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The Ages (6)

J Grant

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THE LAW (Ex 20-Acts 2.1)

The Law was given after Israel had been under a period of grace, from the Passover until they arrived at Horeb. During that time they had consistently failed to trust the Lord as they should have, and when offered the Law they stated with confidence, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do" (Ex 19.8).

Why was the Law given?

To reveal sin (Rom 7.13)

Israel’s confidence revealed with stark clarity that they were not aware of the failure that had marked them since they left Egypt. As under grace they had failed, how is it that they could do now what they could not do previously?

The Law that they were now to receive would teach them what was sinful. Even Paul came to know this as he wrote, "I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet" (Rom 7.7). The Law, therefore, did not give life, but it did reveal sin and should have made Israel aware of their sin and caused them to turn to the promises of God given in grace.

To deal with man’s immaturity (Gal 3.24)

The Law "was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith". The "schoolmaster" should not be mistaken as fulfilling the task of a present day schoolmaster. It refers to a slave who was charged with the responsibility of care, safety, behaviour, and moral supervision of one who is still a minor, until that minor was mature enough to be responsible for himself. The Law schooled and taught in all aspects of life. This was "to bring us unto Christ", that is until Christ came. To be under law, therefore, is a sign of spiritual immaturity.

What was the effect of the Law (Rom 7.7-25)?

It activated sin

Sin used the Law as the base for its operations. How could this possibly be when the Law is holy and came from God? Sin, writes Paul, took occasion by the commandment. How could this be possible? What it teaches us is that when the Law was given, sin used it in the sense that there was born into our hearts a desire to do what God forbade. So cut off from God are we that the moment we learn what God forbids, that is exactly what we wish to do. Is this not exactly what took place in the Garden of Eden? God told man what he should not do, and there was born into his heart the desire to do that very thing. Thus the Law was used by sin as the base of its operations. Sin used the Law as the starting point. Note that not only did it use the Law as the starting point of an occasional sin, it wrought in Paul all manner of concupiscence (vv.8-10), that is all manner of coveting. Now we see that instead of suppressing sin and bringing it to a halt, the Law had exactly the opposite effect. Sin, rather than decreasing with the Law, increased. The Law roused it to greater activity. This is what Paul means when he says that without the Law sin was dead. He does not mean that it ceased to exist without the Law. He does not mean that it was not present. He does mean that without the Law sin was not roused to greater movement. Without the Law sin was not urged to become more active.

Before the Law came, before Paul understood its teaching, he was alive, he was powerful, he felt free. But when the Law came sin was activated. He now learned what sin was, he now learned how serious it is in the eyes of God, but he had no power to avoid it. Indeed he found that his heart simply had in it desires to do what the Law forbade, and he followed these desires. Thus the Law simply led to his sinning more, and thus he became as dead, he became petrified.

It led to death

What a disappointment was to be found in the Law. Those who embraced it expected it to lead to a state of happiness and felicity. Those who observed it believed that it would lead to a greater knowledge of God. In this they were deceived. The Law, rather than leading to greater happiness and a fuller knowledge of God, led instead to death, that is it led to sin which cuts us off from God. Instead of a fuller life, there is a life at a greater distance from God.

It showed sin to be exceedingly sinful

The point made here (vv.12-13) is that the Law is holy; there is no fault in it. Paul states three characteristics of the Law.

Now, if all this is true of the Law, how is it that it leads to my sinning more? If it is holy and righteous and good, why is it that the result of it is to make me sin to a greater extent that I did when I did not know the Law? How can such a thing possibly be?

This is what Paul means he asks the question: "Was then that which is good made death to me?". The answer is an emphatic "God forbid". That which was good, the Law, did not work death in me. It could not because it is holy and righteous and good. But then the question still remains: if that which was good, the Law, did not work death, how is it that the Law aroused passions of sin in me?

The answer is that sin worked death in me by using that which was good, the Law. We see here the exceeding sinfulness of sin, that it can take that which is holy and righteous and good, and make me sin more than I previously did. It has already been noted that the Law activated sin. So dark is sin that it will use what comes from God to further its progress. Sin exceeded, sin grew greater, sin grew deeper because of the Law, and thus sin revealed just how dark it really is. So it is not the Law that works death, it is sin which works death. The Law cannot be charged with this - sin is the guilty culprit.

It brought a curse (Gal 3.10)

"Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." The principle of Law is diametrically opposed to the principle of grace. Law gives the principles by which it is necessary to live and please God. It insists that these instructions be obeyed, and failure brings censure and judgment. "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them" (Deut 27.26) is a clear affirmation that to put oneself under Law brought a responsibility to keep that law with rigorous penalties for failure.

How did Israel behave?

The responsibility of Israel was to be evangelists to the world. The house of God in Jerusalem was not only to be for the nation of Israel, but also to be "an house of prayer for all people" (Is 56.7). This they singularly failed to do. They sought to keep the "truth" to themselves and displayed pride in what they perceived to be their privileged relationship to the Lord.

Sin destroyed their testimony and the Lord acted to chastise and to judge them for their sin. As a result the city of Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians and the seventy years of the Babylonish captivity commenced.

How did the era end?

The dispensation of the Law ended after the coming of the Messiah and Israel’s rejection of Him. The rending of veil of the Temple signified this. Again human failure cast its dark shadow over events - failure manifested in the brutality seen in Jerusalem as they crucified the Lord of Glory. With the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 the era of the Law came to a close.


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