By Allen Walker; adapted by David Sullivan
For the sake of truth, and as a safeguard against deception, let us consider at this time the claim that the Ten Commandment law is the old covenant. Those who make this claim do so in an attempt to prove that the observance of the seventh day passed away with the old covenant at the cross, and is, therefore, no longer obligatory. Of course, if this is true of the seventh day, it is also true of those duties enjoined by the other nine commandments as well; and that which proves too much proves nothing. Many Scriptures are used, or rather misused, to prove this claim, which are confusing to those who do not clearly understand the Bible truth concerning the two covenants.
We shall first present the arguments of those who oppose the observance of the seventh day (based on their misunderstanding of the two covenants) in order to see if they are "rightly dividing the word of truth" in the use of the Scriptures which they cite. After having done this we promise to take up three propositions as follows: (1) What the old covenant was not; (2) What the old covenant was; (3) What the new covenant is. With this introduction we are now ready to present the arguments of those who claim the law of Ten Commandments to be the old covenant.
The first text usually read is Hebrews 8:13, which says, "In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." The proponents of the claim under consideration emphasize the fact (as stated in this verse) that the old covenant has vanished away, and Christians are under the new covenant, to which claim Seventh-day Adventists certainly agree. But we just as strongly deny that this old covenant is the law of the Ten Commandments.
After reading that the old covenant is gone and the new has come in its place, the no-law preachers next go to Galatians 4:24 to prove that the old covenant originated at Mount Sinai, and hence (according to their understanding) must be the Ten Commandments. So, going to Galatians 4:24 we read: "For these are the two covenants, the one (old covenant) from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage . . ." Paul is here comparing the bondage of the old covenant with the liberty of the new by contrasting Hagar and Ishmael (who were bondslaves of Abraham) with Sarah and Isaac, who were free. Please note that Paul plainly says that this old covenant which gendered to bondage and passed away was "from Mount Sinai." Then to prove that this old covenant is the law of Ten Commandments, they hasten to Mount Sinai (Exodus 20) and read the Ten Commandments. In doing this they feel they have indisputably proved their point.
But they do not stop at this. They next go to Deuteronomy 4:13, and then quote Deuteronomy 9:9-11: "When I was gone up into the mount to receive the tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant which the Lord made with you, then I abode in the mount forty days and forty nights . . . The Lord gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant." This additional evidence seems entirely satisfactory in proving the Ten Commandments to be the old covenant "from Mount Sinai" which passed away. And if this contention is true, then of course, they say, the observance of the Sabbath passed away too, seeing it is one of the Ten Commandments.
We are now ready to examine these arguments, remembering the importance of "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). But before doing this there are two more verses which we would insist on being added to the citations already made in the attempt to prove the Ten Commandments to be the old covenant. These two verses, 1 Kings 8:21 and 9, seemingly clinch their arguments. These verses read: "I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the Lord, which He made with our fathers, when He brought them out of the land of Egypt." "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb." Don't fail to notice that in this ark there was a complete "covenant."
We agree with the no-law people that all these verses cited (and especially the last two) do prove beyond all question that the law of Ten Commandments alone does constitute one of the covenants which the Lord made with Israel at Sinai. But at the same time we contend that this is not the old covenant which waxed old and vanished away. This will be better understood when we Scripturally prove how impossible it is to apply Paul's descriptions of the old covenant to the Ten Commandments. We shall prove that God made two covenants with the Israelites at Mount Sinai--one in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus and, three days later, another in the twentieth chapter of Exodus where the Ten Commandments covenant is found.
Do not forget that this law is a "covenant." Let us now prove by the Scriptures what the old covenant is not. And we make haste to claim that the old covenant is not the Ten Commandments, because the inspired descriptions of the old covenant can never be applied to the law of the Ten Commandments. They were a "covenant", but not the "old covenant."
Speaking of the defects of the old covenant, Paul declares in Hebrews 8:6: "But now hath He (Christ) obtained a more excellent ministry by how much also He is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." Here we have the evidence that something was wrong with some of the "promises" of the old covenant, and that the new covenant is established upon "better promises." At this point (if we were debating the question publicly) we would hang up a chart with the Ten Commandments on it, so that the audience could read them. And our diagreeing brother having admitted that Paul says the old covenant contained poor "promises," we would invite him to read the Ten Commandments one by one to the audience, and expose the poor promises in this law. The writer has done this very thing a number of times, but as yet no one has ever accepted the challenge, or attempted to find anything weak or wrong with the promises in the Ten Commandments.
