I don’t think I’ve read anything by J.V. Fesko before. I thought I’d start with a book carrying a lighter price tag before I started investing lots of money. As a result, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied has been sitting in my ‘to read” pile for some time. After reading a number of larger volumes I thought I’d go with a shorter book like this.
For those not familiar with Fesko, he is an OPC pastor and associate professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.
It is common for people who deny the on-going authority of the moral law to use terms like the rule of love to describe how God reveals His moral will to us. Fesko is not one of those people. This book is an exposition, however brief, on the Ten Commandments. He does treat them within their historical, covenantal and redemptive contexts. Too often people look at them in abstraction. We must remember they were given to the people of Israel, but YHWH who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after He delivered them from Egypt and slavery. We must understand this original historical and covenantal context to properly understand them. But as Christians we also view them through Christ’s redemptive work in which He fulfilled them for us, and by virtue of our union with Him works in us so we keep them in increasing measure. As a result, the Ten Commandments are not some religious artifact from some bygone era. Neither is our obedience to them the ground of our justification. Christ’s obedience is the ground of our justification. We also remember that while they provide the direction of our sanctification (the 3rd use of the law) they do not provide the power for it. That comes from the Spirit by virtue of our union with Christ (which he mentions quite often).
“The Law is not merely a legal bond; it is also a rule of love between God and His people.”
It would be easy to see the book are formulaic because he works through these three categories for each of the ten. But you should see this as good pedagogue. Being obvious is not a problem particularly when the lack of obviousness creates great misunderstanding.
The chapters are not very long, and he provides some study questions to help you think through and apply the material. Fesko begins with the prologue which stresses the covenantal and historical context for the rest. The Law was given to them, not to save them, but to know how to live together with God and one another. They were never to forget that He rescued them from slavery. As we read them we remember the greater redemption to which this great redemption pointed to. As Christians we hear them as people who have been justified, not those seeking justification. It is precisely when we ignore this, including when we put them up on courthouse lawns or walls, that we begin to turn it into a ladder.
“We cannot manufacture images of God because Jesus Christ has already taken that role. Only Christ can do what no man-made image can, namely, perfectly reflect the image of God. …. We do not make images of God, for He is making images of Himself in us!”
He then works through the commands in order helping us to understand them. This doesn’t mean he avoids controversial territory, however briefly. As a result you won’t find exhaustive (and some might think exhausting) treatments like with Frame’s excellent The Doctrine of the Christian Life.
With regard to the Sabbath, he argues that the Mosaic command is a republication of the work (and rest) principle given to Adam in the garden (Genesis 2). Redemption is added to creation and how they are to celebrate is spelled out more clearly. Calvin and the Continental Reformers have a fairly nuanced view: the creational mandate continues but without the ceremonial additions from the Mosaic covenant. I doubt that sentence does justice to it. They recognizes the civil law which defined how Israel was to celebrate it. Christ entered the Sabbath rest after His work so we could enter it before our work .We enjoy eternal rest on the basis of His working, not ours. As a Presbyterian, Fesko holds up the Puritan view of the Sabbath found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The practical differences between the two views can be tough to work out at times. Too often we focus on what we can’t do or must do. I suspect we are focusing on the wrong thing. We can enjoy the privilege of corporate (and family) worship and rest from our ordinary work.
As he examines the 8th commandment, “Thou shalt not steal,” he notes the different types of theft and different penalties. If you stole a person (kidnapping) you forfeited your life. If you stole livestock you paid restitution. Not all theft is the same, and shouldn’t be treated the same. Our legal system, unlike Scripture, can’t seem to grasp that. But that is a different book.
“Rather than taking from others, we must be generous with our possessions, freely giving our time, money, and belongings as we reflect the generosity, kindness, and love that our heavenly Father and Savior have given to us.”
In his discussion of the 9th commandment he addresses the “lie of necessity.” He thinks that God commends the Hebrew midwives and Rahab for their imperfect expressions of faith, not the way their faith was expressed. He brings up the story about Corrie ten Boom’s sister telling the truth about hiding the Jews and how God delivered them through an aptly timed raid. This truth resulted in her sister dying in a concentration camp. Fesko also doesn’t mention that their very hiding of the Jews was laden with deceit. They didn’t just have Jews hanging out, but remade the home to hide them and actively deceived the Nazis many times before they were caught. I think I understand his point, but I’m not really sure I agree at the moment. We don’t live in the “exceptions” or “extraordinary” very often. Our ethics should focus on the ordinary, not the exceptional though we recognize it.
“Instead of looking at well-intentioned bu fallible expressions of faith to determine whether we may lie, let us look to Jesus Christ and by the power of the Spirit strive to reflect His perfect righteousness and love.”
With regard to the last commandment, Fesko asserts that all Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount is connect the other commands to this prohibition against coveting. This is how the Jewish people should have been looking at the law the whole time. We see that when we sin, we often break not only the particular law, but also the 1st and 10th because we are worshiping false gods (usually self) and coveting something that isn’t ours and taking means to gain it.
This is a good book that is suitable for groups to consider the Ten Commandments, Christ’s obedience and how we are justified people are to live. As I noted, it is not exhaustive but it is productive.