Holiness & the Law

September 4th, 2011

Patrick Fairbairn, The Revelation of Law in Scripture

In short, the question handled by the apostle in this part of his writings upon the law, was not whether the holiness and love it enjoined were to be practised, but how the practice was to be secured. The utterance of the law’s precepts in the most peremptory and solemn form could not do it. The converting of those precepts into the terms of a covenant, and taking men bound under the weightiest penalties to observe them, could not do it. Nor could it be done by a regulated machinery of means of instruction and ordinances of service, intended to minister subsidiary help and encouragement to such as were willing to follow the course of obedience. All these had been tried, but never with more than partial success—not because the holiness required was defective, but because the moral power was wanting to have it realized. And now there came the more excellent way of the Gospel—the revelation of that love which is the fulfilling of the law, in the person of the New Head of humanity, the Lord from heaven—the revelation of it in full-orbed completeness, even rising to the highest point of sacrifice, and making provision for as many as would in faith receive it, that the spirit of this noble, pure, self-sacrificing love should dwell as a new life, an absorbing and controlling power, also in their bosom. So that, ‘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 sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.’ He who is replenished with this spirit of life and love, no longer has the law standing over him, but, as with Christ in His work on earth, it lives in him, and he lives in it; the work of the law is written on his heart, and its spirit is transfused into his life. ‘The man (it has been justly said) who is truly possessor of “the spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” cannot have any other gods but his Father in heaven; cannot commit adultery; cannot bear false witness; cannot kill; cannot steal. Such a man comes down upon all the exercises and avocations of life from a high altitude of wise and loving homage to the Son of God, and expounds practically the saying of the apostle, “Whosoever is born of God sinneth not, but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.”. . . . Christ’s cross, then, delivers Christians from what may be termed moral drudgery; they are not oppressed and pined serfs, but freemen and fellow-heirs, serving the Lord Christ with all gladness of heart. It magnifies the law and makes it honourable, yet delivers those who accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour from the bondage of the letter. Instead of throwing the commandments into contempt, it gave them a higher moral status, and even Sinai itself becomes shorn of its greatest terrors when viewed from the elevation of the cross. Love was really the reason of the law, though the law looked like an expression of anger. We see this, now that we love more; love is the best interpreter of God, for God is love.’

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