The whole area of the law of Moses and the economy of God. The Mosaic Covenant and how it relates to the Covenant of Grace, and especially to the New Testament, is one of the fundamental issues that underlies the difference between dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. So bearing that in mind as we plow into this material today, I think it will help us understand the importance on getting ourselves straight on the scriptural teaching on this matter. If you would look at then at Exodus chapter 2 and I want to direct your attention to the last three verses of the chapter.
You remember the context here. Exodus chapter 2 tells you of the birth of Moses and the second half of the chapter tells you of Moses’ failure to help his people, and beginning his escape from Egypt. And when we come to these last verses of Exodus chapter 2, we are told again of the plight of Israel under the oppression of their Egyptian rulers and we read this. Hear God’s Word:
“Now it came about in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died. And the sons of Israel sighed because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry for help because of their bondage rose up to God. So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.”
Thus ends this reading of God’s Holy word, may He add His blessing to it. Let’s pray together.
“Father, as we study Your great work of redemption in the days of Moses, we would again be moved to wonder, love, and praise for the power of Your redemptive plan for the way that You strengthen the arm of the weak and you dash the oppressors to the ground. We thank you O, Lord, for Your grace, we do not deserve such a glorious redemption and yet that redemption which you accomplish for Israel out of the Exodus is simply a faint shadow of the glorious redemption that we have in Christ. As we contemplate this, as we study Your word, we ask that You would help us to understand it aright for our sakes, for Your glory, and for Your people’s good. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The theological issues raised by the relationship between the Mosaic economy, and all I mean by Mosaic economy is God’s way of dealing in the time of Moses and under the covenantal relationship as it was expressed in the Scriptures in the days of Moses as opposed to other time frames in which he dealt with His people. The theological issues raised by the relation of the Mosaic economy to the New Covenant are at the heart of some of the most significant differences about biblical interpretation in the evangelical church today. If you go to a group like the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), or you and I had been present at something like the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, you would find broad agreement amongst those who call themselves evangelicals on the issue of the authority of Scripture and on the inspiration of Scripture and even on the inerrancy of Scripture.
But when you move into the sphere of interpretation of Scripture, you immediately begin to see significant differences within the evangelical community and one of the areas of difference that is most striking is in the area of how different evangelicals understand how what was said by God during the days of Moses relates to us as Christians, post Pentecost in the New Covenant era. If I can frame that question slightly differently, one of the fundamental issues in all of Christian interpretation and all theology is, “What is the proper relation of law and gospel?” We know that much of Paul’s writing was designed to address precisely that issue and yet there are significant differences in interpretation of what Paul meant and how he resolved that issue of the relationship between law and gospel.
For instance, in both Jesus and the apostle Paul’s day, we know that there were people who had a very different understanding of how the Mosaic code was to function in the era of the New Covenant. The Essenes believed in a New Covenant. You see, it is not distinctively Presbyterian or Reformed, or even Christian to believe in a New Covenant. The Essenes believed in a New Covenant. But the Essenes in the time of Christ, those who were part of the Qumran sect from whom we have gotten the Dead Sea scrolls, basically believed that the New Covenant was going to be a pristine form of the Mosaic Covenant. In other words, for the Essenes, the New Covenant was going to be the Mosaic Covenant all over again, but it was just going to be ‘perfecter’ if I can use that English. The Old system was going to be restored to a level of perfection that it had not obtained in the time of Moses and the Old Covenant in general. So the New Covenant for the Essenes was basically the Old Covenant cleaned up a bit and revisited.
Now needless to say, Jesus’ and Paul’s conception of the New Covenant, of the kingdom of God, is radically different than that. You don’t have to study much in the Sermon on the Mount to see that Jesus had a different vision from the Essenes on the kingdom of heaven and how God’s glory was going to be manifested in the New Covenant.
In Paul’s day, we know that there were people that Paul called ‘Judaizers’ and they followed him around in his mission work. He generally worked in synagogues and built a core group of people who would listen. They already knew the Old Testament. He would proclaim the Word of God to them as they met on the Sabbath day. He would gather a group that was willing to go deeper in their study of Scripture and to hear him set forth the Gospel again and again and work out the implications of Jesus’ teaching and the significance of Jesus’ person and work, and in the process, he would build a core group of a church around it.
But we also know that there were people who followed Paul around targeting those disciples that he was working with, to explain to them that Paul did not understand the proper relationship of the Mosaic law to the kingdom of God or to the New Covenant. And they wanted to explain to these new converts that Paul was working with, that they, if they were truly going to be obedient to God, were going to have to obey the ceremonial code of Moses.
So the issue of how the law and the ceremonial laws, the distinctive laws of Moses in particular, how that Mosaic economy relates to the Gospel to the New Covenant era, has been a standing issue in Christian theology from the very beginning. It has been an area of dispute.
More recently, if we can jump forward many centuries, in the development of dispensationalism, we mentioned briefly before we read the Scriptures about John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth brethren and C.I. Scoffield and the Scoffield Reference Bible. How many of you grew up reading a Scoffield Reference Bible or a New Scoffield Reference Bible? So there are a few. Scoffield was actually a lawyer who grew up in the old Southern Presbyterian Church, but when he was converted, at a Men’s Christian Association Bible studies in St. Louis, the YMCA, you know it as today, he began to attend the YMCA’s Bible studies and learned the Bible. And he became an avid teacher of the Bible. And developed, in a systematic form some of the ideas that John Nelson Darby had developed in a little less systematic form in his massive writings and sermons. And he produced a reference Bible called the Scoffield Reference Bible which became the single most powerful tool for propagating the theology which we now call Dispensationalism.
In that Scoffield Reference Bible, he divided the history of redemption into seven distinctive dispensations. And he had a very specific view of the Mosaic covenant. Darby or Scoffield argued that the covenant, or the dispensation of Moses, was the dispensation of law - not grace. And that the children of Israel in fact made a mistake by agreeing to abide by the law of God promulgated at Mt. Sinai. According to Scoffield, what they should have said when Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of the law was, “We don’t want law, we want grace.” He saw the Covenant of Abraham as a Covenant of Grace, but the Covenant of Moses he saw as a Covenant of Works or of law. And he felt that Israel made a fundamental mistake and went back to a form of legalism or works righteousness when they accepted the law. Now never mind that there is no mention at Sinai of whether the Children of Israel had an option to choose grace or law; there is no debate.
Now, if you read the notes in your Scoffield Bibles, they are very helpful tools to have. The notes lay out the system quite clearly. At any rate, again, the understanding of how the Mosaic Covenant relates to the New Covenant is at the very heart of that biblical system. Scoffield operates from a misunderstanding of Paul’s words in Galatians. He goes to Galatians and he hears Paul saying that we must not add law to gospel as the basis of justification. And he deduces from that that the law, in order not to fall into a Galatian heresy, that the law must have nothing to do with a Christian whatsoever. And so any idea of incorporating the Covenant of Moses into the schema of the Covenant of Grace compromises the grace of the Gospel. So he thinks that the way you provide the best justification for the doctrine of Grace in the believer’s life is you make sure that you leave the law out of it.
