The Law and the Gospel Co-extensive

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Signs of the Times : January 14, 1886 

In Nehemiah 9:13 we find the following words in the Levites’ confession to God: “You came down also on Mount Sinai; and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right judgments and true laws, good statutes and commandments.” Here we have reference made to true laws and good statutes. A good and true law would in every case condemn sin; therefore the law here referred to is of the same character as that which, being transgressed makes it necessary for the gospel to be preached. This law was given upon Mount Sinai; so we examine the law there given to see if it meets the requirements.
In the 19th of Exodus we have a description of the preparation of the people to hear the law from Sinai. We read:—
“And the Lord said to Moses, Go to the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes, and let them be ready for the third day.For the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.” Exodus 19:10, 11
“And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud; so that all the people whowere in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. And Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.” Exodus 19:16-18
This was the condition of Mount Sinai when from it God spoke “true laws, good statutes and commandments.” Chapter 20, verses 3 to 17, contains the words which God spoke at that time. We quote them in full:—
  1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
  2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”
  4. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.”
  6. ”You shall not murder.”
  7. “You shall not commit adultery.”
  8. “You shall not steal.”
  9. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
  10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
These are the words which the Lord spoke in the hearing of all the people, from the midst of the fire and smoke upon Mount Sinai. Soon afterward he spoke to Moses, as follows:—
“Come up to me on the mountain, and be there; and I will give you tables of stone, and the law, and commandments which I have written; that you may teach them.” Exodus 24:12
Accordingly, we find by reading the remaining verses of the chapter that Moses went up into the mount, and remained there with God forty days and forty nights. While he was there, the Lord gave him minute directions concerning the building of the sanctuary. Then we read:—
“And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18
And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets.” Exodus 32:15, 16
Then we are told how Moses, as he drew near the camp, saw the golden calf, and the people dancing around it, “and he cast the tablets out of his hands, and broke them beneath [at the foot of] the mount.” But this was not the end of the matter; for very soon we read thus:—
And the LORD said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke.” Exodus 34:1
We will now read the words of Moses, as he rehearses the whole matter to the Israelites, just before his death. We begin with the point last quoted:—
“At that time the LORD said to me, ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to Me on the mountain and make yourself an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke; and you shall put them in the ark.’
“So I made an ark of acacia wood, hewed two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain, having the two tablets in my hand. And He wrote on the tablets according to the first writing, the Ten Commandments, which the LORD had spoken to you in the mountain from the midst of the fire in the day of the assembly; and the LORD gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain, and put the tablets in the ark which I had made; and there they are, just as the LORD commanded me.”
Deuteronomy 10:1-5
One more quotation on this point. In the course of Moses’ final address to the people, in which he rehearsed all their history in the wilderness, he repeated the substance of the Ten Commandments, and at the close he said:—
“These words the LORD spoke to all your assembly, in the mountain from the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and He added no more. And He wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.” Deuteronomy 5:22
The gist of these texts of Scripture may be expressed as follows: The good and true laws which were spoken upon Sinai (Nehemiah 9:13) were the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20:3-17; these Ten Commandments were written by God himself on two tables of stone; and there was nothing spoken to the people by the Lord, except that which was placed upon the tables of stone (Deuteronomy 5:22). Therefore the words found in Exodus 20:3-17, and no others, form the Ten Commandments, the perfect law of God.
But what has this to do with the gospel? Just this: We found that the gospel is the remedy for sin, which is the transgression of the law; and that the law must be in force as long and as extensively as the gospel is preached. We were concerned to know what law it is the transgression of which makes it necessary for the gospel to be preached, and we have now found it. One more step completes the identification. It is this:—
