Why the Law
October 8th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
WHY THE LAW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-8-72 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us the glorious services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now the title of the sermon is Why the Law? And it is a text; that’s the text from the third chapter of the Book of Galatians. In our preaching through the Book of Galatians, we are toward the latter part of the chapter number 3, and I read the context; Galatians 3, beginning at 15:
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
Now to Abraham and to his Seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy Seed, which is Christ.
And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made … 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 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.
Now the text is verse 19, in the King James Version, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” [Galatians 3:19]. And if you look at the text, the word “serveth” is in italics; that is, it is not in the original language. It was added to make it clearer when it was translated into English; the question, ti oun ho nomos, ti, why, ti, why, oun, therefore, ho onomos, the law; why then the law?” The reason that he asked the question, that he brings up the question, is because of what he has said in the entire chapter preceding [Galatians 2:1-21].
For example, in verse 17, he says that the promise antedated the law by four hundred thirty years. God gave to Abraham and to his descendents a way of salvation that was four hundred thirty years before the law was given [Galatians 3:17]. That’s one thing he says. Now, in the eleventh verse he says, “No man is justified by the law in the sight of God, for the Scripture saith” [Galatians 3:11], and he quotes Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4]; not by the law, but by the mercy and forgiveness and goodness of God.
Then he said, up here in the sixth through the eighth verses of the same chapter, he said that all of us are saved by grace and not by the law, “Even as Abraham believed God, he trusted in God, and his trust was accounted for righteousness. Therefore they that are of faith, these are the children of Abraham, the children of the promise” [Galatians 3:6-7]. Then before that in the fifth verse he said that we receive the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, “not by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith” [Galatians 3:5]. Having said all of those things, naturally it brought up the question, the rhetorical one, that is asked in the nineteenth verse, which is our text: Ti, “why,” oun, “therefore,” since all of these things are true—we are not saved by the law, we are not justified by the law, the Spirit of God is not given us by observing laws, and commandments, and statutes, and judgments, and rites, and rituals—since all of these things were true, and four hundred thirty years before the law was given, God saved Abraham and his descendents by faith, by trust [Galatians 15:6; Galatians 3:6-9], then “why the law?” [Galatians 3:19].
Why was the law given? You might suppose that the law was incidental, that God gave the law as an afterthought, that it is not dynamic and central and primary. You might suppose that it is peripheral, almost incidental. No, that is not true! For in the Bible there is not anything that is presented that has in it the awesome, dramatic, meaning as the giving of the law.
Nor is there anything that Israel ever did that was so meaningful in covenant sanctification as the ratifying of the law. The story is told in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus and the following chapters [Exodus 19:1-24:11]. There is introduced to us in the Book of Exodus, Moses. And Moses for forty years was in Egypt [Acts 7:23], the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, the heir apparent to the throne; and he was trained in all the arts and wisdom of science and of knowledge in the Egyptian culture [Acts 7:22].
Forty years was he there in Egypt [Acts 7:23]; forty years was he on the back side of the desert [Acts 7:30], there in the school of God, at Mt. Sinai. And after the Exodus, Moses brought the people of God across the Red Sea, into the Sinaitic Peninsula [Exodus 14:15-31], and there in a great plain about two miles long, and about a fourth of a mile wide, the plain leading up to that jagged, rugged mountain peak called Sinai, which is about six thousand five hundred feet high; and he brought the people there, and in that holy place and on that holy ground, where the bush burned unconsumed [Exodus 3:2], there God said to Moses that, “I will come down and speak face to face with the people.” So the Lord said to the children of Israel, “If ye will obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me.” And Moses came down and called the elders of the people, and laid before them all the words that the Lord had commanded him. And all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. Every statute and every judgment and every law, we will faithfully keep.” So Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Now prepare the people for My coming down, and My speaking, and My Book of the Covenant that I will place in their hands.” So the Lord said to Moses, “Go and sanctify the people three days; they are to cleanse themselves, they are to wash their clothes, they are to hallow their thoughts, and they are to 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 now Moses,” the Lord said, “set boundaries to the mountain; for so holy and so awesome is this place, that if even a beast passes by, and adventitiously touches it, the beast is to be shot through, and to be put to death. If man or beast touch the mount, he shall surely die [Exodus 19:5-13].
