Wherefore Then The Law?


Wherefore Then The Law?

September 16th, 1956 @ 10:50 AM

Galatians 3:19

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Galatians 3:19

9-16-56    10:50 a.m.


You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.  This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Wherefore Then the Law?  That is the question Paul asks in the third chapter of Galatians and the nineteenth verse.  In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to the middle part of this chapter, and I will preach until about 12:00 o’clock, however far we come.  And where I leave off at noon today, we will take up tonight, be in the message tonight.

“Wherefore then the law?”  He asks that question because he just made the statement that the way of salvation by promise had been given to Abraham four hundred thirty years before [Galatians 3:17].  Then just before that, he had made the statement that we are not justified by the law, but we are justified by faith [Galatians 3:11].  Then, just before that, he had made the statement that we are not under the law, but we are under grace [Galatians 3:7-9].  Then just before that, he made the statement that we receive the Spirit not by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ [Galatians 3:2].  Then, he asks the question, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” [Galatians 3:19].

Now we can answer that this morning.  We cannot give all the answers to it, but we will take the first one, then if we have time we will take the second one because the rest of the chapter is Paul’s answer to that question, “Why then the law?” [Galatians 3:19]. If a man is saved by grace and not by the works of the law [Ephesians 2:8]; if the way of salvation by grace [Galatians 3:16] was given four hundred thirty years before the law [Galatians 3:17]; if we are justified by faith and not by law [Galatians 3:11], then why the law?  Wherefore then the law? [Galatians 3:19].

Well, we are going back to the giving of that law.  It was one of the tremendously great, great, hours in all of the history and destiny of the human race.  It happened back there, about 1492 BC—that’s a good way to remember it: 1492 before Christ, that’s Moses giving the law, as 1492 after Christ is the Columbus sailing the ocean blue.  Now back there before the Lord Jesus about fifteen hundred years, it came to pass in a place called Mt. Sinai.  That’s a part in the vast Arabian Desert.  And in a little peninsula of that desert called the “Peninsula of Sinai,” there’s a plain about, oh, four miles long, about a mile wide, and the end of that level plain is stopped by a vast, jagged peak, and that’s Mt. Sinai.  When Moses was in exile from Egypt forty years, forty years, he was a sheep herder around the base of that mountain [Exodus 3:1].  And then after he led his people out of Egypt, for the next forty years until he died [Deuteronomy 34:5-7], he spent his life in the vicinity of that rugged and ominous looking mountain.

When Elijah ran from the face of Jezebel, there did he go; to Mt. Sinai, and the Lord spoke to him from that rugged peak [1 Kings 19:8-18].  When Paul was converted on the road to Damascus [Acts 9:1-18], he spent three years in Arabia [Galatians 1:17-18].  Almost all of the people think that he spent it there in that precinct of Mt. Sinai. The Saracens and the Crusaders fought over it for centuries. Finally, they built great monasteries and convents there—and in one of them, Tischendorf found Codex Aleph, which is one of the earliest of all of the Bibles, the New Testament in Greek.

Now, the Lord God said to Moses, in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, He said to Moses, “You go down there and you see those people, and you ask them if they are willing to make a covenant with Me [Exodus 19:5-7].  I will speak to them, and they will hear My voice, and I will give them My word, My law.  And then ask them if they will make a covenant with Me to keep My word and My law.”  So Moses went down to the people and asked them, “Will you keep God’s word and God’s law if God speaks it to you?  You’ll know it’s from God because God is talking—you’ll hear His voice [Exodus 19:9].  Will you say you’ll keep that law?” 

And they replied, saying, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and every commandment He gives, we will keep” [Exodus 19:7-8].  So Moses went back up to God, and Moses said to God, “The people say that all of the commandments that You speak they will carefully observe, and the statutes and judgments thereof they will faithfully observe” [Exodus 19:8].  So the Lord said to Moses, “Then you tell the people to wash their bodies, and to wash their clothes, and to come here to this mountain, and stand before it after three days [Exodus 19:10-11].  And they dare not touch it,” said God, “neither man nor beast for the man or the beast that touches it shall die [Exodus 19:10-13].  And I will come down on the top of the mountain, and I will speak to you from the mountain, and the signal for you to come,” said God, “will be the blowing of a trumpet not by human lips but by the archangel of heaven.  When the archangel blows the trumpet, that will be the sign for the people, on the third day to approach the mountain that burns with fire” [Exodus 19:13-15].

