Christ, the Purpose of the Law

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The law was […] offered to fallen man in order that, lacking all faculty of fulfilling the law, he may fulfill it through Christ.

Therefore, the promulgation of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai was a very gracious act. (Johannes Wollebius, Compendium Theologiae Christinae, p. 76)

Throughout this series we have been answering the question from which we began, “how was Christ administered to the saints of the Old Testament?”  We have shown that Christ was administered and dispensed by means of the Land and Seed promises, the ordained Sacrifices, the Sacrament of Circumcision, and we have for the last couple of posts been discussing the Law itself as part of the administration and dispensation of the one redemptive work of Christ to the saints of the Old Testament.

Contrary to the assumption of many, the Law was not simply a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), that which slew Paul (Rom. 7:9), the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:56), etc., but was rather a very gracious act of God—a redeeming act of God—Christ Himself promulgating the Law to His own people from Mt. Sinai, carrying them on eagle’s wings through the Wilderness, and in the Law displaying His own perfect and most desirable character.  As we discussed last time, the Law became death to apostate Jews, not because it was not holy, righteous, and good in itself, but because we are fallen and evil by nature.  What the Jews had failed to see was the purpose of the Law, preferring in the pride of their uncircumcised hearts to “do this and live,” rather than believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths the faith that was by it brought near.

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Christ, the Content of the Law

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“The law was a schoolmaster unto Christ” (Gal. 3:24) and contained “the shadow of things to come” (Heb. 10:1), whose body and express image is in Christ. (Francis Turretin, Elenctic Theology, Bk. 2, p. 226)

In our endeavor to show how the one redemptive work of Christ was administered or dispensed to the saints of the Old Testament, we have shown that the Law of God, including the Ten Commandments, was no exception.  In our last post, we have shown from the Scriptures that Christ Himself was He Who promulgated the Law from Mt. Sinai.  Here we will show that not only was He the giver of the Law, but also the very content and substance that the Moral Law of God imaged and pictured.

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Christ, the Giver of the Law

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He who is the foundation of the covenant of grace, held also the highest rank in the giving of the law. (Calvin on Galatians 3:19)

As we continue our study of how Christ was administered to the Saints in the Old Testament, we move now to the Law of God.  We have so far discussed the Seed, the Land, Circumcision, and the Sacrificial System, all of which were shown to be “for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 7.5). Of course, each of these are included in God’s Law as broadly defined, so we have done much of our work already.

But I would here like to begin a study of how even the moral aspect of the Law, the very “handwriting that was against us” (Col. 2:14), including the Ten Commandments, was also integral to the administration of the one redemptive work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this administration can be seen most clearly in the Sacrificial system and the many promises, but I believe it can also be shown that the Whole Law of God was part of the sufficiency and efficaciousness of Christ’s redeeming work in the Old Testament.  After all, that is the underlying thesis of this whole series—that Christ’s work was dispensed by means of the Old Covenant, not in spite of it.

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How Christ was Administered: Sacrifices

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[This post is a continuation of the series beginning with, “How was Christ Administered in the Old Testament? Introduction“.]

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. (Leviticus 17:11)

All orthodox believers understand that the sacrifices of the Old Testament were typical of the one vicarious, life for life, substitutionary sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is called the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1:29), the Pascal Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), the Sacrifice of Atonement (1 Jn. 2:2), and He who “gave Himself up for us, an offering of sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell” (Eph. 5:2).  This should not be disputed.  But how were these ancient animal sacrifices “sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (Westminster Confession of Faith, CH. 8.6)? A short perusal of the Book of Hebrews will help make this plain.

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How Christ was Administered: Circumcision, Part 2 (“cut off”)

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In our LAST POST we argued that literally every passage wherein circumcision is either discussed or mentioned is consonant with the claim that the Covenant Sign of Circumcision had always signified for the Old Testament People of God (1) righteousness, which is had only by faith and is worked in the heart by the Holy Spirit (regeneration), and (2) a call to and requirement for such righteousness as a Covenant member.

With this conclusion firmly in place, we are now in a position to counter the growing sentiment that the Sign of Circumcision was a mere marker of the “national-ethnic” physical descendants of Abraham, as advocated by, e.g., John Piper: “[God] bound himself by covenant to an ethnic people and their descendants; he gave them all the sign of the covenant, circumcision, but he worked within that ethnic group to call out a true people for himself… The people of the covenant in the Old Testament were made up of Israel according to the flesh—an ethnic, national, religious people[…].”

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How Christ was Administered: Circumcision, Part 1

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[This post is a continuation of the series, “How was Christ Administered in the Old Testament?”. The previous post may be accessed HERE.]

The covenant people in the Old Testament were mixed. They were all physical Israelites who were circumcised, but within that national-ethnic group there was a remnant of the true Israel, the true children of God (verse 8). This is the way God designed it to be: he bound himself by covenant to an ethnic people and their descendants; he gave them all the sign of the covenant, circumcision, but he worked within that ethnic group to call out a true people for himself.

The people of the covenant in the Old Testament were made up of Israel according to the flesh—an ethnic, national, religious people containing “children of the flesh” and “children of God.” Therefore it was fitting that circumcision was given to all the children of the flesh. (John Piper, “How do Circumcision and Baptism Correspond?”)

Introduction

The above sentiment is arguably the largest barrier to Christians’ understanding circumcision as a means of administering the one redemptive work of Christ to the saints of the Old Testament. True, most all would agree that circumcision pointed to Christ in some sense, even marked out the seed line from which He would be born; but because they believe that the sign peculiarly marked out an ethnic, national, physical people, circumcision itself was notsufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation” (Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 7.5). If, as stated by Piper above, the Sign was a mere marker of “national-ethnic” physical descendants of Abraham, who only happened to contain a spiritual remnant called out by God, then clearly the Covenant Sign of Circumcision was not itself a means of administering the redemptive work of Christ. At best, the Sign merely narrowed the pool (and even that not exclusively).

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How Christ was Administered in the Old Testament: Seed and Land

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In my Introductory Post to this series, we presumed to agree that all who have ever been saved, are saved, and ever will be saved, are so because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through faith in Him.  But the question was posed, if this is true, how was the redeeming work of Christ administered to the saints in the Old Testament—before Christ had come to do His redeeming work?

The Westminster Confession of Faith expresses well the traditional Reformed Covenant Theological answer to this question. After introducing the “Covenant of Grace” in contrast to that of works, “wherein [God] freely offers unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ,” we read,

This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the Gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the Old Testament. (Ch. 7.5)

In short, the answer given was that the redeeming work of Christ was administered in real time to the saints of old by the Old Covenant itself, through the covenant promises of (1) the Seed, (2) the Land, (3) through Circumcision, (4) the Sacrifices, (5) the Law itself, and (6) through Prophecy. Not only were these covenant promises and sacraments the means of administering Christ, they were by His Spirit “sufficient and efficacious” to that end.

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