So Moses gathered the people on the third day, and they stood in the presence of Almighty God, ready to receive His laws, His commandments, His statutes and judgments. “And on that third day, beginning in the morning, there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud, and then the sounding of a trumpet” [Exodus 19:16], not with human lips but like the sound of the trumpet at the judgment day, when God will raise the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]; and Mt. Sinai smoked like in a furnace, and the great mountain shook as the staggering of an addled man [Exodus 19:18].
“And the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder” [Exodus 19:19], and the people were terrified. And in the midst of that awful thunder, and lightning, and sounding of the trumpet, God spoke, and the voice of the Lord was heard. And the people were so terrified, they were paralyzed by fear! They said to Moses the man of God, “You go up, and you talk to the Lord; but let not the Lord talk to us, lest we die” [Exodus 20:19]. So Moses went up on the top of the mount, and there received from God’s hands the statutes and the judgments, the Book of the covenant, the book of the law [Exodus 20:1-23:33].
Then when the book of the law, when the book of the covenant, was given to Moses, the people said, “All the words which the Lord hath said we will do” [Exodus 24:3]. So Moses wrote them down:
And early in the morning he builded an altar under the hill, at the base of Mount Sinai, and built it out of twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of Israel. And he gathered together the people, and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings unto the Lord
And he took the blood of the sacrifices and poured it into basins, and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar [Exodus 24:6]; and the other half of the blood he sprinkled the Book of the Covenant [Hebrews 9:19], and all of the people [Exodus 24:8]. And they said, All that the Lord hath said we will do. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words
You could not find in literature, in human experience, in drama, in fiction, or in history, you could not find anything as impressive, as dramatic, as the giving of the law! Evidently, it was something that God purposed, and the Lord God intended. It was not incidental. It was not an afterthought. But it was central and dynamic in the purposes of God.
Now why did God give it? Was the Lord surprised that Israel and the whole human family breaks His law? Is that a new thing for God to learn about us, the children of old man Adam? Before the tables of stone could be taken down by Moses from the top of the mount and handed to the children of Israel, they were breaking that law [Exodus 32:1-6]. For it was God Himself who said to Moses on the top of the mount, “Haste thee, get thee down. The people have fallen into grievous sin” [Exodus 32:7].
And when Moses took the two tables of the Ten Commandments, written by the finger of God, incised in stone [Exodus 31:18], when Moses came down from the mount, carrying those two tables, he heard the sound of laughter and merriment in the camp. And when he drew nigh and could see, there he looked upon a golden calf made by his brother Aaron. A worship that they had learned in Egypt, a sacred bull or a sacred cow, their god—Aaron his own brother had made a golden calf—and in keeping with the unspeakable carnal worship that they had learned in Egypt, the people had disrobed themselves, they were naked, and in an orgy they were around and around the calf, worshiping a sacred bull [Exodus 32:1-6, 25]. And when Moses looked upon it, in volatile wrath and in anger, he took the tables of stone and broke them in pieces on a rock at the base of the mount; came to the camp, lifted up his voice and cried, “Who is on the Lord’s side, let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:19-26].
That was no surprise to God, that His commandments, that His law would be broken from the beginning. Why then the law? [Galatians 3:19]. No man has ever kept it. No man can keep it. No man will ever keep it except the God Man Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Seed of Abraham as of one [Galatians 3:16]. There was no thought in God’s mind that the people would be able to keep the law. No one has done it but Christ [Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 4:15].
And because of that, four hundred thirty years before the law was given, God had made a way of salvation in mercy, in forgiveness, in love, and kindness, in promise. God had done that four hundred thirty years before in Abraham, and in the descendents of the patriarchal father [Galatians 3:16-18].
Well if all of that is true, Paul asks, Ti, “why,” oun, “therefore,” ho nomos, “the law? Why the law?” And he answers two reasons: first, it was added because of transgressions [Galatians 3:19]. That is, it was added that we might see how fallen we are, that sin might become exceeding sinful [Romans 7:13]; for no man can see his need of God until first he realizes his own depraved and lost condition. The world looks upon sin as a peccadillo. It is an incidental thing. It is just something that all of us somehow fall into. It is a little thing. It is a nothing thing. It is inconsequential. It is not substantial. It is nothing. That’s the judgment of the world upon sin.
