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By What Manner of Law?

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

To attempt to make the Bible contradict itself is a tacit admission that some sacred scripture is not true. Truth cannot disagree with itself Good people may discredit the Bible and not realize their mistake. For instance, the idea is projected that we either teach grace or law; mercy or rules; love or commands. The impression is created that grace, mercy, and love are in opposition to law, rule, and commands.

It is suggested in some writing that if a person features compassion, he is necessarily against works, and that if works are emphasized, tenderness is absent. This is a dishonorable way to deal with the Bible. The Holy Scriptures teach grace, mercy, love, tender affection, and gentleness but also teach rule, law, judgment, vengeance, and wrath. These are not contrary to each other but are compatible, and gospel teaching must include both the goodness and the severity of God.

The conflict was displayed in the "man or the plan" argument, which flashed up in the modern history of the church in the 1920s. It was an unnecessary waste. Wise people were able to see that when one features Jesus, he does not, therefore, deny a scheme of redemption, and when one talks about the plan of salvation (faith, repentance and baptism), he does not reject Jesus.

We can and should talk about the great love of God demonstrated in his rich provision for humans and climaxed in the "unspeakable gift of his son." Powerful preachers and effective teachers may speak of how "sorrow and love flowed mingled down" from Calvary's cross and still be firm in insisting on the importance of honoring God by strict obedience to his revealed Word.

Men hardened on the battle lines and weathered by scorching sun and driving rain may have their cheeks bathed in tears as they speak of the sacrifice of the lamb of God. In the next breath the same proclaimer of divine love may forcefully present the conditions of salvation and speak vividly of a world dissolved in flames of fire and of relentless judgment.

Mercy spurned demands destruction. Judgment is without mercy to him who rejects mercy. There is both a soft and a hard side to the New Testament. It is inexcusable to think that because a soldier has fought in a war he is incapable of compassion. The toughest worker, with calloused hands and wrinkled features, may have a tender heart. The weepy­eyed sentimentalist may fully recognize the need for law and order.

To project gospel preachers as mean­spirited and vicious because they do not exhibit daintiness is grossly unfair. The hardened and unrelenting debater may have a soft and sweet demeanor beneath the folds of his skin. I have seen men who seemed fierce melt into tears on occasion. The loudest and most uncompromising have moments of tenderness.

On the other hand, I have seen tenderhearted men, who can scarcely bring themselves to contradict even the devil, show flashes of hard resolve. He may even have a venomous streak in him. Meanness can be covered up by the appearance of sweetness in the same way a wolf can disguise itself with lambskin.

One need not deny the rage of God to exalt his good will. John, the apostle, spoke of the "wrath of the lamb." Most remarkable! A lamb brings to mind meekness, silence, gentleness, and softness. When we think of wrath, we usually think of vengeance, hardness, rejection, and punishment. A wrathful lamb must be a terrible thing to see.

A loving, tender, compassionate God is capable of violent punishment. Isaiah calls divine chastisement God's strange work and act. God prefers to bless but he will avenge the blood of his sainted martyrs. When the wine press of God's wrath is trodden, the blood of the enemies of God will rise to the level of horses' bridles "as far as a thousand and six hundred furlongs." "Our God is a consuming fire." "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Mercy can turn to unrelenting condemnation. There is a soft side and a hard side to the Christian system. He who rode upon a "colt the foal of an ass" to symbolize cutting off the battle bow and bringing harmony to the nations, will appear a second time astride a great, white charger wearing garments sprinkled by the blood of his enemies, with eyes of flaming fire, feet of burnished brass, and a sharp sword proceeding from his mouth.

Jesus was introduced at the time of his birth as one set "for the rising and falling of many." He is either a "savor of death unto death" or a "savor of life unto life." He has warm, tender feathers under his pinions, but he also has a rod of iron. It is a mistake to emphasize one aspect of his nature against another appearance of his being.

