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The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded: Chapter 20 - A Legal Spirit

By John Bunyan

      In the next place, if you would indeed be delivered from the first into the second covenant, I do admonish you to the observing of these following particulars. First. Have a care that you do not content yourselves, though you do good works- that is, which in themselves are good. Secondly. In and with a legal spirit, which are done these ways as followeth.

      First. If you do anything commanded in Scripture, and your doing of it do think that God is well pleased therewith, because you, as you are religious men, do do the same. Upon this mistake was Paul himself in danger of being destroyed; for he thought, because he was zealous, and one of the strictest sects for religion, therefore God would have been good unto him, and have accepted his doings, as it is clear, for he counted them his gain (Phil 3:4-8). Now this is done thus-When a man doth think that because he thinks he is more sincere, more liberal, with more difficulty, or to the weakening of his estate; I say, if a man, because of this doth think that God accepteth his labour, it is done from an old-covenant spirit.

      Again; some men think that they shall be heard because they have prayer in their families, because they can pray long, and speak excellent expressions, or express themselves excellently in prayer, that because they have great enlargements in prayer, I say, that therefore to think that God doth delight in their doings, and accept their works, this is from a legal spirit.

      Again; some men think that because their parents have been religious before them, and have been indeed the people of God, they think if they also do as to the outward observing of that which they learned from their forerunners, that therefore God doth accept them; but this also is from a wrong spirit; and yet how many are there in England at this day that think the better of themselves merely upon that account; ay, and think the people of God ought to think so too, not understanding that it is ordinary for an Eli to have a Hophni and a Phinehas, both sons of Belial; also a good Samuel to have a perverse offspring; likewise David an Absalom. I say, their being ignorant of, or else negligent in regarding this, they do think that because they do spring from such and such, as the Jews in their generation did, that therefore they have a privilege with God more than others, when there is no such thing; but for certain, if the same faith be not in them which was in their forerunners, to lay hold of the Christ of God in the same spirit as they did, they must utterly perish, for all their high conceits that they have of themselves (John 8:33-35; Matt 3:7-9).

      Second. When people come into the presence of God without having their eye upon the Divine Majesty, through the flesh and blood of the Son of Mary, the Son of God, then also do they come before God, and do whatsoever they do from a legal spirit, an old-covenant spirit. As, for instance, you have some people, it is true, they will go to prayer, in appearance very fervently, and will plead very hard with God that He would grant them their desires, pleading their want, and the abundance thereof; they will also plead with God His great mercy, and also His free promises; but yet they neglecting the aforesaid body or Person of Christ, the righteous Lamb of God, to appear before Him in, I say, in thus doing they do not appear before the Lord no otherwise than in an old-covenant spirit; for they go to God as a merciful Creator, and they themselves as His creatures; not as He is, their Father in the Son, and they His children by regeneration through the Lord Jesus. Ay, and though they may call God their Father, in the notion-not knowing what they say, only having learned such things by tradition-as the Pharisees did, yet Christ will have His time to say to them, even to their faces, as He did once to the Jews, Your father, for all this your profession, is the devil, to their own grief and everlasting misery (John 8:44).

      Third. The third thing that is to be observed, if we would not be under the Law, or do things in a legal spirit, is this-to have a care that we do none of the works of the holy Law of God for life, or acceptance with Him; no, nor of the Gospel neither. To do the works of the law to the end we may be accepted of God, or that we may please Him, and to have our desires of Him, is to do things from a legal or old-covenant spirit, and that is expressly laid down where it is said, "To him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt"; that is, he appears before God through the Law, and his obedience to it (Rom 4:4,5). And again, though they be in themselves Gospel- ordinances, as baptism, breaking of bread, hearing, praying, meditating, or the like; yet, I say, if they be not done in the right spirit, they are thereby used as a hand by the devil to pull thee under the Covenant of Works, as in former times he used circumcision, which was no part of the Covenant of Works, the Ten Commands, but a seal of the righteousness of faith; yet, I say, they being done in a legal spirit, the soul was thereby brought under the Covenant of Works, and so most miserably destroyed unawares to itself, and that because there was not a right understanding of the nature and terms of the said covenants. And so it is now; souls being ignorant of the nature of the old covenant, do even by their subjecting to several Gospel ordinances, run themselves under the old covenant, and fly off from Christ, even when they think they are acoming closer to him. O, miserable! If you would know when or how this is done, whether in one particular or more, I shall show you as followeth-

      1. That man doth bring himself under the Covenant of Works, by Gospel ordinances, when he cannot be persuaded that God will have mercy upon him except he do yield obedience to such or such a particular thing commanded in the Word. This is the very same spirit that was in the false brethren (spoken of Acts 15; Galatians, the whole Epistle), whose judgment was, that unless such and such things were done, "they could not be saved." As now-a-days we have also some that say, Unless your infants be baptized they cannot be saved; and others say, unless you be rightly baptized, you have no ground to be assured that you are believers, or members of churches; which is so far off from being so good as a legal spirit, that it is the spirit of blasphemy, as is evident, because they do reckon that the Spirit, righteousness, and faith of Jesus, and the confession thereof, is not sufficient to declare men to be members of the Lord Jesus; when, on the other side, though they be rank hypocrites, yet if they do yield an outward subjection to this or that, they are counted presently communicable members, which doth clearly discover that there is not so much honour given to the putting on the righteousness of the Son of God as there is given to that which a man may do, and yet go to Hell within an hour after; nay, in the very doing of it doth shut himself for ever from Jesus Christ.

