The Lawful Use of the Law
This is the first of what, it is hoped, will be an occasional series of sermons. A number of sermons preached at the old Salem Chapel, Portsmouth were published, principle among which were four sermons preached by J. C. Philpot in the year 1841. A few sermons preached by other godly ministers of a previous generation appeared in the Gospel Standard Magazine, and notes of sermons by William Ferris, pastor 1871-1887, were published in 1888, together with his memoir. Also the sermon preached by J. K. Popham at the centenary of the church in 1913 was subsequently published. God willing, we intend to republish all these sermons.
The old chapel was destroyed by enemy action in January 1941, and the new chapel was opened on 24th April 1959. In recent years sermons have been recorded on cassette tape, and much of the ministry of the late pastor, K.F.T. Matrunola is available in this form. Hopefully it will be possible to have some of these sermons transcribed.
Thanks are due to Miss Marion Honeysett for transcribing the sermon here published.
Pastor, Salem Chapel, Portsmouth
22 January 1997.
"But we know that the law is good if a man use it lawfully."
1 Timothy 1:8
The substance of a sermon by Henry Sant preached at Salem Strict Baptist Chapel, Portsmouth, on Lord's Day evening 1st September 1996.
In verses 5-11 of this first chapter of his First Epistle to Timothy, the apostle Paul is speaking of the proper use of the law, and in verses 5-7 he deals in particular with the whole matter of the end of it. The end of the commandment, he says is "charity, or love, out of a pure heart and of a good conscience and of faith unfeigned." The word "end," indicates a termination or a limitation, i.e. the aim or the purpose of the law, and the great aim, or goal of the law is love. As all Scripture is a revelation of God, so the law must be part of that revelation. In the law God declares his glory and greatness, his holiness and justice (Deut.5:24), yet at the same time we also there see something of his love. He gives the law to the Children of Israel as he brings them out from the bondage of Egypt. Having delivered them from their cruel tormentors, taking them into the wilderness, and bringing them to Mount Sinai, he there enters into covenant with, and marries himself to them (Ex. 19:4; 20:2). In this sense therefore even in the law we see something of the love of God towards Israel (Deut. 7:7-9). Love is the sum and substance of the law. Christ declares this very plainly in Matthew 22:35-40, as he answers the man who was considered to be an expert in the law, teaching him that the law is really summed up in those two commandments, "love God" and "love your neighbour as yourself." Again in John 13:34,35, Christ speaks of the new commandment, which is really that old commandment, but now a much fuller revelation of it has been given. What Christ says is reiterated by the apostle in Romans 13:8-10 and then again in Galatians 5:14 he says "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."
However in and of itself the law cannot produce such love in the heart of man. In Romans 8:3 we read, "what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh." Not that the law itself is weak, it is God's law, and it is holy, just, and good (Rom.7: 12), but the weakness is in our flesh. The law requires complete and perfect obedience, but in man's flesh, in his sinful nature, he cannot deliver that which is demanded of him, therefore instead of working love in his heart, the law worketh wrath (Rom. 4:15). The sinner is made to feel the reality of his condition as one who is alienated from God, and stands guilty before him. How then is the statement that we have in verse 5 to be fulfilled? "The end of the commandment is charity (or love) out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned." We have to recognise that the law is subservient to, and is the servant of the gospel (Gal. 3:17). Once we understand that, we find the key whereby we can really understand the whole point and purpose of the law. In Romans 10:4, we are told how Christ is the end of the law, he is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth", and here in 1 Timothy 1:5 we are told that the end of the commandment is love. It is when we see the connection between these statements, and how that sinners must be brought to trust in Christ as the one who answers all their law demands, that we understand how the commandment ends in love. The Saviour has come and honoured and magnified the law, both by his life, in his obedience to the law's precepts; and also by his death, in his suffering of the law's penalties. The law then is a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, it is subservient to and serves the gospel.
In this chapter Paul is really dealing with false teachers. He has left Timothy at Ephesus that he might charge some that they teach no other doctrine, "Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith" (verses 3,4). The error which was being taught by these men had to do with their understanding of the law. They thought that they understood it but they were really ignorant of its true purpose, "From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm" (verses 6,7 cf. Tit. 3:9). These legalists imagined that their concern for the details of the law, and observance of it, had some part to play in salvation. Having spoken of these men who are misusing the law, Paul goes on in verse 8 to take up the proper and lawful use of the law. It is this that I want us to concentrate on, "But" he says, "we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, etc." (verses 8-11).
