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The Harmony of the Law and the Gospel 

Law says "Do"       Gospel says "Done"
Law commands     Gospel promises
Law kills     Gospel gives life
Law condemns     Gospel justifies

Part I

Romanism had come about through a confusion of law and gospel. According to Luther, the Reformation was born when men were enabled to rightly divide the law and the gospel. Thus, the proper distinction between the law and the gospel was the great contribution of the Reformation of the sixteenth century.

The Reformers rightly defined Law as any command, instruction or exhortation which defines duty – i.e., what we should do, how we should live, what we must be. "Love thy neighbour," "Be ye therefore perfect," "Purify your minds," "Entertain strangers," are examples of law.

Gospel is the good news that God has fulfilled the demands of the law for all men in Jesus Christ. For example, "Christ died for our sins," "Ye are bought with a price," "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law," are pure gospel. Law says, "Do"; gospel says, "Done." Law commands; gospel promises. Law kills; gospel gives life. Law condemns; gospel justifies.

Yet the battle of the Reformation was not finished when God rescued the church from the terrible error of co-mingling law and gospel. There is an opposite error. This consists in divorcing the law from the gospel. While the Church of Rome made shipwreck by confusing law and gospel, the Protestant church faces the peril of separating the law from the gospel. The first error causes men to attempt salvation by their own works. The second error leads them to think they can be saved in their sins.

The gospel takes the law seriously. The sinner can be justified on no other basis than perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 2:13).

NKJ Romans 2:13 “for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified;”

The Law Giver Himself came to this world to render that perfect obedience in man's behalf. By His own perfect living in human flesh He magnified the law and made it honorable (Isa. 42:21).

NKJ Isaiah 42:21 “The LORD is well pleased for His righteousness' sake; He will exalt the law and make it honorable.”

By dying under its penalty Christ showed that the law is holy, just, good, unchangeable and everlasting (Rom. 7:12; Ps. 19:7-9).

NKJ Romans 7:12 “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”

NKJ Psalm 19:7-9 “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.”

The gospel has a higher and broader purpose than man's salvation. It is that God Himself might be just as well as the Justifier of him that believeth in Jesus (Rom. 3:26).

NKJ Romans 3:25-26 “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

The object of the atonement is that the divine law and government might be maintained.

Here is a view of the atonement that transcends any subjective benefit. God was not only saving lost men at the cross, but he was securing the whole universe. He was not only justifying sinners, but he was justifying His own law and government.

Here is a sinner in rebellion against God's law. He longs to be saved. What he must see is that his salvation depends upon the vindication of the very law which he has despised. The cross, above all else, is a vindication of God's law. Christ honored its claims by bearing its just penalty in behalf of sinners. If the sinner really sees the meaning of the cross, he will exercise repentance toward God for the transgression of His law, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who fulfilled all its claims in His behalf.

Acts 20:20-21 I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 "testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Law of God

The law of God may be likened to a tree and the gospel to the fruit which it bears. In heaven a controversy arose over that "tree." Lucifer contended that it should be plucked up, and he proposed planting a better one. Even the angels did not understand the full extent of the love, wisdom and holiness of the law. But with the advent of sin, the time had come for that "tree" to bear "fruit" and demonstrate its worth.

The life and death of Jesus were the unfolding of God's law to angels and to men. Hanging on the cross, Christ was the gospel — the fruit of the tree. What a wonderful tree God's law proved to be at Calvary! When the angelic hosts saw the Son of God yield up His life of infinite value, with one voice they extolled the greatness of God's law. Every soul who sees Calvary as the law of God unfolded will say with the psalmist, "O how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Ps. 119:97.

In his state of rebellion against the law of God, man has been denied access to the Tree of Life, but not the sinner who looks upon the cross and sees the awful results of breaking a law so good and holy. As he sees His Substitute bearing the curse of his transgression upon the tree (NKJ Galatians 3:13 “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree") that tree of shame is discerned as the Tree of Life. This Tree has borne Fruit so precious that if a repentant sinner eats of it he shall be cured of sin and live forever. That Fruit is the Son of God Himself. He declares, "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath eternal life." John 6:54.

The law is the tree, the gospel is the fruit. Those who eat this fruit assimilate the very life of the tree. Thus the true believer in the gospel assimilates the very life and character of the law of God (See: NKJ Romans 8:4 “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”)

Perfect Obedience to the Law as a Gift

"By the obedience of One shall many be made righteous." Rom. 5:19. Jesus showed us plainly the nature of His obedience: "I have kept My Father's commandments, and abide in His love." John 15:10. The righteousness of Christ is perfect obedience to the law of Jehovah. The law is infinite, and it embodies an infinite righteousness (Ps. 119:96, 144, N.E.B.) In manifesting an infinitely perfect character, Jesus rendered an obedience that measured with the broadest claims of God's law.

