I--THE PURPOSE OF LAW
A--AS TO ISRAEL
Men make penal laws to restrain crime. Thus the purpose of those laws is to produce
civic righteousness. The law to Israel by Moses is declared to have been for this same
device (Deut.4:29; 6:1-3; Joshua 1:8), though this was the less important (yet seemingly the sole) purpose of it. It
seemed to be given in order to make Israel a legally righteous group of people in the
flesh, till it should be a means of bringing in the Messiah. So we read that the law was
an escort to lead them to Christ (Gal.3:24), as such an escort led children to school. If
the nation had been permitted to go in the ways of the others it would in all probability
have been as short-lived as they, and so there would have been no Saviour for the world,
but Israel is still preserved for the future destiny assigned to it of being a national
priesthood in the millennium. So to keep them as a people apart, they were given such
separating laws as those forbidding marriage and other contact with the other nations. But
it cannot be over-stressed that this was but legal, fleshly self- righteousness, and not
real righteousness at all for it arose from pride and other carnal motives. The old
covenant promised temporal blessings for obedience that appealed to the people's
selfishness, and threatened them with death for disobedience.
B--THE SPIRITUAL PURPOSE OF DIVINE LAW
We read in Rom.3:19 and 5:20 that the purpose of law was to make the world subject to
God's judgment and make the offense abound, to lead to grace greater yet than the offense.
This seems incredible to the fleshly man, for human legislators do not pass laws just to
make culprits and criminals. Hence people reason that it is preposterous to think that God
would give commands, intending that people should disobey them. Nevertheless, there stands
the Word, calling for faith, not reasoning, based on incredulity. You do not tell Towser
to quit chasing cars and biting your friends who call, just to make him guilty of
disturbing drivers and hurting people, so it is reasoned that God is man-like in this
respect. But even humans do sometimes make laws for the express purpose of making people
guilty. Such cases are those in which the tax-treasury is low, and fines for speeding will
replenish it, or when sober tax-payers are saved money by fines from their bibulous
neighbors. So God's declared purpose should not seem too incredible. However, this seems
much like spanking the baby, just in order to give him a cookie to make him quit crying,
or telling Johnny and Susie to let the cookie-jar alone, just for the purpose of catching
them with crumbs on their lips in order to wreak justice on them. The first time you give
Towser a package of meat to carry home from the store he will probably eat it and repeat
the performance till he learns obedience through painful discipline. If you should so
wish, you could set feed before a hungry pig and say "Do not eat it," and
pig-sin would certainly result.
Since the divine purpose in law is to lead through guilt to grace, if anyone could have
kept the law he would put himself outside of salvation, which is declared to be by grace,
and so God would "miss" as to His purpose. But since the purpose of law is to
make people realize their inability to become righteous by it, this purpose inevitably
makes all people guilty who are under law.
This leads to the question of the guilt of all other nations but Israel, who alone had
the law from Sinai. For it is declared that the nations did not have the law (Rom.2:14),
that is, the law that the "Jew" had, as cited in the context immediately
following. How then did the nations have sin, since recognition of sin is by law (3:20)
and it is declared, immediately before, that all the world was guilty of sin (3:9)? The
answer is that they lived under "conscience" (2:15), the knowledge of good and
evil acquired under the first law given to mankind. They were not able to live up to the
ideals of conscience, so became self-condemned, and therefore felt the need of something
being done about it, as all religions of the world testify. Whenever and wherever law
comes to flesh-creatures, transgression inevitably results, because flesh, under flesh-
motives just cannot live up to ideals. There was pride before the law at Sinai was given,
for in the confidence of the flesh Israel said, "All that the Lord has spoken will we
do, and be obedient," and then proceeded immediately to worship the golden calf while
Moses was receiving the law they had just promised to keep.
