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In Defense of God's Law, Part 3

by Jeff Wehr


SOME teach that God's moral law has been abolished by the death of Christ on the cross. However, it was the ceremonial law, which pointed to the crucifixion of Christ, that came to an end.

There are two laws clearly defined in scripture. The first law is the moral law--God's Ten Commandments. The second law, which sets the rules for the sanctuary or ceremonial services, was given because of the transgression of the moral law.

The moral law, God's Ten Commandments, is eternal and unchanging. The ceremonial law was temporary. The Bible says concerning the moral law, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." Romans 3:31.

Concerning the ceremonial law, the Bible says, "Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances." Ephesians 2:15.

The moral law is not to be made void; it is to be established. The second law was to be abolished by Christ's death on the cross.

The great preacher John Wesley wrote, "The ritual or ceremonial law, delivered by Moses to the children of Israel, containing all the injunctions and ordinances which related to the old sacrifices and service of the temple, our Lord indeed did come to destroy, to dissolve, and utterly abolish. To this bear all the apostles witness. . . . This 'handwriting of ordinances' our Lord did blot out, take away, and nail to His cross. [See Colossians 2:14.]

"But the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments, and enforced by the prophets, He [Jesus] did not take away. It was not the design of His coming to revoke any part of it. This is a law which never can be broken, which 'stands fast as the faithful witness in heaven.' The moral law stands on an entirely different foundation from the ceremonial or ritual law. . . . Every part of this law must remain in force upon all mankind and in all ages; as not depending either on time, or place, or any other circumstance liable to change; but on the nature of God and the nature of man, and their unchangeable relation to each other." Sermons on Several Occasions, vol. 1, 221-222.

When and where did these two laws come from? In the beginning, when God created man, He placed Adam under a short probation. Adam would secure eternal life if he proved to remain obedient to God. So God placed Adam in Eden and permitted him to eat from the tree of life in the Garden of Eden as long as he did not disobey God in partaking of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil." See Genesis 2:16-17.

If Adam would disobey God, then he would face death. Unfortunately, Adam did disobey, and then he was much in need of a Saviour.

The good news is that there is a Redeemer for sinful and disobedient humanity. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." John 3:16-17.

It would be nearly four thousand years before the Saviour would come and die on the cross for guilty humanity; therefore, it was necessary to institute a ceremonial service that would explain the plan of salvation. God did just that. He instituted a service in which there were sacrifices offered, representing the Saviour to come. When Jesus would appear and die for our sins, then the ceremonial services would no longer be needed. Consequently, the laws that governed these services also came to an end at the death of Christ on the cross.

And so it was, Abel offered a sacrifice representing Christ. See Genesis 4:4.

"Noah builded an altar . . . and offered burnt offerings," representing the Saviour to come. Genesis 8:20. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob also offered up the innocent victims representing the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for their sins. See Genesis 12:7-8; 26:25; 31:54.

Then in a.d. 31, Christ was crucified on the cross. He became the Lamb "which taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29. In that most solemn moment, "the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent." Matthew 27:51. When Jesus died, the Father tore the veil in the temple from top to bottom, signifying the end of the sacrificial and ceremonial services, and therefore, the end of the ceremonial law.

The Giving of the Moral Law

These two laws, the moral and the ceremonial, differ in how they were communicated:

Before the giving of the moral law on two tables of stone, the people made special preparation for three days. Then Moses met with God on Mount Sinai. "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. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly." Exodus 19:16-18. Then Moses records, "And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice. And 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 4:12-13.

While on the mount, God wrote on two tables of stone the Ten Commandments. See Exodus 24:12. The Bible emphasizes that God wrote just Ten Commandments, "He added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone." Deuteronomy 5:22.

It is evident that the Lord desired to make a clear distinction between His moral law and all other laws by the way He communicated them.

With the moral law, God Himself spoke it from heaven with His own voice. See Exodus 19:16-19; Deuteronomy 4:12-13. He wrote it twice with His own finger. See Exodus 31:18; 32:16; Deuteronomy 10:1-5. He engraved it upon two tables of stone. See Exodus 32:16. It was placed in the ark in the Most Holy Place of the sanctuary. See Exodus 25:16, 22; Deuteronomy 10:1-5.

