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The Law in Christian Doctrine and Experience
First, by an antinomianism brought about either by an out-and-out rejection of the law or by the erroneous concept of the dispensation of law as opposed to the dispensation of the gospel.
Second, Satan has through the principle of salvation by works not allowed the law to function according to Godís design.
Luther declared that one of the most important trials of theology concerns its ability "rightly to deal law and gospel." The result of blinding menís minds as to the true position of the law of God has rested in the inability of both the law and the gospel to act according to Godís purpose and plan.
In these last days Satanís efforts are increased in this direction. Even in many professed Christian churches today there is widespread opposition to the Decalogue as an essential part of the everlasting gospel. This particular position receives its strongest support from dispensationalists.
1. Those who declare that the Decalogue is not intended for the Christian church and was abrogated at the cross point to various scriptures for vindication.
a. They point to the opposition of Christianity from its very beginning to the Jewish religion as one of law.
b. They insist that many of the New Testament writers speak directly against the law in favor of grace.
It is important to bear in mind at this point that the teaching of the New Testament certainly does reveal an opposition to law. And it is the misinterpretation of this opposition that has led to the great error of antinomianism in the professed Christian churches through the centuries. It is the province of this paper to seek the correct interpretation.
2. Now, Seventh-day Adventists believe that the everlasting gospel cannot be preached or rightly interpreted unless the law of God be considered binding upon all men in all ages. Furthermore, in order that the issue may be rightly understood, Adventists believe that a careful distinction must be made at two points:
First, a distinction must be made between the two laws, the ceremonial law and the moral law. Perhaps the strongest texts on this point are Daniel 9:27, speaking of the coming of Christ, "in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease," and Matthew 27:51, showing which law was abrogated at the cross.
Second, there must be a distinction made between the term "law" as it is used in the New Testament and this term as it is used in the Christian church.
Actually, what constitutes the real issue over the law of God, and how is that issue resolved? Is it concerned with a distinction between two laws? Or is it over the use and function of all those God-given requirements that come under the term "law"? Only the Scriptures can tell us. I believe it can be shown that it is the second of these which constitutes the major problem. For the problem of the relationship of the law and the gospel cannot be resolved by centering attention upon the ceremonial law as opposed to the moral law. Certainly one does not get the impression, in reading the above passages, that this is what Paul and the other writers are particularly concerned about.
For example, the question of which law is referred to in Galatians has long been a point of controversy even among Seventh-day Adventists. But we no longer need to spend our days arguing over which law is referred to, for Mrs. White wrote:
"An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, and to accept this truth, lay at the foundation of a large share of the opposition manifested at Minneapolis against the Lordís message through Brethren Waggoner and Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longs to impart to them." [E. G. White letter 96, 1896. (See Review and Herald, March 13, 1952, p. 6.)]
"I am asked concerning the law in Galatians. What law is the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ? I answer: Both the ceremonial and the moral code of Ten Commandments."[ E. G. White manuscript 87, 1900. (See Review and Herald, March 13, 1952, p. 6.)]
It is obvious from these two articles by Mrs. White that the issue in Galatians is no longer between these two laws, the moral and the ceremonial, and which one was done away. There is a much bigger problem than that. Paul declares it to be "another gospel." (Gal. 1:6.) The gospel is a way of salvation. This other gospel Paul speaks of must be another way of salvation. One is genuine; the other is counterfeit. The symptoms of the problem arise in the use and place of the moral law, the ceremonial law, circumcision, and other Jewish traditions and practices.
II. The Meaning of Law
The role that law fulfills in relation to the gospel is twofold. First, law is Godís standard of what is right and true; it is the standard of obedience to the will of God. As a standard the law does certain things. It expresses the mind of God: "I delight to do thy will, 0 my God: yea, thy law is within my heart." Ps. 40:8. It also declares the whole duty of man: "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Eccl. 12:13. And again as a standard, the law reveals sin: "For by the law is the knowledge of sin." "I had not known sin, but by the law." Rom. 3:20; 7:7.