Before a law was given to Adam, the pair had the nudity they came to know by
transgressing, but before that they did not recognize it as evil. The evil was there
first: the law merely exposed it. If God did not want them to know the nudity that showed
mortality (2 Cor.5:4), and get out of the shame by being clothed with the coats, which
spoke of sacrificial blood, why did He give a law that He foreknew they would disobey, as
shown by His provision for a Saviour before they sinned? Or why, then, put the tree of the
knowledge of good and evil before them? Here again we see the purpose of law working, for,
was it preferable that they should go on in innocent ignorance of mortality, or become
partakers of incorruption through the way of the blood?
We have some concrete examples of the purpose of law in the case of the woman of Sychar
(John 4), and that of the disciples in the feeding of the five thousand. The Saviour gave
the woman a command she could not possibly keep: "Go and bring your husband,"
when she had no husband, having abandoned all hope of successful and chaste wedlock and
was living in shame. He knew she had no husband, and therefore could not obey the command
He gave her.
The sequel shows His purpose in giving a command she could not keep, for, by revealing
Himself to her in His saving grace, He did what Paul declares to be the purpose of law, to
lead to grace that superexceeds sin. How gracious He was, and is!
The same operation is manifest in His command to the disciples to feed the multitude.
He knew they could not, and said it to test them, as He asked Philip where they were to
get the food for them (John 6:5), knowing all the time what He would do (verse 6), for He
evidently knew by miraculous discernment about the lad with his lunch. The sequel here
again shows His purpose in giving a command impossible to keep, for, though they could not
keep it of themselves, He led them to Himself, and by multiplying the food and giving it
into their hands, enabled them by His grace to keep His command. So in both these
incidents we see the purpose of law operating in leading to grace.
The same operation is evident in the case of Pharaoh. God's declared purpose with him
was to make His power known through him, and to declare His name throughout the earth
(Ex.9:16). If Pharaoh could have obeyed the first command to let Israel depart, no power
would have been demonstrated in him and nobody elsewhere in the world would ever have
heard of it; it would have been just an ordinary occurrence. So God gave him command after
command to let Israel go, knowing every time he would disobey, as shown by the fact that
He so predicted to Moses at the burning bush (Ex.3: 19), and repeated the prediction every
time He told Moses to give the king the command to let them go until the tenth judgment.
When the king's will weakened from his previous refusal and a consequent plague and he
became willing to obey, God stiffened his stubbornness by removing the trouble that caused
him to yield, leading him on step by step to the climax of the death of the firstborn and
the overthrow in the sea, that so thundered through the world in its reverberations that
the other nations heard of the powerful NAME (Joshua 2:9,10).
II--THE EFFECT ON ISRAEL AND ALL OTHER PEOPLE
In Eden the result of law came out just as the Law-giver expected when He planned the
offering for sin before creation; and at Sinai the result was just what He foretold in
"the song of Moses" that predicted the wife's idolatry-adultery (Deut.32). Thus
Israel became condemned by that law, and all other nations by conscience (Rom.2:14), so
that Paul charges both Jews and Greeks to be all under sin (Rom.3:9). Then the way was
fully open for grace, as designed (5:20,21), and not for strict justice that would have
swept away all the people on earth. So God's way with sin does not end in judgment, but in
III--"UNDER THE LAW"
The suggestion has been offered by those who conscientiously believe in keeping the
seventh day when interpreting the phrase "not under law, but under grace"
(Rom.6:14), that "under law" means under the penalty of the law by condemnation
for not keeping it, and that it does not mean under the jurisdiction of the law. Let us
see how we would come out if that is correct. When we read that some of the Galatians
desired to be "under law" (4:21) did they desire to be condemned as sinners? Did
they not rather desire to obey the law requiring circumcision (5:2)? Worse yet, do those
who advocate that interpretation wish to put our holy Saviour in sin when they read that
He came to be under law (4:4)? That interpretation will never do. In 1 Cor.9:21 not
"under law" is "without law," so that "under law" is having
law. Those who did not sin after the likeness of Adam's transgression (Rom.5:14) sinned
outside of law, but under conscience. They "missed the mark" of their knowledge
of good and evil. Adam had law, those "from Adam to Moses" had neither Adam's
commandment nor the law from Sinai, nevertheless they died, because death came through to
all mankind. That is Paul's teaching there. All groups of people in the world have had
their moral codes, derived from conscience. Some of them contradict each other.