In Ephesians 6:1-3, on this very point, Paul says "Children, obey your parents in the Lord; for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth." This is the fifth commandment, and in reading them through it is the first of the ten with a promise; and that is a good promise of long life to children who obey their parents.
We ask our brother if he can find anything wrong with this promise, and he admits he cannot. We also, at the same time, call attention to the fact that Paul is here quoting directly from the Ten Commandments, and not from some portion of
the New Testament writings, and that this proves that Paul still believed in these commandments and their observance. He did not believe they had been abolished. Then, if in Paul's day, the first commandment of the ten was still binding, the fourth, which declares, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord"-- "the Lord's day" (Exodus 20:8-11; Revelation 1:10) was binding. This makes it Scripturally impossible for the Ten Commandments to be the old covenant; for there are no defective promises found therein.
Now, continuing the proposition of what the old covenant is not, we turn to another defect of the old covenant, mentioned in Hebrews 8:7 as follows: "For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second." Here we find that it was on account of the faults (in addition to the poor promises) of this old covenant that it was done away. Our brother will next admit the truth of Paul's statement that the old covenant was faulty. Next we invite him to examine the Ten Commandments and tell the people the faults found in them. This is another challenge that has never been undertaken. But if the Ten Commandments constitute the old covenant, then the faults must be there. And yet no one would presume even to attempt to prove that a law which the Lord Himself proclaimed with His own voice was here and there defective and faulty.
When the Lord commanded that man refrain from idolatry, from desecrating His name and His day, from dishonoring parents, from murder, theft, adultery, lying and coveting, did He later discover that such commands were faulty because they imposed a burdensome yoke upon the carnal nature and should therefore vanish away and thus set man at liberty? So contend the no-lawists when their arguments are followed to a logical conclusion.
That the Ten Commandments have no faults in them is clearly proved by the Scriptures. In Psalm 19:7 we are told: "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." Paul declares: Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12). Then how could anything be perfect, holy, just and good, and faulty at the same time? Surely this proves that the descriptions of the old covenant do not fit the Ten Commandments. But then when we come to the proposition, What the old covenant is, we shall find the promises that were not good, the faults, and why it gendered to bondage and vanished away.
Speaking again of the old covenant, Paul said: "In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). This certainly proves that time and necessity made void the old covenant, and it passed away. But what about the law? Had it been made void too, in Paul's day? If the law and the old covenant are one and the same thing, it certainly had been. But what says the apostle Paul concerning the law? In Romans 3:31 he says: "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law." How could something be "established" in the letter to the Romans, and the same thing be abolished and done away in the epistle to the Hebrews? Suppose we put "old covenant" in Romans 3:31 instead of "law" and see how it reads: Do we the make void the old covenant through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the old covenant." That changed reading would be Scripturally correct if it be true that the law and the old covenant are one and the same. But the absurdity of the change certainly puts to shame the argument which contends that the law is the old covenant.
Having found that the old covenant is not the Ten Commandments, we are now ready to go to the nineteenth chapter of Exodus and there find what the old covenant is. We have certainly found that the Ten Commandments are said to be a covenant which the Lord made with the house of Israel at Mount Sinai. This is one covenant found in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. Now, we repeat, if we find another made three days before, in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, that will be two covenants made at Sinai. That more than one covenant was made with Israel is proved by Paul's language in Romans 9:4: "Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises." Here we have the proof of "covenants" (plural) made with the Israelites.
That the covenant of the nineteenth chapter of Exodus was made at Mount Sinai is proved by reading the first two verses of this chapter as follows: "In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai . . . And there Israel camped before the mount." Here we have them at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Now comes the preamble of the old covenant:
"And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself" (Exodus 19:3, 4).
Next comes God's part of the contract, or covenant:
"Now, therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel" (Exodus 19:5, 6).
If we find that the Israelites accepted this proposition, we shall have a covenant, plain and simple, between the Lord and them at Mount Sinai, recorded in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus, and made three days before the Ten Command-ment covenant of Exodus 20. Did they enter into this covenant with God after Moses put the proposition to them? We read that they did; and now comes the people's part of the covenant:
"And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all those words which the Lord commanded him. And all the people answered together, and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the Lord" (verse 7, 8).
