Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Universal Blessing and Goodness of God’s Law
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. Romans 7:12-14NKJ
Question 95 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "Of what use is the moral law to all men?" It gives the answer, "The moral law is of use to all men, to inform them of the holy nature and will of God, and of their duty, binding them to walk accordingly; to convince them of their disability to keep it, and of the sinful pollution of their nature, hearts, and lives; to humble them in the sense of their sin and misery, and thereby help them to a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and of the perfection of his obedience." Last time we saw that the moral law is still useful to all mankind. This week we examine some of those uses.
For the past several Catechism questions we have been considering the moral law of God. We have seen from Romans 1 that the moral law of God is part of man's nature as man. That is, man is a moral being because he has the law of God on his heart, giving him a natural knowledge of what is right and wrong. Thus, all men have a conscience which at times will "accuse or even excuse them," (Rom. 2:15). Now we know that man, as a sinner, corrupts and suppresses that conscience, but he cannot totally eradicate it. Man cannot make himself non-man, or non-moral.
The Ten Commandments are a summary of the moral law of God, even as Jesus' two commandments are a further summary of it, but the Scriptures are clear that all men "even though they do not have the [written] law… show the work of the law written in their hearts" when they "do by nature what the law requires" (Rom. 2:14-15). Now in previous questions we have already seen that the moral law, given to Adam in the Garden as a Covenant of Works between God and man, served only to condemn man as a covenant breaker before God. Yet considering that God has been pleased to NOT fully carry out the curse of that covenant, and to even make a second covenant: the Covenant of Grace; we see that the moral law DOES have a use for all men beyond that of finding him out to be a sinner, as we began to observe in Question 94. Accordingly, from the Scriptures, our Catechism lists the following uses of the moral law for all mankind, that is, for believers as well as unbelievers.
First, the moral law informs men of the holy nature and will of God. The moral law is God's perceptive will. God's will for your life - what God wants you to do - He has revealed to you in His commandments. God wants you to be righteous. His moral law is the definition of righteousness. Your duty as a moral being is to keep the moral law of God. Furthermore, since the moral law is law and not suggestion, the moral law binds all men to keep it. Second, the moral law convinces all men of their disability to keep it. Since we know in our hearts that we are to be perfect as God is perfect, the moral law of God clearly reveals to all men that they are sinners and breakers of God's law. That is to say the moral law discloses the sin of our natures, our hearts, and our lives. Because of the moral law we cannot say that we are good people who mess up now and then. No, we must admit that our very natures delight in evil. Now men may deny this testimony of the moral law and excuse their sins but they do so against their better knowledge which in their sinful pride they seek to suppress.
Thus, the good purpose of the moral law in condemning us as sinners, seeing that there is a Covenant of Grace by which we may be forgiven, is to humble us so that we will see and feel our need of a savior, whom the Scriptures reveal to be Jesus Christ. Apart from the moral law of God, therefore, no man would ever turn to Christ as savior, for only if he sees the boundlessness and hopelessness of his evil nature can he be in the position to desire and receive the righteousness and forgiveness that the gospel offers through Jesus Christ. For the same law that condemns us, makes manifest the perfect righteousness that is available in Jesus Christ. For even as our sin makes us lawbreakers and therefore liable to the curse of God's covenant, so Christ's obedience makes Him the only law-keeper and thus fit for God's reward. And so while the law does not show us the way of salvation, no man can be saved who does not first feel his sin, which sin is only revealed by the law of God. Praise God for the continued usefulness of His perfect law!