The Purpose of the Law of Moses
June 28th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW OF MOSES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-28-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, the early morning message, entitled The Purpose of the Law of Moses. We have been following the life of this great lawgiver, and before we leave his work, to follow further the course of God’s grace in the direction and care and destiny of His people in the earth, I thought we would look at the work of the great man of God.
Paul himself said in the passage in Galatians from whence we have just read, "If there had been a law which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" [Galatians 3:21]. What Paul is saying there is, that it seemed to be the perfectly natural way for God to deal with man, that He give the law; God write the law, and the man to keep it. That seems the obvious relationship between the Creator and the creature, between the Sovereign and the subject. This seems to be the evident and the expected way.
It came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud . . .
And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
And Mount Sinai was altogether on smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
You would just think, "Isn’t that the most magnificent arrangement?"
And Moses went up into the mount, and a cloud covered the mount.
And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days: and the seventh day God called unto Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that magnificent? Reading out of the nineteenth and out of the twenty-fourth chapters of the Book of Exodus.
That seems to be the natural way, the obvious way, the expected way for God to deal with us. In His glory, in unbelievable, indescribable splendor, God comes down to earth, and in panoply of riches and tapestries of heaven, there God is on the top of the mount. And the people stand afar off in awe, and in reverence, and in wonder, and in fear. And from the top of that fiery mount that quaked under the presence of God, and out of that cloud of the mystery of the presence of the Almighty that thundered and lightninged [Exodus 19:16-18], God spake those ten words; and He handed down to the men how they were to keep His law, and what they were to do to live [Exodus 20:1-17]. Why, it seems so natural; that’s just the way you would expect God to deal with us.
And Israel, the chosen family of the Lord, who were to teach all the peoples of the world what God had to say and what God’s law was, the people entered into that covenant with all sincerity. For example, in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus and the eighth verse, "And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. Just let God say the word, and we will obey it. Let God hand down the law and we will keep it. All that the Lord has spoken we will do" [Exodus 19:8]. That’s repeated over here in the [twenty-fourth] chapter of the Book of Exodus and the third verse, "And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said we will do. And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord" [Exodus 24:3-4]. Now I do not think that they said that in insincerity or in mockery or in foolishness; I think those people were honest. Just like you would be when you first look at that relationship. Let God tell us what He asks of us, and we will do it. Just let God write out His commandments, and we will keep them. So those people, in all earnestness, I think, and all sincerity, they received from God’s hand God’s law; and they avow, as a community, as families, as tribes and clans, and as a nation, "All the words which the Lord hath said we will do" [Exodus 19:8].
Now that’s magnificent; you can’t help but be impressed by it. Here is a family, here is a clan, here is a tribe, here’s a people, here’s a man, and he says, "I will do what God asks of me. My life for it, my soul upon it, just let God speak, and I will do it." So the whole family and the whole tribe and the whole nation of the Lord received the words of the Ten Commandments, and all of the judgments of the Lord that are entailed with it [Exodus 20:1-17]. Well, it’s magnificent, it’s glorious. You can’t help but be impressed by it.
Now let’s see what these people did. All I have to do is just to turn the pages over here in Exodus. And while Moses is still up there, while he’s still up there, he hasn’t come down yet, these people have said, "All of those words we will keep, just let God speak them and we will do them"; while Moses is up there getting all of those ceremonies, and all of those legal judgments, and all of those precepts, while Moses is up there, even before he comes down from the mount, he’s gone up there forty days and forty nights [Exodus 24:18], guess what these people are doing? Guess what they’re doing? Just guess: they’re down here keeping the law, they said they would; they’re down here obeying God’s commandments, they said they would; they’re down here rejoicing at every precept that came from the mouth and voice of God, they said they would. Now, I repeat: I think they said that in all sincerity; they were not trifling with God, they meant it, "We will do it." And while Moses is up there forty days and forty nights, and those people are down here saying, "We’re going to keep all of the words of the Lord, and all of the commandments of God," just what were they doing?
