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The Law and the Gospel United for Christ's Righteousness
Ever since the fall of man the great question has been one of righteousness. How can a man become righteous before God?
It is the belief of Seventh-day Adventists that the righteousness of God is disclosed when the law and the gospel are united in the life through the divine power of the Holy Spirit. We believe that both the Old and the New Testament see the law of God as a requirement within faith and love. The law of God is not to be externalized in formal rigid codes. It can be experienced only in a life that is born of the Spirit and lived in fellowship with God. For Seventh-day Adventists the law remains the guardian of the gospel. It tells us what God requires of us, not in our own power but in His power. It reveals to us our sinfulness and, therefore, our need of grace and of His righteousness, both imputed and imparted.
Seventh-day Adventists oppose as altogether un-Scriptural any position that abrogates the law of God, or any part of it, or seeks to substitute any other law for it. There are many professed Christian churches and people today who believe that the Decalogue belongs to the Jews under a dispensation of law; that Christ instituted a new law, variously known as the law of the Spirit, the law of love, which is the basis for the new covenant. They declare that the Decalogue is not intended for the Christian church. This leads to the claim that the Seventh-day Sabbath is exclusively Jewish; that Christ set apart the first day of the week as the new rest day in honor of His resurrection.
II. Old and New Testament Eras United on the Law and the Gospel
Seventh-day Adventists insist upon the unity of the law and the gospel for both Old and New Testament eras. In replying to the question of dispensationalism, that the dispensation of grace has, with the coming of Christ, superseded the dispensation of law, the fundamental issue is: Does the Christian church fulfill the plan, the purpose, and the covenant of God as revealed throughout the Old Testament; or does it displace that which has become decadent and outmoded?
Paul (Titus 2:14) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) declare the purpose of Christ to "purify unto himself a peculiar people," a people for His own possession. They both quote from the Old Testament, from the covenant which God made with Israel at Sinai. Why do these leaders of the Christian church appeal to this ancient covenant except for the purpose of calling attention to the close and vital connection that exists between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church? Or has God had two peculiar peoples that are to be carefully distinguished? Does the God of Israel have one peculiar people that are to be obedient to one set of laws, and does the Lord Jesus Christ have another peculiar people with another set of laws? Seventh-day Adventists believe that God, who is the only Redeemer of God's elect throughout the past six thousand years of earth
s history, has one and only one peculiar people. They are made up of Old Testament saints and New Testament saints without distinction. "We are all children of Abraham in Christ Jesus." We further believe that there has been and still is one law, one covenant, one gospel, one Sabbath, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Eph. 4:5, 6.
Furthermore, Paul likens the true Israel of God, in both Old and New Testament eras to an olive tree. Both Jews and Gentiles are grafted onto the same olive tree. The tree represents true Israel. Some of the natural branches are broken off because of unbelief, representing literal Jews. Branches of a wild olive are grafted in among them. These are Gentiles who have accepted salvation. It would be difficult to state more clearly that the Gentiles entering the Christian church become members of one body, one church that has existed through all the years of earth's history.
After illustrating this truth, Paul draws two important conclusions: the first is that since unbelief caused the breaking off of some of the natural branches, the branches of the new graft owe their status solely to faith. The second conclusion is that since the Gentiles owe their present status of salvation to grace alone, it is only to be expected that the same grace which has spared them, will also restore the natural branches representing the literal Jews who repent. Only in this way is Abraham the father of all those who believe. They are the true Israel of God, those who are saved by faith. No one is saved by law whatsoever, and never has been. The Bible knows of no distinction between law and grace in the matter of the saved. Both Jew and Gentile possess the same righteousness, the righteousness of Christ. They become citizens, not of the new state of Israel, but of that holy city, the New Jerusalem.
Those who believe that the law of God or any part of it was abrogated or changed at the cross misread Moses and credit God with having instituted the old covenant of righteousness by works of the law for meritorious acceptance with God. The Jews through their history as a nation misread Moses the same way. Paul declared of their blindness, "But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart." 2 Cor. 3:15. They rejected the everlasting covenant and substituted for it a covenant of works, which neither the law nor the prophets gave any recognition to at any time. For Paul declares in Romans 3:21, 22, that "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." Christ also calls upon Moses for confirmation of His position and to expose the errors of the Jews. "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me." The Old and the New Testament are in complete harmony. Through stubborn pride and hardness of heart, the Jews rejected God's great plan and crucified the Lord Jesus. A hard heart is impossible under the everlasting covenant, for God is able to write His law upon it.
