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The Uses of the Law

Written by: Spurgeon, C.H.    Posted on: 04/07/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN

                                                  The Uses of the Law

                                                        A Sermon

                              Delivered on Sabbath Morning, April 19, 1857, by the                                               REV. C.H. SPURGEON                                     at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.



              "Wherefore then serveth the law? "Galatians 3:19.

          THE APOSTLE, by a highly ingenious and powerful argument, had proved that the law was never           intended by God for the justification and salvation of man. He declares that God made a covenant of           grace with Abraham long before the law was given on Mount Sinai; that Abraham was not present at           Mount Sinai, and that, therefore, there could have been no alteration of the covenant made there by his           consent; that, moreover, Abraham's consent was never asked as to any alteration of the covenant, without which           consent the covenant could not have been lawfully changed, and, besides that, that the covenant stands fast and           firm, seeing it was made to Abraham's seed, as well as to Abraham himself. "This I say, that the covenant, that           was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul,           that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but           God gave it to Abraham by promise." Therefore, no inheritance and no salvation ever can be obtained by the law.           Now, extremes are the error of ignorance. Generally, when men believe one truth, they carry it so far as to deny           another; and, very frequently, the assertion of a cardinal truth leads men to generalise on other particulars, and so           to make falsehoods out of truth. The objection supposed may be worded thus: "You say, O Paul, that the law           cannot justify; surely then the law is good for nothing at all; 'Wherefore then serveth the law?' If it will not save a           man, what is the good of it? If of itself it will never take a man to heaven, why was it written? Is it not a useless           thing?" The apostle might have replied to his opponent with a sneerhe must have said to him, "Oh, fool, and           slow of heart to understand. Is it proved that a thing is utterly useless because it is not intended for every purpose           in the world? Will you say that, because iron cannot be eaten, therefore, iron is not useful? And because gold           cannot be the food of man, will you, therefore, cast gold away, and call it worthless dross? Yet on your foolish           supposition you must do so. For, because I have said the law cannot save, you have foolishly asked me what is           the use of it? and you foolishly suppose God's law is good for nothing, and can be of no value whatever." This           objection is, generally, brought forward by two sorts of people. First, by mere cavillers who do not like the gospel,           and wish to pick all sorts of holes in it. They can tell us what they do not believe; but they do not tell us what they           do believe. They would fight with everybody's doctrines and sentiments, but they would be at a loss if they were           asked to sit down and write their own opinions. They do not seem to have got much further than the genius of the           monkey, which can pull everything to pieces, but can put nothing together. Then, on the other hand, there is the           Antinomian, who says, "Yes, I know I am saved by grace alone;" and then breaks the lawsays, it is not binding           on him, even as a rule of life; and asks, "Wherefore then serveth the law?" throwing it out of his door as an old           piece of furniture only fit for the fire, because, forsooth, it is not adapted to save his soul. Why, a thing may have           many uses, if not a particular one. It is true that the law cannot save; and yet it is equally true that the law is one           of the highest works of God, and is deserving of all reverence, and extremely useful when applied by God to the           purposes for which it was intended.               Yet, pardon me my friends, if I just observe that this is a very natural question, too. If you read the doctrine           of the apostle Paul you find him declaring that the law condemns all mankind. Now, just let us for one single           moment take a bird's eye view of the works of the law in this world. Lo, I see, the law given upon Mount Sinai.           The very hill doth quake with fear. Lightnings and thunders are the attendants of those dreadful syllables which           make the hearts of Israel to melt Sinai seemeth altogether on the smoke. The Lord came from Paran, and the Holy           One from Mount Sinai; "He came with ten thousand of his saints." Out of his mouth went a fiery law for them. It           was a dread law even when it was given, and since then from that Mount of Sinai an awful lava of vengeance has           run down, to deluge, to destroy, to burn, and to consume the whole human race, if it had not been that Jesus           Christ had stemmed its awful torrent, and bidden its waves of fire be still. If you could see the world without           Christ in it, simply under the law you would see a world in ruins, a world with God 8 black seal put upon it,           stamped and sealed for condemnation; you would see men, who, if they knew their condition, would have their           hands on their loins and be groaning all their daysyou would see men and women condemned, lost, and ruined;           and in the uttermost regions you would see the pit that is digged for the wicked, into which the whole earth must           have been cast if the law had its way, apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Ay, beloved, the law is           a great deluge which would have drowned the world with worse than the water of Noah's flood, it is a great fire           which would have burned the earth with a destruction worse than that which fell on Sodom, it is a stern angel with           a sword, athirst for blood, and winged to slay; it is a great destroyer sweeping down the nations; it is the great           messenger of God's vengeance sent into the world. Apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ, the law is nothing but           the condemning voice of God thundering against mankind. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" seems a very           natural question. Can the law be of any benefit to man? Can that Judge who puts on a black cap and condemns us           all this Lord Chief Justice Law, can he help in salvation? Yes, he did; and you shall see how he does it, if God           shall help us while we preach. "Wherefore then serveth the law?"               I. The first use of the law is to manifest to man his guilt. When God intends to save a man, the first thing he           does with him is to send the law to him, to show him how guilty, how vile, how ruined he is, and in how           dangerous a position. You see that man lying there on the edge of the precipice; he is sound asleep, and just on the           perilous verge of the cliff. One single movement, and he will roll over and be broken in pieces on the jagged rocks           beneath, and nothing more shall be heard of him. How is he to be saved? What shall be done for himwhat shall           be done! It is our position; we, too, are lying on the brink of ruin, but we are insensible of it. God, when he begins           to save us from such an imminent danger, sendeth his law, which, with a stout kick, rouses us up, makes us open           our eyes, we look down on our terrible danger, discover our miseries, and then it is we are in a right position to cry           out for salvation, and our salvation comes to us. The law acts with man as the physician does when he takes the           film from the eye of the blind. Self-righteous men are blind men, though they think themselves good and excellent.           The law takes that film away, and lets them discover how vile they are, and how utterly ruined and condemned if           they are to abide under the sentence of the law.               Instead, however, of treating this doctrinally, I shall treat it practically, and come home to each of your           consciences. My, hearer, does not the law of God convince you of sin this morning? Under the hand of God's           Spirit does it not make you feel that you have been guilty, that you deserve to be lost, that you have incurred the           fierce anger of God? Look ye here, have ye not broken these ten commandments; even in the letter have ye not           broken them? Who is there among you who hath always honored his father and mother? Who is there among us           who hath always spoken the truth? Have we not sometimes borne false witness against our neighbor? Is there one           person here who has not made unto himself another God, and loved himself, or his business, or his friends, more           than he has Jehovah, the God of the whole earth? Which of you hath not coveted your neighbour's house, or his           man-servant, or his ox, or his ass? We are all guilty with regard to every letter of the law; we have all of us           transgressed the commandments. And if we really understood these commandments, and felt that they condemned           us, they would have this useful influence on us of showing us our danger, and so of leading us to fly to Christ.           But, my hearers, does not this law condemn you, because even if you should say you have not broken the letter of           it, yet you have violated the spirit of it. What, though you have never killed, yet we are told, he that is angry with           his brother is a murderer. As a negro said once, "Sir, I thought me no killme innocent there; but when I heard           that he that hateth his brother is a murderer, then me cry guilty, for me have killed twenty men before breakfast           very often, for I have been angry with many of them very often." This law does not only mean what it says in           words, but it has deep things hidden in its bowels. It says, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," but it means, as           Jesus has it, "He that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."           It says, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," it meaneth that we should reverence God in           every place, and have his fear before our eyes, and should always pay respect unto his ordinances and evermore           walk in his fear and love. Ay, my brethren, surely there is not one here so fool-hardy in self-righteousness as to           say, "I am innocent." The spirit of the law condemns us. And this is its useful property; it humbles us, makes us           know we are guilty, and so are we led to receive the Savior.               Mark this, moreover, my dear hearers, one breach of this law is enough to condemn us for ever. He that           breaketh the law in one point is guilty of the whole. The law demands that we should obey every command, and           one of them broken, the whole of them are injured. It is like a vase of surpassing workmanship, in order to destroy           it you need not shiver it to atoms, make but the smallest fracture in it and you have destroyed its perfection. As it           is a perfect law which we are commanded to obey, and to obey perfectly, make but one breach thereof and           though we be ever so innocent we can hope for nothing from the lay; except the voice, "Ye are condemned, ye are           condemned, ye are condemned." Under this aspect of the matter ought not the law to strip many of us of all our           boasting? Who is there that shall rise in his place and say, "Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men are?" Surely           there cannot be one among you who can go home and say, "I have tithed mint and cummin; I have kept all the           commandments from my youth?" Nay, if this law be brought home to the conscience and the heart we shall stand           with the publican, saying, "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." The only reason why a man thinks he is righteous is           because he does not know the law. You think you have never broken it because you do not understand it. There           are some of you most respectable people; you think you have been so good that you can go to heaven by