Citizens of the U.S.A. are not under the jurisdiction of the laws of England and vice
versa. Mrs. Jones is not supposed to obey Mr. Smith. The people of other states come
to Reno, Nevada, to be divorced, because they want to be under other marriage-laws than
those of their own states. Until recently the law of Kansas did not permit people to buy
liquor, while the laws of other states did. People could not be under both laws at once.
The nations other than Israel did not have the old covenant. We shall see why under
IV--THE NATURE OF THE LAW FROM SINAI
Though the law caused transgression by forbidding what people could not avoid doing,
yet the law itself is not sin (Rom.7:7). It is "holy, and just, and good" (verse
12). That is not spoken of every commandment in the code given at Mt. Sinai. The Great
Teacher said otherwise about some statutes in that code (Matt. 5). He said
otherwise about the too-free divorce laws of that code (19:3-9). The specific
"precept" (CV) Paul calls "just and good" is the last commandment of
the ten, which he there quotes. He does not teach the perpetuity of the sabbath nor the
jurisdiction of the decalogue as binding for all other nations besides Israel. The most
perfect commandments of all are written outside the decalogue. "The greatest
commandment," love to God, is written in Deut.6 and "the second" greatest
in Lev.19:18, so it will not do to exalt the decalogue above all the rest of the law.
V--THE CHARACTER OF THE OLD COVENANT
The law given at Mount Sinai was a marriage agreement between the God of heaven and
Israel as a nation. That it was a marriage-contract is proven by such words as Jer.
31:32, also 3:14, "I am married unto you." Further evidence is found in Ezek.16,
where their betrothal is described in detail under the custom of betrothal as it was
followed in Israel. Still further evidence is clearly visible in Jer.3, which describes
her divorce because of her unfaithfulness in wedlock by adulterous idolatry in giving
herself to the gods of the other nations, and in Hosea 2, which, like Jer.31, holds before
her the glad hope of a future reconciliation and remarriage under the new covenant.
This divine romance is the most marvelous and touching one in all literature, because
the heavenly Husband acts so contrary to man's ways in such circumstances. It is also the
most unrealistic love-story ever penned, and for that reason, if it had been a piece of
human fiction, the critics would have torn it to tatters in ridicule; but it is in the
strangeness of its grace that its gripping appeal consists.
It runs through most of the Bible, and ends with the companion romance of the wedding
joy of God's Son rejoicing over His bride at the same time the reunion of Jehovah with His
estranged wife is achieved.
This marriage is between God and Israel as a nation, not between Him and each
Israelite. He is monogamous, as He insists humans should be. Those who try to fasten the
severe yoke of that law-covenant on all other nations in the world are, without realizing
it, trying to fasten on our God the stigma of polygamy. Let us leave His marriage alone
and busy ourselves with our own calling.
The calling of the one nation, Israel, into marriage relationship with Jehovah is the
reason the nations do not have the law (Rom.2:14).
That first covenant was one of works (Gal.3:12). That is why it failed. He who tries to
save himself by his own works dethrones God as Saviour, just as he who insists on having
his "free will" dethrones Him as God, that is, Disposer. When the heavenly Wooer
made His proposal to His chosen and favored companion He said, "You have seen what I
have done to the Egyptians, when I bore you on vulture's wings and brought you to Myself.
And now, if you are hearing to hearken to My voice, and observe My covenant,
then you become Mine special above all the peoples, for Mine is all the earth. And you are
becoming Mine, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation." And in the same character of
works the chosen maiden replied, "All that Jehovah speaks will we do, and hearken"
(Ex.19:8; 24:7 CV). Then she immediately and continuously proceeded to do the opposite,
just as He expected and planned.
Notice that "all the people" as one nation made the betrothal promise.
When this writer preached his first sermon fifty-one years ago he took this betrothal
promise of works by Israel as his text; then on the thirtieth anniversary of his ministry
he preached the same sermon over again from the opposite basis of grace. Probably most of
us begin our search for salvation on that wrong basis, till we learn we are "without
strength" and that Christ died to save the helpless.
