Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 12, 1960
NUMBER 2, PAGE 1,10b-11

The Law And Gospel

Herschel E. Patton, Shelbyville, Tennessee

I certainly appreciate the interest that has been manifested in the study of these nineteen articles of faith which we find recorded in the standard manual of those professing these beliefs. This study is being made because of a love for truth. I have no disposition to manifest an ugly spirit, or to criticize just to be criticizing. If I believed that a servant of God could close his eyes to what he believes to be error and go along without protest and still be acceptable to God and counted a friend to his neighbor, then I would not bother with making such a review as this. However, since God's ministers must "pull down the strongholds," "cast down imaginations," "reprove" and "rebuke," I can not help protesting against those things, which I believe to be false. Furthermore, since one can "believe a lie" that will result in damnation (2 Thess. 2:10-12), and the traditions of men result in vain worship (Matt. 15:9), I do not believe one can truly "love his neighbor as himself" without rebuking that which has his neighbor enslaved. Again I say this review is not being made because of any hatred, malice, or ill-will, but because of a love for souls and truth. We come now to the twelfth article, entitled "The Law and Gospel."

Article No. XII.

"We believe the scriptures teach that the law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of His moral government; that it is holy, just, and good; and that the inability which the scriptures ascribes to fallen men to fulfill its precepts arises entirely from their sinful nature; to deliver them from which, and to restore them through a Mediator to unfeigned obedience to the holy law, is one great end of the gospel, and of the means of grace connected with the establishment of the visible church."

Unchangeable Law In this article the law of God is defined as "the eternal and unchangeable rule of his moral government." There is a universal rule of right and wrong that is binding on all nations and peoples of all time, which may be called the law of God. However, we must remember that God's laws have differed in different ages. That is, God sometimes required of some people things which were not required of others. Circumcision was a law of God for Israel, but it has never been a law of God for Gentiles. Animal sacrifice was a law of God from Adam until the cross, but it is not his law for Christians. The law or rule of God may be looked upon as eternal only in the sense that He is the eternal ruler. His ruling authority is eternal, but many of his laws, as we have seen, are not eternal. As for the law of God being unchangeable, His ruling authority is unchangeable; but there have been changes in what was required of people of one and those of a different age. And, of course, His laws are unchangeable in the sense that man cannot change them.

Writers and professors of this article fail to make a distinction between the law and the gospel in the sense of looking upon the gospel as a system of law itself. They see only one law which they claim to be eternal and unchangeable, thus are unable to distinguish between the territories of Judaism and Christianity, the bounds of the authority of Moses and that of Christ. A failure to make this distinction keeps one in chaos — Judaism is Christianity, and Christianity is Judaism; a Jew is a Christian, and a Christian is a Jew. One may as well look in the Book of Chronicles for the way, the truth, and the life, as in the Book of Acts of Apostles. But when a distinction is made between the Law of Moses and the law of the Gospel, darkness fades and the veil is stripped from the understanding; and we behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, and are changed into his glorious image from one degree of glory to another, by the Spirit of the Lord.

Gospel, A System Of Law

Let us observe, just here, that the gospel is a system of law. It will not he denied that the gospel is designated by a number of different expressions; each emphasizing some feature of the gospel. To keep the gospel from being confused with the law of Moses, the blessings of the gospel are stressed more than its legal aspect; however it is often designated as a system of law. Paul said in Romans 8:2 "For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Romans 3:27 "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith." Galatians 6:2 "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." James 1:25 "But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty." In these verses we have the gospel referred to as "The law of the Spirit," "The law of faith," "The law of Christ," and "The perfect law of liberty." Let no one say, therefore, that the gospel is not a system of law itself. The old covenant was a law and the new covenant is a law; we are subjects of the latter but not of the former.