Now many of you have been around long enough to have known at least a little bit about the Lordship controversy which particularly raged in Bible church circles. And Dr. Ryrie and Dr. Hodges and some of those brethren were on one side of that controversy, and John MacArthur got himself on the other side of that controversy. Hodges and Ryrie were accusing John McArthur of being a legalist and McArthur was accusing Ryrie and Hodges of being Antinomians and Arminians and there was a big raging controversy about the relationship of faith and works in the Christian life.
Understand what is going on here. You have pure dispensationalists like Hodges and Ryrie arguing against MacArthur who had been doing what? Reading more and more Puritans and Reformed guys. And Macarthur ends up with a hybrid view of redemptive history. I think he would identify himself as dispensational and premillenial in his eschatology, but he would identify himself as Reformed in his soteriology, his doctrine of salvation. And he is also becoming more and more reformed in his view of the general schema of redemptive history. And so he sees the Reformed tradition that says justification is by faith alone, but that faith is never alone. Okay. He sees that Reformed distinctive and he hangs on to it and he says, if you deny that justifying faith is always accompanied by the grace of the spirit in sanctification, then you are an Antinomian. And Hodges and Ryrie fire back and they say what? You are a legalist because you have brought the law into the Gospel.
And so Hodges writes in his book, Absolutely Free, that salvation is by faith alone and basically that obedience is optional. So that we accept Christ as Savior when we are saved, but accepting Christ as Lord is either a secondary step or a nonessential step. And in the view of some dispensationalists would be an undesirable step. And you have got MacArthur firing back that that view is not an adequate view of the New Testament teaching on justification and sanctification, nor on the New Testament doctrine of version which says that the fundamental confession of the Christian is what ? Jesus is Lord, and not that Jesus is Savior. Jesus is Lord; that is the saving confession of the believer in the New Testament. That is the simplest statement in the New Testament. You find it in Acts chapter 8 among other places. But Jesus is Lord is the fundamental confession of a Christian. That is not the second step for a Christian. That is the first step in terms of the public confession. So you have got this controversy going on.
What is going on there? It is a difference over how the Mosaic covenant relates to the Covenant of Grace in general. So, how that issue of Law and Gospel, and how does the moral law in particular, fit into the Christian life are issues that are still with us today.
Another issue that revolves around how you interpret that Mosaic Covenant is the issue of Theonomy or Christian Reconstructionism. You know that there are some people who believe that all the nonceremonial laws in the Old Testament continue to be binding on all Christians. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of three aspects of the law: moral, civil and ceremonial. Most Theonomists argue that there are only two categories of law: moral/civil and ceremonial. And then they go on to argue that all of the moral/civil law in the Old Testament is still binding on believers personally and corporately in the New Covenant, so that we not only must obey the core of the law, the moral law as expressed in the Ten Commandments for instance, but we must also work for the implementation in our society of the civil law contained in the law of Moses.
Now again, whereas the Dispensational view sees a radical discontinuity between the Mosaic law and the Christian Gospel, the Theonomic or the Reconstructionist view of law sees a radical continuity between the Mosaic code and the New Covenant ethic. In fact, it is framed in diametric opposition to the Dispensationalist view. The dispensationalist view, for instance, says if a law isn’t repeated in the New Testament, then it is not for the Christian. So what does the Theonomist say in opposition? Unless a law is repealed in the New Testament, it is for the Christian. So the whole structure of the view of the law in Theonomy is in opposition to dispensational categories.
If you are not familiar with the background of Theonomy, Theonomy really originates with a man named R.J. Rushdooney. Two of his more famous students were Gary North and Greg Bahnsen. As a young man he wrote a book called Theonomy and Christian Ethics. This was a raging issue in certain segments of the Reformed community and it is still a debate in some areas of the Reformed community, though not quite as heated as it once was.
Again, those issues like Dispensationalism and Theonomy also revolve around your understanding of how the Mosaic Covenant fits into the Covenant of Grace, and especially with regard to dispensationalism, and in what way the Mosaic Covenant relates to the Covenant of Works. We have already talked about the Covenant of Works in the Garden prior to the Fall. And for Dispensationalists the Mosaic Covenant is basically a repetition of the Covenant of Works.
Now Covenant Theologians have described the covenant with Moses differently over the years, and there has been some confusion over the this issue even amongst Reformed Theologians. But in general, while Reformed Theologians acknowledge that there are aspects of the Covenant of Moses or the Covenant of Law, which reflect some of the language and ideas of the Covenant of Works, nevertheless, the Covenant of Law, or the Covenant of Moses, or the Mosaic Economy, is squarely within the stream of the Covenant of Grace. It is not an alternate option to the Covenant of Works given to us by God in the Old Testament It is part of the Covenant of Grace. It is not saying, “Well, okay, if you don’t get saved by faith as under Abraham, you can try law under Moses.” That is not the point.
One reason why I read Exodus chapter two and last three verses, was so that you will notice that Moses himself, in those verses, when he is getting ready to tell you the story of the Exodus, links God’s redemptive work in the Exodus to what? The Covenant of Abraham. So as far as Moses is concerned, there is no radical dichotomy between what God is doing with His people in the time of the Exodus and what God promised to Abraham. In fact, he says that the reason God came to His people’s rescue was because He remembered the promise He had made with Abraham. And if you will remember back to our study of Genesis chapter 15, God went out of His way to tell Abraham about the oppression of Israel in Egypt and about the fact that He was going to bring them out of Egypt as a mighty nation, and that He was going to give them the land of Canaan. And so, Moses goes out of his way in both Genesis 15 and in Exodus 2 to link the Mosaic Economy with the Abrahamic Covenant, so that the Mosaic Economy isn’t something that is replacing the way that God deals with His people, under Abraham; it is expanding what God was doing with His people through Abraham.
The Mosaic Covenant receives more elaboration than any other covenant in the Bible. The details and the stipulations of the Covenant of God in the time of Moses are more detailed than any other covenant relationship, and when the New Testament wants to contrast the work of God in the New Covenant era to the work of God in the Old Covenant era, it will use the Mosaic Covenant as a foil. We will look at that when we get to our New Testament studies, and I will try and walk you through the different ways that the New Testament uses the Abrahamic and the Mosaic Covenant.
There are some ways that the Old Testament uses the Covenant of God with Moses which help you understand how a person could misunderstand the relationship of the Mosaic Covenant to the Covenant of Grace, because for instance, when Paul wants to argue that God has always saved His people in the same way, by using the instrument of faith and justifying them by grace, what covenant does he appeal to? The covenant of Abraham. But when Paul wants to stress the discontinuities and the greater glories of the New Covenant, what covenant will He appeal to? He will go right back to the Covenant of Moses.
So the way that the New Testament writers will use these covenants, could lead the reader who was not watching closely what they were doing and saying, to think that the New Testament had a negative assessment of Moses and a positive assessment of Abraham. So I understand how Scoffield could have gotten where he got, but he is still wrong. It is just easy to see how you could get there. The New Testament writers give us subtle hints that you have to watch very closely in order to understand that they do not have a fundamental criticism of God’s work under the Covenant of Moses. They have a problem with how Moses has been misappropriated by both the Jews and the Judaizers.
