The Law and the Gospel
By Elder William Vaughan
Man, as a depraved creature, has no realizing sense of his dependence upon God, or the claims of his Maker upon him. He lives to himself and loses sight of his accountabilitv to the author of his being. He passes on to the judgment seat of Christ ignorant of his relation to God, never investigating the nature, spirituality or extent of the law which he is under, Or, what is still worse, and possible, calling in question its very existence.
I proceed, in the first place, to show that man is naturally and necessarily under the law to God. This results from the character and perfections of the Divine nature, and from the immutable relation that exists between God and man. The one is the Creator, the other his creature. From God, man has received his existence. All his intellectual and moral powers are a gratuitous bestowment from the Almighty; and consequently he is placed in a state of dependence upon God, and subjection to his will. And as man was created an intelligent being, endowed with liberty of action as a free moral agent, and capable of moral government, this proves that he is under law to his Creator. He was created capable of knowing, loving and obeying God, and it is fit and proper that he should do so; indeed, I consider
it impossible, in the very nature and fitness of things, for an intelligent being to exist without being under law to God. This is what theological writers call the law of nature and the moral law. The angels in heaven are under such a law. This is evident from the fact that a part of them sinned, and are now suffering the punishment merited on account of sin, "for sin is the transgression of law; but where there is no law there is no transgression." Man, in Paradise, was under such a law; and its principal articles are, to some extent, enstamped upon the hearts of all men. "For the Gentiles, who have not the written law, are a law unto themselves, which show the works of the law written in their hearts." Why is it that even among the heathen there is a catalogue of sins universally forbidden, and of virtues everywhere acknowledged as binding upon mankind? We answer, because man is placed, by his Maker, under a moral constitution which forbids the commission of crime, and requires the practice of every holy duty.
It is also evident that man was under law to God prior to the giving of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai; for death, the penalty of the law, reigned with uncontrolled dominion "from Adam to Moses over those who had not sinned, after the similitude of Adam's transgression." Paul represents the Galatians, who were Gentiles, as being under the curse of the law before the gospel was revealed to them; they were kept under the law, "shut up to the faith, which should afterward be revealed." "Now
we know that what thing soever 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." Conscience, the inward monitor, admonishes all men of their accountability to God. Why is it that the impenitent sinner dreads to appear before his Maker? Just because he is conscious of guilt, contracted by the violation of the law he is under, and of punishment, deserved in proportion to the degree of guilt he is the subject of.
In the second place, we proceed to notice the goodness of the moral law, as a correct idea of the purity of the law unfolds to the mind the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the need of the atonement of Christ to magnify the law and expiate the guilt of transgressors.
The purity of the law must be admitted by all, who acknowledge God to be the author of it, as holiness is essential to his nature, and constitutes his glory and loveliness. Pure streams flow from untainted fountains. It expresses the sentiments of his heart in reference to all moral beings; it secures to the Creator the claims of his government, and binds all holy intelligences to his throne, and is the very transcript of his nature. It enjoins all that is due from man to his Maker, and all that is due from one moral being to another. It prescribes all that is morally good, and forbids all that is morally evil. Men, as lawgivers, require their subjects to live virtuously; not because they are themselves the lovera
of virtue, but merely because virtue promotes the well-being of the social compact. But the law of God prescribes virtue or holiness because of its intrinsic excellence, and condemns vice on account of its intrinsic evil.
Human laws take notice only of the outward acts of men, but the divine law sits in judgment upon every volition of the mind; upon the thoughts, desires and affections of the heart. And no act is pure in the eye of God unless it proceeds from a principle of love to the great Lawgiver. "The commandment," says David, "is exceedingly broad." Paul declares "that the law is spiritual, and the commandment is holy, just and good." It is a law never to be abrogated, set aside. Were it unholy it never would have been given or perpetuated. Its purity is manifest from the awful sanction annexed to prevent man from transgressing it, and the judgments inflicted on men on account of their rebellion. The curse of God fell upon the earth for the sin of man. He was driven from Paradise and a cherubim and flaming sword stationed to guard the tree of life; the old world drowned, the cities of the plain burned with fire. Now, all these inflictions of divine wrath proclaim the holiness of the law of God. Some apology may be offered for the violation of an oppressive law, but none whatever for the transgression of a law that is holy, just and good.
Once more we remark that the strongest evidence of the holiness of the law is seen in the cross of Christ. For it would have been inconsistent with the
character and perfections of God to have placed man under an unholy law, oppressive in its nature and not adapted to his capacity as the subject of his moral government, and then give his own Son to die the painful death of the cross to magnify it. Thus we see that, in the judgment of God, the law was worthy of being honored by the active and passive obedience of Christ; and there is no glory in the gospel but upon the supposition that the law is glorious.
