In the build up to tonights interview on Revelation TV www.revelationtv.com concerning open air preaching I'd like to take a look at an issue that is one of the greatest bones of contention concerning preaching of the Gospel in the modern era.
One of the great stumblingblocks in modern evangelicalism is a correct biblical understanding of the function of God's Moral Law in evangelism. Mere mention of the word "Law" is likely to evoke responses such as "legalism", "works righteousness", "we are on the other side of the cross", and "we are now in the age of grace".
This is simply not the case. In fact correct expounding of the law reveals our utter hopelessness to meet the requirements of the law and hence our need for alien righteousness found only in Christ. It is true that salvation is by grace but it is impossible to explain grace without explaining the impossible requirements of God's law. Grace is, by definition, unmerited favor. How can we possibly see it is something we don't merit until we see our transgressions against God. How can we preach love without the law when God showed us His love in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). In order to comprehend God's love we must comprehend our sinfulness. In order to comprehend our sinfulness we must grasp the requirements of God's justice system found in the law.
In fact the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5) magnifies the law to the point where Christ points out that
"For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." (verses 20-22)
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.'
But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (verses 27-28)
"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (verse 48)
The Law serves as the schoolmaster to lead us to Christ.
Here is what some great preachers through history had to say about preaching the law of God.
A. W. Pink "Just as the world was not ready for the New Testament before it received the Old, just as the Jews were not prepared for the ministry of Christ until John the Baptist had gone before Him with his claimant call to repentance, so the unsaved are in no condition today for the Gospel till the Law be applied to their hearts, for 'by the Law is the knowledge of sin.' It is a waste of time to sow seed on ground which has never been ploughed or spaded! To present the vicarious sacrifice of Christ to those whose dominant passion is to take fill of sin, is to give that which is holy to the dogs."
A. W. Tozer "No one can know the true grace of God who has not first known the fear of God."
Augustine "The Law is not in fault, but our evil and wicked nature; even as a heap of lime is still and quiet until water be poured thereon, but then it begins to smoke and burn, not from the fault of the water, but from the nature and kind of the lime which will not endure it."
C. S. Lewis "When we merely say that we are bad, the 'wrath' of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our bad-ness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God's goodness..."
Charles Spurgeon "I do not believe that any man can preach the gospel who does not preach the Law." Then he warns, "Lower the Law and you dim the light by which man perceives his guilt; this is a very serious loss to the sinner rather than a gain; for it lessens the likelihood of his conviction and conversion. I say you have deprived the gospel of its ablest auxiliary [its most powerful weapon] when you have set aside the Law. You have taken away from it the schoolmaster that is to bring men to Christ . . . They will never accept grace till they tremble before a just and holy Law. Therefore the Law serves a most necessary purpose, and it must not be removed from its place."
D. L. Moody “It is a great mistake to give a man who has not been convicted of sin certain passages that were never meant for him. The Law is what he needs … Do not offer the consolation of the gospel until he sees and knows he is guilty before God. We must give enough of the Law to take away all self-righteousness. I pity the man who preaches only one side of the truth, always the gospel and never the Law.” EB - Jos 1:7
Dr. Martin Loyd-Jones "A gospel which merely says, 'Come to Jesus,' and offers Him as a friend, and offers a marvelous new life, without convincing of sin, is not New Testament evangelism. (The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the Law; and it is because the Law has not been preached that we have had so much superficial evangelism.) True evangelism... must always start by preaching the law."
"The trouble with people who are not seeking for a Savior, and for salvation, is that they do not understand the nature of sin. It is the peculiar function of the Law to bring such an understanding to a man's mind and conscience. That is why great evangelical preachers 300 years ago in the time of the puritans, and 200 years ago in the time of Whitefield and others, always engaged in what they called a preliminary law work."
George Whitefield "First, then, before you can speak peace to your hearts, you must be made to see, made to feel, made to weep over, made to bewail, your actual transgressions against the Law of God."
J. C. Ryle "People will never set their faces decidedly towards heaven, and live like pilgrims, until they really feel that they are in danger of hell ... Let us expound and beat out the Ten Commandments, and show the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of their requirements. This is the way of our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. We cannot do better than follow His plan. We may depend on it, men will never come to Jesus, and stay with Jesus, and live for Jesus, unless they really know why they are to come, and what is their need. Those whom the Spirit draws to Jesus are those who the Spirit has convinced of sin. Without thorough conviction of sin, men may seem to come to Jesus and follow Him for a season, but they will soon fall away and return to the world."
J. I. Packer "Unless we see our shortcomings in the light of the Law and holiness of God, we do not see them as sin at all."
John Bunyan "The man who does not know the nature of the Law, cannot know the nature of sin."
John MacArthur "God's grace cannot be faithfully preached to unbelievers until the Law is preached and man's corrupt nature is exposed. It is impossible for a person to fully realize his need for God's grace until he sees how terribly he has failed the standards of God's Law."
John Newton "Ignorance of the nature and design of the Law is at the bottom of most religious mistakes."
John R. Stott "We cannot come to Christ to be justified until we have first been to Moses, to be condemned. But once we have gone to Moses, and acknowledged our sin, guilt and condemnation, we must not stay there. We must let Moses send us to Christ."
John Wesley "While he cries out, O what love have I to thy Law! all the day long is my study in it. He sees daily, in that divine mirror, more and more of his own sinfulness. He sees more and more clearly, that he is fullness a sinner in all things -- that neither his heart nor his ways are right before God, and that every moment sends him to Christ. Therefore I cannot spare the Law one moment, no more than I can spare Christ, seeing I now want it as much to keep me to Christ, as I ever wanted it to bring me to Him. Otherwise this 'evil heart of unbelief' would immediately 'depart from the living God.' Indeed each is continually sending me to the other--the Law to Christ, and Christ to the Law."
Jonathan Edwards "The only way we can know whether we are sinning is by knowing His Moral Law."
Martin Luther "Satan, the god of all dissension stirs up daily new sects. And last of all which of all others I should never have foreseen or once suspected, he has raised up a sect such as teach that men should not be terrified by the law, but gently exhorted by the preaching of the grace of Christ."
Matthew Henry "Herein is the Law of God above all other laws, that it is a spiritual law. Other laws may forbid compassing and imagining, which are treason in the heart, but cannot take cognizance thereof, unless there be some overt act; but the Law of God takes notice of the iniquity regarded in the heart, though it go no further."