When you are in polemics against a false teaching, what do you tend to do? You tend to speak negatively about the other teaching. Your job at that point is not to say, you know there fifteen things right about that teaching. What you tend to do is say, no, there are fifteen things wrong about it and leave it at that. And the New Testament is constantly in polemic against both what? Jewish theology and Jewish Rabbinic theology and Judaizing theology which attempt to draw Christians back into some sort of mandatory ceremonial observance in order to be full Gospel Christians, if you will. So, it is easy to see how this could happen and we will look at this issue with you very briefly.
The Covenant and the Law.
First of all, I want to take up the issue of the relationship of the covenant to the law. The relationship of the Covenant to the Law. It is tempting to lose the forest for the trees when you come to the covenant, because law so dominates what Moses gives us during his specific era of the Covenant of Grace from Exodus to Deuteronomy. Law so dominates that that it is possible for covenant to fade into the background of our minds as we are reading this massive presentation of the law of God. It is also possible for us to lose the continued grace emphasis which is there from Exodus to Deuteronomy. Exodus and Deuteronomy especially are books of Grace.
An acquaintance of mine and a friend of many of the faculty members here, a gentleman named Gordon McConvill, an Old Testament professor, wrote a theology of Deuteronomy not too long ago, entitled Grace in the End. Now that is not a bad title at all for a theological study of Deuteronomy.
But, the law is so up front and in your face in this presentation in this segment of redemptive history it is possible to lose the forest for the trees. You are right up on the law, and though it is right in front of you, you can miss what is actually a larger picture. And so I want to give you a proposition that you have already read in Robertson’s book, in his section on the Covenant of Moses, or the Covenant of Law. And here is the proposition: the concept of Covenant, even in the Mosaic economy, the concept of covenant is larger than law. Let me give you Robertson’s words. “Nothing could be more basic to a proper understanding of the Mosaic era, than that covenant supersedes law. It is not law that is preeminent, but covenant. Whatever concept of law may be advanced, it must remain at all times, subservient to the broader concept of covenant. So what ? And what does that mean? Okay. So what, we will start with that one, and then we will go back to what does it mean.
Law is basically an extrapolation of stipulations in a covenant.
Every covenant has requirements. Every covenant has stipulations. Law is just an expansion. It is just an elaboration on those stipulations. So law in believing experience has its origins in the requirements of the covenant. But you see, if that is the case, then covenant is the broader concept under which law must be understood. Now, do you see immediately how that, in and of itself, protects us from a legalistic interpretation of the Gospel? If you view law as some sort of independent way of relating to God, apart from the Covenant of Grace, then you don’t understand that law as it is first presented in the Scriptures, comes within the framework of a covenant relationship already established. And of course, the classic proof of that is in the book of Exodus, itself. Remember again, Exodus 2 verses 23, 24, and 25, especially 24. The whole Exodus experience is in response to what? God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But if you will turn over with me to Exodus, the twentieth chapter of Exodus, you will see this stressed again.
“Then God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
And then He begins to give the commandments,
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Now friends, it is vital for you to you understand the framework in which He gives the essence of the moral law in Exodus chapter 20. It is the framework of having done what? Already having brought Israel out of Egypt. He does not say, “If you will keep these commandments, then I will bring you out of Egypt.” He says, “I am the Lord your God, I am already in covenant relationship with you, I’ve already brought you out of land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, by the grace of the covenant, in response to the groans of Israel, I remembered the covenant with Abraham, therefore, you shall have no other gods before Me.” You see, it makes all the difference in the world, in the way you read that law. That law cannot be viewed as an independent way of dragging ourselves up by our boots and earning our way into relationship with God again. Law becomes what? The Law is household instruction for the covenant family from the God of Grace who has saved us by grace.
And there is no more radical transformation for your concept of law, than that particular understanding. If you understand that law is a derivative of the requirements of the covenant, so that the grace of the covenant and the covenant relationship itself provide the framework in which the believer always understands the law, you’ll never fall into the idea that the law is an alternative way of relating to God apart from the faith and grace of the covenant. See, only someone who doesn’t understand that covenant framework, could possibly fall into the trap of legalism. And because, for instance, our dispensational friends reject that covenant framework, they think that the only way you can get rid of legalism is to do what? Get rid of the law. But how does the Psalmist sing, How I Love Thy Law O Lord, if you get rid of the law? The answer is not getting rid of the law; it is understanding how the law functions within the framework of the Covenant of Grace.
Do you grasp this? Covenant is the larger concept. It takes precedence over the law. It provides a context for the law. Remember, a covenant by definition, has conditions. As we said, there is a sense in which there is no such thing as an unconditional covenant. Those conditions may be graciously fulfilled by the Lord, but there are still conditions for every covenant. Because every covenant has mutuality in it, there is no such thing as a covenant in isolation. Covenant is always in relationship and relationship by definition have mutuality. So, a covenant by definition has conditions. And that aspect of the covenant becomes the foundation for Old Testament law.
Now it is also true, and I would want to stress this with all other good Reformed theologians, that law is ultimately an expression of what? The character of God. Law is not an arbitrary proclamation by God. It is an expression of who He is. So it is not arbitrary. These conditions of the covenant are not arbitrary in any degree. This ethic is grounded in what God is like. And by the way, that is just another reason why we can’t simply willy, nilly, dismiss the law in order to protect grace. That is saying, “God, we have to forget what You are like, in order to really understand grace.” Whereas the Reformed approach is, “No, you can’t really understand grace until you know what God is like.”
And so you never want to run away from the law. You just don’t want ever, ever to misuse it in such a way that you think it is somewhat of an alternative path into relationship with God that He provided apart from the Covenant of Grace. Because we are fallen, we have already lost the game before we are out of the blocks. So, you have got to understand how the law functions within the Covenant of Grace.
Now, the key to dealing with the Mosaic Covenant is to understand why the New Testament talks about the Mosaic Covenant the way it does. For instance, without turning there, let me just recall to your mind the words of the Apostle Paul. You remember early in Romans where he says, “You are not under law, you are under grace.” And you can remember words early in the Gospel of John, where John speaks of “Moses bringing the law, but the Lord, Jesus Christ, bringing grace and peace.” And what do you get? You get the language of contrast between especially the Mosaic form of the Old Covenant and the Covenant of Grace under Jesus Christ. And this again leads people to draw the incorrect deduction, “Ah ha, these two things are in opposition to one another. You know, the law of Moses is opposed to the grace of Christ, and if we really want to hold up to the grace of Christ, we have got to get rid of the law of Moses.”
But, note what the New Testament is doing very carefully when it does this. It is actually highlighting the distinctive emphasis of the Covenant of Moses. And what is the distinctive emphasis of the Covenant of Moses? Robertson has already told you. The distinctive emphasis of the Covenant of Moses is that in the Covenant of Moses, God externally summarizes His will for man with His own finger; God writes the law.