This, we shall prove, is the old covenant spoken of by Paul in the eighth chapter of Hebrews, which proved faulty, and had poor promises, gendered to bondage, and vanished away; because as we shall see, the people never kept these promises, and thus failed to live up to their part of the covenant, or contract, thereby forfeiting the promises God had made to them.
Let us carefully follow what happened. They had entered into a covenant to obey the "voice" of the Lord. They had not as yet heard what that "voice" was going to command them. But the Lord told Moses to get them ready. The Lord said: "And be ready against the third day: for the third day the Lord will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus 19:11). Moses did as he was commanded.
"And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the nether part of the mount" (verses 16, 17).
And then in the next chapter follows the law of Ten Commandments. Please note: In the nineteenth chapter of Exodus we have a record of this covenant between God and them wherein they promised that they would obey His voice and be obedient. Then in the twentieth chapter we find the Ten Commandments, which they had covenanted to obey before they knew just what God's "voice" would command them to do. Then to make sure that everything was clearly understood before the covenant was ratified, we read:
"Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do. And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord and rose up early in the morning, and builded an altar under the hill, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people, and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient" (Exodus 24:3-7).
Note what they said: "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient." We read on: "And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words" (verse 8). Please note that this covenant was not "the words" but was made "concerning all these words." The Lord had said that if they would be an obedient people, He would wonderfully bless them. That was God's part of the covenant, and their part was what they repeated three different times: "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient." Then followed Moses' declaration, which we quote again: "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words." So here we have another covenant at Sinai.
In order to impress it definitely upon the mind, we are going to quote again the texts which prove that in addition to the covenant made with them "concerning all these words," the law of Ten Commandments, which were included in "these words," was also a covenant. When we have done that, we will have two covenants at Sinai; namely, the Ten Commandments and the covenant made concerning the law and its accompanying judgments. Here are the texts again:
"And He wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments" (Exodus 34:28). "He declared unto you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone" (Deuteronomy 4:13). "And it came to pass at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the Lord gave me the two tables of stone, even the tables of the covenant" (Deuteronomy 9:11) "And I have set there a place for the ark, wherein is the covenant of the Lord, which He made with our fathers, when He brought them out of the land of Egypt" (1 Kings 8:21). "There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb" (verse 9).
Please notice the words of the last two verses: "The ark wherein is the covenant."-- "there was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone." And we can add: There was nothing written on the tables of stone but the Ten Commandments. These verses make the Ten Commandments a covenant with nothing added or taken from them.
Then in addition to this, there was a covenant made "concerning all these words"; and that makes two covenants at Sinai. The covenant "concerning all these words" is the old covenant with its bondage, poor promises and faults; for in this covenant there were repeated promises by the people that "all that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient." The Israelites failed in every promise made for a period of centuries reaching to the cross. Because of these failures they were repeatedly in spiritual and literal bondage. This is what Paul means when he declares that this old covenant gendered to bondage and did vanish away.
Please note that they kept repeating their promises, saying, "We will do." How very unreliable were those promises which they made as their part of the old covenant! In the covenant of Ten Commandments, they heard the voice of God saying: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them." The whole congregation promised three different times they would be obedient to this, as well as to the other command-ments (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7). But when Moses remained up in the mount longer than they had expected, "the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron , and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us" (Exodus32:1). So they brought their earrings of gold unto Aaron, and he made a molten calf, and they worshiped it. Then "the Lord said unto Moses, get thee down; for . . . they have tuned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them; they have made them a molten calf, and have worshiped it" (Exodus 32:7, 8).
This not only explains about the poor promises of the old covenant, but also explains why it gendered to bondage, as Paul declared in Galatians 4:24. This act, worshiping the calf, brought them under the bondage of condemnation before God; and, as we read in the remainder of this thirty-second chapter, had not Moses importuned for them in prayer, God would have destroyed them.
Putting all this together we find the promises, the faults, and the bondage of the old covenant. We have proved also that two covenants were made at Sinai, one in the nineteenth chapter of Exodus and one in the twentieth. We now know what the old covenant is, and why it cannot be the Ten Commandments.
This makes way for the third proposition, What the New Covenant is. We turn first to Jeremiah 31:31-33:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people."
The new covenant is: "I will put My law (then in existence) in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts." Here are the "better promises" of the new covenant, better because God makes them. God's "I will" is sure, but the people's "we will" proved to be faulty and gendered to bondage of broken promises.
