has a forthcoming book on the Westminster Confession of Faith through Crown and Covenant Publications. Nathan is married to Lydia and has five children and is an avid book collector and antique aficionado.

Related Links

"The Neglected Puritan" by Danny Hyde

"The Pastoral Heart of Bunyan" by Jacob Tanner

"Puritan Love for Preaching" by Joel Beeke

Meet the Puritans by Joel Beeke & Randall Pederson


[1] For further insight into the puritan mind concerning the relationship between grace and law, see Ernest Kevan’s The Grace of Law.

Nathan Eshelman