ALL THE SERVICES OF THE SANCTUARY were performed with reference to the law of God kept in the ark in the inmost apartment of the tabernacle. It was when this law was broken, that sacrifices were to be brought. "If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done, and shall do against any of them: if the priest that is anointed do sin according to the sin of the people; then let him bring for his sin, which he hath sinned, a young bullock without blemish unto the Lord for a sin offering." Lev. 4:2,3.
It was the transgression of "the commandments of the Lord" that necessitated the sacrificial system. It was sin against God's law that set in motion the entire ritual of the temple. Sin was the background of the morning and evening sacrifice, the services of the Day of Atonement, the offering of incense, and the individual sacrifices for personal sins. And sin is the transgression of the law.
John the beloved had a vision of the temple of God in heaven. In that temple he saw the law of God, "the ark of His testament." Rev. 11:19. The law is central even in heaven. So much is this so, that the temple is called "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony," not the temple of incense, or of blood, or even of the ark. It is "the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony," the temple of the law of God. Rev. 15:5.
The most sacred city in Old Testament times was the city in which God had chosen to make His abode. The most sacred place in that city was the temple. The most sacred place in the temple was the place called the most holy. The most sacred object in the most holy was the ark within which were the tables of stone upon which God had written with His own finger the ten commandments, the law of life, the oracles of God. This law was the centre around which the whole service revolved, the ground and reason of every ritual. Without the law, the temple service would be meaningless.
Law is an expression of character, a revelation of mind. For this reason, the law of God is important. It is a part of God, as it were. It reveals Him. It is a transcript of His character, a finite expression of the infinite. In it we are given a glimpse of the very mind of God; a view of that which is the foundation of His government. As God is perfect, so His law is perfect. As God is eternal, so the principles of the law are eternal. As God is unchangeable, so the law is unchangeable. This must of necessity be so. The law, being a transcript of the character of God, cannot be changed unless a corresponding change takes place in God. But God does not change. "I am the Lord, I change not." Mal. 3:6. With God there "is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." James 1:17. He is "the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Heb. 13:8.
The law of God as contained in the ten commandments has always been a fruitful field of study for God's children. Numerous are the references in the Bible to the delight which the saints of God have found in looking into the perfect law of liberty. Far from its being a task, they have regarded it a pleasure to contemplate the deep things of God. Hear the psalmist: "I love Thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold." "Thy testimonies are wonderful." "Thou through Thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation." "I have seen an end of all perfection: but Thy commandment is exceeding broad." Ps.119:127,129,98,99,96.
The ten commandments were first proclaimed by God at Sinai, and then written by Him on two tables of stone. Ex. 20; 24:12; 31:18. These tables were placed in the ark in the most holy place of the sanctuary, directly under the mercy seat and covered by it. Ex. 25:16, 21. The writing contained on them, as recorded in the King James Version of the English Bible, is as follows:
"I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
2. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.
3. "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
4. "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.
5. "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
6. "Thou shalt not kill.
7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. "Thou shalt not steal.
9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbour's." Ex. 20:2-17.
The ten commandments are not arbitrary decrees imposed upon unwilling subjects. They are rather the law of life without which national existence, personal security, human liberty, or even civilisation is possible. This will become more patent as we proceed.
The commandments are divided into two sections, the one section -- the first four commandments -- defining man's duty to God, and the other section -- the last six commandments -- defining man's duty to his fellow men. Christ recognised this division when He stated that the two great principles of the law are love to God and love to man. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Matt. 22:37-40.
The occasion for the proclamation by God of His law at Sinai, was His entering into covenant relation with Israel. God had selected Israel to be His people. He had brought them out of Egypt and was about to bring them into the Promised Land. He had promised to bless them and to make of them a holy nation and a royal priesthood. These promises, however, were subject to their acceptance and cooperation. God had promised to do much for them. Would they on their part love and obey God? Would they faithfully observe the provisions of the covenant? They had been acquainted in a general way with the law of God. But now God proclaims it to them from heaven, so there can be no doubt as to what is expected of them. Holiness must not be left to private interpretation. God gives a standard of righteousness. That standard is perfect. "The law is holy, and just, and good." It is an expression of God's will concerning man. It is the perfect rule and contains the whole duty of man.
It is a matter of some perplexity to find Christians opposed to the law of God. What possible objection can they have to a law that enjoins love to God and man, that frowns on evil and encourages good? What possible objection can they have to a law the author of which is Jehovah, the end of which is holiness, and which is enshrined in the sanctuary of God? Sinners might be expected to oppose it, for it exposes and condemns sin. But Christians are on another level. With the psalmist, they cry out: "O how love I Thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Ps. 119:97
As law in general is the foundation of government, so the law of God is the foundation of God's government. Ten short, clear-cut statements proclaim the entire duty of man. As a constitution, it is complete, concise, perfect. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. Law is emblematic of security, stability, faithfulness, uniformity, equality. Absence of law means chaos with its attendant evils. The world is built on law, the universe is obedient to it. Infraction of universal law would mean annihilation of the creation of God. Every part is related to every other part, and what happens in one place reverberates to the ends of the universe. This makes universal law necessary. One law must control wherever creation exists. Two conflicting laws would bring disaster.