We are now ready for Hebrews 8:6-13, where the two covenants, the old and the new, are contrasted. We there read:
"But now hath He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant (made in Exodus 19, when Moses acted as the mediator) had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them ("them" does not refer to the law, but to the people, for breaking their promises of the Exodus 19 covenant), He saith (Jeremiah 31:33), Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people" (Hebrews 8:6-10).
Please note the "better promises": "I will put My laws into their mind." "I will write them in their hearts." "I will be to them a God." "They will be to Me a people."
All these promises are divine. They are made by One who is able to carry them out. It is thus that the new covenant is established upon better promises.
The fundamental difference between the old covenant and the new is, that in ancient times the people undertook the performance of spiritual duties through human effort,saying "We will do." This could not be done then nor can it be done now. For, says Paul, "we know that the law is spiritual" (Romans 7:14). This explains why "the carnal mind . . . is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). But the new covenant people are made spiritual by the regenerative operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart, and then the law, which is spiritual, is written in their hearts, and thus obedience becomes divinely performed through the indwelling Christ. "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned (conquered) sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us" (Romans 8:3, 4). Note that the requirements of the law are not fulfilled by us but in us. In the old covenant the "righteousness of the law" was attempted by us; and in the new covenant it is accomplished "in us." The words "in us," as contrasted with the words "we will do," explain the fundamental difference between the old and the new covenants.
Speaking of this new or "everlasting covenant" and its advantages, Paul says:
"Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ" (Hebrews 13:20, 21).
The old covenant (Exodus 19) proposition of "we will do" ended in failure; but the proposition of God "working in you . . . through Jesus Christ" means victory and not defeat. There is no other way that the requirements of a spiritual law can be lived out in the flesh (see Galatians 2:20).
In the face of these Scriptural evidences, what becomes of the human arguments claiming God's law was abolished at the cross? Would God supernaturally write the principles of an abrogated law in the hearts of His people? Would God include obedience to an abolished law in the new covenant? The wording of the new covenant proves that the new covenant people cannot be those who are in rebellion against these Ten Commandments and claiming they are done away. Remember, too, that this law written in the hearts of His people includes the commandment which declares, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord"-- "the Lord's day" (Exodus 20:8-11; Revelation 1:10).
This new covenant, or new testament, does not include the observance of the first day of the week, Sunday, as a new covenant duty; for, according to the advocates of first day observance, the first day never originated as a New Testament duty until after the death of Christ. Every one knows that after the death of a man nothing can be added or taken from his last will and testament. The death of the testator ratifies the will, or testament. Then if the observance of the first day of the week is a New Testament duty it had to be put into the new covenant before the death of Christ; and since it was not, that Scripturally excludes it.
Now we are ready for some Scripture on this point. In Hebrews 9:16, 17 we read: "For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is of force after men are dead; otherwise it is no strength at all while the testator liveth."
This explains why Jesus, before His death, instituted the Lord's Supper. It would be too late to get it into the new covenant, or testament, after He died. So we read: "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the new testament (or covenant), which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28).
So in order to get the Lord's Supper into the new covenant, it was necessary that it be put there before the death of the testator. "For," says Paul, "a testament is of force after men are dead." Then how could the observance of the first day of the week originate as a new covenant duty after the death of Christ, the Testator? That such a thing was impossible is stated by Paul in Galatians 3:15, where he declares: "Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed (by death), no man dis-annulleth, or addeth thereto." Then, if Jesus Himself could not add the Lord's Supper after His death, how could Constantine, the Pope, or even the disciples, or any one else, add the observance of the first day of the week as a new covenant duty after the death of Christ? His death ratified, confirmed, finished, and closed up the New Testament, which, says Paul, was of force after the death of the Testator, Christ. But the law of Ten Commandments, which the Lord in Jeremiah 31:31-33 called "My law" ("I will put My law in their inward parts"), as written in the hearts of the new covenant people, did have in it back in Jeremiah's day, and still does have in it, that commandment which says, "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord," thus constituting the observance of the true Sabbath, the seventh day, a new covenant duty.
