Jurisdiction of the Law (Part 1 of 4)

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Signs of the Times : February 4, 1886

We have already anticipated this division of the subject, and have shown, by the extent of the gospel commission, that the law of God has been known and transgressed by men in every part of the world; that as the gospel is to be preached in all the world until the coming of Christ, sin will exist just as extensively and just as long; and that, consequently, the law, of which sin is the transgression, will be binding in all the world till the end of time. We wish, however, to carry the subject a little further.

The apostle says that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself,” and that he has committed the carrying on of this work to his ambassadors—the ministers of the gospel—who, in Christ’s stead, pray the world to be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:19, 20.  Now, reconciliation implies a previous condition of enmity; and if the world needed reconciling to God, it was because the world was at enmity with God. And since the work of reconciling is still being carried on, it follows that the rebellion, or enmity, still exists. Then the question arises, “In what does that enmity consist?” The same apostle tells us: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7. Men are rebels, because they are in opposition to God’s law. And this is the same truth that had been uttered, centuries before, by the inspired prophet: “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever; that this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord.” Isaiah 30:8, 9
This brings out again the fact previously stated, that the gospel announces, and carries on its forefront, the law. It was the transgression of the law that made it necessary for Christ to come to reconcile men to God. And as men, by continued sin, lost their sense of its heinousness, and of their obligation to God, it became more and more necessary that the gospel, in announcing to men the way of pardon and reconciliation, should make known their need of such reconciliation and pardon by setting forth, in plain terms, the law which they had transgressed. This is what is plainly stated by Peter, when, after quoting Isaiah’s tribute to the enduring nature of the law, “because ‘All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever’.” Then he adds; “Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24, 25
The quotations made from John Wesley and Bishop Simpson are in harmony with this conclusion. Indeed, the conclusion is so nearly self-evident that it must be reached by all thoughtful, candid minds. The very fact that a pardon is granted, attests the authority of the law; and before a pardon can be granted, the individual must know and acknowledge his guilt. If a man thinks himself righteous, he will indignantly spurn any offer of pardon, even though he may really stand in need of it. Human nature would leave such to the fate which their own blindness and stubbornness deserve; but God loves the world, and desires that all men shall accept his pardon, and thus be reconciled to him; and therefore he takes pains to bring men to a sense of their sinful condition, so that the pardon which he offers may be accepted. The same messenger, who is commissioned to announce the pardon, proclaims the law of God, which awakens the self-confident sinner, so that he may appreciate his lost condition. 
Let us look still further into the matter of the extent of the law’s jurisdiction. Read Romans 3:19: “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” The law speaks only to those who are within the bounds of its jurisdiction; if any are outside its limits, it cannot condemn them for walking contrary to its provisions.  For example, a man in Russia may commit an act which is forbidden by the laws of the United States; yet he cannot on that account be declared guilty, simply because the United States law has no jurisdiction in his case. He is not amenable to it. But as a consequence of what the law of God says, all the world is guilty before him. This, again, shows conclusively that all the world is duty bound to keep God’s law.
There are no exceptions to this fact. We have before learned that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4) and that “where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15); and therefore we know that wherever we find sin, there must also be the law. To whomsoever sin is imputed, upon him the law has claims; for “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Romans 5:13. Now we find these statements: “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:9, 10, 23. Here the apostle descends to particulars, and shows that not to the Jews alone, but to Gentiles as well, is sin imputed, thus proving beyond all controversy that the Gentiles as well as the Jews have violated God’s law and are therefore under it’s jurisdiction.
 Our investigation of the law began with the time when it was given on Mount Sinai; and we must therefore now examine to see if that was the first of its existence. And here, as in all our study of the law, we find help from our knowledge of the fact that the law is “the righteousness of God.” Then it must necessarily have been in existence before the exode. Since it is a transcript of God’s character, it necessarily follows that its existence is coeval with the existence of God.