When considering the subject of works we should distinguish between the so-called
"good works" upon which unsaved people rely for salvation, which are works of
self, and by self, without God's enabling grace through saving faith, and the works that
believers are instructed to abound in. The former are works of "iniquity"
(Matt.7:23) or "lawlessness" (CV). Their evil character is manifested in the
boasting about them there cited. Paul nicely distinguishes between these two kinds of
works in Titus 3. In verse 5 he shows that our justification is not by "works of
[self]-righteousness which we have done" (in the past); but in verse 8 he tells the
believers to show good works after they have believed. The first are "dead
works;" the second are produced as fruit of the spirit by the new life swelling in
us. They come in response to the Word. If the ten commandments were for us, these good
works would be responses to the "Thou shalt not's" of it. Then one response
would be to rest on the seventh day. But in Col.2:17 the sabbaths (plural, and thus
including all sabbaths, the weekly ones, as those of seven years, or any others) are said
to have been shadows of the body of Christ (on the cross, verses 14,15).
"Sabbath" means "ceasing." Since He stopped all His work when He died,
it is as easy to see how the sabbaths all represented His death as it is to see the same
in all animal sacrifices, in circumcision and in all other shadows of it. We also
"stop" from all our works of the flesh when we enter into Him and His death and
abide in Him. Having the reality, why yearn for a shadow of it? We are sometimes asked why
we keep nine of the ten and omit the fourth. We are not keeping the nine. We are not
keeping any. We rest in death to sin in Him while He lives and works in us. We are in the
passive voice in Rom.8:4. Righteousness is "fulfilled in us." Then, too, when we
do not do murder as citizens of the U.S.A. or of California, we are not doing it in
obedience to the laws of Britain or New York. All the virtue in the nine commandments is
enjoined on believers in the church epistles. But the observance of the seventh day is not
so much as even hinted at as binding, but on the contrary, Paul remonstrates with the
Galatians for observing days and instructs the Romans who think they should do so, not to
[mis]-judge those who do not.
VI--THE MOTIVATION OF CONDUCT UNDER LAW
Law threatens with penalties. A law without a penalty attached would be of no force
whatever. While criminal laws restrain some wrong, yet even the fear of capital punishment
does not deter very effectively from such crimes as murder and abduction. That is because
the desire for the imagined benefits from transgression is stronger than the restraining
Then some man will say, "Why then did not God appeal to spiritual love in her to
gain obedience as He does with us?" Well, how could He until He put that love in her
heart, as He does with us by loving us first? And how could He show that love till He had
exhibited it to her in mercy for her transgression, which she could not commit till in
wedlock? He will yet show it and put it in her heart under the new covenant. But so far
she is still the divorced, unfaithful spouse in the shame of her banishment and
desolation. But she will learn when the time comes. Then she will not be asked to keep a
covenant based on flesh-motives, that make obedience impossible.
Besides this fear-motive there were others prompting Israel to keep the covenant. A
contract must have a "consideration" or promise of benefits on both sides, that
is, by both parties. God promised His betrothed to make her a priestly nation to be
between Him and the other nations. She promised obedience to Him. He also promised her the
land gushing with milk and honey, with peace, prosperity and temporal success. That all
appealed to the ease and selfishness of the flesh. The whole glowing prospect also
appealed to pride, in the hope of being a perfectly righteous nation, alone thus among all
other nations, the envy and admiration of them all. God knew He was raising a beautiful
flower of Phariseeism. There would (and could) have been no salvation for the world
without it, to put His Son on the cross. Do not ever accuse Him of mistakes or failures.
The law from thundering, shaking, burning Sinai so terrifyingly dismayed Israel that even
Moses said "I exceedingly fear and quake. "But, as soon as the reverberations
died away, the betrothed maiden sang and danced around the image of her former Egyptian
lover. If you court a maiden with a pistol in one hip pocket and a butcher-knife in the
other and say, "You better love me or else..." and ask her to promise to be
yours, she probably would give a hearty consent, but as soon as you went out of sight she
would likely run back to her mother.