Now notice how the ceremonial law was communicated to man. Moses went up to the mount where he was instructed by the Lord, and he wrote it with his own hand. See Exodus 24:15-18; Deuteronomy 31:9, 24. Moses wrote the ceremonial law upon a book of parchment. See Deuteronomy 31:24. Moses spoke the words of this ceremonial law to the people. See Deuteronomy 1:3-5; 31:1; 32:45-46. This law was then put by the side of the ark--not inside of it. See Deuteronomy 31:24-26.

Thus we see the moral law inside of the ark, and the ceremonial law outside of the ark. The moral law was written on tables of stone, and the ceremonial law was written in a book. The former was written by God, and the latter by Moses. The moral law was spoken by God, while the other was written by Moses. The former relates to morals, the latter to rules governing the ceremonial services. Who would deny that these are two separate and distinct laws? The Bible plainly tells us that there are two laws. The Lord said, "Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them [God's moral law], and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them [the ceremonial law]." 2 Kings 21:8.

Everywhere in scripture, when it speaks about abolishing the law, it is the ceremonial law, not the moral law. Paul said, "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; and having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Colossians 2:14-17.

What was "blotted out" or wiped out? A document written by a man's hand referring to ordinances regulating the ceremonial law. Therefore, we are to judge no man in regard to "meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come."

Paul is no doubt referring to people who taught that you still needed to keep the ceremonial law to be saved. They were judging their fellow believers as to "meat" and "drink" offerings that were a "shadow of things to come," namely, the crucifixion of Christ. However, Christians are under no obligation to carry out the requirements of the ceremonial law. When Christ died on the cross, these "meat" and "drink" offerings met their fulfillment.

Furthermore, no one was to be judged concerning "a holyday [the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles], or of the new moon [the first day of each month (see Numbers 10:10; 28:11)], or of the sabbath days [plural, referring to ceremonial sabbaths, not the weekly sabbath]." The keys to this text, of course, are those meat, drinks, holy days, new moons, and sabbath days, which were a "shadow of things to come." These ceremonial services prefigured the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Consequently, they came to an end when Christ completed His earthly ministry.

Now, does Paul say that we are not to observe any holy day? No. Does Paul say that one of the Ten Commandments is nullified? No. Paul is speaking only about the blotting out of the ceremonial law.

But, tragically, some people actually oppose the law of God and try to change God's holy day, the seventh-day Sabbath. They contend that we must keep nine out of the Ten Commandments, but that the seventh-day Sabbath is for the Jews only.

Many people claim that Jesus gave a "new law" to Christians. It is the same as nine-tenths of the old law, but somehow the one-tenth left out of the "new law" makes it Christian--not Jewish.

The following questions must be asked: When did Jesus give His church this "new law"? Where did He announce it? To whom did He announce it? How many precepts does this "new law" contain? And what is the penalty for transgressing it?

Can we find this "new law" in the Gospels or the epistles of Paul? Did Jesus tell it to His disciples in secret, or to a vast multitude in public? Did He announce it before or after the cross? Are there nine commandments or twelve commandments? Does this law only pertain to Christians? If there is indeed a "new law," these questions should be very easy to answer.

The truth of the matter is that there is no "new law," and the New Testament is completely silent upon such questions.

Some teach that the Sabbath is not to be found in the New Testament, whereas the other nine commandments are clearly repeated and reaffirmed as part of God's law. However, this is not true. Neither the first, second, third, fourth, nor the tenth commandment are anywhere repeated word for word in the New Testament as they are found in the Ten Commandments, recorded in Exodus 20:3-17.

The other five commandments are quoted word for word in the New Testament in the following passages: See Matthew 5:21-27; 15:4; 19:18-19; Mark 7:10; 10:19; Luke 18:20; Romans 7:7; 13:9; Ephesians 6:2-3; James 2:11.

In Matthew 19:16-19, Jesus quoted the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments when answering the rich, young ruler. Was Jesus reinstating these commandments as if they had been abolished by His death on the cross? Obviously not; Christ was not yet crucified. Jesus was simply quoting from the law itself, which had not changed.

If, of course, the Sabbath is no longer binding because it is not quoted word for word in the New Testament, then the first three and the tenth commandments are abolished also for the same reason.

It is most interesting that the Sabbath commandment is actually mentioned more often than any of the other commandments in the New Testament. It is referred to no less than fifty-nine times, and never is the Sabbath said to be abolished or changed to Sunday.

