The Cross of Calvary # 7
The Cross and the Law
"Ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ, now we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were holden" (Romans 7:4-6)
Deliverance through death is still the message of the Apostle. The Cross of Calvary is the place of reconciliation with God, and of freedom from the power of sin, but he who is crucified with Christ, dies with Him, not only to the bondage of sin, but to the bondage of the "law" which demanded from a helpless sinner an obedience it could not get, and brought him deeper and deeper into the powerlessness of death.
The Apostle's trend of thought in Romans 5, 6, 7, and 8 is marvelously in accord with the facts of actual experience in the Christian life; and the group of chapters can only be clearly understood from the inside, that is by having, in some measure, passed through the stages of experience, so as to be able to see from the standpoint of Paul as he wrote to the Roman Christians.
The "law came in" he writes, "that the trespass might abound." But God only purposed to reveal the "abounding" of the sin and its heinousness, that His grace might be shown to "abound more exceedingly."
That "as sin reigned" over the poor sinner, even so might "grace" - the free gift of righteousness - "reign" and triumph in the redeemed man.
The way that grace might come in and reign is then shown to be by death, for nought but death could release the sinner from his chains. The wages of sin is death, the penalty of sin must be paid; the verdict of death must be carried out, and in the death of Christ as the Representative Man, the penalty was carried out, and the reign of sin ends in all who have died with their crucified Lord.
The believer also dies to the "law" which condemned him to death. United to Christ in His death, he is "made dead to the law through the body of Christ", and is therefore "discharged" from the claims of the law "having died" to that which held him in bondage.
The law can no longer say to one who has died, "thou shalt", for he has passed through the gateway of death to another sphere, where the law cannot follow him; a sphere "in Christ Jesus", wherein he serves God in a new way, with a new spirit of glad obedience, and not, as heretofore, by a compulsory slavish obedience to the "letter" of the law.
Another question occurs at this point. Are we then to say that the law given by God is sin? Once more the Apostle answers "God forbid", and proceeds to show the reason why the law was given, and the practical working of the law, in bringing the soul to the place where he is ready to be delivered by the crucified and risen Lord; for the message of deliverance through death with Christ comes as glad tidings only to those who are at an end of themselves. The law is our school-master, to bring us to Christ.
After speaking of the discharge from the claims of the law, the Apostle breaks out into vivid description of the bitter conflict in the soul who delights in the will of God in his inward man, but has failed to apprehend the deliverance through the death of Christ, which Paul has been describing.
Whatever primary object Paul may have had in mind when he wrote the much debated seventh of Romans, at least we may safely say that it is a powerful picture of a man under the tyranny of sin, roused to activity by his desire to fulfill the will of God.
It is the law that brings the soul to the place of death, for "death" is simply a cessation from struggling - the point at which the soul arrives when it can battle no more, and cries in despair, "Who shall deliver me?"
"I through the law, died unto the law," writes Paul, "that I might live unto God."
It is easy to discuss the seventh of Romans from the academic point of view, but let us set ourselves in earnest to break our own bonds, and we will soon learn the reality of the picture, and the bitterness of the experience it describes.
Let us look briefly at the passage, and see how the law works in bringing souls to an end of themselves, ready to be delivered by Jesus Christ our Lord.
The law was given to make us know what sin is.
"I had not known sin, except through the law." (v. 7).
For instance, unless God had given a law, and said, "Thou shalt not covet", how could we know that to covet was a sin?
The law was given to show the antagonism of sin.
"Sin, finding occasion, wrought in me ... coveting: for apart from the law sin is dead." (v. 8).
How actually true in every human heart the picture is! If we are told not to covet we find ourselves doing it once the very thing we are forbidden to do.
"Thou shalt not" arouses all the antagonism that is in fallen nature against the holy will of God, for "the mind of the flesh is enmity against God".
Apart from the commands of the law "sin is dead", i.e., there is no antagonism or fight. Let men go their own way, and fulfill the desires of their flesh, and of their mind, and there is no battle; but let them come face to face with the law of God and try to obey it, then sin rouses up, and works all manner of things in them contrary to the commandment of God.
The law therefore given to show the man himself the antagonism that is within him to the law of God.
The law was given to bring us to death.
"I was alive apart from the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." (v. 9).
Once upon a time I knew nothing of the claims of God, "I was alive, apart from the law."
I thought all was well, when suddenly I came face to face with the "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not" of my Creator. Something within me woke up, and fought against God's law; "sin revived" where it had been dormant. I found I could not obey the law, for I was helpless.
Sin took its opportunity, and asserted its power and claim upon me, through the very commandment of God. I actually found it stronger than myself. It beguiled me! I had to yield to its temptations, knowing the consequences to be death. So to speak sin "slew me" (v.11) by showing me that I had nothing before me but the wages of sin - death.
God's commandment should have led me to live a better life, but instead it made me sink deeper into the helplessness of death (v. 10), and in hopeless despair, "I died."
(continued with # 8)