Brothers, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man cancels, or adds thereto.
Having taken up the case of Abraham as illustrating the necessity of faith, Paul proceeds to state the Abrahamic covenant as one of promise. The Mosaic covenant, promulgated four hundred and thirty years after, could not, he argues, disannul the previous covenant. It must have a supplementary purpose; and this he shows to be to drive the souls who have been made hopeless by the Law into the arms of the "faithful Promiser." The following lessons are suggested: -
I. THE COVENANT OF PROMISE MADE WITH CHRIST AS SEED OF ABRAHAM. (Vers. 15, 16.) We are too prone to contemplate the promises of God out of their relation to Christ. No wonder that they then seem incredible. They are too good news to be true. But the exceeding great and precious promises are all yea and amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20); they are promises made to Christ and secured by his obedience; and consequently they ought not to seem at any time incredible. Now, when God spoke to Abraham of a universal blessing being given through the patriarch's "Seed," it never suggested to Abraham any idea of merit upon his part. He simply hoped upon God's word, which would be fulfilled in due season. The Seed would convey the blessing. The old man's hope rested upon his Seed, the Christ whom the ages would reveal. The Seed might be meritorious, but Abraham felt that he himself was not. In the humility of felt helplessness, therefore, he trusted God, and found pardon and acceptance and inspiration through his trust. It is just here we must all begin. The Lord Jesus deserves the fulfilment of all the promises. The covenant of grace made with him by the Father has received a fulfilment of its conditions so far as he was concerned; and so he can claim the promises as no more than his due. Their guarantee is in his obedience unto death.
II. THE SINAITIC LAW COULD NOT DISANNUL THE COVENANT OF PROMISE. (Vers. 17, 18.) Four hundred and thirty years elapsed and, lo, another covenant is made with the seed of Abraham. At Sinai, and through the mediation of Moses and of angels, a "fiery Law" went forth from Heaven, and the question Paul answers here is what effect this latter covenant had upon the former. He adduces the fact that legal documents when once perfected are not disannulled by subsequent ones. The later documents must proceed upon the validity and power of the preceding. Hence the Mosaic Law could not render the Abrahamic covenant of promise null and void. It must consist with and supplement the preceding. The promise made to the seed of Abraham remained in force, notwithstanding the thunders of Mount Sinai. Nay, the thunders of Sinai were, as we shall next see, to incline the people to accept the previous promise. There was no antithesis between promise and Law; but Law came to incline the people to embrace the promise. There was something more venerable and more sacred even than the covenant at Sinai, and this was the promises made to Abraham in Canaan. These were the well-head of Jewish privileges. The Jews had not been called to law-keeping and self-righteousness, but to promises exceeding great and precious to be won by their Messiah. It was to faith, not to ceremony, that their system really summoned them.
III. THE PURPOSE OF THE LAW. (Vers. 19-22.) Was the Sinaitic covenant, then, a work of supererogation? By no means. It was a grand instrument, when rightly regarded, to drive sinners into a Saviour's arms. What did it require? Perfect obedience. Did the people at Mount Sinai fancy they could render it? Nay; the utterance of the ten commandments in the great and terrible tones convinced them that they could not stand up in their own strength before such a holy God. Hence their flight from the mount (Exodus 20:18). Hence their cry for the mediation of Moses (ver. 19). In a word, the effect of the publication of the Law was to overwhelm the people with a sense of their sin. This is the purpose of the Law. It is not to feed man's hope of claiming life by law-keeping; it is, on the contrary, to kill that hope and send him to God's free grace that he may be saved by faith in the promises. The Law is to secure our despair of self that we may build all our hope on the Saviour. What, then, were the ceremonies of Judaism? They were embodiments of the promises. The Judaizers said," We are to be saved by observing these ceremonies;" but the truth was that the ceremonies were enacted to make the promises emphatic and to lead sinners away from self-righteousness to God and his mercy. The ceremonial Law was a pictorial gospel, to keep up the hearts of those whom the moral Law had reduced to despair; but the false teachers made the ceremonies saving, and so ignored the gospel they embodied. May we be kept from all analogous mistakes! - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man's covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.