Although in the preceding chapter I have anticipated some of the thoughts which will be expressed here, yet the subject of this chapter is of such inexpressible importance that I cannot forbear considering it by itself. After the Apostle Paul had, in the third chapter of his epistle to the Romans, asserted and proved that all mankind are sinners, and that the justification of believing sinners in the sight of God is utterly unattainable by their own righteousness, and is entirely founded on the surety-righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed by grace and received by faith; he has in the following words obviated an objection which he foresaw would be made to that fundamental doctrine: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). One of the objections then made, and still urged, by the enemies of the gospel against the doctrine of a sinner’s free justification for the righteousness of Christ received by faith is that it derogates from the honor and obligation of the law, nay, that it annuls or abrogates the law. “Do we then,” says he, by asserting that a man is justified by faith only, and not by the works of the law, “make void,” or nullify the obligation of the moral law? With deep abhorrence of such an insinuation, he replies, “God forbid”; far be it from us; on the contrary, we, by that doctrine, “do establish the law.”
It is as if he had said, “We are so far from making void or annulling the law through faith that we thereby establish and make it stand in all its force.” By the law here, the apostle cannot mean the ceremonial law; for by the word of faith as preached by the apostles of Christ this was made void, but the moral law, and that both as a covenant of works and as a rule of life. By faith, in this place, the apostle seems to mean both the doctrine of faith and the grace of faith. The doctrine of faith is the gospel strictly taken as distinguished from the law. The grace of faith is that grace of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of regenerate persons by the exercise of which they receive that doctrine, and the righteousness and salvation exhibited in it.
It will be proper here, in order to prevent mistakes concerning what is afterwards to be advanced, to remark that to make the law void is so to abrogate, abolish, or set it aside as to prevent it from being any longer binding on the conscience. It is to annul the divine authority and obligation of its precepts and penalties. The moral law, as the law of the infinitely glorious Jehovah, is enforced by all His sovereign and immutable authority. His infinite authority enforces every precept of it, and lays every rational creature under the firmest obligations possible to yield perfect obedience to it. Now to make this law void is to set aside its high authority and obligation, or to decline the authority and dissolve the obligation of its righteous precepts. Not that any man can do this effectually, but his attempting either directly or indirectly to do it is as criminal as if he could accomplish his design. To make it void is also to attempt setting aside the perfection, spirituality, and great extent of it. A man may be said to make void the law when he practically declares that the perfection, spirituality, and vast extent of it are not to be regarded, or when he puts it off as a covenant with imperfect and even with carnal, selfish, superficial, and partial obedience. Every sinner is guilty of this who goes about to establish his own righteousness in order to his justification; or endeavors to satisfy the law with imperfect instead of perfect obedience; with carnal instead of spiritual performances, and with partial instead of universal obedience.
To make the law void is likewise to invalidate the perpetuity of it. Not that any sinner has it in his power effectually to do this — for the moral law continues to be of immutable and eternal obligation upon all who are under it — but he attempts to abolish the perpetuity of it, with respect to himself, by persuading himself that although it originally obliged him to perform perfect obedience, yet now, in consequence of the mediation of Christ, it obliges him to yield such obedience no longer (Jude 4), and by presuming to satisfy the requirements of it as a covenant with sincere instead of perfect obedience, as if it ceased to require perfection of obedience any longer. Moreover, when sinners under the curse of it labor to persuade themselves that it cannot now exact from them perfect and perpetual obedience on pain of its tremendous curse, or when they stifle their convictions and try to keep their consciences easy under the condemning sentence of it, they do what they can to make it void. In few words, they may be said to make the law void when they deliberately set aside any of the uses of it. Though it cannot, since the entrance of sin into the world, justify sinners on the ground of their own obedience to it, yet, as was observed above, it is of standing use to sinners as well as to saints. Now if sinners set aside any of its uses, or refuse to “use it lawfully,” they thereby treat it with contempt, as if it was useless and insignificant. It is in these ways especially that self-righteous men attempt to make void the law of God.