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On the Second Use of the Law
James Buchanan  Reprinted from James Buchanan, The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit (London: The Banner of Truth Trust), pp.63-66. used by permission. 

The Law Magnified by the Cross

Editorial Note: Born in 1804, James Buchanan became Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh. The following material is from his book, The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit, published by The Banner of Truth Trust, P.O. Box 652, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013.

The principal means of conviction is the law, the law of God in its purity, spirituality, and power; for 'by the law is the knowledge of sin,' and 'the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ.' The law in its holy commandment, the law in its awful curse, the law in its spiritual nature, as reaching to the heart, and in all its length and breadth as extending over every department of human life, the law in its condemning power, whereby 'every mouth must be stopped, and all the world must become guilty before God'—this law is unfolded to the understanding and applied to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, and immediately, by its own self-evidencing light, it convinces; the conscience is constrained to do homage to the law, and to acknowledge that 'the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good;' while, self-convicted and self-condemned, the sinner exclaims, 'But I am carnal, sold under sin.'

And yet it is not a new law, nor one of which the sinner had heretofore been entirely ignorant, that becomes the means of his conviction; he may have read and repeated the ten commandments a hundred times, and may be familiar with the letter of God's requirements, and yet some one of these very commandments may now become as an arrow in his conscience, the very sword of the Spirit. A notional acquaintance with the law is one thing, a spiritual experience of its power is another.

Witness the case of the apostle Paul, an educated man, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, walking from his youth upwards according to the straitest sect of the law, a Pharisee; who can doubt that he was familiar with the letter of God's law? yet, being destitute of any spiritual experience of its power, he regarded himself as having been without any due knowledge of the law till he was taught by the Spirit of God; for, says he, 'I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.' Previously he had only that notional and common knowledge which he elsewhere describes as 'the form of knowledge, and of the truth in the law.' And what was it that converted the form into substance? It was one of those very commandments which he had often read and repeated without perceiving its spiritual import or feeling its convicting power: 'I had not know sin but by the law, for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.' He seizes the tenth commandment, a commandment which directly refers to the state of a man's heart, and finding that his heart cannot stand the test of a law so pure and spiritual, he is inwardly convinced of sin, as well as made conscious of its power; and so every sinner who obtains a glimpse of the real nature of the divine law, which, like its heartsearching Author, is heart-searching too, must on the instant feel, that if this law be the rule of judgment, then, by the deeds of the law shall no flesh living be justified; for 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.'

But when it is said that the law is the principal means by which the Spirit of God convinces the conscience of a sinner, that term must be understood in an enlarged sense, as including under it every principle which has any relation or affinity to the conscience, and every fact in which any such principle is involved. It is not the bare law, as it stands declared in the Ten Commandments, that is the sole instrument of conviction, but the moral principle of that law, whether as it is displayed in the retributions of a righteous Providence, or illustrated by the afflictions of human life, or exemplified in the conduct of believers and the perfect pattern of Christ, or as unfolded in the parables, or as embodied in the Gospel and shining forth in the cross.

The law is a schoolmaster that brings the sinner to Christ; but Christ is a teacher that brings the sinner to know the law as he never knew it before. The law points the eye of a convinced sinner to the cross; but the cross throws in upon his conscience a flood of light which sheds a reflex lustre on the law. Hence we believe that the Gospel of Christ, and especially the doctrine of the cross of Christ, is the most powerful instrument for impressing the conscience of a sinner, and for turning his convictions into genuine contrition of heart. And this because the Gospel, and especially the doctrine of the cross, contains in it the spirit and essence of the law; it recognizes and proceeds upon the moral principles of God's government, and affords a new and most impressive manifestation of the holiness of the Lawgiver, and the turpitude of sin; while, at the same time, it unfolds such a proof of the compassion and love of God as is peculiarly fitted to melt and subdue the heart, which the mere terrors of the law might only turn into a more hardened and unrelenting obduracy.