Paul says (Romans 7:7): “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” The law here referred to must be the same law that is referred to in John 3:4, because it is one that points out sin; it does this because it is “holy, and just, and good.” Therefore it is the law to which the gospel relates. And what law is it?—It is the law which condemns unlawful desire by saying, “You shall not covet.” But this is the last one of the Ten Commandments. Therefore we have proved to a demonstration that the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20:3-17,—those Commandments which were spoken by Jehovah, in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the smoke, and of the thick darkness, and which were written on two tables of stone and deposited in the ark,—form the law which points out sin. They are the law which has been universally trodden underfoot, making it necessary that the gospel should be preached in all the world, to every creature; and, therefore, it is as plain as the Scripture can make it, that they are still binding upon every creature in every part of the world. If it were otherwise, there would be no sin, and, consequently, no need of the gospel. Whoever, therefore, says that he is not under the jurisdiction of those Ten Commandments, virtually says that he has no sin; and whoever says that he has no sin, places himself outside of the gospel plan; for “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and no others. His salvation has reference only to those who have transgressed the law of God, the Ten Commandments.
The above argument is, we think, so conclusive as to make it almost unnecessary to notice the assumption that the gospel of Christ is that which points out sin. If this were true, we should have Christ introducing the gospel into the world in order to save men from the rejection of it! That is, the remedy for the disease creates the disease, the remedy being introduced to cure that which without it would never have existed! Such an absurdity is too puerile to be entertained for a moment. The gospel must relate to something outside of and prior to itself. Since the gospel saves from sin, it is evident that sin existed before the gospel, and that it continues to exist so long as the gospel exists; and since sin is the transgression of the law, it is just as evident that the law existed before there was sin, and, consequently, before there was any gospel, or any need of it, and that it exists as long, at least, as the gospel exists.
The testimony of men can never add to the force of the Bible; but to show that the view taken here is not a peculiar one among Christians, we quote from the two men, both imminent for scholarship and piety:—
“The ordinary method of God is to convict sinners by the law and that only. The gospel is not the means by which God hath ordained, or which our Lord himself used, for this end. We have no authority in Scripture for applying it thus, nor any ground to think it will prove effectual. Nor have we any more ground to expect this from the nature of the thing. ‘They that are whole,’ as our Lord himself observed, ‘need not a physician, but they that are sick.’ It is absurd, therefore, to offer a physician to them that are whole, or that at least imagine themselves so to be. You are first to convince them that they are sick; otherwise they will not thank you for your labor. It is equally absurd to offer Christ to those whose heart is whole, having never yet been broken. It is, in the proper sense, casting pearls before swine. Doubtless they will trample them underfoot; and it is no more than you have reason to expect, if they also turn again and rend you.”— Wesley’s Works, Vol. 1, Sermon 85.
“The law of God, and its great and solemn injunctions, should be distinctly set forth. Our congregations should be gathered as around the base of Mount Sinai, while from its summit is heard the voice of God in those commandments which are unalterable and the eternal in their character. The effect of these utterances will be that conscience will be awakened, and hearts will tremble. Some will say, with Moses, ‘I do exceedingly fear and quake,’ when they behold the majesty of law, the purity of God, and their own impurity. Others may be repelled, and will say, ‘Let not God speaks to us anymore.’ Some will object to the sternness of the law, and will say, ‘Prophesy smooth things;’ but still that law must be preached. It brings the sinner to recognition of his sins in having transgressed God’s holy law, and shows him the fearfulness of the doom which is impending over him.
“The law must be followed by the gospel; the awakened sinner must be pointed to the Saviour, that he may feel that, deep as are the stains of his transgressions, the blood of Christ can wash them all away. There are many preachers who love to dwell on the gospel alone. They talk sweetly and beautifully of the fatherhood of God. This is well. It is more than well. It is essential. But sometimes they go beyond this, and declaim against the preaching of the law—intimate that it belongs to a past age, a less civilized society; that men can best be moved by love alone, and they rely wholly on its attractive power. Such a gospel may rear a beautiful structure, but its foundation is in the sand. No true edifice can be raised without its foundations of being dug deep by repentance toward God, and then shall the rock be reached, and the building shall be strong enough through faith in Jesus Christ. The law without gospel is dark and hopeless; the gospel without law is inefficient and powerless. The one leads to servitude, the other to antinomianism. The two combined to produce ‘charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.’”—Bishop Simpson in “Lectures on Preaching,” pp. 188, 189.

The obligation which rests upon all mankind to keep the law of God will be considered more at length in future articles.