Now don’t miss what is happening in Exodus 20-24. This is not the first time that God has revealed moral law. From Genesis 1 to Exodus 19, it is painfully apparent that there is a moral order to this universe. I have been arguing at Fist Pres in our series on Genesis that much of what Genesis 1-6 does is to try and convince you that there is a moral order to this universe and if you mess with it, you are going to be judged. So Moses is arguing for a moral order to this universe out of the blocks in the book of Genesis.
And, behind that moral order, is a moral law giver. And He is the Lord God of Israel, the Lord God of heaven and earth, the maker and creator. That idea is not introduced to us in Exodus 20, but never before has the creator written down His code on a piece of stone, until you get to Sinai. And so the very highlight of the progress of the covenant, and I want you to see this as progress and we are going to look at the ways in which it is progress in just a few moments, but the very progress of the covenant is seen under the Mosaic Covenant in God’s externally summarizing His will, externally summarizing that moral order.
Advantages of the Mosaic Covenant
In fact, let me argue that there were at least four things in the Mosaic Covenant in which it advanced our understanding of the Covenant of Grace over the expression of the Covenant of Grace in the time of Abraham. You see, far from being some sort of a retrogression, far from going backwards, the Mosaic Covenant enhanced our understanding of the Covenant of Grace. The first way that it did that is that in the Mosaic Covenant, God formed Israel into a nation. There is a real sense in which the Exodus is the crucible in which the nation of Israel was created. There had already begun to be a people of Israel. In the time of Abraham, God singled out Abraham’s family and isolated them as a particular, as a peculiar, as a unique, as a distinctive, faith family through which He would engage in His covenant dealings. And Abraham had descendants just as God had planned. But they weren’t formed into a unified nation until the event of the Exodus. Do you not understand what is going on there? In all those stipulations about the whole of Israel, about fighting to eradicate the aliens, or the eradicate the natives who are aliened to the land of promise, but who have lived in the land of Canaan, the fact that the tribes who are Transjordan tribes who are east of the Jordan have to obligate themselves to continue to fight with the army of Israel until all the lands which God has given to Israel to occupy all of those things. What is the purpose of that? To consolidate that people into a nation.
Now that is an advancement in the covenant work of God. He has moved His work from the level of merely the family to the nation. And what do the prophets begin to stress immediately about His work in the New Covenant? That He will move it yet to a higher phase: from the family, to the nation, and then to the nations. The Messiah will draw all the nations to Him. “The peoples that walked in darkness. They will see a great light.” The Gentiles, they will see a great light. They will all stream into the mount of Zion. And from the family to the nation, to this transnational entity that He will bring into being, the church. So this movement from family to nation is a definitely a step forward. That is one way in which it was an advancement over the Abrahamic Covenant.
Secondly, the comprehensiveness of the revelation in the Mosaic Covenant is an advancement over the Abrahamic Economy and all that went before it. We have talked before about the doctrine of sin in Genesis 1-11 and we have talked before about how even the liberals recognize that in Genesis 3 and in Genesis 4 and in Genesis 5, and in Genesis 10 and 11 that the authors, as they would say, are trying to build a case for mans sinfulness which “gets God off the hook” for the existence of evil in the world. Now, though we would not agree with the way the liberals characterize it, they have caught onto something, they understand correctly that Moses is building for us there a doctrine of sin in those passages. You can’t come away from three, four, five, ten, and eleven without a doctrine of sin. You read those passages, and you are going to have a doctrine of sin.
But let me tell you, when you have finished reading Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, your doctrine of sin has been exponentially altered. Because you have a code which is so comprehensive that it touches every area of life. Personal, familial, community, society, judicial, military, religious, vocational; every area of life is touched by this law. And if you had any doubts about what sin was before, most of them have been solved by the time you have read through the extensive code of Moses. The comprehensive revelation of the Mosaic Covenant out strips anything that has gone before it. Even in its expression of the issue of sin. Now let me also say that Moses makes a great point of saying that the comprehensiveness of Revelation that he has of God out strips anything that has gone before. What, would, if you had to pick one passage, of talking with your folks in the church, what would be the one passage that you would go to, to show that under Moses that our appreciation and understanding of who God is transcends what has gone before it. Even in the gracious Covenant of Abraham. What one passage would you go to? Exodus 6, turn with me to Exodus 6. And it is elaborating on this simple statement. Exodus 6, begin in verse 1.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for under compulsion he shall let them go, and under compulsion he shall drive them out of his land." God spoke further to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, LORD, I did not make Myself known to them.”
Now, you Hebrew scholars know that the title for God, Lord, was in fact used prior to Exodus 6. You find it scattered throughout the book of Genesis. So what in the world does Exodus 6 mean when He says, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t know My by My name, the Lord? Well, I can give you the thirty second version, but if you really want to study this, there is a wonderful little book, called The Revelation of the Divine Name, it is only about twenty pages, or so, by Alec Motyer. You have probably read Alec Motyer before. He writes for Intervarsity. He has a wonderful commentary on Isaiah, and has written popular commentaries in The Bible Speaks Today series. In his little article, The Revelation of the Divine Name, which was published by what used to be called, IVF, Intervarsity Fellowship, which is now called, UCCF, The University and Christian Colleges Fellowship in Britain, he argues this point. What God is saying there in Exodus 6 is not that they didn’t know that name, the Lord, which they clearly did. But that they didn’t have an inkling of the glorious significance of what that name, the Lord meant. But that the children of Israel were going to know when God was finished dealing with Pharaoh. So why is it that Moses tells Pharaoh that he wants the people of God to be released? Remember? So that they can worship.
Now I don’t know how you reacted to that, but as a kid reading that, and knowing the story of Exodus, I always thought that it was a trick. That Moses was in fact, lying to Pharaoh, telling him that all we want to do is go out and have a worship service and we will be right back. But that is not the point of that repeated phrase, and you will find it repeated a dozen or more times, in the story of the children of Israel in Egypt. The point is that really was God’s reason for bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt. He wanted them to worship. But you can’t worship someone that you don’t know. And so even in the way that he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, God revealed Himself to them, in such a way that they would have a reason to worship Him with an understanding and an intensity which transcended anything that they had ever experienced before.
And it is not surprising my friends, that the Song of Moses, and the Song of Miriam, occur immediately after the great deliverance of the children of God at the Red Sea, because they were there to worship. And so in Exodus 6, we see that God revealed Himself in the days of Moses in a way that transcended the way that He had revealed Himself in the times of Abraham and Isaac, and that is why He can be revealed to them in Moses’ days as the God of loving kindness, as the God who is patient, as the God of mercy, as the God of covenant, as the God who bore them out on eagles wings. And we could pile up all those glorious descriptions in Exodus and in Deuteronomy, that is why He can be described in that way. It is far beyond anything that Abraham could have grasped. Because Abraham did not see the glorious revelation of the divine name like Moses and Israel saw it. So that is the second way in which we see an advancement in the Covenant of Moses, not only was Israel formed into a nation, but there is a comprehensiveness of revelation in the Mosaic Covenant that transcends Abraham.