Modern preachers are wise in omitting obedience from marriage contracts. And it is
largely men's lack of being spiritual husbands, worthy of a woman's trustful resignation
to masculine direction, that leads to insubordination.
So it was not ignorance, but design, that motivated the heavenly Bridegroom in asking
his chosen maiden to obey Him. He is not only wise, but wonderful in purposes of grace and
VII--A--THE RELATION OF THE LAW TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
What has already been said makes it needless to say much more under this heading. Paul
shows, in 1 Cor.13, that all seemingly good works are "nothing" if not motivated
by love. Sounding brass bands and tinkling cymbals attract admiration and please the ear,
but the swelling chests of the performers (from another cause than air to blow horns)
betray the evil motive of pride back of the whole music. For while it is music in the ears
of a boaster to hear his own words, they make an obnoxious din in the ears of everybody
It is motives that chiefly determine the character of conduct. The same act may be
right in some circumstances and when prompted by right motives and be wrong otherwise.
Eating, for instance, is neutral in itself, for it is written, "...neither if we eat,
are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse." We can either sin by
gluttony or eat to the glory of God (1 Cor.10: 31). Many other things are of like neutral
character, such as calling on neighbors or spending money.
Motive distinguishes first degree murder from other forms, and is the distinction
between suicide, martyrdom and self- sacrifice. God distinguished between premeditated
murder and death by accident, and provided cities of refuge for the latter.
If we obtain righteousness by our obedience to law, how can Christ be "the Lord,
our righteousness" (Jer.23:6)? And if we obtain life by obedience, how can Christ be
our life (Col.3:4)?
The law commanded perfection in loving a neighbor as one's self, but it could not
confer it. It takes perfect love to cast out fear and produce perfection. It is like
clover: Red clover has honey in it, but honey-bees cannot extract it. It is beyond their
reach. So God made white clover with the sweet within their reach. Grace in the gospel
does what flesh-motives under law could not do.
VII--B--THE RELATION OF LAW TO LIFE
This is probably the most difficult part of our subject, because when we read
"life" in the Scriptures, we are apt always to think of future life. But the law
never promised that. All it promised was a "long" life in the flesh, as the
fifth commandment expressed it, with health, peace and prosperity. "The number of thy
days I will fulfill" (Lev.23:26).
So the law could give neither righteousness (Rom.8:3,4; Gal. 3:21) nor life, as this
last reference also declares. If it could have given righteousness, Christ's death would
have been in vain (Gal.2:21); and if it could have given life, He would have risen in
vain, for He said "Because I live you shall live also."
The reason it could not give righteousness was because the flesh-motives of fear,
selfishness and pride can never do that. As we have seen, fear of the penalties does not
always deter from crime. Selfishness will never sacrifice itself or even its goods, for
others, and pride can produce only boasting self- righteousness.
And, since law cannot produce righteousness, it cannot produce life, for the
unrighteous cannot inherit God's kingdom. That is why Paul says "If there had been a
law given which could have given life, verily righteousness would have been by the
Not only are the unrighteous excluded from future immortality for their own sakes, lest
they become hopelessly and endlessly involved in sin, but life is necessary for
righteousness, as the above quotation shows. Since temptation comes through flesh- desires
(James 1:14) which are evidence and result of mortality, or a constantly dying condition
that must be renewed by rebuilding of that flesh by elements for which hunger, thirst and
other desires seek, this dying condition causes sin. Hence we read (Rom.5:12 CV) that
death passed through into all mankind, on which (that is, on death, this dying condition)
But we meet a seeming difficulty pertaining to each point, righteousness and life. In
regard to righteousness we read that such people of God as Zacharias and Elizabeth walked
in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless and Paul testified that
touching the righteousness which is in the law he was blameless.
The solution of this difficulty is that Paul also says that this was self-righteousness
(Phil.3:9), and that he flung it away as refuse that he might have real righteousness.
