(This is the third of a series of articles that first appeared in 1950 in Truth magazine, published by Milwaukee Bible Institute/Worldwide Grace Testimony, now the Grace Gospel Fellowship. These articles have never before appeared in the Searchlight.)
THE COVENANT OF THE LAW
The covenant of the law was made between God and Israel, with Moses as mediator and angels to witness and confirm the transaction (See John 1:17; Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19).
It was made 430 years after the Abrahamic covenant, in which God had promised repeatedly and unconditionally that Abraham’s multiplied seed should be His people and should become the blessers of the world.
This poses a problem, for here, more than four centuries after making these unconditional promises to Abraham and confirming them to Isaac and to Jacob, God begins to add qualifications, saying:
“Now therefore, IF ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, THEN ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine” (Exod. 19:5).
Paul faces this problem candidly when he states in Galatians 3:15:
“Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disanulleth, or addeth thereto.”
Or to state it in modern English: Even a man, after having signed an agreement would not think of taking from it or adding to it. Once the agreement is confirmed by his signature it must be carried out as agreed.
And then, presenting the problem, the apostle adds:
“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added…” (Gal. 3:19).
Would God, then, add qualifying clauses to a covenant already made and confirmed? Yes—indeed, He added a whole new covenant! And to increase the difficulty, Israel confirmed the added covenant, answering in unison:
“…All that the Lord hath spoken we will do…” (Exod. 19:8).
Thus what Abraham’s seed had once been promised unconditionally now seemed to depend upon a very big “IF”—probably the Bible’s biggest “IF,” for who could obey God’s voice indeed and fully keep His law?
THE PURPOSE OF THE COVENANT
Thank God, we are also given the solution to this perplexing problem. To begin with, the apostle assures his readers:
“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 is should make the promise of none effect” (Gal. 3:17).
What, then, is the solution?
First, the law was not given, as so many suppose, to help men to be good, but to show them that they are bad. And be it noted that while the covenant of the law was made with Israel, it nevertheless spells condemnation to all the race, for it outlines those standards of holiness to which none of Adam’s children can attain and without which no man shall see God (Heb. 12:14).
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:19,20).
“…It was added because of transgressions…” (Gal. 3:19).
But did not this very fact make it impossible for God to fulfill the unconditional promises made under the Abrahamic covenant without violating the stipulations of this added covenant? Did not this added covenant specify that they should be His people IF they obeyed His voice indeed? Was it not now impossible for the most godly Jew to be saved? Had not God in fact nullified the whole Abrahamic covenant?
No, for the penalty for the broken law was to be met by God Himself in due time. God had made this added covenant simply to show man his moral and spiritual bankruptcy and that on the grounds of the added covenant he could never be saved. The unconditional promise made so long ago still stood and every believing Israelite was accepted of God.
THE COFFIN OF THE COVENANT
That God did not mean the Mosaic covenant to make the Abrahamic void is evident from several interesting facts found in the record of the Mosaic covenant itself.
After giving Israel claim to acceptance with Him only IF they obeyed His will, God proceeded to instruct Moses:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering….And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them” (Exod. 25:2,8).
And this while He knew they were not obeying His voice and were preparing to dance as heathen about a golden calf!
This seeming indifference to His own solemn word is partially explained as He further instructs Moses:
“And they shall make an ark…. And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee” (Exod. 25:10,16).
The word here rendered “ark” is really “coffin.” The very same word is used in Genesis 50:26, where we read of Joseph:
“And they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.”
Thus the very first article of furniture God commanded for the tabernacle was a coffin to bury the law in!
It is unfortunate that this word has been translated “ark” in the Authorized Version. Wherever we read of the “ark of the covenant” in the Bible we should remember it is the “coffin of the covenant.” This will throw light on many, many passages which otherwise might be obscure.
Significantly God commanded that the cover for this coffin should be a “mercy seat” (Exod. 25:17).
“And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony which I shall give thee.
