Law or Grace
One stands for demand.
The other stands for supply.
One is connected with Mount Sinai (Hebrews 12:18-21).
The other is connected with Mount Sion (Hebrews. 12:22-24).
One is the ministration of condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:9) and of death (3:7).
The other is the ministration of righteousness (2 Corinthians 3:9) and of the Spirit (3:8).
The Mediator of the first was Moses (Galatians 3:19).
The Mediator of the second is the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:24).
The one was glorious, even as one may look at the star-filled sky on a dark and cloudless night and see worlds upon worlds, a veritable galaxy of glory. The other is superlatively glorious, like the rising of the sun. The stars in their millions continue to shine in undiminished splendor, but not one is seen when the sun of our system rises and pours such a glorious flood of light on the scene. “For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth” (2 Corinthians 3:10).
When Moses came down from the holy mount, the skin of his face shone so gloriously that he was forced to wear a veil. The children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which was to be abolished. And even to this day the veil is on their hearts.
But in the case of the Mediator of the better covenant, our Lord Jesus Christ, all the glory of God shines in His face, and so wonderfully is every question settled for God and for us that the believer can look upon that glory with infinite delight. No veil upon His face, no veil upon our hearts, but we all with open face beholding the glory of the Lord are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:18).
What a contrast! The one was law; the other is grace.
How lightly, with no sense of the responsibility of their act, did the children of Israel say when the law was given, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do” (Exodus 19:8). Who could keep the law? The flesh in man resented its every ordinance. No one could keep it perfectly, and nothing short of perfection will do for God.
The principle of the law was, “This do, and thou shaft live” (Luke 10:28). It was not, “Do your best,” as people are so fond of saying, but “THIS do”—it was to be 100% or nothing. 99% would not do, it must be perfection…or condemnation.
And seeing the law demanded, and only demanded, its only movement was to condemn, and the only condemnation it knew involved death. It was a ministration of condemnation and death.
Why then was the law given?
It was only given to one nation, but it was given to one nation as a sample of the whole, and it has a worldwide, a universal lesson to teach. Just as an analytical chemist might take a few pounds of material from a rubbish heap weighing thousands of tons in the hope that he might discover something in it of commercial value, some by-product that would pay, but finding nothing but valueless rubbish in his sample, he would condemn the bulk. So we read, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).
There is then no hope from the first covenant. It does its work when it brings us to that conclusion.
Moreover, the law, pure and simple, was never given to man. Along with it the ritual of the sacrifices was given. The former for convenience we call the moral law, the latter the ceremonial law.
What meant these sacrifices, the sin offerings, the trespass offerings, the peace offerings, the burnt offerings? What meant the Day of Atonement? What meant the altars of sacrifice?
They were all types of God’s gracious provision for man’s need in the atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will remember when the law was first given and Moses was returning from Mount Sinai with the two tables of stone containing the Ten Commandments in his hands, he heard the sound of singing. He knew too well what it meant. Israel was breaking the first and foremost commandment, “Thou shalt have no other god before Me” (Exodus 20:3). The singing was the accompaniment to the idolatrous dancing round the golden calf to the blasphemous refrain, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:4).
As Moses neared the camp, and saw what was going on, with rare intuition and courage he hurled the two tables down the mountainside and broke them. To bring the pure law into the camp in the circumstances would have meant death to all in it.
Instructed to come up to Mount Sinai to receive the law a second time, he was told to bring with him an ark of shittim wood, and into this ark the tables were deposited (see Deuteronomy 10:1-5).
In this we see that God could only go on with man on the ground of Christ and His finished work, for the ark was typical of Christ.
So we read, “the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). JND translation makes the meaning of this verse clearer, “The law has been our tutor up to Christ.” It is not that the law brings us to Christ, but that it was teaching its lessons until such time as Christ came. There was a twofold lesson to be learned: first, our inability to keep the law and second, that the system of sacrifice pointed on to the sinner’s only hope, Christ and His finished work. Thus the law is a tutor, a schoolmaster, until Christ appears on the scene.
We thus see that the new covenant was not an afterthought, brought in when the old covenant failed. God knew the end from the beginning. The new covenant was in His mind from the very first. “He taketh away the first that He might establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9). Again, “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” (Hebrews 8:13).
Hence the word new does not merely mean new as opposed to old, but that because the new displaced the old they cannot abide side by side!
What then is the new covenant?
It is not a covenant between God and man—God demanding and man lightly saying, “All these things will we do.” It is a covenant between God and Christ in which man is blessed in sovereign grace, no demand made, but a ministration of righteousness and of the Spirit—righteousness, setting the believing sinner in God’s presence in favor; the Spirit, enabling the believer to respond. We read of the Apostle Paul and Timothy, “God…hath made us able ministers of the new testament” (2 Corinthians 3:6). The word testament and covenant are the same in the original.
What then are the terms of the new covenant?
It was promised in Old Testament times, and Paul refers to it as something familiar to his readers.
Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Ezekiel 36:24-36 enlighten us. The new covenant is to be made publicly with Israel, the fulfilment of God’s unconditional promises to Abraham, 430 years before the law was given. For this Israel must be gathered back to her own land, and the public ratification of the new covenant will be coincident with the millennial reign of Christ.
Its terms are:
- New Birth
- Forgiveness of sins
- Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The sprinkling of clean water upon the people is symbolic of the new birth. This is followed by what emphasizes it, that is, a new heart and a new spirit granted to them.
But the reader will say, these three blessings are what believers know now. Exactly! The death of Christ is the righteous foundation of the new covenant. Unless that atoning death had settled the whole question of sin righteously for God, He had no ground on which to act in grace.
New Birth is evidently God’s sovereign act. As the Durham miner put it bluntly, “No man can born himself again.” And yet God must have a righteous ground for this, and He finds it in the death of Christ. A new heart, a new spirit is thus given.
Forgiveness of sins could not be procured by keeping the law. On the face of it, when a man needs forgiveness, it is a proof that he has broken God’s law. Forgiveness of sins can only be on the ground of faith in Christ and His finished work.
The Holy Spirit is given as the seal of all this: “In whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).
Of course, the believer in this dispensation of the heavenly calling gets a fullness of blessing which the saint of the earthly calling does not enter upon, blessed and glorious as that is. Yet all believers, of whatever dispensation, have this in common, that their blessing is on the ground of the death of Christ, which enables God to bless in righteousness.
There is no demand here it is supply. It is not law but grace. God takes the initiative in sovereign grace—“the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Forgiveness of sins is ministered when the sinner believes in Christ, and the Holy Spirit (given in a special way in the Christian dispensation) is given as the seal of this.
Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, when we respond to the dying request of the Savior in the remembrance of His death, we have before us His own words concerning the cup, “This is the blood of the new testament [covenant] which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
What a day it will be for this world when that new covenant shall be publicly inaugurated; when, “He’ll bid the whole creation smile, And hush its groan.”
Meanwhile we Christians enjoy its blessedness, though our blessings reach still further beyond.