Some Scriptures Considered

As proof of the introductory statement in this article — that the law of God is the eternal and unchangeable rule of his moral government, we are cited to several scriptures, which we now examine. The first reference is Romans 3:31 "Do we make void the law through faith? God forbid. Yea, we established the law." Here Paul was writing to people who expected to be justified by the works of the law of Moses and was making an effort to show them that justification could not be had in that way, but through faith in Christ. The end or purpose of the law could never he accomplished without bringing in faith, the gospel, the reign of Christ. The law was given to prepare the people for this very thing. Thus faith in Christ actually established the law — made it possible for the end or purpose of the law to be fulfilled. There is nothing here whirl; indicates that the law would continue unceasingly. Secondly we are cited to Matthew 5:17 "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I are not come to destroy but to fulfill." Here "to destroy" is not in contrast with "to fulfill." These expressions describe Jesus' attitude toward the law, instead of destroying the law, Jesus fulfilled it: instead of setting aside the prophets, he fulfilled their predictions. Jesus fulfilled the law by becoming the antitype of all its types and shadows; by filling up all the unfilled predictions of the prophets. There is nothing here, therefore, which would indicate the law would continue binding. Thirdly our attention is called to Luke 16:17 "And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail." This simply means that it was impossible for any type, shadow, or prediction of the prophets to fail to come to pass, not that it was impossible for any command to cease to be binding.

It is further affirmed that the law of God is holy, just, and good. Surely, no one would say this is not true of any law of God. The reference here given, Romans 7:12, refers particularly to the law of Moses, but would be true of any law of God.

Man's Inability

Next, we are told "that the inability which the scriptures ascribe to fallen men to fulfill its precepts arises entirely from their sinful nature." Here it is affirmed that fallen man is unable to fulfill the precepts of the law of God and that this inability arises from his sinful nature. In article number three it was contended that because of an inherited sinful condition man cannot fulfill the precepts of the law of God. This idea, of course, ignores the free moral agency of man and would indicate that man is not himself responsible for not complying with the precepts of the law of God. The passage thought to teach this is Romans 8:7-8 "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God." This verse does not teach that a person who lives a worldly life cannot turn from it and himself become subject to the law of God; but it does teach that a person cannot live for the things of this life and at the same time be subject to God. While one is minding the things of the flesh, he is not subject to the will of God; and in that state he cannot be subject to God, for such a life is in direct conflict with his will. The phrase "in the flesh" simply means to live a worldly life — a life devoted to the flesh. Paul, in this same context, shows that man can live a worldly life and, therefore, has the responsibility to control the flesh — "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. . . but to mortify the deeds of the body" (verses 12-13).

We are next told that to restore man from this fallen condition so that he can obey the law of God is one great end of the gospel, and of the means of grace connected with the establishment of the visible church. It is not denied that the gospel makes possible man's restoration from a fallen condition. It is denied, however, that man is by inheritance in a fallen condition and powerless to act without a demonstration of miraculous power. The grounds of this denial were set forth in our study of article number three, entitled "The Fall of Man." Instead of the gospel's restoring a man miraculously from an inherited fallen condition whereby it is impossible for him to obey the law of God, it presents to man, a way by which he can turn from a course of life leading to spiritual death to one which leads to life. Man, as a free moral agent can choose the course he desires. This is the teaching of Romans 8:2-4, the passage to which we are cited by the article in this connection. The passage reads "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh. God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." "For" connects this verse with the preceding one and shows why there is no condemnation in Christ; it is because in Christ we have been made free from that which causes condemnation — the law of sin and death. This freedom was accomplished by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Now, what is the law of sin and death? The law of the Spirit of life? Death, in this passage, is spiritual death; for the law of the Spirit does not make one free from physical death. The law of sin and death is not the law of Moses, for verses 2 and 3 show that the law of Moses could not do what the law of the Spirit had done. The law of sin and death is the law set forth in 7:23, "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members." If a man is captive to the law of sin he is dead spiritually. So, the man who lives according to the law or dictates of the flesh is following the law of sin and death. Now, the law of the Spirit makes free from sin and the consequent death. This, of course, is the gospel, for Paul said the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. (Rom. 1:16.) How this is accomplished is another matter. Professors of these articles believe it is done miraculously and unconditionally; however, we have seen in previous lessons that it is done through means — through hearing the gospel, believing repenting, and being baptized. This places one in Christ (Rom. 6:3-4,), or in the church. (Acts 2:47.)

In conclusion, let us remember there is such a thing as the Law of Moses, a universal moral law which is always binding, a law of sin and death which we have already identified, and the law of Christ which is also known as the law of the Spirit, the law of faith, or the gospel. To be safe, we must learn and obey every law of God which applies to us today.