Thirdly, the Mosaic Covenant has a greater capacity to humble men. The Mosaic Covenant, the revelation given there in the covenant has a greater capacity to humble men. Think of the phrase, repeat it over and over in Exodus, just as the Lord commanded. Man’s natural instinct is to worship God in the way that he wants to. The way that is most convenient for him, is pleasing to him, is pleasurable to him. Man’s temptation is to “worship God” really thinking of himself as the primary audience in worship. Over and over, the Mosaic Covenant points us to the object of worship, God, by reminding us that God does not only want us to worship Him, but He wants us to worship Him in His way. And what does that do? It humbles mans’ natural inclinations and makes him bow the knee to the Maker, not only in worshipping Him, but in worshipping Him in accordance with His will. Because people can accidentally worship themselves, when they think they are worshipping God, if they don’t worship God in the way that God says that God says that He wants to be worshipped. And so that very emphasis in the Mosaic Covenant, and you see it from the beginning to the end of the book of Exodus, is a way of humbling us, and saying to us, you must not only worship God, but you must submit your will to His as you worship Him, even in the way you worship. Now we could point to other ways in which the Mosaic Covenant humbles us, but that is a good example.
A fourth way in which the Mosaic economy is an advancement over the Abrahamic Covenant. In the Mosaic Covenant, we see a fuller picture of the holiness of God, and of the holiness expected of the people of God. You cannot read the book of Leviticus, if you read it closely at all, without catching the twin themes of consecration and atonement. The whole book revolves around those two themes: Consecration, our being set apart in preparation for worshipping God, and Atonement, the requirement necessary for entrance into fellowship with God. And both of those aspects stress the holiness of God. To come into His presence, you must be set apart, set apart from that which is sinful, set apart from that which is worldly, and you must be atoned for. Why? Because He is holy, and you are not. The very fact that the children of Israel had God in their midst as they traveled through the wilderness required them to obey all manner of burdensome rules. The refuse of the children of Israel couldn’t be poured out in the camp. It had to be taken outside of the camp and poured out. Why? Not because it would have been unpleasant for the people of God to live with, but because God was dwelling in their midst. And so in all those ways, we see an advancement in the Covenant of Moses. It is not going backwards. God is moving forward in His Covenant of Grace.
Now, quickly reviewing. We have first of all said, that theological issues raised by the Mosaic Covenant are among the thorniest in the church today. Even within evangelicals, there are differences about how the Mosaic Covenant relates to the New Covenant era. And particular, there are differences in how the moral law relates to the Christian. We have also argued that Covenant is the larger concept, between the choices of covenant and law. And that you only properly understand the law’s role in the believers life, whether in the Old Covenant, or in the New Covenant, if you understand that law is subsumed under the broader, more profound, and more basic rubric of covenant. That law is actually an extension of the requirements, or conditions, or stipulations, of the covenant. We said if you understand that, you are protected either from legalism or antinomianism. But that if you do not understand law’s relationship to covenant, you can actually fall into legalism and antenomianism simultaneously. Believe it or not, it can be done. And we have said that one of the problems of dispensationalists, of consistent dispensationalists, one of the reasons why Reformed theologians very frequently refer to them as antinomian in their view of the Christian life is precisely because many of those of the dispensationalist camp have decided that the only way that you can preach grace is to do away with the law, and to say that the believer has nothing to do with the law, and to read those very categorical statement of Paul in the New Testament as if Paul’s problem was with the law itself, or with the believer incorporating any aspect or use of law in the believer’s life.
Now, having said that covenant was the larger concept of law, we have looked at the distinctiveness of the Mosaic Covenant. In the distinctiveness of the Mosaic Covenant we said there was an external summarization of God’s will optimized in God’s writing of the ten words on stone.
The Unity of the Law, the Mosaic Covenant, and Grace
And I want to emphasize to you that in the Old Testament in the book of Exodus in particular, those ten words, are linked very directly to the covenant itself. Look with me at a few passages. For instance, in Exodus 34, verse 28, listen to these words. Exodus 34:28 –
So he, Moses, was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”
So notice how closely, the words of the covenant, the covenant itself, are linked to the Ten Commandments. So that, that external summarization of God’s will, is called the Words of the Covenant. That is not the only place. Turn over to Deuteronomy, chapter 4. This language will remind you of Genesis 17, when the sign of the covenant is called the covenant. And the Covenant is called the sign. Listen to this. Exodus 4:13
“So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments;”
Now that is a classic passage which would lead someone with a dispensational interpretation of Scripture, to say, “Ah ha, you see, the Mosaic Covenant is a performance based, works based covenant in the way we relate to God. Because there it says that this is the covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is the Ten Commandments. You see, this is an alternative to faith, as in the covenant of Abraham.” But if you don’t understand the way that covenants speak of outward forms, like the covenant sign, or the Tables of the Covenants, as representative of the covenant itself, you could misunderstand that.
What is Moses doing there? He is tying together, as closely as possible, that thing which optimizes the covenant of Moses. The economy of law here, that is the external summarization of God’s will in the Ten Commandments, itself. Those are the words of the covenant; they are the covenant itself. Does that mean that this is a covenant by law, and not by grace? Moses would have scratched his head in wonderment at you, had you asked him the question. What does he want you to see? The thing which characterizes, which optimizes God’s redeeming work in the era of the Mosaic covenant, is this external summarization of His law in the Ten Commandments. Turn forward to Deuteronomy 9, Deuteronomy 9, verse 9.
“When I went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD had made with you, then I remained on the mountain forty days and nights;” and down at verse 11, “And it came about at the end of forty days and nights that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.”
Now again, just like in Deuteronomy 4:13, we see this linkage between the covenant itself, and the words, the ten words, the Ten Commandments. And by the way, this time, we see this linkage after Moses has said two very significant things. Actually it is the Lord who said these things, and Moses by the inspiration of the Spirit, has recorded them. Back in Deuteronomy 7, beginning in verse 6, Moses has recorded these words of the Lord.
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. "The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers,”
And so in that passage, the Lord makes it very clear that He didn’t not enter into relationship with the children of Israel because of some quality in them - but because of a quality in Him. His love. Now, this is tantalizing because He won’t go any further than that. And you are going to have to ask the Lord face to face when you get to glory, because that is the only answer that God gives to the question of “Why am I a guest at the feast of the marriage supper of the Lamb?” His answer is, “It is because I loved you.” Now He says that not in the New Testament: He says it in the Covenant of Moses. Which is a Covenant of Grace. And then He says it again, right before He speaks of this tables of the covenant in Deuteronomy 9:9 and 11, look at verses 4, 5, and 6, in Deuteronomy chapter 9.
“Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. "It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. "Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.”
Now, look at what He does. He hedges you about on every side. He says, “You want to know why I have put my heart on you? It is because I love you. And you know why I am bringing judgment against them? It is not because you are better than them. It is because they are in wicked rebellion against Me, and I have chosen in My justice to bring judgment against them. And you, because of the covenant I have made with Abraham, are the beneficiary. But it is not because of your righteousness.” That is not Paul; that is Moses. Okay. So don’t tell me that Paul didn’t understand Moses, or that Moses was in opposition to Paul. That is Moses telling you that. And that is right smack dab in the midst of this covenant that some have been so unfair as to characterize as a covenant of works.