“And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat” (Exod. 25:21,22).
All this, of course, was symbolic of truths later to be revealed, but it indicates that God did not for one moment mean the Mosaic covenant to make the Abrahamic covenant void, since Christ was to meet the full demands of a broken law by His death.
THE COVENANT GROWING OLD
God would not have added the Mosaic covenant had it not been for the Lamb “foreordained before the foundation of the world” (I Pet. 1:19,20). Nevertheless, having Christ in mind, He did add it and Israel accepted and confirmed it so that, for the time being, it was binding upon them. And this served to demonstrate to them their utter depravity and inability to obey God.
By about 600 B.C. it had been more than fully proven that the covenant of the law could not bring Israel to God and He promised to make a New Covenant with them, putting His law in their inward parts and writing it upon their hearts. This was about the time Israel lost her national supremacy and “the times of the Gentiles” began. The law was growing old. Hebrews 8:13 says of this:
“In that he saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”
THE COVENANT ABOLISHED
As it was the coming death of Christ that warranted putting the law into a coffin in the first place, so it was the death of Christ that finally abolished this covenant. But all this began to be manifested only after sin had risen to its height and God had saved the chief of sinners, sending him forth with the gospel of the grace of God.
For sometime after the Cross Messiah’s followers still considered themselves under the law. No revelation had yet been given to indicate that they were not. Ananias, that faithful follower of Christ who baptized Saul of Tarsus, was “a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there” (Acts 22:12). It was only in Acts 15, at the great Jerusalem council, that the Jewish believers first agreed that Gentiles were not to be under the law. Whether or not the Jews were to be under the law was not even discussed. They assumed that they were still to continue under the law, for no revelation had been given to the contrary. However, with the fall and setting aside of the nation with whom the covenant had been made, and with the further revelation of Paul concerning both the law and the work of Christ, it became evident that the covenant and dispensation of the law had come to an end.
There are those who suppose the Pentecostal believers should have realized that the law had been nailed to the Cross, but it must be emphasized that not until Paul did God give any revelation to that effect. The “dispensation of the grace of God” was not committed to Peter but to Paul and until Paul it had been a mystery (See Eph. 3:1-3). Not until Paul do we read:
“BUT NOW the righteousness of God without the law is manifested…to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past…to declare, I say, AT THIS TIME His righteousness: that He might be just and the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-26).
Not until Paul do we read:
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
THE LAW AND THE BELIEVER
But while the covenant of the law was abolished, the law itself will, of course, remain forever. God has graciously removed the “IF” but this does not alter the fact that His people in every age should seek to obey His voice indeed. Also, the dispensation of the law—the ordinances, statutes and all that—has passed away, but the principle remains.
“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” (Rom. 8:3,4).
THE LAW AND THE NEW COVENANT
Those who suppose that at Pentecost the twelve should have known that the law was done away sometimes think this because the New Covenant was made at Calvary. But the making of a covenant is not the fulfillment of it. It is too often forgotten that God merely promised to make a new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31, and that the covenant was not made until Calvary. It will not be fulfilled until all Israel is saved and they all know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest of them.
But here again it should be noticed that the New Covenant, while displacing the covenant of the law does not displace the law itself. Indeed, by it, God’s people will spontaneously fulfil the law. This could not be stated more clearly than it is in Jeremiah 31:33:
“But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”
MOSES, CHRIST AND THE LAW
As the Old Covenant was made with Israel alone, yet affects the whole world (Rom. 3:19), so the New Covenant, while made “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,” affects the whole world too, for by “the blood of the New Covenant” the condemnation of the Old was removed.
Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant (Gal. 3:19); Christ was the Mediator of the New (Heb. 9:15). Moses demanded righteousness, but he could neither give the ability to obey the law nor undo the effects of a broken law. But Christ as the Mediator of the New Covenant, paid the debt of a broken law, offers His own perfect righteousness and by His Spirit enables the believer to live pleasing to God.