E. B. Jones advertised a pamphlet in a number of Fundamentalist publications in which he tries to prove one of the most impossible things ever attempted, viz., that after the death of our Lord, "the leaders of the early church" set apart the first day of the week as the day to be kept. A logical mind can only conclude, that until these "leaders" did this, the seventh day must have continued to be observed. Or was there an interval between the abolition (?) of the seventh day and the later "setting apart" of the "first day," that the Christian world was without a day of worship? Jones speaks of: "the setting apart by the leaders of the early church of Sunday as a day of worship." We ask of the honest, truth-seeking reader, How such an argument can be truth in the face of the fact that Jesus, the Testator of the New Covenant, ratified it by His death on the cross and after that, "no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto"? (Galatians 3:15). It is such false teachings that lead many honest hearts to understand and obey the truth.
In conclusion, we have found: (1) The old covenant is not the Ten Commandments. (2) The old covenant is the agreement between God and Israel found in the first part of the nineteenth chapter of Exodus. (3) The new covenant is: "I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people" (Hebrews 8:10).
It seems that since there is a new covenant people they could be discovered by this principle; namely, they will have the commandments written in their hearts. The Bible says: "Out of it (the heart) are the issues of life." This makes it plain that those who have the commandments in the heart will be constantly preaching them, or at least be open to them, and willing to observe them. On the other hand, those who are not interested in being God's new covenant people will be constantly preaching against the Ten Commandments because they are not in their hearts. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). God cannot write in the heart that which the heart rebels against and holds in contempt.
We have seen that the principle of the old covenant was that of righteousness by the works of the law, which then and now leads to bondage; that the principle of the new covenant is that of righteousness by faith, which constitutes such as have it children of the free (Galatians 4:31). The following verses set forth the old covenant principle and its results:
"But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law" (Romans 9:31, 32). These two verses may be summed up in three words: "we will do." Now for a verse which sets forth the principle of the new covenant by way of contrast: "What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not (by human effort) after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith" (Romans 9:30).
This verse may be summed up in three words: "Christ in you." In view of this Scriptural teaching concerning the principles of, and the contrasts between, the two covenants, how very unfortunate it is that some would claim that the old covenant is the Ten Commandments, no more and no less, and there stop!
The truth that the old covenant is based on the principle of what man attempts to do and fails, as contrasted with the new covenant illustration of these two principles by the two wives of Abraham: Hagar, the wife of bondage, with her son Ishmael, and Sarah, the wife of freedom, and her son Isaac. As we understand this illustration and how it fits into the proposition of "we will do" as contrasted with the proposition of "God working in you," we will see how far they miss the mark who contend that the old covenant is the law of Ten Commandments. Please read carefully the following:
"Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants: the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the Scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free" (Galatians 4:21-31).
Then he continues:
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith."
These last two verses are quoted from Galatians 5:1-5 and mention the law of circumcision. These verses are a continuation of the points Paul was trying to make in the illustration of the bond-woman and her son, representing the old covenant from Sinai, and the free woman and her son, representing the subjects of the new covenant.
Before studying further into the meaning of all this, let us first look into the interpretation of this allegory by the dispensationalists and other no-Ten-Commandment-law teachers.
In the first place this allegory is directed to "ye that desire to be under the law" (Galatians 4:21). It is claimed that Paul here has reference to the Ten Commandments and is against those who respect them. To put that interpretation into this text it would have to read, "Tell me ye that desire to refrain from idolatry, stealing, lying, murder, profanity, Sabbath desecration, etc., do ye not hear the law?" But here the words "the law" have reference to something written in Genesis.
This is proved by the fact that after he asks, "Do ye not hear the law?" he immediately follows this by saying, "For it is written." Written where? Answer: "written in the law" which said, "Abraham had two sons." This positively proves he was not quoting from the Ten Commandments but from the book of Genesis, which he called "the law." Jesus called Psalm 82:6 "Your law" (John 10:34).
Let us suppose that after Paul had said, Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?" he had gone on as follows: "For it is written, Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." If that is what had followed after Paul said, "For it is written," it would suit the opponents of this law a great deal better than the things which Paul did say, after saying, "It is written." But notwithstanding the fact that he started quoting in Genesis rather than from the twentieth chapter of Exodus, the dispensationalists still must have it that when Paul said "the law" here, he had his mind exclusively on the Ten Commandments.
Going back to Abraham and Sarah, we find that after the failure based on "we will" produces a son, God said: "Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac" (Genesis 17:19). At that time Sarah was not only barren but "she was past age" (Hebrews 11:11). But "the Lord visited Sarah" and "Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age" (Genesis 21:1, 2).