Not only is the law a standard, however; it is a method by which God works. Law cannot run anything. It never sets anything in motion. It merely explains how a thing works with constant regularity and permanency. Law is merely the revelation of universal principles by which God works, how God runs the universe, how men are created by God to live. The law of gravitation runs nothing. When Sir Isaac Newton discovered what he called the law of gravitation, he did not create it. He merely discovered one of the ways God runs the universe, and then he wrote it down.
The law of the circulatory system of the blood simply declares the way the blood circulates in the body and has circulated in all men since creation. Similarly, the Ten Commandments constitute a way of obedience, a way of life for moral and spiritual beings. They represent Godís eternal principles, declaring to us the way God runs the universe morally and spiritually. The universe does not run on a lie. It does not run on impurity. It runs on truth, on honesty, on reverence for God, on unselfishness. Try any other method than that declared by God, and it will not work. God has created us in the image of God. We live as God intended only as our lives follow Godís method of obedience to His will.
"Obey and live, disobey and perish" is still the method of the law of God. The law is suited to produce holiness and happiness in the soul of any and every man who lives in harmony with it. So far as the purpose of God is concerned, the Ten Commandments are perfectly adapted to fill the soul with peace and purity provided everything in man had remained as it had been created. "And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death."
The original relation between man's nature and the law of God was precisely like that between material nature and the material laws. There has been no apostasy in the system of matter. The law of gravitation, this very instant, rules as peacefully and supremely in every atom of matter as it did on the morning of creation. The methods that God ordained for material laws are in perfect harmony with the methods of nature herself.
Thus for scientists, their authority and their methods of investigation rest upon those natural laws that are but Godís way of running the stars, the planets, the earth, and all things in the natural world with a constancy like the unchangeableness of God Himself. For Christian men and women, their authority rests upon the Creator and those moral and spiritual laws that are but the standard of Godís own character, and upon the way He wills that we are made to live in relationship to Him and to our fellow beings.
But original conditions no longer prevail. Man must continue to accept the law of God as a standard of righteousness, but he can no longer use the law as a method of becoming righteous. Man is not standing where he was when created. He is out of his original relation to the law and the will of God. Therefore, that which was ordained to life for Adam before he sinned, he now finds to be a ministration of death.
If man had not sinned, he could easily have accepted the terms "Obey and live, disobey and perish," knowing that he would be perfectly capable of living in harmony with those requirements. There would have been no need of urging him to "become dead to the law," or to seek no longer to live by law but only by grace.
It is at this point that we find the crucial issue over the law throughout the Bible. God can never change His law as a standard; but because of manís sinfulness, He has to change His method of attaining righteousness from the method of righteousness by works of law to the method of grace. In seeking righteousness, man must now choose to live by Godís method of salvation by grace or he has no other alternative but to try to use law as a method.
The problem becomes acute at the point where professed Christian men and women want salvation by grace at the expense of throwing out both the law as a standard and the law as a method. The result is antinomianism. On the other hand, the effort to keep the law both as a method and as a standard leads to legalism and Pharisaism. In both cases there is what Paul calls "another gospel."
The Seventh-day Adventist position is simply this: that the law of God is unchangeable and immovable as a standard. In order to attain to that standard, law as a method must be forever rejected, and men must live by grace alone, by faith that works by love.
Adventists insist upon the same standard of righteousness given to Adam in the Garden of Eden. "God requires at this moment just what He required of Adam in Paradise before he fell-perfect obedience to His law." [Ellen G. White in Review and Herald, July 15, 1890, p. 433]
There are only two ways to bring about harmony in the soul of man, who is out of harmony with Godís law. One is to alter the divine law so that it would agree with manís sinful inclination, and thus remove the cause for inner conflict. This would transmute the law of holiness into a law of sin. It would make evil good. It would destroy the eternal distinction between right and wrong. This is impossible. There can be no transmutation of the law of God or any part of it as a standard of righteousness. The other method of bringing harmony between man and the law is to change the sinful nature of man, so that it becomes again in accord with the divine law. There is only one method by which this can be done. That is the method of free grace, or righteousness by faith.
