PROTESTANTISM THE LAW OF GOD
Mr. C. Dawson
February 12, 1966
In considering this subject, it would appear to be necessary to state the meaning of the word, law. It might be defined as “A rule of action established by a supreme power” or “A body of rules governing a community.” We can understand this in a general way as a body of rules which may govern a country, society or a church. We are subject to the law of this land in which we live, and the body of rules which comprise the law, to which perhaps many of us are strangers, govern our lives. In passing we might observe that the vast majority of the laws passed or established in our country were derived from the Word of God initially, thereby giving confirmation to its universal authority. We are not concerned here so much with the law of Britain or you would have invited a lawyer, not a minister of the Gospel to speak to you. We are concerned with God’s law, and I wish, in this connection, to give you another definition of the Law of God, “The Book of Holy Scripture received as genuine by the church of God through the ages. The whole complete Word of God.” This definition is borne out by many Articles of Faith of the ancient and more recent “Confessions” of the churches. The Baptist Confession of 1689 reads, concerning the Scriptures, “They are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.” But we do not rely upon the confirmation of men to establish this definition.
The Word of God bears witness to itself. In 2 Timothy 3, 16 there is a word of Scripture with which many of you are familiar, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Again in the Old Testament, there is another confirmation in Isaiah 8, 20, “To the law and to the testimony, if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” May I state a most important and fundamental point, that the Scriptures as a whole are to be accepted as the Law of God, as the Word of God. There is nothing that is unnecessary, or that can be cast aside. Concerning your reading of the Word of God let it be read as a whole, for there is no part of Holy Scripture, however barren it may appear to be at first reading, that cannot yield profit to your soul. How solemnly the Scriptures speak, Revelation 22, 18/19, concerning those who may add to the word of God or may take away from it.
It is here that true Protestantism shines with a clear light against the dark background of the sinfully adulterated teachings of the Romish Church. Rome adds to the Word of God her own
traditions, and protects these traditions of her invention by the doctrine of the Infallibility of the Church. This means that Rome places on the same level of authority the Word of God and the traditions of the church. This twofold “Foundation”(?) was laid at the Council of Trent and many have been the comments of Popes and religious leaders in the Roman system of the inadvisability of men reading the Holy Scriptures alone and otherwise than it is interpreted and expounded by Roman traditional teaching. It was Innocent II who said that Holy Scripture “Is not for simple and unlearned men!” What a mercy that the man who said that was not infallible, and that his sinful utterance gives the lie to the claims that the Popes make.
It should be made quite clear that there is a very great difference between Law and Legalism. In these days in some religious circles it is only necessary to even mention the Law to be accused of legalism but the signification of the terms are quite different. I would give you a definition of legalism as distinct from the definition of law. Legalism is “The theory of Justification by the works of men,” or “A Strict adherence to the law or legal system, thereby claiming justification.” This is not the teaching of Protestantism concerning the law. Indeed the law is not to be understood in this context at all. In Acts 13, 39, we read, “And by Him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses” and the same foundation is laid in Romans 3, 20, “Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight,” and in Hebrews 7, 19, “For the law made nothing perfect.” Let us not entertain the thought that whilst we study the teaching of Protestantism concerning the law that we are for one moment suggesting that there is any possibility of being justified by our works. Neither is the law used by God as a “Whip” to drive sinners to despair. This is not the purpose of the law at all, that it should be used as a driving force to banish sinners from His Presence. It is just the reverse, “The law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.”
Having emphasised the cardinal differences between the law and legalism we cannot do as some do, lay aside the law as though it had no part at all in our most holy faith, in the teaching of Holy Truth. That would be the teaching of Antinomianism and not the teaching of true Protestantism, it would certainly not be the teaching of the Word of God. This is clearly established in I Timothy 1, 8, “But we know that the Law is good if a man use it lawfully.”