It required a supernatural act of God to bring this son into being. Paul calls him the child of promise. He was not "born after the flesh" but "after the Spirit" (Galatians 4:29). Just so, on account of the fact that "the flesh is weak," man cannot attain to "the righteousness of the law." For this to be done, there must be a supernatural working of the power of God, as in the case of Isaac. All attempts on the old-covenant basis of "we will do," will produce only children of bondage. But when the heart is yielded to God, then the Holy Spirit writes the principles of the law in the "tables of the heart," and all such are "the children . . . of the free." When these principles of love as expressed in "the letter" on "tables of stone" are transferred to the "tables of the heart" by the working of God's power through the Holy Spirit, then, "the righteousness of the law" is "fulfilled in us" (Romans 8:1-4), or, in other words, "Isaac is born." The same grace which forgives us, cleanses us, and presents us to the Father clothed in Christ's righteousness--also changes us, empowers us, strengthens us, and transforms our minds and fashions them after the mind of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:16; Philippians 2:5, 13; Romans 12:1, 2; Romans 1:16).
So instead of Paul's illustration teaching that the commandments are abolished, it teaches that through the operation of the Holy Spirit, provision is made for obedience. Ishmael represents those who are "born after the flesh" and are not "subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Isaac represents those who are "born after the Spirit," in whom "the righteousness of the law" is being fulfilled. Thus do we clearly see that the commandment breakers (claiming they are done away) are the children of bondage, and the commandment keepers (through Christ) are the children of the free.
Jesus made this plain is John 8:34, 35:
"Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever."
This last statement about the servant not abiding in the house reminds us of the words, "Cast out the bondwoman and her son." Then Jesus continued, "If the
Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free
indeed." Observe carefully. Who is the "servant of sin"? The
answer is, "He that committeth sin." Again we inquire, What is sin?
The answer to this question is, "Sin is the transgression of the law"
(1 John 3:4). Then who are the Ishmaelites of the old covenant? The answer is
evident: It is those who live in transgression of God's holy law, or those who attempt to work their way to heaven--trying to be "obedient" in their own strength.
Jesus said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). The Lord Jesus would not ask us to do something without giving us the strength to do it. He is vitally interested in how we relate to the Father, and how we relate to one another. The first four commandments instruct us in the first area of relating properly to God; the last six commandments instruct us in the second area of treating people with dignity, love, and respect. Jesus said, "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" (Matthew 22:37-40).
When our Lord said that the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments, He wasn't eradicating everything the law and the prophets had said. He wassummarizing what they had said. He was boiling it down to the most simple of expressions--so simple and pure that a child can understand it. Jesus had a way of doing this. He magnified the law, and showed that the spirit of the law is even deeper more far-reaching than the letter of the law. Murder is not just killing someone; it is hatred in one's heart towards a neighbor. Adultery is not just an adulterous affair; it is the unseen lust in one's heart (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).
Jesus said that He didn't come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17, 18). He was a walking, talking Torah! He was a personification of the principles of the law. The law reveals God's character, and Jesus came to reveal the Father (John 17:3, 6, 26). It's all about love. A love so immense that the God whom we have sinned against would suffer and die for our sins! So it should not surprise us that Jesus went out of His way to radically keep the Ten Commandment law, for this law reveals what true love looks like in real life.
Many of the miraculous healings of Jesus took place on the Sabbath. Jesus made a lot of self-righteous people mad because He didn't keep the Sabbath the way they thought it should be kept. Jesus revealed the true nature of the Sabbath. He allowed His disciples to pluck ears of corn in the cornfield, because they were hungry. This made the Pharisees angry, because it violated their conception of the Sabbath (which was a very narrow, legalistic, burdensome conception). In addition, they were looking for ways to catch Jesus in some unlawful practice, so they could bring Him to trial. But Jesus reminds them that God requires mercy and not sacrifice; and that He, Jesus, is "Lord even of the sabbath day" (Matthew 12:8). This was the very spirit of the Sabbath all along. This is what the Lord had in mind for the Sabbath from the beginning-- "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). It was instituted by God during creation week--before sin--to be an eternal blessing to the human race. It was made for us.
After this, Jesus went into the synagogue, and the Pharisees again tried to find some reason to accuse Jesus of wrongdoing. They showed Him a man with a withered hand, and they asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. "Then He said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much more then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith He to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other" (Matthew 12:11-13).
