“Wherefore then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” (Gal. 3:19).
By each particular clause of this verse, considered by itself alone, we have found that the law of God—the Ten Commandments in written form, as given at Sinai, and as in the Bible—is the law that is pre-eminently meant, and is the only one that meets all the requirements of all the specifications so far considered. What now of this one—“till the seed should come to whom the promise was made”?
There are two laws referred to in Galatians. That is settled. They were both added; and they were both added because of transgressions. But which is pre-eminently the law referred to in that place, and its connection? That is the question here.
There are also two comings of the seed, which is Christ; and it is proper and fair to ask, “Which is the coming referred to here?” Why should any one settle and firmly fix as the coming of this passage a coming that requires that a law shall also be settled and fixed as the law of the passage, which will not meet the requirements of the passage in its connection? That is what has been done; and it has been the great defect in the usual consideration of this passage of Scripture.
Those who are the enemies of the law of God in any form, and who would be glad to have it abolished in every form, but who do not know that that law could not by any possibility be abolished, have always wrung this verse in to do service in that terribly mistaken cause. These eagerly seize upon and settle it that the coming of the Seed here referred to is the first coming of Christ. They never look beyond the single clause: it is not to their interest to do so; because the only use they have for this scripture is that they may support their determination that the law of God is abolished. Thus the enemies of the law of God.
On the other hand, the friends of the law of God know that it is true that there was a law abolished at the first coming of Christ. And since here is a law that was added “till the seed should come,” these friends of the law of God allow, and even settle upon, the claim of the enemies of the law of God, that the first coming of Christ is the coming that is here meant: then, and consequently the law that was abolished is decided to be the law here referred to. But it must be confessed that this is a weak way of getting at the thing. It bears on its face more the aspect of the begging of the question than of a real study and discovery of the truth as it is in the Word, for the truth’s sake. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the passage, or anywhere in this whole connection, that suggests the abolition of any law. The subject is, “Wherefore serves the law?” What is the purpose, the object, and the aim, of the law?
But there are two comings of the Seed. There is another, the second coming of Christ as well as there was the first. Is it impossible that this second coming of the Seed should be the coming referred to in this passage? There are other similar expressions in the Scripture.
For instance, Ezek. 21:27. Speaking of the removing of the diadem and crown of the king of Judah, it says: “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it; and it shall be no more, until HE COME whose right it is; and I will give it to him.” What coming is this? The answer to this question can be given only by a consideration of the facts in the case, He came, but instead of receiving that crown, he received a crown of thorns; instead of being seated upon that throne, he was nailed to the cross. So we know that that was not the coming referred to in the text, but that it is his second coming “seated upon the throne of his father David, and having on his head many crowns. Then it is that the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). And this is the coming of him whose right it is, that is referred to in the text, and then it will be given him.
Again, it is written that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. That Seed CAME, and did not bruise the serpent’s head, but himself was bruised instead. (Isa. 53:5). And after he had come, and had thus been bruised, even to death; had risen again from the dead; and had ascended to heaven, —even thirty years after these things—it was written: “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom. 16:20).
In Daniel 2 it is written: “In the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44). We all know that it is generally held by the ministers of the day that this was done at the first coming of Christ: that there the stone was cut out without hands, and is to roll on, and on, and on, until it fills the whole earth. But WE know that when he was here, he said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and “not from hence” (John 18:36). And so we know that this scripture is fulfilled at his second coming.
Now, why should it be thought impossible that Gal. 3:19 should refer to his second coming? Look at the situation as it is in the text, with its context: “Till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” What promise? —The promise of the inheritance, unquestionably: as it is written: “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” Thus it is fixed by the Word itself that the promise referred to is the promise of the inheritance. And whatever law it is that is here referred to, it is given, added, till He comes to whom the promise of the inheritance was made.
Now, at his first coming did he receive any of the inheritance? —No; no more than did Abraham, to whom with him, the promise was made. He “had not where to lay his head.” And of him it was equally true, as with Abraham, that he received “none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on.