Well sir, I can’t believe my eyes; and I wouldn’t believe it except that I know my own heart, and I know my own people. Down there at the foot of that mountain, those people who said, "We are going to keep God’s words, and we’re going to keep God’s law, and we’re going to obey His commandments, and we’re going to take God’s ultimate word as the great guiding star of our lives," why, bless your heart, they say to Aaron, "We don’t know what’s happened to this fellow Moses [Exodus 32:1]. He’s been up there forty days and forty nights, and for all we know a lion’s eaten him up, or he’s fallen off of a precipice. We don’t know what’s become of him. In fact, we just don’t expect to see him anymore. Now Aaron, you’re the grandest fellow, you’re a good scout. Everybody likes you, Aaron, and you like everybody. You’re a hail-fellow-well-met. Why, we never saw you turn down anything yet. Nor did we ever see you refuse to go anywhere yet. You’re a good scout, Aaron. Now Aaron, come, come, make us a god that we can worship."
And Aaron was a good scout. Whatever the crowd did he was for it. He was a hail-fellow-well-met. Aaron had a spine about like a piece of macaroni. Aaron said, "Why sure. You just give me all of your golden earrings, and all of your golden bracelets, and I’ll make you a golden god" [Exodus 32:1-2].
And when Moses came down from the mount to those people who had said, "We’re going to keep God’s word, all that the Lord has spoken we will do" [Exodus 19:8]; when Moses came down from that mount after forty days and forty nights, he heard a noise in the camp. And Joshua, who was a man of war, young fellow, a leader of soldiers, Joshua said, "Master, they’re in a battle." And Moses replied, "Joshua, I wish they were in a battle; but it doesn’t sound like the voice of those that cry for victory nor does it sound like the voice of those that cry for defeat. But it’s the cry of singing and dancing and reveling that I hear., And it came to pass, as he came nigh, he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hand, and brake them beneath the mount" [Exodus 32:17-19]. That is the story of human life; our life, your life, all the life of the race. "Yes sir, we will do it"; then we don’t. "Yes sir, we will obey"; but we don’t.
That’s what Paul meant in this text, "Verily, if there had been a law which could have given life, righteousness should have been by the law" [Galatians 3:21]. It’s that simple. If God could have given a commandment and the man have kept it, that would have been the way we serve God. But oh, oh, we do just the opposite. Why, there’s not a man here in this audience, nor in any audience that ever lived, that would stand up and have the temerity to say, "I have been obedient in all things. The imaginations of my heart have been perfect in God’s sight. I have never deviated from the commandment of the Lord in my life. I stand before you a perfect man, without spot or stain or blemish." Why, he’d be foolish that he even think about such a thing, much less stand up before rational creatures to avow it. I could take us one by one and all humanity with us, and one by one we’d stand up and say, "The good that I intended to do, I do not do. And what I want to be, I am not. And I falter and I stammer, and I fail. Oh, wretched man that I am" [Romans 7:19-24]. All of us are that way. All of us are that way.
This thing of the judgments of God and the commandments of God are a magnificent arrangement, but it works death for us, inevitable death. For you see, the law is not grace. Mercy, forgiveness, that’s something else. The law works on principles of justice. This is the law; if you break it, you pay the penalty. That’s the law. When they brought the woman taken in adultery to Jesus, put her down in the midst, sat her down before the Lord, they said, "The law of Moses prescribes death. What do You say, Lord? What do You say? The law says stone her to death, that’s the law" [John 8:3-5]. They found a man gathering sticks on Sunday, on the Sabbath day, on Saturday; and the law says, "Violate the Sabbath day and you must die." They found a man gathering sticks, in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Numbers, on the Sabbath day, and the law said he must be stoned to death. So they took the man out and stoned him to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath day [Numbers 15:32-36]. That is the law. The law says, "This is the commandment." And the law says, "If you break the commandment, inevitable punishment follows." That’s the law; that’s what law is. That thing is in the nature of God. God has welded together punishment for wrong; that’s God’s nature. Just like God has a whole lot of things that are characteristic of Him, that’s characteristic: sin [Romans 3:23], and death [Ezekiel 18:4]. Disobey this commandment, break this law, and punishment follows. You jump off of the Republic Bank building and there’ll be a punishment at the bottom: you’ll die, you’ll kill yourself. That’s the way this world is made. That’s law.
