speaks much about law and righteousness, and yet it seems that
few really have clear thoughts about them. This is all the more
surprising, as they are matters of vital moment to us. In Israel
few appear to have grasped their significance, and beneath that
fact lies the cause of Israel's failure to appreciate the Lord
Jesus, either during His personal ministry to them or subsequent
to their having crucified Him, when the meaning of His
resurrection was declared by God through the apostle Paul.
We will attempt to distinguish
several aspects of law, and also seek to gain an insight into
righteousness, especially as to what lies beneath righteousness
and makes it a possibility in the case of humans. First we will
set out four major aspects of law and discuss them briefly, and
then turn to the questioning of righteousness to find its vital
spring. As an aid to examining law we will define our headings
thus: (1) Law in relation to Israel; (2) Law in relation to the
just; (3) Law in relation to the sinner; (4) Law as an enactment
Before proceeding, it is
desirable that we clarify our terms, so as to be able to think
accurately. The Scriptures employ a number of words, and these
again have several usages.
thure is the word for
law; it belongs to a family having the general idea of
AIM. The form thure will be
recognized in the better-known spelling torah. It is the
more general term, but is used specifically, as when it
indicates the law of the burnt offering, etc.
Dbr belongs to the
family SPEAK, and one of its usages is
covered by our term word. It is the expression employed
of the ten commandments. They are the ten speakings
of God, and form an initial summary of the whole of the law.
To these are related the
DELINEATINGS or statutes, chqe,
and the INSTRUCTINGS, tzue. These
latter are the more specific terms, though they are used in the
plural in a very wide sense.
We may perhaps better realize
the significance of these terms from a few sentences where two
of them occur together: Deut. 6:6 these words which I
instruct (A.V. command)
8:1 all the instructions
which I instruct (A.V. commandments which I command)
Num. 19:2 this is the
statute (A.V. ordinance) of the law.
Another term used a few times
is NOTE, phrd, which is covered by
our word precept. The Greek Scriptures use the term
precept much more frequently than do the Hebrew ones. The latter
have it only in the Psalms.
The term oduth,
FURTHER, is testimony, and one of its usages is a
general name for the ten words, especially in regard to their
being on the two tablets of stone. Testimony views the
law as being Jehovah's witness to Israel, and it sums up all
Yet a further word is
JUDGING, mshpht, which, in its
primary usage, seems to indicate the decisions which Jehovah
makes. It is also used of the sacrifices and the passover,
translated by the Authorized Version as manner and
ordinance (Lev. 5:10, 9:16, Num. 9:3,4, 15:16, 24). Its use
in connection with the sacrifice may be because the judgment of
God was shown in the sacrifice.
One verse in the Psalms (19:7)
gathers together all these terms, and a translation which
distinguishes them would be somewhat as follows:
The law of Jehovah is
flawless, restoring the soul.
The testimony of Jehovah is faithful, making wise the
The precepts of Jehovah are upright, rejoicing the heart.
The instructions of Jehovah are pure, lighting up the
The fear of Jehovah is clean, standing for the future.
The judgments of Jehovah are truth: . . . righteous
The major point for us to realize
is the close relation which exists in the use of these terms,
and how, in fulfilling a statute or instruction, the law is
being kept, observed, or done.
It is notable that the word
ritual, prevalently used in theology, is not found in the
Authorized Version. There is, in the Greek Scriptures, the word
thrÍskeia, and this should be rendered ritual. It
occurs four times, and a study will reveal that what we term
ritual is much akin to religion. The interesting point is that
Israel construed a religion from the law of Jehovah, and they
overlooked the essence that the law was a transcript of the
righteousness, the just relations, which God required to exist
amongst His people. If Israel had penetrated into matters, they
would have understood that the law was comprised within two
great precepts, love of God and love of associates (Deut. 6:5,
Lev. 19:18, Mat. 22:37 39). Love is the complement of law (Rom.
13:10), and such love would have ensured fidelity to the law. To
Israel, and to humanity as a whole, comes the condemnation that
they are incapable of the love which would display God's
LAW IN RELATION TO ISRAEL
The law does not provide life,
but it assumes life in its subjects, and that they desire life's
continuance in righteousness. For this reason law urges
attention to its details with a view to the lengthening of life.
Its office is to point the way of righteousness, to encourage
righteous living, and to condemn all unjust conduct. Any who are
obedient to the law's instructions stand uncondemned. This is
the position in which Israel was placed at the giving of the
The institution of the law
came with the prospect of Israel's entry into the land. To them
it was said: See, I have set before thee this day life and good,
and death and evil (Deut. 30: 15, A.V.). They were enjoined to
walk in God's ways and saying and statutes: therefore choose
life that both thou and thy seed may live (Deut. 10:19, A.V.).
They were instructed by Jehovah with the object of His
preserving them alive as at this day (Deut. 6:24). In their love
and obedience to Jehovah they were to find Him to be their life
and length of days (Deut. 30:20). Attention to God's
instructions would have proved to Israel that man does not live
by bread alone, but by the words proceeding from Jehovah's mouth
(Deut. 8:3). The words of the law were not an empty thing, but
were Israel's life, and through them their days would be
lengthened (Deut. 32:47).
