“What, then, was the purpose of the Law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.” (Galatians 3:19)
In 1645, a man called Edward Fisher wrote a book, entitled The Marrow of Modern Divinity, which became famous in Protestant circles because it answered the question, ‘If salvation comes not by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ, why did God command us to keep the law in the Mosaic covenant? And, why did He promise to bless us if we did?’
As Fisher points out, this is a question that confronts every generation of the Church. He reminds us that how we understand the relationship of the law of God to the promise of the Gospel is absolutely critical in determining eternal destiny. Of course, some people wonder why this subject is so important. And the simple answer is, as Paul reminds us in Galatians 1:9, that if we seek to be justified by the law we will suffer the curse of God.
For many in the church today the law serves no useful purpose at all. They reason that since we are saved through faith, there is no place for the law. However, Paul says otherwise. He says that the law ‘was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.’
What did he mean? He meant that the law supplements the Abrahamic covenant. In other words, it was meant to complement the earlier covenant. It was certainly never meant to nullify or invalidate it. God’s covenant with Abraham was essentially a covenant of blessing; it was essentially an unconditional promise of salvation, to Abraham, to his seed, and through his seed to the nations of the world.
The Mosaic covenant, on the other hand, was essentially a covenant of cursing. It reminded the Israelites that they would be cursed if they did not carefully follow all of God’s commandments and decrees (Deut 28:15). So the Mosaic covenant ‘added’ to the Abrahamic covenant by helping the Israelites to understand that they were condemned sinners in desperate need of salvation and that their only hope was to trust in the promised ‘Seed’ as their Saviour. Only then could they enjoy true blessing. This shows us that the function of the law was to remind us of our need for a redeemer due to the sinfulness of our hearts.
If this is so, then we too need to acquaint ourselves with the law so that we understand our true condition before God. The law is designed to reveal the corruption within. Just as an x-ray can reveal the presence of a serious disease, so the law reveals the state of our hearts. It shows us that we are idolaters, blasphemers, thieves, adulterers, rebellious towards authority and much more. It reminds us that turning over a new leaf is not good enough. Our only hope is a Saviour from above who is perfect and undefiled and who can atone for our sins. Likewise, the law reveals that we must have new hearts. That’s why it was ‘added’. Thank God for it.