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JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH
The Place and Purpose of the Law
How should man be just with (or before) God? (Job 9:2). Job's question
has been called the oldest question in the world, and certainly the answer to
it goes to the very root of all our relationships as sinners with a holy God.
In arriving at a Scriptural understanding of the great doctrine which the
question involves, we shall need clear apprehension of the functions and
realm of law, grace, righteousness and faith. In this study we propose an
examination of the place and purpose of the law in God's plan. Writing to
the Galatians Paul said:
'Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified
by the law; ye are fallen from grace' (Gal. 5:4).
Again and again this sentiment is expressed in Paul's Epistles, so that
a true understanding of the function of the law is of vital importance. The
giving of the law at Mount Sinai took place about 2,400 years after the
creation of Adam, but there are many evidences that law was known among men
during the long period between these two events. Moses himself speaks of
making known laws and statutes before Sinai (Exod. 18:16); Abraham obeyed
God's 'voice' and kept His 'charge', 'commandments', 'statutes' and 'laws'
(Gen. 26:5). In Genesis alone, thirty -four such laws have been noted in
operation. Moreover, Romans 2:14,15,26,27 bears witness to the fact that the
nations of the earth had something similar to the law of Sinai 'written in
their hearts'. Finally, the Saviour made it clear that all the law and the
prophets hung upon the primal law of love to God and to neighbour.
We are, therefore, right in asking the question, why was the law
specially given at Sinai? What purpose did it serve? Has obedience to this
law, either in person or by a substitute, any place in the justification
which pertains to the Gospel?
Exodus 19:1 -7 and 24:3 -8 make it clear that, at Sinai, Israel entered
into a covenant with God. They would be His peculiar treasure and become a
kingdom of priests if they kept this law, but the remainder of the Old
Testament is tragic witness to the utter failure of Israel to keep
its terms. The Old Covenant is likened to Hagar and gendereth to bondage,
and all under it are likened to those 'born after the flesh' (Gal. 4:21 -31).
The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the 'weakness and
unprofitableness' of this covenant; it shows that the 'law made nothing
perfect'; that its ordinances were 'carnal'; its priests 'infirm'; its
sacrifices utterly without avail either to touch the conscience or to put
away sins. It declares that God found fault with this first covenant, but
that in Christ He has established a New Covenant with a better Sacrifice, a
better Priesthood, a better hope and better promises:
'In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now
that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away' (Heb. 8:13;
cf. 10:1 -4).
'By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His
sight' (Rom. 3:20).