III-The Decalogue and the New Covenant
The unity of the law and the gospel constitutes the major premise of the new covenant. The new covenant is none other than the everlasting covenant ordained from before the foundation of the world. It is also referred to as the covenant of grace. They are all one and the same.
1. The new covenant contains blessings of the highest value. First of all, in its negative aspect, it removes the weak ness and faultiness of the old covenant. This is definitely indicated in Hebrews 8:6-8: "By how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah."
What was this weakness? The fault was in man, in his promises to keep the law. Man was depending upon his own will power, which led to failure and condemnation. Man could not fulfill what he had promised to do, to keep the commandments.
A more complete detailed explanation of the Jewish failure is recorded in Romans 9:31-33. "But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. They failed because, instead of trusting wholly in Christ, they trusted in themselves. Theirs was a failure of faith. They depended upon the arm of flesh.
Again, Paul illustrates this failure in 2 Corinthians 3:14-16 as like unto a veil which was upon their faces and which had remained there even unto Paul's day. The veil which is said to cover their faces symbolized their unbelief, "because only through Christ is it taken away. . . . But when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed." (R.S.V.) The Jews had insisted on trying to keep the law by their own efforts, and had arrived only at self-righteousness. The first blessing of the new covenant then is to take away all self-righteousness.
2. The positive aspect of the new covenant concerning the unity of the law and the gospel makes very specific the work of Christ for man: "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." Heb. 8:10.
a. Immediately we are led to ask: What law is it that is to be written on the mind and heart? Again Paul is very conclusive.
(1) 2 Corinthians 3:3, 6 states that the law that was written on tables of stone is now to be written in the fleshy tables of the heart, "not of the letter, but of the spirit."
(2) In Romans 7:6, 7. "We should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." Here is an obvious reference to the Ten Commandments, which we should now "serve in newness of spirit."
(3) The work of the Holy Spirit in writing the law in the minds and hearts of Christians is given to us by Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans. In the first sixteen verses, life after the Spirit and life after the flesh are contrasted, particularly as these two ways of living are related to the law of God.
It is first pointed out that the law is weak, not through any defect in itself, but due to the flesh; "for what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." Verse 3. "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." Verses 7, 8. When men are so biased and sinfully determined by the very nature of their depravity that they are totally unable to keep the law of God, the strength of the law is weakened. On the contrary, the text declares that the only way to keep the law is by the power of the Holy Spirit: "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." Verses 3-5.
It is the province of this passage to show that the law that was weak through the flesh is the same law whose righteousness is now fulfilled. This work of the Holy Spirit in us evidently means more than that Christ's righteousness may be imputed unto us. We do not remain as we were except for our justification. The gospel, or good news of Christ's victory over sin, is now united in our hearts with the law of God, in order that there may be obedience and holiness of life. Our union with Christ under the new covenant is so real and vital as to bring our lives into full harmony with the law of God. The law is stronger than ever before. "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law."
In all of these passages of Scripture which so clearly depict Christian experience by the power of the Holy Spirit, the law that is written upon the mind and heart can be none other than the Decalogue. Many believe that Christ instituted a new law or changed the old one, which they, designate as the law of love or the law of the Spirit. But the New Testament nowhere reveals such a law. The law of the Spirit is a new way of life, not a new law from God. There is revealed a wholly different and more effective method of keeping the law of God. It is the full revelation through Christ of the only way of securing the loyal adherence of every believer to the commandments of God. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Rom. 8:2.
The Law of God Experienced in the Life
3. What is meant by writing the law of God upon the mind and heart?
a. In the first place, through the work of the gospel, the law comes to have a more vital connection with the life of the Christian than hitherto. Previously, it has been written merely on stone. Now, it is stamped into the life. The law, as Isaiah declares, is sealed among Christ's disciples. (Isa. 8:16.) "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . With the mind I myself serve the law of God," exclaims Paul. Rom. 7:25.
This was what Christ came to do for us, and what we could never have done for ourselves. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." Matt. 5:17. So what victory Christ has wrought out on the cross, the Holy Spirit makes real in the life. The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Rom. 8:4.