So it came to pass after the people had washed, after they’d bathed, after they’d washed their clothes, after they had sanctified themselves, that on the third day, Mt. Sinai trembled and shook and quaked like a drunken man, and lightning flashed, and thunder reverberated through the whole peninsula.  And great clouds of darkness enveloped the mountain, and out of that vast darkness, a trumpet began to sound, and the Bible says, as the whole mountain quaked exceedingly and burned as in a furnace, that trumpet sounded louder and louder and louder [Exodus 19:16-19].  There’s no trumpet sound like that except once again when the archangel blows that same trumpet to raise the dead at the end of the world! [1 Corinthians 15:52-58; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17].

Then the Lord came down on the top of the mountain, and He spake the words of the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. “And when the people,” the Bible here says, “and when the people saw the lightnings and heard those thunderings, they did exceedingly fear” [Exodus 20:18].  Even Moses said, “I do exceedingly quake and tremble” [Hebrews 12:21].  But they stood there, listening to the trumpet and viewing that awful sight.  But when God began to speak, they said unto Moses, “We cannot stand it.  We are afraid.  We are going to die.  Do not let us hear the voice of God!” [Exodus 20:18-19]

Isn’t that a strange thing?  As much as they were affrightened by that sound of the trumpet, they were far more terrified by the sound of the voice of God.  So they said to Moses, “Do not let God speak to us lest we die [Exodus 20:19].  But you go up into the mountain, and you commune with God, and you hear what God has to say, then you come back and tell us the commands and the statutes of the Lord.  But don’t let us listen to them lest we die.”  So the people removed afar off from that smoking mountain [Exodus 20:21], and Moses went up to commune with God, and the people waited there while Moses received from the hands of God the Ten Words [Exodus 20:1-17], and then the judgments and the statutes that are inherent in them; that were developed out of them, like you have the Constitution, and then you have all kinds of statutes and laws and judgments therefrom.  So Moses went up into that burning, fiery mountain, and God spake to him the Ten Words, the ten sections, the ten parts of the constitution, and then all of the rest of that; in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the statutes and judgments that were derived from the Ten Commandments of the Lord God.

Then, after God had spoken all of the words, and He had written on tables of stone the Ten Commandments [Exodus 31:18], and then, in what they call the Book of the Covenant, Moses wrote down all of the statutes and judgments of the Lord [Exodus 24:4].  The Ten Commandments were placed in the ark of the covenant [Exodus 40:20], and the statutes and judgments were written down in the Book of the Covenant [Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 31:9], and it was called the Covenant because it was a covenant between the people and God [Exodus 19:5].  God would say what the people would do, and they faithfully promised to keep all of the commandments and statutes and judgments of the Lord; a covenant [Exodus 19:8, 24:3].

So when all of it was done; the Ten Words on the two tables of stone and all the statutes in the Book of the Covenant, then they built an altar there, and on top of that altar, they offered sacrifices and offerings [Exodus 24:4-5], and Moses took the blood of the sacrifices, and he sprinkled the blood on the altar, and he sprinkled the blood on the Book of the Covenant, and he sprinkled the blood on the people, and that was a sign that they had ratified that covenant with their life, with their blood [Exodus 24:6-8].  It was ratified by God with the blood upon the altar; God will do His part.  It was ratified by the people when the blood was sprinkled on themselves [Exodus 24:8].  They were to obey and live.  God would keep His promise, and if a man kept the law he should live forever.  Now, that was the giving of the law.

Now may I go back to Paul’s question, “Wherefore the giving of the law?” [Galatians 3:19].  Didn’t God know that no man could keep those statutes and those judgments?  That law not only concerns a man’s overt life, his outward life, but it concerns a man’s inner heart and his inner spirit.  Didn’t God know that no man could keep the law and live by the law?  Why, while Moses—this is humanity, you listen to this—while Moses was on top of the mountain, receiving the statutes and the judgments of the Lord [Exodus 31:18], what were the people doing?

