“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid; for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:21, 22).
The law could not possibly be against the promises of God. For when God had given a promise, why should he, and how could he, set up anything against the promise? Why should he desire to weaken or to frustrate his own promise? Therefore his “God forbid” is set against any such suggestion. Instead of the law being against the promises, it is, as we have again and again seen, an aid to men in attaining unto the promises.
The divine reason here given as to why the law is not against the promises is that “if there had been a law given which could have given life,” then “verily righteousness should have been by the law.” And if righteousness had been by the law, there would have been no need of any promises. Indeed there would then have been no place for any promises. For “to him that worketh [obtains righteousness by the law] is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt” (Rom. 4:4).
If righteousness could be obtained by working, it would be possessed in the very act of the work performed. And when possessed, there could not possibly be any room for any promise of it. And if righteousness could be obtained by working, then the reward of righteousness would be earned, and so would be a debt due; and any with holding of it from him who had earned it, and to whom it was so due, would be injustice. Thus again, if righteousness were by the law, there would be no room for any promise; for even to promise to a person that which he had already earned, and which was already due, would be a withholding of the thing earned and due, and so would be injustice.
Therefore upon every consideration, if righteousness could be obtained by the law, then the law would be against the promises of God. And for any one to expect righteousness by the law, he in that very thing does set the law against the promises of God. But against all thought of obtaining righteousness by the law the Lord sets his “God forbid” that the law should be against the promises.
Another reason given why righteousness cannot be by the law is that the law cannot give life—“if there had been a law given which could have given life,” then “verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Thus it is certified by the word of God that righteousness and life come from precisely the same source, and in precisely the same way; and that is, as the free gift of God by his creative power as, the Author and Prince of life.
But there is no law that can possibly give life to men, because all men have lost their lives by transgression of the highest law in the universe—the law of God. And since all men have transgressed that highest law in the universe, and so have lost their lives, no law subordinate to that can possibly give them life, And even that highest law itself cannot give them life; because, having transgressed it, and so forfeited their lives, they, being sinners and under sentence of death, cannot possibly observe it, but can only continue to transgress it. So that for men there is no life in any law.
Now it is true that the law was “ordained to life,” but because of transgression it was “found to be unto death” (Rom. 7:10). It is true that it is written: “The man that doeth them shall live in them;” but there is none that doeth them. “There is none righteous, no, not one.” “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable” (Rom. 3:10, 12).
But, bless the Lord, “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,”—weak through the sinfulness of the flesh, —“God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” did. “What the law could not do,” —it could not do even that to which it was ordained, it could not give life, —“God sending his own Son” did. In the likeness of sinful flesh he “for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3, 4). “For the wages of sin is death: but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Therefore “the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22). And the only way in which anybody can be concluded “under sin” is by the law of God—the law by which alone “is the knowledge of sin.” And since the Scripture hath thus concluded all under sin, that—so that, in order that—the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe, it is perfectly plain that instead of the law being against the promises of God, it is the God-given means of men’s attaining to the perfect surety of the promises of God by faith of Jesus Christ, perfectly plain that instead of the law being against the promises of God, it is the God-given means of men’s attaining to the perfect surety of the promises of God by faith of Jesus Christ.
Therefore that law can no more be done away than the promises of God can be done away, and no more than the faith of Jesus Christ can be done away. And any one who would in argument or in thought do away that law, does in argument or in thought do away the promises of God and the faith of Jesus Christ, and so destroys the way of God’s salvation to men. But that cannot in truth be destroyed—except in the individual experience of men. And to destroy the way of God’s salvation in individual experience is to work eternal destruction to the soul. Therefore the claim that the law of God—the Ten Commandments—is done away is the most stupendous and destructive error that could possibly be entertained by anybody anywhere.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | March 20, 1900]