Entry into the land was to
enable Israel to keep the law and to live the law. So long as
they adhered to the law's precepts, life's continuance was a
prospect for them (Deut. 4:26, 40, 5:16, 6:2, 11:9, 17:20,
25:15, 30:18, 32:47). Yet they were, through their entire life,
in fear of death and so lived in slavery (Heb. 2:15); death hung
over them because of their failure to maintain the righteousness
which law required.
Even in the prophets, when
deportation and captivity was a threat, the call was to seek
Jehovah and live (Amos 5:4,6, Ezek. 19:23,33:11). The departure
from law was a departure from life, but God's mercy still held
out that a return to law would be a return to life.
That the law was to give a
lengthening of days is quite evident: those who do law would
live as long as they do it. So long as law be fulfilled, so long
would life be lengthened. It is not in point that law does not
promise eonian life, for law does not promise - what is outside
its capacity. Law cannot vivify, but the evangel can, since it
is God's power. Nor is it in point that none succeeded in
keeping the law, for that is another part of the subject of law,
which will come before us later. The precepts were to life, but
all around was the spectacle of death, and this the law was
impotent to alter. Those under the law did not give the heed
necessary to fulfill the law, and so did not continue to live.
Israel undertook to abide by
Jehovah's instructions, and they have painfully proved that the
precepts to life were in reality a ministration of death, But
Israel's future will see the law written in their hearts, and
from this there will be a continuance of life to enjoy the
allotment given them by God. Then will they recognize and serve
Him with delight.
THE LAW IN RELATION TO THE JUST
The law is not laid down for
the just (1 Tim. 1:9), for, in its first analysis, the law
expressed the righteousness which humans would display were they
really righteous. If humans were righteous they would live
righteously without a law to prescribe the character of their
conduct. The law, in particular the ten words, summarizes and
corresponds to the actual righteousness which would ensue from
persons who were inherently righteous.
We may see the position of
righteous beings by noting what is said of the fruit of the
spirit, which is but the just requirement of law; against such
things there is no law (Gal. 5:23), In a word, no law is needed
by persons who are capable of living fully as there described.
Do we not also see this in the case of those of the nations,
who, having no law, may be doing by instinct what the law
demands? Righteous deeds are forthcoming without law, for they
are a law to themselves, that is, they require no law, for
instinct is the law to them, Thus just persons will live justly
without law; to such law is without utility, and would be
The thought we are seeking to
express can be confirmed by considering the ultimate to which
God, in Christ Jesus, is moving. At the consummation the son
gives up the kingdom to God. With this all sovereignty,
authority and power will be abrogated, and for the very plain
reason that all subjects will then be righteous. With them just
conduct will be innate, being the only possibility.
It is thus obvious that,
though the just characteristics of law would find coincidence
with just persons, yet it would be purposeless to ordain laws in
their case. Moreover, to appoint law carries the initial
implication that conduct may not be just, and the fuller import
suggests an unbalanced tendency needing the control of law. This
could not be so with those who are righteous.
THE LAW IN RELATION TO THE
For sinners, and in particular
for Israel, the law was educative: by its office sin was
recognized. In this way it became an escort to Christ, and the
several laws of sacrifice amplified the perception of the need
for Him. The prime intention behind law is to show that humans
are unable to fulfil its just demands. This explains why no one
succeeds in complying with law. Law requires us to be righteous
in order to fulfil its behests.
The placing of Israel under
law ought to have indicated to them their lack of inherent
righteousness, for, if law be necessary, it carries with it the
implication of wrongs which the law will regulate and control.
Keeping the law would have shown Israel's righteousness, but the
highest actual outcome was that of becoming unblameable in
regard to the statutes and judgments of the law. These provided
the way for God to pass over their failings in view of the
future rectification which God made in Christ.
The law certainly speaks of
righteousness; it is a righteousness shown by what is done. This
much is clear from a comparison of Leviticus 18:5 with Romans
10:5. It is there indicated that to do law is to live
righteously, and one who so lived would not be condemned by law.
But it is a most onerous position, for the least transgression
cannot be allowed, but must reveal the law's severity. The
question must not be considered from the human standpoint, for
we are dealing with a matter which is vital in relation to God.
A person is either righteous or he is not. There can be no
middle position before God. The escape by way of repentance and
sacrifice, though desired by God, really proves unrighteousness.
We are unable to discover human righteousness by the keeping of
Israel did not learn their own
lack. They did not realize they were without righteousness. They
pursued the law of righteousness, not understanding that the law
was escorting them to Christ for perfection; that it was not
perfecting them. They had no perception that the law put them
under a curse, and that they required to be reclaimed from law.
Nor did they appreciate that
the law in certain respects was accommodated to their heart
(Mat. 19:8), and was weighted by fleshly precepts (Heb. 7:16),
burdened with infirm and poor elements (Gal. 4:9), and in some
ways was characterized by unprofitableness and weakness (Heb.
