It will be noticed that the word “serves” is a supplied word. It really adds nothing to the sense. The question stands just as strong and just as plain to read. “Wherefore then the law?” Another translation is, “Why then the law?”
This was the ready argument of “the Pharisees, which believed,” against all the gospel which was presented by Paul. And this, because the gospel presents justification by the faith of Christ, and not by any works of law. And wherever this was presented, “the Pharisees, which believed,” who had no conception of justification in any other way than by works of law, raised this inquiry, “Wherefore then the law?” “What is the use of the law?” In their estimation, this objecting question was a sufficient refutation of all that might ever be said as to justification by faith, without any deeds of any law.
And, indeed, this same argument, in this same superior, self-assertive way, is used for this same purpose by “the Pharisees which believe” today. Let the claims of the law of God, precisely as God wrote it, be presented today in any part of this whole land, or even in any other land, and immediately professed ministers of the gospel will arise, all bristling with objections, and will oppose every claim of the law of God upon them, because it “never could justify anybody.” They will single out, and search out, every expression they can find in the Scriptures, such as, “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified;” and, “Whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace,” etc.; and with strong voice will ring forth and then vigorously demand, “What is the use of such a law? What is it good for? It cannot justify anybody.”
The scene here described is perfectly familiar to thousands upon thousands of the readers of the REVIEW AND HERALD, and especially to the preachers of the gospel, in the Third Angel’s Message, which calls all people to the keeping of “the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.”
It is worthy of notice, however, that in the ancient days this objection was never raised by the Gentiles, but only by “the Pharisees, which believed:” never by the plain, simple sinner, who knew that his works could not justify him, and who therefore longed for justification indeed; but only by those who professed to know God, and to know justification, but who knew only justification by their own works of law. And so it is even now.
Therefore, this inquiry—“Wherefore then the law?” —is present truth, and will be present truth forever. To a person whose conception of justification is altogether justification by works, such an inquiry, presented in objection, is a sufficient refutation of all the claims of the law of God; and no stronger proof could ever be given by any one that his only conception of justification is altogether by works, than that he should raise against the law of God, this objecting inquiry, “Why then the law?” “What is the use of the law?” This because such an objection certifies that in his estimation, there can be no possible use for law of any kind unless it will justify a man, even the transgressor.
But every one who knows justification in truth, which is justification by faith, knows full well, and can see with perfect plainness, that there may be abundant use for law, altogether apart from any idea of justification by it. And thus there is a place for this question, in sober inquiry.
“Why then the law?” The answer is—
1. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20): “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Rom. 7:13), in order that men, knowing the enormity of sin, may be able to appreciate the greatness of the salvation that God has sent in the gift of his Son.
Even so, it is said in another place. “The law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:20, 21).
2. When the sinner, having learned by the law the greatness of his sin, and having found in the Lord Jesus a salvation so great as to save him from all sin, and a righteousness so complete as to reign in him against all the power of sin, he still finds a second grand use for the law in its witnessing to the righteousness of God, which he obtained without the law. And so, it is written: “By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin. “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed BY THE LAW and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference” (Rom. 3:21, 22).
Such, and so far, is, “Wherefore then the law?”
[Advent Review and Sabbath Herald | February 6, 1900]