“But,” it may be objected, “the law, as a manifestation of God’s righteousness, might exist, without being transcribed for the government of mankind.” So it might if there were no creatures to whom it could be made known; or if there was any time after creatures had been brought into existence when God did not exercise government over them. But it is not for us to speculate on the state of affairs when God dwelt alone, inhabiting his own eternity, before the existence even of the “sons of God” that shouted for joy at the creation of this earth; and there certainly has never been a time since intelligent creatures were formed, either in Heaven or on earth, when God was not supreme ruler. No created beings have ever been independent of his control. God has always been ruler, there could be nothing else than his righteousness - his law. The Ten Commandments are righteousness; they are perfect, holy, just, and good, and therefore exactly fitted to be the rule of a righteous and just government. Then, from the very nature of the law we would conclude that it was binding on men before it was spoken from Mount Sinai. We shall shortly recur to the argument broached in this paragraph; but first we wish to show from positive evidence that the law of Ten Commandments was known by men, and was binding on them, before the giving of it on Sinai.
In Romans 5:12, we read that “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here the apostle shows that death is a consequence of sin; death came into the world because there was sin in the world. If there had been no sin, there would have been no death, and wherever death is found, it is positive evidence that sin exists. With this passage we may well place 1 Corinthians 15:56: “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” Here death is represented as a cruel monster that has brought many people into its power. It has poisonous fangs with which it strikes its victims, and these fangs, this sting, is sin. Let the fangs be drawn, - let sin be obliterated, - and death’s power would be gone. But the “strength of sin is the law.” “Sin is the transgression of the law,” and it is the violated law which provides death with its powerful sting. Were it not for the law, death would have no sting and it would be powerless to destroy. So here, again, we have proof that wherever death is, there is the law also.
We read on: “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, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.” Romans 5:13, 14. Here we have the statement that until the law, that is, until the time of Moses, when it was spoken from Sinai, sin and death were in the world; therefore we know that the law was in the world. And hereby we know that the expression, “until the law,” does not indicate that the time so specified was the first existence of the law; for both sin and death were in the world before that time, and neither can exist without violating the law.
Let us go still further into particulars. “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4), and “sin is not imputed when there is no law.” Romans 5:13. But sin was imputed to Cain (Genesis 4:7, 8), and consequently the law was there to condemn. Turn to the commandments, and you will find that the sixth commandment was the one especially transgressed.
Again we read that “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.” Genesis 13:13. “Sin is not imputed when there is no law,” and consequently we know that God judged the Sodomites by his law. If he judged them by his law, of course they knew of the existence of that law; otherwise their punishment would not have been just; but we may be sure that the “Judge of all the earth” will do right.
Take the case of the sons of Noah (Genesis 9:22-26). Here we have direct evidence that the fifth commandment was known; that it was violated by Ham, the younger son of Noah, and kept by the other two; and that the one was cursed for his sin, while the others were blessed for their observance of the commandment. These things show the existence of that commandment, knowledge of its existence, and knowledge that it was in full force to condemn the guilty and to acquit the innocent.
We find also the violation of the eighth commandment mentioned in Genesis 31:30. It is not necessary to particularize concerning each of the commandments, but we will notice one more. In Genesis 15:15, 16, we read these words of the Lord to Abraham: “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” This shows that in the days of Abraham, the inhabitants of Canaan, the Gentiles, were guilty of iniquity. Iniquity is sin, and “sin is the transgression of the law;” so, therefore, the Amorites had the law of God. Turn now to 1 Kings 21:25, 26, and you will learn of what the Amorites were guilty:—
“But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up. And he did very abominably in following idols, according to all things as did the Amorites, whom the Lord cast out before the children of Israel.” 
Here we find that the Amorites were cast out of Canaan because of idolatry, —idolatry, which, in its rites, involved the violation of not only the first and second commandments, but of all the ten. So we find that all the commandments were known and violated hundreds of years before the Jews came to Mount Sinai, and before there ever was a Jew. The point has now been proved, both from the nature of the law and by actual illustrations of the fact.

Go to Part 2