It is our purpose to consider, not the word of God as a whole, but those parts of it as are known by such terms as the “Moral Law”, “The law of Moses” etc. Let us consider this as it is shewn in five different periods of history. The periods to which I would refer are,Â—
I, At Creation; II, From Adam to Moses; III, At the institution of the Mosaic law; IV. As the law was expounded by the
Lord Jesus Christ; V, The teaching of the Apostles concerning the law from the day of Christ until the day of Judgment.
Now as we study these particular periods of history let us bear in mind three aspects of truth as we proceed to consider five points,Â— 1. The law, as given by God, was the act of One who is eternal love and within the purpose of grace everlasting. 2. That law, just, good, holy, and right, you and I have broken. And because we have broken the law we are cursed. Galations 3, 10 states “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them.” We have broken that Law. Consequently we are under that curse, until delivered from it. The Word of God will tell us also that if we have broken that Law in one point then we have broken it as a whole. For one sin we come under the curse.
3. The Law as subsequently fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ. No meditation in the Law of God would be complete unless our minds were directed unto Him. Though I am here to seek to lay before you the teaching of Protestantism concerning the Law I trust that I can say unto you all, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Behold Him of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth. In Romans 10 we read “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” How precious this is to every one that believeth.
I. Let us consider the giving of the Law at the beginning, at Creation. Surely it is quite inconceivable and inconsistent with His actions and His attributes that God who was the Creator, who produced order from the formless and void condition that existed before, should leave His creatures without a Law. God did give His Law to Adam. You read it in Genesis 2,16 & 17, “And the Lord God commanded the man saying. Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat, but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Within the compass of those few words we have the first statement of a Law of God. You will notice that it was a Law which required obedience, to be fulfilled in love, reverence and respect. It was an infinitely wise Law. The Lord knew what would result from the transgression of that Law. God gave Adam the ability to fulfil that Law. He had a free will, a free mind, he was at liberty to keep that simple Law of obedience and love. Think how much God had done for Adam. He had placed him there in that beautiful garden of Eden, given him an helpmeet, surrounded him with a scene of beauty. He had given to him a work to do in caring for that garden and there God came and communed with Adam. Oh! What blessing proceeded from God together with His Law. By the breaking of the Law Adam lost everything, Adam rejected that one commandment and by doing so he rejected God. He forfeited for himself and for all his posterity communion with God. Notice the amazing display of God’s Grace to Adam after he fell. After the Law was broken there comes the first promise of the Gospel, the first promise
of Christ, the deliverer, (Genesis 3, 15) “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed, it shall bruise thy head and thou shall bruise his heel.” The first faint but certain promise and prophecy concerning Christ. There is another revelation of his mercy. He did not leave Adam in the garden. You may think that is a manifestation of His judgment, but mark the words of God: “Lest he should now put forth his hands and take of the fruit of the tree of life I will drive him out.” Think of the terrible consequences to Adam and to all mankind had he been permitted to take of the fruit of that tree. He would have lived eternally in that condition to which he had fallen by his sin. He would have lived for ever estranged from God, without any hope of any reconciliation, but in mercy the Lord drives him out of Eden, and never since has Adam or any of his seed entered into an earthly paradise.
II. We must pass on to consider in the next place the period from Adam to Moses. We normally associate the moral law with Moses. Yet the scriptures do make it clear that all those that have lived in this period from Adam to Moses were under the Law. In Romans 5, 12-14, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses.”
“For until the Law sin was in the world.” For until the giving of the law by Moses, until that clear concise positive declaration of God’s Law sin was in the world. There is no doubt about that! Sin was in the world but sin is not imputed where there is no Law. If there had been no law in those years then sin would not have been imputed but we know, for a fact, that sin was imputed. It is a fact that many perished in the days of Noah. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses. What was the law under which all reigned from Adam to Moses. Because they were of the seed of Adam, because that doctrine of Protestantism concerning original sin is true they were under the law and death reigned.
