Why the Law
October 8th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
WHY THE LAW
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-08-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Why the Law. In the third chapter of the Book of Galatians, through which we are preaching, I read the background and the context: Galatians 3:15-22. Galatians chapter 3, 15 to 22:
Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Thought it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.
Now to Abraham and 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 be made of none effect.
For if the [inheritance] be of 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; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.
Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given eternal 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.
And our text is the question in Galatians 3:19, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” And if you will look, that word “serveth” is in italics, which means that it was added by the translators in order to give English meaning to the Greek word. The Greek of the text is ti oun ho nomos; ti, why, oun, therefore, ho nomos, the law; “why therefore the law?” [Galatians 3:19]. The question is raised very pertinently and most rationally, for Paul had just said in the verses that precede, here in the third chapter of Galatians, he had just said in verse 17 that four hundred thirty years before the law was given, God had confirmed in a covenant the way of salvation by faith, by promise, which He gave to Abraham [Galatians 3:17-18]. Four hundred thirty years before there was any such thing as the law God made a way of salvation by faith, by promise, and mediated it, revealed it, to Abraham [Genesis 15:6].
In the eleventh verse, up above, Paul had just said, “There is no man that is justified by law in the sight of God: for, The just shall live by faith” [Galatians 3:11]. In the sixth and the seventh and the eighth verses above, the apostle had written that the faith that men deposit in the goodness of God is accounted for righteousness [Galatians 3:6-8]. Therefore, they that are of faith, of promise, these are the children of the promise. They’re children of faith. They’re children of Abraham [Galatians 3:9].
Then above that in verse 5, he had written that these Galatians had received the ministering of the Spirit, not by the deeds of the law, but by the hearing of faith [Galatians 3:5]. So in the nineteenth verse it is very apparent why he would raise this rhetorical question, “If we receive the Spirit not by the law but by faith, if our faith is accounted for righteousness in God’s sight, if we are justified by faith and not by the works of the law, and if four hundred thirty years before the law God saved Abraham by faith [Romans 4:3-5], ti oun ho nomos, why therefore the law?” [Galatians 3:19]. The “therefore” refers to these things that he has just said. If the law could not make us righteous, if the law could not save us, and if Abraham and his children and descendents were saved by faith and not by the law [Romans 4:16, 22-25], then therefore, why, ti ho nomos, why the law? [Galatians 3:19].
One might think, following such a passage as this, that the law was given incidentally, that it was not central or dynamic or primary. Just the opposite is true. The law was given from the hands of God Himself in the most impressive way that even God could devise. There’s not anything in all of this Bible that is presented with greater dramatic impressiveness than the way that God presented the law through Moses to the children of Israel.
You have the story of that presentation in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Exodus, and the following chapters [Exodus 19-32]. It came about that the children of Israel were before Mt. Sinai [Exodus 19:11-17], and there is a level plain before that high rugged peak about two miles long, and about half a mile wide. And the level plain goes up to the foot of that rugged mountain, which itself is about six thousand five hundred feet high.
Forty years Moses was in Egypt as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, trained and learned in all the arts and the sciences and wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22-23]. Then forty other years was he on the back side of the desert, there at Mt. Sinai in the school of the loneliness of God [Exodus 2:11-7:7]. And now, the next forty years he is in the vicinity of that same region, Mt. Sinai, teaching the people this Book of the Covenant, the law of God [Numbers 32:13]. And the Lord said through Moses to the people of Israel: “If you will obey My voice, and keep My covenant, ye shall be My peculiar treasure” [Exodus 19:5]. And Moses came and called all the people together, and laid before their faces all of these words from the Lord [Exodus 19:6-7]. And the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. Just let God give us these commandments, we will keep all of them.” So Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord [Exodus 19:8]; so the Lord prepared the people for the giving of the law, a majestic and awesome sight [Exodus 9:9]. God said to Moses, “Now you go and have the people sanctify themselves, and wash their garments, and cleanse themselves. And on the third day, I will come down in the sight of all the people, upon Mt. Sinai [Exodus 19:10-11]. Now you set bounds to the mount, for if a man touch it, or a beast, he shall be thrust through and shall surely die” [Exodus 19:12-13].
