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Section II B


Abraham and the Promise Ch.3:6-29

Study B5
The Purpose of the Law

Study B5 The Purpose of the Law

That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus

So far in these studies we have reminded ourselves over and over that we are either in the flesh or the Spirit. That is  we either live by faith or the works of the Law. So now we come to the point where we examine the [Mosaic] Law and its relation to the promise and the new Covenant. We will do this under two headings: its inferiority and its purpose.

B5.1 Its Inferiority

Before we proceed it must be made clear that by inferiority we do not mean in quality but in its relation to God’s purpose. We must remember that it was God who gave the Law in the first place! However we also need to remember, from previous studies, that the Law can not bring salvation, for all it does is pronounces us guilty before God. But it did have a purpose in relation to God’s economy. It is often the failure to understand this that brings so many problems.

So then in what ways was it inferior to the promise and covenant made to Abraham?

B5.1a it was only temporary

The first thing to note here is that the Law was given AFTER the promise was made, and then ONLY until Christ should come. In other words it was only a temporary provision by God. The Law was additional to the promises and not a replacement for it.

We must remember what the promise was to be: that the blessings of Abraham were to come on the whole world. The coming of THE seed Christ and the gift of the Spirit on all who truly believe. But the fulfilment of the promise lay far in the future when it was given to Abraham, many centuries were to pass. So the law was given as an additional arrangement to the physical descendants of Abraham- Israel- in order to secure certain advantages until Christ came. Those advantages will be looked at in a later section. But suffice it for now to understand that the Law was an extra temporary arrangement, it was not a replacement. During the whole period of the Mosaic law the promise was never revoked, the Law was given as a necessary step towards its fulfilment.

B5.1b It could NOT disannul the promise

When a covenant is made, according to Paul, no one can disannul it. Once ratified the terms of the covenant stand and can never be put aside; once spoken and cut [i.e. confirmed] the Covenant was established for all time.

The promise to Abraham was fixed and God established His Covenant with Himself; it was confirmed and its conditions sealed by God Himself in Christ. Therefore nothing, not even the Law given by God Himself could disannul it. So in its relation to God’s purposes in sending Christ and giving us the Holy Spirit, the law is inferior for it can not over- ride the promise made to Abraham.

B5.1c It was only for one nation

The Law was not given for 430 years after the promise was made to Abraham and then only to ONE nation -Israel . The occasion was when they had been redeemed from Egypt and had come to Sinai. It was at Sinai that the nation of Israel was truly born: the law was given and God entered into Covenant with them. As long as Israel kept the Old Covenant then God would bless them in the land, otherwise they would be cast out. Dt. 4-8. It was given so that they could become a peculiar nation unto God Ex. 19:1-6. The law was to set them apart unto God. As long as they they kept the law they remained in the land, the conditions of the OC included expulsion from the land if they failed to keep the Law Dt. 28:58-68.

But why would God do this for one nation only? The promise to Abraham, we must remember, was to bring Christ into the world and then bless the world by giving the promise of His Spirit. God’s plan was to keep Abraham’s line so that the promised seed, who is Christ, would come in the fullness of time. Although the nation of Israel failed and were cast out of the land, God was still working and kept a remnant for Himself, so that in the end His eternal plan of bringing Christ into the world, of the true seed of Abraham was fulfilled.

B5.1d It was given by a mediator of Israel

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
Gal. 3:19

He brought them out, after that he had shewed wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red sea, and in the wilderness forty years. This is that Moses, which said unto the children of Israel, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear. This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
Acts 7:36-38

For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward;
Heb. 2:2

The above scriptures indicate that the Old Covenant, whilst given by God, was given through the ministry of Angels. In other words it was given by a mediator, someone in between God and man. Contrast this with the New Covenant. God deals with us directly through Christ not by a mediator!

