Law Can Never Justify | Galatians 3:24-26

The law that is here under consideration brings men to Christ, that they might “be justified by faith.” Justification by faith is the object in view. But from the example of Abel, from the ceremonial law of Leviticus, which we have already presented in these studies, it has been demonstrated that the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings was itself the way of justification by faith; so that it is impossible for a law which in itself is justification by faith, to bring men to justification by faith.

On the other hand, what is the necessity for justification? —All have sinned; all have transgressed the law; all are shut up under sin, and so kept under the law. And they never can be justified by the law. The only possible escape is by faith of Jesus Christ. Their only hope of justification is in justification by faith. Consequently, this law is the law by which is the knowledge of sin; the law “under” which every man is “kept” until he is justified by faith. This law it is that is the schoolmaster to bring men unto Christ in order that they may be justified by faith.

One other word just here. The ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings is done away. There is no question of that anywhere. Now if it were the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings that brought men to Christ, that they might be justified by faith—since that is done away, how can men be brought to Christ? And how can they find justification by faith? If that were the law here referred to, then, of all things, that law never should have been, and it never could have been, in righteousness, done away, so long as there remained a single soul that needed to be brought to Christ, that needed to be justified by faith. Consequently, since that law has been done away, and ever since it was done away, men have needed to be brought to Christ, and to be justified by faith, this, in itself, is the most conclusive proof that the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings is not at all, and could not possibly be, the law here referred to.

For these reasons that law could be only a law that abides forever—and that law is the MORAL law—the law by which is the knowledge of sin, by which all the world is declared and held guilty before God, until they are justified by faith. For “what things so ever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped; and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19, 20).

“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:21-23).

“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare I say, at this time his righteousness; that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay: but by the law of faith” (Rom. 3:24-27).

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). All this is of the moral law. But it was with the very deeds of the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings that men were justified by faith. Indeed, a man could be justified by faith without the deeds of the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings: because the deeds of the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings were the very expression of faith itself. By faith Abel offered unto God a . . .sacrifice.” What was the faith worth that brought no sacrifice? —Nothing. That was Cain’s faith. The law, then, that brought men to Christ that they might be justified by faith, is a law, and must be a law, without the deeds of which men are justified by faith. And this is true and can be true only of the moral law.

One of the principle sources of misunderstanding of this text, lies in the taking of the word “schoolmaster” in the sense of our everyday word “schoolteacher,” and knowing that the Ten Commandments do not of themselves teach, instruct, or tell men about Christ and his work of salvation, while the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings does, —because in figure it was Christ, —it is concluded that this law which was the schoolmaster, must be, and can be, only the ceremonial law of sacrifices and offerings.

But the word translated schoolmaster does not signify a schoolteacher. It signifies a schoolmaster, in the sense of a master as a disciplinarian: not a schoolteacher, in the sense of an instructor. It is true that the schoolmaster, the disciplinarian, might be, and sometimes was, also a schoolteacher, an instructor, but that was only an incident. The original and primary thought of the word is that of master, as a disciplinarian, a watcher, a corrector.
Accordingly, the German of Luther translated it “Zucht-meíster—master of the house of correction.” The Greek word corresponds to the Latin and Anglicized word “tutor.” But even as connected with the idea of tutor, the thought of teacher only incidentally attaches; because the original and primary meaning of “tutor” is simply “a guardian; a watcher; a protector.” A guardian may be indeed a teacher also, if he have the ability and faculty to be a teacher also, but that is not the original and primary thought in the word, it is only an incident.

The Greek word translated schoolmaster is paidagogos and signifies “a boy-ward”; “a child-conductor”; or “child-guide”; “the slave who went with a boy from home to school and back again, a kind of a tutor.” “Fabius is jeeringly called the paidagogos of Hannibal, because he always followed him about: —generally a leader, demokratias, turannidos.” The thought that he was primarily a person apart from the teacher of the boy is emphasized in the word “paídagogio—the room in a schoolhouse in which the paídagogoi waited for their boy.” The Century Dictionary says: “Among the Greeks and Romans the pedagogue was originally a slave who attended the younger children of his master, and conducted them to school, to the theater, etc., combining, in many cases instruction with guardianship.” If the thought intended to be conveyed in this verse were that of a school-teacher, the word would have to be not paídagogos, but didaskalos.

The law then here meant is not a law, which in itself teaches of Christ; but that which conducts men, as children, to Christ that He might teach them. The law is not in itself the teacher, but that which watches, guards, corrects, and conducts men, as untrained and unruly children, to Christ as to the school where by him they shall be taught. And the only law that can possible fit the thought not only of the single word paídagogos, but also the whole context of which verses 24, 25, are only the conclusion and consequence, is the moral law—the Ten Commandments. For “the scripture has shut up all under sin”; “we were kept under the law shut up UNTO THE FAITH.” “Wherefore”—consequently—“the law was our paídagogos—watcher, warden, guardian, corrector, and conductor—unto Christ, that [so that, in order that] we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come we are no longer under” the law—no longer “kept under the law,” “shut up under sin.” “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”