Therefore, if we depend upon Godís power, the method is one of grace. If we depend upon our efforts at obedience, the method is one of law. If we appeal to God, the method is grace. If we appeal to our own strength, the method is one of self-justification. If we use the method of grace, the law has no more a voice in the matter of our salvation. If we use the method of obedience to the law, whatever law it might be, we are under the dominion of law. If we depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit, we are under grace.
Thus the law of God and the everlasting gospel are united in a firm alliance. Because the gospel as the only way to God rules supreme apart from every legalistic method, the law as the eternal standard of righteousness is completely liberated to work according to Godís purpose. When we no longer use the law in a false way to bring forth human merits and self-righteousness, then the law of God appears in all its true sovereignty, majesty, and power. Now, by the law of the Spirit, the law of God has become our friend. It stands as an eternal bulwark against sin and wickedness. It becomes the basis of a glorious fellowship with Christ in that we live in harmony with His great law and with God Himself.
In the light of this definition of law, the use of the term "law" throughout the Scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, must be clearly understood. It is imperative to know whether the reference to law is to law as a standard or to law as a method of salvation.
The new covenant experience as set forth in Hebrews 8 declares the law of God to be written on the mind and heart by the Holy Spirit. The old covenant is stated to be faulty, and the fault is declared to be with the people themselves. The exact nature of that fault is brought to view in Romans 9:30 to 10:8.
Here Paul presents two groups of people, the Gentiles and the Jews. The Jews who have lived by the old covenant have not attained to the law of God as a standard of righteousness; "for they being ignorant of Godís righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God." Rom. 10:3.
Then the Scripture continues, "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Verse 4. How is the term "law" used in this verse, as a standard or as a method? The context reveals that Paul is contrasting two methods of seeking righteousness, one by works of law and the other by faith. Hence Christ is the end of the law as a method of salvation to everyone that believeth.
In Romans 6:14 Paul declares that we are no longer under law but we are under grace. Grace is Godís method of salvation. Grace is Godís power made available by the free gift of God in order that men may attain to the righteousness of the law. Grace is not a standard but a method. Being under grace as a method is contrasted with being under law as a method.
What does the term "under law" mean? It is usually interpreted to mean "under condemnation." Paul, in addressing the Galatians (4:21), asks the question: "Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" Paul cannot have in mind "under condemnation." No one desires to be under condemnation. Romans 7:1 reads, "Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth." Here the law is declared to have dominion over a man. To be under law means to live under the dominion of law rather than under the dominion of grace.
It is quite evident that the attitude of the New Testament writers toward law is a two-sided one. On the one hand there exists a dominion where law has no rights and no authority. As a way of salvation the law has no more any authority or validity. Salvation by grace through faith forever dethrones the law as a method of salvation, for "the law is not of faith." (Gal. 3:12.) From another point of view, there exists a dominion where the law remains, in all its power and authority, as a standard of righteousness. Salvation by the loving power of God means a radical and most accentuated opposition to all legalistic methods of salvation. The two are incompatible. This is the explanation of the opposition to law found in the New Testament. It is an opposition that all Christians should make, particularly Seventh-day Adventists. For this church the responsibility is a double one: to make vital the law of God as a standard of righteousness in the hearts of men; at the same time to show ourselves a relentless foe of all pharisaical religion and righteousness by works. The pendulum has swung either to one extreme or to the other in the history of the Christian church, either to abrogate the law of God or to formalize it.
The evidence that Godís method of salvation by grace establishes the law as a standard is conclusive.
That the Adventist position has always been clearly stated may be concluded from many authoritative statements.
III. The Function of the Law
The proper function of the law is imperative to the work of the gospel.
1. What is that rightful position? Two passages of Scripture explain thoroughly the proper function of the law in the plan of salvation. On the negative side, Romans 7:7-13 reveals how the law kills, how it brings man under condemnation, how sin is revealed and made to "become exceeding sinful." On the positive side Galatians 3:19-26 shows that the law leads us to Christ, by shutting us up to one method of salvation, faith in Christ.