1. First of all, at the beginning of verse 9, it is plainly declared that the law of God is intended for the sinner. It is meant to bring conviction to those who are elect sinners. It is not made for a righteous man, one who is in a justified state, who now stands righteous before God having experience of justification because he has come to faith in Christ and is looking to Christ as the end of the law for righteousness. It is not made for that man. The law is intended to convict those who are sinners and yet are ignorant of their true state and condition. Those whom God converts to himself have to be made to feel something of the condemning power of the law, "...The strength of sin is the law," (I Cor. 15:56). That was Paul's own experience. When writing in these various epistles that make up so much of the New Testament, he is not a theorist . He does not just sit down and think to himself "What great doctrine can I now take up to expound?" No, he writes under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, but as he writes under the movings of the Spirit, he also writes out of the fulness of his heart. He is the typical believer, as he says in verse 16 a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting." Paul writes of things that he has known and felt, and as one who had experienced the lawlul use of the law in his own case. We see this in the familiar words of the 7th of Romans. At verses 9-11 he says "I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me." Paul is there writing of himself; and how he had come into an experience of the lawful use of the law. When he was a Pharisee he did not understand the proper use of the law. He was in the condition of those Jews, of whom he speaks in Romans 10:3 "For being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, (they) have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." He then thought that by his own obedience, by his good works, and by the conformity of his outward life to the commandments, he could attain the righteousness of God. He reckoned he could work his way into God's favour. But not so! When the Lord apprehended him, when he was arrested (Phil. 3:12), he found condemnation in that law that he thought was for life. As a Pharisee he kept the letter of the law (Phil. 3:5,6), but in the tenth commandment God showed him the spirituality of it "...I had not known sin, but by the law, for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence" (Rom. 7:7,8). You do not covet with your hands, but with your heart. God is concerned not only in our actions, but also our attitudes and affections. Paul was thus made to see and feel the evil desires within his heart. "...Deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9).
Beside speaking of his own experience, he also plainly declares that the law was given for this very purpose; that it might bring to the conscience of the sinner conviction and condemnation. In Romans 3:19, he writes "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." This is the condemning power of the law. "Therefore," he says, "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). In 2 Corinthians 3:7 what does he call this law? He refers to it as "the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones." The "ministration of death," he calls it, and goes on to speak of it as the "ministration of condemnation." Again when writing to the Galatians he asks, "wherefore then serveth the law?" and he answers his own question, "It was added because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). That is what the law serves; to show man that he is a transgressor (1 Jno. 3:4), to convince a man of his true state and condition before God. This is the lawful use of the law. It is made, I say, for the conviction of sinners.
Because the law is given to condemn, it is always accompanied by its sanction. The law is never apart from its penalty. We see this in the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 27:26, we read, "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen." Here is the law proclaimed to the people, and in what terms is it proclaimed? Cursed is the man that does not confirm all these laws in doing them. Again, in Jeremiah 11:3, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel; Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant." This old covenant, this law, is proclaimed, and pronounced in terms of sanction, penalty, curse, and condemnation upon those who are not doing these things. And those statements that we have in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah are alluded to by the apostle in Galatians 3:10, "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." Observe then, how the law is accompanied by its own sanction. It is proclaimed in association with its penalty, to remind us of the purpose of it. Those who are under the law are required to give a complete, perfect and perpetual obedience to it, and they cannot, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10).
By nature, all men are under the law, as all are in Adam. In the Garden of Eden, when God entered into covenant with Adam it was a covenant of works, and Adam fell. He failed to abide by the terms of the covenant that God set before him concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil. He fell, and Thomas Boston says that in that one act of disobedience he broke all the ten commandments at once. Now those who are the natural descendants of that first pair, Adam and Eve, i.e. all men, are under that selfsame covenant of works. When men are awakened, when they are brought to see their need, they tend always to have recourse to that covenant "what must I do?" they ask. Is not this the cry of sinners time and again, when they are awakened "what must I do?" (Acts 2:37; 16:30)? But what does the gospel say? It excludes the notion of salvation by works. "Where is boasting then? it is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," (Rom. 3:27,28 cf. 11:6). The gospel says "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).