The one fundamental moral law of the universe is the law of God, embodied from eternity in the two great principles of love to God and love to man. These principles were amplified and applied to humanity, and the ten commandments were proclaimed, for man's guidance, at Mt. Sinai. They constitute the basic law of life and existence. As has been stated before, they are not arbitrary requirements imposed for the sake of authority. They are such as God in His wise foresight saw were necessary if men were to live together, and human society become possible. And men's experiences have confirmed God's wisdom. The world has demonstrated that obedience to God's law is necessary to existence, to security, to life.
The great World War was a demonstration of this fact. Men laughed at the ten commandments. They made light of them. They began to kill and destroy one another. Each nation felt that should it win the war, great benefit would accrue not only to itself, but incidentally to the world. But the world has been disillusioned. It has learned that there is no profit in hatred, --or in killing. The World War was a forceful illustration of the folly of rejecting the commandments of God. Not only were millions maimed and killed, immense debts piled up, and general disaster imminent, but many were definitely convinced that a continuation of war would mean the end of civilisation and national life. Men were appalled at the magnitude of the calamity facing them. They began to believe that the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," was not an arbitrary decree, but one of the laws of life. Keep the commandments and live; reject them and die -- that was the lesson.
The same lesson is being taught nations today. Crime is rampant, aggressive, defiant. There have always been wicked men, but never on such a scale as today. Crime is now organised, in some cases carrying on what amounts to real war against society. In some cases, criminals are better armed and organised than the forces of law and order. It is only of late that governments have really awakened to the fact that they are face to face with disintegrating agencies that are bent on overthrowing civilisation. They are now making every effort to stamp out the evil, but find it no easy task. It is costly; it is exhausting; it is at times discouraging; but it must be carried to a successful issue, or disaster will result. The governments' attempt to curtail graft, to eradicate vice, to stop racketeering, to uphold the sacredness of family relations, to compel honesty in public relations, and to protect property, is an admission on their part that God is right, that men ought not to lie, steal, or commit adultery; that the transgression of these commandments leads to disaster and disruption, and that the government is justified in taking any measures necessary to better conditions.
The whole movement to stamp out crime is a mighty testimony to the integrity and enduring value of the commandments of God. Men and governments are learning that crime does not pay; that crime is costly; that crime ruins and destroys. This is the lesson God wants them to learn. And they are finding out in their own way the value of obedience to law. Never has the world had such an object lesson in the cost of crime, the cost of transgression. The world itself both furnishes the material for the demonstration and pays the cost of it. This makes the lesson that much more effective.
Law is an expression of the will, nature, and character of the governing power. Any law that is not such an expression soon ceases to function and becomes obsolete. Human law is ordinarily the result of experience, of thought-out purpose based on the discovery of what is and should be, and an attempt to formulate into concise statements, rules for proper and appropriate conduct and procedure. It must have will as a basic factor, and be an expression of that will, and also of the nature and character of the lawgiver. Law therefore argues personality, and defines and reveals that personality.
The expression "law of nature," as ordinarily employed, is misleading, and should be used only in an accommodated sense. Properly speaking, there is no law of nature as such, for nature has no will or thought of its own, and no way of expressing such will or thought. What is generally meant by "law of nature" is the orderly process in which nature acts, a definite mode of sequence that is generally predictable. The Christian believes the laws of nature to be the laws of God, an expression of personal will, and does not endow nature with attributes belonging only to personality, to God.
A.H. Strong uses an illustration which points an important lesson. As the Christian sees a shaft turning a large and complicated piece of machinery, and in his attempts to find out what makes the shaft revolve, comes to a brick wall from which it protrudes and beyond which he cannot see and cannot go, he does not arrive at the conclusion that the shaft turns itself. He cannot see, he cannot prove, the existence of the engine beyond the brick wall that gives the shaft its power. But he knows it is there. Good sense tells him this. The mere scientist sees the shaft, and marvels at its inherent power. The Christian sees the shaft also. But he sees beyond it. He sees the invisible, and he knows that there is a hidden power behind the shaft. To him it is simple, clear, nothing mysterious. He only wonders that all cannot see what seems to him so evident. So likewise through nature he sees nature's God; and the laws of nature are to him merely the laws of God.