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." The word "schoolmaster" in the original is paidagogos. It means "slave master." He was the slave who accompanied the children to school, to see that they did not play truant. If they attempted to run away, he was there to prevent it. He was given authority to use physical punishment if necessary to see that the children arrived at school. On arrival at the school, they were handed over to the care and instruction of the teacher.
"But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed." The figure here used by Paul is that of being shut up in prison. The law acts as their jailer. It is the law that shuts them in and will not let them off. God is merciful and gracious, but He will not clear the guilty by calling evil good. Men are imprisoned for breaking the law that they cannot keep. If the man tries to escape by appeals to the law, he finds only further restrictions and condemnation. The law declares to him: "There is no freedom by men, for you have sinned and broken the law." Man may try to change and lessen the claims of the law, but all the time the law stands as firm as the everlasting hills. Man comes to realize that "the strength of sin is the law." (1 Cor. 15:56.) There is one door and one door only out of the prison house, and that is the door of faith. There is no escape except through faith in Christ. Man is hopelessly shut up under the law until he finds the door of faith.
It is interesting to notice at this point that the Jews preached the law, but it never seemed to have this effect described in either Romans or Galatians. Seventh-day Adventists have also preached the law far more than any other professed Christian body, preached it until "we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa that had neither dew nor rain." The result has been lukewarmness and self-satisfaction. In both cases the effect seemed to be the opposite of what the law was declared to produce.
Kant the philosopher said that he knew of but two beautiful things: the starry heavens above his head and the moral law within his heart. Kant felt the moral law to be a beautiful thing in his heart. Why did he not feel as Paul felt? Because he knew only mere morality. If he had seen the law of God in the face of Jesus Christ, he would have felt as Paul did when he cried out: "For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment caine, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me." "0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Rom. 7:9-11, 24.
Here are two men, Kant and Paul, upon whom the effect of the law was totally different. Kant had substituted ethics for the law and the gospel. Paul declared of his relation to the law even before he had come to know Christ, as "touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." Phil. 3:6.
Hence the significance of Mrs. Whiteís statement:
When men substitute ethics for the law and the gospel, when men do not see Christ in the law, the end is pride and self-satisfaction before God. But when the eye of God and the power of Christ are seen and felt in the law, men are smitten to the ground. Declares the psalmist: "When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity, thou makest his beauty to consume away like a moth." Ps. 39:11.
We feel the guilt of an evil action far more sharply when we know that someone saw us commit the sin, than when we know that no one but ourselves is cognizant of the deed. How much more sinful, then, do we feel, when we look into the face of Christ and say, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned."
The constant appeal to Israel was to hear and obey Godís voice, not merely to observe the letter of the law. It was the Jewsí failure to see Christ in the law that led them to that perverted religion known as Pharisaism.
The pious legalist and the legalistically religious good man are farthest away from God because they stand over against God on their own two feet, feeling "rich, and increased with goods," and in "need of nothing." Legalism is the practical outcome for the man who seeks to fulfill the demands of the law in his own strength.
Nothing is in greater opposition to the holy and loving God, who saves men by grace alone, than this self-satisfaction, this lukewarmness, this complacency of men who are too sure of themselves. They see only the letter of the law, and conform to it.
To see Christ in the law leads to repentance and salvation, because it leads to trust and faith. Faith does not simply depend on learning something that is true, even though it be the entire Bible. An unbeliever may pass the stiffest theological examination and yet, in the sense of spiritual fellowship with Christ, he has understood nothing. The devil himself could pass with distinction the most rigorous test in dogmatic and Biblical theology. Real Christian living is not something a man can learn on the intellectual level. Correct doctrine alone can be learned by anyone with a good brain. It is dangerous for the church to confuse that which is the gift of the Holy Spirit with that which anyone with a good brain can learn or seek to accomplish by his own efforts. Faith that sees Christ in the law and the gospel does not depend on logical arguments.
