Ellet J. Waggoner
“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:21, 22)
"Is the law then against the promises of God?" Not at all. If it were, it would not be in the hands of the Mediator, Christ, for all the promises of God are in Him. (2 Cor. 1:20). We find the law and the promise combined in Christ. We may know that the law was not and is not against the promises of God from the fact that God gave both the promise and the law. We know also that the giving of the law introduced no new element into the "covenant," since, having been confirmed, nothing could be added to or taken from it. But the law is not useless; else God would not have given it. It is not a matter of indifference whether we keep it or not, for God commands it. But all the same it is not against the promise and brings no new element in. Why? Simply because the law is in the promise. The promise of the Spirit includes: "I will put My laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts" (Heb. 8:10). And this is what God had done for Abraham when He gave him the covenant of circumcision. (Read Rom. 4:11; 2:25-29; Phil. 3:3)
The Law Magnifies the Promise
The law is righteousness, as God says: "Hearken to Me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is My law" (Isa. 51:7). So, then, the righteousness, which the law demands, is the only righteousness that can inherit the Promised Land. It is obtained, not by the works of the law, but by faith. The righteousness of the law is not attained by human efforts at doing the law, but by faith. (See Rom. 9:30-32). Therefore, the greater the righteousness, which the law demands, the greater is seen to be the promise of God. For He has promised to give it to all who believe. Yes, He has sworn it. When, therefore, the law was spoken from Sinai "out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice" (Deut. 5:22), accompanied by the sounding of the trump of God and with the whole earth quaking at the presence of the Lord and His holy angels, the inconceivable greatness and majesty of the law of God was shown. To everyone who remembered the oath of God to Abraham it was a revelation of the wondrous greatness of God's promise; for all the righteousness, which the law demands He has sworn to give to everyone who trusts Him. The "loud voice" with which the law was spoken was the loud voice that from the mountaintops proclaims the glad tidings of the saving mercy of God. (See Isa. 40:9). God's precepts are promises; they must necessarily be such, because He knows that we have no power! All that God requires is what He gives. When He says, "Thou shalt not," we may take it as His assurance that if we but believe Him He will preserve us from the sin against which He warns us.
Righteousness and Life
"If a law had been given which could make alive, then righteousness would indeed be by the law." This shows us that righteousness is life. It is no mere formula, no dead theory or dogma, but is living action. He who receives only the law in letter has a "ministration of condemnation" and death. But "the Word was made flesh." In Christ, the Living Stone, the law is life and peace. Receiving Him through the "ministration of the Spirit," we have the life of righteousness, which the law approves.
“Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law” (Gal. 3:21). [This text] shows that the giving of the law was to emphasize the importance of the promise. All the circumstances attending the giving of the law--the trumpet, the voice, the earthquake, the fire, the tempest, the thunder and lightning, the death boundary around the mount--told that "the law works wrath" to "the children of disobedience." But the very fact that the wrath, which the law works, comes only on the children of disobedience proves that the law is good, and that "he who does them shall live by them." Did God wish to discourage the people? Not by any means. The law must be kept, and the terrors of Sinai were designed to drive them back to the oath of God, which four hundred and thirty years before had been given to stand to all people in all ages as the assurance of righteousness through the crucified and ever-living Saviour.
How We Learn to Feel Our Need
Jesus said of the Comforter, "When He comes, He will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment" (John 16:8). Of Himself He said, "I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick" (Mark 2:17). A man must feel his need before he will accept help; he must know his disease before he can apply the remedy.
Even so the promise of righteousness will be utterly unheeded by one who does not realize that he is a sinner. The first part of the "comforting" work of the Holy Spirit therefore is to convince men of sin. So "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). "Through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). He who knows that he is a sinner is in the way to acknowledge it; and "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Thus the law is in the hands of the Spirit an active agent in inducing men to accept the fullness of the promise. No one hates the man who has saved his life by pointing out to him an unknown peril. On the contrary, such a one is regarded as a friend and is always remembered with gratitude. Even so will the law be regarded by the one who has been prompted by its warning voice to flee from the wrath to come. He will ever say with the psalmist, "I hate vain thoughts: but Thy law do I love" (Ps. 119:113).