If men teach that Christ gave the church a different day on which to worship, then where in the Bible is it mentioned? Where does it say that the seventh-day Sabbath is part of the old law, and Sunday is part of a "new law"?

The fact of the matter is that there is no "new law." The Ten Commandments are the same as when God first wrote them with His own finger.

Even the words of the Gospel writers when recording the events surrounding Christ's crucifixion, refer to the seventh day as being the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath is said to be part of the commandments at the time of Christ's death on the cross. The Gospel writers record the following, "This man [Joseph of Arimathaea] went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day [Friday] was the preparation, and the sabbath [Friday night to Saturday night] drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." Luke 23:52-56. "In the end of the sabbath [sunset Saturday], as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week [Sunday], came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre." Matthew 28:1. According to the Gospels, Friday is the preparation day; Saturday is the "sabbath according to the commandment," and Sunday is the first day of the week. (All emphasis supplied unless otherwise noted.)

Some argue that the Sabbath commandment does not deal with morality and therefore is no longer part of the Ten Commandments. The fact that all Ten Commandments existed before sin, and could be disobeyed, makes them all moral. But what makes the Sabbath an especially moral precept?

After God created the world in six days, He rested on the seventh. He blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart for a sacred use. The Bible says, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." Genesis 2:1-3.

The word "sanctified" means to "separate, set apart, or appoint, to a holy or religious use." Consequently, God has an intended holy use for the seventh day as the Sabbath.

The first thing God asks us to do is to "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. . . . For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day." Exodus 20:8, 11. We are to "remember" that God created us. It is morally correct to keep the seventh-day Sabbath because God gave us life. He has the power to give life and to take it away. He has the perfect right to set the standards by which we are to live. As Paul said, "O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" Romans 9:20-21.

Men ought to morally keep the Sabbath to preserve that knowledge of the true and living God, the Creator of heaven and earth. But, tragically, men have not remembered to keep the Sabbath holy, a fact which has resulted in rampant skepticism and scoffing.

Perhaps the greatest moral reason for keeping the Sabbath is that it is the Lord's day. The commandment says that the "seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God." Exodus 20:10. It is said of Jesus that "the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." Mark 2:28.

The eighth commandment says, "Thou shalt not steal." Exodus 20:15. Why should we not steal? Because it protects the possessions and property of its owner. We are not lawfully able to take that which belongs to someone else.

The Creator, who has made everything, including all seven days in the week, has allowed us to perform our secular duties on the first six days. However, God has reserved the seventh day for Himself. The seventh day is not our day. It belongs to God, and God alone. The Lifegiver has commanded us, His creation, not to perform our secular duties on the seventh day, but we are to keep it holy.

Let us illustrate the point. Suppose a wealthy man has seven very beautiful and fruitful pear trees. He has given permission to a neighbor to freely take from the first six trees, but the seventh tree the owner has reserved for his own special use. This would be a very generous offer indeed! Now suppose that the neighbor became ungrateful and also partook from the seventh pear tree. Would this not be considered immoral?

If it be wrong to rob a man of his pears, which are here today and gone tomorrow, how much more so would it be morally wrong to rob God every week of the honor due to Him on His Sabbath day.

If a man would knowingly rob God of His day by pursuing his worldly interests and selfish ambitions on that holy day, then that man is just as capable of stealing from his fellow man.

God Himself placed the Sabbath in the center of the moral law. No other day has God so highly honored. All the other "sabbath days," which coincided with the feasts days, grew out of man's fallen condition, but the weekly Sabbath grew out of an infinite and loving God. If we would understand the sacred claims of the Sabbath, then we would see the Lord whose hands have fashioned the worlds and has provided for every blessing we enjoy. We would also appreciate the Almighty, whose voice can make the earth tremble, and who has forbidden us to desecrate His holy day.

With all these entreaties and warnings from Holy Writ, how can a man deliberately set aside the law and the authority of His Creator? How disappointing such behavior must appear to God Who gave us His only begotten Son!

Today, God needs men and women who will choose to do what is right because it is right, and because right-doing is pleasing to God. Any man can go with the crowd or with the current. However, our great God, our Creator, is worthy that we be willing to stand alone for His holy Sabbath day.

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