For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law…
Would it not have been better, then, that man should have been left without law? Certainly not. For —
(1) If there were no law there could be reward of obedience, and so the Christian religion would have lost part of its attractiveness. And —
(2) It might well be that certain courses of conduct, though they could not properly be called transgression, would yet bring with them misery and suffering.
I. THE GENERAL TRUTH OF THE ASSERTION. Where there is no law, there is —
1. No prescribed mode of action.
(1) In the physical world. Suppose that no path had ever been marked out, let us say, for a planet, but that it had always travelled hither and thither in any direction. In such a case it could not transgress its law. To transgress is to pass over the boundaries, but with no boundaries determined that could not be. So it was when "the earth was without form and void"; before as yet out of chaos God had called the cosmos, with its light, its order, and its law.
(2) In the social world. In certain low states of barbarism there is no such thing as government. No course of conduct is either prescribed or forbidden, but all actions are indifferent, so that whatever a man may do he does not transgress.
(3) In the moral and spiritual world. There are in man moral distinctions, he knows what is good and what is evil. Because of this, those who have not the written law of God are, as the apostle teaches, a law unto themselves, for they have a conscience which approves or condemns. But suppose it otherwise; suppose man really did not know right from wrong; in such a case there would be neither law nor transgression.
2. No knowledge of sin. The law does not make man a transgressor, but it makes him know that he has transgressed. As Paul teaches: "I had not known sin but by the law"; "Without the law sin is dead"; "Sin is not imputed when there is no law." It prescribes righteousness, and in so doing proscribes sin. It is when the commandment comes sin revives, and is made to appear exceeding sinful. But as long as we are incapable of knowing, we are incapable of sinning. "We sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth."
3. No supreme authority to judge, to acquit or condemn. Transgression is disobedience, and this could not be except by reference to one who has authority to exact obedience.
II. THE ASSERTION IN THE LIGHT OF CHRISTIANITY. So far we have referred to law generally, but we are under the highest and best law ever laid down for the guidance of human conduct — the law of Christ's love. This law is —
1. Clearly stated. In earthly kingdoms it is often a very difficult thing to know what the law in a given case is; but we know the will of Christ, for we have His new commandment.
2. Widely known. Not yet universally, but wherever the gospel of Christ is preached.
3. Easily obeyed. It is not enough that a law be clearly stated and widely known. The behests of a tyrant might be that. But Christ said, "My yoke is easy." "His commandments are not grievous." The Psalmist said, "O how love I Thy law." "I love Thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold." And the law of Christ is better, holier, and more easily obeyed than that which the Psalmist thus esteemed.
4. Of beneficial tendency. In many earthly kingdoms there have been laws adverse to the prosperity of the subjects. But Christ's reign is both in righteousness, and for the highest benefit of His followers. They have liberty, life, peace, hope, etc. "Blessed are they that do His commandments." "In keeping of them there is great reward."
III. HOW THIS OUGHT TO AFFECT OUR LIFE AND CONDUCT. The character of a people may be known by their laws. What manner of persons thus ought they to be who have become Christ's subjects? This great truth should lead to —
1. Earnest solicitude.
2. Cheerful obedience.
3. Activity for the extension of Christ's rule.
(J. A. T. Skinner, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.