The Purpose of the Law
March 1st, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-1-59 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the early morning service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, which message begins the month of March, which is the month of our annual revival. Our meeting begins the third Sunday of this month, which is March 15. It continues through the next Sunday, March 22, and then reaches its conclusion Easter Sunday, which is March 29. And the week of Easter brings to us our annual Palace Theater services, noonday, downtown. In preparation for that meeting, all of the people in our church ought to give ourselves in prayer, in preparation, in soul searching, in acquaintance with others, in visitation, all of these things without which no revival is possible. Let us make it, please God, the finest month of our lives: this month, the month of March, 1959.
God has given us a revelation of His holy character and His holy law for a very definite and holy purpose. And that purpose comprises the message of this morning hour. In our following through the life of Moses and following the words of his Pentateuch, we have come to the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus; and we can turn to this chapter and easily follow the message. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, we have in the third month after the Exodus from Egypt, God’s people gathered in the great amphitheater before that precipitous pile of rock called Mount Sinai. And God called for Moses to come to the top of the mount, that He might deliver into Moses’ hands the law. Now we read at verse 7: “And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said,” now look what they said, “and the people said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” [Exodus 19:7-8]. Now I can give you a little…that’s the first thing that happened. I can give you a little earnest, a little harbinger of what is to follow, by making this comment: when God heard those people say, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do [Exodus 19:8]; every commandment we will keep, every syllable that God hath said we will obey, all that He hath spoken we will do,” when the people said that, God could look ahead just a few days and see them dancing around that golden calf [Exodus 32:19], having broken every statute and every commandment that the Lord had given them [Exodus 19:7-8, 24:3].
Now that’s you, that’s me, that’s all of us. “We’re going to be good”; but we’re not. “We’re going to do better”; but we don’t. “We’re going to be just right”; but we’re not. “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” [Exodus 19:8], that’s the way the story begins. “Yes sir, we’re going to be angelic. We’re going to be holy. We’re going to do just exactly what God wants us to do.” That’s the reason that we have the New Year’s resolutions: in order for us to break them. “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” That just is a little first sentence here. Evidently God has some reason for this law business.
“And the Lord said unto Moses,” Exodus 19:9:
Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever and ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the Lord.
And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, [and let them] wash their clothes,
Be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai.
And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: for if you touch it you will be put to death.
Even a beast that touches it shall die.
And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes, to be ready on the third day.
And 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 the trumpet exceeding loud; all the people in the camp trembled . . .
And Mount Sinai was altogether on fire, because the Lord descended upon it: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
What a sight!
And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.
And the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount: and Moses went up.
Then chapter 20: “And God spake all these words, saying . . .” [Exodus 20:1] and chapter 20 is the moral law of God, what you call the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17]. Then chapter 21 through 24 is the civil law of God. Then chapters 25 through chapter 40 is the ceremonial law of God. And you have it here, written down, just as God gave it to Moses.
Now, isn’t that a wonderful sight? And isn’t this a wonderful thing? Could you imagine anything more impressive or more majestic than for God to come down out of the courts of heaven and descend upon the top of a high precipitous mountain, and there in thunder and in lightning speak to Moses, and give him God’s law? I submit to you, that is a most majestic thing, one of the most impressive things you’ll ever, you will ever read about in all of your life. Over here in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus, it describes that sight:
Moses went up into the mount—
the last part of the twenty-fourth chapter—
and a cloud covered it.
And the glory of the Lord abode upon Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days; and the seventh day God called to 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.
And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and ascended up into the mount: and there he was forty days and forty nights.
What a sight! “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under His feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness”; that’s Exodus 24:10. What a sight! What a sight! What an impressive sight! What a majestic sight! Why, language couldn’t describe it.
And when you think about that, our first response is this: “That is the only possible relationship between God and His people, this legal relationship. How else could there be established any other relationship?” There is the Creator, and here are the creatures. There is the Sovereign, and here are the subjects. God is up there on the mount, giving the law; and these people down here below are pledged to obey them. What other relationship could you imagine between God and man? Isn’t that the highest revelation? And isn’t that the perfect relationship? Isn’t it? There’s God, and here’s the man; and God lays down the laws, and the man is to keep them; this legal method, this legal procedure.
There are only some things about it though that greatly perplex a man when he thinks of the relationship between a man and his God on the basis of this law, these moral and civil commandments. And the first is this: how in the world is a man going to live before the inexorable, impersonal administration of holy justice and moral purity such as God lays down in His law? How is it that a man is going to live? There’s not any mercy in law: the law is the law. There’s not any grace in the law: grace is something else. Forgiveness is something else. Mercy is something else. The law is just the law; and the law says, “The soul that sins dies” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]; and when you break these commandments, punishment follows. That’s the law.