They were down there in that plain before that smoking, quaking mountain, and they had Aaron make them a golden calf, and they stripped themselves, and naked they were dancing in a heathen orgy around the gods of Egypt while Moses was receiving the statutes and the judgments on the top of the mountain [Exodus 32:1-10].  And they had just covenanted with God that they would keep and obey the commandments and judgments of the Lord [Exodus 19:7-8].  And before you look with askance and scorn upon those people, look at yourself!  Have you kept those commandments?  Have you obeyed those laws?  In the inside of you and the outside of you, are you perfect before God?

The Lord knew they wouldn’t keep those commandments and those statutes.  Then why the law? [Galatians 3:19].  There’s only one man that ever kept them, and that was Jesus Christ [Matthew 5:17], the Son of God [Matthew 6:16], of virgin born [Luke 1:34].  Why the law?  Four hundred thirty years before the giving of it, God had made the plan of salvation by promise, by grace, He had given it to the fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, and to the patriarchs [Galatians 3:16].  Why then the law? [Galatians 3:19].

Then he answers.  Then he answers.  “Wherefore then the law? It was added because of transgressions” [Galatians 3:19].  That’s the first reason.  “It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator” [Galatians 3:19].  Why the giving of the law?  The first reason, Paul says, because of transgressions.  By that, he means it was added to point up, to point out, to reveal, to discover transgression.  Like you’d put a white, white, white background against something black, black, black.  And the white, white, white background makes that something black, black, black look twice as black.  It was added to point out transgressions, to point out iniquity, to reveal a man’s heart to himself [Galatians 3:19].

Paul writes of that extensively in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans.  “Is the law sin?  God forbid me.  I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except for the law that said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’  But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence” [Romans 7:7-8].  When I began to look at myself compared to the law, my heart was black, and my life was soiled.  “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.  For without the law sin was dead” [Romans 7:8].  If you don’t have any pointing of it out, you don’t have any sin.


For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful!

[Romans 7:9-13]


The law was added to point out transgressions that sin might become exceeding sinful, that is, that you could see it! [Galatians 3:19].

Let me illustrate that: oh, you could do it endlessly in our own lives!  Here’s a man, and he just traipsing along, why, he’s so glad and happy and on and on and on, and he goes to the doctor, and the doctor takes an X-ray, and he looks at him, and he says, “My soul, brother!  Did you know you have a horrible cancer in your liver?” Or someplace.  He didn’t know it.  He didn’t realize it.  He was just traipsing along.  But the X-ray looked on the inside of his abdominal cavity, and there was a terrible cancer working.  That’s the law.  That’s the law.

I’ll take another illustration.  Here’s a man building a wall.  And he’s building a wall.  He’s got his bricks there, he’s building a wall.  And another man come along, and takes a plumb line, and he puts the plumb line by the wall, by the wall.  Now, you know this thing—did you ever see water run uphill?  All the water runs uphill in the mountains, all of it.  When you’ve got one of those plumes, one of those irrigation ditches, and the contour of the earth goes down like that, and the level of the irrigation ditch is like this, it’s going down too, but it doesn’t look like it, it looks like it’s going up.  The contour of the earth fools you – deceives you.

Now, this thing, a building, you’re going by eye, you’re just looking.  The contour of the land, it’s level out here, but if you had some hills, the level of the land might be different than what you think.  And you’re building your wall; lo and behold, you didn’t know it, but that fellow put a plumb line like [that], and you’re building your wall that way, that way; the plumb line says this way.  That’s the law; it puts a plumb line by your life.  Looks at you—it points out, it points out the transgressions in your life.

Well, look at you.  Do you love God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul?  Do you?  Do you love your neighbor as yourself? [Matthew 22:36-40].  Do you?  Is there any man here that has never in his heart, ever transgressed those inner secret commandments of the Lord God?  Oh!  When you start putting your life by the side of the pure, straight, holy commandments of God, how we transgress!  How we sin!  Compared to him and him, you may be a pretty good man.  Compared to them and them, you may be an excellent man.  But, compared to the law of God, you are a sinner!  That’s the purpose of the law.  It was added because of transgression [Galatians 3:19].  It was added to point out our sinfulness, that our sins might become exceeding sinful [Romans 7:13].