But not in God’s sight! In God’s sight, sin is a heinous aberration. It separates between us and God [Isaiah 59:2]. It brings death to our bodies. We die because we are sinners [Romans 5:12]. And it brings the second death, spiritual death, moral death, to our souls [Revelation 21:11-15]. And the law was given that we might see how exceedingly sinful we are, “that sin might be exceedingly sinful” [Romans 7:13], as Paul says.
The law is a plumb line, a straight up and down plumb line that we might see how uneven is the wall of our lives. The law is an X-ray. It is a brilliant light, to reveal the dark places hidden in our hearts. The law reveals to us how fallen and how depraved we are. Why the law? It was added because of transgressions [Galatians 3:19]. That is, that we might see how sinful we are [Romans 7:13].
And second: it was given in order that being found sinners, that all of us might be saved through faith in Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham, the promise made to the patriarchal father [Galatians 3:22-24]. Without that sense of needing to be saved, we have no sense of need for a Savior. Christ is an impertinency. He is peripheral. He is incidental. He is not central. He is not all meaningful. “Verily, if there could have been a law which could have saved us, our salvation would have been by the law” [Galatians 3:21].
But because all of us fall short of the expectation of God, because all of us break the law, because all of us are sinful, being shown to be sinful by the perfect law, the light of God, we are therein brought in our need, in our lostness, we are brought to Christ that we might be saved through mercy, and grace, and atoning love in Him [Galatians 3:22]. The man who is sick but has no sense of his illness would never seek out a physician. A man who is not in debt would never seek help to pay his debts. The man who is not incarcerated would never seek a pardon. It is the man who is incarcerated, who’s in the penitentiary who would seek a pardon.
I wrote a letter to the president of the United States, week before last, asking for the pardon of a man whom I know. Had that man not been incarcerated, there had been no need for the letter. It was because he was in the penitentiary that there was an appeal made for his pardon. When a man is well, he doesn’t seek a physician. It’s because he’s ill that he seeks the help of the doctor. If a man is not in debt, there’s no need to help him financially. But if a man is overwhelmed by indebtedness, he desperately needs help. Thus it is with God.
We are debtors before God, and can’t pay. We are dying and can’t find health and life. We are without hope in the world! We face nothing but death, and after that the judgment of God [Hebrews 9:27]. And the purpose of the law is to reveal to us our lostness, our sinfulness, our indebtedness, our fallen shortness, how much we lack! And then, in that same law we are led to find mercy and forgiveness in Jesus our Lord [Galatians 3:22-24]. And without that sense of need, of lostness, we can never be saved.
There’s no need for Christ if I can be saved by myself, in myself. As Paul wrote, “Verily, if there could have been given a law that could save us, salvation would have been by the law” [Galatians 3:21]. There’s no need for Christ if a man can save himself. But my impression, my experience, has been, when I talk to a man about the Lord and he begins to tell me how fine he is, there’s nothing that I can say. There’s no gospel to preach to him.
When he says, “I’m just, I’m upright, I’m self-righteous, I walk in decorum and in acceptability and in integrity in my community and in the business world where I am. I am thus and thus and thus,” all I can do is say, “That’s right, a man of virtue, a man of integrity, a man of righteousness, a man of moral purity, a man of stature and acceptability, that’s right, that’s right.” There’s nothing to be said, nothing, nothing!
But when the man seeing God, and hearing the voice of God, reading the law of God, finds himself a sinner, lost, when he beats upon his breast, “Lord, I’m a lost man,” then there is a gospel message for him. For in his need, in his dying, in his lack, in his sin, in his shortcoming, in the confession of the weaknesses of his life, he comes to God and says, “Lord, have mercy upon me a sinner” [Luke 18:13], and that is the gospel: that God was in Christ, mediating to us in His atoning grace, in His forgiving mercy [Galatians 3:22], all that God Himself could pour out upon us in love and forgiveness and salvation. But without that sense of need there is no gospel to be preached.
When I was a young fellow, one time I heard the president of our Southwestern Seminary, Dr. Lee R. Scarborough, I heard him preach in a revival meeting. And he said––he was an evangelist, as well as the president of that institution––he said in that sermon that I say I so well remember, he said there came down the aisle in the service a little junior boy. And the preacher described how he sat down by the little fellow and began to talk to him about his sin and about the Savior.
