Multiplying Law
Dorcas, Lydia, and Phoebe, Faithful Women
25 October 2016
Law gives birth to laws. The law gives birth not only to a specific law code, but it also multiplies itself. Just look at the law statutes of any western democracy. There are more laws than can ever be followed by any individual. Just the tax code alone is a labyrinth of laws, exceptions, exemptions, limitations, and party of the first parts. This multiplication of laws is a characteristic of those who live according to the law. Ten laws pile onto the first when it becomes apparent that there are nine loopholes in it. In the civil realm this is inevitable and even necessary. Inevitable, because while we live in the world there is law to support civil peace and concord. Necessary, because we are nations governed by laws not by men (at least so far). Crises like the economic downturn of 2008 generated more government bureaucracies, watch dog commissions, fail safes, and laws. The problem is that the government's own policies and police actually caused the original crisis; what would make us think that more of the same would actually avert a future crisis? It seems to fit Einstein's definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
When the law multiplies itself in the spiritual realm, we go from bad to worse. As a pastor, I often hear this at the bedside of those I visit in the hospital, "Oh pastor, if God just gets me through this surgery, I will be in church every Sunday." To which I usually reply, "You will not!" Such persons have a ripe and real sense of their own guilt, which they go about expiating by multiplying the law. They recognize their sin and devise self-generated works to make satisfaction for it. "If God will only rescue me or let me off this time, I will certainly do better from here on out." Nuts. What makes us think that more of the same would actually satisfy God's holiness?
Let's get this straight. You failed to fulfill the law of God and now you want to make up for it by using the law. Your failure to obey the law cannot be resolved or fixed by using an already failed tool. The law's purpose is to identify and crush that failure, so that there is nowhere to turn but to the true and only hope of salvation, Christ our Lord. The law's primary work is to kill and crush human works. In the spiritual realm, we are left only with Christ's righteousness and there is never any better holiness than His, is there? Let us leave behind Sinai and seek Christ where He may be found. He is found in His gospel at the Moriah of His cross.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"It takes work and labor for someone who has been terrified and bruised by the law to be able to raise himself up and to say: 'Now I have been crushed and troubled enough. The time of the law has caused me enough misery. Now it is time for grace and for listening to Christ, from whose mouth there come messages of grace. Now it is time to see, not the smoking and burning Mt. Sinai, but Mt. Moriah, where the seat, the temple, and the mercy seat of God are, that is, Christ, who is the King of righteousness and peace. There I shall hear what the Lord is speaking to me; He is speaking peace to His people.' In fact, the foolishness of the human heart is so great that in its conflict of conscience, when the law performs its function and carries out its true use, the heart not only does not take hold of the doctrine of grace, which gives a sure promise and offer of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Christ, but it actually looks for more laws to help it out. 'If I live longer,' it says, 'I shall improve my life. I shall do this and that. I shall enter a monastery; I shall live frugally and content myself with bread and water; I shall go about barefoot.' Unless you do the very opposite here; that is, unless you send Moses and his law away to the smug and stubborn, and unless you, in your fears and terrors, take hold of Christ, who suffered, was crucified, and died for your sins, your salvation is over and done with.
"It follows, therefore, that the law with its function does contribute to justification-not because it justifies, but because it impels one to the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable. Therefore, we do not abolish the law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ. After the law has humbled, terrified, and completely crushed you, so that you are on the brink of despair, then see to it that you know how to use the law correctly; for its function and use is not only to disclose the sin and wrath of God but also to drive us to Christ. None but the Holy Spirit is intent on this use of the law or preaches the gospel, because nothing but the gospel says that God is present with those who are contrite in heart (Is 57:15). Therefore, if you have been crushed by that hammer (Jer 23:29), do not use your contrition wrongly by burdening yourself with even more laws. Listen to Christ when He says: 'Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest' (Mt 11:28). When the law drives you this way, so that you despair of everything that is your own and seek help and solace from Christ, then it is being used correctly; and so, through the gospel, it serves the cause of justification. This is the best and most perfect use of the law.
Here, then, Paul begins to discuss the law under a new heading and to define what it is (Gal 3:19); the occasion for this was his statement that the law does not justify. For as soon as reason hears this, it draws the inference: 'Then it is of no use.' Therefore, it was necessary to ask, to define correctly, and to reply what the law is and how it is to be understood, so that it would not be interpreted more broadly or more narrowly than it should. For justification, he says, no law whatever is necessary. When the debate is about righteousness, life, and eternal salvation, therefore, the law must be removed from sight completely, as though it had never existed or would never exist but were a mere nothing. For in the issue of justification no one can adequately remove the law from sight and look only at the promise. This is why I said that in our feelings the law and the promise are to be separated as far as possible; for in fact they are very close together." 

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 3.19
Isaiah 57:14-21

And it shall be said, "Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people's way." For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry, I struck him; I hid my face and was angry, but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near," says the LORD, "and I will heal him. But the wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace," says my God, "for the wicked." 
Lord Jesus, the law drives me to the gospel, where Your sweetest mercy is revealed, stopping all the law's multiplying demands. Keep me centered in Your work, that I might never rely on my own. Amen.
For all retired pastors, that they might find strength when there seems to be none, and finding it in Christ, continue to confess their Lord and Savior
For Bill Heine, that the Savior would keep him in His care
For the gift of law and order which is so necessary to the quiet and peaceable life, that all peace officers might be upheld in every good work and kept safe in their profession
For all Christian relief workers, that they might be kept safe in their labors and that they might share not just daily bread but also the Bread of Life with those in need
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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