The sincere saint in Israel
was the one who, under law's tuition, came to recognize sin and
saw the meaning of the sacrifice which pointed to Christ. From
such arose the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart and
spirit, and these Jehovah accepted.
The fearers of God, without
God's revelation, are those who follow the wisdom of the nature
bestowed on God's creation. They, in measure, understand their
need of God and obligation to Him, and render to Him the
reverence instinct suggests.
To the mass of humanity, who,
unlike Israel, were not placed under law, the position is that
the law convinces of sin. Sincere attempts to fulfil the law's
demands result in the cry of wretchedness. To such cases there
comes the light of God's grace in the evangel. In that they find
the solution of their problems before God, and come to learn of
God's own righteousness provided for them apart from law.
LAW AS AN ENACTMENT OF GOD
Law is God's method of
government; therefore law is the expression of authority. God is
the Authority behind law, and He is its Source. As the Authority
God is the Enforcer of law, for, since the law is the rule of
action prescribing obligations and duties such as displayed
righteousness and justice, it must be that God enforces law by
penalty. The law must be upheld in regard to the majesty and
righteousness of God, as well as because delinquencies from law
require that penalty be suffered by those who break it.
The requirements of law must
be maintained, otherwise the law not only falls into dishonor,
but, seeing that God is the Authority, and that the law
expresses His righteousness, the passing over would seem to
question these. God made such provisions in the law that His
mercy could be extended to His subjects. The sacrifices, whilst
serving to uphold the law, must find a counterpart in which
actual efficacy resides. This Christ provides, Who came under
law that He should be reclaiming those under law.
Christ's relation to law must
be the same as God's and so He must require the law's penalty
The incarnation made Christ the Man with dominion, and the
penalty required by law must be asserted by Him. When dying
under law He assumed the remitted penalty, and in this way
upholds the leniency extended through the law's sacrifices, thus
providing the vital value, in which they were deficient.
With God as the Authority
behind the law, it cannot be merely a code, but must be regarded
as a matter the reality of which we find in Him; it is His
righteous nature transferred to words indicating that He
requires righteousness and justice amongst His moral creation,
both toward each other and toward Himself. The law is therefore
a matter to be obeyed and fulfilled, for it corresponds to the
actuality which is righteous, being the ideal statement of the
just relation to which God's righteousness must hold those to
whom the law is given.
As an ideal, law cannot offer
rewards. It is proper to do right, to be just, apart from any
other consideration or issue. There is no question of expediency
in regard to that which is supremely excellent, and so the
sincere person regards law as the perfect matter to be attended
to because it is perfect. Rewards are outside the regard of such
Righteousness cannot radically
differ, whether in God or in man, and the same is true of love
and holiness. These three qualities must exist in the nature of
God, and from that nature arise all the actions of
righteousness, love and holiness. To God the demands of law, or
the instructions of precepts, would be an affront.
To require law to govern
conduct is to indicate the lack of righteousness as a
characteristic; the very giving of law suggests the absence of a
uniform disposition and the possibility of conduct which is not
in accord with justice. The question then becomes a matter as to
which will prevail, the good or the bad conduct. Law may be a
factor toward directing conduct, but it cannot effectively
control since it gives no power to execute the demands it makes,
for, as a matter of fact, man has not the ability to do what he
knows to be right.
Inherent sin prevents humanity
from living righteously, and law is unable to subject the flesh;
it cannot alter the disposition, for sin finds its strength in
law. Even in the case of the saint, law is unable to govern
conduct; law is definitely important, and the saint has died to
law. The place of law is filled by the law of the spirit of life
in Christ Jesus. The law could not give righteousness because it
could not vivify, but now the believer has the spirit which is
life because of righteousness.
Righteousness must then be the
power to live righteously. God has such power; He alone is able
always to act righteously. The evangel shows that He can justify
from sin, and also bestow upon the believer the ability for
righteousness. He gives us, in Christ Jesus, His own
righteousness. This is, even now, the spirit of life which
contacts with our spirit and makes it righteous, so that the
just requirement of law may be fulfilled in us. Consequently we
have power to do righteousness apart from the law's demands; in
fact, the spirit of life is the law to us, since it corresponds
to the just requirements of law.
In our first approach to the
evangel of God, we learn that we have righteousness by faith in
Christ Jesus. Deeper acquaintance teaches us of our death with
Christ and for this reason we are not to live in sin.
Still further insight shows us that we have the spirit of life
in Christ Jesus. Thus we proceed from faith in a righteousness
provided by God, to negative righteousness seeing that we died
with Christ, and so are not under sin, and then to the
positive righteousness coming to our spirit because we have the
same spirit of life which resides in Christ Jesus; that is, in
our spirit we are now constituted righteous, and ultimately we
shall receive the full value of our first faith righteousness.
This will inhere our whole being and bless us to the full with
God's own righteousness, which will be satisfying to Him and a
delight to ourselves. The spring of righteousness then is God,
in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
to Martin Lee (GoodNewsGospel.info)
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