So Moses sanctified the people, and on the third day, they drew near to the foot of the mountain [Exodus 19:14-15]. And it was, that on the third day, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud and a trumpet exceeding loud; and the people were terrified [Exodus 19:16]. Even Moses said, “I do exceedingly quake and fear” [Hebrews 12:21]. And the Lord came down on the top of the mountain, and it reeled like an addled man. It began to flame and to burn and to smoke [Exodus 19:17-18]. And the trumpet sounded louder and louder, and waxed still stronger and stronger, and in the midst of the sounding of that awful trumpet, not played by the lips of a man—the next time that trumpet will be sounded like that will be when Gabriel sounds that trumpet and raises the dead [1 Thessalonians 4:16]—in the midst of that trumpet sounding louder and louder, and stronger and stronger, the voice of God was heard! [Exodus 19:19]. And God spoke to the people; it so terrified the people, they were paralyzed in fear. They said to Moses, “We cannot stand in the presence of God, nor can we hear the voice of God and live. You go up, and you receive from God His words, and then you come down and tell us what God says” [Exodus 20:19].
So Moses, in behalf of the people, went up on the top of the mountain, and received from God the words of the law [Exodus 24:1-3]. And the people said to Moses when he came and gave them all the judgments of the Lord [Exodus 24:3]; they answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord hath said we will do” [Exodus 24:3]. Therefore, at the base of the mountain, Moses built an altar; and on that altar he offered burnt sacrifices and peace offerings according to the number of the children of Israel [Exodus 24:4-5]. And he took the blood of the offerings, and placed it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar [Exodus 24:6], and he took the other half of that blood, and he sprinkled it on the book of the covenant [Hebrews 9:19], and he sprinkled it on all the people [Exodus 24:6-8].
And they said, “All that the Lord hath said, we will do, and be obedient” [Exodus 24:7]. Thus Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “Behold, the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words” [Exodus 24:8].
Mind could not imagine, human ingenuity could not devise a more dramatic, and impressive, and significant presentation of the laws, and judgments, and commandments of God than that. The people were sanctified [Exodus 19:14]. They were brought near to the holy mountain. The mountain itself shook, flamed, burned, covered with thunder and lightning—the voice of the Lord God Himself heard in the midst of the sounding of the judgmental trumpet [Exodus 19:14-19].
Then having received the covenant, the people said, “Everything God hath commanded, we will keep. We will faithfully obey” [Exodus 24:3]. And it was sealed by blood. The blood sprinkled on the altar [Exodus 24:6], the blood sprinkled upon the holy book of the covenant [Hebrews 9:19], and the blood sprinkled upon the people [Exodus 24:8]. And the old covenant thus was sanctified by blood [Exodus 24:7-8], which covenant was, “if God will reveal to us His laws, we will keep His laws” [Exodus 24:7]. “This do and live: obey these commandments and be saved” [Deuteronomy 4:1]. That was the old covenant. That was the old law.
Now did God know that they would break that commandment and not keep that law? Why, certainly He knew it. It was God who said to Moses, after the people had made that covenant, after they had made that promise [Exodus 24:7], it was God Himself who said to Moses on top of that mountain, “Haste thee, get thee down” [Exodus 32:7].
For while Moses was up there on the top of the mountain, and God was talking to him and giving him all of these statutes that follow from the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20-23], and while God was writing with His own finger the Ten Words on those tables of stone [Exodus 31:18], while God was doing that on top of the mountain, down there in the valley Aaron, Moses’ brother, was making a golden calf, the kind of a licentious and carnal worship the people had known in Egypt, worshiping some kind of sacred cow or bull. And the people took off their clothes, and stripped themselves naked. And they poured themselves into some kind of an unholy, indescribable orgy as they worshiped around that golden calf [Exodus 32:1-6, 25].
These are the people that had just said—and it was sealed in blood [Exodus 24:6-8]—these are the people who had just said that “All that God commands we will faithfully obey. Every statute of God we will faithfully keep” [Exodus 24:7]. And that covenant was sealed in blood [Exodus 24:8; Hebrews 9:10]. God Himself said to Moses, “Moses get thee down, for the people are in grievous sin” [Exodus 32:7]. And when Moses came down that precipitous mountain, and drew near the camp and saw the golden calf, and the naked people in a carnal orgy, dancing around it, Moses took those two tables of stone and he brake them in fierce anger on a rock at the base of the mountain, and stood in the presence of the people, crying, “Who is on the Lord’s side, let him come and stand by me” [Exodus 32:19-26].