your           own works. You would not exactly say so, but you secretly think so; you have devoutly taken the sacrament, you           have been mightily pious in attending your church or chapel regularly, you are good to the poor, generous and           upright, and you say, "I shall be saved by my works." Nay, sir, look to the flame that Moses saw, and shrink, and           tremble, and despair. The law can do nothing for us except condemn us. The utmost it can do is to whip us out of           our boasted self-righteousness and drive us to Christ. It puts a burden on our backs and makes us ask Christ to           take it off. It is like a lancet, it probes the wound. It is, to use a parable as when some dark cellar has not been           opened for years and is full of all kinds of loathsome creatures, we may walk through it not knowing they are           there. But the law comes, takes the shutters down, lets light in, and then we discover what a vile heart we have,           and how unholy our lives have been; and, then, instead of boasting, we are made to fall on our faces and cry,           "Lord, save or I perish. Oh, save me for thy mercy's sake, or else I shall be cast away." Oh, ye self-righteous ones           now present, who think yourselves so good that ye can mount to heaven by your worksblind horses, perpetually           going round the mill and making not one inch of progressdo you think to take the law upon your shoulders as           Sampson did the gates of Gaza? Do you imagine that you can perfectly keep this law of God? Will you dare to           say, you have not broken it. Nay, surely, you will confess, though it be in but an under tone, "I have revolted."           Then, this know: the law can do nothing for you in the matter of forgiveness. All it can do is just this: It can make           you feel you are nothing at all; it can strip you; it can bruise you; it can kill you, but it can neither quicken, nor           clothe, nor cleanseit was never meant to do that. Oh, art thou this morning, my hearer, sad, because of sin?           Dost thou feel that thou hast been guilty? Dost thou acknowledge thy transgression? Dost thou confess thy           wandering? Hear me, then, as God's ambassador, God hath mercy upon sinners. Jesus Christ came into the world           to save sinners. And though you have broken the law, he has kept it. Take his righteousness to be yours. Cast           yourself upon him. Come to him now, stripped and naked and take his robe as your covering, Come to him, black           and filthy, and wash yourself in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness; and then you shall know "wherefore           then serveth the law?" That is the first point.               II. Now, the second. The law serves to slay all hope of salvation of a reformed life. Most men when they           discover themselves to be guilty, avow that they will reform. They say, "I have been guilty and have deserved           God's wrath, but for the future I will seek to win a stock of merits which shall counterbalance all my old sins." In           steps the law, puts its hand on the sinner's mouth, and says, "Stop, you cannot do that, it is impossible." I will           show you how the law does this. It does it partly thus, by reminding the man that future obedience can be no           atonement for past guilt. To use a common metaphor that the poor may thoroughly understand me, you have run           up a score at your chop. Well, you cannot pay it. You go off to Mrs. Brown, your shopkeeper, and you say to           her, "Well, I am sorry, ma'am, that through my husband being out of work," and all that, "I know I shall never be           able to pay you. It is a very great debt I owe you, but, if you please ma'am, if you forgive me this debt I will never           get into your debt any more; I will always pay for all I have." "Yes," she would say, "but that will not square our           accounts. If you do pay for all you have, it would be no more than you ought to do. But what about the old bills?           How are they to be receipted? They won't be receipted by all your fresh payments." That is just what men do           towards God. "True," they say, "I have gone far astray I know; but then I won't do so any more." Ah, it was time           you threw away such child's talk. You do but manifest your rampant folly by such a hope. Can you wipe away           your trangression by future obedience? Ah, no. The old debt must be paid somehow. God's justice is inflexible,           and the law tells you all your requirements can make no atonement for the past. You must have an atonement           through Christ Jesus the Lord. "But," says the man, "I will try and be better, and then I think I shall have mercy           given to me." Then the law steps in and says, "You are going to try and keep me, are you? Why, man, you cannot           do it." Perfect obedience in the future is impossible. And the ten commandments are held up, and if any           awakened sinner will but look at them, he will turn away and say, "It is impossible for me to keep them." "Why,           man, you say you will be obedient in the future. You have not been obedient in the past, and there is no likelihood           that you will keep God's commandments in time to come. You say you will avoid the evils of the past. You           cannot. 