Isaiah prophesied concerning Christ that He would "magnify the law and make it honourable." Isa. 42:21. No longer is the law discredited by the weakness of the flesh. It is now exalted to a place of honor. We are enabled to do honor to God's eternal code by living in complete harmony with it. As God once honored the two tables of stone by writing upon them His eternal law, He now honors our hearts and minds by inscribing this same law upon them. This time He writes the law, not with His finger, but by His Holy Spirit. The law of God is magnified as never before. It receives its greatest honor in the work of the Holy Spirit by being written upon the minds and hearts of men.
b. In the second place, to have the law of God written on the mind and heart means to know that "the law is spiritual" "and the commandment holy, and just, and good." (Rom. 7:14, 12.) The law is seen in all its spiritual and vital meaning. It is no longer rendered in external forms. Its underlying principles are clearly apprehended.
A principle is that to which the whole bears testimony. In contrast, a detail is that which garnishes the principle. In the coordination of the whole, the principles are constant and not contradictory.
As the Ten Commandments are based upon the two great commandments, or principles, of love, so the sermon on the mount is a spiritual interpretation of the same Ten Commandments. (The Decalogue is the sermon on the mount stripped of all the spiritual interpretations.) The law finds its full expression from a heart quickened by the Spirit. The standard and requirements of the sermon on the mount are an expression of a heart and mind on which the Spirit has written the law of God.
This becomes obvious the moment we read the sermon on the mount. "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Matt. 5:2 1, 22.
Certain principles for the right understanding and interpretation of God's law become apparent at once.
First, all those commandments and statutes and precepts, which are found in both the Old and the New Testament, and are concerned with the regulating of our lives and actions in relationship to God and to our fellow men, although they are not to be found expressly mentioned in the Decalogue, yet they may very aptly be reduced under one of the Ten Commandments.
Second, the affirmative commands include in them the prohibition of the contrary sin. The negative commands include the injunction of the positive duties.
Third, the same precept that forbids the external and outward acts of sin, forbids likewise the inward desires and motions of sin in the heart. The same precept that requires the external acts of duty, requires likewise those holy affections of the soul.
Fourth, the connection between the commandments is so close and intimate and they are so linked together that whosoever breaks one of them is guilty of all. When we infract one of these laws, we are apt to regard God's authority in respect to others in the same careless manner.
It is here that we come to understand the great difference between Christ's interpretation of the law and that of the Jews.
Under the new covenant the law of God becomes married to the gospel by the Holy Spirit. Obedience is no longer a mechanical process, but a complete fulfillment through faith which works by love. The law and the gospel become inseparable as light and heat in the sun. God demands obedience under the law. God works obedience through the gospel. The law of God demands holiness of men. The gospel works holiness in men. As long as the law remains written merely on stone, men find the commandments hard to obey. While the heart is stony, the commandments appear stony.
A man upon whom the Holy Spirit has written God's law, readily consents unto the law that it is "holy, and just, and good." He no longer wishes to change either one jot or one tittle of the law. He no longer desires that the commandments were other than what they are. He is willing to call hate, murder. He is willing to call lust, adultery. He no longer wishes that God had ordained some other day of the week for the Sabbath. He consents with all his heart and mind unto the law of God.
Not only does man give consent unto the law that it is good, but he exclaims with the psalmist: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night." Ps. 1:2. The Holy Spirit has done a great work for a man when his heart delights in the law of the Lord. Then every violation of the law becomes hateful to him. Every transgression causes intense agony and sorrow, because God has written His law in the heart. The new covenant now becomes the clearest test of how genuine is a man's Christian experience-what a man delights to do.
c. In the third place, the fact that the Holy Spirit writes the law of God on the mind and heart proclaims in no unmistakable terms that this experience comes only by supernatural means and never by naturalistic means. The issue between letter and spirit, between righteousness by works and righteousness by faith, is this: Does man save himself, or does God save Him? The union of the law and the gospel in the life is something that God does for man, and that man cannot possibly do for himself.
Mrs. White declares that the greatest deception in the church is that mental assent to religion constitutes righteousness.
