By Blood and by Water
The Word of God is a sharp, two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). The two cutting edges are the law and the gospel. As the Protestant reformer Melanchthon points out in his Apology of the Augsburg Confession, "All Scripture ought to be distributed into these two principal topics" (see Book of Concord [St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House,1957], p.32).
And the Formula of Concord 1 declares:
Such clear statements are not confined to the Lutheran confessions, but similar statements are also found in the founding articles of the Reformed and Anglican Churches.
We agree with Edmund Schlink, who says, "As the law cannot be preached without Christ, so Christ's work cannot be preached without the law." — Edmund Schlink, Theology of the Lutheran Confessions (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1961), p.86. The gospel is no great glory to those who have never stood before Mount Sinai, so to speak, and trembled before the awesome majesty of God's law. Those who have never felt the strength of sin (which is by the law) can never appreciate the joy and sweetness of the gospel. See how the apostle Paul uses the law in Romans (chs. 1-3) to prepare our hearts for the hearing of the gospel. It is certain that those who do not hear the law cannot hear the gospel. Neither can Christ's work for us be understood or appreciated apart from the law.
The Law of Love
Law is the basis of all good government. No government can exist without law. God has a law which is the basis of the divine government. One word may be used to summarize that law: love (Rom. 13:8-10).
Love is not a feeling of ecstatic pleasure. It is not a high religious rapture. It is an eternal principle, or law, of life. God has not left sinful mortals to work out their own interpretation of love but has carefully shown what is involved so that only the most obstinate need remain in ignorance.
If you pass light through a spectrum or glass prism, it breaks down into the colors of the rainbow. We then realize that light is the combination of the colors of the rainbow. When love is placed under the prism of God's Word, we may see that it is a combination, or blending, of ten eternal principles. These ten aspects of love are verbalized in the Ten Commandments:
Here is love. Love is loyal, faithful, reverent and holy. It respects authority and life. It is pure, honest, truthful and contented. The Ten Commandments describe the kind of people God will have in His kingdom. Everything contrary and rebellious to these eternal principles of a righteous character will be shut out. Sin needs to be clearly defined, and in the Ten Commandments it is so clearly defined that both learned and ignorant may understand. Sin is the transgression of this law (1 John 3:4), and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
To transgress the Decalogue is an affront to the awesome majesty of a sin-hating God. That Israel might know something of the terrible majesty and sacred character of His law, God brought them to Mount Sinai. As God spoke the Ten Words in the hearing of the people, the whole mountain was enveloped in fire and smoke, and the earth shook at the voice of the Eternal. The people were in fearful terror, and even Moses declared, "I exceedingly fear and quake." The people cried, "Let not God speak with us, lest we die." Sinful mortals were not even able to hear the law, much less do it!
When God invited the people at Sinai to enter into covenant with Him, they confidently declared, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." Ex. 19:8. The Lord said to Moses, "They have well said all that they have spoken. O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it might be well with them. ... "Deut. 5:28-29. God knew that the sinful heart of man would not keep its best resolutions. Within a few days Israel forgot God and entered into the wildest religious orgy. And as long as anyone has nothing better to trust in than his promises to God, he will be under the law without hope of justification or pardon.
The New Covenant
The new covenant is based on better promises (Heb. 8:6) – not a better law or a better government or even better conditions, but a promise based on an oath (Heb. 6:16-18). A covenant has two parties. The old covenant was between God and the people. The new covenant was between God and Christ (Zech. 6:12-13). It was an everlasting covenant, a plan which existed from times eternal (see Rom 16:25, R.S.V.).
In the new covenant, Christ stands in the place of the people. He becomes the Substitute and Surety for them. In their name and on their behalf, He makes an oath to God: "All that the Lord hath said I will do." Thus, "when the fullness 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).
Righteousness is obedience to the law. This the sinner owes to the law, but he is incapable of rendering it (Rom. 8:3). With infinite pity, the Son of God looked upon the lost race, but He could not indulgently save them. If He was to save them, He must save them in a way consistent with the perfect justice of a righteous law. He chose to undertake for them, to step down, to stand in their place and to render to the law all that it required. He did it because His love called Him that way. For Him heaven was not a place to be desired while we were without God and without hope in the world.
In the person of His Son, the eternal God came to this planet. He humbled Himself to take the form of man, as a man He humbled Himself to become a servant, and as a servant He humbled Himself to death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:5-8).
The second Person of the Godhead partook of the substance and essence of human nature as it was affected by sin but not infected by sin. As true man – indeed, as the representative Man – He lived the law of God. He was the law, the Word, the Ten Words made flesh; “… (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). In our name, He gave to the law a life that equaled its broadest claims. The obedience of Jesus was the obedience that the law required of us. He was always loyal ("I must be about My Father's business"), faithful, reverent, holy, respectful, pure, honest, truthful and contented.
The righteous demands of the law could not be met alone by the holy living of our Substitute. We have sinned, and justice demands that the death penalty be executed. Here again, Christ took our place to make entire satisfaction to the law on our behalf.