Grace is something else. Mercy is something else. Forgiveness is something else. The law and punishment are together in the nature of God. The government of God necessitates punishment for the transgression of the law. Human reason acquiesces in that. Our hearts and souls are made in the image of God [Genesis 1:26-27], and when I say these things our consciences admit it. When you say, "This is the law, break the law and this is the punishment," there’s something on the inside of us that says that’s correct. This is the law; break the law and punishment follows. That’s the story of all that we know of human life.
Well, when we come to this magnificent relationship described in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, God coming down in devouring fire on the top of the mount, and the people standing afar off in awe and reverence and in fear [Exodus 19:16-18]; and God giving down His commandments [Exodus 20:1-17], and the people saying, "We will keep them" [Exodus 19:8, 24:3-4], it’s a magnificent thing, and it looks as though that’s the natural relationship between the sovereign God and the creature subject. But if that’s it, we’re all lost. All of us are lost. There’s not one of us that has kept it. And there’s not one of us that is going to keep it. Evidently, if God is to spare us and to save us, God must do some other thing.
Now, that’s what the New Testament is about, and that’s what these writings in the books of the New Testament are about – page after page after page of them, a typical passage of which we have just read in the third chapter of the Book of Galatians [Galatians 3:21-24]. Now this is what the apostles say. They say that God’s dealings with the fathers was always on a basis of grace, and mercy, and not on a basis of legality, of law [Romans 5:13]. And they say that when we come to the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, there is something added that God had not done before [Romans 3:20, 4:15]. Now that is very apparent: all you have to do is to go back to the story of the fathers, the patriarchs; go back to the lives of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, and see there how God dealt with those men. How did God deal with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the fathers? God dealt with them on the basis of promise, on the basis of grace, on the basis of love and mercy [Romans 4:16; James 2:23]. There was not any law and its thousand attendant ceremonies and regulations, but those men talked to God face to face; and God talked to them. They built an altar to the Lord anywhere, and they called upon His name on a high hill or in a low valley; wherever they were, there did they have complete access to God. And God dealt with those patriarchs on the basis of His promises.
For example, when you turn to the Book of Romans, the fourth chapter of the Book of Romans is on God’s dealings with the patriarch Abraham. And Paul says, "What saith the Scripture? Abraham believed God, he trusted in God, and it was counted, his trust, his faith, was counted unto him for righteousness." Not by any commandment, not by any legal method, not by keeping any law; but Abraham trusted God, he believed in God, and his faith was counted unto him for righteousness [Romans 4:3]. Then you have Abraham’s life of faith described:
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations . . . And when he was old, a hundred years, and Sarah ninety years, he considered not the deadness of her womb, he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what God had promised, God was able to perform. Therefore it was imputed unto him for righteousness.
Paul says that was four hundred thirty years before the law [Galatians 3:17]. Abraham just trusted in God. He cast himself upon the mercies of the Lord. "Abraham believed God; and his faith was counted unto him for righteousness" [Genesis 15:6; Galatians 3:6].
All right, you can carry that all the way through back here in this Old Testament before you get to the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus. May I point out just one illustration? "And it came to pass in process of time, that the king of Egypt died: and the children of Israel sighed by reason of bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groanings, and God," what? God looked upon their legal obedience? God followed their precepts, the beautiful worthy lives they lived? No. God heard their groanings, and God remembered His covenant, the promises He had made with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob [Exodus 2:23-24]. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them. And He said to Moses, "I have heard the cry of My people. Go down and deliver My people" [Exodus 3:9-10]. Why? Because God remembered His promise to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob [Exodus 2:24]. There was nothing legal about it. I don’t know how those people down there were in Egypt; I guess they were worshiping golden calves down there in Egypt, I guess they were bowing down before the idolatrous images of the Egyptian. I do not know. God chose them not on the basis of their worth, or their goodness; God chose them on the basis of His covenant and of a promise. And He was dealing with the people in grace and in mercy [Exodus 3:14-17; Romans 4:16].