Could I illustrate it? Over there in the Book of Numbers, there was found a man breaking the law: he was picking up sticks on the Sabbath day in order to make a fire, in order to cook something to eat. And according to the commandment of God, when the man broke the law of the Sabbath, he was to be stoned to death, and he was [Numbers 15:32-36]. That’s the law. The law says, “When you break the commandments, you die!” [Deuteronomy 24:16]. And that poor fellow, whoever he was, doesn’t give his name, whoever he was he broke the Sabbath law of God by picking up sticks on Saturday, on the Sabbath; and he was stoned to death. That’s the law! That’s the law.
May I give you another instance? Those legalistic administrators of Judaism took a woman in adultery, and they brought her and set her there before the Lord and said, “We have found her in the very act, and the law says she is to be stoned to death” [John 8:3-5]. That’s the law. That’s the law.
May I read it to you out of the civil law? In Exodus 21:23 and following, “Thou shalt give life for life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe” [Exodus 21:23-25]; that’s the law. That’s the law. When a man breaks the law, the penalty follows, judgment comes, death comes, damnation comes; that’s the law [Deuteronomy 24:16]. Well, that’s the first perplexity that you face when you think of this relationship between God and man on this legal basis of the law: how in the world is a man going to be saved?
Now there’s another perplexity that arises when you think about this relationship between God and man legalistically, on the basis of the law: is that God, the whole character of God? Why, it scares you to death just to think about it, much less to look upon Him. It says here in the Bible that those people trembled [Exodus 19:16] when they stood in the presence of the Lord God upon Mount Sinai. “And all the people saw the thunderings,” this is the twentieth chapter of Exodus and the eighteenth verse, “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off” [Exodus 20:18]. I’m afraid of God. I’m afraid of Him. “When the people saw it, they removed, stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will listen: but do not let God speak unto us, lest we die, lest we die” [Exodus 20:19]. Is that the whole character of God? There on that flaming and burning mountain, in purity and in holiness and in justice, handing down His commandments, with the punishment attendant, “The soul that breaks it shall die” [Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20]; and the people before that awful voice, and that terrible trumpet, and those thunderings and lightnings, those people cringed in terror and fear, went to the other side of the amphitheater [Exodus 20:18]. You needn’t worry about them touching that mount. The hand that touched the mount, the hand that brushed the mount would die [Exodus 19:12-13]. Don’t worry about those people brushing that mount: they cringed in terror to the other side of the amphitheater, got away from it just as far as they could [Exodus 20:18]. What an awful sight! What an awesome sight!
You know whenever you see a man that says, “I’m going to stand on my own, by my own good and moral life, I’m going to face God some of these days,” why, he doesn’t know the very terror of the thought of it! For a man to stand before God in his unforgiven sins is to be thrice killed! The holiness of God, the justice of God, and the damnation of his sins, it means torment and fire forever and forever! [Revelation 20:11-14].
“Well pastor, what in the world is God doing here then? If that’s not the way that a man is to be before the Lord, obeying God’s laws [Romans 3:20], and that’s not the way God is to be toward us, handing down His commandments [Matthew 15:9], well, then what’s the purpose of all of this lawgiving? And God up there on that mount handing down all of these prerogatives, and all of these commandments, and all of these precepts, and all of these statutes, and all of these judgments [Deuteronomy 4:45], what is that for?” It’s a sure thing it’s not to save us: “For by the works of the law shall no man be saved” [Galatians 2:16]. If there’s a man here that could stand up and say, “Preacher, from the days of my birth until this present moment, I have been perfect in all of my life,” I’d just like to see an idiot who’ll say that; just wish he’d stand up, I’d like to examine his head, just to see what kind of a critter would be able to stand up to say such a thing. “I haven’t disobeyed any of God’s commandments; I have been perfect in my heart and in my life ever since I’ve been born.” It’s a sure thing we’re not to be saved by the law: for by the law is the condemnation and the wrath of Almighty God, the judgment of God [Romans 3:20, 23].
Well, if the law is not to make us righteous, if it’s not to sanctify us, and if it’s not to save us, and if its attendant ceremonies—you know, I said from the twenty-fifth chapter of Exodus clear to the fortieth chapter of Exodus you have the ceremonial law. And if the ceremonial law itself was to pass away, and God Himself destroyed it [Colossians 2:14], God Himself took that veil and began at the top of that heavy curtain and tore it asunder, from the top to the bottom [Matthew 27:51]. The reason God’s Book says He did it from the top to the bottom was to say that God did it; for a man would tear it from the bottom to the top. But God did it, and according to the eighth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, the Lord God says that this old covenant is waxing old and is ready to pass away [Hebrews 8:13].
