Doers of the Law

Ellet J. Waggoner

The Signs of the Times : March 18, 1886

(Romans 2:13; James 2:10, 11)

In previous articles we have laid down some of the fundamental principles of the law. We have found that the moral law of Ten Commandments, spoken from Sinai, is perfect, holy, and good; that it is the instrument which enables us to judge between good and evil; that it is “the righteousness of God,” so that there is no goodness or morality to be found outside of it; that it is also called “the way,” “the way of peace,” “the truth,” “the testimony,” the “word of the Lord,” etc., and that it is the expression of God’s will; that the transgression of it is sin, which makes it necessary for the gospel to be preached, so that whoever admits the existence of sin, and the necessity for the preaching of the gospel, virtually testifies to the existence of the law; more than this, we have learned that, as the righteousness of God, it is the foundation of his throne, the basis of his government of the universe, and that it was therefore in full force before this world was brought into existence, and that it will continue in force as long as God’s throne endures, the delight of all the redeemed, throughout eternity.
These points must be borne in mind as we proceed to their application in the examination of special texts. In this examination the points mentioned above will be strengthened, if it is possible to strengthen a position already so strong.
We have already quoted Romans 2:13: “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” This statement of the apostle is unqualified, and admits of no qualification. The doers of the law will be justified. The statement is positive and emphatic. There can be neither qualification nor exception. Think a moment. It is the righteousness of God, the perfection of holiness. Must not the keeping of it, then, as Solomon says, be “the whole duty of man”? And if a man does his whole duty, and is a partaker of the righteousness of God, can he be condemned? Not by any means. God himself has declared, through his inspired apostle, that “the doers of the law will be justified.” Wherever in the universe a being is found who is a doer of the law, he is just in the sight of God.
Already I hear some one exclaim, “He thinks that man can save himself by his own works, and leaves no room for Christ.” Not so fast; do not pass judgment upon a piece of work until it is completed. Perhaps the proposition will seem clearer if we consider what constitutes one a “doer of the law.” Let us illustrate: A father goes from home, leaving his son a certain amount of work to perform. There is a portion of work for each hour, —enough to keep the son constantly employed. Suppose that the son works faithfully for an hour or two, and then consumes the remainder of the time in play; has he done what his father commanded? Certainly not. But suppose that he works faithfully every hour but one, and leaves the work allotted to that hour unperformed; can he now be called a doer of his father’s will? He evidently cannot. Unless he can truthfully say, “I have done what my father left for me to do,” he cannot be called a doer of his father’s will; and he cannot truthfully say that he has done what his father gave him to do, unless he has done all that was enjoined upon him.

 This is more than a simple illustration; it is a plain statement of fact. The boy cannot be said to have done what his father told him to do, if he has not done it all; a man cannot be said to have traveled the road from one point to another, if he lacks a mile of it; even so no man can be called a “doer of the law” of God if he has ever violated one of its precepts. If there be a man who has kept every commandment but one, and has violated that one but a single time, he cannot be called a doer of the law, and hence cannot be justified by the law. He would be almost a doer of the law, but there is no promise of justification for those who simply almost do the law.

Right in this connection we must read the words of James: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” James 2:10, 11

Many people, in their shortsightedness, have thought that this is unjust. There is no injustice in it; it is simply a statement of what exists from the very nature of things. The apostle does not say that the man who breaks only one commandment shall be considered as guilty as he who should violate every one, although he is guilty of all. There are degrees of sin. The law is sometimes likened to a chain having ten links. Now if only one link be broken, the chain is broken, and, until that link is mended, is just as useless as though all the links were broken. So if a man breaks one commandment, he has broken the law, and it is just as impossible for the law to justify him as it would be if he had broken every precept. The following from Dr. Chalmers is direct on this point: —
“In order that you [may] feel the force of the apostle’s demonstration, there is one principle which is held to be sound in human law, and which, in all equity, ought to be extended to the law of God. The principle is this, -that however manifold the enactments of the law may be, it is possible, by one act or one kind of disobedience, to incur the guilt of an entire defiance to the authority which framed it; and therefore to bring rightfully down upon the head of the transgressor the whole weight of the severities which it denounces against the children of iniquity. To be worthy of death, it is not necessary to commit all the things which are included in the sad enumeration of human vices, any more than it is necessary for a criminal to add depredation to forgery, or murder to both, ere a capital sentence go out against him from the administrators of the law upon which he has trampled. You may as effectually cut with a friend by one hostile or insolent expression, as if you had employed a thousand; and your disavowal of authority may be as intelligibly announced by one deed of defiance as by many; and your contempt of Heaven’s court be as strongly manifested by your willful violation of one of the commandments, as if you had thwarted every requirement . ...
“The man, who has thrown off the allegiance of religion, may neither have the occasion nor the wish to commit all the offenses which it prohibits, or to utter all the blasphemies which may be vented forth in the spirit of defiance against the Almighty’s throne. And yet the principle of defiance may have taken full possession of his heart, and irreligion may be the element in which he breathes. And in every instance, when his will comes into competition with the will of God, the creature lift himself above the Creator; and though, according to the varieties of natural temperament, these instances may be more manifold and various with one man than with another, yet that which essentially constitutes the character of moral and spiritual guilt may be of equal strength and inveteracy with both. . . . Ungodliness, in short, is not a thing of tale and measure; it is a thing of weight and of quality.”—Chalmers on the Romans, Lecture VI.
The above is a good exposition of James 2:10, 11. We learn, then, that when a man willfully violates one commandment, it is not respect for the law, nor for the Lawgiver, that restrains him from violating all of them. He has shown his contempt for the authority that gave them, and thus becomes guilty of all. Now when we recall the fact that each one of these commandments reaches the thoughts and intents of the heart, we may have something of a sense of what it takes to be a doer of the law. If it is thought that there is even one human being who merits that title, read the following plain declarations: —
For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.””Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit”; “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Romans 3:9-19
After reading the above, you will have no difficulty in understanding why the apostle immediately adds: —
Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:20
It seems hardly possible that any one should now imagine that there is any disagreement between Romans 2:13 and Romans 3:20. It is a fact that all must recognize, that the law will justify all doers of it; and it is just as certain that by the deeds of the law no flesh can be justified, because there is no one of whom it can be said, He is a doer of the law. It is not the fault of the law that it will not justify anybody; it would do so if it were possible; it is the fault of man that it cannot.