And it is worthy of notice that almost every error imbibed by men in reference to the plan of salvation results from wrong views of the nature and excellency of the moral law. We have said that God is the giver of the law. The following occurrence we mention to prove the truth of this declaration:
Some years since there lived in one of the Northern States an infidel lawyer, of strong and cultivated mind, who felt a desire to examine the claims of the Bible to inspiration by the Almighty. After reading the twentieth chapter of Exodus, he said to a pious friend, "I have been reading the moral law." "Well, what do you think of it?" asked his friend. "I will tell you what I used to think," answered the infidel; "I supposed that Moses was the leader of a band of banditti, and that, having a strong mind, he acquired great influence over a superstitious people, and that on Mount Sinai he played off some sort of fireworks, to the amazement of his ignorant followers, who imagined, in their mingled fear and superstition, that the exhibition was supernatural."
"But what do you think now?" inquired his friend. "I have been looking," said the infidel, "into the nature of that law. I have been trying to see whether I can add anything to it, or take anything from it, so as to make it better. Sir, I cannot. It is perfect. The first commandment," continued he, "directs us to make the Creator the object of our supreme love. That is right; if he be our creator, preserver and supreme benefactor we ought to treat him, and none other, as such. The second forbids idolatry. That certainly is right. The third forbids profaneness. The fourth fixes a time for religious worship. If there is a God he ought surely to be worshiped. The fifth defines the peculiar duties arising from the family relations. Injuries to our neighbors are then classified by the moral law. They are divided into offenses against life, chastity, property and character. And," said he, applying a legal idea with great acuteness, "I notice that the greatest offense in each class is especially forbidden. Thus, the greatest injury to life is murder; to chastity, adultery; to property, theft; to character, perjury. Now, the greater offense must include the less of the same kind. Murder must include every injury to life; adultery, every injury to purity; and so of the rest. And the moral code is closed and perfected by a command forbidding every improper desire in regard to our neighbors. I have been thinking, where did Moses get that law? I have read history. The Egyptians, and the adjacent nations, were idolaters; so were the Greeks and Romans;
and the wisest and best Greeks or Romans never gave a code of morals like this. Where did Moses get this law, which surpasses the wisdom and philosophy of the most enlightened ages? He lived at a period comparatively barbarous; but he has given a law in which the learning and sagacity of all subsequent time can detect no flaw. Where did he get this law? He could not have soared so far above his age as to have devised it himself. I am satisfied where he obtained it. It must have come from heaven. I am convinced of the truth of the religion."
The infidel was infidel no longer, but remained, to his death, a firm believer in the truth of Christianity.
The great Lawgiver is doubtless disposed to prevent transgression, and to secure the obedience of his creatures, and to impress upon their minds a sense of the holiness of his law. This is evident from the awful but righteous penalty annexed to it. Its language is, "The soul that sinneth shall die," and like law in general, it cannot tolerate the transgression of itself. Such an idea is a burlesque upon every principle of legislation, human or divine. And all who expect to obtain salvation by works; imbibe the idea that the law is relaxed in its strictness, and that God has adapted it to the condition of man in his present lapsed estate. Hence it is often said that if God were to punish his erring creatures for every sin committed, he would be unjust and tyrannical in the extreme. Now, if this be so, God has given to man a law by which he cannot
abide without incurring the charge of injustice and cruelty. But the language of Scripture is, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." And can it be supposed that the law, which requires us to love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourself, has ceased to be holy, just and good because of man's indisposition to obey it? And we know that the want of a disposition to obey the law cannot set aside its claims upon us.
Again — what does the best obedience of a sinner, out of Christ, amount to? It proceeds from a heart totally depraved; and the heart is the source of moral action; and if the fountain be impure, so are the works flowing from it. "The ploughing of the wicked," says the wise man, "is sin." And assuredly impure acts must be the poorest materials imaginable out of which to produce a righteousness commensurate with the demands of God's pure and holy law.
But further. Can the advocates of a mitigated law tell us how far it is relaxed? And if not, all is thrown loose, and involved in uncertainty, and no infallible rule is given by which the conduct of man is regulated or governed. Surely, such a sentiment is a reflection upon the omniscient and immutable wisdom of the divine Lawgiver. It is saying that God originally gave to man a law, which he learned by experience was not suited to his nature as the subject of law; and, therefore, he lowered it down, to suit his moral taste as a sinner, that he might render
such an amount of obedience to it as would atone for his sins and thus obtain salvation. What a reproach to the Holy One of Israel does such an idea convey.