Now, what then do you do with the passage or two that we mentioned in the New Testament. Turn with me for instance to the Gospel of John. John chapter 1, verse 17. John 1:17, a classic passage appealed to, especially by our old-timey dispensational friends. Here is where they go. John 1:17.
“For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”
And as you remember, the authorized version of the King James Version hardens the contrast, so it reads like, “For the Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized …” And they say, “See, can’t mix up Grace and Law. Law, that is Old Testament. It doesn’t have anything to do with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t have anything to do with Grace and Peace and Truth. That is New Covenant stuff.” Is that how to read John?
There are two keys to understanding what John is doing here. First of all, you must understand a principle beautifully phrased by John Murray as a relative contrast in absolute terms. The New Testament does it all the time. It makes a relative contrast in absolute terms. When God, the Holy Spirit, speaking through the Apostle John, says that “Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ,” let me ask you two questions. Is he saying, that there was no grace in the Old Covenant? If so, explain to me Noah. Explain to me Abraham. Explain to me Deuteronomy 7 and 9. Explain to me David. So, you have gotten the point. This is a relative contrast in absolute terms.
Now, let me flip the question around the other way. Is he saying that there is no Law under the New Covenant? The Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth realized through Jesus Christ. Do you remember the words that came from this apostle’s mouth recorded for us, telling the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” Now it is going to be a scant fourteen chapters, before he gets to that statement. Could he be so senile when he wrote this that he had forgotten that he had made this statement in John chapter 1? No. The statements are perfectly consonant, because it is a relative contrast in absolute terms. That is the first way you understand what John is doing here.
The second way that you understand this statement is to understand that John is trying to encapsulate in a few words, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and beautifully characterizing the epitome of those two covenantal administrations. If you wanted to characterize the glory of God’s revelation in the time of Moses, where do you start? The law. You are overwhelmed by the law, when you look at the Mosaic revelation. And even our Lord Jesus doesn’t say, in the Sermon on the Mount, I am going to give you a new law. No, the law is going to stay the same. The Lord Jesus is going to apply it in such a way, that it can be seen for the fullness that it is, having scraped away all the encrustation’s of the Rabbinic and Pharisaical tradition. But He doesn’t give a new law. Notice that Jesus’ words of contrast in the Sermon on the Mount are not, “Moses said,” but I say.” That is not what the Sermon on the Mount says. What is the contrast of the Sermon on the Mount? “You have heard, but I say.” What is His point of contrast? The incorrect exposition of the Law which the people of God had heard through the tradition of elders contrasted to His correct and divinely authoritative exposition of the Law as recorded in the Sermon on the Mount. So His contrast is not “Moses said, but I say.” But is, “You have heard that people said,” or “You have heard people say that Moses says,” but “Let me tell you what Moses says, because I wrote it.” That is the contrast on the Sermon on the Mount. That law is My law. Moses was My instrument. Let me tell you what I meant when I wrote the Ten Commandments.
So the contrast is not between the old system of ethics, and the new system of ethics. It is at one level, between a misunderstanding of that system and Jesus’ full understanding of that system. And of course, in the backdrop of it, even in the Sermon on the Mount, is the understanding of the ethical system in light of the person and work of Christ. But that is another story for another day.
So, when you come to a passage like John 1:17, you understand that John is encapsulating for you what was the epitome of the Mosaic economy, the expression of the law. God, Himself, wrote with His own finger, the moral standards for all His people.
But, what was the epitome of the New Covenant? The achievement of grace and truth in the lives of God’s people, through the operation of the Holy Spirit dispensed from the right hand of God and from the ascended Christ. That is the essence. And as the Apostle Paul will argue in II Corinthians chapter 3, and it seems to me that his words are almost a gloss on John 1:17, he is going to argue, not that there was no glory in the former, and only glory in the latter. But rather he will argue that there was glory in the former. But there was much greater glory in the latter. You see, it is on a continuum. It was from the lesser to the greater. If there was so much glory that Moses had to veil his face under the Old Covenant, how much more glory is there for the minister of the New Covenant? It is a relative contrast in absolute terms, and it is a phrase designed to stress the respective epitomes of those two covenantal administrations. It is not an absolute contrast. It is not excluding grace under the Old Covenant, nor is it excluding Law under the New Covenant. That is not the point of the argument, even contextually, if we were to go back and do contextual exegesis there. John’s point is not draw some sort of a radical dichotomy.
Now, another passage, an infamous passage, Galatians 3. Galatians is consistently interpreted by nonReformed evangelical interpreters as a book which proves that Paul had no place for the law in the Christian life, and that any bringing in of the Christian law in the Christian life is, in fact, a compromise of the Gospel itself. Which put us Reformed folks in a rather precarious position. According to that interpretation, we are hanging with the Pharisees and the Judaizers. But look at what Paul says in Galatians 3, beginning in verse 13.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us— for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"- - in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the faith”
Notice that Paul is saying that the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the ongoing work of the Spirit in regeneration, and the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life is a result of what? Our receiving the promises that God made to Abraham. This is not a new plan, Paul is saying. It is not that they had it one way. The Spirit wasn’t operative under that old covenant thing. And we have it a new way. No, the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit in us, the very outpouring of the Holy Spirit in His initial regenerating work in His ongoing sanctifying work in us, is a response to the promise that God gave to Abraham, so that we believers, all of us, are a recipients and participants in the Covenant of Grace made with Abraham. It is all part of the same glorious structure of the Covenant of Grace. But notice, what He keeps on saying here.
“Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ. What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.”
Now, here is Paul’s logic. Paul is saying, at the very outset, the Mosaic Covenant was never designed to replace the Abrahamic Covenant, nor to modify the stipulations or conditions, or requirements, whatever term you want to use there of the Abrahamic Covenant. It is never designed to do that. It wasn’t a replacement, it wasn’t an alternative way of salvation, you misunderstand the function of it, if you think that God is now offering an alternative way of salvation, or as He is adding to the grace requirements of the Covenant of Abraham. For if the inheritance is based upon Law, it is no longer based on a promise, but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. So there is his argument. That is the basis of the inheritance — the oath. And you hear the language of what? Of Deuteronomy 7 and 9 coming through there. Paul is not quarreling with Moses; he is exegeting Moses here.
Then he goes on to say, “Why the Law, then?” Good question. It was added because of transgressions, or you could translate it, it was added for the sake of defining the transgressions. Having been ordained by angels by the agency of a mediator until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only, whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God.
So Paul’s initial statement is it was added in order to heighten our understanding of transgression, which would have been a shocking statement about the Law to the Jews of this day. That would have seemed irreverent. And can you hear the echo of the Judaizers challenge/question to Paul in Romans 3 on this. “Do we say that we sin that grace might abound? Do You mean You are saying the Law is there so that sin will increase?”
