THE PERFECT LAW
T. PIERCE BROWN
In Psalm 19:7-11 and 119:49, 50 and 89 there are various characteristics of the Law of God, and functions of the law which we shall consider. But before we consider the nature and functions of the law, we may need to answer these questions: If the law of God was perfect, as Psalm 19:7 says, why was it replaced? Why does the Hebrew author say, “If the first covenant had been faultless then would no place have been sought for a second” (Heb. 8:7)? If the law could convert a soul, why was it necessary to have something else for our salvation? We also need to be aware that God did not merely replace one system of law by another system of law. That might take a whole article to explain properly, but the gospel of Christ is not merely a better system of laws. To try to put in a nutshell that which is almost too big to grasp: One could have been saved under the law system of Moses only if he had never broken the law. Under the gospel system of Christ, we can be saved even though we have broken the law many times, if we accept the grace of God on the terms by which it is offered.
First, let us observe that the Hebrew word for “perfect” was “tamin,” the basic meaning of which is “without blemish.” The approximate equivalent Greek word is “amomos” and is translated “faultless,” “unblameable,” “without blame,” “without blemish,” “without fault” and “without spot.” This is not the word “amemptos” which is used in Hebrews 8:7 which indicates the law was faulty — it lacked something. The law was really without blemish. It was exactly as it was supposed to be. But it lacked something. The writer is saying, “If the old covenant had not lacked something no place would have been sought for the second.” The one great thing it lacked is mentioned in Hebrews 10:4. It could not take away sin. But though it lacked something (and was therefore not “amemptos” — without fault), it was still not blameworthy and was “amomos” — perfect. It should not be hard for us to understand that a thing may be perfect for that which it was designed, and yet be imperfect or faulty for something else.
The law was perfect as a tutor to lead to Christ (Galatians3:24). It was perfect for giving a knowledge of sin (Romans3:20; 7:7) and for many other things. But it was lacking in something (faulty) in the sense that it was unable to take away sin (Romans3:20, Galatians2:10).
When James refers to the “perfect law of liberty” in James 1:25, he uses a different word, “teleios” which indicates its fullness or completeness. The New Testament law not only does what it is supposed to do (which the former law did), but it also does all that needs to be done (which the former law did not). We will never need another!
Now let us examine the nature and functions of the law. Keep in mind that all the good things that can be said about the Law of Moses can also be said of the Law of Christ under which we operate today. It seems almost unthinkable that any serious student of the Bible could take Paul’s statement in Romans6:14, “For we are not under the law, but under grace” and assume that it means that in no sense are we under law. The same Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 9:21 that we are under law to Christ. As we have previously said, this does not mean that God merely substituted one law system for another, for the gospel of Christ is far more than merely a system of laws, although it includes laws. So, although our purpose in this lesson is not to give a treatise on “Law and Grace,” we do need to emphasize that although “The Perfect Law” is fully comprehended only in the Law of Christ, the texts today refer to the law of God that was then in existence.
“The Law of the Lord is perfect.” As previously indicated, this indicates the quality, the nature or character of the law. It does what it was designed to do. Paul puts it in Romans7:12, “So that the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” The weakness of the law of which he speaks in Romans 8:3 was not weakness of the law per se. It was as good and strong as law can be. It was given of God! We think it appropriate to say that God Himself could not have made a better law for his people under the circumstances than he did. It was perfect to do the things for which it was designed.
What was the function of this perfect law? There were several purposes that we have previously noticed, but this one says, “Converting the soul.” The word “converting” is from the Hebrew “shub,” equivalent to the Greek “epistrepho,” and meaning “to turn back” or “restore.” Of course, like a bar of soap, it will not work if not applied. And although it would turn a soul back to God if heeded, it was still true that no part of the law could take away sin. Merely turning back to God could not then, nor can it now, take away sin.
“The testimony of the Lord” is not something completely separate from the law. It is the Hebrew word “eduth,” equivalent to the Greek word, “marturia.” It includes all that God has said. It included the tables of stone (Exodus 31:18) and anything else God revealed. The fact that “the testimony of the Lord is sure” means that we can depend on it. What God says is trustworthy. Furthermore, it will make the simple person wise. There is no greater source of true knowledge and wisdom in the entire world than the testimony of the Lord. It is amazing beyond expression that so many professed Christians have never even read it through!
“The statutes of the Lord are right.” This word “piqqudim” is translated only once as “statutes.” The basic idea is “what God has appointed.” It differs from a commandment in this respect: God has appointed night to follow day. But we do not think of it as a “commandment.” Another illustration may help. Baptism is right because it is a command. But doing to your neighbor as you would like for him to do to you is a “statute” (precept) because it is right. The heart will rejoice in doing what we knew to be right even if God had not said so.
The foregoing statements may help to explain, “The commandment of the lord is pure.” This is what we may have commonly called “a positive law” in contrast to a moral law. When God has specifically pointed out what a person should do, whether offer a bull on the altar, or arise and be baptized, one can be sure that it is the right thing to do — not because he could already see it, but because the Lord enlightened his eyes by that positive command.
Our space limitations prevent us from doing justice to these verses, but one can see that they cover the whole scope of God’s law. Whether we consider it from the standpoint of his telling us what is right just because it is right, or whether it is a new or specific revelation of his will and therefore right because he commanded it, it is perfect. When we find what God has said that applies to us, we can do no better than take it and apply it to our own lives. Will you?