The Law and the Gospel
For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. - John i:17.
There is evidently a connection between the Jewish dispensation and the Christian economy; such a connection as renders it necessary for those who would have a thorough knowledge of either, to become acquainted with the other. The Mosaic economy was typical - pointed to Christ - and the light of the Gospel dispels much of the obscurity pertaining to the observance of the law. The law and the Gospel may, therefore, be considered, in some respects, as illustrating each other.
The text naturally divides itself into two parts, and announces two propositions:
1. The law was given by Moses.
2. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
These propositions I wish to consider and illustrate.
I. The Law was Given by Moses.
The circumstances connected with the birth of Moses I need scarcely relate, for they are familiar to you. He was born shortly after the king
of Egypt issued his cruel edict requiring every male child among the Israelites to be put to death. He escaped destruction, was adopted by the king's daughter, and instructed in all the learning and wisdom of the Egyptians, then the most literary nation in existence. The general opinion is that he was heir apparent to the throne of Egypt, when he chose to suffer affliction with the people of God. He was selected by the Almighty as the instrumental deliverer of the Jews from their grievous bondage. He led them through the Red Sea, and conducted them to Mount Sinai, at which place he acted the part of legislator; or, rather, he was the medium through whom God made known his law to the Hebrews. The law was given by Moses. The legal dispensation was established by him. I shall, however, use the term law, in the text, as referring both to the moral and ceremonial law.
1. The moral law. - Physical laws govern matter. They are, in fact, the conditions to which the Creator has subjected matter. Moral law can be predicated only of mind. Its operation always implies the existence of rational powers. Hence the law under which all angelic spirits are placed is moral, for they are intelligent beings. But I wish to speak specially with regard to man. What are we to understand by the phrase moral law in its application to human beings? Comprehensively speaking, it is the requisition which demands of us love to God and our neighbor.
The decalogue is frequently termed the moral law; but Jesus, the great Teacher, informs us that on these two commandments - Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself - hang all the law and the prophets. These two injunctions, therefore, recognize the germ of all moral obligation. Man, by virtue of his relation to God, owes to him the supreme affection of the heart; and by virtue of the relation he sustains to his fellow-creatures, he is under obligation to love them. We are not to suppose that the moral law had no existence till it was published on Sinai. Adam was, doubtless, placed under it in the Garden of Eden - at least, that part of it which requires love to God - and his acting inconsistently with his; obligation, "brought death into the world and all our woes." It was the direct cause of his loss of the Divine favor, and of his expulsion from Paradise. This law did not relax its demands when man fell, but continued to urge on him the duty of loving God. It thundered out its penal curse against him - it denounced the vengeance of insulted Heaven. The law of which I speak was republished on Sinai, and its requisitions more prominently set forth. It had been in operation from Adam to Moses, for during that long period death reigned. But, on the mount, amid thunder, lightning, and tempest, its claims were impressively enforced. The moral law pervades the intelligent universe. No rational creature can flee from its jurisdition.
It lays its claims on Gabriel in heaven, and on Satan in hell. This law we have all violated. Where is the man who, at every moment of his life, has loved God with all his heart? He can not be found. If, then, all have transgressed the Divine law, they are exposed to its penalty. What can they do? Place themselves in a state of acceptance with God by their works. This would be possible only on the supposition that works of supererogation are possible, and they are not. There can never be a surplusage of present or future obedience to expiate past guilt, for the very good reason that no man can do more than his duty, and when he has done all his duty, he is an unprofitable servant. Shall the transgressors repent, and thereby secure pardon? The law knows nothing either of repentance or pardon. It makes no provision for pardon, and no influence emanates from it to lead a sinner to repentance. Its language is, "Obey and live; or, transgress and die." Here, then, is the world condemned by the law, and guilty before God. There is no hope arising from the moral law, for it curses the sinner. Alas! how widespread is the ruin of our race.