When the gospel offers men the righteousness of Christ, it offers them a life of unblemished obedience to the law of God. As Christ dies on the cross, He gives His most precious legacy to His disciples — the law of God unbroken, unmarred in the gift of His own life.

Everyone wants to keep a precious gift. God's law has been given to us in the unblemished character of Jesus Christ. This gift cost the life of the Son of God; it emptied heaven; it contained all the accumulated wealth of eternity. Surely a believer could not bring himself to despise and spit upon a gift like that. In His last words to His disciples, Jesus said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." John 14:15.

Only those who believe on the Son of God can keep the commandments, for the law is a gift to the followers of Christ. The psalmist declares: "Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart." Ps. 119:111.

Let us illustrate how perfect obedience to the law is a gift in Jesus Christ, and see how a believer will keep the law because it is given to him as a precious heritage:

Here is a Christian who is convicted by the law that he is a slothful servant in his service for God. He sees that he may be lazy or be a Christian, but he cannot be both. Unless he becomes "diligent in business," the sentence will be pronounced upon him, "Thou wicked and slothful servant."

The only right way to become diligent is by way of the gospel. The convicted sinner looks upon the diligence of His Substitute. In His life there were no idle moments. He was always about His Father's business. He was the unwearied servant of man's necessities. Not one careless, thoughtless act marred that life of infinite value. He did not fail, nor was He discouraged, but set His face as a flint until He could say, "I have finished the work that Thou gavest Me to do." The contemplation of this life not only works conviction and repentance for slothfulness, but it works faith. For the sinner's history was imputed to Christ in order that His history may be imputed to the sinner. The sinner grasps by faith the history of Jesus as his own. He comes before God and His law with nothing to present as his plea save the diligence of Jesus Christ. The Father accepts with great joy the merits of His Son offered in the transgressor's behalf. He calls His angels and says in the presence of the universe, "See this repentant sinner. This is My diligent son in whom I am well pleased."

By faith in Christ's diligence, the believer stands as diligent in the sight of God. But having accepted this life of perfect diligence, what does the believer now aspire to be above everything else? He wants to be what God has pronounced Him as being in Jesus Christ. His determination to be diligent does not come from outward compulsion, but from inward constraint. The Holy Spirit has written the law of diligence in his heart, and helps him to walk in the way of God's commandment. The way of the gospel is completely contrary to the way of righteousness by law. God pronounces the believer diligent in order that it may motivate him to become diligent. The same principle operates in any area of Christian living.

But if a man strives to become diligent in order that God will pronounce him diligent, he is always under the law, under the curse, because he always falls short of the divine standard. The gospel believer may also fall short of reaching the standard in himself, but because he trusts in Christ's diligence and not his own, the merit of His Substitute constantly makes up for his deficiency. Thus the gospel presents a life of perfect obedience to the law of God as a free gift in Christ. The believer in Jesus keeps the law, not in order to become righteous in God's sight, but because he has become righteous in God's sight. He aspires to keep what God has given him in Christ. The law is an expression of God's idea. When we receive it in Christ, it becomes our idea.

Rejoicing in the Law

Have you ever wondered why the psalmist seems to almost leap for sheer joy and delight in the law of the Lord? No one who receives the commandments as mere threats, commands and directions could do that. God imputes to the believer the perfect righteousness of the law. This means that the believer can survey the law as a heritage, as some mighty wealth that belongs to him. He strolls about the law in the sheer joy of a man who inspects a wonderful inheritance. Why, he is looking at the extent of the righteousness given him in Jesus! The broader, the higher and the deeper he discovers the law to be, the more he wonders and appreciates what wealth is his in Jesus Christ. "Oh," he exclaims, "I did not realize so much was imputed to me!" This is not only his Father's law, but because he is now a son, it is his law too. He too is jealous for it:

"Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Thy law. ….Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not Thy law." Ps. 119:53, 136.

As contempt for God's law becomes more and more universal, His people will hold it more and more sacred. All of God's people will pray in earnest, "It is time for Thee, Lord, to work: for they have made void Thy law." Ps. 119:126. In response to that prayer, the Spirit will fall in power upon the church. The whole world will be enlightened with that message of justification by faith which is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God.

Read Part II