29: The Promises to Israel - The Entering of the Law (Part 2 of 2)

The Present Truth : November 19, 1896

After what we have already learned of the history of Israel, there is nothing that more concisely and simply states the purpose of God in speaking the law from Sinai than

The Third Chapter of Galatians

which we will briefly study. It is as simple as a child’s storybook, yet it is as deep and comprehensive as the love of God.

The sixth and seventh verses of the first chapter reveal to us the fact that the Galatian brethren had begun to fall away from the faith, being deceived by false teaching—by a pretended Gospel. Whereupon the Apostle vehemently exclaims: “Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As I said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other Gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1.8,9

The only portion of the Scriptures that was written when Paul preached was that which consisted of the books commonly known as the Old Testament. When he preached he opened those Scriptures, and reasoned out of them; and the interested ones among his hearers searched the same Scriptures to see if the things, which he preached, were so. Acts 17.3,11. When he was on trial for heresy and sedition, he solemnly declared that in all his ministry he had said “none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come.” Acts 26.22. Now when we read again his anathema against any who should presume to preach a different Gospel from what he had preached, we know that if any man preaches anything different from what is found in the Old Testament, he brings the curse of God upon himself. This is a strong reason why we should faithfully study Moses and the prophets.

Knowing therefore that Paul always and everywhere preached nothing “save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” we are not surprised that he breaks out, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” Galatians 3.1. From the writings of Moses and the prophets they had been made to see Christ, not as one who was to be crucified, nor merely as one who had been crucified some years in the past, but as one plainly and visibly crucified among them. And it is from those ancient writings alone that he proceeded to revive their languishing faith and zeal.

Theirs had been a thorough conversion, for they had received the Spirit, and had suffered persecution for Christ’s sake. So the Apostle asks, “Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Verse 2. They had heard the words of the law, and had received them in faith, and thus the Spirit had worked the righteousness of the law in them.  “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” John 6.29. The Apostle was not depreciating the law, but only rebuking their changed relation to it.  When they heard it in faith, they received the Spirit, and it was well with them; but when they began to trust in the flesh to perform the righteousness of the law, they ceased to obey the truth.

Again the Apostle asks, “He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” Galatians 3.5. It is a question admitting but the obvious answer that it was through the hearing of faith, “even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Verse 6. They, like Abraham, had been justified—made righteous—by faith, not by works. Before we proceed further, let us have a few definitions. “Sin is the transgression of the law,” (1 John 3.4), and “all unrighteousness is sin.” 1 John 5.17 Therefore it follows that all unrighteousness is transgression (disobedience) of the law, and just as evidently that all righteousness is obedience to the law. So when we read that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, we may know that his faith was accounted to him for obedience to the law.

This accounting of faith for righteousness was not an empty form to Abraham, nor is it to us. Remember that the accounting is done by God, who cannot lie, yet who calls things that are not as though they were, by the power by which He makes the dead live. Abraham actually possessed righteousness. Faith works. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” Romans 10.10

This little digression will help us to bear in mind that in the chapter before us there is no disparagement of the law, but the righteousness, which is the fruit of faith, is always obedience to the law of God.

Abraham is the father of all that believe. “Know therefore that they which be of faith, the same are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached beforehand the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, “In thee shall all the nations be blessed.” Galatians 3.7,8. The Gospel, which was preached to Abraham is the same, that is for “all people,” and which “shall be preached in all the world, for a witness unto all nations.” To “every creature” it is to be preached, and whoever believes it and is baptized, shall be saved. But in the Gospel “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” The Gospel is preached “for the obedience of faith.” Obedience carries a blessing with it, for it is written, “Blessed are they that do His commandments.” “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” Verse 9.

The Curse of the Law

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Galatians 3.10

A careless reading of this verse, or, perhaps, of the first part only, has led some to believe that the law itself, and obedience to it, is a curse. But a thoughtful reading of the last portion of the verse shows that such an idea is a grave error. “For it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” The curse is not for obedience, but for disobedience. Not the man who continues in all things that are written in the law, but the man who does not continually do all things written in the law, is the one who is cursed. Not a part only, but the whole, must be done, not a part of the time only, but continually. The one who doesn’t do that is cursed: therefore the man who should do that would be blessed.

In the ninth and tenth verses of this chapter we have the same contrast of blessing and cursing that is presented in Deuteronomy 11.26-28:  “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day; and a curse if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God.” On the one hand we have in one group, faith, obedience, righteousness, blessing, life; on the other hand we find bound together in one bundle, unbelief, disobedience, sin, the curse, death. The grouping is not in the least affected by the age in which one lives.

“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident; for, the just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them shall live in them.” Galatians 3.11,12

“The man that doeth them shall live in them;” but no man has done them; “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Therefore no man can find life in the law. Thus it is that “the commandment which was ordained unto life,” is “found to be unto death.” Romans 7.10. And so it is that whoever attempts to keep the law by his own works, is under the curse; and to set the law before people who do not receive it in faith, is but the ministration of death to them. The curse of the law is the death, which it inflicts upon the transgressors of it.

But “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Galatians 3.13. Here we have fresh evidence that death is the curse of the law, since death was what Christ suffered on the tree. “The wages of sin is death;” and Christ was made “to be sin for us.” 2 Corinthians 5.21. The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” and “by His stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53.5,6. It is not from obedience to the law, that Christ has redeemed us, but from (disobedience to the law) its transgression, and from death, which comes by sin. His sacrifice was in order “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Romans 8.4

Now this truth, that “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us,” was as much a truth in the days of Israel at Sinai as it is to day. More than seven hundred years before the cross was raised on Calvary, Isaiah, whose own sin had been purged by a live coal from God’s altar, and who knew whereof he spoke, said: Surely He hath borne our grief’s, and carried our sorrows;” “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.” This is identical with Galatians 3.13.

Again, Isaiah wrote, with special reference to the children of Israel in their wanderings in the wilderness: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” Isaiah 63.9. And it is to David, long before the days of Isaiah, that we are indebted for those soul-cheering words: “He hath not dwelt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 53.10,12.  That language describes an accomplished fact. Salvation was as complete in those days as it is to day.

Christ is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;” and from the days of Abel until now He has redeemed from the curse of the law all who have believed on Him. Abraham received the blessing of righteousness; and “they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

This is made still more evident from the statement that Christ was made a curse for us, “that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Galatians 3.14. To Abraham, and to those who are his children by faith, no matter what their nation or language, belong all the blessings that come by means of Christ’s cross; and all the blessings of the cross of Christ are only those, which Abraham had. No wonder that he rejoiced and was glad to see the day of Christ. Christ’s death on the cross brings to us only the blessing of Abraham. Nothing more could be asked or imagined.

The Covenant Unaltered

“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet, if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the 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 of none effect.” Galatians 3.15-17.
The first statement is very simple: No man can disannul, take from, or add to, even a man’s covenant, if it be once confirmed.

The conclusion is equally simple. God made a covenant with Abraham, and confirmed it with an oath. “Men verily swear by the greater; and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of His council, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.” Hebrews 6.16-18. Therefore that covenant, which was confirmed in Christ by God’s oath pledging His own existence to its fulfillment, could never afterwards be changed one iota. Not one jot or tittle could pass from it or be added to it while God lives.

Note the statement that “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.” And the seed is Christ. All the promises to Abraham were confirmed in Christ. “Promises,” remember, and not simply a promise.  “For how many so ever be the promises of God, in Him is the yea; wherefore also through Him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us.” 2 Corinthians 1.20

Our Hope Also

Note also again that the covenant made with Abraham, and confirmed in Christ by God’s oath, is that which gives us our hope in Christ. It was confirmed by the oath, in order that we might have strong consolation in fleeing for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us. The sum of the covenant was righteousness by faith in Jesus crucified, as shown by the words of Peter: “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, “And in thy seed shall all the kindred’s of the earth be blessed.” Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities.” Acts 3.25,26

The cross of Christ, and the blessing of sins forgiven, existed therefore, not only at Sinai but also in the days of Abraham. Salvation was no surer the day that Jesus rose from the tomb than it was the day that Isaac carried the wood for his own sacrifice up Mount Moriah; for God’s promise and oath are two “immutable things.” Though it be but a man’s covenant, “yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.” How much more so, then, when it is God’s own covenant, confirmed by an oath pledging his own life! That covenant embraced the salvation of mankind. Therefore it is a fact that, saying nothing of previous time, after God’s promise and oath to Abraham not a single new feature could be introduced into the plan of salvation. Not one duty less or more could be enjoined or required, nor could there by any possibility be any variation in the conditions of salvation.

Therefore the entering of the law at Sinai could not contribute any new feature to the covenant made with Abraham and confirmed in Christ, nor could it in any way whatever interfere with the promise. The covenant, that was confirmed beforehand by God in Christ, cannot by any means be disannulled, or its promises made of none effect, by the law spoken four hundred and thirty years afterward.

Yet the law was to be kept, and if it was not kept, death was sure. Not one jot or one tittle could by any means be abated from the law. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” Now since the giving of the law at Sinai added nothing to the covenant with Abraham, and yet that law must be perfectly kept, it follows that the law was in the covenant made with Abraham. The righteousness that was confirmed to Abraham by that covenant—the righteousness that Abraham had by faith—was the righteousness of the law that was proclaimed on Sinai. And this is further evident from the fact that Abraham received circumcision as a seal of the righteousness, which he had by faith, and circumcision stood simply for the keeping of the law. Romans 2.25-29

The oath of God to Abraham pledged the putting of the righteousness of God, which is fully outlined in the Ten Commandments, into and upon every believer. The covenant being confirmed in Christ, and the law being in the covenant, it most surely follows that God’s requirements for Christians in these days are not a particle different from what they were in the days of Abraham. The giving of the law introduced no new element.

“Wherefore then the law?” A pertinent question, and one that is fairly answered. If the law made no change whatever in the terms of the covenant made with Abraham, what was the use of giving it? The answer is, “It was added9  because of transgression;” (Galatians 3.19); it “entered that the offense might abound.” Romans 5.20. It was not “against the promises of God,” Galatians 3.21, but directly in harmony with them, for the promises of God are all through righteousness, and the law is the standard of righteousness. It was necessary for the offence to be made to abound, “that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Conviction necessarily precedes conversion. The inheritance could be obtained only through righteousness, although it was wholly by promise; for righteousness is the “gift of grace.” But in order that men may appreciate the promises of God, they must be made to feel their need of them. The law, given in such as awful manner, was for the purpose of letting them know how impossible it was for them to get its righteousness by their own strength, and thus to let them know what God was anxious to supply them with.”

Christ the Mediator

And this is emphasized by the fact that it was ordained “in the hands of a Mediator.” Who was that Mediator? —“Now a Mediator is not a Mediator of one, but God is one.” Galatians 3.20. “For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2.5 Jesus Christ was therefore the One who gave the law upon Sinai; and He gave it in His capacity of Mediator between God and men. And so, although it was impossible that there could be a law given which could give life, the law which was death to unbelieving sinners was in the hands of a Mediator who gives His own life, which is the law in its living perfection. In Him death is swallowed up, and life takes its place; He bears the curse of the law, and the blessing of it comes to us.  This brings us to the fact that at Sinai we find Calvary, for further consideration of which we must wait till another number.

9  Some have thought to build an argument on the word “added,” supposing that it indicates something entirely new added to the provisions, which God had previously made. A reference to Deuteronomy 5.22 will show the sense in which it is used. After having rehearsed the Ten Commandments, Moses said: “Those words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice; and He added no more.” That is, He spoke so much, and He spoke no more. The same thing is shown even more plainly in Hebrews 12.18,19: “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more.”  Compare Exodus 20.19. The Greek word rendered "spoken" in this instance is identical with that rendered “added” in Galatians 3.19, and the Septuagint rendering of Deuteronomy 22. So to the question, “What was the use of the law, since it made no change in the covenant? The answer is, “It was spoken because of transgression.”