The Evolution Of Spiritual Law
The term law is mentioned in the Bible with various significations, and one needs to understand how it is used in any given passage, or else, it is impossible to get at the meaning of the sacred text. In Romans, the second chapter, and thirteenth verse, Paul says, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” In the tenth chapter, and fourth verse, he states, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”In the one case it would seem to teach, if we did not investigate further, that we are justified by keeping the law, and in the other case it would seem that Christ was the end, or the completion of the law for believers, so that we had nothing more to do with it. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians, the sixth chapter, and first verse, Paul says, “Dare any of yon, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before saints?”
But in the ninth chapter of the same Epistle in the twentieth and twenty-first verses he uses the term law in another sense, in fact in two other senses. “And unto the Jews I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them, that are under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.” Now in the text about brother going to law with brother, he refers to the civil law; while in the last quoted passage, he refers in the body of the text, to the law of ordinances and ceremonies; and in fact to the whole of the Mosaic law; while in the parenthesis he refers to the eternal law of God, embracing morality and spirituality, also the law to Christ, the keeping of which is the secret of being able to keep God’s law, or commandments.
In the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we have an account of certain disciples who told the Gentile converts at Antioch that they could not be saved unless they keep the law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas, who were there at the time, made no small stir with these Judaizing teachers; but the error had such a hold upon the people, that it seems it could not be settled without sending a deputation to the Apostles, at Jerusalem, with Paul and Barnabas, to have the Apostles and Elders settle the question.
When the deputation got there, the Apostles and Elders came together to consider the matter. The case is opened in the fifth verse, by one of the representatives from Antioch in these words, “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, “That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” Upon this statement being made there seems to have been much disputing over the question, and after Peter, Barnabas, Paul and James had made speeches, the Apostles and Elders with the whole Church seem to have reached a unanimous opinion on the subject.
They decided to send a deputation of their own number to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas and the brethren that came up with them, with a message containing their deliverance. This message starts at the twenty-fourth verse of the fifteenth chapter, “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us, have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, ye must be circumcised, and keep the law; to whom we gave no such commandment,” etc. The epistle goes on to say that the Holy Spirit laid upon them only some very simple laws which are all contained in one verse, and that they were not under obligation to keep the law of Moses.
Sometimes the New Testament seems to speak of the law as still binding and in force, and at other times as though Christians were not under the law. This apparent discrepancy is accounted for from the fact of the term law, being used in different senses, and the same sense being looked at from different standpoints.
Paul in the statement ” For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death ” uses the word law with two entirely different meanings, of at least refers to two entirely different kinds of law; and yet in one sense the both laws have their origin in one great fundamental law, and both laws seek to accomplish the same object. Let us inquire then about these two laws, the law of death and the law of life.
What is the law of sin and death front which we are to be made free? As I read the Bible I see that God deals with humanity as a wise parent deals with his children. There are certain laws or restrictions very little children are put under, which parents do not fetter them with, when they get older; but when they are free from, these primary laws there are other laws for them to observe and be governed by; and when they get older still, and develop into manhood and womanhood there are still higher laws which are given them. The laws of infancy, and the laws of youth, are no longer operative in matured persons. They are then not required to square their lives by these earlier laws. Yet while we graduate from the letter of earlier laws to broader and more liberal rules of conduct, still we find on investigation, that all true rules for right conduct, whether for children or adults, are based on precisely the same underlying principles.
By the old method of teaching English a child would graduate from the alphabet to words, and then to short sentences and then to a combination of sentences making good English. As one stage is passed and another reached, the laws governing the lower stage are abandoned, and the pupil is placed under a higher order of law. Matured persons read without any consciousness of the letters that form the words, and almost without consciousness of the words which make the sentence; and in fact, when absorbed in the theme, and the thought is clear to our minds, we have but little consciousness of either letters, words, or sentences, the mind is so absorbed in the thought that the vehicle which contains it is overlooked. Such an experience, however, is not possible to one who is still under the law of the schoolmaster and is learning to read. He spells out the words laboriously, and puts the sentences together with great pains-taking, and then perhaps fails to get the full idea contained in what he is reading.
The Bible reveals to us God’s dealing with mankind much upon these principles. Under various dispensations God has given different laws, and each new law has been an improvement upon its predecessor; not that God’s first laws were merely experiments, and when He found they were failures He made others; not that a bad law ever gave place to a good law, but always a good law giving place to a better one. One dispensation accomplishes its purpose, and a nobler one is ushered in; one set of laws preparing humanity for a higher sphere, and then new laws come in to govern the nobler form of life. Look if you please at the rude and vague antediluvian law, the better patriarchal law, the glorious but still imperfect Mosaic law, the still grander dispensation of the prophets and of John the Baptist, and more glorious yet of Jesus, until the full-orbed day of the wonderful dispensation of the Holy Spirit. To a greater extent than many of us conceive, a normal and healthy Christian is developed much after the same pattern; “First the blade, and then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear,” is God’s order.