Dispensationalism and the Perpetuity of the Law

by Rev. R. C. Harbach

Love, the Duty of the Law

Appeal is made by Dispensationalists to “Christ is the end of the law” in support of their error that Christ came to make an end of the law. But this is to forget what had been prophesied of Him centuries before, that “He will magnify the law, and make it honorable.” (Isa. 42:21) It is to forget, as we showed last time, that there cannot be made an end of that which stands fast forever and ever (Ps. 111:7, 8). In spite of this undeniable fact it is objected that the ten commandments are not a sufficiently high rule of duty for the Christian; they do not contain the whole duty of man. But the Lord revealed the sum of them in the words, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.“’ (Mt. 22:37-40) The ten commandments are by ‘the Lord reduced to two, love to God and love to the neighbor, which may be reduced to one, namely, love, which certainly embraces every duty that may be required of and performed by man. Let love to God motivate the heart, and not only will love to the neighbor follow, but God will be obeyed in every aspect of His revealed will. God’s commandment is exceedingly broad (Ps. 119:96), that is, it is thoroughly comprehensive, so much so that the whole of Christian doctrine and obedience is essentially expressed therein, and throughout all the remainder of Scripture is materially expounded. For on the command of love there hangs all the law and the prophets. All the doctrinal, admonitory and exhortatory portions of Scripture are an exposition of the law. The ten commandments are, the main roots from which all the trunks and branches of doctrine and duty found in Scripture are drawn.

Now we know that the love of God is from everlasting to everlasting; and since divine love is the heart of the law of God, then it remains the eternal rule of His righteousness which He has given to man. Since, too, the law is a transcript of the nature of God, then the law can neither be repealed, changed nor modified. Love cannot be done away. It abides (I Cor. 13:13). It is the immutable will of God that we should love Him with all the heart. Nothing less than such love is due to God. How can such a law be set aside? Impossible! The ground of the law is love. How then can it be annulled? How can the law ever be altered? Will God ever release His subjects from the requirement of loving Him and loving the neighbor? How could God absolve His creatures from doing right? He would then give them license to do wrong!

An Eternal Standard Maintained

Proof that the law as the standard of truth, life and conduct was not put away, we have in the fact that the last of the ten commandments was indelibly impressed upon the apostle some years after the cross. He testified, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” (Rom. 7:7) How does one come to this knowledge of sin? by the law (see also Rom. 3:20)! How is the law brought to bear upon our conscience? by the operation of the Holy Spirit upon us. Paul had the Spirit-wrought experience of the searchlight of the law revealing his sins. Would the Spirit of God apply an abrogated or superseded principle? Would the Spirit inspire the apostle to record this relation of the Christian to the law if it in this New Testament dispensation has been set aside?, If the cross abrogated the law, then the Spirit would have made no more use of it than He would have of the Levitical sacrifices now forever passed away.

As God always maintains His covenant (it is called an everlasting covenant, Gn. 17:7), so He always maintains His law. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou breakest.” (Ex. 34:l)

“The treaty that was on foot between God and Israel being broken off abruptly, by their worshipping the golden calf, when peace was made, all must be begun anew, not where they left off, but from the beginning. Thus backsliders must ‘repent and do the first works.’ Rev. 2:5. Moses must prepare for the renewing of the tables. Before, God himself provided the tables and wrote on them. Now Moses must hew out the tables, and God would only write upon them. Thus, in the first writing of the law upon the heart of man in innocency, both the tables and the writing were the work of God; but when those were broken and defaced by sin, and the divine law was to be preserved in the Scriptures, God therein made use of the ministry of man, and Moses first. But the prophets and apostles did only hew the tables, as it were; the writing was God’s still, for ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ Observe, when God was reconciled to them, he ordered the tables to be renewed, and wrote his, law in them, which plainly intimates to us: 1. That even under the gospel of peace and reconciliation by Christ (of which the intercession of Moses was typical) the moral law should continue to bind believers. Though Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, yet not from the command of it, but still we are ‘under the law to Christ;’ when our Saviour in the Sermon on the Mount expounded the moral law, and vindicated it from the corrupt glosses with which the scribes and Pharisees had broken it (Mt. 5:19), he did in effect renew the tables, and made them like the first, that is, reduce the law to its primitive sense and intention. 2. That the best evidence of the pardon of sin and peace with God is the writing of the law in the heart. The first token God gave of His reconciliation to Israel was the renewing of the tables of the law; thus the first article of the new covenant is ‘I will write My law in their heart’ (Heb. 8:10).”

