Part Six

by A.E. Knoch

THE LAW OF MOSES is given a place in modern Christianity quite foreign to God's purpose, and even true believers do not seem to understand its function, hence we will point out briefly what use God makes of it under the old and new covenants with the Circumcision, and why it is out of place today, especially in the evangel of the Uncircumcision. Originally God gave no code of conduct. Not until the sons of Israel were delivered from Egypt did He hand down instructions for their behavior along with penalties for disobedience. Moreover, He never gave the law to the great mass of mankind. Only a minute minority have been put under it. This should show that the idea that His dealings with all men is merely a question of obedience or disobedience to His commands, is far from truth and fact.

As the law is not of faith, but of works, it is only a limited, local and national demonstration, for one nation and one land and one religion, not for all men in every land and every nation. The evangel of the Circumcision retains it, that of the Uncircumcision acknowledges the lesson it has to teach, but never seeks to repeat the demonstration. The law was not given until Israel came to Sinai. Even they did not have it before. It was never given to the nations. They will not even have it in the millennium. Not even Israel can fulfil it, in their dispersion. They must be in the land. If they had fulfilled it, they would never have had to leave the land. It cannot be kept anywhere else, or by any other nation. How absurd it is for Christianity to leave faith, which is for them, and purloin the law, which is not theirs! They alter it from a national to an individual matter, from local to a world-wide scope, from a small minority to the great mass, from a demonstration of the frailty of the flesh to an attempt to prove the opposite.

In order to give this even a semblance of sanity, they are forced to mutilate the law or repudiate many of its precepts. Now there is no temple and no priesthood, so they invent many false and feeble imitations. They cannot go to the holy city several times a year, so they worship every Sunday instead of resting on the Sabbath. They divide the law into the "moral" and the "ceremonial" law in order to reject the latter, notwithstanding the dire penalties which would follow if Yahweh took them seriously. Faith makes free, but even a pretense of observing the law has brought Christendom into bondage and condemnation. Notwithstanding that they fail to do multitudes of things written in the law, which should condemn them, some find no rest, merely because a few points, such as Sabbath keeping, are deemed vital. They do not realize that the law is broken by a single failure of even a trivial matter. It is not necessary to be a flagrant criminal to bring down its curse. All who seek to keep it, break it.

One of the sad results of the illogical, hypocritical and unscriptural handling of the law in Christendom is an attitude of credulity and confusion toward the Word of God. Our daily experience does not correspond with what is written in the law. We may not see clearly that God is evidently dealing on an entirely different principle, but it is apparent that the good do not prosper and the bad do not suffer, as the law would lead us to expect. Quite the reverse is often the case. In almost every relationship in life the law of Moses is a misfit. Not only can it not be kept, but it will not operate. Some of its provisions clash with the laws of other nations, to which God's saints must be subject.

One example of the ease with which even the saints are led astray because of a false apprehension of the function of the law, and of a failure to see that it is not of faith and contrary to the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus, is found in the attempt to prove that some of the modern nations are the lost ten tribes, who have risen to world dominance while absent from the land while failing to fulfill the law, and while uncircumcised. Uncircumcision alone would cut them off from the people of Yahweh (Gen.17:14). See what the Jews suffer, many of whom make an earnest attempt to conform to the law! These nations should not fare so well, while breaking His covenant as well as His law. It should call down the thunders and lightnings of Sinai. If our country is indeed Israel, and prospers in spite of God's threats, we are facing a more terrible doom in the day of God's indignation than any other. To be Israel, under law, does not bring blessing, but condemnation and death.

The underlying purpose of God in dealing with mankind is brought before us in the book of Job, who lived before the law was given. According to popular notions prevailing in religious circles today, Job should never have suffered, for he was a just man and feared God. The evil that came upon him was not for any ill that he had done, or as punishment for any crimes that he had committed. He did not break any law and suffer its just penalty. God did not deal with him on the ground of law or of retribution at all. Even when sorely tempted to curse God, he did not yield to it. Nevertheless his trial continued until we are almost tempted to join his false friends and insist that he must be getting his just deserts, for God must not be accused of treating him unjustly.

We do not consider the end that the Lord has in view. We imagine all evil must be related to something bad in the past instead of something good in the future. We do not realize that evil is a gift from God, designed to bring us down to our proper place and raise God up to the position His deity demands in the glorious consummation, when He will be All in all. We need evil for what we are, and shall be, not merely for any wrong that we have done. Evil is not essentially a penalty, but a preparation. It is humbling and revealing and necessary for the appreciation of good and of God.

The appalling pride and conceit and blindness of Christendom is evident from their attitude toward God's law. Though it was not given to them, and it is practically impossible for them to fulfill it, because of their position and physical descent, they insist on attempting what Israel utterly failed to accomplish and which has cost them unutterable suffering and woe. Believers who take up this intolerable burden are even more accountable, because, in doing so, they reject the grace for which the law should prepare them. Why keep on repeating a needless and painful, though imperfect demonstration, which will only confirm their need of the grace which God offers them so freely?