As Jesus entered the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, His soul was overwhelmed with a superhuman sorrow. He said to His disciples, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death." Leaving them at the entrance of the garden, He staggered on alone. The sins of the whole world rolled like a mountain on His divine soul until He began to sweat drops of blood. It was in a garden that the first Adam sold the race to Satan. It was in a very different garden that Jesus made the final decision to redeem the race.
Behold now! The Judge of all becomes the Judged of all. Adam in Eden blamed God for his sin. So has every sinner. God says, "Very well, I will take the blame!" The Judge steps down and invites sinners to judge Him. And judge Him they did. He was arrested at midnight as if He were a wild animal. He was arraigned before corrupt courts, abused, spat upon, derided, lashed, crowned with thorns. When Pilate invited men to choose between Jesus, the Son of God, and Barabbas, the murderous robber, they overwhelmingly called for Barabbas; as if to say, "Barabbas is a very saint compared to Jesus." He was judged as if He were a snake, a venomous, poisonous snake, unfit to live on this planet. "Away with Him I" they cried. "Let Him be crucified!" And so He was led forth before the rage of an infuriated mob to die a most cruel and shameful death.
The mystery of human sin is that they hated Him "without a cause" (John 15:25). But greater yet is the mystery of love, that He could love them without a cause. The blacker the night, the more brilliant the stars. His love for sinners became stronger and stronger as they hated Him more and more.
He was lifted up from earth on the cross because earth had refused her King. And not only earth but Heaven too, for He was now the sinner in the awful reckoning of God.
As the darkness and despair of eternal separation from God gathered about the soul of Christ, He suffered anguish so great that His physical pain was hardly felt. This was infinite suffering that would make the suffering of all the holy martyrs combined appear as nothing. This was infinite humiliation, for there was no lower place for the King of glory to go.
The awful sense of being separated from God forced from His parched lips the awful cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" The answer is in Romans 3: "Because there is none righteous, no, not one. No one understands, no one seeks after God." But we may now cry, "My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me?" And the gospel answers: "Because there is One righteous, yes, just One." God promised Jeremiah that He would spare Jerusalem from the Babylonians if he could find one righteous man in it (Jer. 5:1). But more amazingly, God covenanted to save the world for one righteous Man. Christ chose to be that One. Said Luther:
On the cross, Christ exhausted the penalty of the law and provided a pardon. He reconciled the prerogatives of justice and mercy. Two things were accomplished: the integrity of God's law was upheld, and salvation was provided for sinners. The object of the atonement was not only redemption for the fallen race, but that the divine law and government might be maintained and vindicated. As Flavell, that great Puritan author, said, "Never was the law of God more honored as when the Son of God stood before its bar of justice to make reparations for the sins of men." The cross enables God to justify sinners without detracting from the dignity or claims of His righteous law.
Having given to the law all it required of the fallen race, Christ cried, "It is finished!" On the cross He destroyed sin, abolished death, defeated Satan, opened Paradise and shut the gates of hell. It was for us He did it. His victory is ours. It was secured in our name. The incarnation means that we were in Him when He lived and died. Therefore we have fulfilled the law in Him. If the football fan can cry, "We have won!" when his team wins, how much more should we cry, "We have won!" as we identify ourselves with the life and death of Jesus. This is the gospel. We have won — by Him and in Him. We have been redeemed by perfect obedience to the law of God — not ours but His. (And yet, what is His is ours.) This is an eternal victory. Genuine Christian experience comes by glorying in His.
By Blood and Water
The Blood. "Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. " Rom. 5:9. Sinners are justified by Christ's perfect obedience and satisfaction which He gave to the divine law on our behalf. The gospel takes the law seriously.". . . the doers of the law shall be justified." Rom. 2:13. When we as repentant guilty sinners believe on Jesus, His doing and dying are credited to us, and thus we are justified by perfect obedience to the law. Justification and faith have no meaning apart from the law of God.
The Water. "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive…)"John 7:38-39. The benefits of the new covenant are renewal by the Holy Spirit as well as forgiveness. Writes the apostle, "…This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; and their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." Heb. 10:16-17.
Let those who want to major on experience and the Holy Spirit, measure up to the great office work of the Spirit. True experience is important. It is not rapture and ecstatic feelings, but it is having the law which Christ died to vindicate written in our hearts and carried out in our lives. This is worth more than all the noise of the charismatic movement. The "normal" Christian life of faithfulness and obedience must not be undervalued. It may not be as spectacular as some other things that people tend to run after, but it is of great price in the sight of God. Let those who value miracles consider that the greatest miracle is a life that is loyal, faithful, reverent, holy, respectful, pure, honest, truthful and contented.
Says Melanchthon in his Apology:
The Formula of Concord well says:
And yet we must always remember that mortal man can never reach a point in the Spirit-filled life where his fellowship with God does not rest entirely on justification by the blood of Christ.
John the apostle says, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." 1 John 4:1. How shall we try the spirits? Isaiah declares, "To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isa. 8:20; cf. v.16. That is to say, we must try them by the law and the gospel.
As the "fire …from heaven" deceives multitudes with sensational wonders (Rev. 13:13), God will have a people whose faith and experience meet the two-fold test of the law and the gospel. Says the revelator: