Guys, I want to warn you that today’s post is about double the normal length, weighing in at over 1,900 words. If you are short on time read God’s words and skip mine. If you have the time, however, I want to share with you what J. Vernon McGee had to say about the Law in his commentary “Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee”.
You see, in today’s passage the Israelites are given the 10 Commandments and the beginning of the Law, otherwise known as Mosaic Law. As Christians we know that we have been set free from the punishment called for by the Law, but we are a bit confused about the purpose of the Law now that we have been saved by Christ. That is why I think it is so important to provide Dr. McGee’s comments on this subject. I hope you find his commentary as interesting as I have.
“In chapter 20 of Exodus we have the giving of the Law. The Ten Commandments are given first but they are only part of the Law. Instructions pertaining to the altar are also given; the Law and the altar go together. The Law revealed that man is a sinner and needs a Savior. There must be an altar upon which to offer the sacrifice; there must be the shedding of blood for sin. You have a mirror in your bathroom, which is a picture of the Law, and there is a basin underneath the mirror. You do not wash yourself with the mirror; it only reveals the dirt. Just so, the Law is the mirror that reveals our sin. And beneath that mirror there is a wash basin.
There is a fountain filled with blood Drawn from Immanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.[…]
[…]God says, “I brought you out of Egypt and the house of bondage, and upon that basis I want to give you My law.” Israel asked for the Law and God obliged them and He gave them the Ten Commandments first.
Several things need to be mentioned as we look at the Ten Commandments. The first one is the “new morality.” The new morality goes back before the giving of the Law. In fact, it came right out of the Garden of Eden when man first disobeyed God. The new morality existed before the Flood and after the Flood. Today it is far from new. We love to think that we are sophisticated and refined sinners. We are not—we are just crude sinners in the raw—natural sinners. The Ten Commandments put before us God’s standards. No man can play fast and loose with the Ten Commandments and get by with it.
On Blackwell’s Island there was a graveyard for criminals. On one grave was a marker which read, “Here lies the fragments of John Smith who contradicted His Maker, played football with the Ten Commandments, and departed this life at the age of thirty-five. His mother and wife weep for him. Nobody else does. May he rest in peace.” That grave marker revealed a man who tried to defy the law of God. No person can play football with the Ten Commandments and escape the punishment of God.
Often times the charge is made against those of us who preach the grace of God that we do not have a proper appreciation for the Law. We are charged with despising it, rejecting it, and actually teaching that because we are not saved by the Law, it can be violated at will and broken with impunity. This is not true at all. On the contrary, every preacher who teaches the grace of God and has a true perspective of the nature of salvation by faith, realizes the lofty character of the Law. Paul answers the problem in Romans 6:1–2 which says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”
If you think you can continue to live in sin and break the Ten Commandments at will, then, my friend, you are not saved by the grace of God. When you are really saved, you want to please God and want to do His will which is revealed in the Ten Commandments. Therefore I think every preacher of the grace of God has a respect and reverence for God’s law. We say with the psalmist, “O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.”
What is the Law? Someone has defined it as the transcript of the mind of God. That is a defective definition. The Law is the expression of the mind of God relative to what man ought to be. There is no grace or mercy in the Law at all. The Law is an expression of the holy will of God. The psalmist in Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” The Law requires perfection on your part. I have never met anyone who has measured up to God’s standard. The Law is not some vague notion, and it does not have anything to do with good intentions. It requires perfect obedience, for the Law of the Lord is perfect.
The Law of the Lord is right. Our notions of right and wrong are colored by our environment and by the fact that we have a fallen nature. The Law is a revelation of God. God has drawn the line between right and wrong. How do you know what is right? God tells us what is right. This present generation who wants freedom so badly is questioning what is right. “Why is it wrong to steal?” they ask. They do not mind stealing. But they like the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” because they say it is wrong for the government to commit murder by executing criminals. How inconsistent this crowd is! How ignorant they are of the law. Why is it wrong to lie or to steal? Because God says it is wrong. You may say, “It is for the good of mankind.” Of course it is. The Law would be a wonderful thing if man could keep it. Man cannot keep the Law, however, and the jails, the locks on the doors, and the fact that you have to sign ten pieces of paper to borrow money from a bank because they do not trust you, are all testimony to this fact. There was a day when a man’s word was his bond, but that is no longer true today. The law is a norm for human conduct. Stealing, lying, and adultery are wrong because God says they are wrong.
The Law never enforces itself. The Law-giver must have power. God enforces His laws with a tremendous impact. Take the law of gravitation, for example. You can go up as high as you want to but you had better not turn loose. The law of gravitation is in operation and you cannot reverse it. You may think you can, but in the long run you will be the loser.
Many people think they can break the Ten Commandments right and left and get by with it. That reminds me of the whimsical story of the man who jumped off the Empire State Building in New York City. As he went sailing by the fiftieth floor, a man looked out the window and said to him, “Well, how is it?” The falling man replied, “So far, so good.” That is not where the law of gravitation enforces itself. Fifty more floors down and the man will find out, “So far, not so good.” The interesting thing is that a law must be enforced to be a law and therefore God says in Ezekiel 18:4, “… the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” The Law must be enforced and the breaker of the Law must pay the penalty.
There is another viewpoint that needs to be corrected and that is the confounding of law and grace and putting them into one system. Putting law and grace into the same system is to rob the Law of its majesty and meaning. There is no love in the Law. There is no grace in the law. Grace is robbed of its goodness and glory when it is mixed with the Law. Grace is stripped of its wonder, attractiveness and desire. The sinner’s needs are not met when law and grace are bound together. The Law sets forth what man ought to be. Grace sets forth what God is. The majesty of the Law is something that we do need to recognize.
The Law reveals who God is and the vast yawning chasm between God and man. Paul asked the question in Galatians 4:21, “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” You had better listen to what the Law says because man has been weighed in the balances by the Ten Commandments and has been found wanting. You do not measure yourself by others. It is very easy for the man on Mt. Whitney to look down at the man on the ant hill and say, “I am higher than you are.” The man on Mt. Whitney, however, did not make it to the moon, or to heaven either. You just do not measure up to God’s standard.
The Law also reveals who man is and his inability to bridge the gap between himself and God. Romans 3:19 tells us, “Now we know that, what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Paul says in Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” The fault does not lie in the Law but in us.
The Law is a mirror, as we have already seen, that reveals man in his sinful condition. Many people look in the mirror and think they are all right. This reminds me of the fairy story in which a queen looked in her mirror and said, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is fairest of them all?” She wanted the mirror to say that she was, but the mirror told the truth and said she wasn’t—someone else was fairer. And the interesting thing today is that a great many folk look at the mirror (the Ten Commandments in the Word of God) and they say the same thing, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is fairest of them all?” The difference is that they answer their own question and say, “I am.” They think they are keeping the Law. My friend, you need to look in the mirror more closely and let the mirror do the answering.
The Law never made a man a sinner; it revealed the fact that man was a sinner. The Law was given to bring a man to Christ, as we have seen. It was our schoolmaster to take us by the hand, lead us to the cross, and tell us, ‘Little man, you need a Savior because you are a sinner.’”
McGee, J. V. (1997). Thru the Bible commentary (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.