modern American churches and society there is widespread and growing
lawlessness, which may be attributed in large part to Americans’ rejection of
God’s law. People twist the Scriptures, using such Scriptures as Romans 6:14 to
justify their rebellion (“you are not under law but under grace”). Jesus
Christ, during His earthly ministry, condemned such nonsense. Jesus said, “Do
not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to
destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). He warned that many religious hypocrites
who falsely professed to be Christians and claimed that He was their Lord and
Savior will be rejected by God at the last day on account of their lawlessness;
Jesus said at the conclusion of His sermon on the mount:
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the
kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. "Many will
say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast
out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' "And then I will
declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice
lawlessness!' (Matt. 7:21-23)
The end result of lawlessness in any society
is anarchy and social disintegration which leads to the eventual collapse of a
nation or civilization. Lawlessness in the church, also known as antinomianism
(Latin for “against law”) is widespread in our day, and it is leading to the
rapid decline and disintegration of American Christianity.
Jeremiah had to deal with a lawless
As the wise Solomon remarked, there is
nothing new under the sun (Eccl. 1:9). During the southern kingdom of Judah’s
great apostasy, the old covenant people of God, who even most churchgoers today
would affirm were subject to the Law of Moses, had become disobedient and
lawless. Indeed, they still had the Law, but they no longer obeyed it. The Old
Testament Prophet Jeremiah was sent to a lawless and rebellious people.
When the prophet Jeremiah preached to the
people of Judah, their faces showed their hatred and utter contempt of God and
His law. Therefore, God instructed Jeremiah, “Be not afraid of their faces; for
I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” (Jer. 1:8)
Jeremiah indeed saw that he had to deal with
a degenerate people, who had almost all departed from the law of God: and since
they had for many years shaken off the yoke of God’s law and were resentfully
exulting in their false freedom, it was difficult to bring them back to
obedience and to a right course of life (Jer. 1:8).
God complains that the liberty which He had
given to His people was turned into licentiousness. God said in effect, “When
you ought to have devoted yourself to Me, who had become your Redeemer, you
thought that liberty to do your own will had been granted you (Jer. 2:20).
The apostate Jews despised the law and
gloried in innumerable gods.
Though the Jews boasted that they were God’s chosen people, yet as they were so
refractory as to despise the Law and the Prophets, it is quite evident that what
they desired was unbridled licentiousness.
The Law itself was a rule according to which
the Jews were to worship God, nor ought they to have sought elsewhere what they
were to do. As, then, they had in the Law a revelation as to true religion, it
was an intolerable contempt to depart from it of their own accord and to abandon
themselves to all kinds of errors. But the Prophet shows that they had been
extremely unteachable, because they had not only cast aside every regard for the
Law, but they had also despised God’s hand and refused to be corrected by any
punishments (Jer. 44:9-10).
God instituted law and order for
the good of mankind.
There is a profound need for government, law,
and order, in the family, in the churches, and in society: Liberty would ever
bring ruin with it, were it not bridled and connected with regular government.
Liberty will ever be destructive to us, until God undertakes the care of us, and
prepares and forms us, that we may bear His yoke. Hence, when we obey God, we
possess true and real happiness. When, therefore, we pray, let us learn not to
separate these two things which ought necessarily to be joined together, even
that God would deliver us from the tyranny of the ungodly and also that He would
Himself rule over us (Jer. 30:9).
What is the purpose of the Law? The Law is
often compared to a way; for except God prescribes to us what His will is and
regulates all the actions of our life according to a certain rule, we should be
perpetually going astray. God’s Law, then, is justly said to be like a way,
according to what Moses also speaks, “This is the way; walk in it.” (Deut. 5:33;
cf. Isa. 30:21). (Jer. 32:23)
Departing from God’s law is the cause of
The cause of all evils is a departure from
God’s law (Jer. 9:13-15).
Ingratitude is a sign of lawlessness.
God condemns the people for their
ingratitude. Thinking that the yoke of God was shaken off, the people acted
like untamable wild beasts. Indeed, many people turn the favor of God into an
occasion for licentiousness, and thus abandon themselves, as though there was no
law and no rule for a holy and upright life.
Sabbath-breaking is a sign of lawlessness.
[John Calvin may not have been comfortable
with the phrase Christian Sabbath as a designation for Sunday, which was
later employed by Puritans and the early founders of America, including Baptists
and Presbyterians. However, his sermons on Deuteronomy, chapter 5 show that
Calvin would have agreed that the Lord’s Day is a holy day in some way linked to
the Fourth Commandment and therefore to be kept holy.]
American Christianity’s abandonment of the
Fourth Commandment and the observance of Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as the
Christian Sabbath is a repetition of history. The ancient people of God, the
Jews, likewise profaned God’s old covenant holy day, the Saturday sabbath:
So great and so gross was the Jews’ contempt
of the law, that they neglected even the observance of the Sabbath. The Jews
were so audacious in the time of Jeremiah that they openly violated the Sabbath;
men had become so lost, as we commonly say, as not to pretend any religion. The
licentiousness of the people was so great that they had no shame; no, they all
openly showed that they had completely cast away the yoke of God and of His law
The old covenant people of God had been
deceived, as they did not think that there was so great a sin in violating the
Therefore, the Prophet was sent by God to charge the people with this gross and
base contempt of the law. He said in effect, “You carry on business on the
Sabbath as on other days. As then there is not among you even an external
sanctity [holiness] as to the Sabbath, why do you go on with your evasions? For
your impiety is sufficiently proved.”