As I have said, under the law all are required to give complete, perfect, and perpetual obedience, and they cannot; so the law constantly and continually condemns men. "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual but I am carnal, sold under sin" (Rom. 7:12-14). It is only in the Lord Jesus Christ, that there is deliverance from this law. "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). To this end he was born, "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4,5). And what was true with regard to his coming, his incarnation, and his birth, was true in all that he did; we see how salvation was all worked out in his life and death. At Calvary he bore the sanction of the law, "The soul that sinneth it shall die" (Ezek. 18: 4,20). He died, and he died as the sin-bearer, he died in order that he might honour and magnify the law, bearing the penalty of the broken law for those for whom he came as the great Representative and Surety. The sinner is to look to him, as that one who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth; because he has not only answered the law by his death, he has also answered that selfsame law by his life. We do not only look to his great oblation, the sacrifice that he offered as he suffered and bled and died in the sinner's place, but we also look to his life. We look to the obedience of his life. In that life, what has he done? He has fulfilled all righteousness. He has obeyed all God's statutes and precepts. The Father can declare from heaven "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matt. 3:17 and 17:5). He was the only righteous man that ever lived, there was no sin in him, and in all his actions he was a public person, the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45,47). He is the representative Head of those that were given to him by the Father in the covenant of grace. He stood in the law place of his people. This is the one that we are to look to in order that we might know what it is to be delivered from the condemning power of the law of God. "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law and make it honourable (Isa. 42:21).
However, let us be clear here, it is very important that we understand these things aright. Although Christ has fulfilled the law for his people and answered it, both in its penalties in dying, and in its precepts in living, although he has done all that is necessary, and the law now has no demand upon that sinner who is trusting in Christ, the Saviour has not abrogated the law. The law still stands, Christ himself says that in the Sermon on the Mount, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Man. 5:17-20). The law is not abrogated, but as I trust has been made clear, the law is meant to serve man as a sinner. That is the important distinction. The law still stands, but how does it serve man? It is there to condemn him, to convince and to convict him of his sin. Isaac Watts says:
"Since to convince and to condemn,
Is all the law can do."
That is the point and the purpose of it. "For we know that the law is good if a man use it lawfully; knowing this, that the law is not made for the righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners." The elect sinner is thus brought to live a life of faith in Christ. "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me," (Gal. 2:19,20).
2. It follows then, in the second place, that that law which was given by God at Mount Sinai is not now to be considered as a rule of life to the believer. "Not for a righteous man." The law is not the believer's rule of life. That is stated very clearly, as l am sure you are aware, in our Articles of Faith*.[* Gospel Standard Articles of Faith, No.16: "We believe that the believer's rule of conduct is the gospel, and not the law, commonly called the moral law, issued on Mount Sinai. which hath no glory in it by reason of the glory that excelleth; that is to say, the gospel (Gal. 6:15,16; 2 Cor. 3:10; Rom.7:2-4); the gospel containing the sum and substance and glory of all the laws which God ever promulgated from his throne, and the Jews, because of the hadness of their hearts, being permitted some things which the gospel forbids, (Deut. 24:1; Man. 19:8,9)."] It serves man as a sinner, but once a man has been brought to see his sinnership and come to trust in Christ, he does not then look simply and solely to the law as a rule of his life. When under conviction of sin, the believer was under that condemning power of the law, but by faith in Christ he has been delivered from it, and to come back under the law would be a retrograde step on his part. And we are to beware of any such regression. Is not this the whole thrust of Paul's teaching to the Galatians? In Galatians 5:1, he exhorts, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty...(that is in Christ Jesus).. .and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." You have been delivered he says; do not go back to what you have been delivered from. At the beginning of Chapter 3 of that same epistle, he writes, "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect in the flesh?" Observe how this answers the Judaisers, who wanted to bring believers back to the law. Again, in that same 3rd Chapter, verses 11 and 12, he says, "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith." Furthermore in Chapter 2:19, he declares, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God." The whole thrust of what he is saying, in Galatians, is an answer to those who would seek to bring the believer, who has known the lawful use of the law in the conviction of his sins, back under that galling yoke. In Romans 7, this same apostle uses an illustration. He speaks of a woman who has been married and widowed and then remarried, and what he illustrates is how the believer is no longer under the law, just as the woman is no longer under the law of her first husband. "Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then it while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God" (Rom.7: 1-4). Is not the illustration clear and plain? The first husband is representative of the law. Again in the previous chapter he says, "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14), and in Chapter 8:2 he declares, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." This law of sin and of death is that law which condemns and convinces sinners. But the Christian believer is freed from that.
