Thursday, 30 April 2015

THE USES OF THE LAW



When we looked at the WestWing Question we observed that theologians have traditionally divided the Law of Moses into different categories.  

 That these 613 regulations cannot simply be taken as a monolithic whole is something that churchmen as far back as Augustine at least have noted.  

However, it is the esteemed mediaeval theologian Thomas Aquinas who is generally credited with the division of the Law of Moses into three distinct categories, that of moral, ceremonial and civil.

 We affirm that the temporary ceremonial & civil laws have passed away leaving only the moral law in force.

I intend to take a closer look at this moral law in a later posting for an understanding of it is vital for the apologetic challenges currently presented by our society.

However recognising that Thomist division does not mean that when we happen upon such civil or ceremonial aspects in our daily Bible reading we can just keep turning the pages for,

 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)

There is value in all of the scriptures, including in study of those ordinances which we know longer actually observe.

 Note, for instance, how the extensive blueprint for the building of the Tabernacle (Exo 26 onwards)  is replete with instructive typology concerning the coming Redeemer, and how the ceremonial temple sacrifices themselves typify God’s redemptive & sacrificial love for us as seen in the cross of Christ.

Moreover, application can still be made of Old Testament laws which have ceased to have any direct meaning to most believers’ lives. Observe how Paul in 1 Tim 5:18 cites an animal welfare provision of the Mosaic Code,

           Do not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain” (Dt 25:4) 

in order to enforce his insistence that teaching elders are to be properly compensated for their efforts- an apostolic commandment with which one finds oneself in complete agreement!   

Such usage of Torah indicates applicability far beyond the original purpose. It reminds us that just because we no longer practice these civil & ceremonial aspects of ancient Israel’s legal code does not mean that we can just turn the page & forget about them.


  In the Law of Moses we find a revelation of God's own character. He delights in His law because it is a reflection of His own nature: His Law is good and just, holy & upright, because God is all of these things.

The Lord is also merciful & this too is reflected in His precepts.

 When we look later at the whole idea of social justice we will see that the Law of Moses contained safeguards designed to prevent injustice as well as allowing the possibility of mitigation for certain transgressions. Some Mosaic requirements could even be set aside completely if there was a pressing issue of justice at stake.

 We will see that the Law of Moses was not quite as hard & unyielding as we sometimes like to paint it. There is mercy on view here not mere stern legalism.


The Law provides us a godly pattern for our lives.
 
Torah, in its entirety, serves to reveal what is pleasing to our God, and to provide guidance for believers in their efforts to conform their lives to Christ.

 As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our heavenly Father. By studying & meditating on the law of God, we learn what pleases the Father and also what offends Him.

Such meditation will have a sanctifying influence upon our lives, something the psalmist well understood,

 “I have stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You                                                                                          (Ps 119:11)


Theologians also cite a civil or political usage for Law.
 
Theonomists would seek to place modern nations under the civil code of ancient Israel which they believe to be as binding upon government as God's moral precepts.

However most affirm that the age of theocracy has passed. In the New Covenant era, God has instead placed His people under the civil government of each individual nation & that such governments are to formulate their own laws.

This does not mean however that they enjoy immunity from God’s righteous commandments. It remains the case that,

          Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach” (Prov 14:34)

Governments are obligated to observe God’s moral law just as individuals are. Especially they are charged by their Creator with the preservation of human society, the maintenance of civil order and the restraint of evil (Rom 13:3-4).

As an ancient proverb observes, “It is very bad to live under a prince who permits nothing. It is far worse to live under a prince who permits everything

 Whilst many argue over which is the best form of human government, there can be no dispute that worst of all is to have no government at all, to live where no “prince” holds sway. 

 When we look at the collapse of ordered life in the Middle-East today following the overthrow of the brutal dictatorships of yesteryear, we must concede that even the iron fist of those despots was preferable to the lawless carnage that has come in their wake.  

Human government, when rightly ordered under God’s moral precepts is an incalculable good. 

 The state cannot change the human heart- governmental attempts to reform criminal character have a spectacular failure rate- but correct application of moral law by the state can still, “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment…curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice" (Calvin)


Or in the words of the apostle,

 “…rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer.”(Rom 13:3-4)

                                                                                                              
Note the implication that even the pagan rulers of Paul’s day could have some sense of right & wrong. They could know without ever having any exposure to the Law of Moses that murder is wrong; theft is wrong etc & could be expected to put laws in place to restrain such things.

When even pagans do this they prove the truth of Paul’s statement earlier in Romans,           

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts…     (Rom 2:14-15)

All men and women, by virtue of their having been made in the image of God, have an innate sense of right & wrong which, to a limited extent, can be directed by conscience.

 This has ever been the case. When Nineveh was called to repent by Jonah they seem to have already had some idea what that repentance would actually look like!   

But as the Bible has circulated the earth, God’s righteous standards, now clarified in a written code, have become that much plainer, and God does require nations to frame their laws in the light of its principles. 

Woe to that nation that thinks otherwise.


Finally God’s Law also has an important evangelistic use.

Since the Law reveals the perfect righteousness of God it can also, under the convicting power of the Spirit, illuminate our own sinfulness.

  "…if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Rom 7:7)

  Here we must emphasise both the usefulness of Law, but also its limitation.
The Law will show me my problem, but it can never be my solution.

I think a good analogy of the Law’s role in someone’s life is that of a spirit level. Such an instrument serves well in accurately communicating to us whether something is straight or level. However as an instrument it can do nothing in itself to correct the problem of crookedness. Other tools must be employed for that purpose.

 Just like a spirit level, God’s Law, when put up against my life, will tell me if my life is crooked or straight. However where it is found to be crooked, the Law is powerless to straighten my life out. Only the Gospel can do that!

The Law then compels us to see our need of a Saviour.

“…the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal 3:24)

“The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” (Augustine)

 I see here a great weakness in our modern evangelistic efforts.

 We are too often guilty of giving Good News to people who have no idea whatsoever what the Bad News is. When we simply present the Gospel as a means to a happier, more fulfilling life, than we are deceiving lost souls with regards to their true condition.

The Book of Romans- the most complete presentation of the Gospel in the whole of the New Testament -spends the first three chapters using God’s Law to outline just how sinful we are & to teach Jews and Gentiles alike to despair of self-righteousness.

Do we evangelise in this way?  

Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who “convicts men of sin, righteousness and judgement to come” but He uses means to do so, and Law is such a means.

C H Spurgeon understood this,

"Lower the law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt”

All the Ten Commandments, like ten great pieces of cannon, are pointed at you today, for you have broken all God’s statutes, and lived in the daily neglect of all His commands.”
                                                                                                           
As one of the great Christian thinkers of the 20th Century, Francis Schaeffer remarked,

 "If I had one hour with every man, I would spend the first 45 minutes talking to them about God's law, and the last 15 minutes talking about His great salvation."


In conclusion we say that the Law of Moses continues to fulfil multiple purposes in our day.  

It reveals to us the character of God through His righteous requirements, and helps believers to pattern their lives upon Christ as our Law-keeper.

Its precepts serve as guidance for nations in the framing of just laws and the preservation of order.  

Finally the Law reveals to us that we are lost sinners and helps bring us to such a place of desperation that we might cry out for a Saviour

Let us leave the final word with the psalmist:

 The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
 the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
 the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rule sof the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward
.” (Ps 19:7-11)