No, no, no, you don’t understand. The Law is there in order to heighten your awareness of sin. And that is not the only reason Paul is not giving you the full scope of the law. He is arguing in the context of a polemic and he is highlighting one specific function of the law, in order to do what? To tweak the noses of the Judaizers, but not just to be difficult, to make them think about the function of the Law, and Paul’s fundamental objection to the Judaizers is what? They have never, A. understood the law, and B. they have never understood what the Law was for. And that means at least they have not understood all of the functions that God intended the Law to play. And because they have they misunderstood that, they have completely skewed what the Scriptures say about the way that God relates to man, and how God accepts man. Or to turn it around, and speak of it in a Pauline term, in what way we are accounted righteous before God, in what way we stand right before Him, in what way we are acquitted before Him. Because they misunderstand the function of the law, they are confused about everything else.
But immediately he comes back to this question, because he knows that some people are going to misread what he is saying; the Judaizers certainly, but even perhaps some friends. And they are going to say, “Well that means, Paul, that the Law must be contrary to the Covenant of Abraham and its promises,” and so he says, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?” No. For, if a Law had been given which was enable to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on Law, but the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, but the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Paul is again hitting them at what level? At the level of the function of the Law. He says, “In a fallen world, you have to understand that the Law in and of itself and by itself cannot justify,” and he tells you why in verse 22.
“But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin,”
The Law can only justify you if you are perfect. Now understand Paul’s polemic is not to say that it would be inherently wrong for God to justify somebody because they were perfect. That is not Paul’s polemic at all. In fact, the apostle Paul will use that polemic to show that Jesus Christ was justified on the basis of obedience, so that you could be justified on the basis of His obedience as you have faith in Him. Paul had no problem with the concept of “do this and live.” Paul has no problem with the concept of do and live. On at least two occasions, his frontal assault against Judaizers, psuedoPharisees, will be, “You think you live by the Law; do it! You think you can stand before God and say, Lord, I did this, I did that.. Fine. I will be standing there with you on the judgment day. You just go ahead and live that way. And if you are perfect God will accept you, I promise He will. Just go ahead and do it.”
You see, then Paul’s argument, is, “Oh no, that would be against grace for you to attempt to be justified by God that way.” No. That is not Paul’s argument at all. Paul’s argument is, “Bubba, that doesn’t work, because you are already a sinner. The Scripture has shut you up in sin, and what I am trying to press home to you, is that you don’t understand the function of the Law in the context of believing, covenantal fellowship with God. The function of the Law is not to get you justified, before God.” That is not the function of the Law. The Law is not able to impart life, he stresses in verse 21. The Law in and of itself, cannot impart life.
Now this is a key element of the New Covenant ethic. The New Covenant ethic, contrary to much popular belief in teaching, does not say that Law is bad and grace is good. Or Law is bad and faith is good. Or Law is bad, but the Holy Spirit is good. That kind of contrast is not the New Covenant ethic. The New Covenant ethic says, “Look, the Law continues to be the standard of obedience, but the law in and of itself is not capable of producing obedience, only the Holy Spirit is.” And the Holy Spirit produces that obedience by His grace work, the instrument of that obedience in us is our faith, and by faith we then produce the fruit of obedience in the keeping of the Law. Is this clear? And so Paul says to these people, “The law is not capable of imparting life. Only the Holy Sprit can do that in accordance with grace. The instrument that God has chosen for that is faith. And obedience is the product of that work of the Spirit, not the cause of it.”
Then he goes on to argue:
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Now those verses give some folks fits. Because there are at least two ways that you could understand what Paul is getting at there. Is Paul, when he is using that kind of language, “before faith came,” talking about the experience of the individual believer before and after regeneration, or is he talking about eras of redemptive history before Christ and after Christ, calling the era prior to Christ, before faith came, the time of the Law, and the era after Christ, now that faith has come? My guess, is that he is doing a little bit of a double entendre here. But again, his statement, “before faith came, and now that faith has come,” cannot be taken as an absolute contrast. It is a relative contrast in absolute terms. How do you know that? Because who is Paul’s example of faith? Abraham. And he was kicking around a few years before Jesus came. So, again, you can’t come up with airtight categories here, excluding the operation of the Spirit in faith, under the Old Covenant, in contrast to the New Covenant.
And so again, Paul’s contrasts here, are relative, and they are designed in particular to isolate that element of the Law of God in the days of Moses, especially the ceremonial code, which was in and of itself designed to point forward to a real work that was going to accomplish atonement and which, because that work has already come, are now utterly worthless for the believer, in both justification and sanctification. By the way, that language is not mine, weak and worthless; that is the language of Hebrews chapter 7. That is what the ceremonial law is now that faith has come.
Now that is Paul’s polemic against those who would impose the ceremonial code on believers. He says, “Look, you misunderstand the whole function of the law.” And at that point, he is thinking in broad categories about the law, not simply ceremonial, but the law as a whole. But when he isolates and begins to speak to them about the function of the Law as a tutor, he has in mind both those distinctive elements of the Law: the moral law and the ceremonial law. And he thinks of the moral law not only as a tutor, or as the slave who leads us to the school teacher; he thinks of the moral law not only as the one who leads us to Christ, because in the law, we see our own need for the teacher, Jesus, but he sees the ceremonial code as the tutor that leads us to the reality, the one who is really going to teach us the atonement. The one who is really going to accomplish atonement for us.
Now we are going to come back to that passage when we get into our New Covenant section, but I wanted to look at them because those are passages which are often appealed to by some, in order to prove a radical dichotomy in the Covenant of Grace, or actually to say that there is not a unified Covenant of Grace from Old Testament to New Testament, but in fact, they are distinctive dispensations. And it is patently clear that that is exactly opposite from what Paul is arguing. Paul is arguing there is no discontinuity between Abraham and Moses. What Moses established did not undercut what God had already established under Abraham. That is the whole logic of his argument, in Galatians 3. So this very passage which is often appealed to, to say to Reformed Christians, “See you have got it all wrong, because you are trying to bring this Law thing back in and you are just like the Galatians.” You would have to say, “Well, my friend, you have got it upside down. You have done a 180 degree interpretation of Paul’s logic. The flow of his logic doesn’t make sense, if what you say is true about the relationship between Law and Gospel.”
So, what is the role for the Mosaic Covenant today?
First of all, the moral law continues to be the perfect standard of obedience in the Covenant of Grace. This is stressed in numerous ways in the New Covenant. Think of the shear amount of law material found in the New Testament, especially in the Epistles. A lion’s share of the Epistles fall in the category of moral exhortation: live this way, obey these things, do these things. And usually it comes in the form of an exposition of an Old Testament principle applied to New Covenant believers. The overwhelming amount of law material in the New Testament is an argument that the New Testament authors themselves did not see a radical dichotomy between the standard of the law in the Old Covenant and the standard of the Law in the New Covenant. The moral law is the same. Why? Because God is the same.
And that is remarkable, because you know how when you are in an argument? You tend to overstate and you tend to contort what the other person is saying. And in this conflict with Judaizers and Legalists, the New Covenant is very carefully protecting the place of law in the believer’s life. And that is truly remarkable. That to me is one of the great marks of the inspiration of the New Testament. The best of men have overstated themselves in that argument over the 2000 year period of Christian history, and yet the New Testament is incredibly careful with how it states that particular relationship.