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good that are           accustomed to do evil.'" But you say "I will take greater heed to my ways." "Sir, you will not; the temptation that           overcame you yesterday will overcome you to-morrow. But, mark this, if you could, you could not win salvation           by it." The law tells you that unless you perfectly obey you cannot be saved by your doings, it tells you that one           sin will make a flaw in it all, that one transgression will spoil your whole obedience. It is a spotless garment that           you must wear in heaven; it is only an unbroken law which God can accept. So, then, the law answers this           purpose, to tell men that their acquirements, their amendings, and their doings, are of no use whatever in the           matter of salvation. It is theirs to come to Christ, to get A new heart and a right spirit; to get the evangelical           repentance which needeth not to be repented of, that so they may put their trust in Jesus and receive pardon           through his blood. "Wherefore then serveth the law?" It serveth this purpose, as Luther hath it, the purpose of a           hammer. Luther, you know, is very strong on the subject of the law. He says, "For if any be not a murderer, an           adulterer, a thief, and outwardly refrain from sin, as the Pharisee did, which is mentioned in the gospel, he would           swear that he is righteous, and therefore he conceiveth an opinion of righteousness, and presumeth of his good           works and merits. Such a one God cannot otherwise mollify and humble, that he may acknowledge his misery and           damnation, but by the law, for that is the hammer of death, the thundering of hell, and the lightning of God's           wrath, that beateth to powder the obstinate and senseless hypocrites. For as long as the opinion of righteousness           abideth in man, so long there abideth also in him incomprehensible pride, presumption, security, hatred of God,           contempt of his grace and mercy, ignorance of the promises and of Christ. The preaching of free remission of sins,           through Christ, cannot enter into the heart of such a one, neither can he feel any taste or savor thereof; for that           mighty rock and adamant wall, to wit, the opinion of righteousness, wherewith the heart is environed, doth resist           it. Wherefore the law is that hammer, that fire, that mighty strong wind, and that terrible earthquake rending the           mountains, and breaking the rocks, (1 Kings 19:11-13) that is to say, the proud and obstinate hypocrites. Elijah,           not being able to abide these terrors of the law, which by these things are signified, covered his face with his           mantle. Notwithstanding, when the tempest ceased, of which he was a beholder, there came a soft and a gracious           wind, in the which the Lord was; but it behoved that the tempest of fire, of wind, and the earthquake should pass,           before the Lord should reveal himself in that gracious wind."               III. And now, a step further. You that know the grace of God can follow me in this next step. The law is           intended to show man the misery which will, fall upon him through his sin. I speak from experience, though           young I be, and many of you who hear me will hear this with ears of attention, because you have felt the same.           There was a time with me, when but young in years, I felt with much sorrow the evil of sin. My bones waxed old           with my roaring all day long. Day and night God's hand was heavy upon me. There was a time when he seared           me with visions, and affrighted me by dreams; when by day I hungered for deliverance, for my soul fasted within           me: I feared lest the very skies should fall upon me, and crush my guilty soul. God's law had got hold upon me,           and was strewing me my misery. If I slept at night I dreamed of the bottomless pit, and when I awoke I seemed to           feel the misery I had dreamed. Up to God's house I went; my song was but a groan. To my chamber I retired, and           there with tears and groans I offered up my prayer, without a hope and without a refuge. I could then say with           David, "The owl is my partner and the bittern is my companion," for God's law was flogging me with its           ten-thonged whip, and then rubbing me with brine afterwards, so that I did shake and quiver with pain and           anguish, and my soul chose strangling rather than life, for I was exceeding sorrowful. Some of you have had the           same. The law was sent on purpose to do that. But, you will ask, "Why that misery?" I answer, that misery was           sent for this reason: that I might then be made to cry to Jesus. Our heavenly Father does not usually make us seek           Jesus till he has whipped us clean out of all our confidence; he cannot make us in earnest after heaven till he has           made us feel something of the intolerable tortures of an aching conscience, which has foretaste of hell. Do you not           remember, my hearer, when you used to awake in the morning, and the first thing you took up was Alleine's           Alarm, or Baxter's Call to the Unconverted? Oh, those books, those books, in my childhood I read and devoured           them when under a sense of guilt, but they were like sitting at the foot of Sinai. When I turned to Baxter, I found           him saying some such things as these:"Sinner, bethink thee, within an hour thou mayest be in hell. Bethink thee;           thou mayest soon be dyingdeath is even now gnawing at thy cheek. What wilt thou do when thou standest           before the bar of God without a Savior? Wilt thou tell him thou hadst no time to spend on religion? Will not that           empty excuse melt into thin air? Oh, sinner, wilt thou, then, dare to insult thy Maker? Wilt thou, then, dare to           scoff at him? Bethink thee; the flames of hell are hot and the wrath of God is heavy. Were thy bones of steel, and           thy ribs of brass, thou mightest quiver with fear. Oh, hadst thou the strength of a giant, thou couldst not wrestle           with the Most High. What wilt thou do when he shall tear thee in pieces, and there shall be none to deliver thee?           What wilt thou do when he shall fire off his ten great guns at thee? The first commandment shall say, 'Crush him;           he hath broken me!' The second shall say, 'Damn him; he hath broken me!' The third shall say, 'A curse upon           him; he hath broken me!' And so shall they all let fly upon thee; and thou without a shelter, without a place to flee           to, and without a hope." Ah! you have not forgotten the days when no hymn seemed suitable to you but the one           that began,

                                            "Stoop down my soul that used to rise                                                   Converse awhile with death                                               Think how a gasping mortal lies,                                                 And pants away his breath."

          Or else,

                                              "That awful day sh

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