The Right Use of the Law
James Smith, 1860
Our principal subject is the gospel of the grace of God. Not that the gospel was ever intended to set aside, or make void the law; for while the law prepares us for the reception of the gospel — the gospel always leads us to observe and keep the law. But the law was intended to instruct the innocent, and to condemn the transgressor; whereas the gospel is intended to bring pardon to the guilty, and comfort to the distressed. Disputes about the law are often unprofitable and vain — but "we know that the law is good — IF a man uses it lawfully." 1 Timothy 1:8
To use the law lawfully, is to set forth its spirituality, and show that it not only regards the outward conduct — but extends to the thoughts, purposes, and motives of the heart. This will cut off all dependence on the law — and drive the sinner to seek salvation by free grace.
To use the law lawfully, is to show its goodness — as coming from a good God, requiring a good state of heart, and demanding that everyone do good to his neighbor.
To use the law lawfully, is to point out its holiness — it being a faint reflection of the divine nature, and therefore holy in its nature and requirements.
To use the law lawfully, is to exhibit its justice — showing that it requires nothing more than what God created us capable of producing with perfect ease, and was just in requiring at our hands. And therefore as our conduct cannot affect God's rights, he is perfectly justified in requiring us to be, and to do, all that the law requires.
To use the law lawfully, is to testify to its immutability and eternity, for as what God required in his law was right, and right under all circumstances; it must remain eternally and immutably the same.
Nor can God justify — but in accordance with it; therefore sinful man can never be saved by it. This renders a substitute necessary, makes way for the work of Jesus, and so brings in the everlasting gospel. The law must be obeyed, and all its requirements met on behalf of all who are saved; for as the law is holy, just, and good — it cannot be set aside in favor of transgressors. The law rightly used, brings man in guilty, condemns him, and cuts him off from all hope of salvation by any of his own doings and sufferings; and shuts him up to salvation by grace, through the substitution of the Son of God. He must be saved by grace — or perish.
It is also right to use the law — to show the believer what God requires him to be, and do, as the moral governor; and that everything short of, or contrary to, the requirements of the law, is sin. So that the law is still . . .
a rule of moral conduct,
a standard of right and wrong,
a balance by which actions are weighed.
The law is good — for it always calls for what every true believer admires, loves, and delights in — as Paul said, "I delight in the law of God, after the inward man." The Christian knows that he is delivered from its curse, and freed from its condemnation, Jesus having borne them for him; and therefore as possessing eternal life, he desires to obey the law, out of love to God, and for his honor.
The law is good — for it shows me my deficiencies, and the imperfections of all that I do, so that I dare not boast, nor withdraw my reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for a single moment. It will not allow me to rest in my works, or depend on them in the least — for it shows me that there is sin in them all.
The law therefore drives me from all my duties, and from myself in every sense, to build on Christ alone, and expect to be saved exclusively by him.
The law keeps me daily sensible of my need of pardon, because I daily sin.
The law makes me admire and prize free grace, which has honored it, and saves in strict accordance with all its claims.
The law shows me that I must have a better righteousness than my own, or I am undone forever; and that I must be made holy — or be eternally wretched.
The law drives me to Christ as my refuge and strength, and preserves alive in my soul a deep sense of my need of him to hide me, support me, and save me; so that I must daily live on Christ, walk in Christ, and make use of Christ — or come under condemnation.
As it is the means of producing such effects, and of keeping me awake, lest I should indulge the flesh, tamper with temptation, or live in sin — the law must be useful. Rightly used, such benefits result from it, and therefore, let men say as they will, we with the Apostle say, "The law is good — IF a man uses it lawfully."
But it is a fearful thing to be found under the law, for all who are under the law are under the curse! We must therefore be delivered from the law by faith in, and union to Christ; and then sin will not have dominion over us, as we are not under the law — but under grace.
If we are under the law, we seek salvation by it, and with this view we try to keep it; but if we are not under the law we expect to be saved by Christ, and so place our entire dependence on him, and his finished work.
As saved by Christ, we love holiness, and as the law is the rule of holiness — we love it, and walk by it! But while we do so, we place no dependence on it, or on anything we do in accordance with it — but on Christ, and Christ alone.
Reader, beware of resting in the law, or depending in the least on anything you can do or suffer; but renounce all and trust in Christ alone. But as trusting in Christ — beware of thinking lightly of the law, or speaking disrespectfully of it, or neglecting to observe any of its requirements in your daily life — seeing the law is holy, just, and good, and reflects the moral excellencies of the glorious law-giver.