Well then, what is the purpose of God handing down these commandments? What is the purpose of God giving us these moral precepts? [Exodus 20:1-17]. All right, there are three purposes. Now let’s turn to them in the Bible and read them for ourselves. Why is God giving us this law? [Galatians 3:19]. Why is He handing down these moral precepts and commandments? [Exodus 20-24]. Now let’s turn to Romans 5:20, Romans 5:20 and Romans 7:13. You can underscore these little words. The first purpose of the law was this: now I read it out of the Book, Romans 5:20, “The law entered, that the offense might abound.” Romans 7:13, “But sin, that it might appear sin, that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful”; that’s the first reason for the giving of the law: the law entered, that the offense might abound [Romans 5:20]. The next one, Romans 7:13, “That sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful!” What God means by that is this: the law was a perfect mirror let down from God out of heaven, and in that mirror a man can see himself as he really is. That law is a mirror; and a man can stand before it, and there he sees all of the blemish and imperfection and sin in his life; there it is before him. The law is a mirror.
The law is a plumbline let down from God out of heaven, and against it a man can see how crooked is his life. The law is a light shining from God into the deep and uttermost recesses in a man’s life, and it shows the darkness of his imaginations, and the corruption of his thoughts, and the depravity of his soul. God’s law brought down to men that sin might be exceeding sinful [Romans 7:13]; the law entered that the offense might abound [Romans 5:20].
This is what God expects: right straight up and down. And here’s the man’s life by the side of it; and a man’s life is just as crooked as it could be. The purpose of the law is first of all that it might reveal to us the depravity of our lives, that sin might become exceeding sinful [Romans 7:13]. What God means by that is, the law did not create the sin, nor does the law correct the sin; the law just reveals it, that’s all. It just shows us how far short we come of the perfection and holiness and purity of Almighty God. All right, that is the first purpose of the law: that sin might become exceeding sinful, that sin might be revealed to us [Revelation 7:13].
Second: turn to Romans 7, and I’m going to read it. Romans 7. The purpose of the giving of the law was to show us we can’t save ourselves: no man is good enough; no man is good enough to save himself. Now let’s see what Paul says. I am reading out of the seventh chapter of Romans. Let’s read the whole thing. Let’s start at the seventh verse:
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? No, God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.
This is what God expects, and I can’t measure up to it; 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 is holy, and just, and good.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? No, 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.
That I might see myself as I am.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do.
If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good.
Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me;
I want to be good,
but how to perform that which is good I do not know.
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law,
that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
That’s the purpose of the law. That’s the purpose of the law. “O wretched man that I am! What shall I do? What shall I do?” [Romans 7:24]. Even though I may make a resolve to be good, yet the next minute I’ve done it again.
However we may set ourselves to be perfect in our lives, there those ugly transgressions stain every page of the story of our lives. Every day there’s a fall. And the next day, another failure. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? [Romans 7:24]. How do I escape out of this tabernacle of sin and death? Who shall deliver me?” That’s the purpose of the law: that it might show us we can’t save ourselves; no man can in himself be good enough to stand without spot and blemish before God. And “The soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:20], and I have sinned, what shall I do? What shall I do?”
All right, there’s one other thing the law does, bless God, one other thing why God gave it, one other. Now turn with me to this marvelous passage, and we’re going to read the rest of the third chapter of Galatians; going to read the rest of the third chapter of Galatians. Now follow me as I read it, Galatians 3, we start at verse 21: “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been and would have been by the law” [Galatians 3:21]. If a man could have been saved by the law, he would have been saved by the law. That would have concluded God’s revelation on Mount Sinai, the giving of the law [Exodus 20-40]. If there had been a law that could have saved us, verily righteousness would have been by the law. “But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin,” all of us [Galatians 3:22]. We look at ourselves in that mirror, and there’s an imperfection. We measure ourselves by that plumbline from God, and there’s a crookedness. And we look in our own hearts for the light of God, and there is evil and darkness. For “The Scripture hath concluded all of us under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our paidagōgos to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified,” by committing our poor, unworthy, lost, undone, damned and doomed souls to Him, that God might save us by grace and by His everlasting mercy [Galatians 3:22-24].