This quotation is, again, from Matthew Henry. His works were neither much in evidence, nor well recommended in the Bible school founded by C. I. Scofield where this writer became ingrained with the inconsistencies of Dispensationalism in his youth.

Standing Before the Law in Christ

From what we have so far reviewed, the law, then, does not change. Being a reflection of the nature of God, it is immutable. Its demands are not in the Christian dispensation reduced one iota. Neither is its penalty withdrawn by the cross of Christ. The demand of the law is upheld by the cross, and the penalty of it is executed upon the cross. Where change occurs is in the Christian’s relation to the law. He does not stand before the law in himself, on his own responsibility, as before the Judge, for then he would be condemned. He stands before the law as in a Saviour, who became responsible for his sins, took upon Himself the condemnation of the law, and substituted His obedience lacking in the Christian. So he is delivered not from the law, but from the curse of the law. The relation that therefore exists between the Christian and the law is that it is to him an instructor in holiness, especially in that it conveys the knowledge of his natural misery and sin. It is also his standard of life, especially for a life of thanksgiving. Then if our position before the law is in Christ, what is His attitude toward the law, which, of course, ought to be ours? This, “I delight to do Thy will; O My God; yea, Thy law is within My heart.” (Ps. 40:8)’ As Matthew Henry pointed out, that is the new covenant relation to the law.

Privilege and Duty: a Harmonious Relation

In view of all stated above, it certainly cannot be maintained that the law of God is superseded by the divine declaration, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:l0) We have shown that love is the sum and genius of the law. Therefore this divine statement has always been true. From the beginning love has always been the fulfilling of the law. Where love is lacking, although there be an outward conformity to the law, there is no acceptable ‘fulfilling’ of it. For the law commands love, to God and to the neighbor. The law itself. is the rule of life; love is the principle of life. The law reveals what we are to do; love empowers to the doing of it. True, “love is the fulfilling of the law,” but that is not the same as saying as dispensationalists seem to think, that “love is a substitute for the law.” Love and law are not synonymous, but they are harmonious. The law is the track; love is the engine which draws along the train. The track commands and controls the engine. The engine is exalted and free as long as- it remains on the track.. The engine cannot say, I will pull, but where and when I please, I will not be hampered. Nor dare the Christian say, I love God, and will do as He says, but will not be commanded!

It is often objected that the law is a matter of duty, whereas the Christian lives by privilege, in the liberty of forgiveness and sonship. But duty is simply what is owed to God. Deliverance from the curse and penalty of the law does not leave free of debt and duty to God. Love cancels the law’s sentence of wrath, because Love bore the sentence, but it does not remove the law. Nor because now the Christian has besides duty, privilege, does duty become bondage. Thus, the Christian lives by privilege. What is and has ever been the believer’s privilege, but to love God and do His will? That brings us back to the law, for it is the revealed will of God. The. privilege of liberty in Christ does not relieve us from conformity to His will. Duty is love owed. Privilege is love enjoyed. Love is holiness, yea, goodness constraining. “The love of Christ constraineth us.” The law is a matter of more than duty - of privilege! and of more than privilege added to duty of love! It is “Love the Lord thy God!” No, love and law, or grace and law are not antithetical: It is impossible that the attributes of God conflict. It is therefore impossible that the law of God and the love of God be opposed. The law reveals God as the light (I John 1:s) and love reveals that “God is love.” (4:8) The prayer of the enlightened Christian is not that he may be free of the law, but it is like this, “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work, for they have made void Thy law.” (Ps. 119:126)