Brother Beebe: - I saw in a number of the Signs some time back that sister A. A. Ford, of Lexington, N.Y., requests my views on Rom.5:20, "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."
It appears to me that any person who reads this text with attention, believing it to mean what it says, will be surprised at the view Paul had of the purpose of God in the giving of the law as differing so materially from the view so generally entertained of the use of the law. The idea of many is that the grand design of the law is to make men moral and better, and to enable them by obedience to it to secure acceptance with God. No doubt the letter of the law, where it has been known, has had a tendency to restrain persons somewhat from outward sins, at any rate to establish a better standard of morals then exists among the heathen. But God had a much higher purpose than this in giving the law; and when men preach it as a way of life, and look to their obedience to it as means of their acceptance with God, they entirely pervert the law and the design of it. The law is spiritual, and as such is the standard of righteousness; and was given to show the depravity of man and to prepare the way for the manifestation of salvation by Christ and of grace. Paul said, "I had not known sin but by the law." Of course he would not have known the need of salvation by Christ, without this knowledge of sin by the law. "The law entered that the offence might abound," is a positive declaration without any reservation. We evidently are not to understand by this that man has become any more depraved, or has acted out this depravity any more since the law was given, than before. God, before the coming of the flood, "Saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." But the depravity of man was made more manifest by the law's being given, in showing thereby his want of conformity to it, as illustrated in the continual disobedience of national Israel, and the consequent repeated judgments incurred. There was everything to induce and to favor that people's obeying the law, if the heart had not been entirely alienated from God, in the repeated manifestations of His power in delivering and preserving them, and in fulfilling unto them the promises made unto their fathers, and in blessing them with an abundance of increase when obedient; yet their hearts were continually going off after their idols. But the grace of God did much more abound in their case, in His repeated and marvelous deliverances of them from those distresses brought upon themselves by their rebellion against Him, and in preserving them until the long-looked-for promise made unto their fathers of the coming of the Messiah was fulfilled. Then were they left to fill up the measure of their iniquities in rejecting Him. And then was it manifested that this grace abounded toward them, not for their sakes, but for the sake of Christ and His seed, which was in them concerning the flesh, and typical.
But I think the Apostle had more particular reference to the spiritual application of the law in the experience of the subjects of grace. Men, while in a state of unregeneracy have all that depravity which they under God's teaching afterwards discover in themselves; but they know it not; it perhaps lays in a great measure dormant in them. So that Watts was correct in saying:
"I was alive without the law,
And thought my sins were dead."
"My guilt appeared but small before,
Till terribly I saw,
How perfect, holy, just and pure,
Was thine eternal law."
The law is spiritual, but the natural man cannot discern spiritual things; he only knows the letter of the law. And as by the law is the knowledge of sin, we can only know sin as we know the law. When that spiritual life which is the light of men, is imparted to men in regeneration, or God shines in the heart, he now sees the law in that light as it is applied of God to him; and there is a majesty, weight and broadness to it that he had not felt in the letter before. It penetrates and searches his heart, and joys open to his view as contrasted with its holy demands, the exceeding sinfulness and deceitfulness of his heart; so that his soul is by the law converted from its notions of self-righteousness, and he dies under the sentence of the law. Thus, I presume, sister Ford once thought that she had only to turn her attention to the law and observe it more closely, and she would soon purge away those sins she was then conscious of, and become very good. And probably that would have been the result in her estimation, if it had been only her turning her attention to the law. But when God spake the law to her, and caused it to enter her heart, she found the offence abounding. This is just the difference between man's teaching and God's teaching; between men's seeking God, and God's seeking them and searching them.
But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. Yes, grace abounds to the free pardon of all the multitude of our sins, and the depth of our depravity. It superabounds above all our unworthiness, poverty, pollution and guilt, to give instead of the curse we deserve, peace and joy in believing, and the hope of heavenly purity and glory beyond this world. It superabounds, in that it makes our depravity and ruin the very occasion, and I may say a means (though the expression may startle the means folks) of our being subjects of God's grace and salvation. Without being sinners we had not been subjects of salvation. Hence without knowing our sinfulness we could not have known what it is to be saved, and without a knowledge of the depth of our depravity, we could not have known the loveliness and the riches of that grace which brings salvation to such vile sinners. The entrance of the law was a very important part in the salvation of the elect, and it was rich grace which caused it to enter in its majesty and strictness to our hearts, searching out the abominations therein, and stripping us of our self-righteousness.
Those who know not the law as spiritual, may please themselves with their goodness and with their obedience as being means of their salvation, but when they go hence they will leave behind all the heaven, they can know. The super abounding of grace over our abounding sins, is manifested, in that it has provided for the believers an infinitely better righteousness than man could have obtained by the law, a far more stable foundation for the hope of future happiness, than man could have had in his own obedience; and also has brought the believers into a nearer and far more glorious relation to God, that of sons of God, than they could have known had they not sinned, for they could only have remained servants. Lastly it has secured for them in Christ a far more glorious inheritance than they could have had through Adam had he remained in uprightness; for he was of the earth, earthy.
If these views will be of any use or comfort to sister Ford or others, I am glad to impart them. Yours, in love,
Centreville, Fairfax County, Virginia,
From: SIGNS of the TIMES: Vol. 26 (1858)
Select Works of Elder Samuel Trott
pgs. 452 - 455