“Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one. And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (Gal. 3:16, 17).
God’s covenant with Abraham was not a covenant of law, but of promise: not of works, but of faith. This covenant, as we have seen, and as is even here said, was not only confirmed, but was even doubly confirmed, “in Christ,” at the time of the making of the covenant. Then, since the covenant, even though a man’s, once confirmed, cannot be disannulled, neither can anything be added to it, it is perfectly plain that the law, which entered four hundred and thirty years afterward, was never intended to change the character of the covenant. The law did not enter in any sense to take the place of the promise. In the entering of the law there was never any purpose in the mind of God that the works of the law should take the place of righteousness by faith.
But just here was the great mistake that was made by Israel: they utterly mistook their own standing, and the meaning of what the Lord gave to them, and his purpose in the giving of all that came after that covenant was confirmed. If the covenant with Abraham had been held in faithfulness, nothing else would have ever been needed to enter. But, when the real truth and virtue of that covenant were not discerned, and men went further into unbelief and darkness, the Lord followed them, and employed means and gave instruction to bring them from unbelief and darkness to the faith, light, and blessing of the covenant that he had made.
For, “if man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt. They would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai, or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses.
“The sacrificial system, committed to Adam, was also perverted by his descendants. Superstition, idolatry, cruelty, and licentiousness corrupted the simple and significant service that God had appointed. Through long intercourse with idolaters, the people of Israel had mingled many heathen customs with their worship; therefore the Lord gave them at Sinai definite instruction concerning the sacrificial service” (“Patriarchs and Prophets,” page 364).
The law entered in written form, ordinances were established, and all only because of their unbelief and transgression. None of these things were ever necessary to the covenant, nor were they parts of the covenant: the covenant was complete in itself when it was confirmed, and being confirmed, nothing could possibly be added to it.
Therefore nothing that ever came afterward was essential to the covenant. But because of their unbelief and transgression, these things were essential to them, to help them to the place where they could discern the truth, the light, and the purpose of the covenant; and where in faith they could enjoy all its blessings and its power. In other words, these things were all to help them to an enlightened faith—the true faith of the covenant—the faith of Christ.
Accordingly, in another place, it is written: “The law entered that the offense might abound [to make sin appear “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful”]. But, where sin abounded grace did much more abound, that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20, 21). Thus the object of the entering of the law was to bring men to Jesus Christ. And the object of all that came in after the covenant was made and confirmed was to help them to a true knowledge of that covenant.
But instead of receiving all these things in this light, and using them for this purpose, —the purpose only of coming to the full faith of the covenant of Abraham, —Israel made the mistake of putting all these things in the place of the covenant, and using these, instead of God’s covenant, as the way of salvation. Thus the law of God which, as we have seen, entered to give the knowledge of sin, and so impress the need of the Saviour provided in the covenant with Abraham, Israel turned into the way of salvation by their own endeavors to do the law.
The law of the Levitical priesthood, which was instituted to instruct them with respect to the true, —the Melchisedec, priesthood of the covenant with Abraham, —Israel turned from this purpose, and made it the final priesthood, and expected salvation and perfection by it. (Heb. 7:11).
The earthly sanctuary and its services, which were given in connection with the Levitical priesthood, and which were given to instruct them concerning the true, —the heavenly sanctuary and its services, in which Christ was to be priest after the order of Melchisedec, —this Israel also perverted, and made it the final service, and expected salvation by this service. (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 6:13-20; 7:9-22, 28; 8:1-5; 9:2-28; 10:1-17).
Thus they lost sight altogether of the covenant with Abraham, —the true way of salvation, —and all these things which were given to them in their unbelief and transgression to lead them to the light and to instruct them unto the covenant with Abraham and the true way of salvation, they put in the place of that. And this was only to put their own perverse views in the place of the truth of God; to pervert to the inventions of their own carnal minds, the sacred ordinances which the Lord had given to lead them to spiritual mindedness, it was only to make themselves their own saviors, it was to put themselves in the place of God.
But when these things which, in his love, God had given to help them to faith, were thus perverted to their own carnal views, all life was taken out of them, and they found in them no help whatever to righteousness. And, as in this way which they had gone, everything depended upon their own doing, this caused them to go yet further, and add to these things that God had given, that vast multitude of fine-spun distinctions, legal exactions, and pharisaic traditions, which was manifested in the ceremonialism of the Jews in the days when Jesus came, and which “the Pharisees, which believed” thought to fasten upon Christianity, by which they confused the Galatians. And this it was which called forth from the Lord the epistle to the Galatians, to show to both Jews and Gentiles the truth of God’s everlasting covenant and the true relation of the law, both moral and ceremonial, to that covenant. And this instruction is needed today just as well as then, or ever; because it is the bane of human nature to be ever ready to put its own views in the place of the truth of God; to put its own works in the place of the righteousness of God; to put ordinances and ceremonies in the place of faith; to put the inventions of the carnal mind in place of the work of God; to put self in the place of God.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | January 16, 1900]