Well, now why does God want to do that?  For this one simple reason: to take us to Jesus, to take us to the Physician [Matthew 9:12; Galatians 3:24].  Now I can illustrate that endlessly in our own lives, and the principle is this: if you never recognize a need for the Savior, you’ll never seek Him, you’ll never have any feeling of need for Him.  First there must be a recognition that, “I need God; I’m a lost man.  I’m a lost sinner.  I’m undone.  I must have Somebody to save me!”  But if you never realize that, you can never be saved.  You’d never seek God, you’d never feel any need of Him.  You’re just all right without Him.

Well, look at this.  Suppose I’m walking down the street here, and a man comes up to me, and he says, “Look, look!  I’ve got a pardon for you from the governor!  I’ve got a pardon for you!”  “Well, you’ve got a pardon for me.  Well, why do you think I want a pardon from the governor?”  Silliness!  Not only not pertinent, almost impertinent; bring me a pardon from the governor!

But what if I had been convicted of a crime?  Let’s say I wasn’t guilty, even.  But they’ve convicted me of a crime, and they’ve sentenced me to the electric chair in Huntsville.  Can you imagine my poor mother, how’d she feel?  Maybe imagine my family, how they’d feel.  Can you imagine you, how you’d feel?  At 12:00 tonight, he dies down there in the electric chair.  Can you imagine how it’d be if the chairman of our deacons who stood here this morning said “Pastor, our people have prayed for you, and God’s answered our prayer!  Look, look, look!”  And there, unfolded, was a pardon formalized from the governor.  Would you think I’d feel different about it then?  It’s because I was sentenced to die that the pardon had regnancy and power and moving, that it meant anything at all!

If I wasn’t’ condemned to die, the pardon is an impertinency.  But if I am lost and undone, the pardon is life itself!  That’s the law.  That’s the law.  It kills us that it might make us alive in Christ.  It shows us we’re sick—we’re sick—we have cancerous sin in our souls that we might go to the great Physician.  I don’t think of a doctor when I’m well… oh, just as my friend, you know.  But I mean as a physician.  I don’t think of a doctor when I’m well.

But I tell you, I just got through speaking at Oklahoma City at a big banquet there, and when they started taking me back to my pastorate in Oklahoma, I grew terribly ill, terribly ill on the way back.  And we’d just come to that pastorate and I didn’t know anybody except a deacon or two, and when I got home, no furniture in the house, just come, just a bed there.  Well, we called one of those godly deacons, and he came to see me, and he called a physician, and the physician came and looked at me.  And they took a blood count—see how many white corpuscles, to see—what was the matter.  And he said, “This boy must be operated [on] immediately, or that appendix will rupture.”  Why, he was life for me, I would have died without him.  He was life for me because I was sick.  But if I hadn’t been sick, what deacon would have called that great, blessed, physician—whom we came to love; delivered our little girl—that physician whom we came so greatly to love.  What would it have meant had he come to see me and I’m perfectly well?  But because I was sick, he was like an angel from heaven, and the thing passed with no thought at all; that’s the law.

We’re sick.  It pointed out, showed up, that it might take us to the great Physician [Matthew 9:12; Galatians 3:24].  Let me say this one other thing ‘cause it’s in the same vein.  And if I separate it, it won’t go.  It’s got to be together.  Paul says, “Then is the law against the promises of God?  No.  God forbid:” mē genoito, “couldn’t be.”


. . . for if there had been a law which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 

But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

[Galatians 3:21-22]


Is the law against the promises?  No sir!  Is God at war against Himself?  He gave a promise four hundred thirty years before [Galatians 3:16], and then the law four hundred thirty years later [Galatians 3:17].  Is God against Himself?  Is He at war against Himself?  Is He at cross-purposes against Himself?  No sir!

What He promised [Galatians 3:16], is the same thing as the law does [Galatians 3:17].  For a promise is an admission of want, of lack, of inadequacy, of insufficiency.  I mean this: the first promise, when our parents fell [Genesis 3:1-6], was this, “But there is coming a time, it will be the Seed of the woman, and He will crush that serpent’s head” [Genesis 3:15].  Why, the thing that lies back of the promise is the want, is the need.  That is, men are under the power of the serpent.  And when the promise was made—that someday the Seed would crush the serpent’s head—what made the promise resonant and pertinent was this: that we were under the power of Satan, of the serpent.  “And someday,” said the promise, “he will be crushed.”  It was the need that made the promise resonant [Genesis 3:15].

