Since the next two chapters of RINE (17-18) are both short and deal with pretty much the same issue, we will take them together.
Wilson’s concern is with those people who are not necessarily teaching false doctrine, but whose lives are not living up to their baptismal vows. He notes that the Bible calls such people “children of Belial” (pg. 147) and “false” (pg. 151). So, if the previous chapter dealt with false teaching, these two chapters deal with false living. I don’t have anything in the way of criticism for chapter 17. There is a good list of activities that the children of Belial tend to perform (pg. 148), as well as helpfully careful advice about how to deal with them (“we never discipline because someone might be a son of Belial in his heart. We discipline because his behavior has made it plain,” pg. 149, emphasis original). Also good is the caveat to church unity: “Pursuing the peace of the Church does not entail silence when covenant members are defying the Word” (pg. 149).
For chapter 18, Wilson introduces some interesting categories to speak of false brothers. The first category is a variant of the law-Gospel distinction. I call it a variant because Wilson does not hold to the standard view of the law-Gospel distinction. He holds that the law-Gospel distinction is in the mind of the reader, not in the text of the Bible (pg. 152). But the distinction as applied to false brothers has one more qualification: the law-aspect of a false brother’s law-reading is “a certain pharisaical understanding of it” (pg. 152). In other words, a false brother is reading the text as law, but not with a correct understanding of that law. He is reading it in a legalistic fashion.
I challenge this view of the law-Gospel distinction. I believe that it erases the first use of the law, which is to drive us to the Gospel, to Jesus. Here are some very helpful words from the WCF. I wonder if Wilson would comment on them.
God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…Beside this law, commonly called moral…(emphasis added, WCF 19.1-3)
Whatever else this passage is saying, it plainly asserts that the CoW did not end with the breach of it. The rule for the CoW was the moral law, the Ten Commandments, which was given to Adam (of course, in a more rudimentary fashion, although it could have been given to Adam in the form we find it in in Exodus 20: who is to say what form God gave it in to Adam? But the command to love God and to love his neighbor was surely implicit in the Garden, if not explicit). The CoW is equivalent to the first use of the law, since the perpetually binding nature of it (note: God bound Adam and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. That means that we are still bound by the Ten Commandments as a CoW. Thanks be to God, who has sent Jesus to fulfill that obligation so that the law is no longer our enemy but is our friend! Jesus sets us free from the law as a CoW, as section 6 says. But section 6 also implies that those not saved by Christ are still under the moral law as a CoW) is here said to be the moral law, the Ten Commandments, what was given to Adam. Section 6 also informs us that the first use of the law is by no means abrogated even for the believer. The law still points out our sin and drives us to Jesus, even if the third use of the law is now also applicable.
The previous paragraph is also applicable to the next major idea that Wilson introduces, which is a “two-covenant” idea (Wilson says “in effect,” plainly qualifying himself here). Wilson says that “one covenant consists of those who by grace ‘get it.’ The other ‘covenant’ is the sin-made covenant of falsehood, lies, and bondage within the context of surrounding grace. It is, in effect, a covenant that hard-hearted people have made to break covenant” (pg. 153, emphasis original). Wilson quotes Galatians 4:22-24 to prove his point. The question, given the previous paragraph, should be somewhat obvious: is not Galatians 4 talking about people who want to remain under the CoW as a legalistic way of self-righteousness? Yes, that results in breaking the administration of the CoG (I don’t believe that someone can break the substance of the CoG, since the true partakers of the CoG are the elect). I would have liked Wilson at least to address the possibility that Galatians 4 is talking about the CoW-CoG. At the very least, it is easy to see how Galatians 4 supports such a distinction. An important caveat must be made here (everyone, please note!): I do not believe that the Mosaic covenant can be simply equated with the CoW. The preamble to the Ten Commandments forbids that, in my opinion. Instead, I believe that the CoW has remnants in the Mosaic economy (“Do this and live”), but that the substance of the Mosaic economy is the CoG. In other words, the theoretical possibility of obeying the law perfectly still exists (otherwise, what benefit for us is there in Christ’s obedience of the law?), even if the reality is that all are sinners, and no one can obey the law. This is the clear teaching of WCF 19.
One final word on the Calvin quotation (pg. 155). Calvin does not advocate Wilson’s position. Calvin is plainly talking about the visible/invisible church distinction, as is clear from the immediately preceding context to the portion that Wilson quoted:
What, therefore, can be the meaning of Paul, when he denies that certain persons have any right to be reckoned among children, except that he is no longer reasoning about the externally offered grace, but about that of which only the elect effectually partake?
In fact, this quotation proves that Calvin believed that only the elect truly partake of the CoG. At the very least, Calvin believes in the “external-internal” distinction within the CoG.