From the Men’s Society of South Holland, Illinois, through their secretary, brother Garret Flikkema, I received the following question: “What is the similarity and difference of the content of the law for the church of the old and new dispensation, as based on Romans 6 and Romans 7?
Questions concerning the law and the saints’ relation to the law, both in the old and the new dispensation, always seem to recur. And they are interesting questions. In reply to the above question, the following:
1) I am at a loss to understand this question completely. I do not see what Romans 6 and Romans 7have to do with this particular question, for one thing. That is, I do not see how Romans 6 and Romans 7speak specifically of any difference between the old and new dispensation. For another, I do not see what Romans 6 and Romans 7 have to do with any possible similarity and difference of the content of the law in the old and new dispensations. And even after a brief conversation with the chairman of South Holland’s Men’s Society while I was there for a preaching engagement, I must confess I am still at a loss. But perhaps I am a bit dense. Hence, if my remarks do not help the brethren in answering their question, they are welcome to make use of the Question Box again. You see, it is entirely possible that the Question Box produces questions instead of answers upon occasion.
2) To the question concerning the content of the law (apart, now, from Romans 6 and Romans 7), I would answer: a) That the difference between the old and the new dispensations is that in the former the church had to observe the civil and ceremonial laws, while in the new dispensation “the ceremonies and figures of the law ceased at the coming of Christ” (Confession of Faith, Article XXV). b) That the similarity consists in the fact that the content of the moral law, the Ten Commandments, is never abolished.
3) It is possible that the brethren have in mind the statement in Romans 6:14: “for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” If so, then I would point out the following, briefly:
a) The law here must be understood as the whole revelation of the will of God concerning our life in relation to Him and to all things: the moral law as it is briefly expressed in the Ten Commandments, with its chief and only principle: “Love the Lord thy God!”
b) What can that law do? In the first place, itdemands. It keeps before us the will of God concerning us. It constantly reminds us, and deepens the consciousness of it, that we must love God. In the second place, that law blesses and curses. It blesses them that abide in all that is written in the law, that love God with all their heart and mind and soul and strength, perfectly, always, without a flaw. It promises them life. But it curses them that fail even once. It threatens death and destruction upon all them that do not love God. Such is the power and the limitation of the law.
c) Hence, to be under the law, that is, under the dominion of the law, is hopeless. We cannot keep the law. For we are guilty to begin with: we are born in guilt, having sinned in Adam; and we are born under the curse of the law. Moreover, we increase our guilt daily by our actual sins. Hence, the law demands, “Love God!” And we become more and more conscious of that demand if we are under that law. And we cannot, and will not, and cannot will to love God. And thus the law must curse us and assign us to death and to the very lordship of sin. They that are under the law are under the curse of the law; and the curse of the law assigns us to the very slavery of sin.
d) To be under grace means to live in the sphere of grace, to be under the dominion of grace, i.e., under the dominion of that power according to which God makes His people like unto the image of His Son, delivers them from the guilt of sin, from the power of sin, and justifies and sanctifies and glorifies them. It implies that in Christ Jesus we are free from the guilt of sin and the curse of the law. Christ has fulfilled the demand of the law for all His people perfectly, removing all the guilt of sin and forever satisfying the demand of the law, “Love Me.” He did so at the head of all the elect by His cross and shedding of His blood, and by His resurrection for our justification. Hence, sin has lost its right to have dominion over us. Thus, in the second place, we are also free from the power of sin. Christ entered into glory and received the Spirit. And. by that Spirit He enters into our hearts, loosens the bonds of sin, establishes Hiss rule in us, so that we are now His. And thus, seeing we are not under the law but under grace, we are no servants of sin, and sin has no dominion over us.
e) All this does not mean that the Christian is under no requirement to observe and to keep the will of God. In this sense the law is never abolished. But the Christian has the law of his God written in his heart, and as such he freely observes that law as it is revealed in God’s Word,—not, however, as a law of work-righteousness, but as a fruit of his salvation and as the manifestation of thankfulness.
4) With respect to God’s people in the old dispensation, Scripture speaks of their relation to the law more directly in a chapter like Galatians 3. I cannot go into a detailed explanation of this chapter; but let me try to lay down a few main thoughts:
a) The apostle speaks of the fact that since Moses the people of God in the old dispensation were under the law.
b) As such, they were under the curse of the law.
c) However, the same people under the old dispensation had the promise; and that promise could never be disannulled by the law, because the promise was first.
d) The reason for this is that God’s people were always in Christ, that Christ also came under the curse, and that, in due time, Christ removed the curse.
e) And faith in the old dispensation found comfort even under the law because in the wider sense the law revealed Christ, revealed that Christ bore the curse for them, and revealed all the blessings of salvation. This it did in all the types and shadows of the law. And this it did through the prophets, who always directed the longing eyes of God’s people to the realization of the shadows and the fulfillment of the promise.
These are a few thoughts on a very broad question. Once again, if the South Holland brethren have more questions, they are welcome to call again.