2. The ceremonial law. - This was a law of types and shadows. Under it specific arrangements were made for the regularity of sacrificial offerings. The institution of sacrifice may, doubtless, be traced to the period when God clothed our first parents with the skins of animals. It underwent, however, various modifications and improvements
when the law was given by Moses. The sacrifice of the Jewish dispensation could not atone for sin - "could not make the comers thereto perfect as pertaining to the conscience." The conscience could not be pacified by the most copious effusion of animal blood. Its sense of guilt still remained. "It is impossible," says the Epistle to the Hebrews, "that the blood.of bulls and goats should take away sins." But this blood could typify the blood of Calvary to be shed in the fullness of time. This is the argument in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The type spoke of the antitype - the shadow gave promise of the substance. As, under the ceremonial law, there was no real, actual atonement for sin, but only typical, ceremonial expiation of transgression, it is certain that legal sacrifices furnish no basis of hope to fallen man. The inflexibility of the moral law, and the weakness of the ceremonial law, alike leave the sinner in despair.
II. Grace and Truth Came by Jesus Christ.
He is the lawgiver of the Gospel dispensation. Think of the dignity of his character. He is the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person. He is the eternal Word, who, in the beginning, was with God, and who was God. He came down from heaven and brought grace and truth with him, for he dwelt among men as the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
1. Grace came by Jesus Christ.. - Let us consider this glorious fact. The Gospel economy is preeminently an economy of grace. It was grace that prompted Jehovah to devise the system of redemption. Infinite wisdom would never have been exercised in projecting the wondrous plan, if grace as infinite had not put it into operation. Grace presided at the inception of the scheme of salvation, and all the developments of the scheme are so many developments of grace. The term grace, as I bow employ it, implies these two things: exemption, on the part of God, from all obligation to bestow favors, and unworthiness, on the part of man, to receive them. What God does for a sinner is as unmerited by that sinner as his unworthiness is manifest. Grace caused the Father to send his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. Grace influenced the Savior to become incarnate, and to die on the cross. The gift of the Holy Spirit is ascribable to grace alone. Grace has elicited all the effort put forth by the Sacred Three to save man. But this grace came by Jesus Christ. It could not come without him. There were governmental obstacles in the way of its exercise, which could be removed by the mediatorial work of Christ alone. The law must be satisfied; otherwise it would have laid an eternal embargo on the actings of grace, and kept it quiescent in the Divine bosom forever. The claims of justice must be met, or there would have been a protest, of infinite energy,
against the egress of mercy from the Divine Throne. These obstacles were removed - these claims were met and satisfied by the mediation of Christ. Hence grace came by him. It found a way to express itself through him, and the expression fills all worlds with admiration. "Well does an apostle teach us that grace reigns through righteousness into eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. What an idea is this! Jesus Christ, by his mediatorial labors erected a throne, and Grace sits on that throne, swaying her golden scepter, and, as the result of her reign, conferring eternal life on all her subjects, and they will be a multitude which no man can number.
Thus grace does what the moral law could not do. How striking the contrast between them! The law condemns, grace justifies. The law kills, grace makes alive. The law consigns the sinner to hell, grace raises him to heaven.
2. Truth came by Jesus Christ. . - This the text affirms. There can be no doubt that the Redeemer lucidly revealed truth pertaining to God and eternal things. But I suppose the term in the text signifies substance, reality in opposition to the types and shadows of the ceremonial law. I have referred to sacrifices. In the death of Jesus you see the great sacrifice offered once for all. You see the consummation of all sacrificial offerings, and the abolition of the sacrificial system. You see the blood typically represented under the law ceremonial. The law had a shadow of good things to come - here is the substance.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The highest expectations, excited by the most striking types, are more than realized in him, the great antitype. His sacrifice possesses a virtue of which only a faint intimation was given by the offerings of the law. In all things Christ has the preeminence.
1. How manifest the superiority of the Gospel to the law.
2. It gives a more satisfactory revelation of the Divine will.
3. It makes known the way of salvation.
4. The rites and ordinances of the Gospel are not burdensome.
5. The Gospel economy is universal, embracing all nations.
6. How great are our obligations to Jesus Christ for grace and truth!
[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. - Jim Duvall]
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