Well, when Dr. Scarborough sat down with the little junior boy who came forward, the Sunday school teacher of the lad came down and sat on the other side. So when Dr. Scarborough began to talk to the little lad about being a sinner and about the Savior, why, the Sunday school teacher broke in and said, “Dr. Scarborough, excuse me, you’re a stranger here, I know, and you’re not acquainted with our people, but this little boy is the best boy in my Sunday school class. And he’s one of the finest boys in this community. You just don’t understand.”
The preacher said he ignored the Sunday school teacher and began to talk to the boy about sin and about the need of the Savior. And the teacher broke in again and said, “But Dr. Scarborough, I say, you don’t realize this is a fine boy. The best boy in my class and one of the finest I’ve ever known.” Dr. Scarborough said that he got up and said to the little boy, “You move over here.” And he sat down between the Sunday school teacher and the little boy. And then turning to the boy, he said, “Son, do you realize that you are a sinner? Do you realize that you are lost? Do you realize you need a Savior?” And Dr. Scarborough said, “In just a few minutes, in just a few minutes, I led that boy into the kingdom of Christ, finding in Jesus the Savior for his soul, the One who can forgive his sins” [Matthew 9:6].
Oh! That truth burned itself in my heart that day. There is no need for Christ if we can save ourselves. There is no need for Jesus if we can be righteous enough to walk with the redeemed into glory. It is because we are lost; it is because we are sinners that we must cast ourselves upon the grace and mercy of Christ [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5]. And without that lostness there is no Savior, nor is there any gospel to offer us. That’s why, dear people, that when a little child, a little one, comes down here to the front—let’s say the child is four, five, or six years old, just a little child—the little child will say to the father and mother, “I want to go tell the pastor that I love Jesus, I love the Lord, I love Jesus.” What I say to the father and mother always is, “Never interdict the child.” If the child says, “Daddy, I want to go tell the pastor that I love Jesus,” bring the little fellow down, and we’ll pray. But on the card we record that decision, “a step toward God,” a step toward God.
“Well pastor, why don‘t you have it recorded a conversion?” The reason why is this: the child does not have a sense of sin. The child does not have a sense of being lost, and without that sense of being lost, of being a sinner, Jesus cannot be a Savior. The child can love the Lord, he can love Jesus, but there has to come into his life that age, that day, that moment of accountability, when the child sees, senses, feels, that “I’ve done wrong, I am lost!” Then it is that Christ can come, and in mercy and grace open the doors of salvation [Mark 10:15]. And by faith and promise we enter in [Ephesians 2:8]. That will be the sermon next Sunday morning. But he says, “Therefore the law was a
paidagōgos, a tutor, to lead us to Jesus” [Galatians 3:24]. The law was given to show us how far short we are, how desperately we need our blessed Lord! [Galatians 3:19]. Then it is a tutor, a paidagōgos, to lead us to the mercy and grace that we know in Christ Jesus [Galatians 3:24]. And that is the gospel: that He atoned for our sins [Romans 5:11]; that He paid the penalty that the judgment that should have fallen upon us fell upon Him [2 Corinthians 5:21]. In His grace, in His stripes, in His suffering, we are healed [Isaiah 53:5-6]. And that’s the gospel we share with you this holy hour.
In this balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; to give your heart in faith to Christ today, would you come? On the first note of that first stanza, is there a family you to come today? Somebody you to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church? As the spirit of appeal and invitation is pressed to your heart by the Holy Spirit, will you answer with your life? Make the decision now, in your heart, and on the first note of the first stanza, when we stand up to sing, stand up, coming down that stairwell or walking down this aisle. May the Spirit of God attend in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. “Wherefore” based on the preceding
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
time – after the Exodus, Moses brought the people across Red Sea
God asks the people to enter a covenant (Exodus
asked them to prepare three days; sets boundaries to the mountain(Exodus 19:10-13)
gather the third day, tremble before the mountain; send Moses up(Exodus 19:16-20)
went up, received Law from God’s hands (Deuteronomy
people solemnly pledge to keep the Law (Exodus
III. “Whereforeâ€¦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
years before, God had made a way of salvation in the descendants of Abraham(Galatians 3:16-18)
The law was added because of transgressions(Romans
To reveal our need for a Savior(Galatians
3:22-24, Exodus 3:21)
a. There is no need for
Christ if I can be saved in myself
b. Dr. L. R. Scarborough
talking with boy who had come forward