Why then the law? [Galatians 3:19]. God knew that a man could not keep it. There has never been but one man who kept the law, and His name was Jesus, the Messiah Christ [Matthew 5:17; Hebrews 4:15]. Why then the law? Ti oun ho nomos? Why then the law? God knew we couldn’t keep it. There is no man living who can keep that law. He may purpose in his heart to do good; but as Paul writes in the seventh chapter of the Book of Romans, “That that I would do I do not do, and what I do not want to do, that I do. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:19, 24]. As Paul wrote here, “If a man could be saved by the law, the law would have saved us. If there is a law that can deliver us from sin, verily, salvation, eternal life would have come by the law” [Galatians 3:21].
Four hundred thirty years before that law, God saved Abraham and the descendents of Abraham by faith [Galatians 3:6-7, 16-18]. Ti oun ho nomos, why then the law? Paul says two things in answer. First, “Wherefore then serveth the law?” First, “It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made” [Galatians 3:19]. The law was given in order to show to us the exceeding sinfulness of sin [Romans 7:13]. The law is a plumb line against the wall of our lives to show us how out of line we are before God. The law is a light, an X-ray, to show us the area of disease in our human bodies.
The law was given because of transgressions [Galatians 3:19]; that is, to show us our transgressions, to show how far we fall from the call, and the expectation, and the perfection of God. If a man speaks of himself as being fine, and obedient, and upright, and upstanding, and how he doesn’t need the mercy and the love and the forgiveness of God, when a man talks like that, I know he is as far away from Christ and from the Lord as a man can get. When I talk to a man about needing Christ, about needing a Savior, and immediately he begins to recount to me how fine he is, how moral, how righteous, how upstanding, how excellent he is, there’s no need to argue with him.
All you can do is say, “That’s right. I know you’re a very fine man. That’s right. I know you are a very upstanding man. That’s right. I know you are a very commendable man. That’s right. All of these things you say are just right.” But you see, the man who thinks of himself like that is a man who has never met God. He’s never seen the Lord. He’s never heard the voice of the Almighty. For the nearer a man gets to God, the more unworthy does he feel. And the more a man knows about God, the more sinful in his own heart and in his own life does he feel. Our self-righteousness may commend us to one another, but not to God. For God knows our hearts, and He knows the secrets of our lives, and He knows our innermost imaginations; and the imaginations of the hearts of men are evil altogether.
The law was given in order to reveal to us our transgressions. You see, it is somebody who is sick who needs a physician. It is somebody who is in debt who needs somebody to help him. It is somebody in prison who needs a pardon. And the law shows us how sick we are, how imprisoned we are, how incarcerated we are, how in debt we are, how lost we are. The law was added because of transgressions, to reveal to us the heinous blackness of our sins [Galatians 3:19].
The attitude of the man of the world is sin isn’t very much, it’s a peccadillo. Oh, I may have done this and I may have done that. I may not be perfect, but it’s just something, it’s just nothing. It’s not ever to be considered. That’s what a man of the world will think about his sins. But not in God’s sight! In God’s sight, sin is exceeding sinful [Romans 7:13]. It is black. It shuts us out from God [Isaiah 59:2]. It closes the door of heaven to us [Isaiah 59:2; Romans 8:7-8]. Sin separates us. Sin is an awesome thing that brings with it the judgment of death [Romans 5:12]; death in the body, death in the soul, spiritual death, moral death, the second death [Revelation 21:11-15]. And the law was given that sin might be shown to be exceeding sinful! [Romans 7:13].
Now Paul has a second reason here, why the giving of the law. First, because of transgressions, to show us our sins [Galatians 3:19]; and the second reason here in the twenty-second verse of the Book of Galatians, God gave us that law “to conclude us all under sin, that by the promise of faith in Jesus Christ, we might be saved, all of us who believe” [Galatians 3:22]. The law was given in order to show that all of us are sinners, all of us [Galatians 3:19]; and that we might be saved in Jesus Christ [Galatians 3:22], that we might be led to cast ourselves upon the mercy, and the goodness, and the forgiveness of God [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5]. And without that sense of need there can be no Savior.