In most Christian lands there is a fundamentally false conception of the place of the law of Moses in God's dealing with mankind. This is especially the case where religion is under the patronage of the state, and is taught in the schools. Apart from the ritual, nearly all conduct is based on the ten commandments. People are told: Keep these, and God will reward you in this life, as well as in that which is to come. One might think that their failure to live up to God's standard would humble them and prepare them for His grace, but the law does not operate among individuals of the nations as in the nation of Israel, to whom it was given. There the whole nation prospered when they observed the law. But now many a saint who fulfills the law's just requirements is called on to suffer because he lives godly in Christ Jesus. God does not fulfill His promises in the law to us today. The wicked may prosper and the good suffer sore inflictions. Does not this failure of the law lead to much of the indifference and unbelief in Christendom today?

During a sojourn in a community where almost the whole population had been brought up in a knowledge of the Bible, where nearly every pupil in the public schools had taken several years in religious instruction under the pastor of the state church, I made a special effort to determine the spiritual value of such training. Strange as it may appear, I found hardly any evidence of spiritual life. There was a callous indifference to the things of God, and a hard coating of self-righteousness which absolutely repelled the evangel. All of these people had been drilled in the law. They knew the ten commandments by heart from their youth. It had been suggested that this is a good preparation for the grace of God, for the law would show them all that they were unable to keep it, and thus prepare them for the evangel. But man's innate self-righteousness only hardens under the impact of law.

Possibly the thunders of Sinai may open some hearts to God's grace, but it did not do so among these people. We know that it failed to do so even in Israel as a nation, although the law was adapted to them. If it is God's means of preparing for His grace, we should expect that He would have given it to all the people on earth instead of only to a very small minority. Today the very nation that has the law and takes it most seriously is most opposed to the evangel of grace, although a few of them are being reached by it. On the other hand, many have been and are being blessedly saved, who know little or nothing of the law of Moses. Practice seems to prove that it is not intended as a preparation for the evangel. It hinders and hardens, rather than helps and humbles the sinner in his approach to God.

Just as the truth of justification skips over the Acts of the apostles and the ministry of our Lord as well as the prophets and kings and judges of Israel, going back to Abram before his circumcision, so the relation of the saints today to the law goes back to the time when there was no law, when God dealt with the nations apart from Israel. Since then the nations have not been given the law, and the saints among them are not joined to the apostate nation in this regard, much as the Jews would have wished to have it so. They did not understand God's purpose in the law. They imagined, as most of Christendom does today, that God gave it for them to keep instead of for their condemnation.

Law is not the foundation of God's dealings with the race. It only came in by the way (Rom.5:20). Its object was not to give men a standard of conduct by which they may walk to please God, but to transform sin into offense. It is only a temporary expedient in God's great demonstration, showing that man not only falls short of the glory of God, but is at enmity with Him. He not only fails, but rebels. The light of the law does not keep him from sin, but leads him on to offense.

The Circumcision evangel provides power to fulfill the law, but in the evangel of the Uncircumcision God's righteousness is manifested apart from the law (Rom.3:21). The early chapters of Romans review and restate the whole question of man's relation to God in order to clear the ground for a new foundation on which to rest a fresh revelation, quite distinct and different from the Circumcision evangel. It is not confined to the Circumcision and proselytes, but includes all mankind. It is not limited to the land. It does not appeal to God's written revelation, but to the light of nature and conscience, which takes the place of law among the nations.

In the coming eon the law that was engraven in stone will be written on the hearts of God's earthly people (Heb.8:8-12). Strange as it may seem, the nations, who have no such law, already have a measure of it in their hearts. They do by nature what the law demands, and display the action of a law they never formally received. Their conscience, which usually leads them to accuse others and defend themselves, enforces it because they are likewise guilty. In this way they are a law to themselves (Rom.2:3,14-16). This takes the place of the law of Moses, and is sufficient for the purpose. It is contrary to God's will and out of line with His plan to place the nations under the Mosaic legislation, and in many ways is entirely impracticable for either believers or unbelievers. If the whole world were put under the law, it would defeat the object of the law, which is to emphasize the infirmity of the flesh even under the most advantageous circumstances. This can be shown only when those under it are specially favored.

Actually, there are two laws, one natural and universal, the other revealed and for a special people. Both operate to condemn and convict of shortcoming and sin. The law of Moses goes further, because God is disobeyed and defied when His instructions are not heeded. It changes a sin, or mistake, into a transgression, and a shortcoming into a personal offense. But, if the obtuse hearts of its hearers are conceited and callous enough to imagine that they can and do fulfill it (which, alas, is too often the case), it is no more effective as a preparation for the evangel than the law of nature among the nations. Indeed, Paul labors as long in the early chapters of Romans to bring those under law down to the level where they will accept God's righteousness (2:17-3:20) as was necessary in the case of the nations.

One striking difference between these two laws is brought out in the discussion in Romans. The law of Moses has its rewards and penalties in the present life, but all mankind looks forward to a future day when God's judgment will set right all the wrong that has accumulated. Both Jews and Greeks, those under revealed law and those under natural law, none will be excused, for neither law brings those under it to God's ultimate. No law succeeds in restoring the proper relationship between man and God, which is the object of judgment.