To see and to preach Christ in the law is vital. Simply to hold fast to intellectual ideas in the law of God without the deeper meanings and convictions of the Holy Spirit, leaves a man wholly untouched, unredeemed, and untransformed, and utterly incompetent to know God.
2. Because of the danger of misuse of the law, it is important that the law be maintained in its proper function and correct relationship with the entire plan of redemption.
Where did Paul get the idea that "the law was added till the seed should come," and what does he mean by it? Christ Himself makes a similar statement in Luke 16:16. "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it."
If we can understand Christís meaning, then it should not be difficult to believe that Paul had the same idea. Are Christ and Paul teaching that the dispensation of law ends with them since Christ has now established the dispensation of grace? After making this statement in verse 16, Christ is very careful to let His hearers know that the law of God is still binding. Lest anyone should get the idea that the law is now at an end, He says, "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail." Verse 17. Christ is saying, "Think not that, though some things are changing, the divine law will ever change. No, not even the smallest part of one letter of the divine moral law will fail."
As an illustration of the point He has made regarding the eternal nature of the law, Christ turns to one of the Ten Commandments of which there has been much violation in His day. This is the seventh commandment. There has been comparatively little tampering with the Sabbath, so there is no need to mention that. He refers to the one that has been most seriously affected in His day. "See," He says, "the new state of things which I am now advocating, instead of lessening the importance of the law, will magnify it. Instead of a laxer code on divorce being submitted, I bring you a severer one. My law of divorce is much more severe than that written by Moses." (Luke 16:18.)
What, then, does Christ mean by His statement that "the law and the prophets were until John"? He is saying: "You Jews for fifteen hundred years have maintained an attitude toward law and have established a dominion of legal righteousness which is no longer to prevail. Your system is dethroned with My coming. The consequence is that men everywhere are pressing into the kingdom of God." Thus men are shut up to one way, the way of faith in Christ.
"But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster." Gal. 3:25. Many have interpreted this text to mean that man was under law until a certain fixed time in the history of the race; that there was a definite time for faith to come in to free men from the law.
Suppose this to be so, that all men were in bondage to law until Christ; then they had no chance or opportunity to be saved. If a man were born during the period from Moses to Christ, it was just too bad. Then a manís salvation would depend simply on the accident of birth. God had been using the Jews as guinea pigs and had kept them under a system that He knew would not work, simply for the benefit of other generations to follow His own ministry.
Paul is not speaking of a fixed, definite point of time when faith came. The galaxy of Old Testament saints recorded in Hebrews 11 shows that men were saved by faith from the very beginning. Whenever a man receives the Word as the voice of God to his soul, whenever man sees Christ in the law, then faith comes, for "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Rom. 10:17.
3. Finally, the true function of the law sets forth the inescapability of obedience to it. The choice is still a matter of life or death, blessing or cursing. "So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 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." Gal. 3:9, 10.
The choice of the law and of the gospel is either a blessing or a curse. The blessing comes through faith, whereas the law brings a curse. Who are those under the curse? Not those who do the law, for "cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." "The law worketh wrath." Rom. 4:15. But wrath cometh only upon the children of disobedience. (Eph. 5:6.)
These texts declare that it is disobedience to Godís law that brings the curse. Disobedience means separation from fellowship with God. The curse that belonged to us was laid upon Christ as He cried out: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Some exclaim that we no longer need to keep the law, because Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law. But the curse is disobedience, not obedience; otherwise the text should read: "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of obedience to the law." But the text declares, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Thus Christ hath redeemed us from all disobedience of the law.
It is this inescapability of obedience as it is in Christ that makes the law to do its work in every age. The law must be used faithfully and fearlessly within its own limits and in accordance with its proper function. Let Christian men and women apply the law of God to personal character and conduct. But look not to the law for salvation.
The first law of revival is the withering work of the Holy Spirit through the application of Godís eternal standard in our lives. It holds good through all generations. It is certain and sure. This humbling work of the law of God seen in the light of Christ is always the first gleam of a spiritual awakening. The standard of the law demands of us perfection in Christ. There is only one door. "I am the door," "I am the way, the truth, and the life." "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."