October 21, 2017

The Right Use of the Law

Don Johnson

The apostle Paul, in the first chapter of 1 Timothy opens with an exhortation to teach “no other doctrine.” He elaborates on this by a discussion of “the commandment” and “the law” which seems to run contrary to the way many people view the law these days.

1 Tim 1.5-8 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;

There is a use of the law which is lawful for a Christian minister. The apostle is going to elaborate on that in the following verses.

1 Tim 1.9-11 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

The right use of the law, the lawful use, is that use to which it is put as a curb to lawlessness: to restrain the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly and sinners, unholy and profane, murderers, manslayers, whoremongers, them that defile themselves with mankind, menstealers, liars, perjured persons, and any other thing contrary to sound doctrine.

I have a little book in my library by W. P. Mackay, author of the hymn, “Revive Us Again,” called Grace and Truth. In his introduction, he remarks,

Man by nature likes neither grace nor truth. He is satisfied neither with perfect justice nor perfect goodness. If John the Baptist comes in righteousness, he is hated, and men say he is too harsh, and not human, but hath a devil. If Christ comes in love, He is taunted with being a friend of sinners. So when the righteous requirements of God’s law are preached, many people are apt to turn and say, ‘Oh yes, but that is too strict; you must allow a little margin for our imperfection.’ God says, ‘make no provision for the flesh.’ Alas! it will take far too much, but allow it nothing. When a sanctified walk, separated from the world and all its belongings is insisted on, a certain class are sure to call this legal preaching.

That comment sounds too modern, does it not? Mackay published it in 1875. Times have not improved since then. When we call for restraint, for scriptural curbing of the flesh, shunning of the world, watchfulness for the devil and his wiles, we are called legalists and Pharisees. I wonder what the apostle would say to that?

We know that we cannot achieve righteousness by law, no one advocates that. But law, the commandment, the Bible point out to men that they are sinners. We should not blunt the message but show them the law condemns, there is no way out, except through the grace of marvelous Saviour.


Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


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