What do you mean by a paidagōgos, “Wherefore the law was our paidagōgos to bring us to Jesus”? [Galatians 3:24]. Well, the Greek word for paidos, for “child,” is paidos; and the Greek word for “leading, to lead” is agōgos. Paidagōgos then is a, it’s leading a child; and it was a Greek word that was applied to the servant in the house that took the son, the master’s son, and took him to school; led him by the hand through the streets of the city and up to the school. Today you who have that ability and own a car, you put your children in a car and drive them over there, and they are deposited at the school. A paidagōgos was a servant in the house who took the child, led him by the hand through the city and took him to school. And Paul uses that familiar illustration that he saw all of his life, and he applies it to what the law does for us: the law was our paidagōgos, our schoolmaster you have it translated here. “The law was our paidagōgos to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” [Galatians 3:24]. And so the law takes us; there you are a sinner, and there we are sinners, and the law takes us to Jesus and deposits us at the feet of the blessed Master, and says, “Here they are, all of them damned, every one of them, every one of them; all of them under the judgment of the wrath of God, every one of them, all of them. All of them alike, all of them alike, all of them doomed, all of them broken the law, all of them under the penalty of death; there they are, all of them.” And the law brings us to Jesus.
Now what’s God going to do? Well, that’s the good news, and that’s why you call it the good news! That’s the glad tidings. Here is the whole, whole race of humanity lost, lost, lost, all of them. And the good news is that in Christ God hath revealed mercy, and forgiveness, and everlasting love. God hath said, “I will pay that penalty. The soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]; I will pay that penalty of death [Hebrews 10:5-14]. I will do it Myself, in their stead [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21], die for them, and for their sakes take all of their sins and iniquities, and bear them away [John 1:29], and wash them clean and white, their souls stainless and pure in the sacrifice of the blood of the Son of God” [Revelation 1:5]. And in His mercy and in His grace; you don’t escape without the penalty; it’s just that Somebody else pays it for you, that’s all [Hebrews 10:5-14].
Here you are heaped with debt, and you can’t pay. Somebody comes and pays the debt for you. You don’t escape without paying, you don’t escape without the penalty; “For the soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]; and he that breaks the commandment must die” [Deuteronomy 24:16]. You don’t escape without the penalty: somebody paid it for you. He did [1 Corinthians 15:3]. I couldn’t, nor could our mothers, nor could our fathers; they can’t pay because they’re in debt themselves. Somebody has to pay for them; but He could and did [1 John 2:2]. That was the purpose of the law: to bring us to Jesus [Galatians 3:24], who could pay our debt [Romans 8:3], who could keep that law for us [Matthew 5:17], and through the love and mercy and grace of God [Ephesians 2:8-9], having paid the debt in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21], forgives us for Jesus’ sake [Colossians 1:14], that He might bring us to Christ to be justified by faith [Romans 3:28], an imputed righteousness, an imputed righteousness. I am not righteous; it’s an imputed righteousness, it’s His righteousness [2 Corinthians 5:21]. And it’s for His sake, Jesus’ sake, that God receives us, and loves us, and accepts us, and forgives us [Ephesians 1:7]. And the Christian message is this: O bless His name, bless His name, that He thus should deliver us [1 Thessalonians 1:10], that He should save us [Acts 4:12], that He should die for us [Romans 5:8], that He should give us His righteousness and His life [1 Corinthians 1:30].
A Christian prays, it’s always to Jesus, bless His name. Bless His name. “Unto Him be glory and honor and dominion and power, for He hath washed us in His own blood, and made us kings and priests unto our God [Revelation 1:5-6]; and we shall reign forever and ever” [Revelation 5:10]. That’s the Christian faith. Thanks be to Jesus, blessed be the name of Jesus; we were so lost and condemned and undone, and He saved us [Titus 3:5]; and the law was to bring us to that salvation in Him [Galatians 3:24].
Ah, we must close. While we sing this song, somebody to give his heart to the Lord, accepting that proffered grace and mercy [Ephesians 2:4-9], somebody to come into the fellowship of His church, a family you, or one somebody you, while we sing the song, while we make appeal, anywhere, you, would you come? Into the aisle and down here to the front, in the balcony round, we sing this one stanza. On the first note of that first stanza, would you make it now? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come,” while we stand and while we sing.
THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW
I. Standing at Mt Sinai
1. Majesty and wonder of God’s presence
2. First and natural response is awe of God’s perfection
3. Perplexity of immediate problem: us.
II. Laws purpose
1. Romans 5:20; 7:13 perfect mirror
2. Reveals depravity in our hearts
3. Inability to please God due to sin
4. Bring us to Christ, Galatians 3:24