Now that’s the way that God dealt with His people up until the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus. Well, of course, Paul and the writers of the New Testament then raise the question, "Why then did God give the law? Why?" [Galatians 3:19]. Well, you have the specific answers in the New Testament. And just for a minute now, in the little time we have left, I’m going to summarize these great doctrinal chapters of the New Testament. If God was dealing in grace with the fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the patriarchs, and God blessed them because of their trust and their faith, and God dealt with them personally, and they had access to God anywhere they’d call upon His name, no ceremonies, no formalism, no legalities, just an open access to God in heaven, and God blessed them and heard their cries, now why law? And why was it added?
All right, what it was not: the law was not added because it had power to regenerate men, to save men. "For by the works of the law shall no flesh, no man be justified in His sight." [Romans 3:20]. The law was not given to save us. It was not added because it had the power of regeneration in it. That’s the first thing: the law was not able to save, and it was not given in order to save us.
All right, the second thing: nor was the law added to give us standing before God. How ever a man might say, "I have been good," you may be good in your sight, you may be good according to your measurements, but according to God’s measurements, "Your righteousnesses are as filthy rags" [Isaiah 64:6]. The law was not given that we might have standing before God. Nor was the law given to sanctify those who were already saved. As Paul cries, in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, "What I want to do, I do not do; and what I do not want to do, that do I. Oh, this body of death in which I live" [Romans 7:19-24]. The law was not given in order to sanctify those who were already saved. And lastly, nor was the law given as the ultimate and final approach to God. Nor was the law given as that ultimate worship of the Almighty; because when the law was given the people stood afar off in fear and in trembling [Exodus 19:16]. Mount Sinai was a terrible sight, so much so that even Moses said, "I do exceedingly quake and tremble" [Hebrews 12:21]. None of these things lies in the purpose of the law.
Well then, why the giving of the law? Why was it added? First: the law was added that we might know the holy character of God. I said while ago, God has certain characteristics; just like you’re somebody, God is somebody. And there are certain characteristics about you, you have certain things that make you you, there are certain things that make God God. And here is one of the fundamental things that makes God God: God is a holy and righteous Person. The holiness of God is revealed in the mandates of His law. That’s written over and over and over again in the Pentateuch. For example, in Leviticus 19:2, "Be ye holy, pure, undefiled, sinless, without blemish: for I the Lord your God am holy." Repeated again in the next chapter, in the twentieth chapter, "Be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God," Leviticus 20:7. Repeated again in the next chapter, in the twenty-first chapter, "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord which sanctify you am holy" [Leviticus 21:8]. This is a revelation of the character of God, that you might know it. God is righteous and upright and pure and undefiled, without blemish, without stain, without spot, altogether perfect. And the law is a reflection of the character of God. This is God: all of these moral commandments, all of these holy precepts; that is a revelation of the character of God.
All right, the second reason for the giving of the law. The first reason was it reveals the character of God. Second: it also reveals the character of man. The law was given that we might see ourselves. The law is a light that shines in the dark recesses of our hearts. Look at me, in my heart, how dark I am. The law is a plumb line, straight, by the side of which I can see the crookedness of the wall of my life. The law was added that we might see ourselves against the pure white commandments of God. The law is to reveal our own sins. That is again a recurring theme in the New Testament. For example, in Romans 3:20, "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." The law reveals the darkness and the crookedness of our lives. Again, over here in Romans 5:20, Paul says the same thing: "The law entered, that the offense might abound." And he says the same thing in the seventh chapter and the thirteenth verse, "That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful" [Romans 7:13]. And Paul expatiates on that. The law was given that a man might see how far he fell short of the expectations of God. Look at this life of mine. Look what God expects, and look at this life of mine. Look at the pure holy commandments of God, and look how far I fall short of it. "That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful" [Romans 7:13]. The law was given to show us the sin of our lives; how far short do we come.
Then, the great purpose of the law: the law was given that, being lost and undone and sinful, the law was given that we might be led to a Savior who could deliver us from the judgments of our sin. Paul says it like this: "Wherefore the law was our paidagogos," paidagogos, paido" is a child, gogos is to lead. The law was the paidagogos; that was the Greek word for the servant in the house that took the little child to school. "The law was the paidagogos to bring us to Christ," to lead us to Jesus [Galatians 3:24]. When we saw how wicked we were, and how dark our hearts, and how hopelessly lost and undone we were, why, the law then introduced us to Jesus, that we might be justified by trusting Him [Galatians 3:24].