The impossibility of salvation by works will further appear if we reflect upon the impossibility of human merit. Had man, in his state of innocence, obeyed the law perfectly, he would only have done his duty and been an "unprofitable servant." According to this teaching of the Saviour, obedience to God is a debt. And who ever dreamed of rewarding a debtor for discharging his just debts? No one.
Again. Suppose a sinner were invested with power to obey the law perfectly, and were to do so even after committing his first sin — even that would avail him nothing as an atonement for the sin committed, simply because his present and future obedience could not have a retrospective effect so as to atone for the sin committed prior to the exercise of holy obedience. The fact is, that present obedience can no more atone for past sins than it can for sins committed in the future. The claims of the law are, at all times, obligatory, and we cannot render more obedience than will release us from present obligation. Present duties cannot annihilate the past. And is not this in exact accordance with the teachings of the Bible? "Therefore, by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight." "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse, of the law, being made a curse for us."
Again. The experience of every renewed sinner accords with these statements. In his most serious moments his heart assures him that his works are tainted with sin; that he has no claim upon God whatever; and that salvation is by grace, pure and unmerited.
I proceed to another idea, advanced by many, by which they suppose that they are not shut up to the faith or at all dependent upon Christ for exemption from the consequences of transgression. The persons to whom I allude attach great importance to repentance; so much so that, in their judgment, it secures to the sinner the pardon of his sins. Now, we feel certain that, without the interposition of Christ, repentance is an utter impossibility, inasmuch as the natural tendency of sin is to harden the heart and deaden all the moral feelings of the soul. And the longer man continues under the influence, the farther he wanders from God, the more insensible is he of his condition. And without the influence of divine grace to counteract the effects of sin, he will become daily and hourly more and more hardened in sin, and less disposed to turn from his evil course, to repent of his wickedness, and to seek the favor of God. And were God, from this hour, to determine to withhold all divine influence from the hearts of men by fastening guilt upon the conscience, there never would be, on God's footstool, another broken-hearted sinner. And be it remembered that man, by his rebellion, shut up every avenue through which the grace of God could, consistently
with the requirements of law and justice, be bestowed upon our fallen race. But Christ has, by his mediatorial office and work, opened up a new and living way through the rent veil of his flesh. We have now access, through him, to the Father, who is the giver of every good and perfect gift. "Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour; to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins."
But suppose men were morally capable of exercising unfeigned repentance, uninfluenced by the grace of the Redeemer, would that render them capable of pardon? Before maintaining a principle of this sort the individual should know if there are not reasons for making the punishment of sin necessary in the government of God; and then he should know the effect the dispensing of these reasons would have on the different intelligent beings governed by the Almighty. But the divine government is such a mysterious and complicated affair, and so far beyond the grasp of the human mind, that no man living can answer such a question. Besides, we well know that when a man violates the laws of his country, and subjects himself to the penalty thereof, and repents of his transgression, he is not released from the punishment incurred, nor is the chief magistrate of the State justifiable in pardoning the penitent convict. The punishment of the guilty is necessary as a terror to evil-doers, and to deter others from the commission of similar offenses. Even in this life penitence does not remove
the guilt of a vicious course. If a man, by vice, ruins his health, character or fortune, he does not find, upon repentance, that he is placed in the condition he occupied prior to his violating the laws of God and man. How, then, can any one prove that repentance removes the awful consequences which God has annexed to sin in the life to come? In the judgment of those who thus reason it is more important to maintain inviolate the claims of the human governments than the claims of the divine government. Here, again, we see that the sinner is "shut up to the faith," and that there is no way of escaping the penalty of transgression but by the cross of Christ. It is worthy of notice that, after a sinner is soundly converted to God, and repents of his sins, and believes in Christ, he still deserves, when compared with the law, the wrath of God as much as he ever did. His present righteousness does not, in the least degree, atone for his former wickedness. In a word, there is no hope whatever for the salvation of the most devoutly penitent man that lives but through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. No Christian lives to God until he is dead to the law. Says Paul, "I, through the law, am dead to the law, that I might live unto God."
Go, ye that rest upon the law
And toil, and seek salvation there;
Look to the flames that Moses saw,
And shrink, and tremble, and despair.
I'll retire beneath the cross;
Jesus, at thy dear feet I lie,
And the keen sword, that Justice draws,
Flaming and red, shall pass me by.
[From Ben M. Bogard, editor, Pillars of Orthodoxy, or Defenders of the Faith, 1900 - jrd
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