April 19, 1857
"The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)
What purpose does the Law of God serve? The first use of the Law is to manifest man’s guilt to him. When God intends to save a man, the first thing He does with him is to send the Law to him, to show him how guilty, how vile, how ruined he is, and how dangerous a position he is in.
You see that man lying there on the edge of the precipice; he is sound asleep and just on the perilous verge of the cliff. One single movement, and he will roll over and be broken in pieces on the jagged rocks beneath, and nothing more will be heard from him. How is he to be saved? What shall be done for him? This is our position--we, too, are lying on the brink of ruin, but we do not know it. When God begins to save us from such an imminent danger, He sends His Law, which wakes us up with a stout kick and makes us open our eyes. We look down on our terrible danger and discover our miseries; then we are in the right position to cry out for salvation, and our salvation comes to us.
The Law acts with man just as the physician does when he takes the film from the eyes of the blind. Self-righteous men are blind men, though they think themselves good and excellent. The Law takes that film away and lets them discover how vile they are and how utterly ruined and condemned they are if they are to abide under you sentence of the Law.
Have you not broken the Ten Commandments? Have you not broken them even to the letter? Who is there among us who has always honored his father and mother? Who is there among us who has always spoken the truth? Have we not sometimes borne false witness against our neighbor? Is there one person here who has not made himself another god and loved himself or his business or his friends more than he has loved Jehovah, the God of the whole earth? Which of you has not coveted your neighbor’s house or his manservant of his ox or his donkey? We are all guilty with regard to every letter of the Law. We have all of us transgressed the commandments. And if we really understood these commandments and felt that they condemned us, they would show us our danger, and so lead us to fly to Christ.
But, my hearers, does this Law not condemn you, because even if you would say you have not broken the letter of it, yet you have violated the spirit of it. Though you have never killed, we are told that he who is angry with his brother is a murderer. As a man said once, "Sir, I thought I had never killed--I was innocent there; but when I heard that he who hates his brother is a murderer, then I cried 'guilty!' for I have killed twenty men before breakfast very often, for I have been angry with many of them very often."
This Law does not mean only what it says in words, but it has deep things hidden in its spirit. It says, "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14), but it means, as Jesus said, "Whoever looks on a woman to lust after here has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain" (Exodus 20:7), it means that we should reverence God in every place and have His fear before our eyes, and we should always pay respect unto His ordinances and walk in His fear and love. Yes, my friends, surely there is not one here so foolhardy in self-righteousness as to say, "I am innocent."
The spirit of the Law condemns us. And this is its useful property; it humbles us, makes us know we are guilty, and so we are led to receive the Savior.
The Law condemns us. The utmost it can do is to whip us out of our boasted self-righteousness and drive us to Christ. It puts a burden on our backs and makes us ask Christ to take it off. It is like a lancet; it probes the wound. It is, to use a parable, like a dark cellar that has not been opened for years and is full of all kinds of loathsome creatures. We may walk through it not knowing they are there. But the Law comes, opens the shutters, and lets light in; then we discover what vile hearts we have and how unholy our lives have been. Then, instead of boasting, we are made to fall on our faces and cry, "Lord, save me or I perish. Oh, save me for Your mercy’s sake, or else I will be cast away!"