Notice, too, particularly, that the clause says, “Till the seed should come to whom,” —not concerning whom, but TO whom—“the promise was made.” That is, the promise referred to was made to HIM, personally; and not simply to somebody, concerning him. But it is fixed by the text that the promise is the promise of the inheritance. This promise was made to Abraham and to his seed, which is Christ; and this was done when the promise was made to Abraham. But, further, it was also done TO the seed himself in person, which is Christ. Read it in the second psalm: “The Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps. 2:7, 8). Here is the promise of the inheritance made direct to the seed, which is Christ.
Now, when is this promise fulfilled? And when something should be done, make, or instituted, “till the seed should come TO whom” that promise was made, then which coming would be the true and the only logical one that could be considered? —Plainly, the coming that would be at the receiving of the inheritance REFERRED TO THE PROMISE; and with which alone the promise is concerned.
Therefore, considering what the promise is plainly in the scriptures declared to be, —the promise of the inheritance, —and considering that this promise relates and pertains particularly, and above all, to his second coming, it is evident that the second coming of Christ, rather than his first, is the one referred to in the clause “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.
And since by every other clause of the verse, we have found that the law of God, as given on tables of stone at Sinai, and in the Bible, is the one pre-eminently referred to, and the only one that will meet all the specifications of all the clauses; and since the coming referred to in this clause is the coming in connection with the inheritance and the receiving of it, this settles it beyond all possibility of controversy that the law of God, the Ten Commandments, as given on the tables of stone and in the Bible, must remain in full force and obligation until the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. And we all know that it will not be abolished then.
It is always true that those scriptures that Satan fixes upon and uses most tenaciously to prove the abolition of the law of God are the very ones which, when truly grasped, are seen to most conclusively and most beautifully show its everlasting integrity and obligation.
Look at the subject further. The inheritance is the thing referred to in the promise. But with what is the inheritance connected? —Plainly, and only, with God’s covenant with Abraham—the everlasting covenant. Notice in the context that “the covenant [that is the covenant with Abraham, the everlasting 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 [the promise of the inheritance of that covenant] of none effect” (Gal. 3:17).
As we have seen in a former study, the inheritance is the great thing in the covenant with Abraham, the everlasting covenant. Indeed, God made the covenant with Abraham in a pledge to Abraham that he would inherit that which God had promised. For after God had promised it to him, Abraham said, “Whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” And, in answer, God made with him, and entered into with him, that blood covenant, in which he pledged his life that the promise of the inheritance should never fail. (Gen. 15:8-18).
And as we also found in the former studies, all that ever came in after that covenant was made, was, in blessing men, to enable them to attain to the fullness of that covenant, and to the inheritance of which that everlasting covenant is the pledge. And this was exactly the object of the giving of the law of God on tables of stone on Mount Sinai, and in the Bible. For if men had kept that covenant, 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.” The object of that law, thus written and given to men, bringing transgressions to a head, making sins abound, was and is that men might find the grace of Christ much more abounding, —that through him they might attain to the fullness of that everlasting covenant with Abraham, and so to the inheritance of which that covenant was and is the pledge.
And to allow the coming of the seed to whom the promise of the inheritance was made, to be the second coming of Christ, and not his first, —this gives opportunity for the law of God, in its written form, to fulfill its grand object, which is the bringing of men, through faith in Christ, to the fullness of that everlasting covenant. The fullness of that everlasting covenant is the righteousness of God—the keeping of the commandments, and the faith of Jesus. And men must be brought to the fullness of that everlasting covenant in order that they may receive the inheritance, of which that everlasting covenant is the pledge.
That this view is the correct one, and is the truth of the matter, is emphasized by the fact that the everlasting covenant is not met in its fullness, in believers, until the second coming of Christ; that is, till the seed really comes to whom the promise of the inheritance was made.
One provision of that everlasting covenant is. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” And that provision will not be accomplished in its fullness until, by the Third Angel’s Message, men are brought to the actual keeping of “the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus;” so that the Lord, looking down from heaven upon them, can say, in perfect truth: “Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12).
Another provision of that covenant is: And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11). Although we are now living in the times of the new covenant as really as was Abraham, yet neither the world nor we have attained to that point where it is not necessary any more for any man to teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, Know the Lord. And this part of the everlasting covenant will not be met in its fullness until, through the blessing and power of God in the Third Angel’s Message, the mystery of God shall have been finished. (Col. 1:26, 27; Rev. 10:7).