“Is the law against the promises?  God forbid! [Galatians 3:21].  But the Scripture concluded us all under sin, that the promise by faith…might be given to them that believe,” that we might be saved [Galatians 3:22].  Take the promise of the rainbow: I saw last month a beautiful, beautiful rainbow, a beautiful rainbow—what does that mean?  Why, that’s God’s covenant that He won’t destroy the world again by water [Genesis 9:9-17].  For the meaning of the covenant, of the promise is this; that men are so wicked that it takes the intervention of a covenant promise of God, lest He destroy our world [Genesis 9:11].

The background of that beautiful rainbow, of that beautiful covenant is, the wickedness of men.  We are in need.  We are in want.  We fall short of the great expectation of God [Romans 3:23].  And it is the same way about Jesus Christ.  And God said to Abraham, “And in thy Seed, as of one, shall all of the people of the world be blessed” [Galatians 3:16].  That is: the promise is based upon the great supposition that without the Seed we are not blessed, we’re not blessed.  It’s all the same pattern.

What makes a man come to God is his lack, his need, his frailty, his humanity, his flesh, his sin [Galatians 3:22].  That it be exceedingly sinful [Romans 7:13], that he look and see himself as in grave and exceeding need, and when he sees himself in such great need, “Lord, Lord, look, look!  A dying man, a dying man; Lord, look!  My hands enfeebled, and my life quiescent.  Lord, a dying man.  Lord, Lord, a sinful man, there’s iniquity in my life.  I haven’t always lived up to all that God would expect.  Look Lord, a lost man, a lost man; Lord, remember me, remember me.”

That’s what it is to be saved. If there’s never any call, if there’s never any open heart, if there’s never any outreaching of the hand, if there’s never any looking up to God, then there’s never any reaching down from heaven.  There’s never any mercy.  There’s never any grace.  There’s never any forgiveness.  There’s never any “Go, go to the house, justified [Luke 18:13-14], saved, saved; thy sins are all forgiven thee” [Luke 5:20; Colossians1:14].  That’s what it is.  That’s what Paul’s preaching about.

Now we must close.  While we sing our hymn this morning, while we make this appeal, in the balcony around, on this lower floor, somebody you give your heart to the Lord.  “I want God in my heart and in my life, and I want God in this world.  I want Him as my Savior in the great world day that is to come.”

If, in your heart, you’ve turned to Christ in faith, would you come down here and stand by me?  “Best I know how, preacher, best I know how, I lay down what is mine, and I pick up what is Christ’s.  I take Him by promise, by faith.”  My need; His answer.  My insufficiency; His all-adequacy.  Would you?  Would you?  Or to put your life in the church as God shall say the word and lead the way, would you come? While we stand and while we sing.


Dr. W.
A. Criswell



I.          “Wherefore” based on the preceding
statements(Galatians 3:19)

A.  Covenant of grace
antedated the law by 430 years(Galatians 3:17)

B.  No man can be
justified by the law (Galatians 3:11, Habakkuk

C.  We are not under the
law, but under grace (Galatians 3:7-9)

D.  We receive the
Spirit through faith, not by works (Galatians

II.         The giving of the law(Exodus 19, 20)

A.  The place – Desert of

B.  The
time – approximately 12 BC

The story

God asks the people to enter a covenant (Exodus

2.  God
asked them to prepare three days; sets boundaries to the mountain(Exodus 19:10-13)

3.  People
gather the third day, tremble before the mountain; send Moses up(Exodus 19:16-20, Hebrews 12:21)

4.  Moses
went up, received Law from God’s hands (Deuteronomy

5.  The
people solemnly pledge to keep the Law (Exodus

III.        “Wherefore…the Law”

A.  God knew they would
break it(Exodus 32:1-7, 19-26)

B.  No man has ever kept
it, or can keep it, except Jesus Christ

C.  430
years before, God had made a way of salvation in the descendants of Abraham(Galatians 3:16-18)

D.  The

The law was added because of transgressions(Romans

To reveal our need for a Savior(Galatians 3:21-24,
Exodus 3:21)

a. There is no need for
Christ if I can be saved in myself

3.  The law given under
Moses against the promises given to Abraham?

a. The Seed of the
woman(Genesis 3:15)

b. Promise of a rainbow(Genesis 9:9-17)

c. Promise
to Abraham implies the nation not originally in a blessed state(Galatians 3:16)