“For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.”
Although this apostle had been brought up by Jewish parents, and after the strictest sect of the pharisees instructed in the Jew’s religion, which consisted chiefly in, that to them pertained the giving the law, &c.; and although he had been no dull scholar in their theological school, but had graduated with great honor, of having surpassed many of his equals in the attainment of religious knowledge, yet his literary attainments extended only to the letter of the law. With that he was very familiar, and none could surpass him in his knowledge of or zeal for the Jew’s religion. But it was like the religion of all legalists, workmongers and Arminians of our day, it filled his heart with a zeal which was not pure, and inclined him to oppose the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to breathe out threatening and slaughter against the primitive Baptists. But the spirituality and killing power of the law of God, he had never experienced, until it pleased God, who delivered him from his mother’s womb, and called him by his grace, to reveal his Son in him. Then, as in all other cases where the Spirit of God sets home the law in its exceeding broadness, he saw himself a poor, convicted, guilty and justly condemned sinner before God; and that very law, on the letter of which he had depended for life and immortality, consigned him to death and everlasting wrath, for his transgressions of its precepts.
By the law is the knowledge of sin; but until we know the law, we are ignorant of our sinful and helpless condition. And this is the reason why so many are at this day relying on their own obedience to the law of God, for acceptance with him, and seem perfectly heedless of the express declarations, “By the deeds of the law no flesh shall be justified,” and “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. In this sense they are alive, as Paul had been once, not having been slain experimentally by the law.
In the illustration of this subject, Paul uses the figure of the marriage relationship, “A woman that hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law [or dominion] of her husband.” So long therefore as we are legally held under the law, we are held in condemnation. “For as many as are of the works of the law, are under the curse.” And we cannot be lawfully joined in marriage to Christ, until all the jots and tittles of the old dominion are legally canceled. This separation or deliverance could only be legally effected by death. Now to effect his release from the law, the redeemed of the Lord are buried with Christ by baptism, (or immersion) into death. (That is when Christ was buried in death, they were legally in him, so that when he died for them, they were all dead.) And hence, the apostle says, “Wherefore my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another; even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Our legal works of obedience to the letter of the law, however perfect they may have been as such, were not fruits unto God, for they were not begotten of his Spirit; they were fruits to the old husband; but in our relation to our new husband, our fruits are unto God, and not to the old husband, who is now dead to us; hence, instead of now serving in the oldness of the letter, we serve in the newness of spirit, and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, which are these: love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. Still because the law, as our old husband, could not beget in us such fruits of the Spirit, we are not to conclude that the law is sin. God forbid that we should say so. “Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” The law is holy, just and good, but I am carnal, sold under sin. And as Paul says in chapter viii. 2-4: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” The law is not sin. “But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, [or law] wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law, sin was dead.” As sin is the transgression of the law, where there is no law there is no transgression. Hence, if we had been created free agents, or without law, we could not become transgressors or sinners. But the law being holy, the presentation of every one of its precepts detects the depravity of my sinful flesh, as exemplified in Paul’s experience. “I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” As he had understood the law according to his instructions in the theological school of Gamaliel, he was blameless in regard to that precept, so long as he did not appropriate the property of another, to his own use. But when the commandment came, in its spirituality and power, he found to his surprise, that it took cognizance of the thoughts and intents of the heart; to hate a brother constituted him a murderer, and to look upon a woman lustfully made him an adulterer. The law had not only said, “Thou shalt not steal,” but it had also said, “Thou shalt not covet.” Hence the exceeding purity of the law, applied to and in its action upon all those who are under it, brings forth to light all manner of sin. “The law wrought in him all manner of concupiscence.&rsdquo; Not that the law communicated to, or implanted in him an unholy principle, but the working of the law was to expose that corruption which existed in the flesh; as the apostle says, “But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.” Every saint can use the words of the apostle as applicable to himself: “For I was alive once without the law.” That is, I had not been slain, sin did not appear to me exceeding sinful; especially my own sin; I could not see much greater sin in others than in myself I was whole, and needed no physician, and righteous, and needed no repentance. “But when the commandment came.” When the righteous law of God was set home by the eternal Spirit, “Sin revived.” It had been in me concealed, so that I did not believe that it was there, but the eye of the law was not dim, it detected and brought to light the hidden evils of my soul, and what I had regarded lightly before, became exceeding sinful. “And I died.” Till then my strength held out, my resolutions were firm, and my fancied abilities to meet the demands of law and justice were unquestioned, but then and there the majesty of the holy law of God appeared; justice drew forth the sword of vengeance, my mouth was stopped, and I confessed the justice of my doom. The cross of Christ appeared, and I saw the gleaming blade descend in vengeful wrath to smite me; the bleeding Savior drew me to his heart, and there in him, it smote, and I died. My legal hopes gave up the ghost, and I henceforth may say, “I am crucified with him, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
Middletown, N. Y.
June 15, 1858.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 4
Pages 110 - 114