Power and Perpetuity of Law
Luke 16:17
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one pronunciation mark of the law to fail.

If you have read the Pentateuch, and especially the books of Exodus and Leviticus, with care, you have perhaps wondered why a system of laws, so complicated, so careful of little things, so rigidly exact in its directions about them, should ever have been enacted. Viewing it in certain aspects, it may be that a sort of half suspicion has crossed your minds that legislation of this kind is really unworthy of such a being as God. But when the purpose of its Divine Author is seen, when the relation of the Law of Moses to the Jews as a separated people and to the gospel dispensation is fully understood, the whole system appears in quite a new light. The marks of Divine wisdom and goodness are clearly discernible in all its parts, even in its minutest details. This Mosaic code is "the Law" spoken of in the text. It embodies many precepts of universal application and eternal authority — it included, indeed, the whole moral law; but as a code, it was enacted for a specific end, and was to continue in force for a specific period. Until this end was gained, and this period completed, not a jot or tittle of it could be annulled. The system possessed all the mighty power of law — nothing could set it aside. To regard or to treat any one of its provisions as an effete or antiquated or useless thing, was, in effect, to charge the Divine Lawgiver with folly. Hence the strong language in which our Lord asserts its power and its perpetuity until the fulness of the time had come. "Heaven and earth may pass away, but one jot or tittle of the law cannot fail." These words announce a great truth; what is here affirmed of the law in a distinctive sense is true of law universally. God, who called the universe into existence by the word of His power, governs it according to the counsel of His own will. Now the great truth which the text asserts is this, viz., THAT THE LAWS WHICH GOVERN THE UNIVERSE ARE OF INFINITELY MORE CONSEQUENCE THAN THE UNIVERSE ITSELF — that it is of unspeakably more importance that the former should be maintained than that the latter should exist — that all the creatures of God, rational and irrational, should obey the laws to which He has been pleased to subject them, that they should work in harmony with these enactments, than that any or all of them should be kept in being. Glorious as are all the works of God, yet if you should take any one of them, consider it apart from all others, or view it as a mere isolated thing, you would perceive little, if any, excellence in it. It would indeed bespeak the creative energy of Him who made it, but you could not discover from it alone whether He is wise and good, or the reverse. It is only when you regard it in its relations to other things, and ascertain why it was made, and see its exact fitness to an end, that its real "glory and greatness as a work of God shine forth. How beautiful to us is the spectacle of a field of waving corn? Its very verdure is refreshing to the eye, because adapted to the structure of our organ of vision, while its yellow ripeness gives the promise of an abundant supply of the food we need. But — if we may imagine such a thing — transfer it to a world of creatures with a constitution totally unlike ours, its beauty would vanish because its fitness to an end would be lost. The glory of creation, then, arises mainly from the benign ends and perfect adaptations of its countless parts. And hence it is that the universe must be, as we have already said, under law to God, and that the maintenance of the laws which govern it is vastly more important than the existence of the universe itself. In the working of the stupendous mechanism of the heavens, all is orderly and harmonious so long as the law which governs its movements is obeyed. But suppose the reverse of this to be the case — that the law of gravitation was liable to incessant interruptions, that the forces which produce the beautiful steadiness we now observe operated according to no fixed rule, either as to direction or degree, so that satellites should rush off into boundless space, or dash furiously against each other, and the planets, starting from their orbits, should wander at their will through immensity, or should be suddenly deluged with the fogs or the flames (as the case may be) of a comet, while this fair earth of ours, according as chance drove her near to or far distant from the sun, were converted into a fiery furnace or a globe of ice. We may try to fancy the state of things under such a reign of anarchy, though the boldest imagination must come far short of the reality. But the main question is, can we suppose that God would suffer, even for a moment, such a lawless universe to exist? No. He is a "God of order," and it were far better to remand creation to its original nothingness, than to permit disorder and confusion thus to gain the mastery over it; better annihilate it at once, than not maintain its laws in full supremacy and force. "Heaven and earth may pass away, but one jot or tittle of the laws shall not fail." Let us, if you please, take another illustration from THE EARTH ON WHICH WE DWELL. Here, too, we observe a grand and complicated system of physical operations incessantly going on, of physical laws perpetually at work. But suppose that the whole of this wonderful economy of nature were mysteriously disturbed — that her processes, apparently so complicated, yet never confused, were suddenly left to chance, and were subject to no laws, so that men sowed fields and reaped nothing, and then again where they planted nothing they reaped abundance; so that their food one day ministered nourishment, and the next deadly poison; nor could they tell whether the water they drank would quench or increase their thirst; that the darkness of night, the light of day, the heat of summer, the frost of winter, lasted through periods so indefinite, and were liable to changes so great and sudden, that none could predict what a moment would bring forth; I