Two correspondents think that this is new doctrine, especially for the REVIEW AND HERALD; but whatever and with whomsoever this may be new doctrine, there is one thing certain, and that is that for and in the REVIEW AND HERALD it is not in any sense new. Consider: The first number of the REVIEW AND HERALD ever issued, was No. 1 of Vol. 1, in November 1850—forty-nine and a half years ago. No. 5 of Vol. I was issued in January 1851. In that No. 5 was the first notice of the third chapter of Galatians that was ever made in the REVIEW AND HERALD. It is in an article by J. N. Andrews, on “The Perpetuity of the Law of God.” From that article we quote, just as there printed, enough to make perfectly plain to all now, the position that was held in and by the REVIEW then: —

Our faith may be expressed in a single sentence: God’s LAW COVERS ALL TIME, and under all dispensations it stands out before men as the rule of their lives, and the sum of their duty to God. The fall of man left “the work of the law” written in his heart though faintly indeed; then at Mt. Sinai it was written in tables of stone by the finger of God; then, under the new covenant, it is written in the hearts of God’s people, even as it was before the fall. We appeal to men of candor and reason. Are not these things so?

Galatians 3. The great doctrine of justification by faith having been lost sight of by the Galatian church, the apostle argues the point with them and shows that it is the only hope of salvation. Hence, the different covenants which God made with his people are here examined and contrasted. The covenant made with Abraham, which was based on the righteousness of faith, is first introduced. This covenant secured to him self, and to his seed, the inheritance of the earth. Rom. 4:13 . . .. The question now arises. Why does the apostle say that the law could not disannul the promise made to Abraham? Is there anything in the law that is against the promise of God? —No, verily. See verse 21. For the law of God, which embodies his requirements, and man’s duty, cannot be contrary to his own promise.

Why then is it said that if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise? We answer that God made perfect obedience to his law the condition on which he took Israel, the literal seed of Abraham, to be his people. (Jer. 11:3, 4; Ex. 19:5-8; 20). This covenant made the works of the law the condition on which they should receive the inheritance, instead of the righteousness of faith, which was the condition of the promise made to Abraham. But it is plain that if the deeds of the law be made the ground of justification, then is justification by faith made void. And as it is evident that fallen, guilty man cannot be justified by a law which already condemns him, he could then have no hope of salvation . . . Why, then, it may be asked, did God give to Israel a covenant which recognized perfect obedience as its only condition? We reply, He did it that he might exclude all appearance of heirship from the natural seed except such as should walk in the faith of their father Abraham. Hear the apostle: “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scriptures hath concluded all under sin that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ MIGHT BE GIVEN TO THEM THAT BELIEVE.” Such are the only heirs.

That article on “The Perpetuity of the Law of God” was concluded in No. 6 of Vol. I, and in this Elder Andrews took up the very verses that stand at the head of this present Study in Galatians, as follows: —

Gal. 3:23-26 . . . How is the law a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ? Answer: The law shows our guilt and just condemnation, and that we are lost without a Saviour. (Read Paul’s account of this school in Rom. 7:7-25). “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20). “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Rom. 7:7). Then the instruction of the law is absolutely necessary, that we may know ourselves to be sinners in the sight of God. We find ourselves sinners by past offences, and unable to render present obedience. The just penalty of the law hangs over our heads; we find ourselves lost, and fly to Jesus Christ for refuge.”

The same thoughts were published again in Vol. II, No. 4, Sept. 16, 1851; and in Vol. III, No. 7, Aug. 5, 1852; so that it plainly stands as the original doctrine of the REVIEW AND HERALD as to the law of God in Galatians 3. And that it was sound doctrine then, and is sound doctrine now, it is certain from the fact that in the REVIEW AND HERALD of April 5, 1898, in the first-page article, under the title of “The Perfect Law,” the Spirit of Prophecy speaks as follows: —

The law of God, as presented in the Scriptures, is broad in its requirements. Every principle is holy, just, and good. The law lays men under obligation to God; it reaches to the thought and feelings; and it will produce conviction of sin in every one who is sensible of having transgressed its requirements . . .

In his teachings, Christ showed how far-reaching are the principles of the law spoken from Sinai. He made a living application of that law whose principles remain forever the great standard of righteousness. 

Paul’s testimony of the law is: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin [the sin is in the man, not in the law]? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet . . . Wherefore the law is holy, the commandment holy, and just, and good.” . . . 

There is no safety nor repose nor justification in transgression of the law. Man cannot hope to stand innocent before God, and at peace with him through the merits of Christ, while he continues to sin. He must cease to transgress, and become loyal and true. As the sinner looks into the great moral looking glass, he sees his defects of character. He sees himself just as he is, spotted, defiled, and condemned. But he knows that the law cannot in any way remove the guilt, or pardon the transgressor. He must go farther than this. The law is but the schoolmaster to bring him to Christ. He must look to his sin-bearing Saviour. And as Christ is revealed to him upon the cross of Calvary, dying beneath the weight of the sins of the whole world, the Holy Spirit shows him the attitude of God to all who repent of their transgressions. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever-lasting life.” 

And all this is—not the law in Galatians, but—the gospel in Galatians— justification, righteousness, by faith, —the Third Angel’s Message.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | April 24, 1900]