In the evangel of the Uncircumcision, God is not demonstrating man's failure and the futility of his efforts to do His will by any such means as the law, that is, by works. That experiment is finished, so far as we are concerned, and we are asked to accept the conclusion by faith. The first few chapters of Paul's epistle to the Romans discuss this matter fully. It is not limited to a chosen people, one nation in one land, with special advantages, as in the Circumcision evangel, but deals with the whole race, every nation everywhere, including those under law. It considers the conduct of all, with or without divine illumination. In all it appeals to the light of conscience and nature, which leads men to judge their fellows. This leads to a revelation of God's judgment. If man judges his fellow, how much rather shall God do so! And a knowledge of the law will only make men's sins offensive.

Many apparent contradictions in the Scriptures come from lifting a thought out of its context. Thus we read that the doers of the law will be justified (Rom.2:13). Yet a little later this seems to be flatly denied when the apostle comes to the conclusion that by works of law no flesh shall be justified (Rom.3:20). Both passages apply to the same people, those under law, but they view the theme from entirely different angles. One statement is in the elementary realm of truth, the other in the practical realm of action. One is the basis of Paul's argument, the other is the conclusion. This does not deny the premise. We cannot say that the doers of the law will not be justified. The evidence introduced between these two statements makes it clear that no one fulfills the conditions, hence, though the truth remains, that justification is possible to law keepers, the fact is that the flesh in mankind finds it impossible to obey the law and reach justification by this means,

There is another apparent contradiction in connection with the nations who are not under the law, that has been used to utterly distort the evangel of God's grace. What can be stronger than, "to him who is not working, yet is believing on Him Who is justifying the irreverent, his faith is reckoned for righteousness?" Nevertheless there are many who cannot receive this because. "God...will be paying each one according to his acts, to those, indeed, who by endurance in good acts are seeking glory and honor and incorruption, eonian life..." (Rom.2:6). They are both in Romans, and destroy one another if we do not leave them in their own context. The earlier one states the truth underlying God's judgment, but it is never realized because no one fulfills the conditions. This is why men are shut up to justification by faith. Their deeds never deserve the reward which God holds out.

This preview of God's judgment comes just before the statement which we have already considered. It is a parallel to "the doers of the law will be justified," for it has the same place in Paul's argument. Here we have endurance in good acts, and payment therefore, in place of law keeping and its reward. Just as there is no one able to claim justification on the ground of obedience to the law, so with those who are not under law. All fall short of the standard here set. Just as we cannot deny that the doers of the law will be justified, so we cannot say that those who endure in good acts will not be justified. That would be a contradiction. The further context, however, shows clearly that "not one is just" (Rom.3:10). So the conclusion that follows is not a contradiction, but a confirmation. Justification on the ground of acts is impossible in practice, hence God justifies on the ground of faith.

For a long time I was misled by the A. V. translation, "the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" (Gal.3:24). This gives the impression that the law is to teach us the way to Christ, and that we must learn its precepts in order to find the way. If this is so, it is a substitute for the evangel, and men could be educated into Christ. But there is not the slightest warrant in the Greek for the rendering "schoolmaster." The only connection may lie in the fact that the old-fashioned schoolmaster was sometimes more proficient with the rod than with the reader. In this he resembled the Greek paidagoogos, whose name he inherited. But the Greek slave used his means of physical persuasion to lead his charges to school, not to teach them in school. It is the discipline of the law which drives those under it to the Saviour, just as Israel's failures and consequent distress which made them call on Yahweh of old. Had they learned and kept the law, they would not have needed a saviour.


Strikingly different is the relation of the believer to the law today from that of the Circumcision. Their evangel is contained in the new covenant. Yahweh will not loose them from the law. Rather He will impart His laws to their comprehension and inscribe them on their hearts. They will be given an inward impulse and a divine power to carry out God's precepts during the thousand years. They will fulfill it in the strength which He provides. It will no longer be a ministration of death.

The very opposite is our portion, as well as of those of the Jews who, like Paul, received the evangel of the Uncircumcision. To them it does deal out death. They are caused to die to the law through the body of Christ. They are exempted from the law. They serve in newness of spirit and not in oldness of the letter (Rom.7:1-6). Not the literal precepts, but the just requirements of the law are fulfilled in those who do not walk in accord with flesh, but in harmony with spirit (Rom.8:1-4).

What a relief for those who have earnestly striven to obey a part of the law, to be rid of its bondage! Very few realize that, if they are under law, they are under a curse. And this is true of them even if they succeed in fulfilling ninety-nine per cent of its injunctions. Only Christ can reclaim those under this curse. This He will do when He comes to the Circumcision. But those of the nations, who have no law, should never have placed themselves under it.

Justification can never come through law-keeping. It came to Abraham long before the law was given. It comes to us who never received it. It comes to those under it only by means of death to it. Yet its righteous requirements are fulfilled by those who, having God's righteousness, not their own, are led by His spirit. Let us praise and glorify our God Who finds in Himself and in His Christ all that is needed to make us just, so that He can reconcile us to Himself and glorify us in His Beloved Son!

[Forward to Part Seven]

[Return to main indexpage]