Let the sinner who makes light of sin turn his eye to the cross of Christ, and he will see there, as well as amidst the thunderings and the lightnings of Sinai, that the Lord is a jealous God, that sin is the abominable thing which he hates, and that he is resolved, at all hazards, and notwithstanding whatever suffering it may occasion, to visit it with condign punishment; let him look to the cross, and behold there, suspended on that accursed tree, the Son of God himself; let him listen to the words which fell from that illustrious sufferer in the midst of his agony and passion, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' and let him then inquire, why was it that he, of whom it had been once and again proclaimed from the highest heavens, 'This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,' and of whom it is recorded, that once and again, on his bended knees, and with all the earnestness of importunate supplication, he had prayed in the garden, '0 my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me'—why was it that he, who was thus affectionately spoken of as God's beloved Son, and who, as a Son, so submissively poured out his heart into a Father's ear, was nevertheless subjected to the agony and death of the cross?

And when, in reply to all his inquiries, the Bible declares, that the Son of God suffered because he had consented to become chargeable with sin, that he 'who knew no sin was made sin for us,' and that, therefore, 'it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief;' that 'he was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities;' and that he died, because the wages of sin is death: oh! does not the sinner now feel in his inmost soul, that if Sinai be dreadful, Calvary has its terrors too; that if 'by the law is the knowledge of sin,' the Gospel adds its sublime and harmonious commentary; that the cross of Christ is the most awful monument of Heaven's justice, the most solemn memorial of the sinner's danger; and does he not infer, with all the quickness of intuition, that if sin was not spared, nor left unpunished, but visited with condemnation and death, when it was imputed to his own, his only, his well-beloved Son, much less will sin, unexpiated and unforgiven, be spared, or left unpunished, when, after this solemn work of atonement, God will arise to plead with those who cleave to that accursed thing which nailed the Saviour to the tree?

The cross,—the cross of a crucified Saviour—is the most powerful, the most impressive demonstration of sin, and righteousness, and judgment. The cross may well alarm every sleeping sinner, and awaken every slumbering conscience, and stir into agitation and tumult every listless and impenitent heart. It is the law by which we obtain the knowledge of sin; but the law is magnified in the cross; and it is the law in the cross that carries home to every awakened conscience the most alarming convictions of guilt. Can I hope to be spared, may one say, when 'God spared not his own Son?' Are my sins venial, or light? These sins of mine were enough, when transferred to the Son of God, to nail him to the tree!

May I venture into eternity in the hope that my sins may be forgotten there? And why were they remembered here, when God's Son ascended the hill of Calvary? May not the strictness of God's law be relaxed in my favour? But why, oh! why was it not relaxed in favour of Christ? No; that one fact, that awful cross which was erected on the hill beside Jerusalem, annihilates every ground of careless security, tears from me every rag by which I would seek to cover my shame, drives me from every refuge to which I would repair;—that one fact, that Christ died for sin, shuts me up to the conviction, that as a sinner I stand exposed to the wrath and curse of an offended God, and that the outraged law must receive a full and final vindication.

But must it be by my personal and everlasting punishment? Yes, assuredly, if I stand on the footing of law; for 'the soul that sinneth, it shall die.' But look again to that mysterious cross: amidst the darkness which surrounds it, and the awful manifestations of God's wrath which the sufferer felt, there breaks forth a light, glorious as the sun shining in its strength, unlike the lightnings which flashed around Sinai; this is the Sun of Righteousness rising with healing in its beams, the effulgent light of God's love, the glorious manifestation of God's grace and mercy; for 'God so loved the world as to give his Son.'

Look once more; for the same cross which wounds will also heal; the same conscience which is pierced by the arrows of conviction may be pacified by the Gospel of peace; and thus all that is terrible in the cross, when combined with the tenderness of God's mercy, and the amazing, the self-denying, the self-sacrificing love of the Saviour, will then only awaken convictions in the conscience, to melt and change them into sweet contrition of heart.

It is thus that, under the Gospel dispensation, the Spirit of God convinces the conscience by pressing home the eternal and unchangeable principles of the law, as these are embodied, illustrated, and displayed in a new and better dispensation. It is not the naked law, but the law in all its forms and manifestations, and especially the law in the facts and truths of the Gospel, which is thus used. For the Spirit reproves the world of sin—why? because they believe not on me; of righteousness, because I go to my Father; of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged—all having reference to Christ and his cross.