      2. Men may do things from a legal or old-covenant spirit when they content themselves with their doing of such and such a thing, as prayers, reading, hearing, baptism, breaking of bread, or the like; I say, when they can content themselves with the thing done, and sit down at ease and content because the thing is done. As, for instance, some men being persuaded that such and such a thing is their duty, and that unless they do do it, God will not be pleased with them, nor suffer them to be heirs of His kingdom, they from this spirit do rush into and do the thing, which being done, they are content, as being persuaded that now they are without doubt in a happy condition, because they have done such things, like unto the Pharisee, who, because he had done this and the other thing, said therefore, in a bragging way, "Lord, I thank thee that I am not as this publican"; for I have done thus and thus; when, alas! the Lord give him never a good word for his labour, but rather a reproof.

      3. That man doth act from a legal spirit who maketh the strictness of his walking the ground of his assurance for eternal life. Some men, all the ground they have to believe that they shall be saved, it is because they walk not so loose as their neighbours, they are not so bad as others are, and therefore they question not but that they shall do well. Now this is a false ground, and a thing that is verily legal, and savours only of some slight and shallow apprehensions of the old covenant. I call them shallow apprehensions, because they are not right and sound, and are such as will do the soul no good, but beguile it, in that the knowledge of the nature of this covenant doth not appear to the soul, only some commanding power it hath on the soul, which the soul endeavouring to give up itself unto, it doth find some peace and content, and especially if it find itself to be pretty willing to yield itself to its commands. And is not this the very ground of thy hoping that God will save thee from the wrath to come?

      If one should ask thee what ground thou hast to think thou shalt be saved, wouldst thou not say, Truly, because I have left my sins, and because I am more inclinable to do good, [Do not think that I am against the order of the Gospel]. and to learn, and get more knowledge; I endeavour to walk in church order, as they call it, and therefore I hope God hath done a good work for me, and I hope will save my soul. Alas, alas! this is a very trick of the devil to make souls build the ground of their salvation upon this their strictness, and abstaining from the wickedness of their former lives, and because they desire to be stricter and stricter. Now, if you would know such a man or woman, you shall find them in this frame-namely, when they think their hearts are good, then they think also that Christ will have mercy upon them; but when their corruptions work, then they doubt and scruple until again they have their hearts more ready to do the things contained in the law and ordinances of the Gospel. Again, such men do commonly cheer up their hearts, and encourage themselves still to hope all shall be well, and that because they are not so bad as the rest, but more inclinable than they, saying, I am glad I am not as this publican, but better than he, more righteous than he (Luke 18:11).

      4. This is a legal and old-covenant spirit that secretly persuades the soul that if ever it will be saved by Christ, if must be fitted for Christ by its getting of a good heart and good intentions to do this and that for Christ; I say, that the soul when it comes to Christ may not be rejected or turned off; when in deed and in truth this is the very way for the soul to turn itself from Jesus Christ, instead of turning to Him; for such a soul looks upon Christ rather to be a painted Saviour or a cypher than a very and real Saviour. Friend, if thou canst fit thyself, what need hast thou of Christ? If thou cant get qualifications to carry to Christ that thou mightst be accepted, thou dost not look to be accepted in the Beloved. Shall I tell thee? Thou art as if a man should say, I will make myself clean, and then I will go to Christ that He may wash me; or like a man possessed, that will first cast the devils out of himself, and then come to Christ for cure from Him. Thou, must, therefore, if thou wilt so lay hold of Christ as not to be rejected by Him; I say, thou must come to Him as the basest in the world, more fit to be damned, if thou hadst thy right, than to have the least smile, hope, or comfort from Him. Come with the fire of Hell in thy conscience, come with thy heart hard, dead, cold, full of wickedness and madness against thy own salvation; come as renouncing all thy tears, prayers, watchings, fastings; come as a blood-red sinner; do not stay from Christ till thou hast a greater sense of thy own misery, nor of the reality of God's mercy; do not stay while thy heart is softer and thy spirit in a better frame, but go against thy mind, and against the mind of the devil and sin, throw thyself down at the foot of Christ, with a halter about thy neck, and say, Lord Jesus, hear a sinner, a hard-hearted sinner, a sinner that deserveth to be damned, to be cast into Hell; and resolve never to return, or to give over crying unto Him, till thou do find that He hath washed thy conscience from dead works with His blood virtually, and clothed thee with His own righteousness, and make thee complete in Himself; this is the way to come to Christ.

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See Also:
   The Epistle To The Reader
   Chapter 1 - The Words Opened
   Chapter 2 - What the Covenant of Works Is
   Chapter 3 - Under the Covenant of Works
   Chapter 4 - Who is Under the Covenant of Works
   Chapter 5 - What Men May Attain To
   Chapter 6 - The Doctrine Proved
   Chapter 7 - Free and Unchangeable
   Chapter 8 - The Conditions of the New Covenant
   Chapter 9 - Christ is the Surety of the New Covenant
   Chapter 10 - Christ the Messenger of the New Covenant
   Chapter 11 - Christ the Sacrifice of the New Covenant
   Chapter 12 - Christ the High Priest of the New Covenant
   Chapter 13 - Conditions Fulfilled
   Chapter 14 - Covenant of Grace Unchangeable
   Chapter 15 - Brought into the New Covenant
   Chapter 16 - A Word of Experience
   Chapter 17 - The Privileges of the New Covenant
   Chapter 18 - Two Hell-Bred Objections Answered
   Chapter 19 - Use and Application
   Chapter 20 - A Legal Spirit
   Chapter 21 - The Use of the New Covenant
   Chapter 22 - The Unpardonable Sin
   Chapter 23 - Objections Answered


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