Notice the short accounts of some of those men and women in those early days. How long they lived, but if you consider even the life of Methuselah, at last it is recorded “And he died.” Death reigned from Adam to Moses. They all reaped their wages, for that scripture is true, “The wages of sin is death.” By the Grace of God, through faith, some were saved, and in that period of history fresh types and figures were given, such as Noah’s ark, and the Ram taking the place of Isaac, foreshadowing Christ. In Hebrews 11 there is a list of some of the worthies of faith in that age: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah. Joseph; those whose faith looked forward to Him who was to come. So, the law was there, the promises were there, and we see again the grace and love of God revealed also.
III. What of the giving of the law to Moses? This falls into two groups; the moral law and the ceremonial law. We must look briefly at each. In Exodus 20, the ten commandments are stated as the moral law, the law of God for all men. Let us consider this.
First, notice the absolute authority of God in giving that law to His creatures. None other than God could possibly have spoken. “And God spake all these words.” (Exodus 20, 1). These are not the words of a man, the deep thoughts of human philosophy, but they are the words of God. His authority is absolute, it extends to all His creatures. He has a right to govern, for He is their Creator, their God.
Second, notice the Holiness of the giver of the Law and His utter abhorrence of “great” and Â“small” sins. I use these words guardedly, there are some sins so immense that we may look upon them as great sins. The terrible sins of murder, and adultery are great and terrible, but in this law the little things are there as well, such as taking a neighbour’s raiment. That is a sin abhorred by a Holy God. There is no sin, whether we consider it to be “great” or “small” but what is hated by God, and which brings us under the curse of the law.
Third, in that law there is that which reveals God’s Grace. I will give you a scripture to illustrate this:Â—”If thou at all take thy neighbour’s raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: For that is his covering only, it is his raiment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep? and it shall come to pass, when he crieth unto me, that I will hear; for I am gracious.” (Exodus 22, 26/27). Thus God is gracious and will not overlook the need of that one who has lost his raiment.
Fourth. There is the responsibility of mankind to obey it. God does not speak in vain. Your responsibility and my responsibility, as the creatures of God, is to obey His law irrespective of our sinful weakness and inability to fulfil it. It is still our responsibility so to do.
Fifth. Notice man’s failure to obey the law. Did Israel obey these precepts? God gave the law to Moses in the mount. God wrote this law upon two tables of stone, yet whilst God was engaged in that act of grace. His creatures were engaged in acts of rebellion. Whilst God was communing with Moses, Israel was worshipping the molten calf. (Exodus 31 & 32). How true this is still! Whilst God is making known His way of salvation through His word, manifesting His grace to mankind through the preaching of His word, man goes on in sin and in rebellion. When this was seen by Moses his “anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.” (Exodus 32, 19). Possibly, Moses felt that this act symbolized the acts of the Israelites down there in the plain, for they had broken the law almost before it was given. But, in spite of this terrible rebellion, see the mercy and grace of the Lord God to Moses and to man. The Lord addresses
Moses thus: “Hew thee out two tables of stone like unto the first and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables which thou breakest.” Moses had been so incensed by the sin of Israel, and now the Lord reminds him, “You have broken the tables, Moses, and you have broken the law;Â—which thou breakest.” God’s will had been revealed to Moses; it was His will that those tables should not be broken even as it was also His will that His law should not be broken. God is not the author of sin, and it is instructive to notice what was God’s will concerning those two tables of stone. You will find it recorded in Exodus 25, 16, “And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.” It is enlarged in verse 21, “And thou shalt put the mercy seat upon the ark: and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee.” There was the resting place of those two tables of stone written by the finger of God, giving details of His law. They were to be put into the Ark. God would look down from heaven, via the mercy seat which was above, to those tables which were safe in the ark. Does not this beautifully set before us the way in which the law of God is kept by the Lord Jesus Christ. You and I can only do what Moses did, if the law was entrusted to our keeping we should break it ere we had gone a step, but it is not entrusted to our keeping, it is entrusted to the safe custody of the Lord Jesus Christ. How amazing it is that though Israel and Moses had broken the law God does not cut them off. He makes known His grace. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.
