Moral and Ceremonial Law | Galatians 3:19

“WHEREFORE then the law?” (Gal. 3:19).

This inquiry of “the Pharisees, which believed” was not limited to the law of God, although that, being the chief of all laws, was of course the principal thought in the inquiry. But from the beginning of this study of the book of Galatians we have found that there was involved not only the moral law, but also the ceremonial law—indeed all that God had given. And this, because all the service of the Pharisees was a service merely of law; since their only idea of justification was justification altogether by law, and their only idea of salvation altogether by works.

Therefore with “the Pharisees, which believed” this inquiry extended also to, Wherefore then the Levitical law? Wherefore then the sacrificial system? Wherefore circumcision? What was the use of all these, if salvation were not attained by any of them? Such was the only use they had ever made of any of these things: indeed, this was the only conception that they had of them.

They expected perfection from the Levitical priesthood; the same from circumcision; and the same from all that was given by the Lord. Their only idea of their use was that justification, salvation, came to them in the doing of these things - by the doing of them. But this was all error, and was a perversion of the true intent of all that God gave. Justification was not by any of these, nor by all of them together, any more than it was by the law of God. Justification was always by faith; and the sacrificial system, and all the services and ceremonies of the Levitical law, were only means which God gave, by which faith was expressed: the sacrifices were means of expressing faith that they already had in the great Sacrifice that God had made.
And this same query, and for the same reason, is raised today by thousands of “Pharisees which believe,” in their enmity against the truth of the gospel. For this reason alone, “Wherefore then the law?” is a live question today, and always will be a live question wherever the truth of the gospel—righteousness by faith—is preached.

But there is a greater reason, than that, as to “Wherefore then the law?” being a live question today and always. It is a true and proper question always, in the inquiry after the truth as it is in Jesus. For in the whole divine economy of the times of Israel, there is precious truth, rich instruction, and glorious light, for all who would be taught of God. This was all there for the people of Israel of old; but through carnal-mindedness and its self-justification, they missed it. And because Israel did thus miss it, thousands of professed believers today, stumbling over Israel’s failures, neglect and even reject all the great riches, which Israel missed, but which were then and are now for all people. For to the people of the very last days it is written: “Remember the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments” (Mal. 4:4). And “the Christian who accepts the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, will look at Bible history in its true bearing. The history of the Jewish economy from beginning to end, though spoken of contemptuously, and sneered at as ‘the dark ages,’ will reveal light, and still more light, as it is studied.”

“Wherefore then the law” of Levitical priesthood, sacrifice, offering, burnt offering, and offering for sin, the sanctuary and its ministry? —It was all only the divinely appointed means of expressing the faith that they already had, and that had already brought to them the righteousness of God without any deeds of any law.

The Levitical priesthood was the means of expressing faith in that greater priesthood—the priesthood of the Son of God—announced in the words: “The Lord said unto my Lord . . .. Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Ps. 110:1-4). The sanctuary and the services of this priesthood were but means of expressing faith in the sanctuary and the services of the priesthood that is in heaven. For, of all that system, “this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (Heb. 8:1, 2).

And this whole story, as here outlined, is shown in the instruction given to the people, in the book of Leviticus. In Lev. 4:13-20 it is said that when the people had sinned through ignorance, and the thing was hid from their eyes in having “done somewhat against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which should not be done, and are guilty; when the sin, which they have sinned against it—against the law of God—was known, then the congregation should “offer a young bullock for the sin, and bring him before the tabernacle of the congregation.” And the elders of the congregation were to lay their hands upon the head of the bullock before the Lord, thus confessing the sin of the congregation, and laying it upon the bullock. Then the bullock must be “killed before the Lord.” And the priest that was anointed brought “of the bullock’s blood to the tabernacle of the congregation; and dipped his finger in some of the blood, and sprinkled it seven times before the Lord, even before the vail.” And he “put some of the blood upon the horns of the altar,” which was before the Lord, in the tabernacle of the congregation; and poured out “all the blood at the bottom of the altar of the burnt offering,” which was “at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” Thus the priest made “atonement for them,” and the sin was “forgiven them.”

There was the law of God, and by it the knowledge of sin, showing them guilty. Then there was the sacrifice, and the laying of the sin, in confession, upon the sacrifice as a substitute. Then there was the slaying of the sacrifice and the offering of its blood in their behalf, and by it atonement made and the forgiveness of sin to them. There was by the law the knowledge of sin, and by the gospel of sacrifice the forgiveness of sin and atonement with God.

But “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Wherefore then all this law, sanctuary, service, and ceremony? Ah! It was “a figure for the time then present” “until the time of reformation.” But “Christ being come an high priest of good things to come by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:9-12).

And with Christ and in Christ we have this day, A.D. 1900, the substance of which all that was the shadow. In the heavenly temple there is the ark of his testament, in which is the testament—his law. “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” And by the Gospel of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his priestly service, and the offering of his blood in the heavenly sanctuary, there is forgiveness of sin “to every one that believeth,” and righteousness in his being made at one with God, in Jesus Christ, who is the atonement.

And the only difference between the times before Christ and these times after Christ, is that then, because Jesus had not yet come and offered himself, but was to come, faith in his coming and offering himself could be expressed only in this way; whereas, now that he has come and has offered himself a sacrifice, and has entered upon his priesthood and “ever lives to make intercession for” us, faith is now expressed in the bread and wine—the body and blood—representing that which has actually been offered. To offer a sacrifice now, and to have a priesthood and a priestly ministry on earth, would be to deny that Christ, the true Sacrifice, has yet been offered.

Thus, there was clear use, and intelligent use, for all the laws, both moral and ceremonial, which were given to Israel. And this without any purpose or thought that justification comes by any of them, or all of them together, but that justification comes always and ONLY by faith.

And this is “Wherefore the law?” as to the ceremonial law. And from the considerable and careful study of the subject, we are thoroughly convinced that in the book of Galatians, the book of Romans and the book of Hebrews meet. The letter to the Galatians was written before either the letter to the Romans or that to the Hebrews. In the controversy raised by “the Pharisees, which believed,” which had confused the Galatian Christians, both the moral and the ceremonial law were involved; and so both are involved in the letter to the Galatians, and the whole ground is briefly covered. Then afterward the book of Romans was written, enlarging, and dwelling wholly, upon that phase of Galatians, which involves the moral law, and justification, by faith; and the book of Hebrews was written, enlarging, and dwelling wholly, upon that phase of Galatians, which involves the ceremonial law, and justification, by faith. And we believe that as the whole subject is more, and more carefully, studied, the more it will be seen that in Galatians both Romans and Hebrews are comprehended.

[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | February 13, 1900]