"Lord, I’m not good enough, and I never could be. I’m not righteous enough, and I never could achieve it. So Lord, I cast myself upon Thy mercies." And God for Christ’s sake forgives us [Ephesians 4:32].
Now, in that atonement of the Lord, I have time this morning, just to add one word, then I must close. The law was a paidagogos to bring us to Jesus, to lead us to the Lord [Galatians 3:24]. For you see, and I repeat it again, the nature of God, this is a part of the character of God, that the breaking of the law carries with it a punishment, "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20],"The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], that’s a part of the character of God; that’s God. God welds those two together; they are iron chains, sin and death. And God deals with us on the basis of righteousness and judgment and justice. "The soul that sins shall die." And God deals with us in keeping with His character. But sometimes the Bible will present what Christ has done for us under this figure. Sometimes the Bible will speak of our shortcomings as a debt. For example, in the Lord’s Prayer it’s that way: "Forgive us our debts, forgive us our debts [Matthew 6:12]; what we owe to Thee. I owed Thee a perfect devotion, and I didn’t pay it. I owed Thee the love of my heart and soul and mind, and I didn’t pay it. I owed Thee the full righteous devotion of my soul, but I didn’t pay it." The Bible will present our shortcomings under the form of a debt to God. We’re indebted to Him, and we can’t pay, never pay. In the olden days, don’t you remember, they put them in jail when they couldn’t pay; the debtor was in prison. And we’re hopelessly involved, and we’re hopelessly in debt; and we could never pay, never pay. And Christ our Lord pays the debt for us [1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 10:5-14]. And God does not exact payment twice. If my debt is paid, I am free. And Christ has paid that debt. All of the shortcomings of my life, all of the sins of my life that comprise my obligation to God that I have not met, that I have not paid, He paid it for me [Romans 5:8]. And God does not exact payment twice. And now, what I do, I do not legalistically, not in order to be saved; but what I do now I do out of the love and gratitude of my heart [1 John 4:19]. What Jesus has done for me – oh, bless His wonderful name! And our service then is no longer on the basis of legality; our service is on the basis of an overwhelming gratitude.
Jesus has paid it all,
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow
[from "Jesus Paid It All," Elvina M. Hall]
He paid the debt; all of my shortcomings were made up in His beauty and holiness and perfect life of devotion to God. And the Lord accepts His payment of my debt, and forgives me for Jesus’ sake [Ephesians 4:32].
Well, it’s a great gospel; it’s a great message. That’s why it’s called a euangelion, the gospel, the good tidings [Romans 1:16]. O sinner, under debt to God, Christ has paid it for you. O lost and damned creature, Christ has given you life. Look, my brother, look and live! [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-17]. It’s a great announcement: what God hath done for us in Christ Jesus. And the work of the great lawgiver in giving to us the words of heaven was to lead us to Him who could deliver us and save us forever [Galatians 3:24].
Now we must close. It’s past our time. While we sing this first stanza – by the way, would you mind my changing that hymn? – let’s sing "Jesus Paid it All." Is it number 225? Number 225. Let’s sing that song instead. Number 225, "Jesus Paid it All." And while we sing the song, in this balcony, on this lower floor, someone this morning, to give his heart to Jesus, or to come into the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me? A family, a couple, or one somebody you, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW OF MOSES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Because of sin, Israel could not keep the law they first promised to
1. Moses on Sinai
2. Israel made and
worshiped a golden calf
God’s law is magnificent but it works death for us
1. Justice only
2. No forgiveness,
no mercy , no grace in the law
Altar in God’s presences for substitutionary death, penalty
Law NOT given to
1. Save us, Romans
2. Give us standing
3. Sanctify us
Purpose of the law
1. To know, reveal
the holy and righteous character of God
2. Reveal character
3. Lead us to
Jesus, Galatians 3:24