When one says such things as these, immediately the cry goes up: "Antinomianism!" "Antinomianism!" What does that word "Antinomian" mean? It is from the Greek, "anti" meaning "against", and "nomos" meaning "law" - "against law". We are said to be against the law, but that is not true. We are for the lawful use of the law. That is an important difference. We do not say that men are now free to live as they will, to do as they please, to be licentious; we do not say that for a moment, and so we dispute this charge; we are not Antinomians. We are not for immorality. When others accuse us of being Antinomians, they are really saying that we are teaching that men can lead the most immoral lives, but we do not say that! The charge is a false one. All that we are seeking to do is to make a proper distinction between law and gospel, and how important that is. I remember our late dear friend, Sidney Norton, saying on more than one occasion, that that man who could rightly discriminate and distinguish law from gospel was a true theologian. That is what we want to do, and to be. We want to have a right understanding of doctrine and we want that doctrine that is according to godliness. We want sound doctrine. Observe the words "sound doctrine" in verse 10. The meaning of the word "sound" is hygienic or healthy (our word "hygiene" is derived from the Greek word used there). In order to attain such healthy doctrine we must make the proper distinction between law and gospel. God's Word makes a distinction and it is for us to seek to trace it out as it is set before us. The believer is not under the law. To such it is, in the words of 2 Corinthians 3:11, "that which is done away." Done away in Christ, honoured and magnified by him. He is the end of the law for righteousness. But although the law is done away, Paul says there in 2 Corinthians 3:11, that the gospel is "that which remaineth." The gospel remains, but being under the gospel does not mean that the believer is now without any law. In 1 Corinthians 9:21, Paul speaks of "being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ." That is the position believers are in, under law to Christ. It is interesting that Paul does not in fact use the definite article; he does not say that we are under the law to Christ. That is how some understand that verse. They say that the believer is still under the law but it is now the law in the hands of Christ. But Paul does not say that; he literally says that we are under law to Christ. We are under Christ's law. That which is fully and finally revealed to us in the gospel. As William Gadsby says,
"The gospel's the law of the Lamb."
It is that perfect law of liberty spoken of in James 1:25. This is the law that is written by the Spirit of God in the believer's heart in fulfilment of the great promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:32,33, "Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; Afier those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." That is what believers are under. They are such as know the ministry of the Spirit of God, impressing the truth upon their hearts, and directing them. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). Paul declares in Galatians 5:18, "ye are not under the law." And remember in Romans 8:2, he says, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and of death."
However we are not to think of this law simply in a subjective sense. It is right to recognise the ministry of the Spirit, who gives the desire to please God, but believers do not just rely on a vague experience of the Spirit in the heart; they are also under objective laws. They are under the Word of God in its entirety, but especially the blessed precepts of the gospel. The law coming from Christ, concerns not just our actions, but as he expounds it to us we are brought to see its spirituality. We learn then that the sixth commandment, for example, which says, "Thou shalt not kill," is not merely concerned with externals, it is not enough to say, "I have never killed a man; I have never broken that commandment." "No," says Christ, "If you are angry with your brother and you have no just cause for that anger, you are guilty, you have transgressed, you are a murderer in your heart" (Matt. 5:22-26). Likewise with the seventh commandment which forbids all adultery, we may say "I have never lain with another woman; I am not guilty of adultery." What says Christ? "If you have looked and lusted, you are guilty" (Matt.5:27-30). It is a higher law that we are under. It is a spiritual law. Remember that in this gospel dispensation there is a change in the fourth commandment. To say that the believer is under the law really means that we should keep Saturday as our Sabbath day. But we do not keep Saturday, we keep the first day of the week. We observe this Lord's Day. We are under the law of Christ, and he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt.12:8). His law is the believer's rule, and the believer is one who is motivated all the time by grace, for the love of Christ constraineth us (2 Cor. 5:14). We are not legalists, we are under these gospel motivations.
As we conclude, let me direct you to Ephesians. Some years ago, in reading towards the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of Chapter 5, 1 was struck by the way in which Paul enforces his exhortations. He sets forth commandments or gospel precepts. "Let all bitterness and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted." Furthermore, he says, "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks." These are very practical exhortations, but see how he enforces them. He does so on gospel principles. "And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour." This is the gospel. And wedded to these great gospel doctrines concerning what Christ has done, we find precepts, telling us what we are to do, (Eph. 4:31-5:4). Here is the motivation, we are not under law , but we are under grace. However we are not lawless, we are under law to the Lord Jesus Christ himself. "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule;" mark the words, "as many as walk according to this rule;" this is our rule, "peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:14-16).