On the other point, that of life, we meet such things as these:
The law was for life (Rom.7:10); "The just one by faith shall be living,"
also the one who does the righteous acts of law shall be living in them (Lev.18:5;
Rom.10:5; Gal.3:11,12). By this we see that if an Israelite could have kept the law
perfectly, he would have earned life, for death as a penalty for sin would then have had
no claim on him, he would have been his own saviour and even a saviour to others; but he
then would not have needed Christ (Gal.2:21). There was only One for whom this perfection
was possible, and to Him it was possible only by going into death, not for His own sin,
but for the sake of others; and the law commanded Him to die thus, by its shadows such as
sabbaths, animal sacrifices and circumcision, a requirement never put upon any other son
of Adam. The prophecies of His death also commanded Him to die in the sense of the words
in Acts 13:47, seeing that a prediction of an act by someone becomes to him a command to
do it. Hence we read of Him saying that the Father commanded Him to die (John 10:18) and
that He was also "obedient" to the precept (Phil.2:8). In that way the law was
ordained to give future life, only through Him, by His resurrection.
But the law never promised that future life to Israel for obedience. Only a long
temporal life, free from disease, poverty, war and like ills was the
"consideration" on God's side, and He foreknew that they could never earn even
that apart from His enabling grace. This is the "living in them" (the precepts
of law) referred to in such scriptures.
The case of the rich young ruler also needs to be considered in this connection. He
came seeking the future life, not the long prosperous life which the law promised, for he
already had prosperity in his riches.
The Master referred him to the law to find what he sought. That is the seeming
difficulty, since we have considered Scriptures that bar the way to life by the law. Did
not our Saviour know well what He later revealed to Paul that eonian life cannot come
through law? To deny that is to accuse Him of ignorance as to truth necessary for correct
teaching. Such an evil course is, utterly needless when we understand the matter.
First of all, the young man came in the wrong attitude, on two points. First, he wanted
to earn the life he sought, for he asked what he could "do" to obtain it.
Secondly, he mistakenly asked his question by prefacing it with flattery, saying
"Good Master." Why was not the Master good? He said only One is so, excluding
himself. He never sinned, so why was He not good? A sabbath-keeper who was asked that
question could not answer. Those who can answer probably understand the Scripture teaching
The young man did not understand the truth declared by the Master elsewhere, that all
His knowledge was by inspiration (John 12:49,50) and all His works by the indwelling
Presence through that same spirit (14:10). Since these two, His words and His works,
constituted His whole service (Acts 1:1), His whole goodness was thus by grace. The young
ruler thought it was due to His own merit, even as he trusted in himself for the same way
to life, saying "What shall I do?" And, being referred to the last six of
the ten commandments for his guide as to what to do, he proudly declared he had always
kept those commandments. Why then should he still be seeking life, since then he would
already have a full and clear title to it? He did not know that life is God's gift
Why then did the Master send him to the law when he could not get life from it?
Evidently to teach him his lesson. He had to go back and start at the kindergarten and
learn the abc of salvation, that law is for the purpose of exposing sin, need,
helplessness, and stop the boasting he had been making. And his boast was false. The
Master, by quoting the tenth command as "Defraud not" seems to suggest that the
young man's wealth had been acquired by shady practices. And, as for the first four
commands, he was not keeping any of them. Covetousness is trust in wealth instead of in
God (1 Tim.6:17) and the young man was doing that, according to what the Master in His
words implied about him (Mark 10:24). It was not the mere possession of wealth that
was reprehensible in the young man, but the fact that he trusted in it. That is why
covetousness is idolatry (Col.3:5) for it dethrones God from His place in our trust,
worship and service and enthrones mammon instead, saying "Feed me, clothe me, get me
everything I want." Then, too, the young man failed as to the final instruction given
him to do good to others with his wealth, just as Paul teaches on the subject (1 Tim.6:18)
and then says that by so doing (but in faith, as saints, not of self, by works of self)
life will result (verse 19).
So the young man was an idolater, he was having another god beside the God of his
people, he was thus taking the name of his God in vain, according to Prov.30:9 and he was
breaking the fourth commandment by not stopping his own self-activity of works of law and
resting in the One who works in us while we rest in Him.
So he was sent back to school. Let us hope he learned his lesson, and that we have