Furthermore, Paul stresses in passages like Ephesians 2, Romans 5, and Romans 8, that we were redeemed to be righteous. And how does he define righteousness? He defines it in accordance to the character of God and in terms of the law of God - see Romans 7. The law of God, Paul says, is holy, it is spiritual. These are Pauline descriptions of the law. Those are not Pharisaical descriptions of the law. Those are Paul’s description of the law. The law is holy, and righteous.
And, in the New Testament, our Lord Jesus stresses that blessing comes from obedience. Put in Old Testament terms, blessing comes from law keeping. And the other side of that is that the New Testament continues to stress that chastening to those who violate God’s law.
And finally, Jesus and Paul stress that our judgment will be by works. In all these ways, we see that the moral law of the Mosaic era continues to be relevant to believers. Paul stresses that blessing comes from keeping the law. Look at Ephesians 6:2. You remember his emphasis? This is the only commandment with a promise. Obedience to parents yields living long in the land of your fathers. Jesus stresses that blessing comes from obedience. In Matthew 5:17-19, He who teaches and keeps all the law, he will be blessed, he will be considered great in the kingdom. In Matthew 7 verses 24-27, the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount, what is Jesus’ point? It was the man who acted upon the demands, the claims of Christ, building his house on the rock, he was the one whose house stood up under the waves. He didn’t just hear the words and think that they were really nice, and was deeply moved by them; he built his house on the rock. The blessing comes from obedience. Hebrews 12:6 stresses that chastening will be done to those who violate God’s law. I Corinthians 11 verses 30-32 teaches the same thing, in the context of the Lord’s Supper of all things. When Paul said, “and many of you are asleep,” he didn’t mean they were taking a long nap. Chastening comes from taking the Lord’s Supper in a flippant way and not discerning the body. That is not manifesting a true connection, appreciation for a mutual love for those in the body. So there is blessing and cursing in the New Covenant, which again shows the continuing function of the law. And as we said, Christians under the New Covenant will be judged by works. Matthew 25 verses 31-33, II Corinthians 5:10,
Now friends this reminds us why it is so important for us to understand justification, sanctification, and the relationship between law and gospel. Because if you don’t understand those things, you cannot preach the Gospel that Paul preached. You have to preach a justification that has absolutely nothing to do with personal obedience and law keeping, while at the same time, stressing that there is no such thing as a justification without a corresponding sanctification.
And so you have to stress the freeness of grace and justification, while simultaneously stressing that grace reigns in righteousness, to borrow Paul’s words from the end of chapter 5 of the book of Romans, remembering that the purpose of grace in the life of believers is not fire insurance, but it is that we would be transformed into the image of the Son, and restored to the fullness of our humanity. And so Lordship, you see, is not peripheral to Christian experience; it is the ultimate expression of Christian experience. It is the purpose that God is working for us. And so faith and works must be present in the believer’s life. James’ words, in James chapter 2 are not antiPauline, they are quintessentially Pauline. Paul couldn’t have said it better himself. In fact, he did on a few occasions, say precisely what James says in James chapter 2.
You have to understand those things as we proclaim the Gospel. And it you know this is one of the things that we just need to rehearse, this is one that you are called upon to meditate upon over and over, and over and over. And I will confess, I am slow, these things didn’t come together for me, until I had been working them through for seven years in the context of study in seminary, and in postgraduate training. You have got to commit yourself to reflection and meditation, so you can preach a Gospel of grace which is absolutely free. A justification that has nothing to do whatsoever with me, with what I have done, but at that same time, to stress that grace always reigns in righteousness and that he who has faith has works, and that is a Pauline Gospel.
Now this emphasis is seen elsewhere in the New Testament call to obedience. The Christian life, according to the New Testament, is characterized by joyful obedience. We see it in John 14:15, in Jesus’ word to His disciples. “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” “Love to God,” F.F. Bruce says, “love to God and obedience to God are so completely involved in each other, that anyone of them implies the other two.” You can’t love God without obeying Him. And that is exactly what James is poking at. He is saying, “Well, you say you love God, but you don’t obey Him? Well, I don’t believe you love Him.” And that is just what John says in I John. “You hate your brother. Well, God said, ‘don’t hate your brother.’” ‘In fact God said, ‘love your brother.’ So, you don’t love God. They go together.”
Eric Alexander puts it this way. “The evidence of knowing God is obeying God. So the Christian life is characterized by joyful obedience.” This is not against the doctrine of grace. Listen to the words of Martin Luther, who wrote that radical treatise on Galatians, and who himself has been charged with nigh unto half a millennium, by the Roman Catholic Church as being the most wicked antinomian to ever walk the planet, “I would rather obey God than work miracles.” That is not the statement of an antinomian. “I would rather obey God than work miracles.” Now is that antiGospel? No. Obedience to God in the context of grace is, in fact, the ground of freedom because when we recognize it is God we obey, we are freed from the doctrines and opinions and commandments of men.
What is the most frustrating thing in life? To be judged by people on arbitrary standards that you have never seen written down anywhere. Where does it say that I have to wear my hair like that? Where does it say that I have to wear that kind of clothes to be accepted in your group? Where does it say that I have to drive that kind of car, live in that particular part of town? You aren’t their slave, they aren’t your master. God is your master. You are freed from the doctrines, opinions, and commandments of men. His law is the only standard by which you will be judged, because you are freed from the arbitrary and manmade standards of all your would be lords. And that is why even Seneca, the great Latin stoic, said to obey God is perfect liberty. Listen to Thomas Vincent, “God is the only Lord of the conscious, and though we are to obey magistrates and parents and masters, yet we are chiefly to do this because God requires us to do so. And if they command us to do anything which God does forbid, we are to refuse obedience, choosing to obey God rather than any man in this world.” The charter of Christian freedom is that once we have appropriated the grace of Christ, the law becomes not a burdensome code that condemns us, but it becomes our charter of Christian freedom as the Gospel of Grace and the cross of Christ transforms it. It ceases to be our enemy. It is no longer designed to drive us in our sin to Christ, though it still performs that function. It is the mirror, the royal law, that we see our sin in that continues sends us back to Christ.
As Christians, we must learn how the law functions because it has multiple functions. The New Testament makes it very clear. That God’s revealed will as set forth in His word, and in His law, is the pattern of obedience which He calls us to follow. The revealed will of God is found in the Scriptures where the whole duty of man to God is made known, said Thomas Vincent. As we close, just listen to these words of the New Testament,
John 14:15. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
John 14:21. "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him."
Galatians 3:10. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM."
Ephesians 4:1. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,”
Ephesians 4:17. “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind,”
Ephesians 6:6. “not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.”
You couldn’t find a better description of the Christian ethic.
Phillipians 2:12. “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;”
I Timothy 6:14. “that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,”
I Timothy 6:18. “Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,”
Hebrews 13:16. “And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
James 1:22. “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
The New Testament ethic does not dispense with the glorious core of the moral law. It places it in the framework of grace and calls on the believer to sing with David, how I love Thy law, O Lord. Let’s pray.