A few words concerning the ceremonial law. We have not time to go into the details of it, but it was given to regulate Israel’s worship. It contained typical ordinances prefiguring Christ’s sacrifice, setting forth the atonement, but it was forward-looking and it was for a set time. It was forward-looking, in that all those types found their fulfilment in Christ and it was but for a time, in that when Christ came, then that law would be done away with. We have it in Hebrews 10, 9, “He taketh away the first that He might establish the second”, a few verses from Hebrews 10 will give all the comment that we need on this point. “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered; because that the worshippers once purged should have no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He
taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Look not back to those dim and shadowy manifestations contained in the ceremonial law, but unto Jesus. There our faith finds its foundation, there love basks in the enjoyment of Him.
IV. We must pass on to consider the teaching concerning the law given by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is beautifully set forth by the prophecy of Isaiah, “He will magnify the law, and make it honourable.” (Isaiah 42, 21). This concerns the work which the Lord Jesus Christ had to do, to “Magnify the law and make it honourable.” How did He do it? Firstly, with regard to magnifying the law, He showed that man still had a responsibility to the moral law, and he showed that man always would till the end of time. Now this is an important point, and it may appear to cut across some of the views that we may hold. But it is established for us in Matthew 5, 17-18, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled.” Firstly then He shows the law was still there. That this was still God’s requirement of His creatures and that it would still be in existence until heaven and earth pass away. Then he magnifies the law also in that he makes it more fully known. The Psalmist doubtless had learnt by experience a little of this when he said, “Thy commandment is exceeding broad”. But behold how the Lord magnifies the Law. As it were. He puts a magnifying glass upon those things that we may consider to be small and shows indeed that they are very large. He shows us that, if we hate our brother without cause, we are not just the hater of a brother, but we are murderers. He magnifies the word. He shows us further that a look can be the sin of adultery; He puts prayer beneath His magnifying glass and shows how faulty and feeble our prayers are. He said, “I say unto you, pray for your enemies”, not just for your friends. Do not do good only to those that do good to you but do good to your enemies. Pray for those that despitefully use you and persecute you. Yes, He magnifies the law. But then He makes it honourable and the Lord Jesus Christ has made the law honourable in two ways. Notice the connection between the making it honourable and the magnifying of it. He magnifies it. He shows it in its fullness, then honours it by fulfilling it completely. He fulfils the law completely in the spirit and in the letter. He fulfils it in the spirit of love, love to His Father, and love to that law which is good. He fulfils it in the letter, in that every “great or small”, important or apparently “insignificant” commandment He completely fulfils. Then He made it honourable by sacrifice. Made it honourable by not only fulfilling the law but also enduring the curse of the law for those who had
broken the law. Oh, how honourable He has made it by His sacrifice.
“Not all the blood of beasts,
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ the Heavenly Lamb
Takes all our sins away.
A sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood than they.”
Oh how that law is made honourable by that noble sacrifice.
V. There remains this final period of time from the days of the Redeemer to the end of time. The law is still with us. It is all very well to bury our heads in the sand, it is all very well to speak of Christ having fulfilled the law, having made it honourable, but what do you and I need? We need to know our personal interest in that work of Christ. We have no warrant to say that we are not under the law unless we know that we are under Grace. What, finally, is the use of the law? What part has it in the plan of salvation? My final quotation is from the Galatians 3, 24. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us into Christ, that we might be justified by faith”.
There you see the law not as a foe but as a friend. The law could do nothing but condemn, but the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The law shows us our sin, the law reveals to us our need and, in the hand of the Spirit of Truth, brings us to Christ who has fulfilled the law that we might be justified by faith in him. As Watts has stated it so beautifully
“My faith would lay her hand,
On that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin.”