The business of trying to set the Bible against itself is the old story of trying to pit Paul against James. Luther thought the book of James was an epistle of straw because it spoke of works. He preferred Paul because he mistakenly thought Paul offered grace without law. He was wrong! Paul taught law and works as surely as did James; and James understood that austere obedience does not deny the need for mercy.

The old error continues. Even in the modern church we have a school of thought which says that grace and law are mutually exclusive and that faith bars works of obedience. Those who deny the absolute need for exacting submission to the commands of God claim there are those who think they can be saved by personal righteousness apart from God's loving grace. I know of no professing believer, in or out of the church, who says that grace, mercy, and love are unnecessary. If there is such a one, I would appreciate having him pointed out to me. It is a fact that some argue against law, but no one argues against grace.

Those there are who say that advocates of the teaching that "faith without works is dead" and "we are justified by works and not only by faith" and "to obey is better than to sacrifice" are guilty of either denying grace or of not putting enough emphasis on the clear necessity of the good gifts of God. I reckon that would make James wrong and Luther right.

In the King James Version, James mentions "work(s)" 16 times, whereas the word grace is used only 3 times. Would it therefore follow that James puts 5 times more emphasis on works than he does on grace? Is it right to conclude that James does not believe in the need for the grace of God? Would a sane person claim that the disproportionate use of works over grace makes James evil and this teaching harsh? (Remember James was inspired by the Holy Ghost.)

It is one thing to claim that not enough is said about the tender mercies of God and quite another to say there are those in the church today who deny the need for mercy altogether. The former is an opinion that may nor may not be correct. The latter is a lie.

Paul wrote: "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom 3:27-28).

Notice that the apostle speaks of a law of works, but he also speaks of a law of faith. The law of works would be works without faith and absent grace. The law of faith is still law. Law, by definition, is rules, principles, stipulations and requirements. Law necessarily includes works. When Paul spoke of the "law of faith," he was agreeing with James who said "faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone." Too bad for Luther.

Paul is plainly saying that all good works, apart from faith, are blowing in the wind and are "tinkling symbol and sounding brass." We cannot be saved by works apart from faith. One cannot reach maturity sinless. One cannot be saved by his own plan (but that is not the same as saying that no plan of any kind is needed). We cannot save ourselves and therefore must have a "law of faith. " When our faith causes us to obey the commands of God and thereby produces works of obedience to a God­given law, it is made complete and causes us to be righteous before God. James put it this way:

Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?
Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.
Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only (James 2:21-24).

When Paul concludes "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom 3:28) he is not contradicting James, as Luther erroneously thought, but is saying, as the context shows, that we are justified by a law of faith and not by law without faith. If a person could live in sinless perfection, or if he could devise his own means of redemption from sin's ruin, he would be saved by a law of works. Since he cannot do this, he must have a law of faith, which includes the blood of the lamb of God, repentance and baptism, which is another way of saying "grace," and by that law he is made righteous before God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 is rescued from the appearance of denying other verses of scripture by this explanation. "For by grace (the gift of God's son and the gospel) have ye been saved through faith (law of faith, which includes repentance and baptism); and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works (human goodness and man­made rules for forgiveness), that no man should glory." As Paul explains in his Roman letter, there is no room for boasting if we are sinners unable to save ourselves apart from the law of faith, because we must rely on the amazing grace of God to be forgiven. No boasting. Not of works apart from God's mercy. Still, a law of faith is required "that no man should glory."

Grace does not dispense with law nor faith with works.

No amount of sentimental blubbering is going to change the truth that "the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt 16:27). Not according to the works of Christ, but according to the works of the person being judged.

The magnificent parable of the talents confirms that final judgment will turn on how well we obey the law of faith. The non­productive will be cast into darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more (Luke 12:47­48).
But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasures" up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; Who will render to every man according to his deeds (Rom 2:5-6).
And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear (1 Pet 1:17).
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works (Rev 2:23).
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:12-15).
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day (2 Thess. 1:7-10).

Let us give that some thought.

Published November 1996