Hence the profanation of the Sabbath was a
proof of the Jews’ shamelessness, as they thereby showed that they cared nothing
either for God or for His law.
What can be easier than to rest for one day?
That the people of Judah carried their burdens and did their work on the Sabbath
as on other common days, was, as it were by design to shake off the yoke of God
and to show openly that they completely disregarded the authority of His law
The Sabbath day is a symbol of holiness—the
holiness of God and of His people, the Church: God did not regard the external
rite only, but rather the end, of which He speaks in Exodus 31:13 and in Ezekiel
20:12. In both places He reminds us of the reason why He commanded the Jews to
keep holy the seventh day, and that was, that it might be to them a symbol of
Even heathen writers, whenever they speak of
the Sabbath, mention it as the difference between the Jews and the rest of the
world. It was, in short, a general profession of God’s worship, when they
rested on the seventh day. When they now regarded it as nothing, by carrying
their burdens and violating their sacred rest, it was doubtless nothing less
than perversely to cast away the yoke of God, as though they openly boasted that
they despised whatever He had commanded.
What is a holy day? What was the meaning of
setting apart one day in seven as holy to the LORD? To sanctify the Sabbath day
is to make it different from other days; for sanctification is the same as
separation; they ought not then to have done their own work on that day as on
other days; for it was consecrated to God.
The abandonment of the Sabbath is a sign that
true religion has likewise been abandoned by a people: The whole law of God and
the whole of religion fell to the ground through the Jews’ violation of the
Man’s sinful tendency is to embrace
This evil has prevailed in almost all
ages—that few attend to the teaching of the law; for there is no one who is not
inclined to shake off this yoke.
Religious hypocrites are lawless.
Hypocrites not only despise God Himself and
depreciate His glory but also disregard the doctrine of His law (Jer. 23:9).
The Carnal Christianity of many
evangelicals is even more lawless than Roman Catholicism.
We indeed see at this day that the
doctrine of the Gospel does not restore all to obedience; but many give
themselves a more unbridled license, as though the yoke of discipline was
completely removed. There was some fear under the Papacy, there was some sort
of obedience and subjection; and now the liberty of the Gospel, what is it to
many but brute license, so that they sin with impunity and blend heaven and
earth together (Jer. 20:8-9).
Lawlessness is common among all ranks
If anyone thinks that the rulers are
better than the common people, he is much deceived; for I have proofs enough to
show that their conduct is the same; they have broken the yoke of God no less
than the most ignorant (Jer. 5:6).
The powerful tend to be lawless: We
know that those who are elevated in the world are so filled with pride that they
deem themselves as free from all laws.
Lawlessness is ultimately a total
rejection of God Himself.
It was therefore necessary to set before
the Jews their departure from the law, so that they might feel assured that
their contention was not with Jeremiah but with Moses, and with God Himself, the
author of the law.
To be a Christian, you must deny
yourself and take up God’s yoke, living in obedience to His law.
The very source of rebellion is this—the
Jews were unwilling to undertake the yoke of God. They had been unteachable,
for they had refused correction (Jer. 7:28).
To attend to God’s law is the way of
becoming really wise.
What does the metaphor of God’s yoke mean?
As the oxen are tamed that they may labor and are trained to obey when the
yoke is laid on them; so also God proves our obedience when He rules us by His
law, for we otherwise wander after our lusts. As therefore God corrects and
checks in us by His law all the unruly passions of the flesh, He is said to lay
His yoke on us. Now, if we are intractable [stubborn] and do not submit to the
authority of God, we are said to harden our neck (Jer. 17:23).
True faith and repentance is proved
by obedience to God’s law.
”Prove,” he says, “that you have
repented from the heart.” He shows how they were to prove this, even by
observing the law of God.
Jesus said, “He who has My commandments
and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My
Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).
But there was no repentance; they were
not sorry for their sins; no, the Jews actually took liberty to indulge their
sins more on account of their ceremonies, which yet ought to have been the means
of leading them to repentance.
All Christians must persevere in
obedience to God’s law and holiness, for without holiness no one will see the
Lord (Heb. 12:14).
Though God has been pleased to choose us
as His people, it is yet required of us to be faithful to Him; and if we forsake
Him, the same reward for our impiety will no doubt await us as Jeremiah
threatens here to his own nation (Jer. 13:25).
Whoever has been taught the will of God,
unless he obeys, he cannot escape the charge of a voluntary obstinacy, as he has
resolved to carry on war with God (Jer. 25:6).
God will severely judge all the
lawless with His extreme vengeance.
God here threatens extreme vengeance to
the Gentiles if they subjected not themselves to His yoke so as to render
obedience to Him (Jer. 12:17).
God would be an avenger, because the
Jews had refused to obey His voice, and preferred their own inventions in
walking after the hardness or the wickedness of their own heart. The cause of
this calamity was that the people had rejected the teaching of the prophets
God blesses the faithful who keep His
When men once shake off the yoke of God,
they are hurried on by a diabolical madness, so that there is nothing
insurmountable to them. Had they been asked whether they acted rightly, they
might have raised a thousand arguments as excuses; but when they followed their
own propensity, they in a manner, so to speak, leaped over the clouds. Impiety
then is always full of rashness and audacity. But as we see that the ungodly
thus rush headlong into ruin, even when God pronounces a curse on their counsels
and proceedings, let us learn to take encouragement ever to obey God; for He
promises a joyful and blessed result at all times when we follow the ways
pointed out by Him (Jer. 43:4).
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Bible Ministries. All rights reserved.