The law of God is a transcript of the divine nature, and as such is not "made" as human laws are made, any more than God is "made." The law cannot be said to have had a beginning any more than God had a beginning. Being a revelation of what He is its existence is coeval with God's. It can be changed only as God changes. It is not temporary, as God is not temporary. It is not an expression of arbitrary will, but a revelation of being. It is not local or confined to specific situations only, as God is not local. It is incapable of modification, representing as it does the unchangeable nature of God. It is immutable, holy, and good, because God is immutable, holy, and good. It is spiritual; it is just; it is universal. All this the law is and must be, being a transcript of the essential nature of God.
Besides the written moral law of God, there is an elemental law, imprinted in the very fibres of every moral creature, unwritten but authoritative. It existed before Sinai, and is also an expression and reflection of the moral nature of God, though it is not as clear as the written law. The heathen who "have not the law [in written form], do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another." Rom. 2:14,15.
This unwritten law is so authoritative that God is justified in using it in the judgement. "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law." Verse 12. The heathen "do by nature the things contained in the law," that is, they have an inherent sense of right and wrong, and by this they are judged. "These, having not the law, are a law unto themselves." According to the light they have, or might have had, they are judged.
This elemental law, though unwritten, has all the characteristics of the written law of God, and, in its field, is of equal authority. No man can violate natural law and expect to escape the consequences. The laws of nature are inviolable, and are administered without respect of persons. Whoever transgresses, be he prince or pauper, pays the penalty. A king who unknowingly or deliberately steps off into space when climbing a steep mountain incline, is crushed against the rocks below as surely as his lowliest subject. Men have learned the certainty of natural law and are trusting to its unfailing uniformity. They are convinced that the laws of physics, of mathematics, of stress, do not change overnight. So they plan, build, live, and work, depending on the surety of law. And God does not fail them. Men can depend on God and on His law in nature.
The unwritten moral law is just as sure. The conscience bears witness to a power higher than man's, a compelling power, an almost irresistible power. True, the moral law moving in higher realm than the physical may not be capable of the immediate demonstration, and the effects of transgression may not be as apparent as in the violation of physical law. But they are nevertheless as sure.
Not all violation of physical law is punished immediately. A man touches a highly charged live wire and is struck dead immediately. Another violates the law of his being in living and eating and does not note any immediate effect. Years after, the results become apparent. But though the results may be delayed, they are sure and inevitable. So with moral law. The results of transgressions may be delayed. But they are surely coming. They may not even be apparent in this life, but may be reserved for the judgement to come. But in any case, the results are sure and unavoidable -- but for the grace of God.
There is a reason for God's mode of action. If punishment were always meted out immediately, character building would be very much hindered if not made impossible. Every physical sin, however small, has in it the seed of death. If that death came immediately, there would of course be no opportunity for the person concerned to learn any lesson from the experience. Also, others, knowing that the result of disobedience was immediate death, would be deterred from transgression not from principle but from fear. To give men a chance to repent of physical sins and also to give them opportunity to do so uninfluenced by fear of immediate death, God must delay the consequences of transgression for a time. This He does, and the results justify the procedure.
This principle is even more applicable to the moral law. God must not execute punishment for the transgression of moral law immediately, lest He vitiate His plan and make salvation hard, if not impossible. Though at times it is true that "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil," yet God must not immediately execute judgement lest He do more harm than good. God knows what He is doing. He has set for Himself the task of saving men, and He goes about it in the best way possible.
The written law of God as contained in the ten commandments summarises man's whole duty to God and to man. The God that made the law of nature is the same God who made the ten commandments. Both laws are given by God, and though they move in different realms, they are equally binding and cannot be transgressed with impunity. The law of God as written on two tables of stone, as well as in the heart of the believer, is in harmony with the general and unwritten law of God.
But nature nowhere indicates a definite day of rest. That appears in the written law of God. The heathen have perceptions of right and wrong, and their consciences accuse or excuse them. This does not seem to be the case, however, with the seventh-day Sabbath. There is nothing in nature to lead the mind to the observance of one day in seven, much less, a definite seventh day. This may require some study.
The Sabbath was instituted at creation. It was then "made for man." Mark 2:27. By His own example of resting, God sanctified the day and blessed it. Out of all the days of the week He chose one and set it apart for holy use. Henceforth it was blessed among days, sanctified by God Himself.
The choice of the particular day of the week was a distinct act of God which can be known only by revelation. Nature gives no clue whatever as to which day is the Sabbath, or indeed, to any Sabbath at all. The commandment to keep holy the seventh day is a pronouncement by the sovereign God, setting apart a particular day as holy time. While it seems fitting that the last day of creation week should be chosen as the day of rest, it is conceivable that Wednesday or any other day might serve the purpose as well, had the Creator so ordained. Thus choice of the seventh day rests not upon any fact in nature, but upon a positive command of God, unaccompanied by any sustaining elemental or natural law. It rests entirely upon a "Thus saith the Lord."
We believe there is a reason for this. We shall proceed with this study.