Some things we can do for ourselves, but we cannot shift our spiritual center of gravity by our own strivings. We cannot ourselves break the power of self-love. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." Jer. 13:23. The power that works through the new covenant is divine, not natural. We know that we have passed from the natural man to that of the spiritual.
d. Finally, to have the Holy Spirit write on our hearts the law of God means that we have shifted from self as the center of our lives to Christ. Here is the crux of the everlasting covenant. The greatest enemy of God is the pride of self-righteousness. The root problem of all self-righteousness is the inordinate importance that man attaches to himself. He magnifies himself, and consequently fails to magnify Christ.
The man who lives under the old covenant feeds on the sense of his own importance, and thereby exaggerates it. Nothing is so sweet to human ears as words that tell of one's beauty or strength or intelligence or virtue. Men hang on words that magnify them.
The reason the ancient prophets found their most difficult task of securing genuine repentance from the Jews was that they actually believed they were obeying the law when they were not. The Jews continually sinned against the law even in their devotion to it. This is always the sin of self-righteousness, of salvation by merit. The form becomes more important than the spirit. "Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is a commandment of men which bath been taught [them]: . . . the wisdom of their wise men shall perish." Isa. 29:13, 14, margin.
Repeatedly Christ stressed the need for inner spirituality in the life. "A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit." Matt. 7:18, R.S.V. "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil." Matt. 12:34, 35, R.S.V. "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, an evil eye, slander, pride, foolishness." Mark 7:21, 22, R.S.V.
It is the essence of the new covenant that man's responsibility to God is altogether unintelligible except in personal fellowship with God, in putting Christ at the center of his life. The warping, distorting factor in man's life is precisely his dependence upon and worship of his own inherent powers of mind, soul, and body. Thus man magnifies himself rather than his Maker and Redeemer.
The deceptive character of separating the law and the gospel in life is extremely difficult to grasp. Man clothes his actual motives with reasons compatible with his own self-estimate. He does away with the law of God while claiming to defend it. In the ministry of the church too often the desire for prestige and power is greater than love for the Lord Jesus Christ. In education it is the Doctor's degree, and the great institution graduated from, not what they represent, that motivates much of our graduate study. It is the recognition rather than the quality of our work that is so often our chief concern.
To the degree that all this pride possesses a man, he is unable to hear or rightly understand the true experience of the law of God which is offered to him. "How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?" John 5:44, R.S.V.
The Sabbath the Seal of the Everlasting Covenant
4. Once again in these last days the ancient covenant of Jehovah, once delivered unto Israel, is now delivered unto us to be "our refuge and strength." That covenant unites law and gospel. This is our task as the remnant church.
One notices in the study of all the revivals and the renewals of God's covenant, beginning with Sinai, also with Joshua, Josiah, Hezekiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, that two classes of people develop -- those who were true to the ancient covenant, as were the Levites; and those whose stubborn pride and rebellion led to Pharisaism and ultimately to the destruction of the nation of Israel. Always there is a remnant who submit to God and exercise the faith of Abraham. Always there is a majority who do the opposite. Never is there a change in the law, but there is a change in the nature of the people of God.
Mrs. White discussed the great revival that came to Israel under the leadership of Ezra after they had returned from exile.
As we examine the law of God in the light of the everlasting covenant, we find that it is the Sabbath commandment that sets God's seal upon it, and at the same time becomes the symbol and test of the new covenant experience.
Isaiah's reference here is to the everlasting covenant. The Sabbath is connected in some way to the righteousness of Christ that is to be revealed with His coming, and is an indispensable part of the covenant.
The Sabbath commandment, more than any of the others, signifies the unity of the law and the gospel. It signifies the rest of the completed work of God in the soul, the rest of righteousness by faith. It is the seventh-day Sabbath that is appealed to throughout Israel's history as the test of the work of the Spirit through the everlasting covenant.
The principal book in the New Testament concerned with the new covenant is the book of Hebrews. At the heart of it we find the message of the rest of God, signified by the seventh-day Sabbath.
a. First, a most serious warning is given against failing to enter into the rest of God. "Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it." Heb. 4:1, R.S.V. Failure to enter into God's rest is here considered of the greatest concern, so much so that it calls down the wrath of God. "As I swore in my wrath, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" Verse 3. God is not rejecting people for not attaining to perfection. Something else is primary, that of entering into the rest of God; for this rest is the highway to perfection and to Christ's righteousness.
b. Second, just what is it that constitutes the rest of God? "For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,. . .although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, 'And God rested, on the seventh day from all his works.'" (Verses 3, 4, R.S.V.)
