The Greek word, translated in verse 23 “shut up,” and in verse 22 and Rom. 11:32 “concluded,” is sunekleisan, sunekleisan, and signifies “to shut or coop up, hem in, enclose.” In Luke 5:6 it is translated “enclosed,” in the statement that “when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes.”
Now, since this is the law by which is the knowledge of sin, —for by no other law is it possible to conclude, shut up, men under sin, —the question comes, How does the law of God, the Ten Commandments, shut men up?
Bear in mind that mankind “have all gone out of the way”; “there is none that doeth good, no, not one;” and “there is none that seeks after God” (Rom. 3:10-12). Therefore if any of them ever get into the way, it can be only by God’s seeking them. And when God seeks them, it is to bring them to himself. And since they are all under sin, in order to bring them to himself he brings them to righteousness. Since the character of men is altogether bad, the Lord, in bringing them to the knowledge of himself, brings them to the knowledge of a character that is altogether good.
Since man is sold under sin, is the slave of sin, possessed of a mind that is enmity against God, and “is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,” everything that he does is, in its very nature, wrong. How, then, can the Lord get him into the right way when he is out of the way, and under a power and possessed of a nature, by which he does only wrong? That he might reach man where he is, the Lord formulated for man a transcript of his own character, in such a form as to be particularly adapted to the condition and needs of man altogether as he is. And this transcript of the character of God is formulated in the law of God—the Ten Commandments in written form, as given at Sinai on tables of stone, and in the Bible.
It was necessary for the Lord to present his law, the transcript of his character, in this form, because of the essential sinfulness of mankind. For “from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21, 22). Since such is the nature and confirmed condition of all men, this is why it is that the law of God as it entered in written form “is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:9, 10). Here is included the principle of each one of the Ten Commandments, and the violation of it.
Thus the law of God comes to every man, telling him not to do the very thing, which it is natural and inherent in him to do. He has it in his heart to kill; but there stands the word, “You shall not kill.” He has it in his heart to commit adultery; but there stands the word, “You shall not commit adultery.” He has it in his heart to steal; but there stands the word, “You shall not steal.” He has it in his heart to bear false witness; but there stands the word, “You shall not bear false witness.” He has it in his heart to covet; but there stands the word, “You shall not covet.” He has it in his heart to dishonor father and mother; but there stands the word, “Honor thy father and thy mother.” He has it in his heart to go on using all the time there is, the Lord’s day as well as all others, in disregard of God; but there stands the word, “The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it you shall not do any work.” He has it in his heart to take the name of God in vain; but there stands the word, “You shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” He has it in his heart to have other gods than the Lord; but there stands the word, “You shall have no other gods before me.” He has it in the evil imagination of his heart to formulate in an image his idea of God; but there stands the word, “You shall not make unto thee any graven image.”
And thus the law of God meets every man in the world just where he is, and by its emphatic “You shall not,” shuts him off from doing everything that is natural for him to do. Thus he is shut in with himself, and is “cooped up” with his sins, “kept under the law, shut up.” Thus there is revealed to the man the knowledge of himself, which is the knowledge of sin: he sees himself to be altogether wrong. There is awakened in him the desire for something better, and the longing to get away from his exceeding sinful self. He is stripped of every resource in himself; and, in his desperation, he cries out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And the answer is: “I thank God through Jesus Christ,” there is deliverance. In his longing to do something that is not forbidden by the holy law of God, he exclaims: What shall I do, that I might work the works of God? And the answer is: “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:29). With the stings of sin pricking him to the heart on all sides, he cries out: “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved.”
And thus it is that the law of God is an essential aid to men in bringing them unto the promises of God. Thus it is that by the law by which “is the knowledge of sin,” “the scripture hath concluded [shut up] all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” And thus it is that before faith comes to men, they are “kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which,” if they will only rightly use the law, and meet the true principle of the law, shall “afterwards be revealed.”
And thus in Gal. 3:21-23 there is preached the same gospel precisely as is preached in Leviticus 4 and in Rom. 3:10—and everywhere else where the true gospel is preached.
All men have sinned in doing somewhat against the commandments of the Lord concerning things, which should not be done, and are guilty. An offering must be brought, an atonement made, so that the sin may be forgiven, and the guilt be removed. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” And “when You shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed.” “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Isa. 53:5, 6, 10; Gal. 3:29).
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | April 10, 1900]