We have now reached the second paragraph in the second of the three main sections of the Epistle.
2. The Meaning of the Law in the Design of God, 3. 15-29-
(a)The Morality of the God of Promise and Covenant, vv. 15-18. “Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulled, or addeth thereto”. The apostle therefore appeals to the fact that God promised the inheritance to Abraham and his seed 430 years before the law was given, and that the law, given so long afterwards, was powerless to make ineffective the promise. The promise to Abraham was contained in a covenant, confirmed by the oath of God, to be fulfilled to his seed, which, as the Spirit of God in Paul says emphatically, “is Christ”. The promise was absolute, not conditional, and the law could not add a condition. Therefore the fulfilment of the promise depends completely upon the integrity of God; see Heb. 6. 13-20.
(b) The Ministry of the Law in the Purpose of God, w. 19-22.
The teaching of the apostle in the previous verses poses a question, “Wherefore then serveth the law?”. The answer is supplied in these terms: “It was added because of (for the sake of) transgressions”. The alternative rendering, which has been put in brackets in this quotation, is what Paul, by the Spirit, wrote. It was not the service of the law to keep trans-gression in check, for we are told in Romans 4. 15 that “where no law is, there is no transgression’. The service rendered by the law was to make sin take the form of transgression; the law came in by the way that the offence might be enhanced, Rom. 5. 20. Sin had always been since Adam, but when the law was given sin was enhanced in that it now became trans-gression. It was the design of God that it should serve that purpose. But the service rendered was for a limited time only, and for a certain reason. It was added “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made".
There was another thing: “it was ordained by angels”. We are told by the Psalmist that the glory of Sinai was angelic glory, Psa. 68. 17. God Himself was not revealed j as dwelling still in the thick darkness, He was unrevealed to, and therefore unknown by, man in any real sense. The service of law was to emphasize man’s moral distance from God, and to declare that it could do nothing to help. Again, it was ordained by angels “in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one”. The covenant of law had two parties, and its stability depended upon both these parties fulfilling the terms of the covenant. When, as we read in Exodus 24, the mediator sprinkled the blood of the covenant-victims upon the people, they were held responsible to keep the conditions of the covenant. This responsibility they had voluntarily taken upon themselves. When the blood was sprinkled upon the book of the Covenant, Heb. 9. 19, God was held responsible to punish every violation of the covenant on the part of the people. It is certain that for men, being what they are, there could be no hope in such a covenant. It became to them “a ministration of death, a ministration of condemnation”, 2 Cor. 3. 7-9. In radiant contrast is the promise made to Christ, Abraham’s Seed. In that covenant there is only One – “God” – and its fulfilment depends upon Him alone.
This raises another question, one that the opponents of the doctrines of grace would be quick to urge. “Is the law then against the promises of God?” Nay, says the apostle, the opposite is the truth. For if there had been given a law able to give life eternal to man dead in trespasses and in sins, then indeed righteousness would be on the principle of law. But there was no such law. Life was what man needed, life of such a character as to be eternally free from judicial sentence. The law had witnessed against man before God, and the sentence of death, eternal in its application, had been passed upon the guilty. But God has made a provision in the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, by which grace can cancel our guilt and account us righteous before Him. In doing so, He removes the sentence of eternal death and gives us the possession of eternal life. Thus we read in Romans 5. 18 of “justification of life”. The law never could do that for man. What it could do – and this was the service that it was intended of God to render for man – was to teach man how completely he was shut up to the grace of God in Christ for the blessing it could not itself give. “The scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe".
(c) The Manifestation of the Faith is the Limit of the useful Service of the Law, vv. 23-25. In verse 19 we have been told that the law rendered its God-appointed service “till the seed should come to whom the promise was made”. Now the explanation is amplified. “Before faith came”, that is, before it was revealed that faith was God’s principle of blessing, “we were kept (guarded) under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed”. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith”. The schoolmaster taught us our need of Christ, and shut us up to faith in Him for justification before God. Faith is both our attitude of heart to Christ and the whole body of the Christian faith revealed in Him. But “after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster”. As sons of God we are gloriously free.
(d) Man in Christ before God in the Dignity of Sonship3 vv. 27-29. Such, then, is the new place into which those who are of the faith of Christ are brought; such is the new dignity that the grace of God has placed upon them. Not by the works of the law have we attained to the place of sons, but “by faith in Christ Jesus”. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”. The apostle is not implying that some of them had not been baptized. We would search the New Testament in vain to find mention made of an unbaptized believer, unless it be urged that the repentant thief dying by the side of the Lord Jesus was one. Nor is Paul teaching that it was in their baptism in water that they had “put on Christ”. He is saying to them, “Your turning to the law is so terribly illogical and altogether inconsistent with what happened when you trusted Christ, and were given by grace a standing before God in the new creation dignity of sonship. In your public baptism was expressed, as in a figure, your passing out of the old creation in Adam into the new creation in the Risen Christ”. In that new creation every true believer shares the same dignity, without distinctions of any kind. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. It is certain that if each one of us is in Christ, He must be the same for each one of us. The logic of the reasoning is indisput-able. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”. So that “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear (be manifested), then shall we also appear (be manifested) with him in glory’, Col. 3. 4, to have our place with him in the kingdom – in the heavenly depart-ment of it – manifested before a wondering universe in all the glory of the sons of God. We are Christ’s; let us ever remember it, and let us live according to the dignity of it now, and serve in the joy of it, and move in the practical power of it. We are not our own; we are Christ’s.
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