In these verses the rest of God into which the Christian is to enter, is related to three things: first, it is related to faith -- one cannot find this rest without faith; second, it is also related to the creation week; and third, it is related to the seventh-day Sabbath.
Why is this so? Surely it is not merely a matter of keeping holy the seventh day of the week. Verses nine and ten give us the key: "So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; for whoever enters God's rest also ceases from his labors as God did from his." The text declares that the significance of the Sabbath is related to the completed works of God at creation. God completed His works of creation in six days with nothing more to add to it. Then God rested. God's rest, then, is the rest of the completed work of God either in creation of the world or in the re-creation of the human soul.
c. Third, Christians are to enter into that rest -- a rest like unto God's. "There remaineth therefore a rest [or a keeping of the sabbath] to the people of God. . . . Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief." Verses 9-11, A.V. Christians enter into the rest of God when they enter by faith into the finished work of God for them. They do it when they rest and trust in His completed work of salvation, and when they cease from their own works as God did from His.
d. Fourth, this chapter states that God has offered this rest from the very beginning of creation down to Paul's day, and for all time. The rest was set forth from the first Sabbath at creation. God has offered it every day since then. It is more than keeping a day. Israel had kept the seventh day Sabbath throughout their history, yet they had failed to enter into the rest of God. Time and again, in Joshua's and David's day, He had offered His rest to them. He still offered it to them in Paul's day.
The reason for Israel's failure is indicated plainly. It was never God's plan to have Israel work or fight for the Promised Land. It was called the Promised Land because God had promised it to them. Therefore it was already a completed work, just like the work of creation. They did not rest in God; they rested in the law. (Rom. 2:17.) They tried to add to God's work; they sought it not by faith but by works of the law. Consequently, they never entered into God's rest. In Hebrews 3:7-11 God does not condemn Israel for all the sins of immorality and idolatry. He charges them and holds them responsible for not entering into that rest of faith, righteousness by faith.
The rest of God, even though it is signified by the seventh-day Sabbath, is not something which comes one day a week. "Now is the day of salvation." The Christian is to experience this rest of God's completed work of salvation every day. Only in this way can God's Sabbath truly be kept.
This rest of God signified by the seventh-day Sabbath is very definitely indicated at the cross, when Christ completed the work of re-creation. Just before the sun went down on Friday, Christ cried out: "It is finished." Then He rested in the grave on the Sabbath according to the commandment. Nothing more was to be added to the work of redemption. It was completed once and for all. The Christian is to enter into the finished work of redemption and cease entirely from his own works.
e. Fifth, if true rest of soul depends upon entering into the finished work of Christ, if true rest means that the law and the gospel are united in the heart through the Holy Spirit, how can the Christian hope to possess this rest when His work is not completed in the life?
When Christ imputes and imparts His righteousness unto me, He sees in me at this moment the completed work of redemption. I can rest in God, because He will complete the work He has begun in me. How did Paul enter into that rest? Romans 7 pictures Paul's great unrest and struggle of soul. He was held up by a law whose tendency was meant to be spiritual, but instead of the law giving him peace and rest, it revealed to him how sinful and incomplete he was. Finally, Paul declares that rest came to him from Jesus. "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Rom. 7:25; 8:1."Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Matt. 11:28.
As the Christian enters into the completed work of Christ, God guarantees to complete the work in him. Perfection is not arrived at all at once. But we have confidence in the great Redeemer, who always completes His work. He has never left incomplete any work that He has begun.
The rest of God signified by the Sabbath means continual communion. Since Christ's completed work of re-creation for me is not yet fully realized in my soul, there is need for continual fellowship and communion. The seventh-day Sabbath stands for eternal communion. There is relief from all anxiety, fears, and struggle. I enter into God's rest.
That such a commandment is to be found in the law of God reveals how closely are the law and the gospel tied together in the work of salvation. The message of the Sabbath promises that God will write His law in my mind and heart more and more each day until I reflect the image of Jesus fully, for He will work in me "both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
Then when we stand before the great white throne, we shall exclaim: "Not unto me, but unto thy goodness and thy love and thy wisdom be the praise of my salvation for ever and ever."