ask, again, could God permit this goodly earth of ours to fall into a condition so utterly lawless and so destructive to all the creatures that dwell upon its surface? No indeed. Better a thousandfold that it were blotted from existence than that it should become such a prey of anarchy, such a plaything of chance, without law, without life — a world as dishonouring to its Maker as it would be intolerable for man. But let us come nearer home and TAKE AN ILLUSTRATION FROM MAN HIMSELF. In whatever aspect we view him, whether as a physical, social, intellectual, or moral being, we find him the subject of laws — of laws unchangeable as the eternal Lawgiver Himself; and harsh as the announcement may sound, it is nevertheless true that not to maintain these laws would be far greater evil than the destruction of the human race; better that men should perish than that these laws should be set aside. We may not trifle with any one of these laws, to which He who "formed us of clay and made us men" hath subjected our physical nature. If we do, it is at our peril; for although these laws are not enforced by precisely the same penalty, yet we should ever remember that each has a penalty of its own; and whether it be more or less severe, we must endure the punishment if we venture to violate the law. Let the motive which prompts a man to disregard the laws of health, or the manner in which the thing is done, be what it may; let him, for example, turn night into day — whether he be a student, whose intense zeal for knowledge keeps him at his books when he should be in bed, or a miserable sensualist, who gives his midnight hours to revelry and banqueting — the inevitable result to him will be a ruined constitution. God will not modify the order He has established so as to suit the convenience of your depraved appetites; He will not change His laws to accommodate either the unwise student or the miserable sensualist. "Heaven and earth shall pass, but not one jot or tittle of His law." So it is with men considered as SOCIAL BEINGS. There are laws of social life ordained of God, and though we cannot always trace their operation so distinctly as we can the working of those which govern the material creation, we may still be certain that the former are just as uniform and immutable as the latter. We only need to open our eyes and look at what is going on around us to be convinced of this truth. Economy, diligence, prudence, truthfulness, unswerving probity, on the one hand, and extravagance, self-indulgence, falsehood, deceit, trickery, on the other, do not yield their respective fruits at random or by chance. No. There is a law which renders these results invariable. "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, nor a corrupt tree good fruit." The trickster, the time-server, the two-faced flatterer, may secure the position or the office on which his heart is set, but real honour and lasting power he never wins. God's law forbids it. And the experience of all ages embodied in the proverbs of all nations, as well as the word of eternal truth, proves that in the long run such men always reap their proper reward, and go at last to their own place. Thus far we have viewed the teaching of our text mainly as it bears upon men's present interests and their earthly life. It contains lessons of still higher moment. We know that this world is the prelude of another, and even here below we have, in the relation of youth to age, a striking image of the relation which subsists between this world and the next, between our present life and the everlasting life to come. He who wastes the period which God has allotted to make a man of him — a period short indeed, as it consists of only a few years, but sufficient for the purpose if rightly improved — wastes what he never can replace. Such is the law of our present earthly existence, and in it we see shadowed forth the law of our future and eternal life. The very gospel, which brings life and immortality to light, emphatically proclaims that sin and suffering are conjoined by a law immutable as the eternal throne. It is surely needless for me to bring arguments to substantiate the charge that you are a sinner against God. Your own conscience confesses it, "your own heart condemns" you. Well, this word of Him who cannot lie tells you, in terms too plain to be misunderstood, that perish you must for ever, unless saved through the righteousness and atonement of the Son of God. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but one jot or tittle of the law cannot fail." Let me, in conclusion, add as a word of warning, that the instrument with which the devil most successfully assails the young and the old is scepticism in regard to the momentous truth taught in the text. This is his grand temptation, and was the weapon with which he gained his dismal triumph over the common mother of our race. "Why not eat of the tree of knowledge," he asked, "that stands in the midst of the garden — its form so beautiful to the sight, its fruit so sweet to the taste?" "I am under a law," replied Eve, "that forbids me to touch it, and it is enforced by the awful penalty of death." "But surely," rejoined the tempter, "you must have misapprehended the meaning of your Maker; it is not to be supposed that He will ever inflict upon you a punishment so dreadful for an offence so trifling." Alas! "She took, she ate, earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat sighing, gave signs of woe that all was lost." Precisely so does the same "father of lies" deceive the youth with reference to the connection that subsists between the springtide and the summer and autumn of our present life. He who is old enough to understand anything, however inconsiderate of the personal bearing of the truth, knows perfectly well that he must sow the seed if he would reap the harvest.

(J. Forsyth, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

WEB: But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tiny stroke of a pen in the law to fall.

Divine and Human Judgment
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