This is the intended meaning of the Sabbath experience. It is a time for close communion with God. It is a time for resting--not just from our daily labors--but from our anxieties, worries, stresses, perplexities, and strivings. We rest in Jesus, fully realizing that His precious blood has saved us; and we are caught up in His glory and majesty and love. We rest in His strength, realizing that we cannot possibly save ourselves, nor change ourselves. We bless others on this day. We follow in the footsteps of the Master, who went about doing "well" on the Sabbath.
In Paul's allegory, Ishmael who was "born after the flesh", persecuted Isaac, who was "born after the Spirit." There is no persecution involved in a person's violating the commandments of God. But Revelation 12:17 says, "The dragon (Satan) was wroth with the woman (church), and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ." There is no such thing as persecution against Sunday keeping, but many are the records in our own free America of the observers of the seventh day having been thrown into prison. In almost every instance this has been done at the instigation of religious leaders who preach that the Ten Commandments are abolished.
We are now ready to sum up Paul's illustration of the contrast between the principles of the old and new covenants.
God promised Abraham a son. After long waiting, he received no son. "Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children." Then instead of waiting longer and trusting God to solve the problem, "Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing; I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai." "And Hagar bare Abram a son; and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael. And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram" (Genesis 16:1, 2, 15, 16). Paul says this son was "born after the flesh" and was in "bondage" because his mother was a slave in Abraham's household. Instead of Abraham's recognizing that because of Sarah's barrenness and age there was nothing he could do to produce a son, and that God would have to do this for him by the operation of divine power, he hearkened unto Sarah and undertook the impossible on the basis of "we will do" through Hagar. The result was a child of bondage whom God cast out and could not accept.
Here we have the principle of the old covenant. When God in Exodus 19:4-8 said to Israel, "If ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people," instead of saying, "We will do," they should have said, "Lord, we of ourselves can do nothing. We pray you to work out that obedience in us." But instead of this, just as Abraham did, they set out to do by their own "works" that which only God can do, and the result was bondage and slavery to condemnation. This transaction between God and Israel was at Mount Sinai, where Israel camped before the mount (Exodus 19:2). This is why Paul in speaking of that covenant said, "the one from Mount Sinai which gendereth to bondage" (Galatians 4:24).
Those who claim that these Ten Commandments (which constituted one of the covenants given at Sinai) were for no other people except the Jews, read Deuteronomy 5:2-5 as their proof:
"The Lord God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us alive here this day," and then follows the Ten Commandments.
Then it is claimed that their "fathers," Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and those who lived back there before Sinai, were under no obligation to refrain from idolatry, image worship, taking the Lord's name in vain, Sabbath desecration, dishonoring parents, stealing, lying, committing adultery, murdering, coveting, etc., that they could practice all these degrading vices without it being counted against them as sin. If that is not the logic of their argument, pray what are we trying to prove?
In the first few chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses was rehearsing (Deuteronomy means rehearsing) to them the many favors and blessings which God had bestowed upon them and of the obligations of obedience and faithfulness which God would require of them on account of these bountiful dealings. Among other things Moses rehearsed in chapter five how that God had come down on Sinai and spake to them the covenant of the Ten Commandments, and at the same time reminding them, that God did not do this with their "fathers." God had not called their fathers at the foot of Sinai and talked with them audibly as he had with them, and that is the crux of what Moses was getting them to understand. But that Abraham did have, in some way, a knowledge of God's commandments and kept them is plainly stated in Genesis 26:5:
"Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws."
But by the use of this argument, that what God made with Israel is not for Gentiles, they cut themselves off completely from the benefits of the New Covenant, for, it, too, was made (not with Gentiles) but "with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (Jeremiah 31:31-33). The author of Hebrews quoted this New Covenant, and showed it to be in force in his day: "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put their laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them (these Israelites) a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Hebrews 8:10).
So by claiming that what God gave to the Israelites was not
for the Gentiles, they divorce themselves from the New Covenant. Also from the
entire book of James, for it was not addressed to Gentiles, but to "the
twelve tribes scattered abroad" (James 1:1). When they read in Exodus 31:16
that, "that the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath," they try
to make a great deal about that not being for them since they are in no sense
"Israel." But when they read just as distinctly that the New Covenant
was for "the house of Israel," they will argue to the last that
"Israel includes them, though they are Gentiles and Gentiles only, through
See the documents "WHAT
WAS ABOLISHED AT THE CROSS?" and "THE
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