“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).
The reason that all who are of the works of the law are under the curse is that “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
Since “by the law is the knowledge of sin,” who ever by the law is of the works of the law, his works are only of works of sin; and of course he is under the curse, because he is only under sin, and sin brings only the curse.
All that the law of itself ever says, or ever can say, to any man is that he is a sinner. As it is written, “Now we know that 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” (Rom. 3:19).
Then how could it be expected that that which in all things whatsoever declares a man guilty, could of itself by any possibility declare him innocent? But when he is guilty, he is under the curse. And as in whatsoever works he does the law still declares him guilty, even though it be in endeavor to do the works of the law he is still under the curse.
“Therefore” it is that “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. 3:20).
In order for any man who is of the works of the law, any man by the works of the law, to be anywhere but under the curse, there would have to be by the law the knowledge of righteousness. But if by the law were the knowledge of righteousness, then, though all the world has gone overwhelmingly into sin and is laden with iniquity, none could ever know it; and the law, bringing to such persons the knowledge of righteousness, would ruin the universe, because in so doing it would be only declaring sin to be righteousness.
But sin is not righteousness; and no variance from true righteousness can ever be sanctioned in any degree whatever. Therefore as this world has wholly gone so far out of the way that “there is none righteous, no, not one,” “all have sinned,” it is all essential that they should know that they are in sin, and lost, so that they may be saved. “Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound [to make sin appear, “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful”]. But where sin a-bounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:19-21).
But it may be asked, “Does not the law in giving the knowledge of sin, and in condemning sin, give by contrast the knowledge of righteousness?” —The answer still is, “No.” In this way of contrast the law does indeed convey, or impress, the idea that there is such a thing as righteousness; but as for righteousness itself, what it really is, and the knowledge of it in the life, which is the only true knowledge—none of this is, and none of it can be, conveyed by the law.
The reason of this is that the only true righteousness that there is, is the righteousness of God. Anything that does not meet in full measure the standard of God’s righteousness is not righteousness at all; but is sin. Now it is the truth that the utmost measure of righteousness that any man can see or find in the law of God, comes far short of the true measure of God’s righteousness. But just so far as it does come short of God’s righteousness, it is sin. It is, in fact, simply the man’s own measure of righteousness according to the measure of his own powers of comprehension. And though lived up to by himself in complete measure, it is only his own righteousness instead of the righteousness of God; because it is according to his own measure instead of the measure of God; it is simply self-righteousness instead of God’s righteousness, and so is sin. Consequently by the law is only the knowledge of sin.
Yet it is also true that the very righteousness of God is in the law; because the law is but the expression of the will of God, it is only the transcript of his character. And since this is so, it follows in the nature of the case that nobody can see in the law the righteousness of God, nobody can find in the law the righteousness of God, but God himself. And this only emphasizes the mighty truth that all that anybody, whether God or man, can ever see or find in the law is HIS OWN righteousness. On the part of man, this is sin; because it comes short of the righteousness of God. But on the part of God, it is righteousness; because it is the very righteousness of God in all perfection.
And this makes clear and emphasizes the mighty and eternal truth that the righteousness of God that is in the law can never come to anybody by the law: but must come as the gift of God, from God alone, “without the law.” Therefore it is written, “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Gal. 2:21). “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested . . . 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).
By the law is the knowledge of sin; by the gospel is the knowledge of righteousness, “for therein is the righteousness of God revealed” (Rom. 1:17). As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse, because by the law is the knowledge of sin; as many as are of the faith of the gospel are delivered from the curse, because “therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | December 12, 1899]