Chapter 21 - The Law of Christ

As we showed in the preceding chapter, the national law of the Israelites enacted on Mount Sinai constituted the first, or old, covenant and was abolished by Christ at the cross; that is, so far as God’s sanction and approval were concerned, the Mosaic law ended then, for it had served its temporary purpose as a standard of duty and judgment among God’s people. It was only “added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the Abrahamic promise was made,” “which is Christ” (Gal. 3:19, 16).

The Necessity of Law

There still exists, however, the necessity of law as a standard of judgment, because without law there could be no sin, “for sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). Therefore, without a law defining and limiting human actions and conduct there could be no sin, hence no pardon or salvation.
Now our moral obligations, our conduct and actions, are of a twofold character, embracing the relationship we hold to our fellow men and also the relationship we hold to God whose creatures and subjects we are. For this reason, a perfect law, covering all human conduct and defining sin, must proceed from God.

Only Divine Law Can Define Sin

Since a law capable of defining sin must proceed from God, and since, as we have shown, the Mosaic system has been abolished by Christ, what law now furnishes the standard of judgment for the world? Under what law are Christians?
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son” (Heb. 1:1-2). God’s requirements can be made known to men only by revelation, and this he made known “unto the fathers by the prophets” in various ways and at different times. Do not overlook this fact; it is important. As we showed in a preceding chapter, divine revelation was by necessity a gradual, progressive process, in accommodation to human conditions. For this reason, commandments and obligations that God has laid upon men in one period of time have often been superseded, in the order of God’s plan, by something of a higher and more perfect nature. If men fail to understand this principle, they may, like the Israelites of old, attempt to perpetuate some of God’s appointments long after he himself is done with them.

Christ the Lawgiver

Now, when God speaks to men, is not his word law? Is it right to disobey? And if his word is law, then there can be no higher law than “the law of Christ”; for Jesus himself says, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). He asserts that “all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (5:23). So far as authority is concerned, then, Christ is supreme. If he delivered a law, that law must be final, must be binding upon all, and must be the standard of judgment for the world. God “hath … spoken unto us by his Son.”
In the Old Testament we have clear predictions of the coming of another lawgiver. Moses himself, the mediator of the old law, understood that his system was to be temporary and prophesied of a change (Deut. 18:15, 17-19). This passage teaches that God’s words which this prophet should speak would be the standard of judgment for the disobedient “I will require it of him.” In Acts 3:22-23, Peter quotes this prophecy and applies it directly to Jesus Christ, whose word is law—”the law of Christ.” Isaiah, with clear reference to Christ, says, “The isles shall wait for his law” (42:4). “His law,” “the law of Christ,” was not in existence in Isaiah’s day, but men were obliged to “wait” for it. After the lapse of many centuries it came, thank God!
Follow this divine Lawgiver to the Mount of Transfiguration. Here appear Moses and Elias—Moses representing the Law that he delivered and the dispensation that he ushered in; Elias, the foremost man among all the prophets of the old dispensation, representing all the prophets through whom “God spake in time past unto the fathers.” Peter, amazed by the supernatural illumination of his Lord and overawed with the splendor of the occasion, said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles: one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias” (Matt. 17:4). Peter seemed to think that all three should be accorded equal honor and place in the worship of God. Listen to the rebuke of Heaven at the very suggestion: “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.… And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only” (vss. 5, 8).
Neither Moses and the Law, nor Elias, nor the other prophets can stand with Him who claims equality with God—“Jesus only.” The first covenant was revealed on Mount Sinai and amid great manifestations; how appropriate, then, that the actual change to the new covenant should be made known on a mountain in this marvelous manner, with the seal and approval of Heaven itself upon the demonstration! “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). “The law and the prophets were until John who baptized Christ: since that time the kingdom of God is preached” (Luke 16:16). In the order of his plan, God “spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” but now he “hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” O children of earth, know ye that God hath spoken unto us by his Son. “Hear ye him!”

The New Law God’s Standard of Judgment

According to the prediction of Moses, God promised to place his words in the mouth of the new prophet, or lawgiver. In fulfillment of this, Jesus says: “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50).
This law of commandments delivered by Christ defines sin and is the present standard of judgment. This is proved by the fact that it is the standard by which we shall be judged in the last great day (vs. 48). Our responsibility is now rated, not by the Decalogue, nor the Law of Moses, nor the injunctions of the prophets, but by the “gospel,” the law of Christ.
1. Christ possessed all authority. “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18).
2. He taught with authority. “He taught them as one having authority” (Matt. 7:29). His teachings throughout show a directness characteristic of an original lawgiver. Not once does he quote law or prophet as his authority for his teaching. He quotes them for other purposes, but for his doctrine he claims no authority besides God.
Some people affirm that in Matthew 5 Christ is simply enlarging the scope of the old law; but notice that a series of striking contrasts are here introduced. He refers to the Law in the words, “Ye have heard that it hath been said”; whereas he introduces his own teaching thus: “But I say unto you.” His standard is not the Law standard, but another standard, and a higher one, and it proceeds directly from him.
In introducing this higher law Christ paid his respects to the old law and the prophets that had prepared the way for him—“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18).
3. Christ delivered a law. “The law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
4. It is binding on Christians. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … teaching them to observe the law?—No! but all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Now, these “commandments” of Christ constitute the message to all nations. Mark states it thus: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The gospel, then, contains the commandments of God binding on Christians, and they were delivered by Christ. For this reason Paul acknowledged himself as being “under the law of Christ” (I Cor. 9:21)—“under the law of the Messiah” (Syriac Version).
5. We must keep these commandments. “If ye love me, keep my commandment” (John 14:15). “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (vs. 23). “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.… For all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you” (15:14-15). Some imagine that by observing the Decalogue, they are keeping the commandments of God. Not so. The commandments of God in the Christian dispensation are quite another thing, being, as we have shown, the “words,” the “commandments,” yea, “the gospel,” of Jesus Christ; and by it we shall be judged in the last day (12:48). This “law of Christ” contains many commandments that are entirely “new,” belonging exclusively to this dispensation, such as those pertaining to baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot washing.
In obedience to the divine commission the Apostles delivered this law to the Christian churches. Paul, who was God’s apostle in a special sense (Gal. 1:1), wrote to the Corinthians: “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you” (I Cor. 11:23). And again, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (14:37). To the Thessalonians he said, “Ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus” (I Thess. 4:2); and he commended them because they had received his preaching, “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God” (2:13).

A “Perfect Law of Liberty”

As we have seen, “the law of Christ” is the standard of judgment. In order to be a perfect law defining sin and covering the entire range of human responsibility, it must prohibit everything that is in its nature wrong and enjoin everything that is right.
The gospel standard is the only perfect one. It alone condemns all that is wrong and enjoins all that is right. It alone is in force. As the “second” covenant, or “will,” it has now superseded in every respect the “first” covenant and is the standard of judgment now, and by it we shall be judged in the last day.

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