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, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
Heb. 1:1

But consider Abraham. God dealt also with him directly, there was no mediator there at all! When the promise was given, the covenant cut and at the sacrifice of Isaac, God spoke directly to Abraham. Up to the giving of the law God directly with His people without the use of a mediator. This leads us to conclude that God’s normal way of dealing with men and women is to directly to them without any need of a mediator So the mediatorship of the Old Covenant was something new. The OC was given by the hands of a mediator, and from now onwards the nation could only approach God by the priests.

B5.1e conclusion

So then the law is inferior to the promise because:

(1) it was temporary

(2) It can not disannul the promise

(3) It was only for one nation

(4) it was given by a mediator,

Whereas the promise to Abraham

(1) was eternal

(2) never failing

(3) it is for the whole of the human race

(4) it was given direct to Abraham and not by any mediator, whether angelic or human.

B5.2 The purpose

B5.2a because of the transgression

As we have already discussed in a previous study, the law was given that the whole world may become guilty before God. The law shows up sin for what it is. It gives us the measure of God’s standard, and it was a restraining influence with its threats and punishments. But, as we have emphasised time and again, it can not justify us before God; instead it condemns us, finds us guilty, and has no ability to save us nor free us from the power of sin. All it can do is show sin up and punish the transgressor.

But there is another side to this, and we read of this in Paul’s writings.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me. Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.
Rom. 7:7-13
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
I Cor 15:56

Here Paul describes his pre-conversion life and states what the law did to him, this is not an academic exercise but the reality of a spiritual law working in man. Paul, and this is true of us all before we come into the full salvation of God, became painfully aware of the sinful principle inside him.

Listen to the man, he coveted, what it was we are not told, nor does it matter; he did not realise it until the law came, and then he was slain by the law Sin appeared for what it was – sin. The strength of sin is the law, it was meant to be for life, instead Paul found the law for death. And this is because of the principle, or ‘original sin’ that is found in very human being – excepting Jesus of course.

Before we could have a saviour we needed to know that we needed one, and we could not know that until the law came to show the sinfulness of sin in us. For centuries the Mosaic Law was around and the OT scriptures repeatedly show us, that despite God’s favours to the nation of Israel, and living in the promised land – one set aside exclusively for them to obey and serve God- they failed and quite spectacularly too; eventually God had to judge the nation. We need not think that we would have done any better, for the sinful principle that worked itself out in them is the same in everyone of us until we are born again.

So we can say that the law reveals sin for what it is, and revives sin in a man. The law showed the whole world that the Law could not save anyone, all it did was to show up the sinfulness of sin. But whilst it showed up sin for what it is, and proving us guilty before God, the law can not remit sin nor take away its consequences and power in us.

B5.2b our schoolmaster

The Law is described as our schoolmaster. Now we must understand this word in terms of the ancient world and not in modern day usage. The ‘schoolmaster’ that Paul was talking of, was properly called a pedagogue; he was a slave and his duty was to watch over the children of the household. His main one being of restraining them and leading them to the school where they may receive instruction.

The law is likened to a pedagogue. Its purpose was to restrain us (the word kept has the idea of a ‘military guard’) and lead us to the true Master: – JESUS. The law rebukes & restrains us when we read it and compare our lives to it. It leads us to Christ. Not only do the types and promises all point to Christ, but it also brings us to despair of ever being saved by any means of self effort and keeping a carnal law. It is only then can we be aware of the only hope and way of salvation.

This is one valuable lesson in evangelism or personal witness. Before a man or woman can be saved every hope, plan and thought that they cling to, in the hope of being saved, has to be stripped away. Salvation is in Christ alone and to add anything to that, however small will result in, not salvation, but deception. All hope of being saved by any other means has to be abandoned first, and that includes all our modern day methods of trying to gain converts. Instead of leading people to Christ they are sadly misled into deception.

Having then come to Christ we are no longer under the Law’s tutelage . In fact we are dead to it, so once more we come to the challenge: if we have come to Christ and have been freed from the tutelage of the Law, how can we live under it after new birth?