The Law and the “Ghost of the Dead Husband” (Fisher)

The Marrow of Modern Divinity

Several times in the New Testament Paul talks about believers being dead to the law (Rom 7.4, 7.6; Gal 2:19). At first glance, this is not an easy phrase! Does it mean we don’t have to worry about obeying God’s law? No, it doesn’t mean that. One thing it does mean is that the believer is dead to the law as a covenant of works. That is, we do not need to obey the law to be accepted by God or to be justified. We are justified by faith alone – apart from our works. The Westminster Confession notes that believers are “not under the law as a covenant of works” (WCF 19.6). However, since there are still remnants of the old sinful nature in us, Christians sometimes still find a little Pope or Pharisee inside and believe they need to obey the law to earn God’s favor. Here’s how Edward Fisher explained this:

The believer is dead to it [the law] really, and in point of duty, while he carries himself as one who is dead to it. And this I take to be comprehended in that saying of the apostle, (Gal 2:19), “I through the law am dead to the law.”

In the best of the children of God here, there are such remains of the legal disposition and inclination of heart to the way of the covenant of works, that as they are never quite free of it in their best duties, so at sometimes their services smell so rank of it, as if they were alive to the law, and still dead to Christ.

And sometimes the Lord for their correction, trial, and exercise of faith, suffers the ghost of the dead husband, the law, as a covenant of works, to come in upon their souls and make demands on them, command, threaten, and affright them, as if they were alive to it, and it to them. And it is one of the hardest pieces of practical religion, to be dead to the law in such cases. This death to it admits of degrees, is not alike in all believers, and is perfect in none till the death of the body.

As followers of Jesus, then, we need to constantly battle the old sinful nature and the “ghost of the dead husband” by repeating these biblical phrases to ourselves: “Not by works,” “I am dead to the law,” and “it is for freedom that Christ has set me free!”

The above quote is found on Edward Fisher’s Marrow, page 176.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015