When I was a young man, I heard L. R. Scarborough, Lee Scarborough, preach a sermon. He was the president of our seminary in Fort Worth. He was God’s great man, Lee Scarborough. And in that sermon he told something that stays in my memory. In a revival meeting––and he was an evangelist––in a revival meeting, there was a little boy who came down, a junior boy, to accept Jesus as his Savior. And Dr. Scarborough sat down by the side of the little boy to talk to him about accepting Christ as his Savior. And the little boy’s Sunday school teacher came down also, and sat down on the other side of the little boy. So the preacher began to talk to the little boy about his sins, and about his need of a Savior. And the Sunday school teacher broke in and said, “Dr. Scarborough, you are a stranger here, I know, and you don’t realize, I know, but this is the best little boy in my Sunday school class. You don’t realize that, you wouldn’t know that. But this is the best little boy I have.”
Dr. Scarborough paid no attention to her, he said, and he began to talk earnestly with the little boy about his sins and about his lost soul and about his need of a Savior. And the teacher broke in again and said, “But Dr. Scarborough, you don’t realize, this is the best little boy in my class. He’s the finest little boy that I know.” And Dr. Scarborough said he turned to the little boy and said, “Son, if you don’t mind, would you sit on this side of me?” So the little boy got up and sat on the other side, and Dr. Scarborough sat between the Sunday school teacher and the little boy. And then he turned to the little boy and talked to the little boy about his sins and about being lost, and about needing a Savior. And the preacher said, “And in no time at all, the little boy was led to see that the reason we need a Savior is because we are lost.” There’s no reason for Jesus if we are not lost.
“Verily, I say unto you, that if salvation, if righteousness could have come by the law, we would be saved by keeping commandments, and observing statutes, and rituals, and ceremonies” [Galatians 3:21]. But there is no law that can save us! The law condemns us! [Galatians 3:22]. The law shows us how sinful we are, how far short from the goodness and perfection of God we fall. And it leads us to the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus [Galatians 3:22]. If we have no sense of the need of a Savior, Jesus can never be a Savior to us. He is a Savior because He saves us. What does He save us from? He saves us from the judgment of our sins. And that’s the sermon next Sunday morning: “For the law is a paidagōgos,” a tutor, who leads us by the hand to Christ, “that we might be justified by faith” [Galatians 3:24-26].
May I—I am through––may I add an addendum here? There are lots of reasons why I work with the children in our church as I do. And this is one that you’ve heard this morning. It is not enough for the child to say, “I love Jesus.” A little child, four, five, six years of age, “I love Jesus.” And the little child is moved to come down and tell me that, fine, wonderful.
And I say to the fathers and the mothers, “When the child says that, ‘I love Jesus, and I want to tell the pastor so,’” I say to the father and mother, “Never interdict. Don’t ever say, ‘Oh no, child, we don’t have time, or the pastor is too busy, or some other day.’ No. When the child says that, say, ‘Wonderful, son,’ or ‘Wonderful, sweet little girl, let’s go tell the pastor that.’” That’s wonderful. And the child will come and say, “I love Jesus.” And that’s why we have on that decision “a step toward God,” a step toward God.
Well, why don’t I say, “You write out that card that the child has been converted, the child’s been saved?” Because, the child has no sense of sin, the child has no sense of being lost! The child does not feel the condemnation of transgressions in his little heart! That will come, that will come, the day will come when the child will sense that he’s done wrong, that he’s fallen from what God expected, that he’s a sinner. And that’s when Jesus becomes a Savior.
And without that sense of sin, that lostness in transgressions, Jesus can never be a Savior to us. For we are not saved by being good; by being charitable, or loving, or kind; or any other way of commandment or righteous living; we are saved by casting ourselves upon the mercies of Christ. O Lord, have mercy upon me, a sinner [Luke 18:13]. That’s what saves us. Justified, not by our righteousness, but justified by faith [Galatians 2:16], saved by the mercy and the goodness of God in Christ Jesus, who paid the atoning death for our sins.
Our time is spent. We sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing that hymn of invitation, somebody you to give himself to Jesus, a family you to put your life in the church, or just one somebody you coming to the Lord, make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down one of these stairways, or walking down one of these aisles. God bless you and the angels attend you 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