It is not necessary here to take up all the clauses of the new covenant one by one. These are enough to illustrate the truth that the everlasting covenant, the new covenant, the covenant with Abraham, which is the pledge of the inheritance that is promised to the Seed, is not met in its fullness in those who accept it, till the second coming of Christ.
And if this be not plain enough by the scriptures presented, or is not convincing enough, then read the following sentences from the testimony of Jesus, which is the Spirit of Prophesy: —
“It was at midnight that God chose to deliver his people. As the wicked were mocking around them, suddenly the sun appeared; shining in his strength, and the moon stood still. The wicked looked upon the scene with amazement, while the saints beheld with solemn joy the tokens of their deliverance. Signs and wonders followed in quick succession. Everything seemed turned out of its natural course. The streams ceased to flow. Dark, heavy clouds came up and clashed against each other. But there was one clear place of settled glory, whence came the voice of God like many waters, shaking the heavens and the earth. There was a mighty earthquake. The graves were opened, and those who had died in faith under the Third Angel’s Message, keeping the Sabbath, came form from their dusty beds, glorified, to hear the covenant of peace that God was to make with those who had kept his law.
“The sky opened and shut, and was in commotion. The mountains shook like a reed in the wind, and cast out ragged rocks all around. The sea boiled like a pot, and cast out stones upon the land. And as God spoke the day and the hour of Jesus’ coming, and delivered the Everlasting Covenant to his people, he spoke one sentence, and then paused, while the words were rolling through the earth. The Israel of God stood with their eyes fixed upward, listening to the words as they came from the mouth of Jehovah, and rolled through the earth like peals of loudest thunder . . .The wicked could not look upon them [the saints] for the glory. And when the never-ending blessing was pronounced on those who had honored God in keeping his Sabbath holy, there was a mighty shout of victory over the beast and over his image” (“Early Writings,” pp. 145, 146).
The following quotation also, though concerning in substance what is in the foregoing quotation, contains statements that make it worth printing in this connection: —
“With shouts of triumph, jeering, and imprecation, throngs of evil men are about to rush upon their prey, when lo, a dense blackness, deeper than the darkness of the night, falls upon the earth. Then a rainbow, shining with the glory from the throne of God, spans the heavens, and seems to encircle each praying company. The angry multitudes are suddenly arrested. Their mocking cries die away. The objects of their murderous rage are forgotten. With fearful forebodings they gaze upon the symbol of God’s covenant, and long to be shielded from its overpowering brightness . . . In the midst of the angry heavens is one clear space of indescribable glory, whence comes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, saying. “It is done.” That voice shakes the heavens and the earth. There is a mighty earthquake, “such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake and so great.” . . . Graves are opened, and “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth” “awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” All who have died in the faith of the Third Angel’s Message come forth from the tomb, glorified, to hear God’s covenant of peace with those who have kept his law . . ..
“The voice of God is heard from heaven, declaring the day and hour of Jesus’ coming and delivering the everlasting covenant to his people . . ..
“Soon there appears in the east a small black cloud, about half the size of a man’s hand. It is the cloud which surrounds the Saviour, and which seems in the distance to be shrouded in darkness. The people of God know this to be the sign of the Son of Man. In solemn silence they gaze upon it as it draws nearer the earth, becoming lighter and more glorious until it is a great white cloud, its base a glory like consuming fire, and above it, the rainbow of the covenant” (“Great Controversy” pages 635-641).
And when the saints of God have thus attained to the fullness of the everlasting covenant, the covenant with Abraham, when the object of the giving of the law from Sinai, and in the Bible, has thus been accomplished, the law will not then be abolished, but will be kept in mind, in heart, in soul, just as it was by Adam, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, when as yet there was “no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai, or written on the tables of stone.” Instead of being then abolished, it will be observed and lived more fully and more perfectly that ever before by men.
And this is “Wherefore serves the law?” And this is why it is that “it was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise [of the inheritance] was made, and it was ordained by [the disposition, the grand array of] angels in the hand of a mediator.”
We are thoroughly convinced that more genuine study, and far more profitable study can be put upon Galatians 3:19, and the rest of the chapter, and the whole book, by Seventh-day Adventists, than has ever yet been put upon it by us or anybody else.
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | March 13, 1900]